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date: 30 January 2023



  • Philippa M. Steele

Eteocypriot (or Eteocyprian) is a modern term referring to a group of inscriptions written in an unknown language of Iron Age Cyprus (attested 8th–4th centuries bce). The name was coined by analogy with the ancient term “Eteocretan” on the common assumption that Eteocypriot had survived from the Cypriot Bronze Age (perhaps related to a language written in the undeciphered Cypro-Minoan script); this is still often considered the preferred hypothesis, in the absence of any linguistic features that would point towards a relationship with known Indo-European, Semitic, or other languages. Eteocypriot was written in the deciphered (Classical) Cypriot Syllabic script (see pre-alphabetic scripts, Greek), which was predominantly used to write the Cypriot Greek dialect.

In the inscriptions, several features belonging to a single language are well established, including a patronymic formula of uncertain morphological status (-o-ko-o-), a set of nominal endings (most famously, o-ti), the meanings of one or two lexemes (e.g., ke-ra-ke-re-tu-lo-se, probably “well-born” or similar) and a few phonological features. Although the inscriptions can be “read” (i.e., the values of the signs are known), little is known about the language despite the survival of an intact Eteocypriot/Greek bilingual inscription from Amathus (see figure 1).

Figure 1. The complete Eteocypriot-Greek bilingual inscription from Amathus

The text reads as follows:


a-na ‘ ma-to-ri ‘ u-mi-e-sa-i-mu-ku-la-i-la-sa-na ‘ a-ri-si-to-no-se ‘ a-ra-to-wa-na-ka-so-ko-o-se


ke-ra-ke-re-tu-lo-se ‘? ta-ka-na-?-?-so-ti ‘ a-lo ‘ ka-i-li-po-ti





Inscription redrawn after O. Masson (1961/1983) no. 196.]

A number of unconvincing attempts to link Eteocypriot with other known languages such as Lycian, Akkadian, Illyrian, and Hurrian have failed to meet with widespread acceptance.

Fewer than thirty inscriptions have been found with identifiable features attributed to the Eteocypriot language. Most of these come from Amathus (whose inhabitants were labelled “autochthonous” in the Periplous of Ps.-Skylax), although some further inscriptions have been found elsewhere.

A number of other non-Greek Cypriot Syllabic inscriptions that do not contain known Eteocypriot linguistic features have sometimes been grouped together with the other texts, but cannot be verified as being written in the same language. It has further been suggested that a different language is represented by a group of non-Greek Cypriot Syllabic inscriptions from Golgoi, but the texts from this site give very limited opportunity for linguistic analysis.

Among surviving Cypriot Syllabic epigraphy, Eteocypriot inscriptions are far outnumbered by Greek ones, and disappear altogether by the end of the 4th century bce.


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