The Ancient Greek Alphabet
Although the Greeks were not the
first to develop the art of writing, they were earliest people to devise a true alphabet, from
which all other ancient and modern European languages are derived. The Greek alphabet contains
24 letters and is named after the first two letters, alpha and beta. It was first invented around
800 BC and was adapted from the Phoenician and Hebrew writing systems. Previous writing systems
had been either syllabic, i.e. based on syllables, or pictographic, based on pictures, such
as the hieroglyphic sacred carvings of the Egyptians, or the ideograms of the Chinese people.
An even more ancient writing system developed by the Greeks was called Linear B. This syllabic
language was in widespread use by the advanced Mycenean civilization of Crete, and on the Greek
mainland, from before 1200 BC to about 800 BC. Linear B was only deciphered by scholars
in 1952 and consists of about 90 different symbols.
The Greek alphabet has two main branches or styles. The Ionic or, eastern, form was adopted
by Athens and became what we know today as the classical Greek alphabet. The Chalcidian or,
western form, gave rise to the Etruscan alphabet that forms the basis of the Latin or Roman
alphabet that we use today. You can even type the letters of the Greek alphabet on your laptop
or custom PC with special symbols in some word processing
programs or by using a virtual keyboard.