Fonts in the Epigraphic and Manuscript traditions of Roman Antiquity: Guest post by Olena Mudalige

Hello, I am Olena Mudalige. I am a second-year PhD candidate at the Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Arts, studying Design. I previously completed a master’s degree studying art criticism and graphic practices and have qualified as an art critic and lecturer. I have come to the UK under the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ programme after leaving Ukraine on February 24 2022 and have become affiliated with the CREWS project through the European Research Area for Ukraine (ERA4Ukraine), scheme. I’m currently interested in the origins and early forms of writing and in the history of study of writing in the ancient world. Today I want to write a bit about different graphical traditions in Roman writing.

The small number of surviving Latin inscriptions is explained by the fact that they were applied to marble only in the second half of the 1st C. BC. Prior to this, inscriptions were applied to tuff and limestone, which were prone to erosion from wind and rain. Inscriptions were erected on public buildings, triumphal arches, columns, tombstones. They were a reflection of the cultural aspects of the history of Roman society and a means of public and solemn representation of the Roman Empire in a vast territory from the British Isles to Egypt, from Gibraltar to the deep regions of Asia.

The widespread use of writing in ancient Rome, the high percentage of the population which was literate, the growth of libraries, the opening of enterprises for correspondence and distribution of books, public readings – all this contributed to the development of the art of beautiful writing and the emergence of the profession of ‘font master’.

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Multilingual Syro-Anatolian Iron Age inscriptions – my research as a CREWS Project Visiting Fellow: Guest post by Claudia Posani

Hello, I am Claudia Posani and I am very glad to write an article for the CREWS blog. I am interested in Hittitology, with a particular focus on Syro-Anatolian Iron Age history and on hieroglyphic Luwian inscriptions.

I spent two months as a Visiting Fellow with the CREWS project. During May and June 2022, I worked on multilingual inscriptions of the so-called Neo-Hittite states (around 11th-8th centuries BC). These inscriptions include bilingual and also trilingual texts written on different supports, such as statues, steles and orthostats. They belong to the textual category of “royal inscriptions”, namely they express the voice of kings or rulers who speak in first person in the texts narrating their enterprises.

The main feature of these documents consists of offering the same text written in two or more languages. The texts I was dealing with were written in Hieroglyphic Luwian, Phoenician, Aramaic and Assyrian. These different languages (Luwian belonging to the Indo-European, the other to the Semitic language family) were written adopting different writing systems. Consequently, we can read on the same support the same text written in hieroglyphic script, cuneiform characters and alphabetic signs.

Multilingualism in Syro-Anatolian states is certainly connected to the historical background of these polities, which were strongly characterised by mutual contacts and cultural hybridity. Nevertheless, one point captured my interest: could textual multilingualism/multiscriptalism be connected to royal propaganda and to the intention of presenting a specific image of the king?

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Mind the Gap: Abbreviations, Contractions and Alphabetic Symbolism: Guest post by Brien Garnand

In the Bronze Age, two incompatible alphabetic writing systems developed independently in Canaan—to the North, Ugarit’s alphabet had an interface derived from syllabic cuneiform and, to the South, miners in the Sinai used a hieroglyphic ideogram interface. From the outset, both of these regional scripts relied upon omission, where readers had to fill in gaps by supplying missing vowels. Also from the outset, both symbolic systems used individual graphemes to represent individual consonants. Both systems had their strengths, similar to the communications format war of the 1980s between Sony (Betamax) and JVC (VHS). If that reference seems obscure, you might compare these parallel but incompatible alphabetic technologies to the choice of Blu-ray versus HD-DVD, or Chrome versus Safari—although both performed well, only one format thrived. The cuneiform version had the benefit of deriving from a common international cuneiform system, using common clay scribal media and tools, and having the advantage of disambiguating three specific vowel combinations with the consonant ˀalp (ˀa, ˀi, ˀu). This Ugaritic version would play the part of Betamax in our analogy, a version with a bit more precision but perhaps not as accessible.

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A new approach to old writing: using Graphology and RTI technology on Linear B: Guest post by Lavinia Giorgi

Hi there! I am Lavinia Giorgi, a PhD student in Mycenaean philology at Sapienza University of Rome (Italy). My PhD research deals with the management and circulation of bronze in the Mycenaean world focusing on the reconstruction of the bronze production chain mainly through the analysis of the Linear B tablets, but also taking into account the Hittite and Ugaritic texts and the el-Amarna letters and combining philological data with archaeological evidence.

In the meantime, I am collaborating with THE PAITO/PHAISTOS EPIGRAPHIC PROJECT, which aims to provide a new critical edition of the Linear B tablets of Knossos mentioning pa-i-to, Phaistos, a place located in southern Crete, adopting the digital photography technologies of RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging) and 3D Laser Scanning.

The research I did in Cambridge as a visiting fellow within the CREWS project is part of THE PAITO/PHAISTOS EPIGRAPHIC PROJECT because it focused on the word pa-i-ti-ja, the ethnic feminine adjective derived from pa-i-to.

The word is attested in 9 tablets, covering several topics, dating from different periods (15th-13th century BC) and were written by different scribes. In particular, two of these tablets, KN Ap 639 and KN E 777, are kept at Ashmolean Museum, so, thanks to my stay in Cambridge I was also able to directly access them and take RTI photographs of both.

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A brief introduction to the introduction of cuneiform on the Armenian Highlands: Guest post by Annarita Bonfanti

Hi! I am Anna Bonfanti, former PhD candidate at the University of Pavia (Italy), and my research is (still) focused on different aspects of the Urartian culture: the adoption and adaptation of the cuneiform writing system by the Urartian royal class appeared to be a particularly important and curiously understudied topic.

Firstly, a brief introduction to the topic in general: Urartu is the exonym commonly used to indicate an Iron Age statal entity whose core area was located on the Armenian Highlands, around lake Van (modern-day Eastern Turkey).

It emerged as a more or less cohesive state in the second half of the 9th century BCE, and it gradually declined until it disappeared, probably at the beginning of the 6th century BCE. What’s curious about this state is its peculiar adherence to an Assyrian model, both in the arts and in literature, so much so that the study of the Urartian culture was initially conceived as a minor branch of the Assyriological studies. My thesis, originally born as a study of the different traces left by contacts with other populations in the Urartian culture, ended up being a reflection on the reasons why the Urartian culture owes so much to the Assyrian model.

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Dots between words in Northwest Semitic inscriptions

Semitic writing systems, such as those used for writing Hebrew, Aramaic, Ugaritic and Phoenician, are well known for the fact that signs for vowels are routinely left out. Have a look at the first line of the first book of the Bible, Genesis 1.1 (text taken from with the vowels and cantillation signs removed), the so-called ‘consonantal’ text:

בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ

This is how this verse would have appeared in antiquity. The vowel points and cantillation marks that we find in Hebrew Bibles today came in in the medieval period (

בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃

As the following transcription of the consonantal text shows, most of the letters correspond to consonants, and the vowels are largely unwritten (the main exception being the /ī/ vowel in rˀšyt = /rēšīt/ “beginning”):

brˀšyt brˀ ˀt ˀlhym hšmym wˀt hˀrṣ

Greek is famous for having taken a Northwest Semitic alphabet and introduced regular vowel writing (see for example Sampson 2015, 104–105). There is some evidence for believing that Greek may not have been the first writing system to introduce regular vowel writing—this honour may belong to Phrygian (see Waal 2020, 114). At any rate, at least from a typological point of view, it is clear that Greek (and Phrygian) writing differs from Northwest Semitic in that if a vowel appears in the spoken language, you have to write it down; in Northwest Semitic, you don’t have to.

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The introduction of the Greek alphabet in Ancient Cyprus: Guest post by Dr Beatrice Pestarino

Hi there! I am Beatrice Pestarino, an Ancient Historian specialised in Ancient Cyprus. I am interested in the socio-economic development of the Cypriot city-kingdoms into which the island was subdivided in the Archaic and Classical periods. I have recently submitted to publication the final version of my first book Kypriōn Politeia, the political ad administrative systems of the Classical Cypriot city-kingdoms – actually my PhD thesis (UCL) dressed to the nines – which reconstructs the political and administrative systems of these centres in the 5th and 4th cent. BC (forthcoming in the Brill series Mnemosyne Supplements).

My research is based on the study of inscriptions written in different languages and scripts such as Cypriot-syllabic Greek and Eteocypriot, a Cypriot autochthonous language, Phoenician, and alphabetic Greek, which were all used on the island. These inscriptions are written on different support materials, mostly stones and ostraka, but also clay/bronze tablets, pottery, and coins for which I provide new textual readings and interpretations. Their texts concern kings and officials employed by local governments or accounts of the headquarters of the main administrative centres – for example, palace archives, tax collection hubs, and workshops for processing copper, purple, and agricultural products.

The Idalion Bronze tablet (5th cent. BC), a decree which concerns a honorary payment to the physician Onasilos and his brothers, written in Greek, in the common Cypriot syllabary (to be read from right to left). BnF Cabinet des médailles, Paris.
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Late Bronze Age Clay Time!

Guest post by CREWS Visiting Fellow Cassandra Donnelly

During the last week of April the Program for Aegean Scripts and Prehistory (PASP) hosted its first ever “Late Bronze Age Clay Time! Study Break” in the Classics Lounge in Waggener Hall at the University of Texas at Austin. Approximately twenty  undergraduate and graduate students, along with some staff and their children, produced a veritable archive of Late Bronze Age (LBA) tablets.


We provided attendees with the clay (local-fire “Longhorn Red” clay from Armadillo Clay), three types of styluses, and one of three different instruction packets. The first type of instruction packet pertained to Mycenaean Greek and Linear B, the second to Ugaritic, and the third to Cypro-Minoan. Each packet included instructions for how to make one of three tablet types, a signary in the corresponding script, and a model text to write in the corresponding language. Each of the texts, once combined, tells the story of the Late Bronze Age copper trade as mediated by Cypriot traders. Continue reading “Late Bronze Age Clay Time!”

Ninety years of Ugaritic Studies

Mohamed Moursal working at Ugarit

Ninety years ago today, on 14 May 1929, a workman at the excavations of the newly-discovered Syrian archaeological site of Ras Shamra made one of the most important discoveries of the twentieth century for the study of ancient writing systems – a number of clay tablets inscribed in a previously unknown version of cuneiform. Typically for the colonial context and the hierarchical nature of archaeology at the time, it’s usually the French director of the excavations, Claude Schaeffer, who gets the credit for this discovery but the actual discoverer’s name was Mohamed Moursal. Writing some years later, Schaeffer records the moment of the discovery as follows (translated from the French):

At five o’clock in the afternoon, when the setting sun transformed the Alawite mountains east of the tell into a golden fringe, I observed one of my workmen who stopped his work to examine what at a distance had the appearance of a small brick. Mohamed Moursal, a Turk from Bourj Islam, a good workman, but preferring effort rather than the delicate work of releasing fragile objects, spat on his find and with the palm of his right hand rubbed on it to remove the film of earth that masked the surface.

Ugaritic tablets in situ.

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