Volume 8, June 2004, Section P042

The Clasification of the Cypro-Minoan Scripts

Jean Faucounau
Member of the Linguistic Society of Paris, France

      The importance of Cypriot writing for our understanding of the Mediterranean History cannot be underestimated. Very early, script has been used on Cyprus (in Antiquity at the crossing of several civilizations) as shown by the many seals and inscribed objects found on the island and dated between 1650 and 800 BC. There is nothing surprising in that, as Cyprus is not far away from Ugarit, the great international emporium of those times, where Mesopotamian cuneiform, Hittite hieroglyphic, Egyptian hieroglyphic, Cypro-Minoan scripts and a distinctive West Semitic cuneiform alphabet were used.

Although found at Ugarit, the "Cypro-Minoan script" was the characteristic writing system used in Cyprus between 1550 and 1150 BC. Later, it was replaced there by its direct descendent, the "Cypriot Syllabary" to write Greek and other tongues, nowadays called "Eteo-Cypriot".

It is certain that the Cypro-Minoan script is *syllabic* and related to the Cretan Linear A & B scripts. However, there are two main difficulties in its study. First, the whole corpus is pretty meager : 8 clay tablets, 83 small clay balls, 6 clay cylinders and numerous inscribed artifacts bearing just one or a few signs, on seals, gold rings, potteries, etc. Secondly, the inscriptions present great variations in the design of the signs that one may suppose to be due to differences in the origin or in time. Therefore, the classification of the different "Cypro-Minoan" syllabaries become an essential point.

The first attempt to classify the different Cypro-Minoan scripts has been made by E. Masson in 1974. Although incomplete, her list (see E. Masson 1974) has become the standardized guide both for the numbering of the signs (she distinguished 114 signs on the total), and for the classification of the CM-syllabaries.

E.Masson has distinguished three kinds of CM-syllabaries:
-the CM3, which is a list of 47 signs, coming all from the Ugaritic findings.
-the CM2, a list of 59 signs, all coming from four tablets found at Enkomi (Cyprus), supposed to be written in Hurrian.
-the CM1, a list of 85 signs, all coming from the remaining documents found in Cyprus.

In "SYRIA" 1977 and 1980, I proposed to ameliorate this classification on the basis of a statistical study of the main documents, study aimed at discovering the languages hidden behind the diverse types of Cypro-Minoan script. The statistical method I used led to "decipherment grids" which are not 100% sure, but which have a small "margin of error" (no more than 2 or 3 phonetic values *may* be wrong). Although this work has not been unanimously accepted by other specialists, I consider it as a great improvement in the classification of the Cypro-Minoan syllabaries.

A/- For the Ugaritic documents, the study showed that two kinds of 
related CM syllabaries were used in this coastal Syrian city :
      a)- a syllabary with 47 known signs (see Fig. 3), obviously 
borrowed from a Hurrian people because of the presence of a  series, 
but used by Semitic scribes (Tablets RS 20,25 and RS 17,06). These 
scribes did employ the o?-series for rendering a final consonant ( -Na/ 
translating -N)
      b)- a syllabary with 38 known signs, *identical to the CM1b 
syllabary* (see Fig. 1), which is the syllabary of the "Schaeffer 
Cylinder" from Cyprus. In all cases ( "Schaeffer cylinder", Tablets RS 
19,01 and RS 19,02), the language is Semitic.

B/- For the homogeneous set of tablets used by E. Masson for her 
definition of the "CM2", the study has confirmed her conclusion : this 
syllabary has to be put apart. It contains 59 or 60 signs (see Fig. 2) 
and has been used to write the Hurrian language.

C/- As for E.Masson's "CM1-list", it appeared that this list, 
established from a non-homogeneous set of documents, had gathered 
together signs coming from diverse syllabaries, some related to CM1b, 
others to CM2, and possibly to CM3.

As an illustration of that, I would like to comment, for instance, the "clay burner's fragment" found at Enkomi (see Fig. 4). In her study of this piece of pottery (R.D.A.C. 1979), E. Masson bluntly declares the script as "CM1". But it is obvious, because of the presence of Sign 36 (YE) and Sign 76 (LE) that it is related to the CM2- syllabary. Moreover, the inscription probably begins with the Hurrian word meaning "take, accept", so that one may strongly suspect that the language is Hurrian and not Semitic as this is the case for the majority (if not all) the true "CM1 documents".


1994-FAUCOUNAU J., "The Cypro-Minoan Scripts.  A  Reappraisal"  in Archaeologia Cypria (T.III, 1994).

1974-MASSON E., "Cyprominoica. Repertoires", in S.I.M.A. Vol. XXXI : 2 (1974).

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