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The Latin alphabet derives from Greek Chalcidian

  • Published in Weird
The Latin alphabet is the Greek Chalcidian alphabet of the Cumae, a colony of Chalcis in Italy founded c. 740 BCE The Latin alphabet is the Greek Chalcidian alphabet of the Cumae, a colony of Chalcis in Italy founded c. 740 BCE

The Greeks were the first Europeans to learn to write with an alphabet, and from them alphabetic writing spread to the rest of Europe, eventually leading down to all modern European alphabets.

Incidentally, the Greeks tried writing once before. Between 1500 and 1200 BCE, the Mycenaeans, an early tribe of Greeks, adapted the Minoan syllabary as Linear B to write an early form of Greek. However, the syllabary was not well suited to write Greek, and the exact pronunciation of Mycenaean words remains somewhat obcure. The alphabet, on the other hand, allowed a more precise record of the sounds in the language.

From Greek to Latin

Greek Symbol
(ca 700 BCE)














In the 3rd century BCE
Spurius Carvilius Ruga
created this from  C. 
See below
  See at bottom


The Euboean Greeks used eta for
the English sound h , which the
Romans continued. 
   The Romans did not have this
sound and did not use this character. 




From the 14th to the 17th centuries
CE  scribes created J 
to distinguish the semi-vowel
English y from the vowel i. 


The Romans used K for a few







(Ionian xi)
  The Etruscans listed this
in their model alphabet
but did not use it.  The
Romans never adopted it. 




    The Etruscans had this
redundant letter and sometimes
used it but the Romans never
adopted it. 










Around 100 CE the Romans created 
this rounded form to stand solely
for the vowel, and then 
V stood for the semi-vowel alone.


This was the original Roman 
form for both the vowel oo as in moon and
the English semi-vowel w . 


Medieval scribes created this letter, 
sometimes for our "v", sometimes
for our "w" semi-vowel.
     The Etruscans adopted this
but the Romans did not need it.
Euboean xi


The Euboian Greeks used this letter
for the /ks/ combination. The Etrusncans
used it for something else, but the Romans
adopted it with the Greek value.



Around the end of the Roman Republic,
Y was included at the end
to transcribe upsilon in Greek loan-words.


Around the end of the Roman Republic,
Z was included at the end
to transcribe zeta in Greek loan-words.

Euboean chi/
Ionian psi
     The Etruscans and Romans
never adopted this letter.

The Etruscans and Romans
never adopted this later
Greek letter.

The Etruscans adopted the Greek alphabet from Greek colonies at Pithekoussai (on the island of Ischia) and Cumae. In turn the Romans adopted their alphabet from the Etruscans. The Etruscans abandonned the Greek letter names, calling the letters simply by their sounds, much as we do today.

These Greek colonists were from Euboea and thus used heir own local version of the Greek alphabet at the time they colonized Italy. One can see its influence where the Euboean gamma, delta, and sigma clearly resemble the modern Roman C, D, and S, which the Ionian forms do not. The Euboean alphabet also used the X symbol rather than the Phoenician samekh for the consonant combination /ks/. Since X did not come with the Phoenician alphabet, it was placed at the end. (Most western Greek alphabets did not include the samekh symbol at all, but apparently the Euboean one did, since the Etruscans list it in their model alphabet, although they did not use it in practice. The Romans never even listed the samekh symbol.)

The Greeks used the Semitic waw in two places: for digamma, which has the consonant sound of English w, and in upsilon, where it originally had the sound of oo in "moon". The Etruscans used F (digamma) for a /v/ sound and wrote our /f/ sound as FH. The Romans simply used F for the sound we know. Digamma disappeared after a while from the Greek alphabet itself. Upsilon became the Etruscan and Roman V. Later the Romans added the Greek upsilon itself at the end of the alphabet as Y to transcribe Greek loan-words.

At first the Romans omitted zeta and placed the newly invented G in its place, and later they added zeta back in at the end of the alphabet to transcribe Greek loan-words.

Qoppa, in Greek an alternative for kappa, made its way into Etruscan and Latin as Q, even though it then disappeared from the Greek alphabet. The redundant letter san disappeared from Greek but made its way into the Etruscan alphabet, though not into the Latin one.

The Chalcidian/Cumae alphabet was the western variant of the Greek alphabet, used between the 8th to 5th centuries BC. It was specifically used in the island of Euboea (including the towns of Kymi and Chalcis) and the areas west of Athens and in the Greek colonies of southern Italic peninsula, for example the Cuma, the first colony in italy, founded c. 740 BCE by Chalcis,. It was this variant that gave rise to the Latin alphabet.

Comparison table with the Greek alphabet used by each city

Greek alphabets

From the shape of the letters, it is clear that the Greeks adopted the alphabet the Phoenician script, mostly like during the late 9th century BCE. In fact, Greek historian Herotodus, who lived during the 5th century BCE, called the Greek letters "phoinikeia grammata" (φοινικήια γράμματα), which means Phoenician letters. You can see the similarities between the scripts in the comparision chart at the undefined page. Unlike Greek, the Phoenician alphabet only had letters for consonants. When the Greeks adopted the alphabet, they found letters representing sounds not found in Greek. Instead of throwing them away, they modified the extraneous letters to represent vowels. For example, the Phoenician letter 'aleph (which stood for a glottal stop) became the Greek letter alpha (which stands for [a] sound).

It is known that Greeks have been earlier to Italy even from Myceneans time and even more earlier from Minoans time. According to the Virgilius, Aeneas with some other Troyans settled in Italy after Troy was burnt.

  • He searched the burning city for his wife but could not find her. Finally the ghost of his wife appeared. The Gods had taken her and she told Aeneas not to worry but to go to Italy where he would marry a new Queen.
    Aeneas, broken-hearted, returned to the hill where the others were waiting. They built ships and set out on their journey which led them...
  • (Virgil: "Aeneid")
Aeneas arriving to Italy:
  • Aeneas sailed up the River Tiber from Cumae. He engaged in war with Turnus.
  • Turnus was to marry Lavinia, the daughter of King Latinus, but a prophet told Latinus that his daughter would marry a stranger. Turnus was annoyed and therefore engaged in war with Aeneas.
  • Venus got Vulcan to make armour for Aeneas including the famous shield with scenes of the future Rome and Augustus.
  • Camilla, the warrior maiden, fought the Trojans and was killed by Arruns. Camilla was named after her mother. To escape the enemy, her father cast her across a river on a spear. She was brought up in a forest. She wore tiger skin. As soon as she could walks he was given a bow and arrow. She rode out, in regal splendour, on her horse to join Turnus, dressed in purple cloak with a golden bow and arrow.
  • (Virgil: "Aeneid")
The ancestry of Aeneas was discussed in Book XX of the "Iliad", when Aeneas met Achilles in single combat.

  • When Aeneas met Achilles in the Trojan War he was in danger of being killed but Poseidon lifted him into the air and saved him
  • Aeneas was very important because he would leave Troy after it was burnt and would go, at the Gods' command, to Italy, to build a new Troy
  • This new city would later become Rome and its first Emperor would be Augustus, who claimed direct descent from Iulus (Ascanius), son of Aeneas. the poem, the "Aeneid", was commissioned by Augustus during whose reign Virgil wrote. (Augustus was emperor at the time of the birth of Christ).
In legend therefore, through Aeneas, Rome was connected with Bronze Age Troy.
Last modified onSaturday, 24 November 2018 21:55
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