Phoenician alphabet

The Phoenician alphabet, called by convention the Proto-Canaanite alphabet for inscriptions older than around 1050 BC, is the oldest verified alphabet in the wider sense of the term "alphabet". It is an alphabet of abjad[3] type, consisting of 22 consonant letters only, leaving vowel sounds implicit, although certain late varieties use matres lectionis for some vowels. It was used to write Phoenician, a Northern Semitic language, used by the ancient civilization of Phoenicia in modern-day Syria, Lebanon, and northern Israel.[4]

The Phoenician alphabet, which the Phoenicians adapted from the early West Semitic alphabet[5], is ultimately derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs.[6] It became one of the most widely used writing systems, spread by Phoenician merchants across the Mediterranean world, where it was adopted and modified by many other cultures. The Paleo-Hebrew alphabet is a local variant of Phoenician,[7] as is the Aramaic alphabet, the ancestor of the modern Arabic. Modern Hebrew script is a stylistic variant of the Aramaic. The Greek alphabet (with its descendants Latin, Cyrillic, Runic, and Coptic) also derives from the Phoenician.

As the letters were originally incised with a stylus, they are mostly angular and straight, although cursive versions steadily gained popularity, culminating in the Neo-Punic alphabet of Roman-era North Africa.

Phoenician was usually written right to left, though some texts alternate directions (boustrophedon).

Phoenician alphabet
Phoenician alphabet
LanguagesPhoenician, Punic
Time period
c. 1200–150 BC[1]
Parent systems
Child systems
Aramaic alphabet
Greek alphabet
Paleo-Hebrew alphabet
Sister systems
South Arabian alphabet
ISO 15924Phnx, 115
Unicode alias



The earliest known alphabetic (or "proto-alphabetic") inscriptions are the so-called Proto-Sinaitic (or Proto-Canaanite) script sporadically attested in the Sinai and in Canaan in the late Middle and Late Bronze Age. The script was not widely used until the rise of new Semitic kingdoms in the 13th and 12th centuries BC.

The Phoenician alphabet is a direct continuation of the "Proto-Canaanite" script of the Bronze Age collapse period. The so-called Ahiram epitaph, from about 1200 BC, engraved on the sarcophagus of king Ahiram in Byblos, Lebanon, one of five known Byblian royal inscriptions, shows essentially the fully developed Phoenician script,[8] although the name "Phoenician" is by convention given to inscriptions beginning in the mid 11th century BC.[9]

Spread of the alphabet and its social effects

Beginning in the 9th century BC, adaptations of the Phoenician alphabet thrived, including Greek, Old Italic, Anatolian, and the Paleohispanic scripts. The alphabet's attractive innovation was its phonetic nature, in which one sound was represented by one symbol, which meant only a few dozen symbols to learn. The other scripts of the time, cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphs, employed many complex characters and required long professional training to achieve proficiency.[10]

Another reason for its success was the maritime trading culture of Phoenician merchants, which spread the alphabet into parts of North Africa and Southern Europe.[11] Phoenician inscriptions have been found in archaeological sites at a number of former Phoenician cities and colonies around the Mediterranean, such as Byblos (in present-day Lebanon) and Carthage in North Africa. Later finds indicate earlier use in Egypt.[12]

The alphabet had long-term effects on the social structures of the civilizations that came in contact with it. Its simplicity not only allowed its easy adaptation to multiple languages, but it also allowed the common people to learn how to write. This upset the long-standing status of literacy as an exclusive achievement of royal and religious elites, scribes who used their monopoly on information to control the common population.[13] The appearance of Phoenician disintegrated many of these class divisions, although many Middle Eastern kingdoms, such as Assyria, Babylonia and Adiabene, would continue to use cuneiform for legal and liturgical matters well into the Common Era.

Modern rediscovery

The Phoenician alphabet was first uncovered in the 17th century, but up to the 19th century its origin was unknown. It was at first believed that the script was a direct variation of Egyptian hieroglyphs,[14] which had been spectacularly deciphered shortly before. However, scholars could not find any link between the two writing systems, nor to hieratic or cuneiform. The theories of independent creation ranged from the idea of a single individual conceiving it, to the Hyksos people forming it from corrupt Egyptian.[15] It was eventually discovered that the proto-Sinaitic alphabet was inspired by the model of hieroglyphs.


The Phoenician letter forms shown here are idealized: actual Phoenician writing was cruder and less uniform, with significant variations by era and region.

When alphabetic writing began in Greece, the letter forms were similar but not identical to Phoenician, and vowels were added to the consonant-only Phoenician letters. There were also distinct variants of the writing system in different parts of Greece, primarily in how those Phoenician characters that did not have an exact match to Greek sounds were used. The Ionic variant evolved into the standard Greek alphabet, and the Cumae variant into the Latin alphabet, which accounts for many of the differences between the two. Occasionally, Phoenician used a short stroke or dot symbol as a word separator.[16]

The chart shows the graphical evolution of Phoenician letter forms into other alphabets. The sound values also changed significantly, both at the initial creation of new alphabets and from gradual pronunciation changes which did not immediately lead to spelling changes.

Letter Name[17] Meaning Phoneme Origin Corresponding letter in
Image Text Aramaic Syriac/ Assyrian Hebrew Arabic Maledivan Thaana South Arabian Ethiopian Ge'ez Greek Egyptian Coptic Anatolian Lydian Old Italic Germanic Runes Latin Slavic Cyrillic Georgian Armenian Old Turkic Mongolian Tibetan Indic Devanagari Bengali Burmese Sinhala Khmer Thai Lao Javanese
Aleph 𐤀 ʾālep ox ʾ [ʔ] 𓃾 𐡀‬ ܐ א އ 𐩱 Αα Ⲁⲁ 𐤠 𐌀 Aa Аа /ⴀ/Ⴀ Ա/ա 𐰀 Mongol a tail 1.jpgMongol a tail 2.jpg , आ, ओ, औ, अं, अः, ॲ, ऑ অ, আ, ও, ঔ ꦨ, ආ, ඇ, ඈ
Beth 𐤁 bēt house b [b] 𓉐 𐡁‬ ܒ ב ބ 𐩨 Ββ Ⲃⲃ 𐤡 𐌁 Bb Бб, Вв /ⴁ/Ⴁ Բ/բ 𐰉 3mg b1 final.png

3mg p final.png 3mg f final.png

བ, མ , भ ব, ভ ဗ, ဘ බ, භ ប, ផ ꦧ, ꦨ
Gimel 𐤂 gīml throwing stick/camel g [ɡ] 𓌙 𐡂‬ ܓ ג ޖ 𐩴 Γγ Ⲅⲅ 𐤢 𐌂 , Cc, Gg Гг, Ґґ /ⴂ/Ⴂ Գ/գ 𐰍 Mongol g tail.jpg ค, ฅ
Daleth 𐤃 dālet door d [d] 𓇯 𐡃‬ ܕ ד د, ذ ޑ, ޛ 𐩵 Δδ Ⲇⲇ 𐤣 𐌃 Dd Дд /ⴃ/Ⴃ Դ/դ 𐰑
He 𐤄 window h [h] 𓀠 𐡄‬ ܗ ה ه ހ 𐩠 Εε Ⲉⲉ 𐤤 𐌄 Ee Ее, Єє, Ээ /ⴄ/Ⴄ Ե/ե, Է/է, Ը/ը ꦌ, ꦍ
Waw 𐤅 wāw hook w [w] 𓏲 𐡅‬ ܘ ו ވ, ޥ 𐩥 (Ϝϝ), Υυ Ⲩⲩ 𐤥,𐤱,𐤰 𐌅, 𐌖 Ff, Uu, Vv, Yy, Ww (Ѵѵ), Уу, Ўў /ⴅ/Ⴅ Վ/վ Mongol w middle.jpg
Zayin 𐤆 zayin weapon z [z] 𓏭 𐡆‬ ܙ ז ޒ, ޜ 𐩹 Ζζ Ⲍⲍ 𐌆 Zz Зз /ⴆ/Ⴆ Զ/զ 𐰔 2mg j medial.png ཇ, ཛ, ཛྷ , জ, ঝ ဇ, ဈ ජ, ඣ ช, ซ ꦗ, ꦙ
Heth 𐤇 ḥēt wall, courtyard [ħ] 𓉗 or 𓈈 𐡇‬ ܚ ח ح, خ ޙ, ޚ 𐩢, 𐩭 , Ηη Ⲏⲏ 𐌇 ᚺ/ᚻ Hh Ии, Йй /ⴈ/Ⴈ Ի/ի, Խ/խ 3mg q final.png 3mg gh1 final.png གྷ
Teth 𐤈 ṭēt wheel [] 𓄤 𐡈‬ ܛ ט ط, ظ ޘ, ދ 𐩷 Θθ Ⲑⲑ 𐌈 (Ѳѳ) /ⴇ/Ⴇ Թ/թ 𐰦 थ, ठ,
Yodh 𐤉 yōd hand y [j] 𓂝 𐡉‬ ܝ י ي ޔ 𐩺 Ιι Ⲓⲓ 𐤦 𐌉 Ii, Jj Іі, Її, Јј Յ/յ 𐰖 3mg iy final.png ယ, ရ
Kaph 𐤊 kāp palm (of a hand) k [k] 𓂧 𐡊‬ ܟ כך ކ 𐩫 Κκ Ⲕⲕ 𐤨 𐌊 Kk Кк /ⴉ/Ⴉ Կ/կ 𐰚 2mg g medial.png က
Lamedh 𐤋 lāmed goad l [l] 𓌅 𐡋‬ ܠ ל ލ, ޅ 𐩡 Λλ Ⲗⲗ 𐤩 𐌋 Ll Лл /ⴊ/Ⴊ Լ/լ 𐰞 3mg l final.png လ, ဠ
Mem 𐤌 mēm water m [m] 𓈖 𐡌‬ ܡ מם މ 𐩣 Μμ Ⲙⲙ 𐤪 𐌌 Mm Мм /ⴋ/Ⴋ Մ/մ 𐰢 3mg m final.png
Nun 𐤍 nūn serpent n [n] 𓆓 𐡍‬ ܢ נן ނ, ޏ 𐩬 Νν Ⲛⲛ 𐤫 𐌍 Nn Нн /ⴌ/Ⴌ Ն/ն 𐰣 3mg n2 final.png ང, ཉ, ན न, ण, , ঙ, ঞ, ণ, ন င, ဉ, ည, ဏ, န ඞ, ඤ, ණ, න ង, ញ, ណ ง, ณ, น ງ, ຍ, ນ ꦔ, ꦚ, ꦟ, ꦤ
Samekh 𐤎 sāmek fish, djed s [s] 𓊽 𐡎‬ ܣ, ܤ ס 𐩪 Ξξ, Χχ Ⲝⲝ, Ⲭⲭ 𐌎, 𐌗 ᛊ,ᛋ Xx (Ѯѯ), Хх /ⴑ/Ⴑ Ս/ս 𐰽‬ ष, स ষ, স ស, ឞ ส, ษ ສ, ຊ ꦯ, ꦰ
Ayin 𐤏 ʿayin eye ʿ [ʕ] 𓁹 𐡏‬ ܥ ע ع, غ ޢ, ޣ 𐩲 Οο, Ωω Ⲟⲟ, Ⲱⲱ 𐤬 𐌏 Oo Оо /ⴍ/Ⴍ Օ/օ 𐰆 3mg ouöü final.PNG ए, ऐ এ,ঐ ဩ, ဪ អុ ꦎ, ꦎꦴ
Pe 𐤐 mouth p [p] 𓂋 𐡐‬ ܦ פף ف ފ, ޕ 𐩰 ፐ, ፈ Ππ Ⲡⲡ 𐌐 Pp Пп /ⴎ/Ⴎ Պ/պ 𐰯 པ, ཕ प, फ প, ফ ပ, ဖ ප, ඵ ព, ភ ປ, ຜ ꦥ, ꦦ
Sadek 𐤑 ṣādē ? (papyrus?) [] 𓇑 𐡑‬ ܨ צץ ص, ض ޞ, ޟ 𐩮 , ጰ, ፀ (Ϻϻ) 𐌑 Цц, Чч, Џџ /ⴚ/Ⴚ Ց/ց 2mg c medial.png 2mg ts medial.png ཅ, ཆ, ཙ, ཚ , চ, ছ စ, ဆ ච, ඡ ច, ឆ จ, ฉ ꦕ, ꦖ
Qoph 𐤒 qōp needle eye q [q] 𓃻 𐡒‬ ܩ ק ޤ, ގ‎ 𐩤 (Ϙϙ), Φφ, Ψψ Ϥϥ, Ⲫⲫ, Ⲯⲯ 𐌒, 𐌘, 𐌙 Qq (Ҁҁ, Фф) /ⴕ/Ⴕ Ք/ք, Փ/փ, Ֆ/ֆ 𐰴 ข, ฃ
Res 𐤓 rēš head r [r] 𓁶 𐡓‬ ܪ ר ރ 𐩧 Ρρ Ⲣⲣ 𐤭 𐌓 Rr Рр /ⴐ/Ⴐ Ր/ր 𐰺 3mg r final.png
Sin 𐤔 šīn tooth š [ʃ] 𓌓 𐡔‬ ܫ ש ش, س ޝ, ސ 𐩦 Σσς Ⲋⲋ, Ⲥⲥ, Ϣϣ 𐤮 𐌔 ᛊ/ᛋ Ss Сс, Шш, Щщ /ⴘ/Ⴘ Շ/շ 𐱁 3mg s final.png 3mg sh final.png
Taw 𐤕 tāw mark t [t] 𓏴 𐡕‬ ܬ ת ت, ث ތ, ޘ 𐩩 Ττ Ⲋⲋ, Ⲧⲧ 𐤯 𐌕 Tt Тт /ⴒ/ Տ/տ 𐱃 3mg td final.png ต, ด
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
Plain Emphatic
Nasal m n
Stop Voiceless p t k q ʔ
Voiced b d ɡ
Fricative Voiceless s ʃ ħ h
Voiced z ʕ
Trill r
Approximant l j w

Letter names

Phoenician used a system of acrophony to name letters: a word was chosen with each initial consonant sound, and became the name of the letter for that sound. These names were not arbitrary: each Phoenician letter was based on an Egyptian hieroglyph representing an Egyptian word; this word was translated into Phoenician (or a closely related Semitic language), then the initial sound of the translated word became the letter's Phoenician value.[18] For example, the second letter of the Phoenician alphabet was based on the Egyptian hieroglyph for "house" (a sketch of a house); the Semitic word for "house" was bet; hence the Phoenician letter was called bet and had the sound value b.

According to a 1904 theory by Theodor Nöldeke, some of the letter names were changed in Phoenician from the Proto-Canaanite script. This includes:

  • gaml "throwing stick" to gimel "camel"
  • digg "fish" to dalet "door"
  • hll "jubilation" to he "window"
  • ziqq "manacle" to zayin "weapon"
  • naḥš "snake" to nun "fish"
  • piʾt "corner" to pe "mouth"
  • šimš "sun" to šin "tooth"

Yigael Yadin (1963) went to great lengths to prove that there was actual battle equipment similar to some of the original letter forms.[19]


The Phoenician numeral system consisted of separate symbols for 1, 10, 20, and 100. The sign for 1 was a simple vertical stroke (𐤖). Other numbers up to 9 were formed by adding the appropriate number of such strokes, arranged in groups of three. The symbol for 10 was a horizontal line or tack (𐤗). The sign for 20 (𐤘) could come in different glyph variants, one of them being a combination of two 10-tacks, approximately Z-shaped. Larger multiples of ten were formed by grouping the appropriate number of 20s and 10s. There existed several glyph variants for 100 (𐤙). The 100 symbol could be multiplied by a preceding numeral, e.g. the combination of "4" and "100" yielded 400.[20] The system did not contain a numeral zero.[21]


(32 code points)
Assigned29 code points
Unused3 reserved code points
Unicode version history
5.027 (+27)
5.229 (+2)
Note: [22][23]

The Phoenician alphabet was added to the Unicode Standard in July 2006 with the release of version 5.0. An alternative proposal to handle it as a font variation of Hebrew was turned down. (See PDF summary.)

The Unicode block for Phoenician is U+10900–U+1091F. It is intended for the representation of text in Palaeo-Hebrew, Archaic Phoenician, Phoenician, Early Aramaic, Late Phoenician cursive, Phoenician papyri, Siloam Hebrew, Hebrew seals, Ammonite, Moabite, and Punic.

The letters are encoded U+10900 𐤀 aleph through to U+10915 𐤕 taw, U+10916 𐤖, U+10917 𐤗, U+10918 𐤘 and U+10919 𐤙 encode the numerals 1, 10, 20 and 100 respectively and U+1091F 𐤟 is the word separator.


Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+1090x 𐤀 𐤁 𐤂 𐤃 𐤄 𐤅 𐤆 𐤇 𐤈 𐤉 𐤊 𐤋 𐤌 𐤍 𐤎 𐤏
U+1091x 𐤐 𐤑 𐤒 𐤓 𐤔 𐤕 𐤖 𐤗 𐤘 𐤙 𐤚 𐤛 𐤟
1.^ As of Unicode version 12.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points


The following Unicode-related documents record the purpose and process of defining specific characters in the Phoenician block:

Version Final code points[a] Count L2 ID WG2 ID Document
5.0 U+10900..10919, 1091F 27 N1579 Everson, Michael (1997-05-27), Proposal for encoding the Phoenician script
L2/97-288 N1603 Umamaheswaran, V. S. (1997-10-24), "8.24.1", Unconfirmed Meeting Minutes, WG 2 Meeting # 33, Heraklion, Crete, Greece, 20 June – 4 July 1997
L2/99-013 N1932 Everson, Michael (1998-11-23), Revised proposal for encoding the Phoenician script in the UCS
L2/99-224 N2097, N2025-2 Röllig, W. (1999-07-23), Comments on proposals for the Universal Multiple-Octed Coded Character Set
N2133 Response to comments on the question of encoding Old Semitic scripts in the UCS (N2097), 1999-10-04
L2/00-010 N2103 Umamaheswaran, V. S. (2000-01-05), "10.4", Minutes of WG 2 meeting 37, Copenhagen, Denmark: 1999-09-13—16
L2/04-149 Kass, James; Anderson, Deborah W.; Snyder, Dean; Lehmann, Reinhard G.; Cowie, Paul James; Kirk, Peter; Cowan, John; Khalaf, S. George; Richmond, Bob (2004-05-25), Miscellaneous Input on Phoenician Encoding Proposal
L2/04-141R2 N2746R2 Everson, Michael (2004-05-29), Final proposal for encoding the Phoenician script in the UCS
L2/04-177 Anderson, Deborah (2004-05-31), Expert Feedback on Phoenician
L2/04-178 N2772 Anderson, Deborah (2004-06-04), Additional Support for Phoenician
L2/04-181 Keown, Elaine (2004-06-04), REBUTTAL to “Final proposal for encoding the Phoenician script in the UCS”
L2/04-190 N2787 Everson, Michael (2004-06-06), Additional examples of the Phoenician script in use
L2/04-187 McGowan, Rick (2004-06-07), Phoenician Recommendation
L2/04-206 N2793 Kirk, Peter (2004-06-07), Response to the revised "Final proposal for encoding the Phoenician script" (L2/04-141R2)
L2/04-213 Rosenne, Jony (2004-06-07), Responses to Several Hebrew Related Items
L2/04-217R Keown, Elaine (2004-06-07), Proposal to add Archaic Mediterranean Script block to ISO 10646
L2/04-226 Durusau, Patrick (2004-06-07), Statement of the Society of Biblical Literature on WG2 N2746R2
L2/04-218 N2792 Snyder, Dean (2004-06-08), Response to the Proposal to Encode Phoenician in Unicode
L2/05-009 N2909 Anderson, Deborah (2005-01-19), Letters in support of Phoenician
5.2 U+1091A..1091B 2 L2/07-206 N3284 Everson, Michael (2007-07-25), Proposal to add two numbers for the Phoenician script
  1. ^ Proposed code points and characters names may differ from final code points and names
  1. ^ Proposed code points and characters names may differ from final code points and names

Derived alphabets

Each letter of Phoenician gave way to a new form in its daughter scripts. Left to right: Latin, Greek, Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic

Middle Eastern descendants

The Paleo-Hebrew alphabet, used to write early Hebrew, was a regional offshoot of Phoenician; it is nearly identical to the Phoenician (in many early writings they are impossible to distinguish). The Samaritan alphabet is a direct descendant of the Paleo-Hebrew. The current Hebrew alphabet is a stylized form of the Aramaic alphabet, itself a descendant of the Phoenician script.

The Aramaic alphabet, used to write Aramaic, is another descendant of Phoenician. Aramaic, being the lingua franca of the Middle East, was widely adopted. It later split off (due to political divisions) into a number of related alphabets, including Hebrew, Syriac, and Nabataean, the latter of which, in its cursive form, became an ancestor of the Arabic alphabet currently used in Arabic-speaking countries from North Africa through the Levant to Iraq and the Persian Gulf region, as well as in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries.

The Sogdian alphabet, a descendant of Phoenician via Syriac, is an ancestor of the Old Uyghur, which in turn is an ancestor of the Mongolian and Manchu alphabets, the former of which is still in use and the latter of which survives as the Xibe script.

The Arabic script is a descendant of Phoenician via Aramaic.

The Coptic alphabet, still used in Egypt for writing the Christian liturgical language Coptic (descended from Ancient Egyptian), is mostly based on the Greek alphabet, but with a few additional letters for sounds not in Greek at the time. Those additional letters are based on Demotic script.

Derived European scripts

According to Herodotus,[25] the Phoenician prince Cadmus was accredited with the introduction of the Phoenician alphabet—phoinikeia grammata, "Phoenician letters"—to the Greeks, who adapted it to form their Greek alphabet, which was later introduced to the rest of Europe. Herodotus estimates that Cadmus lived sixteen hundred years before his time, or around 2000 BC, and claims that the Greeks did not know of the Phoenician alphabet before Cadmus.[26]

Modern historians agree that Greek alphabet is derived from the Phoenician.[27] With a different phonology, the Greeks adapted the Phoenician script to represent their own sounds, including the vowels absent in Phoenician. It was possibly more important in Greek to write out vowel sounds: Phoenician being a Semitic language, words were based on consonantal roots that permitted extensive removal of vowels without loss of meaning, a feature absent in the Indo-European Greek. (However, Akkadian cuneiform, which wrote a related Semitic language, did indicate vowels, which suggests the Phoenicians simply accepted the model of the Egyptians, who never wrote vowels.) In any case, the Greeks repurposed the Phoenician letters of consonant sounds not present in Greek; each such letter had its name shorn of its leading consonant, and the letter took the value of the now-leading vowel. For example, ʾāleph, which designated a glottal stop in Phoenician, was repurposed to represent the vowel /a/; he became /e/, ḥet became /eː/ (a long vowel), ʿayin became /o/ (because the pharyngeality altered the following vowel), while the two semi-consonants wau and yod became the corresponding high vowels, /u/ and /i/. (Some dialects of Greek, which did possess /h/ and /w/, continued to use the Phoenician letters for those consonants as well.)

Cyrillic script was derived from the Greek alphabet. Some Cyrillic letters (generally for sounds not in Mediaeval Greek) are based on Glagolitic forms, which in turn were influenced by the Hebrew or even Coptic alphabets.

The Latin alphabet was derived from Old Italic (originally a form of the Greek alphabet), used for Etruscan and other languages. The origin of the Runic alphabet is disputed: the main theories are that it evolved either from the Latin alphabet itself, some early Old Italic alphabet via the Alpine scripts, or the Greek alphabet. Despite this debate, the Runic alphabet is clearly derived from one or more scripts that ultimately trace their roots back to the Phoenician alphabet.[27][28]

Brahmic scripts

Many Western scholars believe that the Brahmi script of India and the subsequent Indic alphabets are also derived from the Aramaic script, which would make Phoenician the ancestor of virtually every alphabetic writing system in use today.[29]

However, due to an indigenous-origin hypothesis of Brahmic scripts, no definitive scholarly consensus exists.

Surviving examples

See also


  1. ^ Earliest attestation in the Bronze Age collapse period, classical form from about 1050 BC; gradually died out during the Hellenistic period as its evolved forms replaced it; obsolete with the destruction of Carthage in 149 BC.
  2. ^ Himelfarb, Elizabeth J. "First Alphabet Found in Egypt", Archaeology 53, Issue 1 (Jan./Feb. 2000): 21.
  3. ^ Fischer, Steven Roger (2004). A history of writing. Reaktion Books. p. 90.
  4. ^ "Phoenicia". Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2018-11-12.
  5. ^ Beyond Babel: A Handbook for Biblical Hebrew and Related Languages, article by Charles R. Krahmalkov (ed. John Kaltner, Steven L. McKenzie, 2002). "This alphabet was not, as often mistakenly asserted, invented by the Phoenicians but, rather, was an adaptation of the early West Semitic alphabet to the needs of their own language".
  6. ^ Michael C. Howard (2012). Transnationalism in Ancient and Medieval Societies. P. 23.
  7. ^ Reinhard G. Kratz (11 November 2015). Historical and Biblical Israel: The History, Tradition, and Archives of Israel and Judah. OUP Oxford. p. 64. ISBN 978-0-19-104448-9. [...] scribes wrote in Paleo-Hebrew, a local variant of the Phoenician alphabetic script [...]
  8. ^ Coulmas (1989) p. 141.
  9. ^ Markoe (2000) p. 111
  10. ^ Hock and Joseph (1996) p. 85.
  11. ^ Daniels (1996) p. 94-95.
  12. ^ "Discovery of Egyptian Inscriptions Indicates an Earlier Date for Origin of the Alphabet". Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  13. ^ Fischer (2003) p. 68-69.
  14. ^ Jensen (1969) p. 256.
  15. ^ Jensen (1969) p. 256-258.
  16. ^ "Charts" (PDF).
  17. ^ after Fischer, Steven R. (2001). A History of Writing. London: Reaction Books. p. 126.
  18. ^ Jensen (1969) p. 262-263.
  19. ^ Yigael Yadin, The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands. McGraw-Hill, 1963. The Samech – a quick war ladder, later to become the '$' dollar sign drawing the three internal lines quickly. The 'Z' shaped Zayin – an ancient boomerang used for hunting. The 'H' shaped Het – mammoth tuffs.
  20. ^ "Phoenician numerals in Unicode], [ Systèmes numéraux" (PDF). Retrieved 20 April 2017. External link in |title= (help)
  21. ^ "Number Systems". Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  22. ^ "Unicode character database". The Unicode Standard. Retrieved 2016-07-09.
  23. ^ "Enumerated Versions of The Unicode Standard". The Unicode Standard. Retrieved 2016-07-09.
  24. ^ Herodotus, Histories, Book V, 58.
  25. ^ Herodotus. Histories, Book II, 145
  26. ^ a b Humphrey, John William (2006). Ancient technology. Greenwood guides to historic events of the ancient world (illustrated ed.). Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 219. ISBN 9780313327636. Retrieved 2009-10-18.
  27. ^ Spurkland, Terje (2005): Norwegian Runes and Runic Inscriptions, translated by Betsy van der Hoek, Boydell Press, Woodbridge, pp. 3–4
  28. ^ Richard Salomon, "Brahmi and Kharoshthi", in The World's Writing Systems


  • Jean-Pierre Thiollet, Je m'appelle Byblos, H & D, Paris, 2005. ISBN 2-914266-04-9
  • Maria Eugenia Aubet, The Phoenicians and the West Second Edition, Cambridge University Press, London, 2001.
  • Daniels, Peter T., et al. eds. The World's Writing Systems Oxford. (1996).
  • Jensen, Hans, Sign, Symbol, and Script, G.P. Putman's Sons, New York, 1969.
  • Coulmas, Florian, Writing Systems of the World, Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Oxford, 1989.
  • Hock, Hans H. and Joseph, Brian D., Language History, Language Change, and Language Relationship, Mouton de Gruyter, New York, 1996.
  • Fischer, Steven R., A History of Writing, Reaktion Books, 1999.
  • Markoe, Glenn E., Phoenicians. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-22613-5 (2000) (hardback)
  • Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic on Coins, reading and transliterating Proto-Hebrew, online edition. (Judaea Coin Archive)

External links

Aramaic alphabet

The ancient Aramaic alphabet is adapted from the Phoenician alphabet and became distinct from it by the 8th century BC. It was used to write the Aramaic language and had displaced the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet, itself a derivative of the Phoenician alphabet, for the writing of Hebrew. The letters all represent consonants, some of which are also used as matres lectionis to indicate long vowels.

The Aramaic alphabet is historically significant since virtually all modern Middle Eastern writing systems can be traced back to it as well as numerous non-Chinese writing systems of Central and East Asia. That is primarily from the widespread usage of the Aramaic language as both a lingua franca and the official language of the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Empires, and their successor, the Achaemenid Empire. Among the scripts in modern use, the Hebrew alphabet bears the closest relation to the Imperial Aramaic script of the 5th century BC, with an identical letter inventory and, for the most part, nearly identical letter shapes. The Aramaic alphabet was an ancestor to the Nabataean alphabet and the later Arabic alphabet.

Writing systems (like the Aramaic one) that indicate consonants but do not indicate most vowels other than by means of matres lectionis or added diacritical signs, have been called abjads by Peter T. Daniels to distinguish them from alphabets, such as the Greek alphabet, which represent vowels more systematically. The term was coined to avoid the notion that a writing system that represents sounds must be either a syllabary or an alphabet, which would imply that a system like Aramaic must be either a syllabary (as argued by Ignace Gelb) or an incomplete or deficient alphabet (as most other writers have said). Rather, it is a different type.

Bet (letter)

Bet, Beth, Beh, or Vet is the second letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician Bēt , Hebrew Bēt ב, Aramaic Bēth , Syriac Bēṯ ܒ, and Arabic Bāʾ ب Its sound value is a voiced bilabial stop ⟨b⟩ or a voiced labiodental fricative ⟨v⟩.

This letter's name means "house" in various Semitic languages (Arabic bayt, Akkadian bītu, bētu, Hebrew: bayiṯ, Phoenician bt etc.; ultimately all from Proto-Semitic *bayt-), and appears to derive from an Egyptian hieroglyph of a house by acrophony.

The Phoenician letter gave rise to, among others, the Greek Beta, Latin B, and Cyrillic Б, В.


Dalet (dāleth, also spelled Daleth or Daled) is the fourth letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician Dālet , Hebrew 'Dālet ד, Aramaic Dālath , Syriac Dālaṯ ܕ, and Arabic Dāl د (in abjadi order; 8th in modern order). Its sound value is a voiced alveolar plosive ([d]).

The letter is based on a glyph of the Middle Bronze Age alphabets, probably called dalt "door" (door in Modern Hebrew is delet), ultimately based on a hieroglyph depicting a door, The Phoenician letter gave rise to the Greek delta (Δ), Latin D, and the Cyrillic letter Д.

He (letter)

He is the fifth letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician Hē , Hebrew Hē ה, Aramaic Hē , Syriac Hē ܗ, and Arabic Hāʾ ه. Its sound value is a voiceless glottal fricative ([h]).

The proto-Canaanite letter gave rise to the Greek Epsilon, Etruscan 𐌄, Latin E, Ë and Ɛ, and Cyrillic Е, Ё, Є and Э. He, like all Phoenician letters, represented a consonant, but the Latin, Greek and Cyrillic equivalents have all come to represent vowel sounds.


Ḥet or H̱et (also spelled Khet, Kheth, Chet, Cheth, Het, or Heth) is the eighth letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician Ḥēt , Hebrew Ḥēth ח, Aramaic Ḥēth , Syriac Ḥēṯ ܚ, Arabic Ḥā' ح, Maltese Ħ, ħ.

Heth originally represented a voiceless fricative, either pharyngeal /ħ/, or velar /x/. In Arabic, two corresponding letters were created for both phonemic sounds: unmodified ḥāʾ ح represents /ħ/, while ḫāʾ خ represents /x/.

The Phoenician letter gave rise to the Greek eta Η, Etruscan , Latin H and Cyrillic И. While H is a consonant in the Latin alphabet, the Greek and Cyrillic equivalents represent vowel sounds.


Kaf (also spelled kaph) is the eleventh letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician Kāp 𐤊 , Hebrew Kāf כ, Aramaic Kāp 𐡊 , Syriac Kāp̄ ܟܟ, and Arabic Kāf ک/ك (in Abjadi order).

The Phoenician letter gave rise to the Greek kappa (Κ), Latin K, and Cyrillic К.


Lamedh or Lamed is the twelfth letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician Lāmed , Hebrew 'Lāmed ל, Aramaic Lāmadh , Syriac Lāmaḏ ܠ, and Arabic Lām ل. Its sound value is [l].

The Phoenician letter gave rise to the Greek Lambda (Λ), Latin L, and Cyrillic El (Л).


Mem (also spelled Meem, Meme, or Mim) is the thirteenth letter of the Semitic abjads, including Hebrew mēm מ, Aramaic Mem , Syriac mīm ܡܡ, Arabic mīm م and Phoenician mēm . Its value is [m].

The Phoenician letter gave rise to the Greek mu (Μ), Etruscan , Latin M, and Cyrillic М.

Nun (letter)

Nun is the fourteenth letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician Nūn , Hebrew Nun נ, Aramaic Nun , Syriac Nūn ܢܢ, and Arabic Nūn ن (in abjadi order). It is the third letter in Thaana (ނ), pronounced as "nonou". In all languages, it represents the alveolar nasal /n/.

The Phoenician letter gave rise to the Greek nu (Ν), Etruscan , Latin N, and Cyrillic Н.

Pe (letter)

Pe is the seventeenth letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician Pē , Hebrew Pē פ, Aramaic Pē , Syriac Pē ܦ, and Arabic Fāʼ ف (in abjadi order).

The original sound value is a voiceless bilabial plosive: /p/; it retains this value in most Semitic languages except for Arabic, which having lost /p/ now uses it to render a voiceless labiodental fricative /f/.

The Phoenician letter gave rise to the Greek Pi (Π), Latin P, and Cyrillic П.


Phoenician may refer to:

Phoenicia, an ancient civilization

Phoenician alphabet

Phoenician language

List of Phoenician cities


Qoph or Qop (Phoenician Qōp ) is the nineteenth letter of the Semitic abjads. Aramaic Qop is derived from the Phoenician letter, and derivations from Aramaic include Hebrew Qof ק, Syriac Qōp̄ ܩ and Arabic Qāf ق.

Its original sound value was a West Semitic emphatic stop, presumably [kˤ] or [q]. In Hebrew gematria, it has the numerical value of 100.


Resh is the twentieth letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician Rēsh , Hebrew Rēsh ר, Aramaic Rēsh , Syriac Rēsh ܪ, and Arabic Rāʾ ر. Its sound value is one of a number of rhotic consonants: usually [r] or [ɾ], but also [ʁ] or [ʀ] in Hebrew and North Mesopotamian Arabic.

In most Semitic alphabets, the letter resh (and its equivalents) is quite similar to the letter dalet (and its equivalents). In the Syriac alphabet, the letters became so similar that now they are only distinguished by a dot: resh has a dot above the letter, and the otherwise identical dalet has a dot below the letter. In the Arabic alphabet, rāʼ has a longer tail than dāl. In the Aramaic and Hebrew square alphabet, resh is a rounded single stroke while dalet is a right-angle of two strokes. The similarity led to the variant spellings of the name Nebuchadnezzar and Nebuchadrezzar.

The Phoenician letter gave rise to the Greek Rho (Ρ), Etruscan , Latin R, and Cyrillic Р.

Samaritan alphabet

The Samaritan alphabet is used by the Samaritans for religious writings, including the Samaritan Pentateuch, writings in Samaritan Hebrew, and for commentaries and translations in Samaritan Aramaic and occasionally Arabic.

Samaritan is a direct descendant of the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet, which was a variety of the Phoenician alphabet in which large parts of the Hebrew Bible were originally penned. All these scripts are believed to be descendants of the Proto-Sinaitic script. That script was used by the ancient Israelites, both Jews and Samaritans. The better-known "square script" Hebrew alphabet traditionally used by Jews is a stylized version of the Aramaic alphabet called "Assyrian writing" (כתב אשורי) which they adopted from the Persian Empire (which in turn adopted it from the Arameans). After the fall of the Persian Empire, Judaism used both scripts before settling on the Aramaic form. For a limited time thereafter, the use of paleo-Hebrew (proto-Samaritan) among Jews was retained only to write the Tetragrammaton, but soon that custom was also abandoned.

The Samaritan alphabet first became known to the Western world with the publication of a manuscript of the Samaritan Pentateuch in 1631 by Jean Morin. In 1616 the traveler Pietro della Valle had purchased a copy of the text in Damascus, and this manuscript, now known as Codex B, was deposited in a Parisian library.


Samekh is the fifteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It also appears in many Semitic abjads.The numerical value of samekh is 60.

Shin (letter)

Shin (also spelled Šin (šīn) or Sheen) is the twenty-first letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician Shin , Hebrew Shin ש, Aramaic Shin , Syriac Shin ܫ, and Arabic Shin ش (in abjadi order, 13th in modern order).

Its sound value is a voiceless sibilant, [ʃ] or [s].

The Phoenician letter gave rise to the Greek Sigma (Σ) (which in turn gave Latin S and Cyrillic С), and the letter Sha in the Glagolitic and Cyrillic scripts (, Ш).

The South Arabian and Ethiopian letter Śawt is also cognate.


Teth, also written as Ṭēth or Tet, is a letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician Ṭēt , Hebrew Ṭēt ט, Aramaic Ṭēth , Syriac Ṭēṯ ܛ, and Arabic Ṭāʾ ط. It is the 16th letter of the modern Arabic alphabet. The Persian ṭa is pronounced as a hard "t" sound and is the 19th letter in the modern Persian alphabet. The Phoenician letter also gave rise to the Greek theta (Θ), originally an aspirated voiceless alveolar stop but now used for the voiceless dental fricative. The Arabic letter is sometimes transliterated as tah in English, for example in Arabic script in Unicode.

The sound value of Teth is /tˤ/, one of the Semitic emphatic consonants.


Tsade (also spelled Ṣade, Ṣādē, Ṣaddi, Ṣad, Tzadi, Sadhe, Tzaddik) is the eighteenth letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician Ṣādē , Hebrew Ṣādi צ, Aramaic Ṣāḏē , Syriac Ṣāḏē ܨ, Ge'ez Ṣädäy ጸ, and Arabic Ṣād ص. Its oldest sound value is probably /sˤ/, although there is a variety of pronunciation in different modern Semitic languages and their dialects. It represents the coalescence of three Proto-Semitic "emphatic consonants" in Canaanite. Arabic, which kept the phonemes separate, introduced variants of ṣād and ṭāʾ to express the three (see ḍād, ẓāʾ). In Aramaic, these emphatic consonants coalesced instead with ʿayin and ṭēt, respectively, thus Hebrew ereṣ ארץ (earth) is araʿ ארע in Aramaic.

The Phoenician letter is continued in the Greek San (Ϻ) and possibly Sampi (Ϡ), and in Etruscan 𐌑 Ś. It may have inspired the form of the letter Tse in the Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets.

The corresponding letter of the Ugaritic alphabet is 𐎕 ṣade.

The letter is named "tsadek" in Yiddish, and Hebrew speakers often give it a similar name as well. This name for the letter probably originated from a fast recitation of the alphabet (i.e., "tsadi, qoph" → "tsadiq, qoph"), influenced by the Hebrew word tzadik, meaning "righteous person".


Zayin (also spelled zain or zayn or simply zay) is the seventh letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician Zayin , Hebrew 'Zayin ז, Yiddish Zoyen ז, Aramaic Zain , Syriac Zayn ܙ, and Arabic Zayn or Zāy ز. It represents the sound [z].

The Phoenician letter gave rise to the Greek zeta (Ζ), Etruscan z , Latin Z, and Cyrillic Ze З.

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