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Title: Eteocretan  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Athena, Minoan civilization, Moirai, Hellenization, Mycenaean Greek, Karfi, Eteocypriot language, Pre-Greek substrate, Combinatorial method (linguistics)
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Not to be confused with Minoan, the language written in Linear A a millennium earlier than Eteocretan.
Eteocretan Inscription from Praisos
Native to Dreros, Praisos
Region Crete
Era late 7th–3rd century BC
Language family
Writing system Greek alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3 ecr
Linguist List Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
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  Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
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  Template:Infobox language/linguistlist

Eteocretan /ˌtɪˈkrtən, ˌɛt-/ (lit. "true Cretan", Template:Etymology + Cretan)[1] is the non-Greek language of a few alphabetic inscriptions of ancient Crete.

In eastern Crete about half a dozen inscriptions have been found which, though written in Greek alphabets, are clearly not Greek. These inscriptions date from the late 7th or early 6th century down to the 3rd century BC. The language, which is not understood, is probably a survival of a language spoken on Crete before the arrival of Greeks and may well be derived from the Minoan language preserved in the Linear A inscriptions of a millennium earlier. But as that language still remains to be deciphered, we cannot say for sure that Eteocretan and Minoan are related.

Ancient testimony suggests that the language is that of the Eteocretans, i.e. "True Cretans."

The term 'Eteocretan' is sometimes applied to the Minoan language(s) written more than a millennium earlier in so-called Cretan 'hieroglyphics' (almost certainly a syllabary) and in the Linear A script. Yves Duhoux, a leading authority on Eteocretan, wrote: 'il est essentiel de séparer rigoureusement l'étude de l'étéocrétois de celle des inscriptions ″hiéroglyphiques″ et linéaires A' (it is essential to rigorously separate the study of Eteocretan from that of the ″hieroglyphic″ and Linear A inscriptions).[2]

Ancient sources

Κρήτη τις γαῖ᾽ ἔστι μέσῳ ἐνὶ οἰνοπι πόντῳ,
καλὴ καὶ πίειρα, περίρρυτος· ἐν δ᾿ ἄνθρωποι
πολλοί, ἀπειρέσιοι, καὶ ἐννήκοντα πόληες.
ἄλλη δ᾿ἄλλων γλῶσσα μεμιγμένη· ἐν μὲν Ἀχαιοί,
ἐν δ᾽ Ἐτεόκρητες μεγαλήτορες, ἐν δὲ Κύδωνες,
Δωριέες τε τριχάϊκες δῖοί τε Πελασγοί.

There is a land called Crete in the midst of the wine-blue sea,
a beautiful and fertile land, seagirt; in it are many
people, innumerable, and there are ninety cities.
Language with language is mingled together. There are Akhaians,
there are great-hearted Eteocretans, there are Kydones,
and Dorians in their three clans, and noble Pelasgians.
[Homer, Odyssey 19, lines 172 - 177]

τούτων φησί Στάφυλος τὸ μὲν πρὸς ἔω Δοριεῖς κατέχειν, τὸ δὲ δυσμικόν Κύδωνας, τὸ δὲ νότιον Ἐτεόκρητας ὧν εἶναι πολίχνιον Πρᾶσον, ὅπου τὸ τοῦ Δικταίου Διὸς ἱερόν· τοὺς μὲν οὖν Ἐτεόκρητας καὶ Κύδωνας αὐτόχθονας ὑπάρξαι εἰκός, τοὺς δὲ λοιποὺς ἐπήλυδας, ....
Of them [the peoples in the above passage] Staphylos says that the Dorians occupy the region towards the east, the Kydones the western part, the Eteocretans the southern, whose town is Prasos, where the temple of Diktaian Zeus is; and that the Eteocretans and Kydones are probably indigenous, but the others incomers, ....
[Strabo 10, 475]

Indeed, more than half the known texts are from Praisos (Strabo's Πρᾶσος);[3] the others were found at Dreros (Driros).


There are five inscriptions which can be attributed Eteocretan, two of them being bilingual Eteocretan and Greek. There are three other fragments that may be Eteocretan. The whole Eteocretan corpus, and more, is very fully discussed by Yves Duhoux in L'Étéocrétois: les textes - la langue.[4]


The two bilingual inscriptions, together with six other Greek inscriptions, were found in the western part of the large Hellenistic cistern next to the east wall of the Delphinion (temple of Apollo Delphinios) in Dreros, at a depth between 3 to 4 metres.[5] The texts are all written in the archaic Cretan alphabet and date from the late 7th or early 6th century BC. They give official religious and political decisions and probably came from the east wall of the Delphinion; they were published by Henri van Effenterre in 1937 and 1946 and were kept in the museum at Neapolis.

The longer of these two inscriptions was found in the autumn of 1936 but not published until 1946.[6] The Greek part of the text is very worn and could not easily be read. Almost certainly with modern technology the Greek part would yield more but the inscription was lost during the occupation of the island in World War II. Despite searches over 70 years, it has not been found.

The other Dreros inscription was also published by van Effenterre in 1946.[7] The Eteocretan part of the text has disappeared, only the word(s) τυπρμηριηια (tuprmēriēia) remaining.

Praisos (or Praesos)

The other three certain Eteocretan inscriptions were published by has published them online with slightly different transcriptions than those given by Guarducci.

The earliest of these inscriptions is, like the Dreros one, written in the archaic Cretan alphabet and likewise dates from the late 7th or early 6th century BC. The second of the Praisos inscriptions is written in the standard Ionic alphabet, except for lambda which is still written in the archaic Cretan style; it probably dates from the 4th century BC.[8] The third inscription, dating probably from the 3rd century BC, is written in the standard Ionic alphabet with the addition of digamma or wau.

Other possible fragmentary inscriptions

Guarducci included three other fragmentary inscriptions;[9] two of these fragments were also discussed by Yves Duhoux.[10] The latter also discussed several other fragmentary inscriptions which might be Eteocretan.[11] All these inscriptions, however, are so very fragmentary that it really is not possible to state with any certainty that they may not be Greek.

A modern forgery

A modern forgery is found in older publications included with Eteocretan inscriptions.[12][13][14] It is variously known as the Psychro inscription or the Epioi inscription.

The inscription has five words, which bear no obvious resemblance to the language of the Dreros and Praisos inscriptions, apparently written in the Ionic alphabet of the 3rd century BC, with the addition of three symbols which resemble the Linear A script of more than a millennium earlier. The enigmatic inscription has attracted the attention of many, but has now been shown by Dr Ch. Kritzas to be a modern forgery.[15]

The language

The inscriptions are too few to give us much information about the language.


The early inscriptions written in the archaic Cretan alphabet do mark word division; the two longer inscriptions from the 4th and 3rd centuries BC do not show word divisions.

From the Dreros inscriptions we have the following words: et isalabre komn men inai isaluria lmo tuprmēriēia

The two words komn and lmo seem to show that /n/ and /l/ could be syllabic.

As to the meanings of the words, nothing can be said with any certainty. Van Effenterre suggested that:

  • iniai = Dorian Cretan ἔϜαδε (= classical Greek ἄδε, 3rd singular aorist of ἀνδάνω) = ″it pleased [the council, the people]″, i.e. ″it was decided [that]″[16] The word ἔϜαδε occurs in the Greek part of the bilingual text, and all but one of the other Greek texts from the Delphinion in Dreros.
  • tuprmēriēia = καθαρὸν γένοιτο in the Greek part of the inscription, i.e. ″may it become pure″.[17]

Also Van Effenterree noted that the word τυρό(ν) (cheese) seems to occur twice in the Greek part of the first Dreros bilingual and suggested the text concerned the offering of goat cheese to Leto, the mother goddess of the Delphinion triad and that the words isalabre and isaluria were related words with the meaning of ″(goat) cheese".[18]

The only clearly complete word on the earliest Praisos inscription is barze, and there is no indication of its meaning.

The other two Praisos inscriptions do not show word breaks. It has, however, been noted that in the second line of the 4th century inscription we have phraisoi inai (φραισοι ιναι); and it has been suggested that this means ″it pleased the Praisians" (ἔϜαδε Πραισίοις).[19]


Though meager, the inscriptions do show a language which bears no obvious kinship to either Indo-European or Semitic languages; nor does the language appear to be related to Etruscan or any other known ancient language of the Aegean or Asia Minor. Brown,[20] after listing a number of words of pre-Greek origin from Crete suggests a relation between Eteocretan, Lemnian (Pelasgian), Minoan, and Tyrrhenian, coining the name "Aegeo-Asianic" for the proposed language family.[21] In whichever case, unless further inscriptions, especially bilingual ones, are found, the Eteocretan language must remain 'unclassified.'

While possible that Eteocretan is descended from the Minoan language of Linear A inscriptions of a millennium earlier, until there is an accepted decipherment of Linear A, that language must also remain unclassified and the question of a relationship between the two remains speculative, especially as there seem to have been other non-Greek languages spoken in Crete.[22]

See also


External links

  • Eteocretan text corpus
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