The Eteocretan Language

[Testimony of two ancient writers]  [The peoples of archaic Crete]  [The Eteocretan Texts]
 

In eastern Crete there have been found a few inscriptions which, though written in Greek alphabets, are clearly not Greek. The language is, presumably, a survival of a language spoken on Crete before the arrival of Greek. Ancient testimony suggests that the language is a survival of that of the Eteocretans, i.e. "True Cretans". The 'Welcome to the Ancient Aegean Languages' page give information about the sources of the material on this page and the other pages in the Ancient Aegean Languages pages.

Testimony of two ancient writers

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]


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The peoples of archaic Crete

The incomers

The Akhaians (Achaians/ Achaeans) and Dorians were Greeks; the Akhaians had established themselves in the Knossos area by the 14th century BCE and the Dorians may well have made there way there also by the 13th century BCE.

Ancient tradition generally linked the Pelasgians with the Etruscans, Tyrrhenians and Lydians and placed them in the northen part of the Aegean area. A characteristic Pelasgian place-name is 'Laris(s)a' and this is attested as the earlier name of Gortyn in Crete and in the area of Hierapytna, thus lending credence to the veracity of Homer's list.

Whether the Pelasgians had migrated there from the northern Aegeean area before the arrival the Greeks or whether they followed the Greeks, we cannot tell.

The indigenous peoples

That the Kydones inhabited the western part of the island seems confirmed by the name the Greeks gave to the ancient city on the site of the modern Khaniá, namely Κυδωνία (Kydonia), i.e. ἡ Κυδωνία πόλις (the Kydonese city).

Minoan remains have been found at ancient Kydonia which date back at least to the 2nd millennium BC and, indeed, archaeological evidence shows that the Akrotiri peninsula was well populated in the late Bronze age. The Eteocretan inscriptions, however, all come from the eastern part of the island.

The Eteocretans, on the other hand, were traditionally associated with Prasos or, as it was more commonly known, Praisos in the eastern part of Crete:

Πραισός· πόλις Κρήτης, θηλυκῶς. τὸ ἐθνικὸν Πραίσιος καὶ Πραισεύς.
Praisos: a city of Crete, feminine. The ethnicon is 'Praisios' and 'Praiseus'.

[Stephen of Byzantion (entry in lexicon)]

 

Praisos is the name found in insciptions and on coins. Willamowitz (Hermes, 40, 1905, page 151 sq.) suspects Πρᾶσος ← *Πρᾷσος ← Πραῖσος, showing the normal Greek development of the "long diphthong" [a:i] to simple long vowel [a:]. Whether the ancient accentuation should be Πραῖσος or Πραισός is not certain.

The place name is not of Greek origin. It possibly shows the same formative suffix -isos found in Cretan non-Greek feminine place-name Tylisos. Ancient Praisos was near the modern Cretan village of Praisós, which adopted the ancient name in 1956, being called Vavéli before that date.

As at least half the known inscriptions are from Praisos, it seems reasonable to assume that the language is, indeed, that of the Eteocretans.

 
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The Eteocretan Texts

There are at least five Eteocretan inscriptions: two from Dreros and three from Praisos. In addition, there are some other inscriptions which may be Eteocretan.

Of all these inscriptions, at least three are written in varieties of the local archaic Cretan Greek alphabet. The later inscriptions use the Ioanian Greek alphabet in the form adopted in 5th century BCE Athens which subsequently became the common Greek alphabet.

Each inscription is transcribed in both the common Greek alphabet, since they were written in Greek alphabets, and the modern Roman script for those less familiar with Greek. In addition, various other marks are used to indicate damaged letters, missing letters and blanks or spaces.

The Texts:
Note: the spelling of Greek place names vary in different publications. I use spellings based on Greek spelling; some use Latinized spellings in the ancient Roman manner; others use spellings based on modern Greek pronunciation. Alternative spellings are shown in parentheses below.
The two from the Delphinion at Dreros (Δρῆρος, Drerus, Driros)
These, which appear to have been bilinguals, were found, together with six others all in Greek, 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. The texts 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. I understand that the bilinguals were lost during the Italo-German occupation of the island in WWII and still remain lost.
  1. Dreros #1: late 7th or early 6th century BCE
  2. Dreros #2: late 7th or early 6th century BCE
The three from Praisos (Πραισός, Praesus, Praesos, Pressos)
These were published by Margarita Guarducci in Inscriptiones Creticae, Vol. III (Rome, 1942), pages 134 to 141. They are still extant and are archived in the Archeological Museum at Iraklion (ancient: Heraklion). In the summer of 1976 I was fortunate enough, through the courtesy of Dr Alexiou, the then Director of the Museum, and his assistant Miss Lambesi, to be able to examine these inscriptions for myself.
  1. Praisos #1: late 7th or early 6th century BCE
  2. Praisos #2: probably 4th century BCE
  3. Praisos #3: 3rd century BCE
Other possibly Eteocretan fragments from Praisos
In Inscriptiones Creticae, Vol. III, pages 141 & 142, Margarita Guarducci also inludes fragments of three other inscriptions which she classifies as Eteocretan. The Archeological Museum at Iraklion do not keep these with the four Eteocretan inscriptions above, and Miss Lambesi was not able to identify them from my drawings. Whether any of them are kept elsewhere in the Museum I do not know. I have not seen them; but from the description in Inscriptiones Creticae it is questionable, in my opinion, whether they are Eteocretan or Greek.
  1. Three other Praisian fragments: 6th century to to 3rd centuries BCE
A modern forgery of unknown origin
Several authors have ascribed this to Psykhro (Ψυχρό(ν), Psykhro(n), Psychro(n), Psikhro, Psihro); E. Grumach has ascribed it to Amnisos (Ἀμνισός). In his 1982 publication, Yves Duhoux tentatively ascribed it to Arkades (Ἀρκάδες, Arcades); he now recognizes it as a forgery.
The inscription is still extant and is archived in the Archeological Museum at Iraklion. I examined this also for myself also in the summer of 1976. Others have since examined it and there now seems virtually no doubt that it is indeed a forgery. However, I include it since it has appeared in several publications dealing with Eteocretan.
  1. The "Epioi" fake (a.k.a. the Psychro insciption)
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