Praisos #1

[The Inscription]  [Problems of Transcription]  [Transciption & Comments]


This inscription was found, according to Guarducci, by Frederico Halbherr in 1884. The stone is damaged on its right hand side. The inscription is boustrphedon in an archaic Cretan alphabet similar to that of the two Dreros inscriptions, and dates from the same period, i.e. late 7th or early 6th century BCE.

It is in the Iraklion Museum: Ἐπιστημονική Συλλογή, inventory #99.


This is not an exhaustive bibliography. The above, however, are those whom I believe have actually seen the inscription itself.


PhotographFacsimile (arrows show direction of writing)
Dimensions: width 340mm; height 270mm;
thickness 140mm.
facsimile of inscription
Line 1
The leftmost letter is either Ϝ or Ε
Line 2
The damaged surface between the second Α and the following word division bar contained at least two letters.
Line 3
Between the Κ and Α (reading sinistrorsely) there is one letter which I was not able to read. The penultimate letter is certainly has the shape of Λ, whatever its value may be (see below); the final (i.e. leftmost) letter is damaged; it may be image of archaic mu (m), image of archaic nu (n), image of san (s) or image of |` character, whatever its value may be (see below).
Line 4
The letter before the word division is damaged, but it can clearly be read as image of san (s) . The last letter, however, is too damaged to allow any reading to be suggested.
Line 5
The penultimate letter has been interpreted by some as a ligature for Α image of  archaic iota (ai); the image of  archaic iota, however, is much more deeply engraved then the Α. After examining the stone myself, I am in no doubt that the scribe originally wrote Α, repeating the syllable ΝΑ by mistake, and then corrected the Α το image of  archaic iota.

Problems of Transcription

The alphabet is clearly archaic and similar to that of the Dreros inscriptions. The reading of most of the characters is quite clear, but there are three letters of which Guarducci says: "Incertum contra quid potissimum litterae valeant" ('It is uncertain, however, what value the letters most probably have').

Letter image of semk character

This is unquestionably a version of the symbol that later became ξ [ks]. However, ξ = [ks] was a peculiarity of the later eastern Ionian alphabet from which the standard Greek alphabet eventually derived (the later western Greek alphabet represented the same sound with the symbol Χ which passed thence into the Roman alphabet). The archaic Cretan alphabet was content to write image of kappa image of san (ks).

Epigraphers have observed that the archaic Cretan alphabets were closest of all Greek scripts to Phoenician. The symbol here is the Phoenician semk; thus it may be following Phoenician practice and denoting a simple sibilant which was distinct from image of san (Phoenician ṣādē) by which the Doric Greeks of Crete represented /s/. In the Archaic Cretan Greek Alphabet page, I have suggested this might be a labialized voiceless sibilant [sʷ].

But, as I also said in the same page, image of semk character is found in some of the archaic alphabets as an alternative way of writing zeta (z) which, in the Cretan Doric dialects was pronounced /dd/ (with a tendency toward /tt/).This may be the case here.

As it has the shape of an archaic ζ (z) with a horizontal line across the middle, I have adopted the expedient of transcribing it as ζ (z) with a non-spacing short bar overlay, thus ζ̵ (z̵), with the proviso that it may be pronounced [dd], [tt] or [sʷ] or some affricate such as [ʦ(ʷ)].

Letter image of |` character

This was the way γ (gamma) was written in the archaic Cretan alphabets. The only problem is that it was also often written image of inverted V character in versions of the archaic Cretan alphabets. Clearly this symbol and the one below will not be used as variants of the same symbol here; they are separate letters. The questions are: "Which is gamma?" and "What value does the 'non-gamma' symbol have?"

R.S. Conway ("The Pre-Hellenic Inscription of Praesos" , Annual of the British School at Athens 8, London 1902, pages 125 & 126) took this symbol to be gamma, and I agree with him. But I disagree entirely with the value he gave to image of inverted V character below.

D. Comparetti ("Iscrizioni di varie città cretesi", Museo italiano di antichità classica 2, Florence 1888, pages 671 to 676), assuming image of inverted V character to be gamma, took this symbol to be a peculiarly angular form of pi, which was normally a more rounded thus image of  archaic pi. But, as as both Conway and Guarducci have rightly observed, this would be the only instance of pi being written this way in Cretan texts.

Indeed, the Cretans seem to have had a distinct preference for rounded forms of pi which at Gortyn, Lyttos and Eltynia is written almost like a modern upper-case C.

In my opinion, the weight of evidence is against Comparetti's suggestion. I must agree with Conway and Guarducci in accepting this as gamma.

Letter image of inverted V character

As I explained above, in the archaic Cretan alphabets, this was a variant of the gamma symbol. It cannot be the familiar Ionian symbol for lambda of the later standard Greek alphabet. The Ionian alphabet was unknown in Crete at this period and, as the 2nd Praisos inscription shows us, even when the Ionian alphabet came into use by the 4th century BCE, the local form of lambda image of  archaic lambda persisted for some time.

Conway took this symbol to be upsilon. But there is no justication for this. The 1st Dreros inscription shows both the early form of upsilon, namely image of  archaic upsilon, and the later form image of  later upsilon. These are the only two variants known from archaic Cretan inscritions. There is no evidence of the symbol being inverted in any of the archaic Cretan alphabets.

Comparetti, assuming the symbol above to be pi, accepts this as gamma. Indeed, if Comparetti is correct about pi, then there can be little doubt this is gamma.

But I said above that I agree with Conway and Guarducci that image of |` character is gamma. In the archaic alphabet used at Eltynia in Crete, we find delta writen as image of inverted V character (see M.Guarducci Inscriptiones Creticae I, Rome 1935, page 89 and L.H. Jeffrey The Local Scripts of Archaic Greece, Oxford 1961, page 308). Both the inscription from Eltynia and this inscription from Praisos used lightly inscribed guidelines. In the Eltynian inscription the bottom stroke of Δ has become confused with the guideline and simply been omitted. I suggest the same has happened here.

As Guarducci notes, Conway took this symbol to be upsilon because he was convinced that a vowel was needed between γ (g) and ν (n) in the last line. She herself suggests that it might be archaic alpha with the center line not written. But she is not convinced and concludes: "Res utique in incerto habenda est." ('The matter indeed must remain uncertain').

Admittedly, Comparetti's ασεπγνα- (asepgnan-) is not easily pronounced. But ασεγδνα- (asegdna-) is surely not an impossibility. I am quite able to say that someone's stocking has "snagged nastily" or that, in testing some software, I "logged nine" errors. A vowel might make easier pronunciation, but it is by no means necessary between γ (g) and ν (n). Not only is δ (d) pronounceable, it is supported by actual archaic Cretan epigraphical evidence.



In standard Greek script In modern Roman Script
  1. --νκαλμιτκε̣
  2. οσ βαρζ̵ε α-- ο--
  3. --αρκ.αγσετ μεδ.
  4. αρκρκοκλες̣ δε.--
  5. --ασεγδναν<ι>τ
  1. --nkalmitkẹ
  2. os barz̵e a-- o--
  3. --ark.agset med.
  4. arkrkokleṣ de.--
  5. --asegdnan<i>t

The only complete word is βαρζ̵ε (barz̵e) and we have no indication of its meaning.

We have here clear confirmation of -τ (-t) as a possible word ending. Also in Line 1, we find the un-Greek combination -τκ- (-tk-); in Greek this was subject to metathesis, e.g. τίκτειν (tiktein) ← *τί-τκ-ειν (*ti-tk-ein) "to engender, beget, bear" (cf. the 3rd singular aorist indicative ἔ-τεκ-ε (e-tek-e) and perfect indicative τέ-τοκ-ε (te-tok-e)).

The 4th line possibly gives us another example of syllabic sonorant ρ (r) between two kappas. But we cannot rule out the possibility of mistaken dittography, especially as, in the following line, the scribe mistakenly repeated να (na) before correcting the second να (na) to νι (ni).

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Created August 2003. Last revision:
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