History of Writing - Locations and Timeframes - Writing in The Greco-Roman Civilizations

Writing in The Greco-Roman Civilizations

In history of the Greek alphabet, the Greeks borrowed the Phoenician alphabet and adapted it to their own language. The letters of the Greek alphabet are the same as those of the Phoenician alphabet, and both alphabets are arranged in the same order. The adapter of the Phoenician system also added three letters to the end of the series, called the "supplementals." Several varieties of the Greek alphabet developed. One, known as Western Greek or Chalcidian, was used west of Athens and in southern Italy. The other variation, known as Eastern Greek, was used in present-day Turkey and by the Athenians, and eventually the rest of the world that spoke Greek adopted this variation. After first writing right to left, the Greeks eventually chose to write from left to right, unlike the Phoenicians who wrote from right to left. Greek is in turn the source for all the modern scripts of Europe.

The most widespread descendent of Greek is the Latin script, named for the Latins, a central Italian people who came to dominate Europe with the rise of Rome. The Romans learned writing in about the 5th century BCE from the Etruscan civilization, who used one of a number of Italic scripts derived from the western Greeks. Due to the cultural dominance of the Roman empire, the other Italic scripts have not survived in any great quantity, and the Etruscan language is mostly lost.

The Italic scripts also inspired the runes in which English was first written. English writing was uncommon, however, until the 6th century CE, when the Latin language and its writing system were brought to Britain by Augustine of Canterbury together with the Christian religion. The Saxon rulers quickly adapted the script for their own language, producing one of the earliest surviving corpora of European literature in a language other than Greek or Latin.

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