Ancient writing systems in the Mediterranean

A critical guide to electronic resources


edited by: Maurizio Del Freo (translation revised by Melanie Rockenhaus)

  • Introduction
  • Ancient Writing Systems
  • Further information

Eteocretan is a language attested from the 7th to the 3rd century BC. The corpus of the Eteocretan texts is formed by a number of inscriptions written in Greek characters mainly from the region of Praisos and Dreros in Eastern Crete.

The term “Eteocretan” was first introduced by the Italian scholar D. Comparetti in 1888 and is motivated by the non-Hellenic character of the language and the Eteocretan origins of Praisos (Str. 10, 4, 6).

Eteocretans are often recorded in the Greek sources as an ancient Cretan population. Homer mentions them along with Achaeans, Dorians, Kydones and Pelasgians (Od. XIX, 176), whereas Diodorus Siculus reports a tradition according to which they were the oldest autochthonous population of the island (V, 64, 1; cf. also Str. loc. cit.).

The name Eteocretans literally means ‘The true Cretans’ (from Gr. eteos ‘true, genuine’) and, as such, could have designated the ethnic groups which were present on the island before the arrival of the Greeks (the Mycenaeans, around 1450 BC, or the Dorians, probably after 1200 BC).

The first hypothesis is partly supported by the fact that no East Cretan toponym is ever recorded in the Knossos Linear B tablets, and that, according to the Greek sources, the Eteocretans lived in Eastern Crete. Accordingly, it is possible that the local populations offered resistance to the Mycenaean penetration to the East during the 15th-13th centuries BC.

From this perspective, it is not unconceivable that the language of the Praisos and Dreros inscriptions was connected to those spoken during the 2nd millennium BC and written by Cretan hieroglyphic and Linear A.

This however is just one among many different possibilities. According to Homer, the linguistic situation of the island was very complex (cf. Od. XIX, 175: allÄ“ d’allōn glossa memigmenÄ“) and the non-Greek ethnic groups were numerous (Eteocretans, Kydones, Pelasgians). On the other hand, the linguistic comparison of the Praisos and Dreros inscriptions with the Cretan hieroglyphic and Linear A texts is unfruitful, as, at present, Cretan hieroglyphic and Linear A cannot be read, with the exception of a few Linear A syllabograms.

According to Y. Duhoux, who has tentatively compared the Eteocretan inscriptions with the Linear A documents, the phonetic and morphological differences are such that any connection (even typological) between the two idioms should be excluded (L’étéocrétois, Amsterdam 1982).

Ancient Writing Systems

  1. Greek alphabets

Further information

  1. Bibliography
  2. Online resources