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Getting started on ancient Greek
Getting started on ancient Greek

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10 A Greek inscription

Now that you’re more familiar with the alphabet, you can have a go at identifying Greek letters on an ancient inscription.

Activity 11 Inscribed block

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

This inscribed marble block is from the city of Priene on the western coast of Turkey. The letters are all capitals, with the first word being:

ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣ (basileus = king)

Look for this word at the start of the first line. Try to identify each of the 8 letters.

Are the letter forms similar to the ones you have learned? Are there any surprises?

Described image
Figure 2 First lines of the Priene block inscription


These letter forms, from the fourth century CE, are similar to those in use today. The horizontal lines of the sigma are angled slightly, and the two uprights of the upsilon are curved instead of straight. But overall the shapes are recognisable.

The remainder of the first line contains the king’s name. Can you identify him?


The second word is ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ (Alexandros). There were many king Alexanders in the ancient world. This inscription refers to the most famous, Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE). In lower case, the first line would read:

βασιλευς Αλεξανδρος

Once again, the letter forms are quite close to printed Greek. The exception is the fourth letter, ‘xi’, which has the usual square shape, but also a vertical line down the middle.