Byblos syllabary

(Also called byblische pseudo - hieroglyphs ) evidence of the so-called Byblos script have been found on various writing substrates such as stone and bronze plaques from the period between the 18th and the 15th century BC in Byblos (now Lebanon). The inscriptions were excavated by Maurice Dunand from 1928 to 1932 and published in 1945 in his book Byblia Grammata.

To date, there are no reliable deciphering and translating the inscriptions. Among other things, due to the high number of characters ( 90-114 depending on the researcher) it but can not there be an alphabetic script, with which the " pseudohieroglyphische " Byblos font is neither structurally nor typologically as a precursor signature of the semi- chen alphabet fonts in question and extinguished as a writing system must be considered.

This ( pseudohieroglyphische ) Byblos font must not be confused with the early 1st millennium BC occasionally used in Byblos own characteristic style of the Phoenician linear alphabetic writing, which differs only slightly from the Phoenician standard alphabet.

  • 3.1 Dhorme (1946 )
  • 3.2 Sobelman (1961 )
  • 3.3 Martin ( 1962)
  • 3.4 Mendenhall (1985 )


The ten inscriptions

The Byblos script is usually written from right to left; Word separators are rarely used. The ten known inscriptions were designated according to the order of their discovery of a to j:

  • Two rectangular bronze plates, referred to as c (16 × 11 cm ) and D ( 21 x 12 cm ), with 225 and 459 characters. Both panels are inscribed on both sides. The letters were not engraved into the metal, but hammered with a chisel.
  • Four wedge-shaped bronze plates (designated b, e, f and i, 40, 17, 48 and 84 characters). These panels have more or less triangular in shape with an ornament in the acute angle of the triangle. They are approximately 5 to 9 cm and 1 mm thick. Their function is not known, but Dunand suggested that there are " labels ", such as for grave inscriptions. All tablets were inscribed on both sides, except panel e ( one side only). The font was made pretty sloppy. The text on the back of the board F is the only well-known text, written from left to right. The panels b and i use short vertical strokes as word separators.
  • Four stone steles: designated a, g, h and j, with 116, 37, 7 and 13 characters. The letters are carefully crafted with striking baselines ( " monumental style "). Dunand is of the opinion that the fragments h and j originally belonged to the same monument; the chemical composition of the limestone from both seem identical. The text on fragment g is written vertically in five columns. Font j shows vertical bars that appear to serve as a word separator.

Related inscriptions

Individual letters of Byblos script have been found on many other objects such as axes and pottery. It was also found a panel having a Phoenician inscription on the front and on the back traces of a proto- Byblos script; about half a dozen letters in proto- Byblos script is recognizable. The Phoenician inscription on this tablet is dated to the tenth century BC; which is an indication that pseudo - hieroglyphs were longer in use, as is usually assumed.

A fragment of a monumental inscription in stone has been found in Byblos. The font used appears to be an intermediate stage between the pseudo - hieroglyphics and Phoenician alphabet to represent the newer. 21 characters are visible; most of them are identical in the pseudo - hieroglyphs and the Phoenician alphabet, while the few remaining characters are either pseudo - hieroglyphic or Phoenician.

List of characters

Each cell in the table above shows a sign (top left), Maurice Dunands code ( bottom left), its frequency (bottom right) and displays (top right), whether it is on rectangular bronze tablets (T), wedge-shaped bronze plaques (S ) or monuments ( monuments ) was used (M). Numbers in different cells may also be spelling variants of a single character; For example, in the top row represent the characters H6, G17 and E12 expected to be a the same character

Number of different characters

The 10 pseudo - hieroglyphic inscriptions together contain 1046 characters, while the number of different characters by Maurice Dunand is given as 114. After Garbini this number is probably overstated. For this he gives two reasons: First Dunands character list also heavily damaged characters for which it is impossible to say whether they really represent a new character. Second, there is an obvious spelling variations, eg, between the " monumental style " on the stelae and the " linear " style on the boards. Taking these variations into consideration, the total number would reduce the mark.

Garbini estimates that the actual number of characters is about 90. Given these numbers, it seems to have acted at the Byblos font to a syllabary. Each character is pronounced as a syllable, usually a combination of consonant and vowel. If the number of consonants between 22 (as the newer Phoenician alphabet) and 28 was ( as Ugaritic ) and if the number of vowels was three ( the original Semitic vowels were a, i and u) or four to six (if e is a and o included or a silent vowel), would the total number of characters required between 3 × 22 = 66 and 6 × 28 = 168 lie, which corresponds approximately to the number of different characters found.

Relation to other headings

Some characters, such as, look like slightly modified Egyptian hieroglyphs, but there are also many others which have no similarities. High ( 1990) suggested that many of the characters are rather derived from the hieratic writing of the Old Kingdom than directly from the hieroglyphics. It is known that in the year 2600 BC Egyptian influences were strong in Byblos Byblos was the main harbor for exporting cedar wood to Egypt, and as a result there was an influential Egyptian trading community in Byblos. So it is very likely that the Egyptian writing was used as the basis for a new font in Byblos and added new sounds that could express the language in Byblos better. Just designed a few centuries later a cuneiform in neighboring Ugarit, which was easier to use than the difficult Akkadian cuneiform.

Attempts to decipher

Dhorme (1946 )

The existing written material is generally considered too small to carry out a systematic decipherment based on a textual analysis. However, already a first attempt by Édouard Dhorme in 1946, a year after Dunand had published the inscriptions, made ​​a famous Orientalist and former cryptanalyst. He analyzed the short inscription on the back of a bronze plaque, which ends in a series of seven nearly identical strokes, like " 1111111 ". He assumed that there is a number (probably " seven "). Dhorme other hand, believed in the number of 4 × 10 3 = 43 because four strokes are slightly larger than the other three. It is believed that the back of the inscription as a whole represents a dating of the inscription on the front.

The word immediately before " 1111111 " consists of four different characters. The first ( rightmost ) damaged but recognizable character and the character left-most resemble the letter ' b' and 't' of the later Phoenician alphabet. Dhorme pointing now the whole word ( ' b- .. - .. -t' ) as Phoenician " b ( a) š ( a) -nt ", " In the year of " (Hebrew bišnat ), allowing it to loud- assignment for all four characters enabled. These characters he replaced in the remaining inscriptions, looking for recognizable word parts other Phoenician words to assign additional characters. In the end he was able to sound mappings suggest for 75 characters.

Sobelman (1961 )

Harvey Sobelman did not try to find phonetic values ​​for the different characters, instead he is trying to determine word boundaries and to identify grammatical patterns. The result of Daniels ' research is that Sobelmans " results should be considered in any future work on these texts. "

Martin ( 1962)

Malachi Martin categorized the various characters in 27 "classes". After publishing " Volume 1 " of his decryption, followed no sequel.

Mendenhall (1985 )

In 1985 a new translation attempt by George E. Mendenhall of the University of Michigan has been published. Many characters that reappear in later Phoenician alphabet were associated with a similar phonetic value of Mendenhall. For example, is the character in the value of g has Phoenician (Hebrew gimel ), the sound ga assigned. A character that resembles an Egyptian hieroglyph meaning " king of Upper Egypt " is interpreted as " mulku " ( Semitic for ' royal ', also compare Hebrew melekh, ' king ') and the sound associated with mu. The last example illustrates that Mendenhall largely makes use of the acrophonic principle, in which the phonetic value of a syllable character is assumed to be the initial note ( Semitic ) word for the object that is depicted by the sign.

Mendenhall assumed that this is a very early proto- Semitic language in the language, a time, was in the Semitic not yet in Northwest Semitic ( Phoenician, Hebrew ) and Südsemitisch ( Arabic ) divided. He dates the texts later than the year 2400 BC

The translations, which are proposed by Mendenhall, are often incomprehensible: " Adze did Yipuyu and Hagara make binding. Verily, in accor dance with That Which Sara and Ti.pu established we will be surety. " Also: ". Miku is with the pledge " The text with the seven strokes '1111111 ' (see above) is interpreted by Mendenhall as a marriage contract in which the lines are supposed to represent the " signatures " of seven witnesses.