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Beyond the Text: Socio-political Implications in Cypriot bilingual Inscriptions

Beatrice Pestarino

University College London

This paper addresses the issue of bilingualism and multilingualism in Ancient Cyprus during the Classical period. It aims to show that Cypriot private and monumental bilingual inscriptions present discrepancies among their texts due to specific socio-political purposes. The analysis of a selection of bilingual texts in Phoenician, Eteocypriot, alphabetic and syllabic Greek shows that the linguistic and graphic asymmetry often mirrors a precise planning of content and message.

Linguistic variety is one of the striking features of Cyprus, which contributed to the development of a distinctive Cypriot cultural identity. At the end of the Late Bronze Age, Greek immigration involved the acquisition of new languages and writing systems, which reflected the socio-political complexity of Cyprus. Over the years, Cypro-Minoan was replaced by a Mycenaean-related form of Greek, which adopted the previous syllabic graphic signs (Iacovou 2008). Thus, a Hellenization process started, which rendered the previous languages obsolete. The introduction of the new language was accompanied by the permanence of the Greek speakers on the island, who came to improve their social and economic conditions. It triggered a standardization process with socio-political and cultural implications. Both Greek-speakers and autochthonous Amathusians availed themselves of the syllabary writing system, which became a symbolic administrative tool of distinction (Iacovou 2006). In Amathus the Eteocypriot was clearly used to claim the autochthony origins of its community (Petit 2007). By contrast, in Kition the Phoenician dynasty fixed the use of the Phoenician language from the ninth century B.C. until the end of the fourth century B.C., when the Phoenician domination ended and the standard koine alphabetic system was established. The introduction of the alphabetic Greek on the island is credited to Evagoras, according to the legends on his coins, which were digraphic – written in alphabetic Greek as well as in Cypriot-syllabary. Indeed, his choice involved economic and political purposes: showing his relations with the Greek world, he opposed himself to the Persians and Phoenicians who hindered his government on Salamis.

In light of these linguistic implications, while showing that the texts of the Cypriot bilingual inscriptions do not correspond exactly, the paper aims to demonstrate that this common feature of both Greek-Phoenician and Greek-Eteocypriot epigraphic documents is due to specific socio-political intents. While in the private inscriptions it could also depend on the linguistic competences of the individuals, the monumental bilingual inscriptions show that the multilingual text was precisely planned for political, religious or socio-ethnical reasons. In Amathus the use of Eteocypriot takes a prominent position in the bilingual documents in order to stress the opposition of the new democratic order against the previous philhellenic kingship of Androkles. Moreover, in some case-studies private needs interfere with the public sphere. For instance, the legend on the coins of Samas and the inscription of the prince Baalrom present the royal title in only one of the two texts (Consani 1988): this is due to precise political demands towards the Greek population or the Phoenician local establishment.

Therefore, the analysis of political and private bilingual inscriptions, both linked to specific socio-cultural environments and historical periods, contributes to a cross-view of Cypriot society, by providing information on its cultural overlap and on related historical events.

Session/Panel Title

Epigraphic Approaches to Multilingualism and Multilingual Societies in the Ancient Mediterranean

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