Greek Alphabet

Philology: Introduction to the Significance of Language Analysis

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When you first enter an ancient history or archaeology degree you are introduced to several sets of material evidence. Notably, the archaeology, material evidence, and philological evidence. But the philological side is more often than not rarely mentioned again. This is quite a shame considering some of the most interesting and revealing information comes from the ancient written sources. People generally fall into the trap of ignoring the writing in favour of the archaeology and artefacts and frankly you can’t really blame them because humans are naturally attracted to pretty visual things. I see this every day with the likes and shares on my Facebook page. But philology is all important too and if students can learn even a little about ancient writing and textual criticism, a whole new side to history and analysis opens up to them as it should.

DSCN0428BB - Clay Tablets with Liner B Script
DSCN0428BB – Clay Tablets with Liner B Script (Photo credit: archer10 (Dennis))

Philology is derived from the Greek terms φίλος (love) and λόγος (word, reason) and literally means a ‘love of words’. It is the study of language in literary sources and is a combination of literary studies, history and linguistics. Philology is generally associated with Greek and Classical Latin, in which it is termed philologia. The study of philology originated in European Renaissance Humanism in regards to Classical Philology but this has since been combined to include in its definition the study of both European and non-European languages. The idea of philology has been carried through the Greek and Latin literature into the English language around the sixteenth century through the French term philologie meaning also a ‘love of literature’ from the same word roots.

Generally philology has a focus on historical development. It helps establish the authenticity of literary texts and their original form and with this the determination of their meaning. It is a branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development and relationships of a language or languages. This makes it all the more significant to study as language is one of the main building blocks of civilisation.

There are several branches of philological studies that can also be undertaken:

Comparative philology is a branch of philology which analyses the relationship or correspondences between languages. For instance, the commonalities between Latin and Etruscan or further flung languages of Asian or African provinces. It uses pre-determined techniques to discover whether languages hold common ancestors or influences. It uses comparison of grammar and spelling which was first deemed useful in the 19th century and has developed ever since. The study of comparative philology was originally defined by Sir William Jones‘ discovery in 1786 that Sanskrit was related to Greek and German as well as Latin.

Cognitive philology studies written and oral texts in consideration of the human mental processes. It uses science to compare the results of research using psychological and artificial systems.

Reconstruction of the missing Greek text on th...
Reconstruction of the missing Greek text on the Rosetta Stone

Decipherment is another branch of philology which looks at resurrecting dead languages and previously unread texts such as done and achieved by Jean-Francois Champollion in the decipherment of Hieroglyphs with the use of the Rosetta Stone. And more recently by Michael Ventris in the decipherment of Linear B. Decipherment would be key to the understanding of still little understood languages such as Linear A. Decipherment uses known languages, grammatical tools and vocabulary to find and apply comparisons within an unread text. By doing so more of the text can be read gradually as similarities and grammatical forms become better understood. The remaining text can then be filled in through further comparison, analysis, and elimination of incorrect solutions.

Textual philology editing is yet another branch of philology with includes the study of texts and their history in a sense including textual criticism. This branch was created in relation to the long traditions of Biblical studies; in particular with the variations of manuscripts. It looks at the authorship, date and provenance of the text to place it in its historical context and to produce ‘critical editions’ of the texts.

Significant Examples:

The importance of philology is exhibited in its use and achievements. Without philology the bible translation would be even more wrong, trust me read it in the original Greek. We would not be able to translate hieroglyphs, Linear B, Linear A, Sanskrit, any ancient language. Our entire written past would be blank, we would not have the information we have now on mathematics, social structure, philosophy, science, medicine, civilisation, transport, engineering, marketing, accounting, well anything really, knowledge would not have been rediscovered or passed on without the ability to study texts and language. Understand the love of words.


Runic Scripts – Elder and Younger Futhark

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Elder Futhark

The oldest form of runic scripts, Elder Futhark is named for the first six runes in its alphabet, F, U, Th, A,R, and K. It was used in the North West of Europe from around the second to the eighth centuries AD and has been found on numerous artefacts ranging from jewellry and amulets to tools, weapons and the ever-popular runestone. From the sixth century, Younger Futhark began to develop out of the Elder form before it became prominent in scandinavia from the late eighth century. Later still the Anglo-Saxons and the Frisians developed it further into Anglo-Saxon Futhark. Unlike other forms of runes, the skill of reading Elder Futhark was lost overtime until it was rediscovered with its decipherment in 1865 by the Norwegian Sophus Bugge.


The Elder Futhark alphabet consists of twenty-four runes which are traditionally set out in three groups known as aett. The alphabetic order which gives the script its name is first attested from around 400 AD. The direction of the text tends to vary in the earliest inscriptions but it later appears to settle into running from left to right. There are no word divisions in the majority of inscriptions except in a few cases where a series of dots were used to separate words. The angular shapes that the runes are formed by are probably the result of the original incisions make by writing materials like those made by the reed implements to form cuneiform.


The alphabet itself is believed to be a derivation from Italic alphabets, possibly a form of Etruscan or Raetic or even Latin. There was a popular theory previously that the alphabet was derived from the Greek alphabet via the Gothic. However, the date of early inscriptions predates the Gothic communications with the Greeks and so this theory has been ruled out. It is believed that development of Elder Futhark was composed by a single person or group around the first century AD. The definite purpose for its invention is unknown but epigraphic purposes have been suggested alongside the magical, practical and the playful. Baeksted (1952) suggests use in graffiti.

The runes for F, A, G, T, M, and L appear to be identical to old Italic or Latin alphabetic forms. There is also some correspondence in the runes for U, R, K, H, S, B, and O. The rest of the runes are likely adaptations from other sources or original innovations with the creation of the scripts. The rune names are based on the sounds of the runes themselves but also have a basis in mythology, nature and the environment, daily life and the human condition.

Vimose Comb


As mentioned, inscriptions are found on a range of artefacts between the Carpathians and Lappland with the majority of examples hailing from Denmark. The oldest inscription found dates to 160 AD and is found on the Vimose Comb reading simply HARJA. The longest inscription found consists of 200 characters and dates to the eighth century Eggjum stone containing a stanza of Norse poetry.

Younger Futhark

Younger Futhark developed out of Elder Futhark in a transitional phase dating from around 650-800 AD. It is also known as Scandinavian runes and is referred to in the Book of Ballymore as the ‘Ogham of the Scandinavians’. It is a reduced form of Elder Futhark and is found in inscriptions from Scandinavia and Viking Age settlements. Younger Futhark is also known as the alphabet of the Norsemen and is believed to have been developed for use in trade and diplomatic contracts.


The alphabet consists of only sixteen characters which were in use from the ninth to the twelfth centuries. Its format consisted of distinct sounds and minimal pairs. One key rule in the younger Futhark texts is the avoidance of having the same rune twice in consecutive order.

Younger Futhark
Top Row = Long-Branch Runes
Bottom Row = Short-Twig Runes

Younger Futhark actual includes two scripts. The first is made up of long-branch runes which are believed to have been used for documentation on stone. The second script is made up of short-twig runes which were likely used for everyday uses, for private and official messages on wood. The short-twig forms include nine runes which appear as simplified variants of the long branch runes.


The Younger Futhark developed later into a range of additional scripts including Halsinge Runes, Middle Age Runes, and Latinised Dalecarlian Futhark.

Some Examples of Futhark Inscriptions:

Kalleby Runestone – The Kalleby Runestone dates to the Iron Age and includes a short text. It was found in Sweden in the region of Bohuslan and is believed to have been produced in the fifth century AD. It is an example of Period I Elder Futhark (150-550 AD). It reads:

þrawijan * haitinaz was

Yearning was imposed (on him). / Þrawija’s (monument). (I/he) was commanded/called. / (I/He) was promised to þrawija

Kalleby Runestone

Vadstena Bracteate – The Vadstena Bracteate is a gold C-bracteate found in Sweden dating to around 500AD.  It consists of an image of a four-legged animals with a man’s head above it with a bird separated by a line. This image is commonly associated with the Norse God Odin. The inscription reads:

tuwatuwa; fuþarkgw; hnijïpzs; tbemlŋo[d]

The translation is highly debated

Skåäng Runestone– The Skåäng Runestone is an elaborate stone dating to around the sixth century. It hails from Sweden and contains two inscriptions. The first inscription consists of Younger Futhark while the second is of Elder Futhark. The inscriptions reads:

§A Harja, Leugaz

§B Skammhals ok Olof þau letu gæra mærki þausi æftiR Svæin, faður sinn. Guð hialpi salu hans

§A Harja, Leugaz

§B Skammhals and Ólôf, they had these landmarks made in memory of Sveinn, their father. May God help his soul

Skaang Runestone

Istaby Runestone – The Istaby Runestone is found amoung the Rundata catalog (DR 359) and is a proto-Norse runestone found in Sweden dating to the Vendel era. It is currently located in the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm. It is an example of Period II Elder Futhark (550-700 AD). It reads:

AP Aftr Hariwulfa. Haþuwulfz HeruwulfizAQ Haþuwulfz Heruwulfiz aftr HariwulfaB wrait runaz þaiaz

AP In memory of Hariwulfar. Haþuwulfar, Heruwulfar’s son,AQ Haþuwulf(a)r, Heruwulfar’s son, in memory of HariwulfarB wrote these runes.

Istaby Runestone

Spearhead of Kovel – The Spearhead of Kovel is the head of a lance found in 1858 in Ukraine. It dates to around the third century AD and measures 15.5cm. The inscription on its blade reads from right to left TILARIDS meaning ‘thither rider’, which is interpreted as either the name of a warrior or of the spear itself. It is believed to be Gothic in origin.


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Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek Part 2

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Well with part one of ‘Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek’ being the most viewed post in last three months, let me present you with part two. Important rules to remember when looking at the imperfective and the aorist. Hopefully this will be helpful in remembering terms and simple rules when you are in the process of learning or improving your Greek.

The secondary active suffixes

MS 2649 LEVITICUS 10:15 - 11:3; 11:12 - 47; 12:8 - 13:6; 23:20 - 30; 25:30 - 40
  • Kind of action = verbal aspect
  • Past tenses of the active indicative = Imperfect and Aorist
  • Greek verbs have three sets of forms for indicating action in past time
    • Imperfective aspect = imperfect indicative
    • Aoristic aspect = aorist indicative
    • Perfective aspect = pluperfect indicative
  • Past time is indicated by the prefixing of the past time morpheme = AUGMENT ε
  • Augment appears only in secondary tenses
  • All aorists and imperfects use Greek secondary suffixes (For a full list of the secondary suffixes see Black, p.49)

The imperfect active indicative

  • Imperfect tense = augmenting the present stem, attaching the connecting vowels ο/ε, adding secondary suffix
1st Person Singular:   ἔ-λυ-ον = I was releasing
2nd Person Singular: ἔ-λυ-ες
3rd Person Singular:  ἔ-λυ-ε(ν)
1st Person Plural:        ἐ-λύ-ομεν
2nd Person Plural:      ἐ-λύ-ετε
3rd Person Plural:       ἔ-λυ-ον
The Aorist active indicative
  • Aorist Active Indicative = augment, add aoristic aspect morpheme σα, add secondary active suffix
  • Major difference = aoristic aspect morpheme
1st Person Singular:   ἔ-λυ-σα = I released
2nd Person Singular: ἔ-λυ-σας
3rd Person Singular:  ἔ-λυ-σε
1st Person Plural:        ἐ-λύ-σαμεν
2nd Person Plural:      ἐ-λύ-σατε
3rd Person Plural:       ἔ-λυ-σαν

Amalgamation in the aorist tense

  • When aoristic aspect morpheme σα added
  • Same kind of modifications are made in the final consonants of the stem as are made when the future time morpheme σ is added to form the future stem
  • Κ, γ, χ + σ = ξ
  • Π, β, φ + σ = ψ
  • Τ, δ, θ +σ = σ

The Augment

  • Several important allomorphs
  • If the verb stem begins with a consonant = ADDITIVE MORPHEME = SYLLABIC AUGMENT
  • If the verb stem begins with a short vowel = PROCESS MORPHEME, TEMPORAL AUGMENT = lengthens the short vowel to the corresponding long vowel
  • If the verb begins with a long vowel/long diphthong = ZERO MORPHEME AUGMENT = no visible phonetic change
  • Some Greek verbs take a double augment = both an additive and a process morpheme = αγω = αγαγ- = ηγαγον
  • Some are irregular = εχω = ειχον

The imperfect indicative of ειμι

  • Its person-number suffixes are those of the secondary active tenses with the exception of the first person singular = middle/passive suffix, and 3rd Singular = takes a nu

First and second Aorists

Panel from an Ivory box (The Maskell Ivories), Rome, Present Location: British Museum, Date: 420-430
  • Two basic patterns
  • Difference is one of form only
  • -ed
  • First Aorists have σα aoristic aspect morpheme
  • Most Greek verbs have first aorist forms
  • Second aorist forms are identical to the forms of the imperfect tense except for their stems
  • The second aorist differs from the imperfect by differences within the stem itself
  • The only difference between the imperfect and the second aorist indicative is that the imperfect is formed on the present stem, while the second aorist is formed on the aorist stem = VOWEL GRADATION = like the English ‘sing’/’sang’
  • Some verbs form their second Aorists by substituting entirely different forms = SUPPLETIVES = λεγω = ειπον eg. Went and go

Second aorist stems

  • Add the augment and imperfect ending to the second aorist stem
  • The second aorist is translated exactly the same as the first aorist
  • The original stem of a Greek verb is often preserved in the second aorist

Uses of the imperfect and aorist

  • PROGRESSIVE IMPERFECT = continuous action in the past = I kept loosing
  • CUSTOMARY IMPERFECT = habitual action in the past = I used to loose
  • CONATIVE IMPERFECT = attempted action in the past = I tried to loose
  • INCEPTIVE IMPERFECT = initiation of an action in the past = I began to loose
  • CONSTATIVE AORIST = views an action in its totality = was built
  • INGRESSIVE AORIST = emphasises beginning of an action = lived
  • EFFECTIVE AORIST = views action from the vantage point of the conclusion = I have learned

Resources that may help you further:

Perseus Vocabulary Tools

New Testament Greek Grammar Books

Learn to Read New Testament Greek, Third Edition, By: David Alan Black

Little Greek 101

Note that this website can be followed by pressing the ‘Follow by Email’ option on the right hand side of the screen :)

Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek Part 1

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There are many reasons why one may study ancient Greek and Koine Greek; as a student of the classics, archaeology, new testament studies, pure interest, but when we learn a new language we are often bowled over by the amount of rules and terms to remember with just the basics. So in response to some of my students I am here providing some of the most important rules when learning basic Greek so one can remember them, refer to them and read the Greek better.

The Alphabet:

  • 24 Letters, many similar to English ones
  • 7 vowels
  • Short vowels = α  ε  ι  ο  υ
  • Long vowels = α  η  ι  ω  υ = note Eta and Omega are long forms of Epsilon and Omicron
  • Γγ is pronounced as ng. Thus ἅγγελος is angelos (angel)
  • There is still debate over how eta is pronounced
  • Iota can sometimes behave as a consonant when it begins a work (ie. Like a Y in English). Thus IAKWB is Yakob
  • Ensure that there is a difference in sound between k and x, by over-emphasising the h sound in x.
  • Watch Nu – it looks like an English V
  • Watch Rho – it looks like an English P
  • The letter sigma is written in two different ways, depending on where it is in the word. Lunate sigma at end of word. Eg. χριστός
  • It can often be helpful to know that in English words derived from Greek the U has become a Y, eg. Mystery
  • DIPHTHONG = Two different vowels combined into one syllable
  • Four sibilants or s sounds = ζ ξ σ ψ

Accents and Breathings:

  • Rough breathing mark ( = initial h
  • Smooth breathing mark ) = no initial h sound
  • E(n = one = hen
  • E)n = in = en
  • Initial rho and upsilon always have the rough breathings, eg. ῥῆμα (word) and ὑποκριτής (hypocrite)
  • With a rho = H not pronounced
  • If with a capital letter = breathing goes to left
  • Acute /
  • Grave \

    Oldest Known Image of Jesus from Duras Europos 235AD
  • Circumflex ~
  • Accents occasionally distinguish between words that are otherwise identical. Eg. εἰ means ‘if’; εἶ means ‘you are’
  • Accents serve to indicate which syllable in a Greek word is to be stressed in pronunciation
  • Apostrophe indicates the omission of the final short vowel before a word that begins with a vowel or a diphthong δι’ αὐτου= (through him)
  • This is called ELISION
  • DIAERESIS (¨) occurs where two vowels that normally combine to form a diphthong are to be pronounced separately
  • CORONIS (‘) indicates the combination of two words with the loss of an intermediate letter or letters. Combination of two words = CRASIS eg. I’m, eg. κἀγώ = καί ἐγω “and I”

Present and Future Verbs:

  • ACTIVE VOICE = subject is performing an action
  • PASSIVE VOICE = subject is being acted upon
  • MIDDLE VOICE = subject is pictured as acting in its own interest
  • AFFIRMATION is said to be INDICATIVE mood
  • Express a command = IMPERATIVE mood
  • Express a contingency = SUBJUNCTIVE mood
  • Express a verbal idea without limiting it by person and number = INFINITIVE MOOD
  • Expresses a polite request = OPTATIVE mood
  • PRIMARY (or PRINCIPLE) TENSES = present, future, perfect and future perfect
  • SECONDARY (or HISTORICAL) TENSES = imperfect, aorist and pluperfect
  • Greek has separate sets of person-number suffixes for the primary tenses and for the secondary tenses
  • Greek adds a vowel before the suffixes –men and –te = CONNECTING VOWEL
  • By removing the –w we obtain the present stem
  • The conjugation of present active indicative of –w verb = substitute present stem of that verb, add primary suffices with appropriate connecting vowels
  • Greek indicates future time by adding a sigma to the present stem = FUTURE TIME MORPHEME = ‘will’ equivalent
  • When the stem of a verb ends in a consonant, a phonological change will occur when the future time morpheme sigma is attached.
  • Π, β, φ, + σ = ψ
  • Κ, γ, χ + σ = ξ
  • Τ, δ, θ drop out before the σ
  • ‘Not’ is expressed by the adverb οὐ
  • Used with the indicative mood
  • μή is used with all other moods
  • Both precede the word to which they refer
  • Finite verbs convey = tense, voice, mood, person, and number
  • + its source (lexical or vocabulary form) of the verb

Nouns of the Second Declension:

  • NOMINATIVE = subject
  • ACCUSATIVE = object
  • GENITIVE = possessor
  • DATIVE = indirect object
  • VOCATIVE = person or thing addressed
  • Greek nouns can be grouped together according to the manner in which their endings change
  • Change in case and number
  • Number = singular or plural
  • Nouns with the same pattern of ending are called declensions
  • Three basic declensions in Greek
  • Second declension may be divided into two main groups = nouns whose nominative singular end in –os; and those than end in –on
  • There are also several feminine nouns of the second declension
  • Some second declension nouns are irregular in their formulation eg. ἰησοῦς
  • ABLATIVAL GENITIVE = indicates a source = ‘from a house’
  • LOCATIVE DATIVE = ‘in a field’
  • INSTRUCTIONAL DATIVE = ‘by a word’
  • Definite article = THE
  • NT writers typically placed the subject after the verb

Nouns of the First Declension:

Papyrus 66: This manuscript contains almost the complete Gospel of John
  • Next most regular declension after the second
  • Five paradigms
  • Differences between these paradigms are due to certain phonetic changes and are confined to the singular
  • No neuter nouns of the first declension
  • If the stem of a word ends in the phonemes ε, ι, or ρ, then the α of the nominative singular is retained
  • If the stem of the word ends in a sibilant phoneme then the α of the nominative singular lengthens to -ης and –η
  • If the stem ends in a phoneme other than ε, ι, ρ, or a sibilant, then the η in the nominative singular is retained throughout the singular
  • Mostly feminine
  • 112 masculine nouns of the first declension
  • All five paradigms have the same plural endings
  • Prepositions with One Case
    • Used with a noun (or pronoun) in order to clarify the relationship of the noun to some other word in a sentence
    • Located before the noun = PRE-POSITION
    • In Greek, numerous prepositions take a single case, but others take two or even three cases
    • Four Greek Prepositions that are used with a single case
    • Απο = takes genitive case = from, away from, of = αφ’ before rough breathing
    • Εις = takes accusative case = into, to, for, in
    • Εκ = takes genitive case = out of, from, by
    • Εν = takes the dative case = in, within, by, with, among
    • A preposition is always to be read in conjunction with what it governs in a sentence
    • This combination is called a prepositional phrase
  • The Paradigm of the Definite Article
    • The feminine article followed the paradigm of φωνη
    • The masculine and neuter inflections follow ανθρωπος/δωρον with the exception of the nominative singular
    • The root of the definite article is the rough breathing in the nominative masculine and feminine (singular and plural) and τ elsewhere


  • A Greek adjective agrees with the noun that it modifies in gender, number, and case.
  • Most adjectives will therefore have 24 forms like the article
  • Called THREE-TERMINATION ADJECTIVES as have for masculine, feminine and neuter
  • Smaller number of TWO-TERMINATION ADJECTIVES with no separate forms for the feminine
  • Frequently these include COMPOUND ADJECTIVES = composed of two of more constituent parts eg. Αδυνατος ‚impossible‛
  • Feminine forms follow the first declension
  • Masculine and neuter forms follow the second declension
  • When stem ends in ε, ι, or ρ, the feminine singular will use α; otherwise it will use η
  • Summary of the Uses of the Adjective

Resources that may help you further:

Perseus Vocabulary Tools

New Testament Greek Grammar Books

Learn to Read New Testament Greek, Third Edition, By: David Alan Black

Little Greek 101

Note that this website can be followed by pressing the ‘Follow by Email’ option on the right hand side of the screen :)