The Phoenician alphabet is an alphabet (more specifically, an abjad) known in modern times from the Canaanite and Aramaic inscriptions found across the Mediterranean region. The name comes from the Phoenician civilization.
|c. 1050–150 BC|
|Languages||Phoenician, Punic, Ammonite, Moabite, Edomite, Old Arabic|
|ISO 15924||Phnx, 115 , Phoenician|
The Phoenician alphabet is also called the Early Linear script (in a Semitic context, not connected to Minoan writing systems), because it is an early development of the pictographic Proto- or Old Canaanite script, into a linear, alphabetic script, also marking the transfer from a multi-directional writing system, where a variety of writing directions occurred, to a regulated horizontal, right-to-left script. Its immediate predecessor, the Proto-Canaanite, Old Canaanite or early West Semitic alphabet, used in the final stages of the Late Bronze Age first in Canaan and then in the Syro-Hittite kingdoms, is the oldest fully matured alphabet, thought to be derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs.
The Phoenician alphabet was used to write the Early Iron Age Canaanite languages, subcategorized by historians as Phoenician, Hebrew, Moabite, Ammonite and Edomite, as well as Old Aramaic. Its use in Phoenicia (coastal Levant) led to its wide dissemination outside of the Canaanite sphere, spread by Phoenician merchants across the Mediterranean world, where it was adopted and modified by many other cultures. It became one of the most widely used writing systems. The Phoenician alphabet proper remained in use in Ancient Carthage until the 2nd century BC (known as the Punic alphabet), while elsewhere it diversified into numerous national alphabets, including the Aramaic and Samaritan, several Anatolian scripts, and the early Greek alphabets. In the Near East, the Aramaic alphabet became especially successful, giving rise to the Jewish square script and Perso-Arabic scripts, among others.
"Phoenician proper" consists of 22 consonant letters only (leaving vowel sounds implicit) – in other words, it is an abjad – although certain late varieties use matres lectionis for some vowels. As the letters were originally incised with a stylus, they are mostly angular and straight, although cursive versions steadily gained popularity, culminating in the Neo-Punic alphabet of Roman-era North Africa. Phoenician was usually written right to left, though some texts alternate directions (boustrophedon).