Carian alphabets

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Languages Carian language
Time period
7th to 1st centuries BC
Parent systems
Sister systems
Lycian script
Direction Left-to-right
ISO 15924 Cari, 201
Unicode alias

The Carian alphabets are a number of regional scripts used to write the Carian language of western Anatolia. They consisted of some 30 alphabetic letters, with several geographic variants in Caria and a homogeneous variant attested from the Nile delta, where Carian mercenaries fought for the Egyptian pharaohs. They were written left-to-right in Caria (apart from the Carian–Lydian city of Tralleis) and right-to-left in Egypt. Carian was deciphered primarily through Egyptian–Carian bilingual tomb inscriptions, starting with John Ray in 1981; previously only a few sound values and the alphabetic nature of the script had been demonstrated. The readings of Ray and subsequent scholars were largely confirmed with a Carian–Greek bilingual inscription discovered in Kaunos in 1996, which for the first time verified personal names, but the identification of many letters remains provisional and debated, and a few are wholly unknown.


There is a range of graphic variation between cities in Caria, some of which extreme enough to have separate Unicode characters.[1] The Kaunos alphabet is thought to be complete. There may be other letters in Egyptian cities outside Memphis, but they need to be confirmed. The letters with identified values in the various cities are as follows:[2]

Hyllarima Euromos Mylasa Stratonicea SinuriKildara Kaunos Iasos Memphis transliteration possible Greek origin
𐊠 𐊠 𐊠 𐊠 𐊠[3] 𐊠 𐊠 𐌀 𐊠 a Α
𐊡 « ? 𐋉[4] 𐋌 𐋍 𐋌?[5] 𐋌[5] β Not a Greek value; perhaps a ligature of Carian 𐊬𐊬. 𐊡 directly from Greek Β.
𐊢 (<) 𐊢 (Ϲ) 𐊢 (<) 𐊢 (Ϲ) 𐊢 (Ϲ) 𐊢 (Ϲ) 𐊢 (< Ϲ) d Δ D
𐊣 𐊣 𐊣 𐊣 𐊣 𐊣 𐊣 𐊣 l Λ
𐊤 𐊤 𐋐 𐊤 𐋈 𐊤 𐊤 𐋐? 𐊤 Ε y Not a Greek sound value; perhaps a modified Ϝ.
𐅝 𐅝 𐅝 𐅝 𐅝 𐊥 𐅝 𐊥 𐊥 r Ρ
𐋎 𐊦 𐊦 𐋏 𐊦 𐊦 λ Not a Greek value. 𐋎 from Λ plus diacritic, others not Greek
ʘ ʘ ʘ ʘ ʘ 𐊨? 𐊨 𐊨 ʘ 𐊨 q Ϙ
Λ Λ Λ Λ 𐊬 Γ Λ 𐊬 Λ b 𐅃[6]
𐊪 𐊪 𐊪 𐊪 𐊪 𝈋 𝈋 𐊪 𐊪 𝈋 m 𐌌[7]
𐊫 𐊫 𐊫 𐊫 𐊫 𐊫 𐊫 𐊫 o Ο
𐊭 𐊭 𐊭 𐊭 𐊭 𐌓 𐊭 𐊭 t Τ
𐤭 𐤭 𐤭 𐤭 𐌓 𐊯 𐤭 𐤧 𐌃 𐊮 Ϸ š Not a Greek value.
𐊰 𐊰 𐊰 𐊰 𐊰 𐊰 𐊰 𐊰 s Ϻ
𐊱 𐊱 𐊱 𐊱  ?
𐊲 𐊲 𐊲 𐊲 𐊲 V 𐊲 𐊲 V V 𐊲 u Υ /u/
𐊳 𐊳 𐊳 𐊳 ñ
𐊴 𐊴 𐊛 𐊴 𐊴 𐊴 𐊛 𐊴 𐊛 Not a Greek value. Maybe a modification of Κ, Χ, or 𐊨.
𐊵 𐊵 𐊜 𐊵 𐊵 𐊵 𐊜 𐊵 𐊵 𐊜 𐊵 n 𐌍[8]
𐊷 𐊷 𐊷 𐊷 𐊷 𐊷 𐊷 p Β[9]
𐊸 𐊸 𐊸 𐊸 𐊸 Θ 𐊸 𐊸 Θ ś Not a Greek value. Perhaps from Ͳ sampi?
𝈣 𐊹- ⊲- 𐊮- 𐤧- 𐊹 𐊹 𐊹 i Ε, ΕΙ, or 𐌇[10]
𐋏 𐋏 𐋏 𐊺 𐊺 𐊺 𐊺 𐊺 e Η, 𐌇
𐊽 𐊼𐊽 𐊼 𐊽 𐊼 𐊼 𐊼 𐊼𐊽 k Perhaps Ψ (locally /kʰ/) rather than Κ.
𐊾 𐊾 𐊾 𐊾 𐊾 𐊾 𐊾 𐊾 δ Not a Greek value. Perhaps a ligature of ΔΔ.
𐋁?[11] 𐋁 𐋀 γ ? Not a Greek value.
𐋃 𐋃 <> 𐋃 𐋃 𐋂 𐋂 z Not a Greek value?
𐋄 𐋄 ŋ?
𐊻 ý Not a Greek value; perhaps a modification of Carian 𐊺?
𐊿 Ш w Ϝ /w/
𐋅 𐊑 j Perhaps related to Phrygian /j/, 𝈿 ~ 𐌔
𐋆  ?
𐋉 ŕ Used in Egypt for Greek ρρ.
𐋇 𐊶?[12] 𐋇 τ Not a Greek value. Perhaps from Ͳ sampi?


The Carian scripts, which have a common origin, have long puzzled scholars. Most of the letters resemble letters of the Greek alphabet, but their sound values are generally unrelated to the values of the Greek letters. This is unusual among the alphabets of Asia Minor, which generally approximate the Greek alphabet fairly well, both in sound and shape, apart from sounds which had no equivalent in Greek. However, the Carian sound values are not completely disconnected: 𐊠 /a/ (Greek Α), 𐊫 /o/ (Greek Ο), 𐊰 /s/ (Greek Ϻ san), and 𐊲 /u/ (Greek Υ) are as close to Greek as any Anatolian alphabet, and 𐊷, which resembles Greek Β, has the similar sound /p/, which it shares with Greek-derived Lydian 𐤡.

Adiego (2007) therefore suggests that the original Carian script was adopted from cursive Greek, and that it was later restructured, perhaps for monumental inscription, by imitating the form of the most graphically similar Greek print letters without considering their phonetic values. Thus a /t/, which in its cursive form may have had a curved top, was modeled after Greek qoppa (Ϙ) rather than its ancestral tau (Τ) to become 𐊭. Carian /m/, from archaic Greek 𐌌, would have been simplified and was therefore closer in shape to Greek Ν than Μ when it was remodeled as 𐊪. Indeed, many of the regional variants of Carian letters parallel Greek variants: 𐊥 𐅝 are common graphic variants of digamma, 𐊨 ʘ of theta, 𐊬 Λ of both gamma and lambda, 𐌓 𐊯 𐌃 of rho, 𐊵 𐊜 of phi, 𐊴 𐊛 of chi, 𐊲 V of upsilon, and 𐋏 𐊺 parallel Η 𐌇 eta. (See those articles.) This could also explain why one of the rarest letters, 𐊱, has the form of one of the most common Greek letters.[13] However, no such proto-Carian cursive script is attested, so these etymologies are speculative.

Further developments occurred within each script; in Kaunos, for example, it would seem that 𐊮 /š/ and 𐊭 /t/ both came to resemble a Latin P, and so were distinguished with an extra line in one: 𐌓 /t/, 𐊯 /š/.


Numerous attempts at deciphering the Carian inscriptions were made during the 20th century. After WWII, most of the known Carian inscriptions were collected and published, which provided good basis for decipherment.

In the 1960s the Russian researcher Vitaly Shevoroshkin showed that earlier assumptions that the script was a syllabic or semisyllabic writing system was false. He devoted many years to his study, and used proper methodology. He made it clear that Carian was indeed alphabetically written, but made few significant advances in the understanding of the language. He took the values of letters resembling those of the Greek alphabet for granted, which proved to be unfounded.[14]

Other researchers of Carian were H. Stoltenberg, O. Masson, Yuri Otkupshchikov, P. Meriggi (1966), and R. Gusmani (1975), but their work was not widely accepted.

Stoltenberg, like Shevoroshkin, and most others, generally attributed Greek values to Carian symbols.[15]

In 1972, an Egyptologist K. Zauzich investigated bilingual texts in Carian and Egyptian (what became known as 'Egyptian approach'). This was an important step in decipherment, that produced good results.[16]

This method was further developed by T. Kowalski in 1975, which was his only publication on the subject.[17]

The British Egyptologist John D. Ray apparently worked independently from Kowalski; nevertheless he produced similar results (1981, 1983). He used Carian–Egyptian bilingual inscriptions that had been neglected until then. His big breakthrough was the reading the the name Psammetichus (Egyptian Pharaoh) in Carian.

The radically different values that Ray assigned to the letters initially met with scepticism. Ignasi-Xavier Adiego, along with Diether Schürr, started to contribute to the project in the early 1990s. In his 1993 book Studia Carica, Adiego offered the decipherment values for letters that are now known as the ‘Ray-Schürr-Adiego system’. This system now gained wider acceptance. The discovery of a new bilingual inscription in 1996 (the Kaunos Carian-Greek bilingual inscription) confirmed the essential validity of their decipherment.


Carian was added to the Unicode Standard in April, 2008 with the release of version 5.1. It is encoded in Plane 1 (Supplementary Multilingual Plane).

The Unicode block for Carian is U+102A0–U+102DF:

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+102Ax 𐊠 𐊡 𐊢 𐊣 𐊤 𐊥 𐊦 𐊧 𐊨 𐊩 𐊪 𐊫 𐊬 𐊭 𐊮 𐊯
U+102Bx 𐊰 𐊱 𐊲 𐊳 𐊴 𐊵 𐊶 𐊷 𐊸 𐊹 𐊺 𐊻 𐊼 𐊽 𐊾 𐊿
U+102Cx 𐋀 𐋁 𐋂 𐋃 𐋄 𐋅 𐋆 𐋇 𐋈 𐋉 𐋊 𐋋 𐋌 𐋍 𐋎 𐋏
U+102Dx 𐋐
1.^ As of Unicode version 8.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

𐊡𐋊𐋋𐋌𐋍 are graphic variants, as are 𐊤𐋈𐋐, 𐋎𐊦𐋏, 𐊺𐋏, 𐊼𐊽, 𐋂𐋃, 𐋁𐋀, and possibly 𐋇𐊶.

See also


  • Adiego Lajara, I.J. The Carian Language. Leiden: Brill, 2006.
  • H. Craig Melchert, "Carian", in Woodward ed. The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor, 2008.
  • Davies, Anna Morpurgo, "Decipherment" in International Encyclopedia of Linguistics, William J. Frawley, ed., 2nd ed. (Oxford, 2003) I:421.
  • Michael Everson, "Proposal to encode the Carian script in the SMP of the UCS", ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2 N3020R, 2006-01-12. full text. Contains many useful illustrations and tables.
  • Schürr, Diether, "Zur Bestimmung der Lautwerte des karischen Alphabets 1971-1991", Kadmos 31:127-156 (1992).
  • Swiggers & Jenniges, in: P.T. Daniels & W. Bright (eds.), The World's Writing Systems (New York/Oxford, 1996), pp. 285–286.
  • Vidal M.C. "European Alphabets, Ancient Classical", in Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd ed., 2006.
  1. Some of the others, such as 𐅝, Λ, 𐤭, 𝈣, 𐅤, ʘ, Ϲ, 𝈋, 𐊑, Ш, Ϸ, have been filled in below with similar characters from other Unicode ranges.
  2. Adiego 2007:207ff
  3. actually a reversed Ϡ
  4. Resembles 6̨ or G̨
  5. 5.0 5.1 closer to a reverse 𐋊
  6. Archaic form of Β, for example in Crete
  7. Archaic form of Μ
  8. Archaic form of Ν
  9. Compare Lydian 𐤡, which also has the value /p/.
  10. Archaic form of Η
  11. if 𐋁 is equivalent to 𐋀
  12. if 𐊶 is equivalent 𐋇
  13. Perhaps coincidentally, 𐊮 /š/ resembles Ϸ (sho), which was used for /š/ in the Greek-derived Bactrian alphabet.
  14. Ignacio-Javier Adiego Lajara, The Carian Language. Volume 86 of Handbook of Oriental Studies. BRILL, 2006 ISBN 9004152814 p179ff
  15. Stoltenberg, H. L. (1958a) “Neue Lesung der karischen Schrift”, Die Sprache 4, 139–151
  16. Ignacio-Javier Adiego Lajara, The Carian Language. Volume 86 of Handbook of Oriental Studies. BRILL, 2006 ISBN 9004152814 p187ff
  17. THOMAS W. KOWALSKI (1975), LETTRES CARIENNES: ESSAI DE DECHIFFREMENT DE L’ECRITURE CARIENNE Kadmos. Volume 14, Issue 1, Pages 73–93, DOI 10.1515/kadm.1975.14.1.73