Typeface design is a multidisciplinary field that is both inclusive and multi-layered. Research is an integral part of the process, and in all these aspects it is close to the field of Archeology. Take this as a metaphor if you wish. We believe that research, discovering and collecting information studies of ancient remains —epichoric inscriptions in particular— are crucial to the better understanding of archaic and ancient alphabets, before studying their descendants.
Thus, epigraphic and paleographic studies became, in the literal sense of the word, the site where we have been performing an archaeological “excavation”. We simply wanted to go a little further back in time and dig a little deeper. Because we think that learning about the conditions and processes that enable a subject to mature is a fundamental learning method with the potential to provide new perspectives.
In pursuit of letterforms
What we are up to reveal here are not the languages but the letterforms. A photograph: Kind of letters Guarducci describe as “dovetail” or “almost flowery appearance.”4
“Some of the historic scripts are related to each other as well as to modern alphabets.” 5The Unicode Consortium
This relationship may be geographically much wider than Anatolia or even the Mediterranean, and extends to the far northwest of Europe and the far east of Asia. So, what does all of this have to do with type design? It’s a question worth working on to learn.
Epigraphic resources archaeology
Libraries, museum archives, and online publications, and more importantly, visiting museums and ancient sites where inscriptions are exhibited, photographing artifacts, and identifying relevant epigraphic research was a time-consuming but exciting endeavor. Then, before starting anything, a classification work was done to find our way through the archive mess we created ourselves.
It was essential to make sure that we did as much research as possible so that there were no inscriptions we hadn’t seen. The first thing we learned was to realize that this is impossible to achieve. Yes, it was possible to find almost all the deciphered inscriptions in the generous corpus archives meticulously compiled, but what we needed was to see the inscription itself, that is, the large photograph of the inscription as much as possible, not the text content. It still seems possible for academics and researchers working at a university or research institution to do this, but unfortunately being at the “curious” level like us is not enough to gain access. No one has the time or need to prove otherwise. As a result, it was not possible for us to find squeezes or photographs, a quality image of every inscription we wanted to see. This situation provided us with the motivation for in-depth research by referring to the publications of people who have done this before.
Corpus searches were performed by finding and comparing at least two separate transliterations for each inscription. For this, publications containing quality photographs or drawings or publications known as touchstones in the relevant language field were preferred. For their purposes, archaeologists and epigraphists are concerned with the content of what is written, not the form. Knowing that typefaces are not a reliable tool for precise dating, we learned that they only used it to estimate the age of the inscription at first glance. Therefore, it was also difficult to obtain information for our purpose. The data scraps and references hidden between the lines rather than the actual information in the publications have been our greatest help.
Readings were carried out in several stages, due to the references found in books and publications on our initial reading list, and the cross-reading requirements that arose as a result of the similar fertility of new readings.
The inscriptions documented on site during the museum and site visits could only be found and matched by visually scanning from the previously found and archived transcription publications, as the inventory numbers recorded in the area were observed to change drastically. In the case of the Antalya museum, slightly more than half of the inscriptions photographed during the visits were analyzed by this method. Most of the inaccessible inscriptions are relatively new inscriptions that can be ignored within the scope of our study -which we can now tell from their letterforms.
Famous last words
Again, it’s not the languages we’re dealing with here, it’s the letterforms specifically. Alphabets. Learning the evolution of these strings of letters that circulate in a language requires studying scripts in other languages as well. For example, in a comprehensive book that talks about Phrygian writing, you can read that Etruscan writing is mentioned. The sentences you come across without knowing the relation of both to the ancient Greek writing(s) do not show exactly what they are talking about.
Before we start eating, multiply everything written above by five for Lycia, Caria, Lydia, Phrygia, and the ancient Greek colonies.
A wise man once said:
“Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.”
That said, we cannot end this without mention here, we’ve planned to share our findings —more what we like— in our Writing section, in no particular order.
- IPerge 161: Şahin, Sencer (1999). Die Inschriften von Perge I: Vorrömische Zeit, frühe und hohe Kaiserzeit, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Nordrhein-Westfälische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Bonn, Dr. Rudolf Habelt, p.188, no.161.
- Sardis 447: Petzl, Georg (2019). Monograph 14: Sardis: Greek and Latin Inscriptions, Part II: Finds from 1958 to 2017. Harvard University Press.
- Kaygusuz 1: Kaygusuz, İsmail (1980). Perge Artemis’i için bir adak yazıtı (A dedication to Artemis of Perge from Perge). pp.249–256. Belleten 44-174.
- IPerge 1: Şahin, Sencer (1999). Die Inschriften von Perge I: Vorrömische Zeit, frühe und hohe Kaiserzeit, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Nordrhein-Westfälische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Bonn, Dr. Rudolf Habelt, p.2, no.1.
- Bean 25: Bean, George Ewart (1958). Inscriptions in the Antalya Museum. p.35. Belleten 22-85.
- Lanckorónski 6: Lanckorónski-Brzezie, Karl Grafen – Niemann, George – Petersen, Eugen Adolf Hermann (1890). Städte Pamphyliens und Pisidiens. Unter Mitwirkung von G. Niemann und E. Petersen hrsg. von Karl Grafen Lanckoronski. I. Band (Volume 1), Pamphylien. Prag, Wien, F. Tempsky; Leipzig, G. Freytag.
- Hawkins, John David (2000). Corpus of Hieroglyphic Luwian Inscriptions, Vol. I; Inscriptions of the Iron Age, Part 1: Text; Introduction, Karatepe, Karkamiš, Tell Ahmar, Maraş, Malatya, Commagene, (p.2). de Gruyter, Berlin. ↩︎
- Anthony, David W. (2007). The Horse, the Wheel, and Language; How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. p.43. Princeton University Press, New Jersey. ↩︎
- Zinko, Christian (2017). Jared Klein, Brian Joseph, Matthias Fritz (eds.), Handbook of Comparative and Historical Indo-European Linguistics. Vol. 1 (HSK 41.1) pp.239–249. de Gruyter, Berlin, Boston. ↩︎
- Guarducci, Margherita (2001). L’epigrafia greca dalle origini al tardo impero (The Greek Epigraphy from the Origins to the Late Empire, The Greek Alphabet after the 5th Century BC). pp.81–83. (Istituto Poligrafico dello Stato) ↩︎
- The Unicode Standard Version 14.0 – Core Specification ↩︎
IPerge 161 (Aphrodite holding a shield, 2nd Century AD). Antalya Museum, Nov. 8, 2022. Photo by author.