The Greek alphabet is a significant writing system that was developed around 800 BCE and has had a profound impact on the development of Western culture, language, and literature. It is the oldest alphabet in the narrow sense of the term, as it was the first to use distinct symbols for both consonants and vowels. The Greek alphabet was adapted from the Phoenician alphabet, which was itself derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs. It introduced several innovations, including the addition of vowels and a more streamlined, phonetic system.
It consists of 24 letters, including 7 vowels (α, ε, η, ι, ο, υ, ω) and 17 consonants. Each letter has an uppercase and lowercase form. The names of the letters in the Greek alphabet are derived from the Phoenician alphabet, and many have been preserved in modern languages. In ancient and Byzantine Greek, diacritics were used to indicate accents, breathings, and sometimes the length of vowels. Modern Greek has simplified the system, using fewer diacritical marks.
Greek letters were also used as numerals. In this system, each letter corresponds to a number, with the first nine letters representing the units (1-9), the next nine representing the tens (10-90), and the last nine representing the hundreds (100-900).
This alphabet has been the basis for several other writing systems, most notably the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets, which are used by a significant portion of the world's population. Modern Greek, the official language of Greece and an official language of Cyprus, still uses the Greek alphabet. The alphabet is also used in various scientific fields, particularly mathematics and physics, where Greek letters are often used as symbols for constants, variables, and other entities.
The Greek alphabet had a far-reaching impact on the ancient Hellenistic world. It facilitated the spread of Greek language and culture, promoted literacy and education, supported the development of literature, science, and philosophy, and enabled cultural exchange and synthesis among diverse societies. The Hellenistic period refers to the era that followed the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE and lasted until the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BCE. During this time, Greek culture, language, and ideas spread throughout the Mediterranean and Near East.