Ancient Greek Alphabet

Communication between people has changed hundreds of times from the early beginnings of humankind. In the early days of communication people and societies used pictures much like we might see on the street today.

The ancient Greek alphabet was one of the first alphabets to be designed and used. By utilizing an alphabet, anyone within the ancient Greek society could read and write.

Origins of the first Greek alphabet

The first alphabet to exist is from an area known as Levant in the Middle East. The alphabet was created sometime in 8th century B.C.E.

The Levant alphabet is composed of symbols that aren’t really pictures or letters. Symbols appear to be cross between the two ideas.

The first Greek alphabet was conceived after viewing letters used by the Phoenicians.

The Greek alphabet was unique with vowels and instructions on how each letter would sound or be pronounced.

Interestingly enough, the word alphabet is composed of the first two letters of the Greek alphabet-alpha and beta.

Changes over time

The first Greek alphabet had thousands of letters. Over time the Greek’s simplified the alphabet to 24 letters.

Each city-state had a different version of an alphabet. After a couple of centuries, the main alphabet used in ancient Greece came from the city-state of Ionia.

Original Greek writing was read from right to left.

This style of writing changed to alternating the direction of writing from line to line. In the 5th century B.C.E. the Greeks began to write from left to right.

Benefits of a simplified alphabet

There are numerous benefits from an alphabet with only 24 letters. More people could easily understand a smaller alphabet.

The growth of democracy was influenced by the alphabet. The alphabet was taught to everyone willing to learn to read and write. This made ancient Greece one of the most educated countries in the world.

In earlier societies, writing was primarily used for record keeping by the government or by businesses.

The simplified alphabet made reading and writing available to everyone. Ancient Greeks were eager to write poems, stories, riddles and to write offerings to the gods.

Ancient Greek Numbers

Ancient Greek numbers were actually ancient Greek letters. The first nine letters in the Greek alphabet were used for the numbers 1 thru 9.

The second nine letters formed multiples of 10 such as 10, 20, 30, and so on. The third set of letters formed multiples of 100, 200, 300, and so forth.

This might be confusing because there are only 24 letters and there are 27 letters for numbers. The ancient Greeks added three additional letters for numbers.

They included digamma for 6, koppa was used for 90 and sampi formed 900. For instance, iota alpha was equal to 11 and koppa beta was equal to 92.

Greek Letters in science and math

There were many great ancient Greek scientists and mathematicians. Archimedes invented numerous equations to help solve questions in geometry as well as present day calculus.

He also found the circumference and volume of a circle by calculating Pi. Other mathematicians such as Pythagoras helped determine the length of triangles.

There are several other Greek letters used in science and math problems such as delta referring to difference; theta represents an angle and sigma is the sum of numbers.

Facts about the ancient Greek alphabet

  • The first known alphabet was used in Levant within the Middle East.
  • The Levant alphabet used symbols more than pictures and letters.
  • The first alphabet known to the Greeks was created by the Phoenicians.
  • Early Greek alphabets had thousands of letters.
  • There are 24 letters in the Greek alphabet.
  • Letters of the alphabet were used for numbers.
  • The alphabet from the city-state of Ionia is the current official version.
  • Early Greek writing was done from right to left.
  • Greek letters are used in science and math such as Pi, Sigma and Theta.


    • 1. The earliest form of communications between people was done with what?


    • 2. The ancient Greeks started to write in which direction during the 5th century B.C.E.?

Left to right

    • 3. The Greek number system included how many new letters?


Back to : Ancient Greece