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Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols. The Phoenician alphabet, called by convention the Proto-Canaanite alphabet for inscriptions older than around 1050 BC, is the oldest verified alphabet. The Phoenician alphabet is derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs. As the letters were originally incised with a stylus, most of the shapes are angular and straight, although more cursive versions are increasingly attested in later times, culminating in the Neo-Punic alphabet of Roman-era North Africa.
The Phoenician alphabet is a direct continuation of the “Proto-Canaanite” script of the Bronze Age collapse period. Beginning in the 9th century BC, adaptations of the Phoenician alphabet — such as Greek, Old Italic, Anatolian, and the Paleohispanic scripts — were very successful. Another reason for its success was the maritime trading culture of Phoenician merchants, which spread the use of the alphabet into parts of North Africa and Europe. Phoenician had long-term effects on the social structures of the civilizations that came in contact with it.
Its simplicity not only allowed it to be used in multiple languages, but it also allowed the common people to learn how to write. This upset the long-standing status of writing systems only being learned and employed by members of the royal and religious hierarchies of society, who used writing as an instrument of power to control access to information by the larger population. The Phoenician alphabet was first uncovered in the 17th century, but up to the 19th century its origin was unknown. It was at first believed that the script was a direct variation of Egyptian hieroglyphs. This idea was especially popular due to the recent decipherment of hieroglyphs. The Phoenician letter forms shown here are idealized: actual Phoenician writing was cruder and more variable in appearance.