Is this an Arabic inscription?

nina's picture

Hello Typophile!

I was surprised to find this engraved rock on the Acropolis in Athens a few days ago. To my untrained eye, it looks Arabic. Can anyone tell me if it is?

(Please excuse the modest image quality; It was a cloudy day. I tried cranking up the contrast a bit, though.)

John Hudson's picture

Yes, the script is Arabic, but the text may be in Turkish, dating from the Ottoman rule of Greece. I'll bring this to the attention of a colleague who is an expert on Ottoman lettering.

russellm's picture

from the 14th century to 1821, Greece was a part of the Ottoman empire. I'd guess the inscription is Old Ottoman Turkish.

-=®=-

nina's picture

Oh interesting – now it starts to make sense historically. I didn't know Turkish was written in Arabic script in the past. Thanks for your input!

In the Wikipedia Article you linked to, Russell, under the "Alphabet" heading there is some description of how scripts and languages were sometimes combined in different ways, & there it also says that "Greek-speaking Muslims would write Greek using the Ottoman Turkish script." – So this may even be Greek text?
John, let me know if you'd like me to post a larger image.

Rob O. Font's picture

It also looks like it's a recarved stone as that border doesn't look particularly Ottoman.

Cheers!

nina's picture

Oh sorry, I forgot to say that, David. I spotted very similar borders on a bunch of other slabs there (without inscriptions), so I kind of assumed the border is of 'original' Greek / Ancient origin, while this particular inscription was added later.

Thomas Milo's picture

As far as the script is concerned, yes, it's Arabic. But, no, it's not an Arabic inscription. The language is of course Ottoman Turkish, the language of administration in the Balkans for some 5 centuries, from Croatia to Greece, from Albania to Rumania. It had a heavy admixture of Persian, which in turn had a huge borrowed Arabic component. The situation strongly resembles that of English, which is essentially a Dutch-Frisian coastal Germanic dialect with a huge admixture of Latin (or rather, Romance), that in turn contained large numbers of borrowed Greek words.

Though the text on the photograph is hard to read, a positive identification can be reached using the connected letter group (letter block) roughly in the middle of the top line of the first cartouche. The archigraphemes KLBLR are visible. This letter block does not occur in Arabic. Moreover, the B is clearly disambiguated with a dot above, making it /n/. That makes the most likely reading "gelenler", "those who are coming" (in Turkish).

The border may not look particularly Ottoman for an unsuspecting eye, but it certainly doesn't look particularly non-Ottoman either. It may very well be a case of re-use of old material, but hey, the Ottomans were perfectly capable to produce such ornaments. For an accessible study with photographs of similar inscriptions, consult Fokke Dijkema's dissertation The Ottoman historical monumental inscriptions in Edirne (former Adrianopolis, therefore a case comparable with Athens).

You can gloss through it here, but the illustrations are unfortunately omitted.
http://books.google.nl/books?id=j-YUAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA13-IA2&lpg=PA13-IA2&dq...

One has to be wary of the cult of minimizing or even ignoring the Ottoman role in the Balkans. A good example was recently given by prof. Machiel Kiel, who showed how authorities (both scholars and bureaucrats) classify the Ottoman aquaduct near Kavala (in Greece, between Thessaloniki and Alexandroupolis) either as Byzantine (though it's built much later) or Genoese (in total disregard of the fact that the Genoese never set foot in Kavala).

Thomas Milo
DecoType
www.decotype.com

nina's picture

Wow, Thomas, thanks a lot for your insightful comments. The things one can learn from trying to find stones with letters on them… Amazing. I did see a statue of Constantine XI in Athens but didn't realize he was, uh, put out of office by the Ottomans' attack, or that the latter (latters?) ruled there for so long.

> Though the text on the photograph is hard to read
FWIW, here's a bigger photograph with more contrast. I think I really need a new camera, though. :-|

Rob O. Font's picture

altaira: I spotted very similar borders on a bunch of other slabs there (without inscriptions)...
Along with the dramatic qualitative and stylistic gulf, your observation is a fairly certain sign of reuse.

Milo: It may very well be a case of re-use of old material, but hey, the Ottomans were perfectly capable to produce such ornaments.:
We are talking about a 90% slave state where Ottomans only carved heads. In this example, that is quite clear.

Cheers!

John Hudson's picture

The inscription is on a fragment of the classical Erechtheion. It was carved in 1805 and pays tribute to the Ottoman governer of Athens for his fortification of the Acropolis.

For discussion of the inscription, see Yannis Hamilakis, The Nation and Its Ruins: Antiquity, Archaeology, and National Imagination in Greece, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp98-99.

For the inscription itself, with a translation in Greek, see Dimitrios Kambouroglou, Mnimeia tis Istorias ton Athinon (Monuments of the history of Athens), vol. 1 (Athens: A. Papageorgiou, 1889), p211.

For its context, see Alexandra L. Lesk, "A Diachronic Examination of the Erechtheion and Its Reception" (Ph.D. diss., University of Cincinnati, 2004).

John Hudson's picture

From Alexandra Lesk's PhD dissertation (footnotes and figure references omitted, see link above for complete document):

In 1805, Dodwell reports that the dizdar orders the removal of [stone] WW.AA.01, and places it above one of the entrances to the fortress (T 43). On it, the governor carves an inscription in Arabic script “in praise of the strong fortress and of the zeal displayed in its construction by Mustapha Effendi, the Voivode.” Having cut off the back of the block, he places it over the vaulted entrance in the wall running south of the Beulé Gate to the northeast corner of the Odeion of Herodes Atticus. Ottoman cuttings on the front of the block show how it was clamped in place.

This block was only identified as part of the Erechtheion in 1922, and Dinsmoor recognized its original position in the West Façade in 1924. Balanos had already replaced WW.AA.01 on the building with a new block during his early 20th century restoration of the West Façade, and the new block remains there to the present day.

Hill and Blegen read the Ottoman year of the inscription in the semi-circle in the middle of the bottom of the inscription as 1220 (A.H.), which corresponds to 1805 of the common calendar. Despite the damaged nature of the block with the Ottoman inscription, this evidence points directly to its original position as the southernmost architrave block in the West Façade.

nina's picture

Wow. That's what I'd call comprehensive information. Thank you, John. Alexandra Lesk's text is highly interesting; that the Ottomans built a mosque inside the Parthenon, huh. Must… try… not to slip into musings on cultural imperialism.

“in praise of the strong fortress and of the zeal displayed in its construction by Mustapha Effendi, the Voivode.”
Hang on – what is this "fortress" they put the stone on; an original Ottoman construction?

John Hudson's picture

what is this “fortress” they put the stone on; an original Ottoman construction?

I believe it refers to the fortified Acropolis as a whole. Presumably Mustapha Effendi had strengthened some portion of the fortifications. Lesk refers to 'the wall running south of the Beulé Gate to the northeast corner of the Odeion of Herodes Atticus'. The Odeion is the Hellenistic amphitheatre below the southwest corner of the Acropolis. The Beulé is the main gate at the west of the Acropolis. At least part of the wall connecting them survives, if I am reading this map correctly. Who built the wall? I've no idea: the fortifications of the Acropolis date back centuries and have been added to or renovated many times.

nina's picture

I believe it refers to the fortified Acropolis as a whole.
Ah! Ok, thanks for the clarification.

The Odeion is the Hellenistic amphitheatre below the southwest corner of the Acropolis.
Oh, this?


Awesomeness.
I did not notice a wall between that and the main (Beulé) gate, but of course I wasn't looking for one either. This image from Google Maps suggests that there are indeed some remnants of it still to be seen:


Btw looking at the map you referenced (thanks; I didn't have such a detailed one) I can confirm that the slab with the inscription in question is located very close to the Erechtheion today. (Sorry, couldn't remember the name of said temple previously.)

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