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date: 18 July 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter has two parts. The first describes the origins, types, and uses of alphabetic and semi-syllabic writing systems in Iron Age Europe from the eighth century BC to c.AD 1000, and their spread through three main networks of long-range contact and exchange. It illustrates the typical progression from short labels naming craftsmen, owners, and the dead, to practical records of contracts and law codes, then canonical versions of elite oral tradition, and the ultimate generalized literacy of the urban civilizations. Inscribed coinage provides well-dated evidence in many otherwise non-literate places. The second part reviews first-hand accounts by travellers, historians, and geographers, from Hecataeus (c.550–476 BC) to Ahmad Ibn Fadlan and Adam of Bremen (tenth to eleventh centuries AD), tracking incremental changes over time in the range of what was known, and in motives for writing about foreign peoples.

Keywords: literacy, writing, geographer, inscription, alphabet, nomad, coin, Tartessian, ogam, rune

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