A Hoplite tool or weapon
Relative date: 1050-950 BCE
A Cypro-Minoan (Linear C) inscription, which has been identified as the earliest example of Greek writing on Cyprus, is found on a bronze ὀβελός (obelos) “a pointed square pillar” or “a spit“. This implement was discovered in 1979 at Palaepaphos “Old Paphos” and is dated to the 11th century BCE [“Cypro-Syllabic Examples”]. If the phonetic decipherment holds, then the inscription may be read o-pe-le-ta-u. The consensus among Olivier  and others is that this inscription reads Ὀφέλταυ (Ophéltau) “of Ophéltes”. However, I maintain that the inscription can be read as either †ὁπλιτέυ (hopliteu) “of (a) Hoplite”, a term that I coined from the verb, ὁπλιτεύω (hopliteuo) “to serve as a man at arms”, or ὠφελητέο(ν) (ophelhteon) “one must serve”. Cf. ὁπλίτης (hoplites) “a heavily armed foot soldier”, which is derived from ὅπλον (hoplon) “implement, tool”. In Attica, a hoplon was a large shield. The ὁπλῖται (hoplitai) or Ὅπλητες (Hoplites) have been identified as foot soldiers of the Athenian army.
What may be implied by an obelos that has thusly been inscribed? I infer its use, firstly, as a weapon and, secondly, as a convenient cooking implement. The length (40″ or 1 m., as pictured below) and the thickness suggest a rudimentary weapon that may have permitted a tether or some twine to be threaded through the hole at the left end.
- Cypro-Syllabic Examples of Writing. 2012. Mnamon: Ancient Writing Systems in the Mediterranean. Ret. on 25 Sep 2014 <lila.sns.it\mnamon>.
- Olivier, Jean-Pierre. 2013. The development of Cypriot syllabaries, from Enkomi to Kafizin. Syllabic Writing on Cyprus and its Context, ed. P.M. Steele. Cambridge University Press.
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