An abecedarium is an inscription consisting of the letters of an alphabet
An alphabet is a standard set of letters—basic written symbols or graphemes—each of which represents a phoneme in a spoken language, either as it exists now or as it was in the past. There are other systems, such as logographies, in which each character represents a word, morpheme, or semantic...

, almost always listed in order. Typically, abecedaria (or abecedaries) are practice exercises.

Some abecedaria include obsolete letters which are not otherwise attested in inscriptions. For example, abecedaria in the Etruscan alphabet
Old Italic alphabet
Old Italic refers to several now extinct alphabet systems used on the Italian Peninsula in ancient times for various Indo-European languages and non-Indo-European languages...

 from Marsiliana (the Tuscana town) include the letters B, D, and O, which indicate sounds not present in the Etruscan language
Etruscan language
The Etruscan language was spoken and written by the Etruscan civilization, in what is present-day Italy, in the ancient region of Etruria and in parts of Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna...

 and are therefore not found in Etruscan inscriptions. Others, such as those known from Safaitic
Safaitic is the name given to an Old North Arabian dialect, preserved in the form of inscriptions which are written in a type of South Semitic script. These inscriptions were written by bedouin and semi-nomadic inhabitants of the Syro-Arabian desert...

 inscriptions, list the letters of the alphabet in different orders, suggesting that the script was casually rather than formally learned.

Some abecedaria found in the Athenian Agora appear to be deliberately incomplete, consisting of only the first three to six letters of the Greek alphabet, and these may have had a magical or ritual significance. A deliberately incomplete abecedarium found at Hymettos in Attica
Attica is a historical region of Greece, containing Athens, the current capital of Greece. The historical region is centered on the Attic peninsula, which projects into the Aegean Sea...

 may have been a votive offering
Votive offering
A votive deposit or votive offering is one or more objects displayed or deposited, without the intention of recovery or use, in a sacred place for broadly religious purposes. Such items are a feature of modern and ancient societies and are generally made in order to gain favor with supernatural...


Near the beginning of the Christian era, the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

 had already undergone its principal changes, and had become a definite system. The Greek alphabet
Greek alphabet
The Greek alphabet is the script that has been used to write the Greek language since at least 730 BC . The alphabet in its classical and modern form consists of 24 letters ordered in sequence from alpha to omega...

 was growing closer to the Latin alphabet. Towards the 8th century of Rome, the letters assumed their artistic forms and lost their older, narrower ones. The three letters
Claudian letters
The Claudian letters were developed by, and named after, the Roman Emperor Claudius . He introduced three new letters:*a reversed C to replace BS and PS, much like X stood in for CS and GS...

 added by Emperor Claudius have never been found in use in Christian inscriptions. The letters fell into disuse after Claudius's death. The alphabet used for monumental inscription
Monumental inscription
A monumental inscription is an inscription, typically carved in stone, on a grave marker, cenotaph, memorial plaque, church monument or other memorial....

s was very different from the cursive
Cursive, also known as joined-up writing, joint writing, or running writing, is any style of handwriting in which the symbols of the language are written in a simplified and/or flowing manner, generally for the purpose of making writing easier or faster...

. The uncial
Uncial is a majuscule script commonly used from the 3rd to 8th centuries AD by Latin and Greek scribes. Uncial letters are written in either Greek, Latin, or Gothic.-Development:...

, occurring very rarely on sculpture
Sculpture is three-dimensional artwork created by shaping or combining hard materials—typically stone such as marble—or metal, glass, or wood. Softer materials can also be used, such as clay, textiles, plastics, polymers and softer metals...

d monuments, and reserved for writing, did not appear until the 4th century. The majority of objects bearing the abecedaria are not of Christian origin, with the exception of two vases found at Carthage
Carthage , implying it was a 'new Tyre') is a major urban centre that has existed for nearly 3,000 years on the Gulf of Tunis, developing from a Phoenician colony of the 1st millennium BC...

. These objects included tablets used by stone-cutters' apprentices while learning their trade. Stones have also been found in the catacombs, bearing the symbols A, B, C, etc. These are arranged, sometimes, in combinations which have puzzled scholars. One such stone, found in the cemetery of St. Alexander, in the Via Nomentana, is inscribed as follows:


This can be compared with a denarius
In the Roman currency system, the denarius was a small silver coin first minted in 211 BC. It was the most common coin produced for circulation but was slowly debased until its replacement by the antoninianus...

 of L. Cassius Caecinianus, which has the following inscription:


Saint Jerome was a Roman Christian priest, confessor, theologian and historian, and who became a Doctor of the Church. He was the son of Eusebius, of the city of Stridon, which was on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia...

 explained this similarity. Children were made to learn the alphabet in pairs of letters, joining the first letter of the alphabet with the last letter (AX), the second letter with the second to last (BV), and so on. A stone found at Rome in 1877, and dating from the 6th or 7th century, seems to have been used in a school
A school is an institution designed for the teaching of students under the direction of teachers. Most countries have systems of formal education, which is commonly compulsory. In these systems, students progress through a series of schools...

, as a model for learning the alphabet, and points to the continuance of old methods of teaching.
The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.