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A Brief History of Alphabetization

Early Alphabetical Order

The standard use of alphabetization as a means of ordering information are seen in about 1 BCE by semitic writers (abjad). These Egyptians kept poorly alphabetized lists of financial records on papyrus. Around the same time, Roman and Greek scholars were keeping lists of titles and authors in alphabetical order, while they improved on the alphabet by adding vowels.

Even earlier, in about 3 BCE, there are examples of Greeks inscribing lists of names in stone. The stones had spaces, presumably for names that would be added at a later time.

Much later, in the 2st century AD, one of the earliest encyclopedias was written by Sextus Pompeius Festus, a Roman grammarian, that had its entire 20-volume treatise listed in alphabetical order. A century after that, a Homeric lexicon was compiled that was alphabetized.

In the 10th century a Byzantine encyclopedia/dictionary of the Mediterranean, written by Suidas, explained the sources and derivations of a large class of Greek words. This work was compiled in alphabetical order using some phonetic variations.

Finally, in the 14th century AD, an early encyclopedia called Fons Memorabilium Universi ("Source of notable information about the universe") was written in Latin and ordered alphabetically.

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