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Linear B

Linear B

Linear B is a syllabic script that was used for writing Mycenaean Greek, the earliest attested form of Greek. The script predates the Greek alphabet by several centuries. The oldest Mycenaean writing dates to about 1450 BC.[12] It is descended from the older Linear A, an undeciphered earlier script used for writing the Minoan language, as is the later Cypriot syllabary, which also recorded Greek. Linear B, found mainly in the palace archives at Knossos, Cydonia,[13] Pylos, Thebes and Mycenae,[14] disappeared with the fall of Mycenaean civilization during the Late Bronze Age collapse. The succeeding period, known as the Greek Dark Ages, provides no evidence of the use of writing. It is also the only one of the Bronze Age Aegean scripts to have been deciphered, by English architect and self-taught linguist Michael Ventris.[15]

Linear B consists of around 87 syllabic signs and over 100 ideographic signs. These ideograms or "signifying" signs symbolize objects or commodities. They have no phonetic value and are never used as word signs in writing a sentence.

The application of Linear B appears to have been confined to administrative contexts. In all the thousands of clay tablets, a relatively small number of different "hands" have been detected: 45 in Pylos (west coast of the Peloponnese, in southern Greece) and 66 in Knossos (Crete).[16] It is possible that the script was used only by a guild of professional scribes who served the central palaces. Once the palaces were destroyed, the script disappeared.[17]

Linear B
Syllabary with additional ideograms
LanguagesMycenaean Greek
Time period
Late Bronze Age
Parent systems
Linear A
  • Linear B
Sister systems
Cypro-Minoan syllabary
ISO 15924Linb, 401
Unicode alias
Linear B
Unicode range
  • U+10000–U+1007F [109]Syllabary
  • U+10080–U+100FF [110]Ideograms


Linear B has roughly 200 signs, divided into syllabic signs with phonetic values and ideograms with semantic values. The representations and naming of these signs have been standardized by a series of international colloquia starting with the first in Paris in 1956. After the third meeting in 1961 at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine, Wisconsin, a standard proposed primarily by Emmett L. Bennett, Jr., became known as the Wingspread Convention, which was adopted by a new organization, the Comité International Permanent des Études Mycéniennes (CIPEM), affiliated in 1970 by the fifth colloquium with UNESCO. Colloquia continue: the 13th occurred in 2010 in Paris.[18]

Many of the signs are identical or similar to those in Linear A; however, Linear A encodes an as-yet unknown language, and it is uncertain whether similar signs had the same phonetic values.[19]

Syllabic signs

The grid developed during decipherment by Michael Ventris and John Chadwick of phonetic values for syllabic signs is shown below.[20] (Note that "q" represents labilized velar stops [ɡʷ, kʷ, kʷʰ], not a uvular stop as in IPA)

Initial consonants are in the leftmost column; vowels are in the top row beneath the title. The transcription of the syllable (it may not have been pronounced that way) is listed next to the sign along with Bennett's identifying number for the sign preceded by an asterisk (as was Ventris' and Chadwick's convention).[1] In cases where the transcription of the sign remains in doubt, Bennett's number serves to identify the sign.[21] The signs on the tablets and sealings often show considerable variation from each other and from the representations below. Discovery of the reasons for the variation and possible semantic differences is a topic of ongoing debate in Mycenaean studies.

Recognised signs of shape V, CV[2]
𐀀Linear B Syllable B008 A.svga**08*𐀁Linear B Syllable B038 E.svge**38*𐀂Linear B Syllable B028 I.svgi**28*𐀃Linear B Syllable B061 O.svgo**61*𐀄Linear B Syllable B010 U.svgu**10*
d-𐀅Linear B Syllable B001 DA.svgda**01*𐀆Linear B Syllable B045 DE.svgde**45*𐀇Linear B Syllable B007 DI.svgdi**07*𐀈Linear B Syllable B014 DO.svgdo**14*𐀉Linear B Syllable B051 DU.svgdu**51*
j-𐀊Linear B Syllable B057 JA.svgja**57*𐀋Linear B Syllable B046 JE.svgje**46*𐀍Linear B Syllable B036 JO.svgjo**36*
k-𐀏Linear B Syllable B077 KA.svgka**77*𐀐Linear B Syllable B044 KE.svgke**44*𐀑Linear B Syllable B067 KI.svgki**67*𐀒Linear B Syllable B070 KO.svgko**70*𐀓Linear B Syllable B081 KU.svgku**81*
m-𐀔Linear B Syllable B080 MA.svgma**80*𐀕Linear B Syllable B013 ME.svgme**13*𐀖Linear B Syllable B073 MI.svgmi**73*𐀗Linear B Syllable B015 MO.svgmo**15*𐀘Linear B Syllable B023 MU.svgmu**23*
n-𐀙Linear B Syllable B006 NA.svgna**06*𐀚Linear B Syllable B024 NE.svgne**24*𐀛Linear B Syllable B030 NI.svgni**30*𐀜Linear B Syllable B052 NO.svgno**52*𐀝Linear B Syllable B055 NU.svgnu**55*
p-𐀞Linear B Syllable B003 PA.svgpa**03*𐀟Linear B Syllable B072 PE.svgpe**72*𐀠Linear B Syllable B039 PI.svgpi**39*𐀡Linear B Syllable B011 PO.svgpo**11*𐀢Linear B Syllable B050 PU.svgpu**50*
q-𐀣Linear B Syllable B016 QA.svgqa**16*𐀤Linear B Syllable B078 QE.svgqe**78*𐀥Linear B Syllable B021 QI.svgqi**21*𐀦Linear B Syllable B032 QO.svgqo**32*
r-𐀨Linear B Syllable B060 RA.svgra**60*𐀩Linear B Syllable B028 RE.svgre**27*𐀪Linear B Syllable B053 RI.svgri**53*𐀫Linear B Syllable B002 RO.svgro**02*𐀬Linear B Syllable B026 RU.svgru**26*
s-𐀭Linear B Syllable B031 SA.svgsa**31*𐀮Linear B Syllable B009 SE.svgse**09*𐀯Linear B Syllable B041 SI.svgsi**41*𐀰Linear B Syllable B012 SO.svgso**12*𐀱Linear B Syllable B058 SU.svgsu**58*
t-𐀲Linear B Syllable B059 TA.svgta**59*𐀳Linear B Syllable B004 TE.svgte**04*𐀴Linear B Syllable B037 TI.svgti**37*𐀵Linear B Syllable B005 TO.svgto**05*𐀶Linear B Syllable B069 TU.svgtu**69*
w-𐀷Linear B Syllable B054 WA.svgwa**54*𐀸Linear B Syllable B075 WE.svgwe**75*𐀹Linear B Syllable B040 WI.svgwi**40*𐀺Linear B Syllable B042 WO.svgwo**42*
z-𐀼Linear B Syllable B017 ZA.svgza**17*𐀽Linear B Syllable B074 ZE.svgze**74*𐀿Linear B Syllable B020 ZO.svgzo**20*

Special and unknown signs

In addition to the grid, the first edition of Documents in Mycenaean Greek contained a number of other signs termed "homophones" because they appeared at that time to resemble the sounds of other syllables and were transcribed accordingly: pa2 and pa3 were presumed homophonous to pa. Many of these were identified by the second edition and are shown in the "special values" below.[22] The second edition relates: "It may be taken as axiomatic that there are no true homophones." The unconfirmed identifications of *34 and *35 as ai2 and ai3 were removed. pa2 became qa.[23]

Special values
Character𐁀Linear B Syllable B025 A2.svg𐁁Linear B Syllable B043 A3.svg𐁂Linear B Syllable B085 AU.svg𐁃Linear B Syllable B071 DWE.svg𐁄Linear B Syllable B090 DWO.svg𐁅Linear B Syllable B048 NWA.svg𐁇Linear B Syllable B062 PTE.svg𐁆Linear B Syllable B029 PU2.svg𐁈Linear B Syllable B076 RA2.svg𐁉Linear B Syllable B033 RA3.svg𐁊Linear B Syllable B068 RO2.svg𐁋Linear B Syllable B066 TA2.svg𐁌Linear B Syllable B087 TWE.svg𐁍Linear B Syllable B091 TWO.svg
Bennett's Number*25*43*85*71*90*48*62*29*76*33*68*66*87*91

Other values remain unknown, mainly because of scarcity of evidence concerning them.[22][3] Note that *34 and *35 are mirror images of each other but whether this graphic relationship indicates a phonetic one remains unconfirmed.

Untranscribed and doubtful values
Linear B Symbol B018.svg
Linear B Symbol B019.svg
Linear B Symbol B022.svg
Linear B Symbol B034.svg
Linear B Symbol B047.svg
Linear B Symbol B049.svg
Linear B Symbol B056.svg
Linear B Symbol B063.svg
Linear B Symbol B064.svg
Linear B Syllable B065 JU.svg
Linear B Symbol B079.svg
Linear B Symbol B082.svg
Linear B Symbol B083.svg
Linear B Symbol B086.svg
Linear B Symbol B089.svg
Bennett's Number*18*19*22*34*35*47*49*56*63*64*65*79*82*83*86*89

In recent times, CIPEM inherited the former authority of Bennett and the Wingspread Convention in deciding what signs are "confirmed" and how to officially represent the various sign categories. In editions of Mycenaean texts, the signs whose values have not been confirmed by CIPEM are always transcribed as numbers preceded by an asterisk (e.g., *64). CIPEM also allocates the numerical identifiers, and until such allocation, new signs (or obscured or mutilated signs) are transcribed as a bullet-point enclosed in square brackets: [•].

Spelling and pronunciation

The signs are approximations―each may be used to represent a variety of about 70 distinct combinations of sounds, within rules and conventions. The grid presents a system of monosyllabic signs of the type V/CV. Clarification of the 14 or so special values tested the limits of the grid model, but Chadwick in the end concluded that even with the ramifications, the syllabic signs can unexceptionally be considered monosyllabic.[24]

Possible exceptions, Chadwick goes on to explain, include the two diphthongs, 𐁁 (ai) and 𐁂 (au), as in 𐁁𐀓𐀠𐀴𐀍, ai-ku-pi-ti-jo, for Aiguptios (Αἰγύπτιος, "Egyptian") and 𐁂𐀐𐀷, au-ke-wa, for Augewās (Αὐγείας "Augeas").[4] However, a diphthong is by definition two vowels united into a single sound and therefore might be typed as just V. Thus 𐁉 (rai), as in 𐀁𐁉𐀺, e-rai-wo, for elaiwon (ἔλαιον),[5] is of the type CV. Diphthongs are otherwise treated as two monosyllables: 𐀀𐀫𐀄𐀨, a-ro-u-ra, for arourans (accusative plural of ἄρουραι, "tamarisk trees"), of the types CV and V.[25] Lengths of vowels and accents are not marked.

𐁌 (Twe), 𐁍 (two), 𐁃 (dwe), 𐁄 (dwo), 𐁅 (nwa) and the more doubtful 𐁘 (swi) and 𐁚 (swa) may be regarded as beginning with labialized consonants, rather than two consonants, even though they may alternate with a two-sign form: o-da-twe-ta and o-da-tu-we-ta for Odatwenta; a-si-wi-jo and a-swi-jo for Aswios (Ἄσιος). Similarly, 𐁈 (rya), 𐁊 (ryo) and 𐁋 (tya) begin with palatalized consonants rather than two consonants: -ti-ri-ja for -trja (-τρια).

The one sign Chadwick tags as the exception to the monosyllabic rule is 𐁇 (pte), but this he attributes to a development pte<*pje as in kleptei<*klep-jei.

Linear B does not consistently distinguish between voiced and unvoiced stop consonants (except in the dental series) and between aspirated and unaspirated stops even when these distinctions are phonemic in Mycenaean Greek. For example,[26] pa-te is patēr (πατήρ), pa-si is phāsi (φησί);[6] p on the other hand some times does not represent (like in the beginning of the following word) β: βασιλεύς ("basileus", meaning in this period "court official or local chieftain") is qa-si-re-u[7]); ko-ru is korus (κόρυς, "helmet"), ka-ra-we is grāwes (plural of γρηύς), ko-no is skhoinos ("rope"). Exceptionally, however, the dentals are represented by a t-series and a d-series for unvoiced and voiced: to-so for tosos (τόσος or τόσσος) but do-ra for dōra (plural of δῶρον, "gift"). Aspiration, however, is not marked: to-ra-ke for thōrākes (plural of θώραξ, "breastplate"). In other cases aspiration can be marked but is optional: pu-te for phutēr ("planter", from φυτεύω), but phu-te-re for phutēres ("planters"). Initial aspiration may be marked only in the case of initial a and rarely: ha-te-ro for hateron (masculine ἅτερος),[27] and yet a-ni-ja for hāniai (ἁνίαι).

The j-series represents the semivowel equivalent to English "y", and is used word-initially and as an intervocalic glide after a syllable ending in i: -a-jo for -αῖος (-aios); a-te-mi-ti-jo for Ἀρτεμίτιος (Artemitios). The w-series similarly are semivowels used word-initially and intervocalically after a syllable ending in u: ku-wa-no for kuanos (κύανος, "blue").[28]

The r-series includes both the /r/ and /l/ phonemes: ti-ri-po for tripos (τρίπος, i.e. τρίπους) and tu-ri-so for Tulisos (Τυλισός).

The q-series is used for monosyllables beginning with a class of consonants that disappeared from classical Greek by regular phonetic change: the labialized velar consonants (see under Mycenaean Greek). These had entered the language from various sources: inheritance from Proto-Indo-European, assimilation, borrowing of foreign words, especially names. In Mycenaean they are /kʷ/, /gʷ/, and rarely /kʷh/ in names and a few words:[29] a-pi-qo-ro for amphiquoloi (ἀμφίπολοι); qo-u-ko-ro for guoukoloi (βουκόλοι. "cowherders"); -qo-i-ta for -φόντης.

Some consonants in some contexts are not written (but are understood): word-initial s- and -w before a consonant, as in pe-ma for sperma (σπέρμα, "seed"); syllable-final -l, -m, -n, -r, -s; only word-final velars are notated by plene writing: a-to-ro-qo for anthrōquos (ἄνθρωπος, "human being, person"). In the first example, the pe-, which was primarily used as its value pe of grid class CV, is being used for sper-, not in that class. This was not an innovative or exceptional use, but followed the stated rules. Similarly, a, being primarily of grid class V, is being used as an- and could be used for al, am, ar, and so on.

Clusters of two or three consonants that do not follow the initial s- and -w rule or the double consonants: ξ (ks or x), ψ (ps) and qus (which later did not exist in classical Greek) were represented by the same number of signs of type CV as the cluster had consonants: ko-no-so for Knōsos,[8] ku-ru-so for khrusos (χρυσός, "gold"). The consonants were the same as in the cluster. The vowels so introduced have been called "empty", "null", "extra", "dead" and other terms by various writers as they represent no sound. The sign was not alphabetic: rules governed the selection of the vowel and therefore of the sign. The vowel had to be the same as the one of the first syllable following the cluster or if at the end of the word, preceding: ti-ri-po with ti- (instead of ta-, te- and so on) to match -ri-. A rare exception occurs in words formed from wa-na-ka, wanax (ϝάναξ, Homeric and Classical ἄναξ): wa-na-ka-te for wanaktei (dative), and wa-na-ka-te-ro for wanakteros, the adjectival form.


Linear B also uses a large number of ideograms. They express:

  • The type of object concerned (e.g. a cow, wool, a spear)

  • A unit of measure.

They have no phonetic value and are never used as word signs in writing a sentence like Japanese kanji are. They are typically at the end of a line before a number and appear to signify the object the number applies to. Many of the values remain unknown or disputed. Some commodities such as cloth and containers are divided into many different categories represented by distinct ideograms. Livestock may be marked with respect to their sex.

The numerical references for the ideograms were originally devised by Ventris and Bennett, divided into functional groups corresponding to the breakdown of Bennett's index. These groups are numbered beginning 100, 110, 120 etc., with some provision of spare numbers for future additions; the official CIPEM numberings used today are based on Ventris and Bennett's numbering, with the provision that three or four letter codes (written in small capitals), based on Latin words that seemed relevant at the time, are used where the meanings are known and agreed. Unicode (as of version 5.0) encodes 123 Linear B ideograms.

The ideograms are symbols, not pictures of the objects in question—e.g. one tablet records a tripod with missing legs, but the ideogram used is of a tripod with three legs. In modern transcriptions of Linear B tablets, it is typically convenient to represent an ideogram by its Latin or English name or by an abbreviation of the Latin name. Ventris and Chadwick generally used English; Bennett, Latin. Neither the English nor the Latin can be relied upon as an accurate name of the object; in fact, the identification of some of the more obscure objects is a matter of exegesis.[30]

GlyphCode point[9]Bennett[31]CIPEM[32]English[33]
People and Animals
Linear B Ideogram B100 Man.svgU+10080100[34] A-VIR
Linear B Ideogram B102 Woman.svgU+10081102 A-MUL
Linear B Ideogram B104 Deer.svgU+10082104 CnCERV
Linear B Ideogram B105 Equid.svgU+10083105 Ca S-EQU
Linear B Ideogram B105F Mare.svgU+10084105 CaEQUfmare[35]
Linear B Ideogram B105M Stallion.svgU+10085105 CaEQUmstallion
Bous ergatēs
"Adjunct to ox" (1973)[36]
Linear B Ideogram B106F Ewe.svgU+10086106bC- D-OVISfEWE
Linear B Ideogram B106M Ram.svgU+10087106aC- D-OVISmRAM
𐂈U+10088107bC- McCAPfSHE-GOAT
*85 C-
*23 C-
Units of Measurement
*72 G-Bunch?
*74 S-Pair
*15 S-Single
By Dry Measure
𐂎U+1008E120 E- F-GRA
𐂏U+1008F121 F-HORD
𐂐U+10090122 F- U-OLIV
*30 F
"some kind of grain"[39]
𐂑U+10091123 G- UnAROM
*70 G-
*31 G-
*81 G-
*9 G-
*80 G-
124 G-PYCcyperus
𐂒U+10092125 F-CYPcyperus?
126 F-CYP+KUcyperus+ku
𐂓U+10093127 UnKAPOfruit?
𐂔U+10094128 G-KANAKOsafflower
By liquid measure
By weight
By weight or in units
Counted in units
𐃣U+100E3204 Ta
𐃤U+100E4205 K Tn
𐃄U+100C4220 Ta
𐃆U+100C6230 RHAS
𐃇U+100C7231 RSAG
𐃈U+100C8232 Ta*232AXE
𐃉U+100C9233 RaDAGGER
𐃌U+100CC240 ScBIG
𐃍U+100CD241 Sd SeCUR
𐃎U+100CE242 Sf SgCAPS
𐃏U+100CF243 Sa SoROTA



Inscriptions in Linear B have been found on tablets and vases or other objects; they are catalogued and classified by, inter alia, the location of the excavation they were found in.

PrefixLocationNumber of items and/or notes
HVHagios Basileios
(Xerocampion, Laconia)
Two tablet fragments.
IKIklainaFragment of a tablet.
KHChania6 tablets
KNKnossosca. 4,360 tablets (not counting finds of Linear A)
(Livadostra, Boeotia)
MAMMameloukou Cave
(Perivolia, Kissamos)
(Steiri, Boeotia)
MYMycenae73 tablets
PYPylos1,087 tablets
THThebes99 tablets + 238 published in 2002 (L. Godart and A. Sacconi, 2002);
TITiryns27 tablets
Kastron of Palaia Hill
Kastron or Castron both is, and means, a "castle";
the location is occasionally called Kastro-Palaia in English.

Another 170 inscriptions in Linear B have been found on various vessels, for a total of some 6,058 known inscriptions.

The oldest Linear B tablets are probably those from the Room of Chariot Tablets at Knossos, and date to the latter half of the 15th century BC.[41] The Kafkania pebble, though from an earlier context, is not genuine.[42] The earliest inscription from the mainland is an inscribed clay tablet found at Iklaina dating to between 1400 and 1350 BC.[43]

It is claimed that a Linear B inscription is attested on an amber bead found as far at Bernstorf, in Germany.[44]


Timeline of Bronze Age eastern Mediterranean scripts

The Aegean is responsible for many of the early Greek language words that have to do with daily life such as words for tools and items that are seen every day.[45] The sequence and the geographical spread of Cretan hieroglyphs, Linear A, and Linear B, the three overlapping, but distinct, writing systems on Bronze Age Crete, the Aegean islands, and mainland Greece are summarized as follows:[46]

Writing systemGeographical areaTime span[10]
Cretan hieroglyphsCreteca. 1625−1500 BC
Linear ACrete, Aegean Islands (Kea, Kythira, Milos, Santorini), and Laconiaca. 1800−1450 BC[47]
Linear BCrete (Knossos), and mainland (Pylos, Mycenae, Thebes, Tiryns)ca. 1425−1200 BC

Timeline of Linear B

The main archives for Linear B are associated with these stages of Late Minoan and Helladic pottery:[48]

Relative datePeriod datesLocationLocale or tablet
LM II1425–1390 BCKnossosRoom of the Chariot Tablets
LH IIIA1/early LH IIIA21400–1370 BCIklaina
1370–1340 BC
1340–1190 BC
Knossosmain archive
LM IIIB1340–1190 BCChaniatablets Sq 1, 6659, KH 3 (possibly Linear B)
LH/LM IIIB1 end[11]Chania
tablets Ar 3, Gq 5, X 6
tablets from Oil Merchant group of houses
Ug tablets and Wu sealings
LH IIIB2, endMycenae
tablets from the Citadel
all tablets
Of tablets and new Pelopidou Street deposit
all but five tablets

Controversy on the date of the Knossos tablets

The Knossos archive was dated by Arthur Evans to the destruction by conflagration of about 1400 BC, which would have baked and preserved the clay tablets. He dated this event to the LM II period. This view stood until Carl Blegen excavated the site of ancient Pylos in 1939 and uncovered tablets inscribed in Linear B. They were fired in the conflagration that destroyed Pylos about 1200 BC, at the end of LHIIIB. With the decipherment of Linear B by Michael Ventris in 1952, serious questions about Evans' date began to be considered. Most notably, Blegen said that the inscribed stirrup jars, which are oil flasks with stirrup-shaped handles, imported from Crete around 1200 were of the same type as those dated by Evans to the destruction of 1400. Blegen found a number of similarities between 1200 BC Pylos and 1400 BC Knossos and suggested the Knossian evidence be reexamined, as he was sure of the 1200 Pylian date.

The examination uncovered a number of difficulties. The Knossos tablets had been found at various locations in the palace. Evans had not kept exact records. Recourse was had to the day books of Evans' assistant, Duncan Mackenzie, who had conducted the day-to-day excavations. There were discrepancies between the notes in the day books and Evans' excavation reports. Moreover, the two men had disagreed over the location and strata of the tablets. The results of the reinvestigation were eventually published by Palmer and Boardman, On the Knossos Tablets.[49] It contains two works, Leonard Robert Palmer's The Find-Places of the Knossos Tablets and John Boardman's The Date of the Knossos Tablets, representing Blegen's and Evans' views respectively. Consequently, the dispute was known for a time as "the Palmer-Boardman dispute". There has been no generally accepted resolution to it yet.


The major cities and palaces used Linear B for records of disbursements of goods. Wool, sheep, and grain were some common items, often given to groups of religious people and to groups of "men watching the coastline".

The tablets were kept in groups in baskets on shelves, judging by impressions left in the clay from the weaving of the baskets. When the buildings they were housed in were destroyed by fires, many of the tablets were fired.

Discovery and decipherment

Arthur J. Evans' classification of scripts

The British archaeologist Arthur Evans, keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, was presented by Greville Chester in 1886 with a sealstone from Crete engraved with a writing he took to be Mycenaean.[50] Heinrich Schliemann had encountered signs similar to these, but had never identified the signs clearly as writing, relating in his major work on Mycenae that "of combinations of signs resembling inscriptions I have hitherto only found three or four ...."[51] In 1893 Evans purchased more sealstones in Athens, verifying from the antiquarian dealers that the stones came from Crete. During the next year he noticed the script on other artefacts in the Ashmolean. In 1894 he embarked for Crete in search of the script. Soon after arrival, at Knossos he saw the sign of the double axe on an excavated wall, considering this the source of the script. Subsequently, he found more stones being worn by Cretan women as amulets called γαλόπετρες "milk-stones", coming from the various ruins.

Starting in 1894, Evans published his theories that the signs evidenced various phases in the development of a writing system in The Journal of Hellenic Studies, the first article being "Primitive Pictographs and a Prae-Phoenician Script from Crete".[52] In these articles Evans distinguished between "pictographic writing" and "a linear system of writing". He did not explicitly define these terms, causing some confusion among subsequent writers concerning what he meant, but in 1898 he wrote[53] "These linear forms indeed consist of simple geometrical figures which unlike the more complicated pictorial class were little susceptible to modification," and "That the linear or quasi-alphabetic signs ... were in the main ultimately derived from the rudely scratched line pictures belonging to the infancy of art can hardly be doubted."

Meanwhile, Evans began to negotiate for the land purchase of the Knossos site. He established the Cretan Exploration Fund, with only his own money at first, and by 1896 the fund had purchased one-fourth of Kephala Hill, on which the ruins were located, with first option to buy the rest. However, he could not obtain a firman excavation permit from the Ottoman government. He returned to Britain. In January 1897, the Christian population of Crete staged its final insurrection against the Ottoman Empire. The last Ottoman troops were ferried off the island by the British fleet on December 5, 1898.[54] In that year also, Evans and his friends returned to complete purchase of the site. By this time, the Fund had other contributors as well.[55] In 1899, the Constitution of a new Cretan Republic went into effect. Once Arthur had received permission to excavate from the local authorities, excavation on the hill began on 23 March 1900.

According to Evans' report to the British School at Athens for that year,[56] on April 5, the excavators discovered the first large cache ever of Linear B tablets among the remains of a wooden box in a disused terracotta bathtub. Subsequently, caches turned up at multiple locations, including the Room of the Chariot Tablets, where over 350 pieces from four boxes were found. The tablets were 4.5 cm (1.8 in) to 19.5 cm (7.7 in) long by 1.2 cm (0.47 in) to 7.2 cm (2.8 in) wide and were scored with horizontal lines over which text was written in about 70 characters. Even in this earliest excavation report, Evans could tell that "...a certain number of quasi-pictorial characters also occur which seem to have an ideographic or determinative meaning."[56]

The excavation was over for that year by June 2. Evans reported: "only a comparatively small proportion of the tablets were preserved in their entirety,"[56] the causes of destruction being rainfall through the roof of the storage room, crumbling of small pieces, and being thrown away by workmen who failed to identify them. A report on September 6 to the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland[57] began to use some of the concepts characteristic of Evans' later thought: "palace of Knossos" and "palace of Minos". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography, 1900,[58] notes that Evans took up Stillman's theme that the palace was the labyrinth of mythology in which the half-bovine son of King Minos lurked. In the report, the tablets are now called a "linear script" as opposed to the "hieroglyphic or conventionalized pictographic script". The linear script has characters that are "of a free, upright, European character" and "seem to have been for the most part syllabic". Evans reasserts the ideographic idea: "a certain number are unquestionably ideographic or determinative."

The years after 1900 were consumed by excavations at Knossos and the discovery and study by Evans of tablets, with a projected comprehensive work on Cretan scripts to be called Scripta Minoa. A year before the publication of volume I, he began to drop hints that he now believed the linear script was two scripts, to be presented in the forthcoming book.

In Scripta Minoa I,[59] which appeared in 1909, he explained that the discovery of the Phaistos Disc in July 1908 had caused him to pull the book from the presses so that he could include the disk by permission, as it had not yet been published. On the next page[60] he mentioned that he was also including by permission of Federico Halbherr of the Italian Mission in Crete unpublished tablets from Hagia Triada written in a linear script of "Class A". To what degree if any Halbherr was responsible for Evans' division of the "linear script" into "Class A" and "Class B" is not stated. The Knossos tablets were of Class B, so that Evans could have perceived Class A only in tablets from elsewhere, and so recently that he needed permission to include the examples.

Evans summarized the differences between the two scripts as "type" or "form of script;' that is, varieties in the formation and arrangement of the characters. For example, he says "the clay documents belonging to Class A show a certain approximation in their forms to those presenting the hieroglyphic inscriptions ... the system of numerals is also in some respects intermediate between that of the hieroglyphic documents and that of the linear Class B."[61]

The first volume covered "the Hieroglyphic and Primitive Linear Classes" in three parts: the "pre-Phoenician Scripts of Crete", the "Pictorial Script" and "the Phaistos Disk". One or two more volumes publishing the Linear A and Linear B tablets were planned, but Evans ran out of time; the project required more than one man could bring to it. For a good many of the years left to him, he was deeply enmeshed in war and politics in the Balkans. When he did return to Knossos, completion and publication of the palace excavations took priority. His greatest work, Palace of Minos, came out in 1935. It did include scattered descriptions of tablets. He died in 1941, soon after Nazi forces invaded Crete.

The Knossos tablets had remained in the museum at Irakleion, Crete, where many of them now were missing. The unpublished second volume consisted of notes by Evans and plates and fonts created by Clarendon Press. In 1939, Carl Blegen had uncovered the Pylos Tablets; pressure was mounting to finish Scripta Minoa II. After Evans' death, Alice Kober, assistant to John Myres and a major transcriber of the Knossos tablets, prompted Myres to come back from retirement and finish the work. Emmett L. Bennett, Jr. added more transcriptions. The second volume came out in 1952 with Evans cited as author and Myres as editor,[62] just before the discovery that Linear B writes an early form of Greek. An impatient Ventris and Chadwick declared: "Two generations of scholars had been cheated of the opportunity to work constructively on the problem."[63]

Early attempts

Despite the limited source materials, during this time there were efforts to decipher the newly discovered Cretan script. Australian classicist Florence Stawell published an interpretation of the Phaistos Disc in the April 1911 issue of The Burlington Magazine.[64] She followed this with the book A Clue to the Cretan Scripts, published in 1931. Stawell declared all three Cretan script forms to represent early Homeric Greek, and offered her attempts at translations. Also in 1931, F. G. Gordon's Through Basque to Minoan was published by the Oxford University Press. Gordon attempted to prove a close link between the Basque language and Linear B, without lasting success.[65]

In 1949, Bedřich Hrozný published Les Inscriptions Crétoises, Essai de déchiffrement, a proposed decipherment of the Cretan scripts.[66] Hrozny was internationally renowned as the translator of Hittite cuneiform decades previously. His Minoan translations into academic French, though, proved to be considerably subjective, and incorrect.

From the 1930s to 1950s there was correspondence between, and papers published by, various international academic figures. These included Johannes Sundwall, K. D. Ktistopoulos, Ernst Sittig and V. I. Georgiev.[67] None of them succeeded with decipherment, yet they added to knowledge and debate.

Alice Kober's triplets

About the same time, Alice Kober studied Linear B and managed to construct grids, linking similar symbols in groups of threes.[68] Kober noticed that a number of Linear B words had common roots and suffixes. This led her to believe that Linear B represented an inflected language, with nouns changing their endings depending on their case. However, some characters in the middle of the words seemed to correspond with neither a root nor a suffix. Because this effect was found in other known languages, Kober surmised that the odd characters were bridging syllables, with the beginning of the syllable belonging to the root and the end belonging to the suffix. This was a reasonable assumption, since Linear B had far too many characters to be considered alphabetic and too few to be logographic; therefore, each character should represent a syllable. Kober's systematic approach allowed her to demonstrate the existence of three grammatical cases and identify several pairs of signs that shared vowels or consonants with one another.[69]

Kober also showed that the two symbol word for 'total' at the end of livestock and personnel lists, had a different symbol for gender. This gender change with one letter, usually a vowel, is most frequent in Indo-European languages.[70] Kober had rejected any speculation on the language represented, preferring painstaking cataloguing and analysis of the actual symbols,[71] though she did believe it likely that Linear A and Linear B represented different languages.[72]

Emmett L. Bennett's transcription conventions

The convention for numbering the symbols still in use today was first devised by Emmett L. Bennett Jr.. Working alongside fellow academic Alice Kober, by 1950 Bennett had deciphered the metrical system, based on his intensive study of Linear B tablets unearthed at Pylos. He concluded that those tablets contained exactly the same script as the Linear B found at Knossos, and he classified and assigned identification numbers to the Linear B signs as he prepared a publication on the Pylos tablets.[73] Like Kober, Bennett was also an early proponent of the idea that Linear A and B represented different languages.[72] His book The Pylos Tablets became a crucial resource for Michael Ventris, who later described it as "a wonderful piece of work".[74]

Michael Ventris' identification as Greek

In 1935, the British School at Athens was celebrating its fiftieth anniversary with an exhibition at Burlington House, London. Among the speakers was Arthur Evans, then eighty-four years old. The teenaged Michael Ventris was present in the audience.[75] In 1940, the 18-year-old Ventris had an article Introducing the Minoan Language published in the American Journal of Archaeology.[76]

After wartime service as a navigator with RAF Bomber Command, and a post-war year in Occupied Germany, he returned to civilian life, and completed qualification as an architect. Despite having no university qualification, Ventris continued with his amateur interest in Linear B, corresponding with known scholars, who usually but not always replied.[77]

Michael Ventris and John Chadwick performed the bulk of the decipherment of Linear B between 1951 and 1953. At first Ventris chose his own numbering method, but later switched to Bennett's system. His initial decipherment was achieved using Kober's classification tables, to which he applied his own theories. Some Linear B tablets had been discovered on the Greek mainland. Noticing that certain symbol combinations appeared only on the tablets found in Crete, he conjectured that these might be names of places on the island. This proved to be correct. Working with the symbols he could decipher from this, Ventris soon unlocked much text and determined that the underlying language of Linear B was in fact Greek. This contradicted general scientific views of the time, and indeed Ventris himself had previously agreed with Evans' hypothesis that Linear B was not Greek.[78]

Ventris' discovery was of significance in demonstrating a Greek-speaking Minoan-Mycenaean culture on Crete, and thus presenting Greek in writing centuries earlier than had been previously accepted.[79]

Chadwick, a university lecturer in Ancient Greek philology, helped Ventris develop his decipherment of the text and discover the vocabulary and grammar of Mycenaean Greek. He noted:[80]

That any Linear B tablets are written in a language other than Greek still remains to be demonstrated; but that words and usages not exactly paralleled in later Greek occur is both certain and to be expected. But we must not resort to "non-Greek" whenever we come up against an insoluble problem.

The first edition of their book, Documents in Mycenaean Greek, was published in 1956, shortly after Ventris's death in an automobile accident.[81]


Linear B was added to the Unicode Standard in April, 2003 with the release of version 4.0.

The Linear B Syllabary block is U+10000–U+1007F. The Linear B Ideograms block is U+10080–U+100FF. The Unicode block for the related Aegean Numbers is U+10100–U+1013F.

Linear B Syllabary[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart [111] (PDF)
^As of Unicode version 12.0
^Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points
Linear B Ideograms[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart [112] (PDF)
^As of Unicode version 12.0
^Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points
Aegean Numbers[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart [113] (PDF)
^As of Unicode version 12.0
^Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

See also

  • Aegean civilizations

  • Aegean numerals

  • Linear A

  • Cypro-Minoan syllabary

  • Cypriot syllabary

  • Proto-Greek language


Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgIn the Unicode character names, Bennett's number has been rendered into a three-digit code by padding with initial zeros and preceding with a B (for "Linear B").
Sep 30, 2019, 2:52 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgIn linguistics C and V in this type of context stand for consonant and vowel.
Sep 30, 2019, 2:52 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgSign *89 is not listed in Ventris & Chadwick's (1973) tables but it does appear in the appendix of Bennett (1964) as part of the Wingspread convention.
Sep 30, 2019, 2:52 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgVentris and Chadwick use Roman characters for the reconstructed Mycenaean Greek and give the closest later literary word in Greek characters. Often the phonetics are the same, but equally as often the reconstructed words represent an earlier form. Here the classical Greek was formed by dropping the w and lengthening the e to ei.
Sep 30, 2019, 2:52 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgThe w is dropped to form the classical Greek.
Sep 30, 2019, 2:52 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgClassical words typically have the η of the Attic-Ionic dialect where Linear B represents the original α.
Sep 30, 2019, 2:52 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgRepresenting guasileus, the b coming from gu
Sep 30, 2019, 2:52 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgDouble letters, as in Knossos, were never represented; one was dropped.
Sep 30, 2019, 2:52 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgNote that the codes do not represent all the glyphs, only the major ones.
Sep 30, 2019, 2:52 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgBeginning date refers to first attestations, the assumed origins of all scripts lie further back in the past.
Sep 30, 2019, 2:52 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgLM III is equivalent to LH III from a chronological perspective.
Sep 30, 2019, 2:52 PM
Citation Linkwww.aegeanscripts.org"New Linear B tablet found at Iklaina". Comité International Permanent des Études Mycéniennes, UNESCO. Retrieved 29 April 2012.
Sep 30, 2019, 2:52 PM
Citation Linkwww.themodernantiquarian.comHogan, C. Michael (2008). "Cydonia". The Modern Antiquarian. Julian Cope. Retrieved 12 January 2009.
Sep 30, 2019, 2:52 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgWren, Linnea Holmer; Wren, David J.; Carter, Janine M. (1987). Perspectives on Western Art: Source Documents and Readings from the Ancient Near East Through the Middle Ages. Harper & Row. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-06-438942-6.
Sep 30, 2019, 2:52 PM
Citation Linkwww.cam.ac.uk"Cracking the code: the decipherment of Linear B 60 years on". Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge. 13 October 2012. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
Sep 30, 2019, 2:52 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgHooker, J.T. (1980). Linear B: An Introduction. Bristol Classical Press UK. ISBN 978-0-906515-69-3.
Sep 30, 2019, 2:52 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgVentris and Chadwick 1973, p. 60.
Sep 30, 2019, 2:52 PM
Citation Linkwww.linearb.orgPalaima, T.G.; Melena, Josē L. "A Brief History of CIPEM". Comité International Permanent des Études Mycéniennes. Archived from the original on 10 February 2009. Retrieved 28 March 2008.
Sep 30, 2019, 2:52 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgVentris and Chadwick (1973), page 37, quotes Bennett: "where the same sign is used in both Linear A and B there is no guarantee that the same value is assigned to it."
Sep 30, 2019, 2:52 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgVentris and Chadwick (1973), Fig. 4 on page 23 states the "Proposed values of the Mycenaean syllabary", which is mainly the same as the table included in this article. The "grid" from which it came, which was built up in "successive stages", is shown in Fig. 3 on page 20.
Sep 30, 2019, 2:52 PM