Learn more about Linear B
|Type:||Syllabic with additional logographic signs|
|Parent writing systems:|| Perhaps Linear A|
|Unicode range:|| U+10000–U+1007F syllabic signs|
|ISO 15924 code:||Linb|
|Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode. See IPA chart for English for an English-based pronunciation key.|
Linear B is a script that was used for writing Mycenaean, an early form of Greek. It preceded the Greek alphabet by several centuries: it seems to have died out with the fall of Mycenaean civilization; the intervening period, in which there is no evidence of written language, is known as the Dark Ages.
The script appears to be related to Linear A, an undeciphered earlier script used for writing the Minoan language, and the later Cypriot syllabary; derivation from another writing system is held to be the reason for its poor compliance with the phonemic principle. It is partly syllabic, with additional logographic signs that are "determinative", or "designational" (yielding "classes", and "types"). As such, it rather resembles modern Japanese writing in graphemic structure.
 The Script
| History of the|
(see also: Greek alphabet)
| Proto-Greek (c. 2000 BC)
| Mycenaean (c. 1600–1100 BC)
| Ancient Greek (c. 800–300 BC) |
Aeolic, Arcadocypriot, Attic-Ionic,
Doric, Pamphylian; Homeric Greek.
Possible dialect: Macedonian.
| Koine Greek (from c. 300 BC)
| Medieval Greek (c. 330–1453)
| Modern Greek (from 1453) |
Demotic, Griko, Katharevousa,
Pontic, Tsakonian, Yevanic
Linear B has roughly 200 signs, divided into syllabic signs with phonetic values and logograms (or ideograms) with semantic values.
 Syllabic signs
|𐀀 a||𐀁 e||𐀂 i||𐀃 o||𐀄 u|
|d-||𐀅 da||𐀆 de||𐀇 di||𐀈 do||𐀉 du|
|j-||𐀊 ja||𐀋 je||𐀍 jo||𐀎 ju|
|k-||𐀏 ka||𐀐 ke||𐀑 ki||𐀒 ko||𐀓 ku|
|m-||𐀔 ma||𐀕 me||𐀖 mi||𐀗 mo||𐀘 mu|
|n-||𐀙 na||𐀚 ne||𐀛 ni||𐀜 no||𐀝 nu|
|p-||𐀞 pa||𐀟 pe||𐀠 pi||𐀡 po||𐀢 pu|
|q-||𐀣 qa||𐀤 qe||𐀥 qi||𐀦 qo|
|r-||𐀨 ra||𐀩 re||𐀪 ri||𐀫 ro||𐀬 ru|
|s-||𐀭 sa||𐀮 se||𐀯 si||𐀰 so||𐀱 su|
|t-||𐀲 ta||𐀳 te||𐀴 ti||𐀵 to||𐀶 tu|
|w-||𐀷 wa||𐀸 we||𐀹 wi||𐀺 wo|
|z-||𐀼 za||𐀽 ze||𐀿 zo|
The names of these signs are only roughly phonetical, since most are used to represent a whole class of syllables each, see Mycenaean language. Note that "j" represents the semivowel equivalent to English "y", and is used as a glide (e.g. -a-jo for -αῖος), the "r" characters were used to write both the /r/ and /l/ phonemes, and the "q" series is used for Proto-Indo-European /kʷ/, /gʷ/, and /gʷʰ/, the latter being devoiced to /kʷʰ/ in Proto-Greek. There are some additional syllabic signs, the values of some of which are unknown, disputed, or infrequent. They are referred to either by a number, or by some hypothetical phonetic approximation, for example 64, a2, a3, au, nwa, pu2, etc.
The writing system is apparently an offshoot of Linear A, which, having been apparently designed to write the Minoan language, did not fit the sounds of Greek too well. The Myceneans who used the syllabary had to work around this, until several hundred years later, when the first Greek alphabet was developed.
Due to the nature of the texts preserved, ideographic representations of items counted are very frequent. Not all of their values are known, and their pronunciation is, at best, the object of educated guessing. The ideograms represent concepts such as MAN, WOMAN, COW, BULL, OIL, WINE, CLOTH, GOLD, BRONZE etc. There are several dozen signs representing various kinds of pots and vessels. (Example: tripod, for ti-ri-po-de, followed by the logogram for "3-footed pot".)
The numerical references for the ideograms was devised by Ventris and Bennett, divided into functional groups corresponding to the breakdown in Bennett's index. These groups are numbered beginning 100, 110, 120 etc., with some provision of spare numbers for future additions. Unicode (as of version 5.0) encodes 123 Linear B ideograms.
|people and animals|
|units of measurment|
|by dry measure|
|𐃈||U+100C8||232 Ta||double axe?|
|𐃌||U+100cc||240 Sc||wheeled chariot|
|𐃍||U+100CD||241 Sd Se||wheel-less chariot|
|𐃎||U+100CE||242 Sf Sg||chariot frame|
|𐃏||U+100CF||243 Sa So||wheel|
The tablets are classified by the location of their excavation.
- KN Knossos: ca. 4360 tablets (this is actually an undeciphered writing known as Linear A)
- PY Pylos : 1087 tablets
- TH Thebes: 99 tablets + 238 published in 2002.
- MY Mycenae: 73 tablets
- TI Tiryns: 27 tablets.
- KH Chania: 4 tablets
- another 170 inscriptions in Linear B were found on vessels.
The publication of the Thebes tablets (L. Godart and A. Sacconi, 2002) was long anticipated, and their actual content was rather disappointing compared to what had been hinted at by the editors in the previous years.
According to Cynthia Shelmerdine (as summarised in "Where Do We Go From Here?"), the main archives for Linear B are associated with these stages of Late Minoan and Helladic pottery:
- Knossos, Room of the Chariot Tablets
LM IIIA2 or IIIB:
- Knossos, main archive
- Chania, tablet Sq 1, also 6659 and KH 3 (possibly Linear B)
end LH/LM IIIB1:
- Chania, tablets Ar 3, Gq 5, X 6
- Mycenae, tablets from Oil Merchant group of houses
- Thebes, Ug tablets and Wu sealings
end LH IIIB2:
- Mycenae, tablets from the Citadel
- Tiryns, all tablets
- Thebes, Of tablets and new Pelopidou Street deposit
- Pylos, all but five tablets
LM III is equivalent to LH III from a chronological perspective.
Majority opinion dates the main archive of Knossos to LM IIIA:2 (the 14th century BC).
"LM" IIIB's material culture represents Cretan alternatives to LH ware, and is not homogenous (and since it was not controlled by Knossos, it is retains the title "Minoan" only as shorthand).
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 also to groups of "men watching the coastline".
The tablets were kept in groups in baskets on shelves. When some of the palaces burned in large-scale fires precipitated by earthquakes or volcanic events (see Knossos), the fires made "fired-clay tablets" of a portion of the tablets found. Impressions of the basket weaving have been left in the clay.
The convention for numbering the symbols still in use today was first devised by US Professor Emmett Bennett, who, by 1950, had deciphered the metrical system. He was also an early proponent of the idea that Linear A and B represented different languages.
Michael Ventris and John Chadwick performed the bulk of their decipherment of Linear B between 1951 and 1953. At first, Ventris chose his own numbering system, and agreed with Evans' hypothesis that Linear B was not Greek, however later switched back to Bennett's system, and ultimately reached the conclusion that Linear B was indeed an early form of Greek.
Before their work, Alice Kober had studied Linear B and had managed to construct grids, linking symbols that seemed to have a strong grammatical relationship. Kober had 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 far too few characters to be logographic; therefore, each character should represent a syllable.
Using the knowledge that certain characters shared the same beginning or ending sounds, Kober built a table similar to the one above; she was unable, however, to link the characters to actual phonetics.
Based on her work, and after making some inspired assumptions, Ventris was able to figure out the pronunciation of the syllables. The deciphering of Linear B proved that it was a written form of Greek, to the amazement of Ventris himself, but also in direct contradiction to the general scientific views of the times. Chadwick, an expert in historical Greek, helped Ventris decipher the text and rebuild the vocabulary and grammar of ancient Cretan Greek.
Ventris' discovery was of immense significance, because he actually showed that a Greek-speaking Minoan-Mycenaean culture existed on Crete. The large majority of Linear B tablets were inventories and bureaucratic documents, with large tables of numbers and sums. This helped historians analyze the structure of ancient Minoan civilization.
On the television game show, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, one $500,000 question was "Deciphered in 1952, Linear B is an early form of what language?" Alternate choices to the correct answer Greek were Latin, Russian and Arabic. Contestant Tom Hoobler answered correctly. He left the game on the million dollar question taking the money with him.
 See also
 Further reading
- Chadwick, John (1958). The Decipherment of Linear B. Second edition (1990). Cambridge UP. ISBN 0-521-39830-4.
- Chadwick, John (1987). Linear B and Related Scripts; "Reading the Past". Third impression (1997). University of California Press/British Museum. ISBN 0-520-06019-9. has the Enkomi clay tablet, circa 1500 BCE., examples of Linear B tablets, and translated, the basic Linear B syllabary, the Cypriot syllabary and discussions thereof, and short sections on Linear A, and the Phaistos Disk.
- Chadwick, John (1976). The Mycenaean World. Cambridge UP. ISBN 0-521-29037-6.
- Levin, Saul (1964). The Linear B Decipherment Controversy Reexamined. State University of New York Press. ASIN B000CBCR94.
- Robinson, Andrew (1995). The Story of Writing. Paperback edition (1999). Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-28156-4. Chapter 6, Linear B, pp 108-119: discusses Arthur Evans, his work, the Cypriot clues, the syllabary, Alice Kober, the "Grid", and a sample tablet transliterated, and translated into English.
- Ventris, Michael and Chadwick, John (1956). Documents in Mycenaean Greek. Second edition (1974). Cambridge UP. ISBN 0-521-08558-6.
- Singh, Simon (2000). The Code Book. Anchor. ISBN 0-385-49532-3. for a general outline of the Linear B deciphering story, from Schliemman to Chadwick.
- Ventris, Michael (1988). Work notes on Minoan language research and other unedited papers. Edizioni dell'Ateneo 1988 Roma.
 External links
- Linear B at the Open Directory Project
- Greek-Language.com: The Linear B Syllabary
- Dartmouth: The Prehistoric Archaeology of the Aegean, The Linear B Tablets and Mycenaean Organization
- UT-Austin: Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory (PASP)
- AncientScripts.com: Linear B
- Linear B at Omniglot
- Unicode code pages for the Linear B syllabary and logograms, including sample glyphs.
- Unicode Linear B Syllabary TrueType fonts (some also include ideograms)
- Free non-unicode Linear B TrueType font among other ancient fonts.
- Markos Gavalas, MYCENAEAN (Linear B) - ENGLISH Dictionary (explorecrete.com)da:Linear B
de:Linearschrift B el:Γραμμική Β es:Lineal B fr:Linéaire B gl:Lineal B hr:Linearno B pismo it:Lineare B nl:Lineair B ja:線文字B no:Linear B nn:Linear B pl:Pismo linearne B pt:Escrita linear B sk:Lineárne písmo B fi:Lineaari-B-kirjoitus sv:Linear B