Linear B

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Linear B
Type: Syllabic with additional logographic signs
Languages: Mycenaean
Time period:
Parent writing systems: Perhaps Linear A
Linear B
Unicode range: U+10000–U+1007F syllabic signs
U+10080–U+100FF logograms
ISO 15924 code: Linb
Image:Linear B.jpg 

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.


[edit] The Script

History of the
Greek language

(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)
Cappadocian,Cretan, Cypriot,
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.

[edit] Syllabic signs

Linear B is assigned Unicode Range 10000–1007F for syllabic signs and 10080–100FF for logograms.

-a -e -i -o -u
๐€€ a ๐€ e ๐€‚ i ๐€ƒ o ๐€„ u
d- ๐€… da ๐€† de ๐€‡ di ๐€ˆ do ๐€‰ du
j- ๐€Š ja ๐€‹ je ๐€ jo ๐€Ž ju
k- ๐€ ka ๐€ ke ๐€‘ ki ๐€’ ko ๐€“ ku
m- ๐€” ma ๐€• me ๐€– mi ๐€— mo ๐€˜ mu
n- ๐€™ na ๐€š ne ๐€› ni ๐€œ no ๐€ nu
p- ๐€ž pa ๐€Ÿ pe ๐€  pi ๐€ก po ๐€ข pu
q- ๐€ฃ qa ๐€ค qe ๐€ฅ qi ๐€ฆ qo
r- ๐€จ ra ๐€ฉ re ๐€ช ri ๐€ซ ro ๐€ฌ ru
s- ๐€ญ sa ๐€ฎ se ๐€ฏ si ๐€ฐ so ๐€ฑ su
t- ๐€ฒ ta ๐€ณ te ๐€ด ti ๐€ต to ๐€ถ tu
w- ๐€ท wa ๐€ธ we ๐€น wi ๐€บ wo
z- ๐€ผ za ๐€ฝ ze ๐€ฟ 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 -ฮฑแฟ–ฮฟฯ‚), the "r" characters were used to write both the /r/ and /l/ phonemes, and the "q" series is used for Proto-Indo-European /kสท/, /gสท/, and /gสทสฐ/, the latter being devoiced to /kสทสฐ/ 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.

[edit] Ideograms

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.

glyph codepoint Bennett meaning
people and animals
๐‚€ U+10080 100A man
๐‚ U+10081 102 A woman
๐‚‚ U+10082 104 Cn deer
๐‚ƒ U+10083 105 Ca equid
๐‚„ U+10084 105b Ca mare
๐‚… U+10085 105a Ca stallion
๐‚† U+10086 106b C-D ewe
๐€ฅ U+10025 *21 sheep
*75 yearling?
๐‚‡ U+10087 106a C-D ram
๐‚ˆ U+10088 107b C-Mc she-goat
๐‚‰ U+10089 107a C he-goat
๐’ U+10052 *22 goat
๐‚Š U+1008A 108b C sow
๐‚‹ U+1008B 108a C boar
๐‚ U+10042 *85 C pig
๐‚Œ U+1008C 109b C cow
๐‚ U+1008D 109a C bull
๐€˜ U+10018 *23 ox
units of measurment
110 volume
111 volume
112 dry
113 liquid
114 weight
115 weight
116 weight
117 weight
118 talent
by dry measure
๐‚Ž U+1008E 120 E-F wheat
๐‚ U+1008F 121 F barley
๐‚ U+10090 122 F-U olive
๐‚‘ U+10091 123 G-Un spice
124 G cyperus
๐‚’ U+10092 125 F cyperus?
126 F cyperus+ku
๐‚“ U+10093 127 Un fruit?
๐‚” U+10094 128 G safflower
๐ƒ† U+100C6 230 R spear
๐ƒ‡ U+100C7 231 R arrow
๐ƒˆ U+100C8 232 Ta double axe?
๐ƒ‰ U+100C9 233 Ra sword
๐ƒŒ U+100cc 240 Sc wheeled chariot
๐ƒ U+100CD 241 Sd Se wheel-less chariot
๐ƒŽ U+100CE 242 Sf Sg chariot frame
๐ƒ U+100CF 243 Sa So wheel

[edit] Archives

[edit] Corpus

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.

If it is genuine, the Kafkania pebble, dated to the 17th century BC, would be the oldest known Mycenean inscription, and hence the earliest preserved testimony of the Greek language.

[edit] Chronology

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


  • 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).

As for LH IIIB: it likely begins in the 1310s or 1300s BC, after Mursilis II's sack of Miletus; it ends around 1200 BC.

[edit] Contents

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.

[edit] Decipherment

The first clay tablet at Knossos was discovered by the British archaeologist Arthur Evans on March 31, 1900 and on April 6 he discovered a significant hoard of tablets (measuring 5x10 inches).

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.

[edit] Trivia

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.

[edit] See also

[edit] Further reading

[edit] External links

de:Linearschrift B el:ฮ“ฯฮฑฮผฮผฮนฮบฮฎ ฮ’ es:Lineal B fr:Linรฉaire B gl:Lineal B hr:Linearno B pismo it:Lineare B nl:Lineair B ja:็ทšๆ–‡ๅญ—B no:Linear B nn:Linear B pl:Pismo linearne B pt:Escrita linear B sk:Lineรกrne pรญsmo B fi:Lineaari-B-kirjoitus sv:Linear B

Linear B

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