Archive for February, 2016

Linear B tablet KN 595 R p 31 with reference to the chiton undertunic:

Linear B tablet KN 595 R p 31 & the supersyllabograms O PE & KI

This tablet has to be one of the most challenging and most intriguing I have ever had the pleasure of deciphering. Challenging because it introduces two new associative supersyllabograms which appear nowhere else on tablets in the military sector of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy. Intriguing because, as is to be expected, the two associative supersyllabograms, O & PE in the military sector, cannot possibly mean the same thing as they do in the agricultural sector of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy, where they are occur on hundreds of tablets. Associative supersyllabograms, which always appear adjacent to the ideograms they modify, are those which describe some characteristic or element related it, unlike attributive supersyllabograms, which always appear inside the ideogram which they modify. Attributive supersyllabograms are without exception an attribute of the ideogram which they embody. Thus the attributive supersyllabogram KI describes precisely the type of textile its ideogram refers to, namely, the chiton undertunic = kito in Linear B, which the Mycenaean warriors, charioteers and foot soldiers alike wore under their breastplate = toraka in Linear B or thorax in ancient Greek. There is no mystery here.

But what about the associative supersyllabograms O on the first line and PE on the second line? What can they possibly signify? It is obvious from the outset that here, in the military sector of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy, they cannot conceivably mean the same thing as they do in the agricultural sector, where O = onato i.e. a lease field & PE = periqoro = a sheep pen in Linear B. This is where context comes into play, and in a big way. In fact, without context in the broadest sense of that word, no supersyllabogram, whether associative or attributive, can have any meaning at all.

It is absolutely necessary to define context in its all-inclusive sense. By context I do not merely mean the semantic-syntactical context within the confines of the tablet in which any supersyllabogram whatsoever appears, but also the cross-comparative syntactical contextual significance of each and every syllabogram cutting across any number of tablets in which these supersyllabograms appear in the same sector of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy. But even at this level, context is not sufficiently accounted for. It is all fine and well to contend that this is all there is to context. Nothing could be further from the truth. Unless and until we take context to mean the actual real world significance of each and every supersyllabogram, let alone word or phrase, we take into account in any and all sectors of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy, contextual and cross-contextual syntactical context alone fall far short of establishing their actual meaning. The real world context is just that. It is the clincher.

For instance, if we contend that the associative supersyllabograms O = onato or lease field, and PE = periqoro or a sheep pen in contextual association alone with the ideogram they modify, we cannot be certain that that is in fact what these two supersyllabograms designate. Unless we take their real world, environmental context fully into account, there is no substantive corroborative evidence that these supersyllabograms actually mean what they appear to mean in their contextual sense alone. The only way we can be certain that these supersyllabograms O & PE actually refer to a lease field and a sheep pen in turn, and nothing else, is to fully account for their real world context, namely, the agricultural sector of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy (which just so happens to be almost always sheep). Otherwise, all the contextual analysis in the world amounts to a hill of beans. As it just so happens, these two supersyllabograms, O & PE, in the agricultural sector alone, must mean what they do mean, because there are no other feasible alternatives in their real world environment.

The guiding principle is, change the sector of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy in which any supersyllabogram appears, and you automatically change its real world significance in the vast majority of cases, with very few exceptions. It is patently impossible for the supersyllabogram O to mean a lease field or for the supersyllabogram PE to refer to a sheep pen in in the military sector of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy. The idea is ludicrous. That leaves us with no other alternative than to attempt to establish, not only the (cross-) contextual, but also the real world significance of the associative supersyllabograms O & PE in the military sector. This is not such a simple operation as one might assume.

The principle of cross-contextual real world significance of supersyllabograms:

Before moving on to the definitions of these two supersyllabograms in the military sector, it is absolutely necessary to generalize the principle of the sense of any supersyllabogram whatsoever in the context of any and all sectors of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy in which it appears. Hypothetically and in actuality, the meaning of any supersyllabogram whatsoever, associative as well as attributive, depends entirely on both the syntactical and real world context within which it appears. Change the environmental context in which any single supersyllabogram is set, and you automatically change its meaning or more properly speaking, its true significance. Thus, for instance, the supersyllabograms O & PE each signify one thing and one thing only in the agricultural sector and quite another in the military sector of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy. This is true for every single supersyllabogram which cuts across any or all of the sectors of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy. These sectors are: agricultural, military, textiles, vessels (pottery etc.), religious and toponyms. For instance, the supersyllabogram PA cuts across all sectors but one, vessels. But it cannot and does not carry the same real world significance in any of these sectors. This factor must always be held uppermost in mind in the determination of the real world significance of any and all supersyllabograms, associative or attributive, as they cut across the boundaries separating the sectors of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy.

That leaves us with the burning question, just what do the associative supersyllabograms O & PE signify in the military sector? The answer, at least in the case of the associative supersyllabogram O, is not so obvious as one might imagine. Why so? Unfortunately, when we turn to Chris Tselentis’ superb Linear B Lexicon, we discover to our dismay that there are no fewer than three candidates for the supersyllabogram O. These are (a) that the supersyllabogram O means a military unit, such as a squadron or battalion or (b) it refers to the delivery of the item(s) under the scope or (c) to the purchase of said item(s). Which one is right?  We shall never know. We were not there when the scribes assigned the real world significance to this supersyllabogram, O. Any one of the aforementioned definitions fits the bill where the military sector is concerned. It is particularly tempting to opt for the first meaning, as it is explicitly military, but we must be on our guard about making such an assumption. However, it does appear that the notion of a military unit such as a squadron or battalion makes eminent sense, given the presence of the word eropakeya, which references game hunting. At the same time, that definition looks suspiciously like it is too specific with regard to the real world context, as I am somewhat doubtful whether a scribe would run to such detail in the determination of the significance of the supersyllabogram at hand, namely, O. It makes just as much sense to postulate that O refers to the delivery or purchase of the textile, the chiton undergarment. We were not there when the scribe assigned the meaning he did to this supersyllabogram, O. So we shall never know. So take your pick.

As for the supersyllabogram PE, things are much more straightforward. We already know from the syntactical and real world context of the attributive supersyllabogram KI, which can refer to one thing and one thing only, the (undergarment) chiton, that the associative supersyllabogram PE must without a shadow of a doubt be directly related to its parallel attributive supersyllabogram KI. It just so happens that Chris Tselentis has lit upon the one word which precisely fits the context (at all levels). And that word is pekoto, which refers to a kind of textile. And that kind of textile is quite obviously the chiton. But why would the scribe find it necessary to repeat the notion of textile, once as pekoto (a kind of textile) and secondly as kito (a chiton) specifically? There has to be a legitimate reason; otherwise he would not have done so. The reason is this: the scribe is specifically drawing our attention to the manufacture of a certain type of textile, in this instance, the chiton undergarment. This is the primary thrust of the overall significance of the text (contextual and real world) of this tablet. In other words, the fact that the supersyllabogram O refers to a military hunting unit, or to the delivery or purchase of the items under consideration for game hunting (namely, textiles) is secondary, taking a back seat to the actual manufacture of this item, which is the chiton undertunic. At least that is how I interpret it.

Linear B tablet KN 594 R r 11 & the supersyllabogram KI = chiton:

Knossos tablet KN 594 R r 11 and the supersyllabogram KI for chiton

This supersyllabogram (KI) is a variant on the one in the previous post (RI = linen). It would appear that the Linear B scribes used one (RI) or the other (KI) on an equal footing. This appears to be substantiated by Linear B  tablet KN 594 R r 11, in which the word for cloth or textiles appears on the first line, and both the ideogram for cloth or linen and the ideogram for chiton appear side by side on the second. Nothing could be more explicit. In other words, Linear B tablets which employ the supersyllabogram RI for a linen undergarment or undertunic or chiton and those which make use of the supersyllabogram KI for an undergarment or undertunic or chiton pretty much amount to one and the same thing, in spite of the fact that the word linen is not always explicitly mentioned whenever the supersyllabogram KI is used in lieu of the supersyllabogram RI. Although the word rita does not appear anywhere else on any Linear B tablets, its meaning is clear, as the word is found in ancient Greek, and means arms or limbs of a person. Thus, the chiton or undertunic covered the arms. It is also to be noted that both of these supersyllabograms, KI and RI, apply equally to the military and the textiles sectors of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy.  In the military sense, it is understood that the attributive supersyllabogram KI refers to the chiton undertunic which was worn under the “toraka” (Linear B) or “thorax”, i.e. the armoured breastplate.

Knossos tablet KN 281 R w 21 & the supersyllabogram RI = linen undergarment:

Knossos tablet 281 R w 21 linen undergarment or tunic

This is perhaps one of the easiest supersyllabograms I have ever had to translate. It is pretty much self-evident. The supersyllabogram RI stands for “rino” which is the Linear B word for “linen”, referring to the linen undergarment or linen tunic or linen chiton. Mycenaean armour consisted of an outer plated armour called “toraka” in Linear B or “thorax”, which means “breastplate armour” in English. Under the breastplate the Mycenaean warriors wore an undertunic, a.k.a. chiton, which was made of linen.

The only question is, why is the supersyllabogram attributive, appearing as it does inside the ideogram for “tunic”? Attributive supersyllabograms always describe an attribute of the ideogram within which they fall. The ideogram is of course that for “tunic”. But it is more than just a tunic. It is a linen tunic. Hence, “rino” or linen is attributive. The Linear B and ancient Greek for “thorax” appear just below the Linear B, Linear B Latinized, ancient Greek and English for “linen”.


Knossos tablet KN 498 O a 07 and the ideogram for DAPU = labrys:

Knossos tablet KN 498 O a 07 & the ideogram = dapu = labrys

It is notable that, unlike the previous tablets we have just posted, all of which contain the ideogram and the supersyllabogram DA for DAPU = labrys, this tablet has only the ideogram. It may have the ideogram and the supersyllabogram DA on the second line, but we can never know as it is right-truncated. This tablet can be readily translated, as illustrated above, but only if the scribe made two spelling mistakes, and the chances of that are extremely remote. However, I have ventured this translation, as it just might be the `correct one. You never know.

This is the last of the Knossos tablets directly dealing with the DAPU, labrys or the double-axe in the hierarchy of the Minoan/Mycenaean religion in the military sector.

Knossos tablet KN 497 O a 06 & the supersyllabogram DA = labrys = double axe:

Knossos tablet KN 497 O a 06 supersyllabogram DA = labrys = double axe

There isn’t much I can say about this tablet, apart from the fact that it inventories 6 double axes. The text on the left side is unintelligible, being left truncated. The importance of the labrys or double axe in the Minoan/Mycenaean religion cannot be over-stressed. This repetitive motif appears the whole length of the Hall of the Double Axes at Knossos – which I personally saw in May 2012 and which is a magnificent work of art. A nearly identical motif re-appears on frescoes at Mycenae. The presence of the labrys is all-pervasive in the Minoan/Mycenaean religious symbolism of the military. It is uncertain whether the religious or the military aspect predominates in such art, but I am inclined to say that it is the religious, since religious symbolism is rampant in the Minoan/Mycenaean pantheon. Moreover, their religion is primarily matriarchal, and not patriarchal. It is to be expected that religious mythology would trump military in matriarchal societies such as this.

Knossos tablet KN 496 O x 04 and the supersyllabogram da = labrys:

Knossos tablet KN 496 O x 04 and the supersyllabogram DA = labrys

It is simply impossible to determine the meaning of the first word on this tablet, “tanopada”, left truncated, for which the previous syllabogram is probably “a”. In addition, there may be more than one syllabogram before the left truncation. Whatever the word it is, it appears not to be Greek. It may possibly be Minoan. As explained on the illustration of the tablet (above), it is also not possible to determine whether the number 3 refers to both the labrys and the small swords, in which case there would be 3 of each, or whether there is only 1 labrys and there are 3 small swords. My preference is for the latter. In addition, the mark following the number 3 cannot be 10, since the format for 13 is the reverse. It appears simply to a scratch.

The supersyllabogram DA = dapu = “double axe” in Mycenaean Linear B:

Knossos tablet KN 495 O a 03 supersyllabogram DA double axes

This unusual supersyllabogram appears on only 3 Linear B tablets from Knossos... unusual not only because it is rare, but also because it is either oncharged or supercharged onto the syllabogram for “double axe”. This would imply that the supersyllabogram DA is an associative, not attributive supersyllabogram, given that attributive supersyllabograms are otherwise without exception incharged in their ideograms. This leaves us in a bit of a quandary, because we should expect that DA is attributive and not associative. Its position (supercharged or oncharged) on this tablet and the other 2 like it indicates that it should be associative. But a double axe can neither be associated with itself nor be an attribute of itself. That is a contradiction in terms. So what are we to make of this bizarre positioning of the supersyllabogram DA onto the ideogram for the double axe?  I can come up with no explanation other than that the supersyllabogram DA is neither attributive nor associative, but is simply itself per se. What is even more astonishing is the fact that the ideogram and the supersyllabogram are essentially one and the same thing. Was the scribe at a bit of a loss in his attempt to “describe” the double axe as a supersyllabogram? Actually, I don't think so. What he was doing in this particular instance was emphasizing or, if you like, stressing the fact that he was focused on the double axe.  In this context, it appears that the ideogram for “double axe” coupled with its supersyllabogram must take precedence over the rest of the text on this tablet. The tablet is focused sharply on the inventory of the double axe, which takes precedence over any other consideration. At least that is my take on it.

Here we have two illustrations highlighting the conspicuous symbolism of the double axe in Minoan/Mycenaean iconography:   

Hall of the Double Axes Knossos



The composite supersyllabograms E & KO with the ideogram for horse in Linear B:

KN 226 N j 21 composite SSYLS E KO

This is one of only two tablets in the entire corpus of Mycenaean Linear B tablets, on which two (2) supersyllabograms modify their ideogram, in this case, the one for horse. It is particularly intriguing that these two supersyllabograms are framed on each side with the numeral 1. If this looks peculiar at first sight, I can hardly blame you. Yet there is an explanation which is more than likely sound. We note that there is only 1 chariot. This would mean that there has to be a team of 2 horses. Yet it appears that this factor is not taken into account. In fact, far from it. The scribe has in fact written the number 2, one 1 one on each side of the two supersyllabograms. This would seem to imply that the scribe is referring to 2 sets of a part of the harness, probably the bridle and of the cross-bar. This in turn implies that there is a team of horses to whom these parts are assigned. Even though the supersyllabogram ZE = a team of horses does not appear on this tablet, it looks very much like that is what the scribe intends us to understand, given that there are two sets of the parts assigned, this appears to confirm that there is a team of horses.

Note that the ideogram for armour follows that for one (1) chariot and precedes the two supersyllabograms E & KO. This is the standard formulaic position for the ideogram for armour. This ideograms does not imply that the chariot is armoured, but rather that the driver of the chariot is armoured, hence my translation.

Prior to my discovery of this phenomenon of composite supersyllabograms, no researcher past or present has ever before identified it.

The composite supersyllabograms ZE & RO with the ideogram for horse in Linear B:

KN 259 N l 21 SSYLS ZE RO

This is one of only two tablets in the entire corpus of Linear B tablets which has two supersyllabograms modifying their ideogram, making them a unique phenomenon. The other one appears in the next post.

While the supersyllabogram ZE, meaning “a team of horses”, is straightforward, RO appears only once on this fragment, and nowhere else on any Linear B tablet or fragment, regardless of provenance. L.R. Palmer, in “The Interpretation of Mycenaean Greek Texts” (1963) defines it as meaning “a part of the horse trappings, made of leather”. I have no reason to discount this interpretation. It is unusual for the ideogram for armour to follow that for horse, and especially for the scribe to indicate that there are two (2) sets of armour for the (chariot) drivers, one for each... unusual because the ideogram for armour almost always follows that for chariot and precedes that for a team of horses. Be it as it may, that is the way the scribe inscribed it; so we'll take it at its face value.

Linear B tablet 04-39 N u 10 from the Knossos “Armoury” illustrating the SSYLS ZE & MO

Linear B tablet k 04-39 N u 10 from Knossos wheel ZE MO

While the translation of this tablet is relatively straightforward, there are a few points worthwhile mentioning. The first is that the supersyllabogram MO, appearing  for the first time on this tablet, is the first syllable of the Linear B word – mono - , meaning – one, single (i.e. spare). Secondly, since the tablet is right-truncated, we do not know how many spare wheels (MO) the scribe has inventoried, but my bet is that there is a spare wheel for each set of wheels on axle. Given that there are 3 sets of wheels on axle, that would mean that there would be 3 spare wheels. Lastly, and significantly, there is absolutely no mention of a chariot on this tablet (nor is there on well over a dozen other tablets), leading me to the all but inescapable conclusion that a considerable number of chariots were fully assembled without their wheels, the wheels being separately manufactured. But why? 

There are three discreet sets of tablets discussing the construction of chariots and their wheels (on axle):

(a) The first set of tablets inventory fully assembled chariots with their wheels on axle and their spare wheel (if present);
(b) The second is comprised of tablets for fully assembled chariots without their wheels on axle and;
(c) The third details the construction of wheels on axle, usually along with spare wheels, with no mention of chariots. Now this third set of tablets raises the inescapable question: why do so many tablets refer to the construction of wheels (both wheels on axle and spares), with no mention whatsoever of the chariots for which they are destined?

The most plausible explanation for these discrepancies is that the privileged functionary who has ordered his chariot does not want it delivered with its wheels already on axle [set (b) above], because he wishes to have the wheels separately manufactured according to his own specifications. We can be reasonably certain that VOPs such as the wanax (King) or the rawaketa (Commander-in-Chief) were the only supernumeraries who could possibly afford to have chariot wheels manufactured to their exacting specifications. Here you see a composite of four different styles of Mycenaean chariot wheels:

composite of 4 Mycenaean chariots

Such highly placed aristocrats would probably have been terribly fussy about the style and decoration of the wheels they wanted mounted. So the wheels on axle would have been manufactured separately from the chariots, which neatly explains why numerous tablets speak of wheel construction alone, while others refer to chariots without their wheels attached destined for the same elite customers. In fact, these two types of tablets appear to run in tandem with each other, there being one tablet referring to the chariot fully assembled without wheels on axle and a corresponding one detailing the manufacture of the wheels on axle (and most of the time of the spare wheel), but with no mention of the chariot itself. The difficulty is which Knossos tablet dealing with a particular fully assembled chariot without wheels is to be paired with which corresponding tablet describing the manufacture of wheels on axle (and most often a spare wheel to boot)? That is a question we shall never know the answer to, but the plausibility of this method of dual (or paired) construction of chariots without wheels in tandem with the separate manufacture of wheels makes sense.


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