Tag Archive: bridles

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 K 04.03 from the Knossos “Armoury”


Linear B tablet Knossos K 04.03 translation

The text of this tablet is longer than on most tablets on chariot construction. This makes for more chances for error(s) in the original text, depending on the scribe’s hand (which in this case is sloppy) in the final literal and free translations. The notes on the tablet above make it quite clear where the scribe’s writing leaves something to be desired. So the translator is left to his or her own devices to come up with the best possible interpretation under the circumstances. For instance, the word – opa – apparently is archaic Mycenaean. It had fallen out of use by the time of Homer. It is a bit difficult to determine exactly what it means, but Chris Tselentis has it as – workshop –, which makes sense in the context. Once again, by context, I mean not only textual context but the most likely translation for the real world context of the Mycenaean vocabulary describing chariot construction. I am convinced that in this case Tselentis has ventured the best possible translation, which by exception I accept without question. My normal practice is to call into doubt any word on any tablet which has no equivalent in later ancient Greek, Homeric or Classical. But sometimes we have to throw in the towel when faced with no other reasonable alternative for the translation of archaic Mycenaean Greek or possibly even Minoan words. There is nothing unusual at all in the phenomenon of cross-linguistic transfer of certain words from a former, more archaic, language (in this case Minoan Linear A). Lord knows, English is full of such words, the vast majority inherited from Latin, Greek and medieval and early Renaissance French. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

The scribe, whose hand is admittedly quite sloppy, appears to have inscribed – araromo-pa-mena – for – araromo-te-mena –, by omitting one of the horizontal bars on the syllabogram. Translators of Linear B must always be on the ball and on the lookout for scribal errors in orthography on any tablet whatsoever, regardless of provenance – Knossos, Pylos, Mycenae etc.  After all, people make spelling mistakes often enough today, just as they always have throughout history. No surprise there.

Finally, there is the sticky question, why would a scribe inventory a fully assembled chariot without wheels on axle, when – fully assembled – implies that the damn thing has to have its wheels on axle. Compare this with the manufacture of cars nowadays. No one in their right mind would call a car fully assembled, unless it had its wheels on axle. However, it is conceivable that Linear B scribes inventorying fully assembled chariots might sometimes be obliged to list the chariot(s) in question  – here there are 3 of them – as still not having their wheels on axle, because they are inventorying them at the very end of the current fiscal year. On the other hand, chariots might sometimes have been delivered without the wheels on axle, if the new owner wished to design and construct his own wheels, only attaching them after delivery has been received. There is no reason why this might not have been the case in some instances. But we shall never know, because we were not there when the scribes tallied chariots without wheels on axle. There must have been some method in their madness after all.

Linear B tablet Sd 4401 from the Knossos “Armoury”, a fully assembled chariot:

Knossos tablet SD 4401

Apart from the very first tablet on chariots we posted this month, namely, Linear B tablet Kn 894 N v 01, here:

Link to Knossos tablet Kn 894 N v 01

This is one of the most detailed of the Linear B tablets from the Knossos “Armoury”, zeroing in on more parts of a Mycenaean chariot than can be found on any of the other tablets we have already translated on the same subject, apart from Linear B tablet Kn 894 N v 01. There are a couple of peculiarities in the Linear B text of this detailed tablet which require clarification. The first is that the ideogram for chariot on the right side of the tablet is right truncated; so we do not know whether or not the chariot is equipped with a set of wheels. But common sense tells us that it is almost certain that this is a chariot equipped with wheels on axle, since the scribe explicitly states that the chariot is fully assembled. Secondly, the word for chariot on the second line = - iqiya – is feminine, which is quite strange, given that all of the modifying attributes following this word are in the masculine. This leads me to confidently conclude that the scribe meant to inscribe – iqiyo - = a double chariot, i.e. a chariot for two drivers, rather than – iqiya -. Otherwise, the grammatical constructs on the second line do not jibe.

As we have already noted in our translations of at least a few of the other chariot tablets, the scribes are prone to make errors, usually in case agreement or in orthography. But that is nothing unusual, given that writers past and present are prone to the same liability. After all, we are only human.

Linear B tablet 04-81 N a 12 from the Knossos “Armoury”

04-81WIRINEO O n KAKEYAPI OPI Greek & translation 

While most of the Linear B tablets from the Knossos “Armoury” we have translated so far this month have posed few problems of any significance, and a few occasional problems of some significance,  this tablet stubbornly defies an accurate translation, for the following reasons:

1 the literal word order on the first line is so jumbled up that it is almost impossible to determine what adjectives modify what nouns. So I have had to come up with at least two alternate interpretations of this line in my free translation.  We are saddled with the burning question – 

1.1 Is the chariot equipped with straps and bridles made of leather and horse blinkers made of copper?
1.2  Is the chariot equipped with straps and horse blinkers made of leather and bridles made of copper?
1.3 even some other probable concatenation?

Then we are confronted with the mysterious Mycenaean word – (ko)nikopa – (if indeed the first syllabogram, which is partially obscured, is in fact – ko – ), leaving me no alternative but  to rummage through an ancient Greek dictionary, in the hope that I just might be able to come up with a word concatenated from two ancient Greek words, and to my slight relief, I found both of the ancient Greek words you see in the illustration of the tablet above, transliterated into Latin script here for those of you who cannot read ancient Greek. These are the words – koniatos – , which means – whitewashed – or – painted white – and – kopis – which means – sword/axe – . See The Pocket Oxford Classical Greek Dictionary, pg. 189, for these definitions. But it is quite clear to any ancient Greek linguistic scholar that I am stretching the putative meaning of – (ko)nikopa – just about as far as one can without crossing over into the realm of ridiculous speculation. So please take my translation of this word with a very large grain of salt. I merely took this meaning because the word has to mean something, so why not at least try and take a stab at it? Every one and anyone who knows me is perfectly aware that I am always the first one to take the plunge and to attempt to translate even the most recalcitrant unknown words found on Linear B tablets. Someone has to, and I am a most willing guinea pig.  

Nevertheless, it is still possible, however remotely, that the word may mean just that, especially if we assume (and that is all it is, an assumption) that the chariot builder painted an axe motif onto both sides of the chariot body, just as we find the same motif painted onto frescoes in the Hall of the Double Axes at Knossos. This motif of the double axe, which is dubbed a – labrys  – by the Minoans and Mycenaeans, is characteristic of wall frescoes at both Knossos and Mycenae, as illustrated here:

motif of labrys or double axes common to Knossos and Mycenae

clarified in turn by the illustration below of the ideogram – dapu – for – labrys –  and with a similar ideogram of a labrys incharged with the supersyllabogram WE, which I have as yet been unable to decipher:

Linear B syllabogram B232 DAPU or labrys

Rita Robert’s translation of tablet K 04-01-07 / 04-01 N a 01 from the Knossos Armoury:
To ENLARGE this image or any other image or photo posted on this blog, RIGHT CLICK on it, select VIEW and then SAVE it to your computer:  

Knossos 04 01 N a 01

Rita Robert’s commentary on this tablet:
Line 1 - araruya  aniyapi = equipped with bridles -  wirinijo opoqo = with leather blinkers – kerajapi opiiyapi =  with horn bits -   ideogram 

Line 2 -  iqiyo = chariot – ayameno erepate = decorated with ivory -

araromotemeno = fully assembled – ponikijo = painted crimson.

Due to the truncation on the right hand side of this Linear B tablet it is impossible to state whether there is only one or more chariots listed.

one chariot ?  fully assembled equipped with bridles with leather blinkers and horn bits decorated with ivory inlays and painted crimson.

A dual chariot depicted on this fresco from Pylos. LH lllA/B date around 1340 BCE

Chariot fresco from Pylos

Mycenaean Chariot fresco

Chariot harnessing fro Mycenae

Richard’s comments:

Apart from a single error Rita made in line 2 of this tablet, having misread the second syllabogram as -mu- instead of -qi-, consequently misinterpreting -iqiyo- as -Imuyo- ( a person’s name) instead of – iqiyo - = a chariot, her translation is convincing and elegant, as is to be expected from a Linear B translator of her advanced skills. That error has been corrected in the translation above.

It goes without saying that the right-truncated ideogram for -chariot- to the right of the tablet between lines 1 and 2 must mean a chariot with wheels, as  a chariot without wheels cannot conceivably be fully assembled, equipped and decorated.

While the archaic Greek may appear somewhat difficult or abstruse to linguists who specialize in Classical Greek, it is really not so bizarre after all, since we find many parallels in Homer’s Iliad, especially in The Catalogue of Ships in Book II. Notice that the gender of the word for chariot is fluid, i.e. not yet fixed in Mycenaean Greek. Moreover, this word is archaic in the extreme, having disappeared completely from Homeric and Classical Greek. Nevertheless, its meaning is clear from the context of all tablets on which it appears, since on most of them it is juxtaposed with the ideogram for chariot.

In my notes on the archaic Greek, you will notice that the (second) aspirated a in the Greek for – kerayapi – is aspirated in the archaic Greek. This orthography does not correspond to the spelling on this tablet, but in Chris Tselentis’ excellent Linear B Lexicon the alternate spelling – kerahapi – is  attested as an alternate standard. 


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