Tag Archive: double axe

Complete decipherment of the Kafkania Pebble, ca. 1700 BCE. Is this the first ever inscription in proto-Greek?

Linear A Kafkania pebble 1700 BCE

This medallion is particularly striking, insofar as it actually appears to be inscribed entirely in proto-Greek. So even though this medallion dates from the Middle Helladic or Middle Minoan era (ca. 1700 BCE), the text appears not to be Minoan at all, but proto-Greek! If this is the case, this is by far the earliest inscription ever unearthed actually inscribed in proto-Greek. The decipherment makes perfect sense. Moreover, the presence of the king is clearly implied in this inscription. And what is even more astonishing is this: the Royal Seal of Malia, equally archaic, inscribed in Cretan hieroglyphics, appears to describe in no uncertain terms the word, wanaka!

the Royal Seal of Malia with wanaka inscribed

If this is true, then wanaka, which as we all know means “king” in Mycenaean Greek, in other words, in a language which came to the fore much later than the Minoan language, is in all probability either a Minoan word or, failing that, in the pre-Greek substratum. It is just as conceivable that all of the words on the Kafkania Pebble fall within the pre-Greek substratum, in other words, that all of these terms were to be taken over by the Mycenaeans at least a century later (ca. 1600 BCE at the earliest).

This is an amazing discovery, to say the very least.

Is the Minoan Linear A labrys inscribed with I-DA-MA-TE in Minoan or in proto-Greek? PART B: OR is it in proto-Greek?What?” I hear you asking, “... is that even even remotely possible?” The keyword here is remotely. Remotely, yes, but only remotely. Recall that in the last post, in which I postulated that the four consecutive supersyllabograms ID + DA + MA + TE might conceivably stand for the first syllabogram, i.e. the first syllable of 4 consecutive Minoan Linear A words, though which ones among God knows how many possibilities it is exceedingly difficult to determine.

On the other hand, the four consecutive supersyllabograms ID + DA + MA + TE might conceivably stand for the first syllabogram, i.e. the first syllable of 4 consecutive proto-greek Greek words, most likely proto-Mycenaean. If that is the case — and, mark  my words, it is far more likely than not that it is not the case — we are once again confronted with a myriad of combinations and permutations of proto-Greek words which have the potential, however thin, of standing in for the 4 consecutive supersyllabograms I + DA + MA +TE. So be forewarned. The putative decipherment of these 4 supersyllabograms into the one possible decipherment I have arbitrarily posited among hundreds is just  that, putative and tentative, and nothing more.

The tentative decipherment I have come up with runs as follows when the Mycenaean Greek of which it is the apparent forerunner is Latinized:

The supersyllabograms in turn might conceivably mean (but only as a long shot):

I = iyereya (feminine nominative singular), meaning “priestess”
DA =  Damateroyo (feminine genitive singular), meaning “of Damater”
MA =  Matereteiyai (feminine dative singular, meaning “to Mater Thea (the Divine Mother” 
TE = temenoi (masculine dative or locative singular), meaning “(in) the temple”

yielding this Latinized decipherment (which is but one possibility out of 100s): 

iyereya Damateroyo ... matereteiyai (eni) temenoi

... which roughly translates as:

The priestess of Damater... (is making offerings -or- sacrificing to) Mater  Thea (i.e. the Divine Mother) (in) the temple.

In this partial sentence, the phrase  (is making offerings -or- sacrificing to) and the preposition eni = “in” do not appear in the original supposed proto-Greek text, which I have extrapolated forward to Mycenaean Greek to make it fully accessible. Although these words are in fact absent from the original putative proto-Greek, they be supplied  with relative ease to fill in the gaps.

This proto-Greek translation is neatly encapsulated in this chart:


On closer examination, it turns out that, although this decipherment is only one among 100s of possible candidates, it is nevertheless one of the most plausible decipherments, for the following reasons:

1. If as I have pointed out in the previous post, Idamate is an actual Minoan word, as well as being in addition a series of 4 supersyllabograms. Thus, in the Minoan language it may very well mean something along the lines of Damate in Mycenaean Linear B: in other words, Idamate in the Minoan language may be the approximate equivalent of Damate in Mycenaean Linear B and of Demeter in ancient Greek. And if that is the case, the second supersyllabogram (DA) in my parallel proto-Greek translation, which I have deciphered as Damate, almost perfectly matches the Minoan word. This co-incidence, if co-incidence it is, is far too great to be ignored, and it lends a great deal of credence to my proto-Greek translation extrapolated forward to Mycenaean Greek of the second supersyllabogram DA in idamate.
2. But there is more, much more. As it so turns out, there is a sacred cave dedicated to Zeus on Mount Ida, which is very close to the Minoan site of Phaistos. Another co-incidence? The name of the cave dedicated to Zeus on Mount Ida is the “Dictaean Cave”, as illustrated here:


3. It is nothing short of a remarkable co-incidence that Idamate, as inscribed on the labrys, may very well signify “Mount Ida”, as I have clearly indicated  in the previous post. But what does that imply?  I have to wonder whether or not there was a Minoan peak sanctuary on the summit of Mount Ida. This is what a Minoan peak sanctuary probably looked liked:


And if there was, it was of course a temple. Referencing our proto-Greek translation of Idamate, we find that the last supersyllabogram, TE, may readily and realistically rendered as temeno, which in Mycenaean Greek means “a temple”. How fascinating!

Does this imply that the priestess to Damater might have been sacrificing to Mater Thea in a temple or peak sanctuary which may possibly have existed on the summit of Mount Ida? The correlation is truly tempting. However, I must sound a strong note of caution. Such an interpretation of  the last supersyllabogram of Idamate = TE, as the putative Mycenaean word, temeno = “a temple” as being a peak sanctuary is nothing less than a real stretch of the imagination. So it must be taken with a huge grain of salt. Nevertheless, it is possible, however remotely, that the temple in which the priestess of Damater is worshipping just might have been a peak sanctuary. But  I wouldn’t bet my bottom dollars on it.  It is thus remotely possible that Idamate signifies both “Mount Ida” in Minoan and “Mater Thea” in proto-Greek extrapolates forward to later Mycenaean Greek. Further credence is possibly lent to this decipherment by the fact that Mount Ida is clearly visible in the near distance behind the ancient site of Phaistos, as illustrated here and on map below:



But we must be extremely skeptical of such an interpretation. Why so? Just as Pavel Serafimov and Anton Perdith erroneously read proto-Slavic into Minoan Linear A tablet HT 31 (Haghia Triada), thereby grossly misinterpreting it, my own attempt to superimpose proto-Greek on the 4 supersyllabograms I + DA + MA +TE may amount to the same genre of fundamental (and gross) inaccuracy in the putative decipherment into proto-Greek of a Minoan Linear A text, in this case, of the word idamate inscribed on the labrys. So we must exercise extreme caution in hypothesizing that the 4 supersyllabograms  I + DA + MA +TE are the first syllabograms, i.e. the first syllables of the 4 consecutive proto-Greek words I have arbitrarily assigned to them. So the fact remains that these 4 supersyllabograms are far more likely to be the first syllabogram, i.e. the first syllable of 4 consecutive Minoan words than of proto-Greek words. I cannot stress this enough. 

Minoan Linear A qajo = Mycenaean Linear B dapu = labrys or double-edged axe:

Kafkania-pebble is double axe qajo

Sometimes the best strategy is to accept what is staring us in the face. On the Kafkania Pebble (Middle Helladic, ca. 1700 BCE?) the term qajo is inscribed immediately below the image of a double-edged axe, which in Mycenaean Linear B is called dapu, or labrys in English, as seen here:

Akosono dapu dapuritoyo axes temple-of-the-double-axes

Compare these with an actual Minoan Linear A double-edged sword, on which is inscribed with the word idamate, which in a previous post I deciphered as meaning either “King” ( wanaka in Mycenaean Greek ) or the name of the King, “Idamate” or “god” (diwo) in Linear B:

Idamate labrys = king or god

This brings the number of Minoan Linear A words deciphered more or less accurately to 66.

Linear A labrys with inscribed Idamate = king? or god (Zeus)? no. 29:

IDAMATE labyrs

Does the inscription on the Linear A labrys with inscribed with Idamate simply mean that this labrys (double axe) is dedicated to a Minoan potentate at Knossos whose name is Idamate? Perhaps. But there are two other more cogent decipherments, and these are either (a) idamate = Linear B wanaka = “king” or just as convincingly (b) idamate = Linear B diwo = “god” or “Zeus.” I am far more inclined to the either of the latter two.

Pylos tablet Py Ta 711 (Chris Tselentis) may lend some credence to the decipherment “king”. Certainly the King  (Idamate or Wanaka) of Knossos would be highly deserving of such an honour. But so for that matter would Zeus, whose immortal power would certainly be strikingly symbolized by this inscription on a Minoan labrys!

PY TA ta  711 Chris Tselentis

Recall the great importance the Minoans and Mycenaeans alike at Knossos imputed to the double axe or labrys. The Hall of the Double Axes is decorated with a whole series of them, one after another, on a magnificently painted frieze, so typical of the masterful artistry of the Minoans at Knossos.

Hall of the Double Axes Knossos ca 12450 BCE

More photos from Knossos (upper Agora, Hall of the Double Axes):

Knossos third palace late Minoan III upper courtyard


Knossos Hall of the Double Axes b


Knossos Hall of the Double Axes a


Supersyllabograms in the Military Sector of Mycenaean Linear B:

supersyllabograms for the military sector small

The Table above illustrates all of the supersyllabograms in the military sector of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy. These are identified in Linear B first, then in archaic Greek, and then translated into English. The Linear B Latinized names for each of the supersyllabograms follow, starting TOP DOWN with the left column and then the right.


dapu = double axe
kito = chiton
mono = single, spare
qero (ouisia) * = (wicker) shield
qeqinomeno = made by twisting, woven


rino = linen
rousiyewiya = a part of the reins made of leather
perekeu ** = axe
wirineo = leather
zeukesi = a pair of, a set of wheels, a team of horses (derived from the Greek zeugos for “yoke”

* The supersyllabogram is simply QE, but it stands for qero ousiya = “a wicker shield”
** The supersyllabogram is actually WE, which may not seem to make much sense, given that the word it represents is perekeu = “an axe”, but there you have it. That is what it is.

And these are the actual supersyllabograms in the military sector.

SSYLS military actual

PS This is for you, Rita!

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



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

Military Syllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B, including 2 newly deciphered:

Here we find 2 illustrations of military syllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B. Just click on each one to ENLARGE it.

Illustrations of a typical Double Axe, Minoan (left) & Mycenaean fresco (right): Click to ENLARGE

Labrys or Double Edged Axe from Knossos and Mycenae

Military Syllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B for the Axe & Double-Axe or Labrys: Click to ENLARGE

Linear B military ideograms for axe

It is questionable whether or not the word dapu for “labrys” is in fact of Mycenaean Greek etymology, since it is somewhat of a stretch to correlate the Linear B spelling dapu with the corresponding ancient Greek orthography labrys. This sort of thing happens often enough in Linear B, making it difficult and sometimes even impossible to interpret a small cross-section of Mycenaean Greek words as Greek words (if that is what they are). Just as there are thousands of words in ancient Greek and modern Greek of non-Greek etymology, there were many of the same in Mycenaean Greek. I need only cite two examples, both of which make perfect sense even in English, but neither of which are of Greek etymology even in Mycenaean Greek, to drive my point home. We have for instance serino for “celery”, obviously the same as the English word, when you take into account that the Mycenaean “r” = Greek & English “l”. So also with sasama for “sesame”, a word which has quite literally been unchanged, apart from minor spelling variations to account for orthographic conventions in various languages, ancient & modern, ever since its first appearance in ancient languages right on down to today in English and other Occidental languages. It may possibly be Minoan. If it can ever be established that even a few of such words in Mycenaean Greek are actually of non-Greek origin, these words might provide a clue to the possible decipherment of the Minoan language, with the proviso that they are in fact Minoan. Unless any of these words actually appear either alone or as part of attested Minoan words from the online database of extant Minoan words in the Linear A texts in phonetic transcription by Professor John G. Younger, here:

John G Younger Linear A Texts in Transcription
we are caught in a vicious circle. Of course, neither serino nor sasama appear in this database. Around and round we go on an endless merry-go-round.    
Military Syllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B on Chariots and related ideograms: Click to ENLARGE

Linear B military ideogams chariots etc

More in the next post...


Photo of the Labrys or double Axe Fresco at Mycenae I took in May 2012 & description of the same by Sir Athur Evans in Scripta Minoa:

Click to ENLARGE:

pottery and shield of the Labrys or Double Axe, Museum Mycenae May 3 2012

The Labrys or Double Axe was common to both Mycenae and Knossos, and indeed there is a large room of the Double Axes which I saw when I was there in May 2012.  

Click to ENLARGE:

description of Labrys or double axe from Scripta Minoa Sir Arthur Evans

The text of this entry in Scripta Minoa is really fascinating. This statement in particular caught my eye.

The diameter of this huge labrys (double axe) is 7 MC (1.20 m.). the 7 and especially 7-1, have been used in the geometry of many ancient monuments (see, for example, the geometry of the Parthenon and Stonehenge.)    




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