Tag Archive: horse


Another Linear A tablet bites the dust… Troullos TL Za 1… horsemanship and hunting:

Troullos tablet TL Za 1

This tablet or nodule completely eluded me for over 2 years. Then tonight, all of sudden, its meaning literally burst wide open. The first hint came when I began to decipher the obvious Linear words, all of which happen to be Mycenaean-derived New Minoan NM1. The most obvious word, which stands out like a sore thumb, is WAJA = #ai/a in Mycenaean-derived Greek, in other words land. The rest of the Mycenaean-derived words were more difficult to extract from the agglutinated text, since in an agglutinative language such as Minoan, words which would otherwise be separate in a fusional or inflected language, such as ancient or modern Greek or German, are simply strung together in long strings. So it is difficult to know where one word ends and another begins … but far from impossible. Because so many words on this tablet are agglutinated, it presents a particularly challenging target for decipherment. But decipher it I did, as you can see below.

If we break apart the agglutinated words, meanings start to surface. For instance, ATAI*301 appears to mean 0astai= from oastei=a, meaning of the town, community.

Moving on, we have QARE0 = ba/lei ba/loj = at the threshold (locative singular). For the time being, I do not know what OSU, which is almost certainly Old Minoan, means but I am confident I shall soon figure it out. If we then decipher the first 2 agglutinated words ATA*301WAJA. OSUQARE, we get something along these lines (OSU being omitted for the time being), on the … threshold of community of town, i.e. on the … outskirts of the community or town

The the next two agglutinated words are UNAKANASI. UNA is Old Minoan. KANASI is instrumental plural Mycenaean-derived New Minoan (NM1) for ka/nnasi (instr. plural) = made of reeds, i.e. wicker. This almost certainly refers to the chariot itself, which like almost all Mycenaean chariots, is probably made of wicker, as illustrated below. If my hunch is correct, given that KANASI means made of wicker, then UNA must necessarily mean chariot, hence a chariot made of wicker. Remember: UNAKANASI is a composite agglutination of 2 words, first Old Minoan (UNA) and the second Mycenaean-derived New Minoan (NM1) = KANASI.

Troullos tablet original with Mycenaean horse and chariot and modern horse halter

IPINAMASIRUTE is another agglutination, this time consisting of 3 words, all of them Mycenaean-derived New Minoan (NM1). The tablet or nodule above provides us with the full translation, which in its actual order reads, with horsemanship + running + (towards) prey. In other words, we have a charioteer, whose name is JASASARAME, clearly a highly skilled charioteer and hunter, whose ridership or horsemanship allows him to run towards his prey, and at a fast pace at that, given that NAMA always refers to something flowing fast, usually a stream, but in this context, clearly horses, 2 of them, of course, since Mycenaean chariots always have two horses.

So the free translation runs along these lines, and very well indeed,

Jasasarame, the hunter-charioteer, in his chariot made of wicker, is exercising his (considerable) ridership skills, by running at break-neck speed (or: running by a stream) towards the wild prey he is hunting on the outskirts of his town (community).

This decipherment, which is almost entirely in Mycenaean-derived New Minoan (NM1) hangs together admirably well. It is a major breakthrough in the ongoing saga of the decipherment of Linear A. It is also buttressed by the fact that the tablet or nodule actually looks like a horses halter. While the word halter appears, at least at first sight, not to figure in the text, this is of little consequence. The tablet itself makes it quite clear enough that here we have two horses (always two with Mycenaean chariots) and that a well-heeled, and most likely aristocratic or warrior-class charioteer, Jasasarame, is at the reins.

I rest my case.

Mycenaean Linear B fragments from the Ashmolean Museum (British Museum):

iqo ZE An1910_849_o IQO MO

Rita Robert’s brilliant essay, The Construction of the Mycenaean Chariot:

The Construction of a Mycenaean Chariot

Even though we have examples shown on frescoes and pottery vessels depicting chariots, it is difficult to say for sure how a Mycenaean chariot was constructed.

These examples however, only give us mostly a side view, which presents a problem. What we really need to find, is an example which shows all angles, for us to get a better understanding of the Mycenaean chariots construction.

It is hard to visualize these chariots as they actually appeared in Mycenaean times, 1400- 1200 BC. But they were certainly built for battle worthiness when needed.

It is to be noted that the Mycenaean military, as that of other ancient civilizations, such as those of Egypt in the Bronze Age, the Hittite Empire, the Iron Age of Athens and Sparta, and later still, of the Roman Empire, most certainly would have gone to great lengths in manufacturing all parts of the chariots to be battle worthy, strong and resistant to wear, and of the highest standards within the limits of technology available to them in Mycenaean times.

The chariot, most likely invented in the Near East, became one of the most innovative items of weaponry in Bronze Age warfare. It seems that the Achaeans adopted the chariot for use in warfare in the late 16th century BC, as attested to on some gravestones as well as seals and rings.

It is thought that the chariot did not come to the mainland via Crete, but the other way around, and it was not until the mid 15th century BC that  the chariot appears on the island of Crete, as attested to by seal engravings and the Linear B Tablets.

The Achaean chariots can be divided into five main designs which can be identified as, “box chariot”,  “quadrant chariot”, “rail chariot” and “four wheeled chariot.” None completely survived, but some metallic parts and horse bits have been found in some graves and settlements, also chariot bodies, wheels and horses are inventoried in several Linear B tablets.

The “rail chariot” was a light vehicle which featured an open cab and was more likely used as a means of transport than as a mobile fighting vehicle.  The “four wheeled chariot,” used since the 16th century BC, was utilized throughout the late Helladic time. Both the “rail chariot”, and the “ four- wheeled chariot “ continued to be used after the end of the Bronze Age.

Based on some hunting scenes and armed charioteer representations on pottery vessels and Linear B tablets, there is no question that the chariots were used in warfare as a platform for throwing javelins (or thrusting long spears), as a means of conveyance  to and from battle and,  on fewer occasions, as a platform for a bow-armed warrior. These warriors could have fought as cavalry or a force of mounted infantry, particularly suited to responding to the kind of raids that seem to have been occurring in the later period.

Some thoughts on the construction of the Mycenaean chariot:

As we cannot be absolutely sure how the Mycenaean chariot was constructed, we have to use pictorial examples, leaving us little choice, other than that of resorting to a close examination of the pottery vessels and frescoes depicting them, and whatever other sources are available. So I have chosen the beautiful “Tiryns Fresco” 1200 BC as an example of the construction and design of the Mycenaean chariot, although some points differ in other depictions on various other frescoes.

The Mycenaean chariots were made to be drawn by two horses attached to a central pole. If two additional horses were added, they were attached on either side of the main team by a single bar fastened to the front of the chariot. The chariot itself consisted of a basket with a rail each side and a foot board” for the driver to stand on. The body of the chariot rested directly on the axle connecting the two wheels. The harness of each horse consisted of a bridle and reins, usually made of leather, and ornamented with studs of ivory or horn. The reins were passed through collar bands or yoke, and were long enough to be tied around the waist of the charioteer, allowing him to defend himself when necessary.

The wheels and basket of the chariot were usually of wood, strengthened in places with bronze, the basket sometimes covered with wicker wood. The wheels had four to eight spokes.

Most other nations of this time the, “Bronze Age,” had chariots of similar design to the Greeks, the chief differences being the mountings.

Source: Chariots of Greece

chariots in Greece

The components needed to build a chariot:

Chariot  =  iqiya
Axle = akosone
Wheels = amota
Rims of Wheels = temidweta
Willow wood = erika
Elm wood = pterewa
Bronze = kako
Leather = wirino
Reins = aniya
Ivory = erepato
Horn = kera
Foot board = peqato
Gold = kuruso
Silver= akuro

Tiryns fresco
The lovely Tiryns Fresco

Pylos fresco
Chariot Fresco from Pylos

Mycenaean rail chariot
Bronze Age Chariot

Bronze Age war chariot
Bronze Age War Chariot

vase with Mycenaean chariot
Amphora depicting Bronze Age chariot

box chariots
Achaean Small Box Chariots with an example of the horse harness

The cabs of these chariots were framed in steam bent wood and probably covered with ox-hide  or wicker work, the floor consisting more likely of interwoven raw-hide thongs. The early small box-chariots were crewed either by one single man or two men, a charioteer and a warrior. The small box-chariot differ in terms of design from the Near Eastern type. The four spoke wheels seem to be standard throughout this period.

Rita Roberts, Haghia Triada, Crete

Rita Roberts has written a brilliant essay on  THE CONSTRUCTION OF A MYCENAEAN CHARIOT,

Mycenaean rail chariot

for which she has attained a mark of 94 % out of 100 %. Her essay is to be published in toto on her academia.edu account. Congratulations, Rita. Rita has completed her first year of university for her 3 year Bachelor of Arts in Linear B (BALB). She is well on her way! Let us all wish the highest commendation for achievement she so richly deserves.

Knossos tablet KN 227 N l 21 & the supersyllabogram QE = qeqinomeno = “woven”:

Knossos tablet KN 227 N l 21 & supersyllabogram QE = woven undertunic or chiton

As with the previous post, the supersyllabogram QE on this tablet clearly refers to qeqinomeno, a “woven undergarment” or “woven undergarment”. The rest is self-explanatory.

Linear B tablet K 224 and the new military supersyllabogram QE = woven undertunic & the supersyllabogram IQO ZE = a team of horses:

Knossos tablet K 224 and the new military supersyllabogram QE

Here we encounter the all-new supersyllabogram QE inside (incharged) in the ideogram for linen (under)tunic. It is crucial to understand that this supersyllabogram QE is completely unlike the previous one, QE inside a shield = “a wicker shield”. This new supersyllabogram QE, qeqinomeno, literally means “woven”, hence it refers to “a woven undertunic” or to be more precise, “a woven linen undertunic”, which once again the Mycenaean warriors wore under their toraka = ancient Greek thoraxes, i.e. Their breastplates. These two supersyllabograms are entirely different and must never be confused. This is the one and only instance in Mycenaean Linear B in which the same supersyllabogram appears inside two different ideograms, the first for “a shield” and the second for “an undertunic”. These two supersyllabograms QE + shield and QE + undertunic appear in the military sector only, and in no other sector of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy.

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 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.

Actual size original tablets & fragments at Knossos from Scripta Minoa

Original tablets & fragments at Knossos from Scripta Minoa, followed by facsimiles with clear text: Click to ENLARGE


The fragment (left) and apparently intact tablet (right) at Knossos from Scripta Minoa are approximately actual size. We can easily see that the striations, ridges, pockmarks, wear and tear, inter alia, make it difficult to read the originals. Notice how tiny they are. The facsimiles are, however, very easy to read.

The fragment (left) and apparently intact tablet (right) both have the supersyllabogram MO, otherwise known as an adjunct, meaning “single” or “one” .

I shall be posting more fragments and tablets illustrating the supersyllabogram ZE, meaning  “a pair of” or “a team of” in the next two posts.



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