Tag Archive: metric system



Coriander in Linear B. How does it measure up? Big time! Click to ENLARGE

measurmenrt of Coriander in Linear B on 3 tablets from Scripta Minoa

The translation of these three sequential * tablets is a straightforward affair ( * sequential because I have already translated KN 416). As I mentioned in a previous post, the Minoans & Mycenaeans at Knossos, Phaistos Lykinthos, Surimos, Pylos, Mycenae and elsewhere were crazy about coriander, because that is all they ever talk about on their inventory tablets referencing spices. The only thing that perplexed me at the outset on these tablets was the reference to crimson on tablets KN 417 L e 01 & KN 418 L e 11. I simply could not figure out why the total no. of grams for crimson were at variance with those for coriander. It is obvious to any experienced cook or chef that I know next to nothing about spices. This is unquestionably the reason why initially I could not figure out what the totals for crimson and coriander meant. I strongly suspected that the colour, crimson, was an instance of synecdoche, a literary device where the part represents the whole, in other words, the scribe is referring to a spice which is crimson coloured. Since coriander is green, the crimson spice must be another. That spice must be saffron, since saffron is vividly crimson in colour. So it appears our little conundrum is resolved. I freely admit I had to look these spices up on Google, then Wikipedia, just to confirm my suspicions, and thankfully, they turned out to be right.

So the two spices referenced on these tablets are coriander and saffron.

This is the last of our posts on the metric style measurement system used by the Linear B scribes at all of the locales mentioned above, and others besides.

Richard




Dry Measurement of Wheat, Barley & Grain Seeds in Linear B: Click to ENLARGE

Linear B tablet  KN 819 A j 0 wheat barley & seed

Because this tablet is largely intact, it is fairly easy to translate. But there are still a few small problems in the second line. First of all, the total wheat production for 1 month (or does this mean, the average monthly wheat total for 1 year?) is given as approx. 3 kilograms, if we are to trust the measurement table established by Andras Zeke of the Minoan Language Blog- and there is no reason why we should not under the circumstances, namely, that we really have no idea what the actual total (represented by the Linear B logogram which looks like a T) for dry measurement was. So kilograms will do as well as anything. Still, at least the system appears to have been metric. This is followed by a much larger output for barley of 3 x 9 = 27 kilograms, which strikes me as a little bit odd, given that wheat was probably the staple crop, followed by barley. On the other hand, there is nothing to indicate that this is a monthly total for barley. In fact, the total of approx. 27 kilograms is immediately followed by the number 7. My interpretation of this apparently stray number is that it may represent 7 months (the ideogram for month being conveniently omitted), yielding a total of a little less than 4 kilograms per month, which would align the barley production total with the wheat. But this still strikes me as really odd. Why would the scribe assign the total for only 1 month’s production of wheat, and follow it up with the total production of barley for 7 months? This does not make much sense. We then have a total production of about 3 x 3 = approx. 9 kilograms of seed, if I am interpreting this right. The reason I assign 3 x 3 = about 9 kilograms of seed is this: I believe the scribe deliberately omitted the T logogram (which is equal to about 3 kilograms), hence 3 (x 3) = 9.

Why would he do that? It is really quite simple. He has apparently omitted the ideogram for “month” right after the number 7. He has already used the T logogram twice on this line, and so – again to save valuable space on a very small tablet - he simply omits it the third time (as he did for the second occurrence for “month”), since he knows that all of the other scribes clearly understand that it is implicit. Just another shortcut. More shorthand. Big surprise. Still, the statistics do not seem to square. Our translation of the inventory totals just does not “feel right”. For this reason, I have to reserve judgement on the translation, given that there appears to be something the scribes all implicitly understood - I am not quite sure what – but which we do not at a remove of some 32 centuries. And I fear I may have taken the scribal practice of omitting what was “obvious” to the scribes a little too far.
  
Richard


Minuscule Units of Measurement & yet Another Major Breakthrough in Supersyllabograms in Linear B: Click to ENLARGE

Minuscule Units of Measuerment for spices saffron etc
Upon close examination of the syllabogram WE in the context of dry weight in Mycenaean Linear B, in this particular instance, dry weight of saffron, I have come to the conclusion that the line(s) transversing the syllabogram WE at an approximate angle of 105 - 110 º are actually equivalent to the tens (10 & 20), while the black circles in the upper and lower portions of WE are equivalent to the 100s (100 & 200) in the Linear B numeric system. Once again, the scribes would never had added these lines and circles to the syllabogram, unless they had good reason to. And they surely did. There is a striking resemblance between the approximately horizontal lines to the 10s, and of the black circles to the 100s in that system, as can be seen from the actual placement values for 10s and 100s immediately above the syllabogram WE. As if this is not impressive enough, there is even more to this syllabogram.

It is in fact a supersyllabogram. Its meaning is identical to the same SSYL for crops in the agricultural sector, namely; WE is the first syllable of the Mycenaean Linear B word weto, which literally means “the running year”, in other words “the current fiscal year”. This makes perfect sense, since the scribes at Knossos, Phaistos, Mycenae, Pylos, Thebes and other Mycenaean locales only kept records for the current fiscal year, never any longer. The most astonishing feature of this supersyllabogram is that it combines itself as a SSYL with the Linear B numeric system, meaning that it alone of all the SSYLS refers to both the number of minusucle items (in this case, saffron, but it could just as easily refer to coriander or other spices) and the total production output of the same items for the current fiscal year. The Linear B scribes have truly outdone themselves in this unique application of the supersyllabogram, distilling it down to the most microscopic level of shorthand, thereby eliminating much more running text from the tablet we see here than they ever did from any other tablet, including all of those sporting “regular” supersyllabograms. In this instance alone (on this and the few other tablets on which it appears), this unique “special” SSYL is a supersyllabogram with a specific numeric measurement value at the minuscule level, something entirely new, and seen nowhere else in all of the extant Linear B literature.

Quite amazing, if you ask me.

NOTE: the assignment of a value approximating 1 gram for the single unit, i.e. the simple syllabogram WE with no traversing lines or black circles, is just that, nothing more than an approximation. I had to correlate the single unit with something we can relate to in the twenty-first century, so I chose the gram as an approximate equivalent. One thing is certain: the unit WE is very small, indicating as it does minuscule dry measurement weight.  

Richard


Measurement of Wheat Crop Yields in Mycenaean Linear B: Click to ENLARGE

Mycenaean Linear B wheat yields Kn 849 KN 850

In the case of these two tablets from Knossos, apart from the fact that we do not know what the base unit for the measurement of wheat crop yields was in Mycenaean Greek, the numeric totals are very easy to translate. As I have said before, in previous posts, I am convinced that their measurement system was metric, to keep it in line with their metric base-10 counting system. So whatever the base unit for the measurement of wheat crop yields was, it was mostly likely metric. The best yardstick we have is, I suppose, the Imperial measurement of a bushel, but there is absolutely no way of telling what real value the Mycenaean base unit had, so there is no point wasting our time trying to figure it out... except that we can be sure that 130 or more units of wheat crop yield was a lot of wheat.

The First Tablet: KN 849 K j 72 

The real problems with any attempted translation of these two tablets, however valiant, lies in the fragmentation of the tablets themselves, resulting in the unfortunate loss of (right-truncated) text in the first tablet, and (left-truncated) text in the second. It is a lot easier to reconstruct or retrieve right-truncated text, especially in the case of the first tablet, in which the missing syllables of the last word almost leap at us. Immediately after the phrase “cultivated estates” we see the preposition “pera”, which in this case is almost certainly not the simple preposition, but the prefix “pera” of a longer Mycenaean Linear B word.  In Chris Tselentis’ fine Linear B Lexicon, we immediately happen upon a word which fits the bill to a T, peraakoraiya = the further provinces, more properly translated as, the outer provinces. So far, so good.

But where on earth did I dig up the word, kotona = plot of land -or- estate? How can I possibly justify the insertion of a word that is not on the tablet? The adjective putariya = cultivated is the give-away. If we are saying that something is cultivated, that something has to be a field, plot of land, estate ... whatever. Now since our scribe is referencing lands in the outer provinces, which are at quite a geographic distance from Knossos (presumably at Mycenae, Tiryns or even Thebes), these lands must be of great enough importance to merit such close scrutiny. The actual wheat yield of 130-139 basic units of wheat, makes it all the more likely that the scribe means to say estate, because that is quite a lot of wheat. Once again, the Mycenaean scribal practice of not explicitly writing out what is implicitly understood by all of the scribes as a guild rears its head. Once again, to save space on the tablets, minuscule as they were. After all, if the adjective cultivated is already spelled out on the tablet, then we know for certain that the scribe is referring to land. It is that simple. Simple in a sense, since we still have to come up with the most appropriate translation for the kind of land the scribe is talking about. Since we were not there when the scribe wrote this tablet, or for that matter, when any scribe wrote other tablets with the almost identical formula on them, we can never be certain that we have assigned the right word to the generic concept of land. But, as is always the case with myself, I am not loathe to venture at a sensible translation... ergo.

The Second Tablet: KN 850 K j 31

Here we run up against the opposite scenario. The tablet is left-truncated, meaning of course that the syllablograms masiyo are the last three syllables of some Mycenaean Linear B word. But what word? Your guess is as good as mine.  The translation goes on to read, “at the same time (as)” followed by the totals for wheat yield. But we are left up in the air concerning what other crop(s) if any are being tabulated “at the same time as” the wheat crop yield. In other words, the yields for at least one other crop (the other likely being barley) is tabulated here together with wheat yields, as being harvested “at the same time”. Beyond this we can go no further, because all else is speculation. So any attempt to reconstruct the missing parts of this tablet is an exercise in futility. I merely wanted us to be aware that there assuredly is missing text on this tablet, probably on the right as well as on the left.  As for masiyo, I hazard a guess that this is the name of the person who was accountable for the crops. But even this is uncertain.

We are still left with one last problem. Why does the tablet report 132 units of wheat and then add (almost as an afterthought) the syllabogram TO, which just so happens to be the supersyllabogram for toso (so much, so many, i.e. a total of), and then add another figure, 5? 5 what? What is going on here? Why does the scribe give us a total of 132 units of wheat, and then go on to reference 5 units? What are these units?  What do they have to do with the 132 units (cf. bushels) of  wheat? Here is my take on it. It appears that there were a total of 5 separate crops of wheat harvested, yielding a total of 132 units in all, or approximately 42 units per harvest. It is a good try, if nothing else.

Richard


Mycenaean Linear B Units of Measurement, Liquid & by Weight: Click to ENLARGE

Mycenaean Linear B Units of Measurment, Liquid & by Weight A

Aside from the fact that we cannot be at all sure how much each of these units of measurement is supposed to represent, I am still operating on the premise that the Mycenaean system of measurement is 10-based or decimal, hence, something along the lines of the modern metric system. However the units are configured, it is quite certain that in the case of these two tablets, the units must be small, because the items measured, saffron (on the left) and olive oil (on the right) are usually dispensed in small amounts. Since saffron is very light, I assume that the weight is something like 10 grams, while the liquid measurement for the olive oil is in the range of about 2 litres, or whatever amount the Minoans & Mycenaeans used to house these commodities.

Richard

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