Tag Archive: monthly



Mycenaean Linear B units of dry measurement:

Linear B units of dry measurement

This chart speaks for itself. Notice that at least 4 of these dry units of measurement in Linear A have counterparts in Linear A.


Are Minoan and Mycenaean fractions fractions? I am not at all convinced

Are Minoan Linear A fractions fractions or something else

Are Mycenaean Linear B fractions fractions or something else

Since Minoan and Mycenaean fractions, as estimated by Andras Zeke of the Minoan Language Blog and Prof. John G. Younger, fall as low as 1/10 and 1/32, I am not at all convinced that these are fractions at all. They are, as far as I can tell, crop shares. This makes a lot more sense, since we are dealing with farming, where crop shares have always been of paramount importance. As for units of measurement, we have no real idea what they were, since Minoan Crete and the Mycenaean Empire are so remote in history. No one can possibly determine fractions that far back in history. In fact, Prof. Younger and Andras Zeke cannot even agree on the values of the fractions... not that that argument invalidates the notion they are not fractions. That is a specious argument. However, it makes more sense to consider these as crop shares, especially in view of the fact that some of the Mycenaean symbols are so remarkably similar to their Minoan counterparts. The appearance of symbols has nothing to do with what we take them to mean. This again is an arbitrary decision, which may be right or wrong.  


Decipherment of Linear A tablet HT 14 (Haghia Triada) with John G. Youngers errors corrected:

Linear A tablet HT 14 Haghia Triada

 


Minoan Linear A tablet HT 14 (Haghia Triada) almost completely deciphered + the 4 categories of Linear A tablets:

Linear A talbet HT 14 Haghia Triada

Here you see Minoan Linear A tablet HT 14 (Haghia Triada), which I have been able to decipher almost completely. This is because the tablet is comprised mostly of ideograms, making it much easier to reconstruct the original text. In addition, I have already translated the supersyllabogram TE = tereza (on the first line) as being a large unit of liquid measurement, which in the case of wine might be something like “a flask”,  “a jug” or something along the lines of  “a gallon”, on the explicit understanding that there was no such thing as a gallon in Minoan times; this is merely an approximation.  The supersyllabograms PU & DI are unknown, i.e. indecipherable, at least to date. Likewise, the Old Minoan word, apu2nadu (apunaidu) is also unknown, but it might mean  “harvest”. The units of wheat are probably equivalent to something like a bushel. The supersyllabogram MI = mini signifies  “for a month” (dative) or “monthly”, and is New Minoan, i.e. a word of Mycenaean origin superimposed on Linear A.

The rest of the decipherment is self-explanatory.

Decipherment of Minoan Linear A tablets falls into four (4) categories:

1. Tablets on which we find only Old Minoan words, or on which the vast majority of words are Old Minoan. These tablets are pretty much indecipherable.
2. Tablets on which we find a combination of Old Minoan and New Minoan (words of Mycenaean origin). The more New Minoan words on a tablet, the more likely we are going to be able to decipher it. Ideally, there should be more New Minoan (Mycenaean) words than Old Minoan (the original Minoan substratum), in order to divine the meanings of Old Minoan words immediately adjacent to New Minoan words. This is of course contextual analysis. Such tablets are at least partially decipherable.
3. Linear A tablets containing ideograms almost exclusively are susceptible to decipherment. HT 14 (Haghia Triada) falls into this category.
4. A very few Linear A tablets are written mostly, almost entirely and in one case only, entirely in New Minoan (the Mycenaean superstratum). These tablets can be be mostly and in some cases entirely deciphered.     
 

Linear B tablet KN 777a K b 01 & the wheat (and barley) harvest:

Linear B tablet 777a K b 01

Linear B tablet KN 777a K b 01 deals with the wheat and barley harvest at Knossos, without specifying the amount of the barley harvest, and then goes on to enumerate the wheat harvests alone at Amnisos and Phaistos. We note that the toponyms go by their ethnic names. So I have deemed it appropriate to translate their names as “by the farmers of”... + locale. I find it very suspicious that the scribe has chosen to allot 100 + hectares to every single locale. Bizarre. Maybe he was high on something. But of course, I doubt that. The only alternative explanation that I can think of is that the palace administration at Knossos capped the wheat harvest at each of these milieux. Otherwise, the total amount of wheat produced would have filled the granaries (presumably at Knossos) to the bursting point.  


Linear B tablet KN 847 K j 61, wheat production at Knossos for one lunar month:

Knossos tablet KN 847 K j 61 monthly cultivation of wheat

Linear B tablet KN 847 K j 61 deals with wheat production at Knossos for one month (we do not know which month). Soanobotos is the wheat farmer. Note that the ideogram for “month” looks like the moon, which is scarcely surprising. The output of wheat at 12 hectares for this particular month is in line with the extent of wheat production we might expect from the large expanse of fields surrounding a city as large as Knossos (population ca. 55,000). It is absolutely critical to understand that, in ancient times as in modern in the Mediterranean basin, the production of wheat could not have extended through every month of the year. Far from it. That is par for the course in any civilization, ancient or modern. The second point, which stage of production are we dealing with here? This tablet does not make it at all clear. Is is spring and are we dealing with the sowing of wheat? Or is it autumn, and the harvesting of wheat. My bet is decidedly in favour of the latter scenario. Now it is more than likely that harvesting of wheat was spread over two months at most, since the autumns are warm in the Mediterranean. So we can expect that something in the order of the number of “hectares” = 12 for this month, let’s say it is lunar “September”, would be repeated for the next month, lunar “October”, though probably on a somewhat lesser scale, let’s say 8 hectares. That would yield a crop of 20 “hectares” harvested for the current year. Pretty decent, I would say. Not only that, we must keep firmly in mind that this crop is only that of Soanobotos, who is only 1 of God knows how many farmers at Knossos. There could have been as few as 20 or as many as 50. No one knows for sure. So the wheat crop harvested at Knossos alone could have run to 240 hectares at a conservative estimate. Just about right on target for such a large city. If a conservative estimate for both of the lunar months is taken into account, the harvest runs to 400 hectares! We’ll never know, but it is always worthwhile conjecturing, and in any case, the wheat crop at Knossos would have had to be pretty substantial.


Translation of Ashmolean Museum (British Museum) tablet An_1910_214_o: wheat

An1910_214_o

This is a standard inventory of monthly wheat yields, which come to 100+ bales of wheat (100+ because the number is right-truncated and so it could be anywhere from 100 to 199). If the yield is 100 bales per month, the annual yield is 1,200 bales, and if it is 199, the annual yield is 1188 bales… or anywhere in between. If it is 150 bales per month, that works out to 1,800 bales per year.


Translation of the Gezer Agricultural Almanac into Mycenaean Linear B: Click to ENLARGE

Gezer Almanac left and translation into Mycenaean Linear B  right

This is the first ever attempt to translate the Gezer Agricultural Almanac in Paleo-Hebrew (ca 925 BCE) into Mycenaean Linear B. My reasons for doing so are manifold:
1. While the text in Paleo-Hebrew is written in the proto-Hebrew alphabet, which for all intents and purposes is practically identical to the Phoenician alphabet, the translation is of course in the Linear B syllabary.
2. The Gezer Agricultural Almanac has no vowels, since Paleo-Hebrew, like the Phoenician alphabet, had none. On the other hand, the translation into Linear B, which is a syllabary, automatically guarantees that every single syllable contains a vowel.
3. The alphabetical text of The Gezer Agricultural Almanac takes up considerably more space than the translation into Mycenaean Linear B, since alphabetic scripts use up more space than syllabaries, even though syllabaries contain considerably more syllabograms than alphabets do letters. In the case of the Phoenician and Proto-Hebrew alphabets alike, there are 22 letters, all consonants. The reason why syllabaries take up less space than most alphabets is simple: each single syllabogram consists of a consonant + a vowel, whereas most alphabets must express consonants and vowels as separate entities. However, in the case of the Phoenician and Paleo-Hebrew alphabets, this distinction does not apply, since the number of consonants in the latter approximate the number of syllabograms in Linear B.
4. But the question remains, if this is the case, then why is the Linear B translation still noticeably shorter than the proto-Hebrew original? This is no idle question. There are three primary reasons for Linear B’s uncanny capacity to telescope long text into shorter. These are:
4.1 While alphabetic scripts, regardless of whether or not they contain vowels, and irrespective of their antiquity or modernity, are generally incapable of telescoping text into smaller entities, Linear B does this with ease, first by using ideograms, which appear on every single line of the Linear B translation you see here of the Gezer Almanac. I could have written out the text in full, but had I done so, I would not have reflected the spirit and the commonplace practice of Linear B scribes to replace long text with ideograms, because they were forced to save precious space of what were, without exception, very small tablets (most running to no more than 15 cm. wide, and only a few as wide as 10 cm.)
4.2.1 For the precise same reason, Linear B scribes also frequently resorted to replacing entire Linear B words, such as “rino” = Greek “linon” = English “linen”, the Mycenaean Greek word for both the raw product “flax” and the finished, “rino” with logograms. You can see the single syllabogram = logogramNI” = “flax” on line 3, immediately preceding the ideogram for “meno” = “month”.
4.2.2 If this practice is a clever ploy, what are we make of the same procedure carried even further, when in line 7, the scribe (me) replaces the word for “fruit” = “kapo” in Mycenaean Linear B, with the very same word with the exact same number of syllabograms = 2, but by placing one (po) on top of the other (ka)! That way, the scribe uses the space for only 1 syllabogram while in reality writing 2. If this isn’t a brilliant ploy, I don’t know what is. But it goes even further. Although we do not see an example of this practice carried to its extreme in this translation, scribes even resorted to piling 3 syllabograms on top of one another! A prefect example of this is the Mycenaean word  “arepa” = Greek “aleifa” = English “ointment”, consisting of 3 syllables. In this instance, scribes almost always wrote “arepa” as a logogram, by piling the syllabogram “pa” on top of “re” on top of “a”. Now that takes some gymnastics! In this case, the scribes used the space for 1 syllabogram to replace an entire word of 3 syllabograms. Talk about saving space! All of these clever little tricks are illustrated here: Click to ENLARGE

space saving Linear B ideograms and logograms

5. The scribes also replaced entire Mycenaean Greek words with supersyllabograms on about 27 % of all Linear B tablets. SSYLS save even more space than logograms and ideograms, in some cases, far more, since they can replace entire phrases in Mycenaean Greek. Yet, even without resorting to SSYLS in this translation, l managed to telescope the discursive alphabetic Proto-Hebrew text into a much shorter Linear B translation.

Now the most amazing thing about Linear B’s amazing capacity to shortcut text by telescoping it into the much smaller discrete elements, logograms, ideograms and supersyllabograms, is that the Linear B syllabary preceded both the Phoenician and Paleo-Hebrew alphabets by at least 4 centuries!

So who is to say that alphabets are superior to syllabaries? I for one would not even dare.

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


A Mind Blower! Monthly Statistics on Wheat & Barley at Knossos, Amnisos & Phaistos in Linear B: Click to ENLARGE

Linear A tablet KN 777a K b 01 wheat monthly Knossos Amnisos Phaistos

Ambiguities pop up as a matter of course in any attempt to translate all too many tablets in Mycenaean Linear B. These ambiguities arise for a number of reasons, such as:

(a.1) The scribes routinely omitted any word(s) or phrase(s) which they as a guild implicitly understood, since after all no-one but themselves and the palace administration would ever have to read the tablets in the first place. The regular formulae involved in the production of Linear B accounting, inventory or statistical texts of whatever length were commonly understood by all, and shared (or not, as the case may be) by all the scribes.

Formulaic text, including the same Linear B stock phrases, the same logograms & the same ideograms appearing over and over again, are routine. But even that does not give us the whole picture. Some text, which would have otherwise explicitly appeared as per the criteria just mentioned, was deliberately omitted. This bothers us today, in the twenty-first century, because we expect all text to be there, right on the tablet. Sorry. No can do. The scribes merely wrote what were routine annual accounts only, and nothing more (to be summarily erased at the end of the current fiscal year and replaced by the next fiscal year’s inventories). That was their job, or as we would call it today, their job description, as demanded by the palace administration. Nothing more or less. It would never have entered the minds of the scribes or the palace administrations of any Mycenaean city, trade centre, harbour or citadel to preserve inventories beyond one fiscal year, because they never did. Routine is routine.

So if we take it upon ourselves to complain that “vital information is missing”, we mislead ourselves grossly. That information was never “missing” to the personnel concerned. It is only absent to us. It is up to use to try and put ourselves into the mindset of the palace administration(s) and of the scribes, and not the other way around. Tough challenge? You bet it is. But we have no other choice.

(a.2) In the case of this tablet specifically, the text which is annoyingly “missing” is that in the independent nominative variable upon which the phrase in the dative, “for barley-by-month” (kiritiwetiyai) directly depends. The “whatever” (nominative) ... “for barley-by-month” (dative) has to be something.  But what? I translated the missing nominative independent variable as “ration” on the illustration of the tablet above, but this is a very rough translation.

(b) What is the semantic value of the implicit independent nominative variable?

If we stop even for a second and ask ourselves the really vital question, to what step or element or procedure in barley production do our average monthly statistics refer, then we are on the right track. Note that the word “average” is also absent, since it is obvious to all (us scribes) that monthly statistics for any commodity are average, after all. It is impossible for these monthly statistics for Knossos, Amnisos & Phaistos to refer to the barley crop or harvest, because that happens only once a year. The scribes all knew this, and anyway it is perfectly obvious even to us, if we just stop and consider the thing logically. So to what does the dependent dative variable refer?

There are a few cogent alternatives, but here are the most likely candidates, at least to my mind. First, we have (a) ration. Fair enough. But what about (b) consumption of barley -or- (c) monthly metropolitan (market) sales of barley for the city of Knossos alone -or- (d) routine monthly trade in barley, by which I mean, international trade?  All of these make sense. In fact, more than one of these alternatives may apply, depending on the site locale. Line 1 refers to the independent variable in the nominative for Knossos. That could easily be the monthly metropolitan market (akora) sales of barley. However, line 2 refers to Amnisos, which is the international harbour of Knossos, and the major hub of all international trade and commerce between Knossos and the rest of the Mycenaean Empire, and between Knossos and the rest of the then-known maritime world, i.e. all empires, nations and city states surrounding at least the mid-Eastern & South Mediterranean, especially Egypt, Knossos’s most wealthy, hence, primary trading partner. So in the case of Amnisos (line 2), the independent variable in the nominative is much more likely to be the average monthly figure for international trade in or for barley-by-month. As for Phaistos, it is probably a toss-up, although I prefer international trade. 

(c) Hundreds of Units of Barley or is it Wheat? But how many Hundreds?

(c.1) Before we go any further, it is best to clear one thing up. While line item 1 on this tablet refers specifically to barley, and not to wheat, I find it really peculiar that, in the first place, the ideogram used in line 1 (Knossos) is the ideogram for wheat and not for barley. This appears to be a contradiction in terms. The only explanations I can come up with are that (a) the scribe used the ideogram for wheat in line item 1, because he used it in both line items 2 & 3 (for Amnisos and Phaistos), where he actually did intend to reference wheat specifically, and not barley, or (b) the other way around, that he meant to reference barley in all 3 line items, but did not bother to repeat the phrase kiritiwetiyai = “for barley-by-month”, because (as he perceived it) he did not have to. Wasn’t it obvious to all concerned, himself and his fellow scribes, and their overseers, the palace administration, that is exactly what he meant? Of course it was. But which alternative was obvious (a) or (b)? We shall never know.
       
(c.2) Since the right hand side of this tablet is sharply truncated immediately after the appearance of the numeric syllabogram for 100, we are left high and dry as to the value of the total number of units for each of lines 1 to 3. The number must be somewhere between 100 & 999. Ostensibly, it cannot possibly be the same for Knossos, Amnisos & Phaistos. The problem compounds itself if we are referring to sales or consumption of barley at Knossos versus international trade for Amnisos and Phaistos or, for that matter, any combination or permutation of any of these formulae for each of these line items in the inventory. This being the case, there is obviously no point wasting our breath trying to figure out which is which (consumption, sales or international trade) because it will get us nowhere. One thing is certain, however. The scribes themselves knew perfectly well what the figures in each of lines 1 to 3 referred to. We are the ones who are the poorer, not the wiser.

(d) You will have noticed that, whatever the semantic value of the implicit nominative independent variable is in lines 1 & 2, which reference Knossos and Amnisos respectively, I mentioned on the illustration of the tablet above that the line item figure for Amnisos could either be lower than or higher than that for Knossos. And that is a correct observation. Assuming that the figure for Knossos probably refers to either average monthly consumption or metropolitan market sales of barley in the city itself, with a population estimated at some 55,000 at its height, the average monthly figure for consumption or sales alone would probably have been quite high, ranging well into the multiple hundreds. But how high? I wouldn’t dare hazard a guess.

Likewise, the average monthly volume in international trade of barley (let alone wheat and all other major commodities such as wool, olive oil, spices, crafts and fine Minoan/Mycenaean jewelry) would have been very significant, probably at least as great if not greater than the the average monthly figure for consumption or sales of barley, wheat etc. etc. in the city market (akora) of Knossos. Regardless, the monthly figures for Amnisos and Knossos almost certainly do not reference the same economic activity, so we are comparing apples with oranges.

As for Amnisos and Phaistos, the average monthly figures are more likely to reference the same economic phenomenon, namely, international trade. If this is the case, the monthly figures would have been far greater for Amnisos, the primary port of the entire Mycenaean Empire, for international commerce and trade, than for Phaistos, which was an important centre for commerce, but certainly not the hub. However, once again, we have no idea of the average ratio for monthly international trade and commerce between Amnisos and Phaistos, although I surmise it was probably in the order of at least 4:1. 

Richard

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