Tag Archive: swords

RESEARCH paper: Supersyllabograms in the agricultural sector of the Mycenaean economy, by Rita Roberts academia.edu:

This essay constitutes Rita Robert’s first foray into major research in ancient Mycenaean linguistics on academia.edu. Rita has composed this highly scholarly article as the major component of her mid-term examination in her second year of university, exactly half way to her degree. Keeping up this pace, she is bound to perform outstandingly in her final essay of her second year, and in her third year thesis paper, which will be considerably more demanding than this study, and about twice as long.

I strongly recommend you to download this study here:

supersyllabograms in agriculture in Linear B academia.edu

It makes for engaging reading in ancient linguistics research.

You can reach Rita’s academia.edu account here to view her other papers:

rita roberts academia.edu


A convincing contextualized decipherment of Linear A tablet HT 1 (Haghia Triada):

Linear A tablet HT 1 Haghia Triada

While decipherment of Linear A tablet HT 1 (Haghia Triada) appears at first sight beyond reach, this may not actually be the case. Of the 6 words on this tablet, only 3 are likely to be Mycenaean-derived, qera2u (qeraiu), kiro and kupa3nu (kupainu), while the other 3, zusu, didizake and aranare, are almost certainly Old Minoan, i.e. written in the original Minoan language. As I have pointed out over and over, a number of Linear A tablets appear to be inscribed in a combination of the Mycenaean-derived superstratum and of the Minoan substratum, as is almost surely the case here.

But even if 3 of the words on this tablet are probably Mycenaean-derived, 2 of them, qera2u (qeraiu) and kupai3nu (kupainu) require further analysis. How can it be that qeraiu is derived from gerron (Greek Latinized) = shield and kupainu from kuparissinos (Greek Latinized) = made of cypress word”, when the orthography of the Mycenaean-derived words diverges from the original Greek, especially in the case of kupainu, which does not exactly appear to resemble kuparissinos? But there is an explanation and it is this. The orthography of the Greek words must be adjusted to meet the dictates of Minoan spelling in each and every case in which Mycenaean-derived words are imported into the Minoan language.

This phenomenon is analogous to the imposition of the Norman French superstratum on English pursuant to the Norman conquest of England in 1066 CE. The Mycenaean conquest of Knossos and Crete or, failing that, of their all but absolute suzerainty over these territories ca. 1500-1450 BCE appears to have had a similar outcome, namely, that much of the vocabulary of the source language of the invaders, the Mycenaeans, found its way into the target or original language, Minoan. But in so doing, the originally Mycenaean vocabulary would have had to be adjusted to standard Minoan orthography.

Allow me to illustrate this through comparison with the influx of some 10,000 French words into English between ca. 1100 & 1450 CE. The French vocabulary could not be assimilated into English without undergoing a metamorphosis in orthography permitting the original French vocabulary to be adjusted to the dictates of English spelling. Examples running into the thousands abound. So we should not be at all surprised at this metamorphosis of orthography from the superstratum (Mycenaean derived vocabulary) to the substratum (Minoan vocabulary derived from the Mycenaean superstratum). After all, when superstratum French words are imported into English, their orthography undergoes the same metamorphosis. For instance, we have:

French to English:

albâtre = alabaster
amical = amicable
bénin = benign
ciprès (from Old French cipres) = cypress (See below for Minoan kupainu)
cloître = cloister
dédain = disdain
dédoublé = doubled up
doute = doubt
entrée = entrance
fanatique = fanatic
gobelet = goblet
jalousie = jealousy
loutre = otter
maître = master
plâtre = plaster
retenir = retain
soldat = soldier
similitude = similarity

and on and on ad nauseam. This phenomenon applies to every last substratum language upon which a superstratum from another language is imposed. So in the case of Old Minoan, it is inevitable that the orthography of any single superstratum Mycenaean derived word has to be adjusted to meet the exigencies of Minoan orthography.

The most striking example of this metamorphosis is the masculine singular. Mycenaean derived words in Minoan must have their singular ultimate adjusted to u from the Mycenaean o. There are plenty of examples:

Akano to Akanu (Archanes)
akaro to akaru (field)
kako to kaku (copper)
kuruko to kuruku (crocus/saffron)
mare (mari) to maru (wool)
Rado to Radu (Latos)
simito to simitu (mouse)
suniko to suniku (community)
Winado to Winadu (toponym)
woino to winu (wine)
iyero to wireu  (priest)

And on this particular tablet we find the Mycenaean-derived Minoan spellings:

qera2u (qeraiu), which if Latinized would be gerraiu, from Greek gerron and

kiro, which if Latinized, is kilon, almost the exact equivalent of the Greek keilon. And kupa3nu (kupainu), Latinized = kupainu (kupaino) at least approximates the Greek kuparissinos, but with the the syllables rissi dropped. Compare this last entry with French-English similitude = similarity and you can see at once that orthographic metamorphoses even as divergent as these are possible. So chances are that kupainu may in fact be equivalent to kuparissinos, although there is no way to verify this with any certainty, except for one thing. Context.

Since we know from line 1 that we are dealing with 192 shields and lances * (i.e. arrow shafts *), it is not too much of a stretch to conjecture that kupainu does correspond to the Greek kuparissinos, because we know from archaeological and historical evidence that Minoan and Mycenaean shields were of wicker work. And it is well within the realm of reason to suppose that such wicker shields were constructed of flexible, pliant cypress wood. Cypress wood is smooth grained and lightweight and has natural built in preservatives or oils that make cypress long lasting and resistant to water damage. It could be combined with bronze and leather on Mycenaean and ancient Greek warrior shields. And according to Wikipedia, The word cypress is derived from Old French cipres, which was imported from Latin cypressus, Latinized from the Greek κυπάρισσος (kuparissos). Ergo.

However, we are still left with the puzzle, what do the Old Minoan words, zusu, didizake and aranare, mean? Once again, context comes to the rescue. It is entirely reasonable to suppose that a Linear A tablet dealing with cypress shields and lances would also cover other military paraphernalia essential to self-defence. The most obvious candidates are spears and swords, for zusu and aranare respectively, though in which order we cannot say for certain. The inclusion of swords as one of the alternatives is well justified, since pakana, i.e. swords, frequently appear on Linear B tablets. As for didikaze, I will not speculate, although it too more likely than not references military apparel, perhaps signifying armour.

Aranare (knives?) is plural, singular = aranarai. Since the word is diminutive feminine, the decipherment knives clearly makes sense in context.
Nevertheless, any decipherment of  zusu, didizake and aranare is by nature problematic. Assumptions are always dangerous, even in the case of a tablet such as this one, where context would appear to support such conclusions. But as I have so often repeated, appearances can be and often are deceptive.

6 Minoan Linear A words from KE to KO which might be proto-Greek or proto-Mycenaean:

Here is the table of Minoan Linear A words from KE to KO in Prof. John G. Younger’s Reverse Linear A Lexicon.


As is the usual case, there are inherent problems with the “Greekness” of almost all of the Minoan Linear A words I have tagged as possibly being proto-Greek or proto-Mycenaean. This should come as no surprise in view of the fact that I made myself crystal clear on this account in the previous post. The most convincing Minoan Linear A word by far of apparent proto-Greek origin is keite, which is highly likely to be the equivalent of archaic Greek keithen = “thence/from there”.  The least credible is [6] koiru, which is far enough off in its orthography from ancient Greek, kairos = “due measure” to cast sufficient doubt on it.

But in almost all cases, appearances can be, and often are, deceiving. I have said this already, and I repeat it for the sake of emphasis. We cannot be too overcautious.

This brings the total number of so-called proto-Greek or proto-Mycenaean words I have managed to isolate in Minoan Linear A to 22.

Linear A KURO = Linear B TOSA = “total” POST 1 of 3

KURO = total HT 31 Haghia Triada

The Minoan Linear A word kuro unquestionably means “total”, primarily because it is always followed by numerics, sometimes in large numbers. It is of course the equivalent (though not exact) of the Linear B tosa = “so many”, i.e. “total”. I say not exact, since the Mycenaean Linear for “total” is plural, and I strongly suspect that the Minoan Linear A counterpart is singular. I am also of the opinion that Mycenaean Linear B inherited syllabograms which always end in a vowel directly from Minoan Linear A, because I am firmly convinced that Minoan Linear A words always ended in a vowel, never a consonant. Since the Mycenaean Linear B syllabograms all end in a vowel, whereas Greek words almost never do, terminating instead in consonants, it stands to reason that the Linear B syllabary is a direct calque on the Linear A syllabary. The newly ensconced Linear B scribes at Knossos simply took over a big chunk of the Linear A syllabary, without even bothering to account for Greek ultimate consonants. This may look weird or positively perverted to us, but we must recall that the scribes, many of whom worked in the transition period from Minoan Linear A to Mycenaean Linear B, would not have wanted to “re-invent the wheel”. After all, both the Linear A and Linear B tablets were first and foremost inventories, so why rock the boat?  The older Minoan scribes had to learn Mycenaean as fast as possible. They must have found Mycenaean very strange to their ears, since almost all of the words ended in a consonant. Be it as it may, it appears the younger scribes were quite willing to adapt the Minoan Linear A syllabary willy-nilly, and have done with it.

CONCLUSIONS: All of the Mycenaean Linear B syllabograms inherited from Minoan Linear A end in vowels, in spite of the fact that (even archaic Mycenaean) Greek words almost always end in consonants because, in short, Minoan Linear A words (probably almost) invariably ended in vowels. If this is the case, this amounts to an extremely important discovery over the nature of the Minoan language. As far as I know, no previous researchers in Minoan Linear A have ever taken this basic premise into account. But I stand my ground on this one.  Finally, since almost all Minoan Linear A words probably ended in an ultimate vowel, the word kuro is very likely to be either masculine or neuter, based on the (untested) assumption that gender in Minoan Linear A would have assigned O ultimate to masculine or neuter and A ultimate to feminine ultimate. However, fair warning! There are a great number of Minoan Linear A words which terminate in U ultimate, and these may be in the masculine, while those words ending in O may be in the neuter, or vice versa. I shall have to test this hypothesis over the next few years, as I attempt to gradually decipher at least some Minoan Linear A vocabulary. I shall also be addressing other key characteristics of Minoan Linear A orthography in future posts.

On the Mycenaean Linear B tablet tosa pakana = “so many swords” i.e. “the total” number of swords, tosa is in the plural, the exact opposite of kuro in Minoan Linear A, at least if my hypothesis is right.

Linear A tabletr An1938_706_o tossa pakana

Another consideration I would like you all to take into account is this: I personally do not care one jot what class of language Minoan Linear A falls into, whether or not it be Indo-European, for reasons which will become crystal clear in near future posts. In a nutshell, it is precisely because almost all philologists and specialists in Minoan Linear A try to pigeon hole the language into a particular class of languages that they are getting nowhere with its decipherment. Why not instead just accept the language for what it is( whatever it is!), by gradually deciphering as many words as we conceivably can, even if these amount to no more than a couple of dozen or so and, in addition, by reconstructing in so far as possible the grammar of Minoan Linear A, which may in turn provide further clues to other “undecipherable” vocabulary. You never know.

The famous Ashmolean tablet An_1938_706_o, so many swords:

An1938_706_o tossa pakana

This is one of the most famous of all tablets in Linear B. It is also one of the very first tablets I ever translated from Linear B into English, when I was first learning Linear B in 2012-2013. The literal translation is: tosa pakana = so many swords 50, but it is obvious that the scribe meant: a total of 50 swords. In other words, the formulaic phrase “so many” actually means “a total of”. Remember, this is an inventory.

Ashmolean An 1938_706_o more illustrations

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 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.

Rita Roberts’ elegant translation of Knossos tablet KN 1548 Ok 02.

Once again, Rita Roberts has finessed a translation of an intact military tablet from Knossos. It is significant that Rita mentions that the hilt is directly riveted, whether to ivory overlaid on terebinth, or to the terebinth itself. Although the tablet does not explicitly mention rivets, it is obvious that this was the method the highly skilled Mycenaean sword craftsmen used to attached the blade to the hilt.

The following figures clearly illustrate the marked accuracy of her translation.



Notice in particular the blue stones inlaid in the ivory on the second and third swords in figure 2, and especially in the second. If these stones are lapis lazuli, as I strongly suspect they are, then it follows almost as night follows day that the second sword in particular could only have been reserved for the wanax  transliterated from the Greek into Latin letters for those of you who cannot read Greek  (called wanaka in Linear B), the King of Mycenae, since lapis lazuli was worth a fortune in those days. The second sword could also have been his, though it may also have been the property of the second leader in the Mycenaean hierarchy, the lawaketa, or lawagetas (likewise transliterated into Latin letters) or the leader of the host, in other words the commander-in-chief, the general. I would bet my top dollars on this presumption. I wonder whether Rita would too.  

Bravo,  Rita.

The Linear B “pakana” or – sword – series of tablets, their translations and the implications: PART A

It is common knowledge in the Linear B linguistic research community that there are a great many series of Linear B tablets which share marked formulaic textual characteristics. Among these we find the Linear B “pakana” or – sword – series of tablets and fragments, amounting to some 15, from KN 1540 O k 01 to KN 1556 O k 11. I have assigned my research colleague, Rita Roberts, who is at the mid-term mark of her first year of university studies into Mycenaean Linear B, the challenging task of translating all 14 or 15 of these tablets and fragments (most of them fragments), in an effort to extrapolate from her translations findings which can and do confirm and validate the hypothesis that the tablets and fragments in this series are almost all variations on a “standard”, hence formulaic, text. This is the first of several posts in which we shall be analyzing the results of Rita’s findings. Once we have posted all of our co-operative findings, Rita and I shall be co-authoring an article on the formulaic nature of the tablets and fragments in this series in particular on academia.edu, the results of which can be extrapolated to any number of series of tablets and fragments of Linear B tablets from Knossos (and some from Pylos as well), regardless of the sector of the Minoan-Mycenaean economy on which they focus, the most notable being the sheep husbandry sub-sector of the agricultural sector, for which there are almost 700 (!) extant tablets, or some 10 times more than in any other sector of the Minoan-Mycenaean economy, inclusive of this one, the military. 

In the meanwhile, we are focusing our attention on this series of tablets in particular.

Here are the first three translations in series Rita Roberts has submitted, with her explanatory notes following them, these followed in turn by interpretive notes of my own, where applicable. The first tablet, largely intact, offers us an all but complete snapshot, so to speak, of the actual formulaic text underpinning almost all of the tablets in this series. Click to ENLARGE:

Military Affairs 1541 0k 09 (xc) tEXT

Mrs. Robert’s translation of this tablet is, as usual, precise, technically sound and elegant.

I do, however, have a few additional comments to make on the translation of this tablet among others strikingly similar to it, here: Click to ENLARGE

Knossos tablet KN 1541 O k 09 versus KN 1542 to KN 1556
It all comes to one observation and one only. The texts of all of the tablets I have mentioned above, however fragmentary, are merely minor variations of one another, in other words, they are all formulaic. The text of any one of them is close to a mirror image of any of the others, usually with only one or two attributes and the number of tablets inventoried in each at variance. That is the single factor we need to focus on above all else, though not exclusively to the exclusion of others.

The next translation Rita Roberts makes is of Knossos fragment KN 1542 OK 18 (XC), which contains only the tail end of a Mycenaean Linear B word terminating in “woa”  and the ideogram for sword. Click to ENLARGE:

Knossos tablet KN1542 O k 18 (xc) Text

It is painfully obvious that the left-truncated word ending in “woa” is in fact and can only be, “araruwoa”, meaning “bound” (a sword bound with a hilt) and nothing else. This, the only practicable translation for this little fragment, which is only a snippet or tiny subset of the missing text the fragment represents, leads us directly to the highly plausible inference that the actual text of this fragment, were it intact as a tablet entire, would have almost certainly have read very much like this:

A skilled horn worker has bound the hilt with horn and fixed it to the sword’s blade with rivets.

Sound familiar? You may very well protest, “Aren’t you jumping to conclusions?” and you might have been right, were it not for the fact that, as we soon shall see in subsequent posts detailing the contents of several other tablets and fragments in the same series, snippets of the very same text, more or less intact, keep popping up. And among these, two tablets — the first of which we have already seen as the first figure in this post — spell out the text entire (less one or two words, if any). So it stands to reason that if, in so far as the missing text of this tiny fragment almost certainly is the same as that of the other tablets, with minor variations in wording and in the number of swords tallied, this little scrap of text is a mathematical subset of the text we have already encountered in the first of the tablets posted in this series (KN 1541 OK 09 (xc)), then other, more complete, snippets of the same text appearing on other tablets we are soon to investigate simply confirm and validate our assumption, corroborated by the cumulative evidence brought to bear by the partial or complete text of those other tablets in this series.

Finally, turning our attention to the third translation Rita Roberts has effected (Click to ENLARGE):

Military Affairs 1543 0k 17 Trans

we discover, scarcely to our surprise at this point, that the text of KN 1543 OK 17, though not as complete as that of the first tablet posted here (KN 1541 OK 09 (xc)), is practically a mirror image of the former. The formulaic nature of the text of almost all of the tablets in this series ( KN 1540 O k 01 to KN 1556 O k 11), with few exceptions, is as we say nowadays, “in your face”. This simple fact based on strict observation of the variations on the recurrent text to be found on almost all of these tablets firmly confirms the hypothesis that in fact formulaic phrasing is a prime characteristic of all of the tablets in this series, and for that matter, in any number of series of tablets in Linear B from Knossos, regardless of economic sector. It is the tablets in the sheep husbandry sector, of which there around 700 (far more than in any other sector), which confirm and concretize this conclusion over and over.

Rita has also translated Knossos tablet KN 1540 O k 01 (xc) here: 

Rita Roberts translaton of Knosssos tablet KN 1540 OK 01
which I have just reblogged below for your convenience.

It is highly advisable for you to read this post in toto, as it sheds significant light on the present discussion. It is in fact this very tablet upon which we are to draw our ultimate conclusions with reference to the translations of this entire series of tablets. In our final post in this serial discussion, we shall actually  cite the text of this previous post in its entirety, with additional glosses reflecting any further conclusions we may have drawn once all of the tablets in this series have been posted.


My translation of Knossos tablet KN 1548 O k 02 (xc) with original and facsimile: Click to ENLARGE

Knossos Tablet KN 1548 O k 02 composite
While the text of this fascinating tablet is largely straightforward, the word “tirisate” at first posed problems for me. But even at first glance, I could see that “tirisate” had the prefix “tiri”, which almost certainly means “three”, and I quickly deduced that the second part of the word, “sate” was a verbal form. Consulting Liddell & Scotts' Greek-English Lexicon (1986), I was rewarded with the translation you see for this word, which I take indeed to be the present participle of the verb, “to arm, furnish, equip”. Hence the translation. This is not the first time I have encountered compound lexemes in Mycenaean Greek, which were rendered into separate components (words) in later ancient dialects in the Greek alphabet.

NOTE: we have now exceeded 900 posts on our blog!


Military Ideograms in Linear B for spear, arrow, axe, (long) sword, short sword or dagger, horn, bow & arrow: Click to ENLARGE

Linear B military ideograms for swords, axes & bows

With the exception of the last one on the bottom right, these military ideograms speak for themselves. Mrs. Rita Roberts of Crete and I are of the opinion that her decipherment of B259 comes down to “bow and arrow”, in light of a Linear B seal inscribed with an archer wielding a bow and arrow she recently found on the internet and we posted here, which looks uncannily like the syllabogram itself. The very last ideogram (bottom right), with the arrow pointing at it, is as yet undeciphered.  Mrs. Roberts, Spyros Bakas, in the graduate program for Mycenaean Studies at the University of Warsaw, the Association of Historical Studies (Koryvantes), Athens and I myself are all working together to find a solution for a tenable decipherment of this last ideogram. Should any one of you reading this post have any further suggestions for its decipherment, please feel free to leave a comment on this post.


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...

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