Tag Archive: wheel

Are there any Minoan Linear A words in Mycenaean Greek? Of course!

Consider the word kidapa on the third line of Mycenaean Linear B tablet KN 894 N v 01:

Knossos tablet KN 894 N v 01 original text Latinized and in archaic Greek

which is certainly not an ancient Greek word, not in any ancient Greek dialect from the earliest, Mycenaean, to the latest, Attic and Hellenic. But if it is not Greek, then what on earth is it? Before we answer that question, let us review just a few other terms which appear both in the Minoan language and in Mycenaean Greek, as follows: sedina (Minoan) & serino (Mycenaean) = celery/orada (Minoan) & rodo (Mycenaean) = rose/araiwa (Minoan) & erawo (Mycenaean) = olive (oil) and finally kanaka (Minoan) & kanako (Mycenaean) = saffron. All of these terms are firmly deciphered in the Minoan language and fully translated in Mycenaean Greek, let alone in the later ancient Greek dialects. But none of them are Indo-European.

On another footing, it is notable that, in Minoan, a significant proportion of the terms we have managed to decipher to date, more or less accurately, begin with the letter K. Referencing our Glossary of 75 Minoan Linear A words, we find that at least 15/75 or 20% begin with K. This is rather striking, in light of the fact that a correspondingly large number of words in ancient Greek begin with K, even though the two languages are in no way related. In other words, since kidapa begins with K, that is another reason to conjecture that it might possibly be Minoan.  

Finally, I feel obliged to make the observation, however transparent it may seem to some of us, that all languages, ancient and modern, inherit thousands upon thousands of words from ancestral languages, and in a great many cases, the words inherited are not even of the same class of language (for instance, Indo-European). English is notorious for this. While most of the hundreds of thousands of words in English which are not strictly English are Indo-European, having been lifted in droves from ancient Greek, Latin and French, great many are not Indo-European. Examples are: ketchup, chai (tea) from Sino-Tibetan; chile, poncho from Arawak (Andean) & anchovy and jingo from Basque, to cite a very few.

So if all languages, ancient or modern, can and do borrow vocabulary from previous languages not in in their class, then Mycenaean Greek, which is Indo-European, must also have done the same with respect to Minoan.

However, since I have been unable to find kidapa on any Minoan Linear A tablet or fragment, there is absolutely no way I can confirm it is Minoan. Nevertheless, for the reasons I have enumerated above, there stands a good chance that it may very well be Minoan. Thus, although I intend to add it and other bizarre and unaccountable words in Mycenaean Greek, which are clearly not of Indo-European origin, to my Glossary of Minoan Linear A words, I shall do so under the subtitle, “Words in Mycenaean Greek of putative Minoan origin”, but I shall not add any of these words to the total number of Minoan words I have already deciphered more or less accurately.

Finally, how did I come to the conclusion, tentative as it is, that kidapa may very well mean “ash”, even if it is not Minoan and even though it is certainly not Greek? It all boils down to the methodology I resort to over and over, namely, cross-correlative analysis. If the words for elm and willow respectively appear on lines 1. and 4., then it is reasonable to assume that kidapa on line 3. should also be a type of wood. Carrying this assumption one step further, we may reasonably deduce that the type of wood kidapa is supposed to be is supposed to be is also a species of hardwood, like the other two (elm and willow). Homer mentions ash as the preferred wood used for the construction of ships in the Iliad; so it is quite feasible that kidapa is indeed “ash”. But there is absolutely no way of verifying this assumption. 

This tablet is held at the Ashmolean Museum, British Museum:

Asmolean Museum An1910_211_o

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!

Linear B tablet Knossos KN 797 T e 01 & the supersyllabogram WE = leather undertunic or chiton + vase & WI:

In our previous post, I stated that I had never seen any occurrence of the supersyllabogram WI incharged in the ideogram for “hide”. Immediately after, I discovered not one, but two, examples of this supersyllabogram (WI), one on tablet Knossos KN 797 T e 01

Linear B Knossos tablet KN 797 T e 01 leather hide or undertunic

& the second on a multi-image illustration,


with the text on one Linear B tablet from Knossos (top), which we have previously translated, the second (left) on a Linear B fragment, the third (bottom left) with the Linear B word, “apudosi” = delivery on a fragment, and the fourth (right), being a vase with Linear B on it. Since the Linear B syllabograms -tawa– are left-truncated, we cannot guess at what the word is for which they are the last two syllabograms or syllables. The second word on this vase is clearly the name of the artisan who manufactured it: Kethereous.

Linear B tablet 04-39 N u 10 from the Knossos “Armoury” illustrating the SSYLS ZE & MO

Linear B tablet k 04-39 N u 10 from Knossos wheel ZE MO

While the translation of this tablet is relatively straightforward, there are a few points worthwhile mentioning. The first is that the supersyllabogram MO, appearing  for the first time on this tablet, is the first syllable of the Linear B word – mono - , meaning – one, single (i.e. spare). Secondly, since the tablet is right-truncated, we do not know how many spare wheels (MO) the scribe has inventoried, but my bet is that there is a spare wheel for each set of wheels on axle. Given that there are 3 sets of wheels on axle, that would mean that there would be 3 spare wheels. Lastly, and significantly, there is absolutely no mention of a chariot on this tablet (nor is there on well over a dozen other tablets), leading me to the all but inescapable conclusion that a considerable number of chariots were fully assembled without their wheels, the wheels being separately manufactured. But why? 

There are three discreet sets of tablets discussing the construction of chariots and their wheels (on axle):

(a) The first set of tablets inventory fully assembled chariots with their wheels on axle and their spare wheel (if present);
(b) The second is comprised of tablets for fully assembled chariots without their wheels on axle and;
(c) The third details the construction of wheels on axle, usually along with spare wheels, with no mention of chariots. Now this third set of tablets raises the inescapable question: why do so many tablets refer to the construction of wheels (both wheels on axle and spares), with no mention whatsoever of the chariots for which they are destined?

The most plausible explanation for these discrepancies is that the privileged functionary who has ordered his chariot does not want it delivered with its wheels already on axle [set (b) above], because he wishes to have the wheels separately manufactured according to his own specifications. We can be reasonably certain that VOPs such as the wanax (King) or the rawaketa (Commander-in-Chief) were the only supernumeraries who could possibly afford to have chariot wheels manufactured to their exacting specifications. Here you see a composite of four different styles of Mycenaean chariot wheels:

composite of 4 Mycenaean chariots

Such highly placed aristocrats would probably have been terribly fussy about the style and decoration of the wheels they wanted mounted. So the wheels on axle would have been manufactured separately from the chariots, which neatly explains why numerous tablets speak of wheel construction alone, while others refer to chariots without their wheels attached destined for the same elite customers. In fact, these two types of tablets appear to run in tandem with each other, there being one tablet referring to the chariot fully assembled without wheels on axle and a corresponding one detailing the manufacture of the wheels on axle (and most of the time of the spare wheel), but with no mention of the chariot itself. The difficulty is which Knossos tablet dealing with a particular fully assembled chariot without wheels is to be paired with which corresponding tablet describing the manufacture of wheels on axle (and most often a spare wheel to boot)? That is a question we shall never know the answer to, but the plausibility of this method of dual (or paired) construction of chariots without wheels in tandem with the separate manufacture of wheels makes sense.

Knossos tablet 04-38 from the Knossos “Armoury”

wheel ZE 04.38

Knossos tablet 04-38 from the Knossos “Armoury” illustrates the use of the supersyllabogram ZE = “zeukesi” = a pair of, in other words, when it comes to wheels, a set of wheels (on axle)... certainly not off axle! Since there are 15 sets of wheels made of willow inscribed on this tablet, it is clear that the tablet describes the construction of sets of chariot wheels only, and not of the chariots to which they are eventually to be attached. Except for a rather large patch of scratches on the top left side of the tablet, it is completely intact. This inventory of the construction of wheels alone, and not of the chariots to which they are to be affixed, strengthens my previous hypothesis that some chariots were fully assembled without their wheels already on axle. In other words, any such chariot would have been delivered to its buyer without its wheels on axle, most likely because he wanted the wheels custom made to his specifications, and then fitted afterwards to the chariot in question. Otherwise, why would there be several Linear B tablets from Knossos and Pylos describing wheel manufacturing only?

Linear B tablets K 04.30 and 04.33 from the Knossos “Armoury” illustrating the use of the supersyllabogram ZE

wheel ZE 04.30

K04.33, being a mere fragment, can be translated in the blink of an eye as  “one set of wheels on axle”, although we can be certain that the lost part of  this fragment dealt with chariot construction and design. What on earth else?

As far as K 04.30 is concerned, we have to wonder why the scribe set the word “newa” = “new” so far to the right of the phrase “Komoda opa”.  I believe there is tenable explanation for this. We notice that the word “newa” is closer to the ideogram for a set of wheels on axle = ideogram for wheel + ZE. So this may indicate that the scribe probably wishes to draw our attention more to the fact that this set of wheels is “new” than to the other parts of the chariot.

But that still begs the question, why? Scribes often separate single syllabograms or words from phrases to the right or left of the phase each is related to. As I have often said before, on this blog and in my published papers, no scribe or writer uses any linguistic device in any language whatsoever, unless that linguistic device plays a specific mandatory role in context, the function of which cannot be substituted by any other textual approach. This is the case here. The scribe is surely stressing that this set of wheels on axle is not just new but brand new. But again, why on earth would anyone do that, when it is apparent to the reader that the entire chariot is new? Or is it? Appearances can be deceiving. The emphasis on the newness of the set of wheels on axle leads me to believe that this chariot is to some extent constructed with spare or used parts. Consequently, we may assume that many other chariots inventoried on tablets are also partially constructed from spare or used parts. If that is the case, then the fact that the set of wheels is brand new takes precedence over the condition of the other parts in the construction of this chariot in particular makes perfect sense, at least to me.

This explanation is sound.  Given that the same ploy pops up on a considerable number of tablets, and not just in the military sector of the economy, we have to ask ourselves why the scribe has resorted to this approach in each and every case where similar dispositions of syllabograms are separated from the text they appear in on tablets, regardless of economic sector.  In other words, the praxis of the separation of (a single) syllabogram (s) from the rest of the text on the same line is never effected as a recurring linguistic practice without good reason. We shall discover that this is so over and over in the discussion of supersyllabograms in Linear B, again regardless of economic sector.


Linear B tablet K 04.03 from the Knossos “Armoury”


Linear B tablet Knossos K 04.03 translation

The text of this tablet is longer than on most tablets on chariot construction. This makes for more chances for error(s) in the original text, depending on the scribe’s hand (which in this case is sloppy) in the final literal and free translations. The notes on the tablet above make it quite clear where the scribe’s writing leaves something to be desired. So the translator is left to his or her own devices to come up with the best possible interpretation under the circumstances. For instance, the word – opa – apparently is archaic Mycenaean. It had fallen out of use by the time of Homer. It is a bit difficult to determine exactly what it means, but Chris Tselentis has it as – workshop –, which makes sense in the context. Once again, by context, I mean not only textual context but the most likely translation for the real world context of the Mycenaean vocabulary describing chariot construction. I am convinced that in this case Tselentis has ventured the best possible translation, which by exception I accept without question. My normal practice is to call into doubt any word on any tablet which has no equivalent in later ancient Greek, Homeric or Classical. But sometimes we have to throw in the towel when faced with no other reasonable alternative for the translation of archaic Mycenaean Greek or possibly even Minoan words. There is nothing unusual at all in the phenomenon of cross-linguistic transfer of certain words from a former, more archaic, language (in this case Minoan Linear A). Lord knows, English is full of such words, the vast majority inherited from Latin, Greek and medieval and early Renaissance French. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

The scribe, whose hand is admittedly quite sloppy, appears to have inscribed – araromo-pa-mena – for – araromo-te-mena –, by omitting one of the horizontal bars on the syllabogram. Translators of Linear B must always be on the ball and on the lookout for scribal errors in orthography on any tablet whatsoever, regardless of provenance – Knossos, Pylos, Mycenae etc.  After all, people make spelling mistakes often enough today, just as they always have throughout history. No surprise there.

Finally, there is the sticky question, why would a scribe inventory a fully assembled chariot without wheels on axle, when – fully assembled – implies that the damn thing has to have its wheels on axle. Compare this with the manufacture of cars nowadays. No one in their right mind would call a car fully assembled, unless it had its wheels on axle. However, it is conceivable that Linear B scribes inventorying fully assembled chariots might sometimes be obliged to list the chariot(s) in question  – here there are 3 of them – as still not having their wheels on axle, because they are inventorying them at the very end of the current fiscal year. On the other hand, chariots might sometimes have been delivered without the wheels on axle, if the new owner wished to design and construct his own wheels, only attaching them after delivery has been received. There is no reason why this might not have been the case in some instances. But we shall never know, because we were not there when the scribes tallied chariots without wheels on axle. There must have been some method in their madness after all.

Linear B tablets KN 235 N j 41 & KN 236 N j 42 on chariots from the Knossos “Armoury”

armour chariot aplate xxviii

235 Nj POAISIDO armour chariot with wheels 800

chariot bplate xxviii KURUMENO

236 Nj' KURUMENO chariot withwheels 800

These two tablets were perhaps the easiest I have had to translate. No further comments are necessary. Since there is so little text on these tablets, I did not bother translating the Linear B into archaic Greek. 

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.

POST 1,000! Linear B tablets K 04-31 N u 07 & 04-37 N u 04 in the Knossos “Armoury”

Yes, we have finally hit 1,000 posts on Linear B, Knossos and Mycenae, in its slightly less than three years of existence.


While the translation of both of these tablets is relatively straightforward, I do have a few comments to make. In the first place, it is becoming more than obvious by this point (after seeing several Linear B tablets on the design and construction of chariots already posted here) that not only is the vocabulary for chariots completely standardized, i.e. formulaic in the extreme, but that words referencing the parts of the chariot almost always appear in a minimally variable order on the tablets.  It is to be noted that the generic words for the largest parts always appear first, followed by (characteristics of) their smaller components. Thus:

1 EITHER if it is mentioned, – amota – (with wheels) or – anamota – (without wheels) almost always appears in the first position. If the reference to wheels is the first on the tablet, it is apparent that the scribe is squarely placing emphasis on the (construction of the) wheels over all other parts of the chariot.
OR if it is mentioned, – iqiyo – (for a single dual chariot for two people and NOT for the dual, 2 chariots!) or – iqiya – (for a chariot or chariots) almost always appears in the first position. If the reference to the chariot is the first on the tablet, it is apparent that the scribe is squarely placing emphasis on the construction of the chariot over all other concerns.

This is routinely followed either:

2 (a) by the kind of wood the scribe is referring to, usually either – pterewa –  = elm or – erika –  = willow, then by the designation – temidweta – referring to the rims of the wheel(s),
(b) inversely,  by the designation – temidweta – referring to the rims of the wheel(s) and then usually either – pterewa –  = elm or – erika –  = willow, for the kind of wood the rims are made of; 

3 followed  by – odatuweta –   referring to the grooves in the rims (it makes perfect sense to refer to the rims first and then to the grooves on the rims, rather than the other way around, which would violate common sense) then with a reference to the use of – kako –  = bronze or any variations of it (although this word can sometimes appear in the  first position but only if either of the words –  amota – (with wheels) or – anamota – (without wheels) do not appear on that line;

4 then by the ideogram for wheel + the supersyllabogram ZE = –  zeugesi –  = a pair of wheels, or more properly speaking, (a set of) wheels on axle + the number of sets of wheels (if present) , with the understanding that if more than 1 set of wheels is listed, then more than one chariot is referenced. Thus, if the supersyllabogram (SSYL) ZE is followed by the number 22, the scribe is referring to 22 chariots;
and (if present) by the ideogram for wheel, either preceded or followed by  the supersyllabogram MO = –  mono –  = a single wheel, or more properly = a spare wheel or spare wheels, if a number > 1 appears after MO;

5 and finally (if present) by the ideogram for chariot with wheels or chariot without wheels.

Of course, the word order is not set in stone (nothing ever is), but you get the picture.

In short, the vocabulary appearing on military tablets dealing with chariots is both formulaic and routinely predictable. This is a prime characteristic of all inventories, ancient or modern. 

Two more chariot tablets from the Knossos “Armoury”, K 05-35 N u 12 & K 04-39 N u 10

Here we see two more tablets from the Knossos “Armoury”. Once again, the translations are relatively straightforward, except that in the first tablet, the words -ore- and -e- are truncated on the right. The only plausible translation I could come up with for the word beginning with -ore- is the name Orestas, which I found in Chris Tselentis’ Linear B Lexicon and not in L.R. Palmer’s, The Interpretation of Mycenaean Greek Texts (1963), in spite of the fact that Palmer’s glossary of Mycenaean Linear B vocabulary is far the most complete to be found anywhere. The translation of the truncated word beginning with -e- on the second line of the first tablet (K 05-35 N u 12) below is obvious. The word is -erika- in Linear B, i.e. willow.


The second tablet (K 04-39 N u 10) poses only one problem, and that is the question of how to translate -amota- which in Classical Greek would clearly mean “chariot”, except that the spelling is different (Latinized Greek = harmata) in the latter.

04.39 amota erika temidweta

The Mycenaean word could have meant “chariot”, except for the fact that on all Linear B tablets dealing with chariots, the word “chariot” is never spelled out. Instead, the ideograms for “a chariot with wheels” and “a chariot without wheels” are always used. Note that the ideograms for chariot appear on neither of these tablets, which seem concerned only with the construction and the total number of wheels on axle + the spare wheel.

Here you see two more chariot tablets from the Knossos “armoury”

KN 04-34 N u 08


The first deals with 2 chariots, not 1, since the number 2 after the ideogram for “wheel” cannot conceivably mean that one chariot has two sets of wheels on axle! Given that the supersyllabogram MO refers to “a single”, it would appear that there is at least a single spare wheel on hand. But that is not necessarily the case, because the tablet is right truncated. It makes more sense that there would be two spares for two chariots. Folks back in the late Minoan and Mycenaean era kept spares on hand too, though they did not carry the spare around with them. They would have to go back to the workshop to get a spare for a broken wheel. A bit of a pain in the butt. Still, there is nothing new under the sun. Chariots, cars, six of one, half a dozen of the other.

KN 04.38 N u 11

04.38 erika wozomena

The second one deals with the eventual delivery of 15 chariots made of elm wood with their wheels already on axle presently under construction. Their translation is quite straightforward. The supersyllabogram ZE, when paired with the ideogram for “wheel” always means “with (2) wheels” or to put it more succinctly, “with its wheels on axle”.

Knossos tablet KN 894 N v 01 (Ashmolean) as a guide to Mycenaean chariot construction and design

KN 894 An1910_211_o.jpg wheel ZE

In spite of my hard gained experience in translating Linear B tablets, the translation of this tablet on chariot construction and design posed considerable challenges. At the outset, several of the words descriptive of Mycenaean chariot design eluded my initial attempts at an accurate translation. By accurate I not only mean that problematic words must make sense in the total context of the descriptive text outlining Mycenaean chariot construction and design, but that the vocabulary entire must faithfully reconstruct the design of Mycenaean chariots as they actually appeared in their day and age. In other words, could I come up with a translation reflective of the actual construction and design of Mycenaean chariots, not as we fancifully envision them in the twenty-first century, but as the Mycenaeans themselves manufactured them to be battle worthy?

It is transparent to me that the Mycenaean military, just as that of any other great ancient civilization, such as those of Egypt in the Bronze Age, of the Hittite Empire, and later on, in the Iron Age, of Athens and Sparta and, later still, of the Roman Empire, must have gone to great lengths to ensure the durability, tensile strength and battle worthiness of their military apparatus in its entirety (let alone chariots). It goes without saying that, regardless of the techniques of chariot construction employed by the various great civilizations of the ancient world, each civilization strove to manufacture military apparatus to the highest standards practicable within the limits of the technology then available to them.

It is incontestable that progress in chariot construction and design must have made major advances in all of the great civilizations from the early to the late Bronze Age. Any flaws or faults in chariot construction would have been and were rooted out and eliminated as each civilization perceptibly moved forward, step by arduous step, to perfect the manufacture of chariots in their military. In the case of the  Mycenaeans contemporaneous with the Egyptians, this was the late Bronze Age. My point is strictly this. Any translation of any part of a chariot must fully take into account the practicable appropriateness of each and every word in the vocabulary of that technology, to ensure that the entire vocabulary of chariot construction will fit together as seamlessly as possible in order to ultimately achieve as solid a coherence as conceivably possible. 

Thus, if a practicably working translation of any single technical term for the manufacture of chariots detracts rather than contributes to the structural integrity, sturdiness and battle worthiness of the chariot, that term must be seriously called into question. Past translators of the vocabulary of chariot construction and design who have not fully taken into account the appropriateness of any particular term descriptive of the solidity and tensile strength of the chariot required to make it battle worthy have occasionally fallen short of truly convincing translations of the whole (meaning here, the chariot), translations which unify and synthesize its entire vocabulary such that all of its moving and immobile parts alike actually “translate” into a credible reconstruction of a Bronze Age (Mycenaean) chariot as it must have realistically appeared and actually operated. Even the most prestigious of translators of Mycenaean Linear B, most notably L.R. Palmer himself, have not always succeeded in formulating translations of certain words or terms convincing enough in the sense that I have just delineated. All this is not to say that I too will not fall into the same trap, because I most certainly will. Yet as we say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.      

And what applies to the terminology for the construction and design of chariots in any ancient language, let alone Mycenaean Linear B, equally applies to the vocabulary of absolutely any animate subject, such as human beings and livestock, and to any inanimate object in the context of each and every sector of the economy of the society in question, whether this be in the agricultural, industrial, military, textiles, household or pottery sector.

Again, if any single word detracts rather than contributes to the actual appearance, manufacturing technique and utility of said object in its entire context, linguistic as well as technical, then that term must be seriously called into question. 

When it comes down to brass tacks, the likelihood of achieving such translations is a tall order to fill. But try we must.

A convincing practicable working vocabulary of Knossos tablet KN 894 N v 01 (Ashmolean):

While much of the vocabulary on this tablet is relatively straightforward, a good deal is not. How then was I to devise an approach to its translation which could conceivably meet Mycenaean standards in around 1400-1200 BCE? I had little or no reference point to start from. The natural thing to do was to run a search on Google images to determine whether or not the results would, as it were, measure up to Mycenaean standards. Unfortunately, some of the most convincing images I downloaded were in several particulars at odds with one another, especially in the depiction of wheel construction. That actually came as no surprise. So what was I to do? I had to choose one or two images of chariots which appeared to me at least to be accurate renditions of actual Mycenaean chariot design. But how could I do that without being arbitrary in my choice of images determining terminology? Again a tough call. Yet there was a way through this apparent impasse. Faced with the decision of having to choose between twenty-first century illustrations of Mycenaean chariot design - these being the most often at odds with one another - and ancient depictions on frescoes, kraters and vases, I chose the latter route as my starting point. 

But here again I was faced with images which appeared to conflict on specific points of chariot construction. The depictions of Mycenaean chariots appearing on frescoes, kraters and vases unfortunately did not mirror one another as accurately as I had first supposed they would. Still, this should come as no real surprise to anyone familiar with the design of military vehicles ancient or modern. Take the modern tank for instance. The designs of American, British, German and Russian tanks in the Second World War were substantially different. And even within the military of Britain, America and Germany, there were different types of tanks serving particular uses dependent on specific terrain. So it stands to reason that there were at least some observable variations in Mycenaean chariot design, let alone of the construction of any chariots in any ancient civilization, be it Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece throughout its long history, or Rome, among others.

So faced with the choice of narrowing down alternative likenesses, I finally opted for one fresco which provided the most detail. I refer to the fresco from Tiryns (ca 1200 BCE) depicting two female charioteers.

This fresco would go a long way to resolving issues related in particular to the manufacture and design of wheels, which are the major sticking point in translating the vocabulary for Mycenaean chariots.

Turning now to my translation, I sincerely hope I have been able to resolve most of these difficulties, at least to my own satisfaction if to not to that of others, although here again a word of caution to the wise. My translation is merely my own visual interpretation of what is in front of me on this fresco from Tiryns. Try as we might, there is simply no escaping the fact that we, in the twenty-first century, are bound to impose our own preconceptions on ancient images, whatever they depict. As historiography has it, and I cite directly from Wikipedia:      

Questions regarding historicity concern not just the issue of "what really happened," but also the issue of how modern observers can come to know "what really happened."[6] This second issue is closely tied to historical research practices and methodologies for analyzing the reliability of primary sources and other evidence. Because various methodologies categorize historicity differently, it's not possible to reduce historicity to a single structure to be represented. Some methodologies (for example historicism), can make historicity subject to constructions of history based on submerged value commitments. 

wikipedia historicity
The sticking point is those pesky “submerged value commitments”. To illustrate even further, allow me to cite another source, Approaching History: Bias:

approaching history

The problem for methodology is unconscious bias: the importing of assumptions and expectations, or the asking of one question rather than another, by someone who is trying to act in good faith with the past. 

Yet the problem inherent to any modern approach is that it is simply impossible for any historian or historical linguist today to avoid imposing not only his or her own innate unconscious preconceived values but also the values of his own national, social background and civilization, let alone those of the entire age in which he or she lives. “Now” is the twenty-first century and “then” was any particular civilization with its own social, national and political values set against the diverse values of other civilizations contemporaneous with it, regardless of historical era.

If all this seems painfully obvious to the professional historian or linguist, it is more than likely not be to the non-specialist or lay reader, which is why I have taken the trouble to address the issue in the first place.  

How then can any historian or historical linguist in the twenty-first century possibly and indeed realistically be expected to place him— or herself in the sandals, so to speak, of any contemporaneous Bronze Age Minoan, Mycenaean, Egyptian, Assyrian or oriental civilizations such as China, and so on, without unconsciously imposing the entire baggage of his— or -her own civilization, Occidental, Oriental or otherwise? It simply cannot be done.

However, not to despair. Focusing our magnifying glass on the shadowy mists of history, we can only see through a glass darkly. But that is no reason to give up. Otherwise, there would be no way of interpreting history and no historiography to speak of. So we might as well let sleeping dogs lie, and get on with the task before us, which in this case is the intricate art of translation of an object particular not only to its own civilization, remote as it is, but specifically to the military sector of that society, being in this case, the Mycenaean.

So the question now is, what can we read out of the Tiryns fresco with respect to Mycenaean chariot construction and design, without reading too much of our own unconscious personal, social and civilized biases into it? As precarious and as fraught with problems as our endeavour is, let us simply sail on ahead and see how far our little voyage can take us towards at least a credible translation of the Tiryns chariot with its lovely belles at the reins, with the proviso that this fresco depicts only one variation on the design of Mycenaean chariots, itself at odds on some points with other depictions on other frescoes. Here you see the fresco with my explanatory notes on the chariot parts:


as related to the text and context of the facsimile of the original tablet in Linear B, Linear B Latinized and archaic Greek, here:

Knossos tablet KN 894 N v 01 original text Latinized and in archaic Greek
This is followed by my meticulous notes on the construction and design of the various parts of the Mycenaean chariot as illustrated here:

Notes on Knossos tablet 894 N v 01 Wheel ZE

and by The Geometry of chariot parts in Mycenaean Linear B, to drive home my interpretations of both – amota - = - (on) axle – and – temidweta - = the circumference or the rim of the wheel, referencing the – radius – in the second syllable of – temidweta - ,i.e. - dweta - , where radius = 1/2 (second syllable) of – temidweta – and is thus equivalent to one spoke, as illustrated here:

The only other historian of Linear B who has grasped the full significance of the supersyllabogram (SSYL) is Salimbeti, 

The Greek Age of Bronze chariots

whose site is the one and only on the entire Internet which explores the construction and design of bronze age chariots in great detail. I strongly urge you to read his entire study in order to clarify the full import of my translation of – temidweta – as the rim of the wheel. The only problem remaining with my translation is whether or not the word – temidweta – describes the rim on the side of the wheel or the rim on its outer surface directly contacting the ground. The difficulty with the latter translation is whether or not elm wood is of sufficient tensile strength to withstand the beating the tire rim had to endure over time (at least a month or two at minimum) on the rough terrain, often littered with stones and rocks, over which Mycenaean chariots must surely have had to negotiate.  

As for the meaning of the supersyllabogram (SSYL)TE oncharged directly onto the top of the ideogram for wheel, it cannot mean anything other than – temidweta -, in other words the circumference, being the wheel rim, further clarified here:

wheel rim illustration

Hence my translation here:

Translation of Knossos tablet KN 984 N v 01 Wheel ZE

Note that I have translated the unknown word **** – kidapa – as – ash (wood). My reasons for this are twofold. First of all, the hardwood ash has excellent tensile strength and shock resistance, where toughness and resiliency against impact are important factors. Secondly, it just so happens that ash is predominant in Homer’s Iliad as a vital component in the construction of warships and of weapons, especially spears. So there is a real likelihood that in fact – kidapa – means ash, which L.R. Palmer also maintains. Like many so-called unknown words found in Mycenaean Greek texts, this word may well be Minoan. Based on the assumption that many of these so-called unknown words may be Minoan, we can establish a kicking-off point for possible translations of these putative Minoan words. Such translations should be rigorously checked against the vocabulary of the extant corpus of Minoan Linear A, as found in John G. Younger’s database, here:

Linear A texts in transciption

I did just that and came up empty-handed. But that does not at all imply that the word is not Minoan, given that the extant lexicon of Linear A words is so limited, being as it is incomplete.

While all of this might seem a little overwhelming at first sight, once we have taken duly into account the most convincing translation of each and every one of the words on this tablet in its textual and real-world context, I believe we can attain such a translation, however constrained we are by our our twenty-first century unconscious assumptions. As for conscious assumptions, they simply will not do. 

In conclusion, Knossos tablet KN 894 N v 01 (Ashmolean) serves as exemplary a guide to Mycenaean chariot construction and design as any other substantive intact Linear B tablet in the same vein from Knossos. It is my intention to carry my observations and my conclusions on the vocabulary of Mycenaean chariot construction and design much further in an article I shall be publishing on academia.edu sometime in 2016. In it I shall conduct a thorough-going cross-comparative analysis of the chariot terminology on this tablet with that of several other tablets dealing specifically with chariots. This cross-comparative study is to result in a comprehensive lexicon of the vocabulary of Mycenaean chariot construction and design, fully taking into account Chris Tselentis’ Linear B Lexicon and L.R. Palmer’s extremely comprehensive Glossary of military terms relative to chariot construction and design on pp. 403-466 in his classic foundational masterpiece, The Interpretation of Mycenaean Texts.

So stay posted. 



anne frandi-coory

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