LESSONS: Linear B System of Enumeration (counting & accounting)

Linear B System of Enumeration (counting & accounting):

This post illustrates how the Mycenaean numeric system functions.  You can easily see that the system is quite straightforward, so much so in fact that it was simpler than both the ancient Greek and  (especially!) the clumsy Roman system of enumeration. This makes perfect sense, since the Linear B tablets were primarily used for palatial record keeping at Knossos, Mycenae, Pylos and other Mycenaean centres. Here is a sample of a simple Linear B tablet which lists a total of 8,640 swords (CLICK to enlarge):

Linear B system of enumeration + Tablet R 4482 arrows count

This post also introduces the concept of the Ideogram. An Ideogram is defined as “a graphic symbol that represents an idea or concept”.  See Wikipedia, Ideogram: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ideogram. We must carefully distinguish between a Syllabogram, which is essentially a combination of a consonant + a vowel (DA,DE,KE,KI,MI,MO,SO,SU etc.), and an Ideogram, which is merely a symbol for an entire word.  While Linear B is comprised primarily of Syllabograms (some 100 in all), there are also scores of Ideograms, which are frequently used on Linear B tablets to replace entire words, in other words, as a sort of shorthand.  This makes perfect sense in an accounting system, which is what Linear B is all about, using clay tablets to inscribe accounts, ledgers and lists of all sorts. Since clay tablets  were small, it was necessary not to waste valuable space. So the Linear B scribes frequently resorted to a standardized formulaic system of ideograms universally applied at all Mycenaean-Minoan sites.  The Linear B scribes developed  a logical and coherent accounting system which worked for them, and they applied it rigorously.

Finally, we must not forget the 5 alphabetic characters, the vowels A E I O & U.

Thus, Linear B is comprised of:

1. some 100 syllabograms + 2. scores of ideograms + 3. 5 alphabetic letters, the 5 vowels.



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Historical linguist, Linear B, Mycenaean Greek, Minoan Linear A, Arcado-Cypriot Linear C, ancient Greek, Homer, Iliad, only Blog ENTIRELY devoted to Linear B on Internet; bilingual English- French, read Latin fluently, read Italian & ancient Greek including Linear B well, Antikythera Mechanism

7 thoughts on “LESSONS: Linear B System of Enumeration (counting & accounting)”

  1. Reblogged this on Ritaroberts's Blog and commented:
    I have posted this for anyone who would like to follow Richard Vallance Linear B,Knossos & Mycenae who is teaching How to read Linear B. Script which I am doing myself (Excellent teaching)


    1. Hi Rita. Wow, thanks, Rita, for repinning the counting system on your Blog!
      Much obliged I guess you are gung ho about learning their accounting system
      now. It is actually pretty straight forward, don’t you think?
      🙂 🙂


    2. OMG! I blush! AND I DID SEE your post of Evans on your Blog, and it is wonderful!
      I will create a direct link to that post and that page (of course).
      Guess what! I think we may have a new student, and I am wondering whether it is OK with you if she can contact you
      and ask you your opinion of my teaching and especially of the approach to Linear B we are taking together.
      THAT would sure entice her into our little lair, ha ha. It would be of great benefit to us both, Rita, as
      we could all fine-tune the Lessons together.

      Bye for now



    1. Well. yes, but I would advise not yet, as it is kind of complex, and only a PROPOSED set of values.
      Anyway (a little secret betwen us, well, not for long ha ha!) I do not even know it myself.



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