Mycenaean Linear B Units of Measurement (Liquid, Dry & Weight): Click to ENLARGE

Units of Mesurement in Mycenaean Linear B

This table illustrates the syllabograms, logograms & ideograms used to represent units of measurement, liquid, dry and by weight. As can clearly be seen, the exact values many of the units are uncertain. I have hazarded a guess that the unit of measurement in this table which is represented by the ideogram for sheep may very well be the agricultural unit, a hogshead, in which case it is a liquid unit of measurement. Even that unit is variable, ranging anywhere from 46 to 65 US imperial gallons, with several stops in between. So if the Mycenaean measurement is anything like a hogshead, then it is probably just as unreliable, especially in light of the fact that the Mycenaean unit is ancient. Ancient units of measurement were notoriously variable. After all, if merchants could cheat, they would. There is nothing new in that practice!

The following units of measurement, which are syllabograms – RO, PE, ZE, MO & O, are all also supersyllabograms (more on this in subsequent posts). The meanings of ZE, MO & O are clear, and well established. ZE always means “a pair of” (wheels etc.) or “a team of” (horses, oxen etc.), while MO always means “a single” wheel etc., and O always refers to “deficit”. 

The meaning of PE is unclear. The meaning of PE as a supersyllabogram varies from sector to sector of the Mycenaean economy. In the field of agriculture, sub-field livestock/sheep, it is periqoro in Mycenaean Linear B Latinized, which means “an enclosure, i.e. a sheep pen”, whereas in the wine-making sector it appears as perusinowo (Latinized), meaning “last year’s (wine)”. Prof. Lynne Ribaud, who initially compiled this table of units of measurement in Mycenaean Linear B, assigned the value “a bunch of...”, presumably referring to “a bunch of grapes”, but this meaning is very uncertain.

Since these accounting terms are extremely common in Linear B inventories, anyone wishing to truly master Linear B must become familiar with all of them.  

Andras Zeke of Hungary, the owner of the now defunct

Minoan Language Blog
(a terrible pity, since it was such a magnificent blog) has taken a further step in the right direction, by hazarding more exact estimates of the values of several of the these measurement units, as illustrated here: Click to ENLARGE

Mycenaean-measurement-systems Minoan Language Blog
I have always greatly admired his extremely meticulous logical approach to the analysis of both the Linear A and Linear B syllabaries, and so I am inclined to accept the measurement values he assigns at their approximate face value, although I have no way of verifying his overall accuracy. Other Linear B researchers must have already cross-checked his findings, but as of now I am unaware of the results of any such findings. If anyone reading our blog is aware of other research into the units of measurement in Mycenaean Linear B, please advise me as soon as possible.


Richard