Measurement of Wheat Crop Yields in Mycenaean Linear B: Click to ENLARGE

Mycenaean Linear B wheat yields Kn 849 KN 850

In the case of these two tablets from Knossos, apart from the fact that we do not know what the base unit for the measurement of wheat crop yields was in Mycenaean Greek, the numeric totals are very easy to translate. As I have said before, in previous posts, I am convinced that their measurement system was metric, to keep it in line with their metric base-10 counting system. So whatever the base unit for the measurement of wheat crop yields was, it was mostly likely metric. The best yardstick we have is, I suppose, the Imperial measurement of a bushel, but there is absolutely no way of telling what real value the Mycenaean base unit had, so there is no point wasting our time trying to figure it out... except that we can be sure that 130 or more units of wheat crop yield was a lot of wheat.

The First Tablet: KN 849 K j 72 

The real problems with any attempted translation of these two tablets, however valiant, lies in the fragmentation of the tablets themselves, resulting in the unfortunate loss of (right-truncated) text in the first tablet, and (left-truncated) text in the second. It is a lot easier to reconstruct or retrieve right-truncated text, especially in the case of the first tablet, in which the missing syllables of the last word almost leap at us. Immediately after the phrase “cultivated estates” we see the preposition “pera”, which in this case is almost certainly not the simple preposition, but the prefix “pera” of a longer Mycenaean Linear B word.  In Chris Tselentis’ fine Linear B Lexicon, we immediately happen upon a word which fits the bill to a T, peraakoraiya = the further provinces, more properly translated as, the outer provinces. So far, so good.

But where on earth did I dig up the word, kotona = plot of land -or- estate? How can I possibly justify the insertion of a word that is not on the tablet? The adjective putariya = cultivated is the give-away. If we are saying that something is cultivated, that something has to be a field, plot of land, estate ... whatever. Now since our scribe is referencing lands in the outer provinces, which are at quite a geographic distance from Knossos (presumably at Mycenae, Tiryns or even Thebes), these lands must be of great enough importance to merit such close scrutiny. The actual wheat yield of 130-139 basic units of wheat, makes it all the more likely that the scribe means to say estate, because that is quite a lot of wheat. Once again, the Mycenaean scribal practice of not explicitly writing out what is implicitly understood by all of the scribes as a guild rears its head. Once again, to save space on the tablets, minuscule as they were. After all, if the adjective cultivated is already spelled out on the tablet, then we know for certain that the scribe is referring to land. It is that simple. Simple in a sense, since we still have to come up with the most appropriate translation for the kind of land the scribe is talking about. Since we were not there when the scribe wrote this tablet, or for that matter, when any scribe wrote other tablets with the almost identical formula on them, we can never be certain that we have assigned the right word to the generic concept of land. But, as is always the case with myself, I am not loathe to venture at a sensible translation... ergo.

The Second Tablet: KN 850 K j 31

Here we run up against the opposite scenario. The tablet is left-truncated, meaning of course that the syllablograms masiyo are the last three syllables of some Mycenaean Linear B word. But what word? Your guess is as good as mine.  The translation goes on to read, “at the same time (as)” followed by the totals for wheat yield. But we are left up in the air concerning what other crop(s) if any are being tabulated “at the same time as” the wheat crop yield. In other words, the yields for at least one other crop (the other likely being barley) is tabulated here together with wheat yields, as being harvested “at the same time”. Beyond this we can go no further, because all else is speculation. So any attempt to reconstruct the missing parts of this tablet is an exercise in futility. I merely wanted us to be aware that there assuredly is missing text on this tablet, probably on the right as well as on the left.  As for masiyo, I hazard a guess that this is the name of the person who was accountable for the crops. But even this is uncertain.

We are still left with one last problem. Why does the tablet report 132 units of wheat and then add (almost as an afterthought) the syllabogram TO, which just so happens to be the supersyllabogram for toso (so much, so many, i.e. a total of), and then add another figure, 5? 5 what? What is going on here? Why does the scribe give us a total of 132 units of wheat, and then go on to reference 5 units? What are these units?  What do they have to do with the 132 units (cf. bushels) of  wheat? Here is my take on it. It appears that there were a total of 5 separate crops of wheat harvested, yielding a total of 132 units in all, or approximately 42 units per harvest. It is a good try, if nothing else.

Richard