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.