A partial rational translation of another Minoan Linear A tablet on crops

A partial rational translation of another Minoan Linear A tablet on crops:

Ms. Gretchen Leonhardt has correctly pointed out that this decipherment I have assayed of what I took to be one Linear A tablet is in fact two entirely unrelated Linear A tablets, and  as such it must be considered as completely invalid. I am truly grateful to Ms. Leonhardt for bringing this serious gaffe to my attention. Once I have cleared the matter up, I shall repost my decipherment of both of these tablets in two separate posts.


This Linear B tablet clearly deals with various crops, with the lead in crop being grains or wheat, just as one would expect on either a Mycenaean Linear B tablet. By the same token, there is no reason to suppose that a Minoan Linear A tablet dealing with crops would not deal first and foremost with grains and wheat. The units of measurements identified on this tablet accord with those tentatively tabulated by Andras Zeke on the


I have already tentatively deciphered both adu and adaru in my Glossary of 107 Minoan Linear A words to appear in Archaeology and Science, Vol. 16 (2016), which is to be published sometime in 2018, since the publication date of this compendious international annual always lags behind by at least 18 months from the approximate date of submission of articles by authors, which in my case was November 2016.


Mycenaean Linear B accounting list

Mycenaean Linear B accounting list:

Mycenaean Linear B accounting list

KEY POST! Introduction to the Complete Bibliography of 138 Citations for “The Rôle of Supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B”

Introduction to the Complete Bibliography of 138 Citations for “The Rôle of Supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B”, Presentation by Richard Vallance Janke at the 2015 Conference in the Pultusk Academy of the Humanities, Pultusk, Poland, June 30-July 2, 2015.

In the next 2 posts, I shall present my exhaustive bibliography of 138 items (79 citations in each of the two parts) for the talk I shall be giving on “The Rôle of Supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B” at the 2015 Conference, “Thinking in Symbols” in the Pultusk Academy of the Humanities, Pultusk, Poland, June 30-July 2, 2015. It is so exhaustive that I doubt I have missed any sources of any significance to the topic at hand. Of course, the paper of the talk itself cannot be released at this time, as it is still under wraps.

Certain researchers past and present, above all Marie-Louise Nosch, have made significant contributions towards the realization of the General Theory of Supersyllabograms which I have just finalized this year, after a year of intensive research (spring 2014 – spring 2015). Previous researchers have sometimes come right up to the edge of a general theory correlating the single or multiple syllabograms they usually designate as “adjuncts” or “endograms” to the Linear B ideograms to which they are “surcharged” (i.e. attached), and which they invariably qualify. But all of these definitions are lacking in one sense or another, for the following reasons:

1. Although designated as (mere) “adjuncts” to the ideograms they invariably qualify, these associative single or multiple syllabograms (up to a maximum of 5!) are far more than that. Standing in as first-syllable abbreviations for words and even entire phrases in Mycenaean Greek, they play an absolutely critical rôle in significantly qualifying the ideograms to which they are attached, all the more so when the tablet on which they are found contains no text whatsoever, but only ideograms with these so-called “adjuncts”. But since these “adjuncts” invariably replace either Mycenaean words or (very often) entire phrases, they cannot be relegated to the status of simple adjuncts. In far too many instances, these single syllabograms encompass so much text that their inherent meaning as such turns out to be much more comprehensive and significant than that of the ideograms to which they are presumably attached. In other words, the single syllabogram(s) embodies/embody so much more than what would have otherwise been nothing but wasteful discursive text. So it appears that we should expediently and practically refer to as the ideogram as the adjunct, rather than the other way around.

On tablets with no text whatsoever and with 3 or more syllabograms performing this function, it is more than apparent that all of the single syllabograms functioning as the first syllable of a Mycenaean Greek word or an entire phrase replace so much discursive text that they literally cut down the amount of space used on the tablet in question by as much as two-thirds! Since the Linear B scribes at Knossos and Pylos in particular were real sticklers for saving as much space as they possibly could on what were (and are) extremely small extant tablets (rarely more than 15 cm. or 6 inches wide), they resorted to this stratagem so often (on at least 23% of the Linear B tablets at Knossos) that the practice is, if anything, of far greater importance to an accurate decipherment of those tablets on which they appear than was previously thought. It is for this reason that I have come to designate syllabograms playing this rôle as supersyllabograms, and certainly not as mere “adjuncts” or “endograms”, since that is patently what they are – supersyllabograms.

2. The designation of supersyllabograms as “endograms” is extremely misleading and quite inaccurate, since as many of these supersyllabograms precede as follow the ideograms to which they are attached. So “endograms” account for only half of supersyllabograms at best. Besides, what are we to call the supersyllabograms which precede the ideograms to which they are attached? Has anyone thought of that or even mentioned it in previous research? Not that I have ever seen, and I have read every single document (monographs, journal articles and articles in every past conference) I could lay my hands on. The reason for this lacuna is clear enough. Past researchers have focused solely on “adjuncts” or “endograms” related solely to the field of research in Mycenaean Linear B which is of primary and frequently exclusive interest to themselves. Even Marie-Louise Nosch, who has done an astonishing amount of truly remarkable research in this area, has restricted herself to the textiles sector of the Minoan-Mycenaean economy, as that is her primary field of interest. Fair enough. 

Given this scenario, it appears to me that researchers past and present have been focusing exclusively on the trees or even sometimes, as with Marie-Louise Nosch, on whole clearings in forest. But none have ever concentrated on the entire forest, at least until last year, when I myself decided to ransack every single syllabogram on some 3,000 tablets (not fragments) from Knossos, in order to hypothesize, if at all possible, a general pattern to the use of supersyllabograms with ideograms. I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. So far, I have discovered that at least 33 of the 61 syllabograms plus one of the homophones (“rai” for saffron) frequently function as supersyllabograms. Under the circumstances, and given that so many scribes so often resorted to this strategy, I soon enough concluded that it was not only a standard convention in the compilation of some 700 tablets at Knossos, but that the supersyllabograms found on these tablets were almost invariably formulaic codes. And in ancient Greek – witness Homer alone - any practice which was both conventional and formulaic was always deliberate. No-one ever resorts to such strategies in any language, unless they have abundant reason to do so.

This is all the more true for the practices the Linear B scribes routinely ascribed to, given that they would do absolutely anything, if they possibly could, to save precious space on their tiny clay tablets. This too is another crucial factor past researchers have overlooked. Linear B scribes only recorded information which was absolutely essential to the precise compilation of what were (and are) after all statistical accounts and inventories. We can take the far-reaching consequences and implications of this conclusion even further. Have you ever seen a modern-day inventory which resorts to similar tactics to conserve precious space and to make the inventory as clear, precise and accurate as possible? Of course you have. As illustrated in the following two examples, the most efficient of modern inventories resort to the same tactics, the formulaic use of code abbreviations as substitutes for wasteful discursive text with predictable frequency – which is almost always: Click to ENLARGE each one with its relevant notes

aircraft inventory 

liquor inventory

In other words, just as abbreviations serve as default codes in modern inventories, supersyllabograms function pretty much the same way on the Linear B tablets. Supersyllabograms are in fact inventory codes for the Mycenaean Linear B words or entire phrases they replace. This revelation surely substantiates the claim I am now going to make: the Linear B scribes were far ahead of their time in the compilation of inventories and statistics. No other ancient language, including classical Greek and even Latin, came remotely close to this extremely advanced practice the Linear scribes so brilliantly and consciously contrived for their astonishing ability to create practical templates they consistently applied to inventorial management. And no-one until the Italian bankers in Renaissance was to revive the practice with equal skill. As for the standard practices of the Linear B scribal inventories, they are so remarkably alike modern 20th. & 20st. Century practices that it is uncanny.         

3. But there is more. Why previous researchers have not drawn attention to the fact that many supersyllabograms, especially in the field of textiles, neither precede nor follow the ideograms they qualify, but are almost invariably inside them, is beyond me. Once again, no one in any language resorts to any stratagem without solid practical and even logical reason(s). Such is the case with the textile “intragrams”, as opposed to “exograms” in Linear B, the latter of which invariably qualify pretty much all ideograms in the field of agriculture. Again, this raises the critical, hardly hypothetical, question, why. And again, there are substantive and strictly functional reasons why the Linear B scribes made this critical distinction – because they knew they had to. Supersyllabograms functioning as “exograms” are always associative, while those operating as “intragrams” are invariably attributive. The Linear B scribes made this fundamental distinction between the two sub-classes of supersyllabograms for the simple reason that they, as a guild, knew perfectly well what the operative distinction was which each of these types of supersyllabograms played on the tablets on which they were inscribed. The talk I am giving at the Conference in Pultusk between June 30 and July 2 2015 will make this perfectly clear.

4. I have no objection to the designation “surcharged” for “exograms” as supersyllabograms, because they are not only literally surcharged onto the ideograms with which they are always associated, they also figuratively surcharge the meaning(s) of these ideograms, in a sense somewhat akin to super-charged gasoline or petrol which beefs up engine performance in cars - or by symbolic association, something along those lines. But I am forced to object to the designation of “intragrams” as surcharged in the textiles sector of the Minoan-Mycenaean economies, for the obvious reason that they are both literally and figuratively not surcharged at all. Again, the scribes never resorted to “intragrams”, unless they were absolutely critical to an actual attribute, whenever required in a particular case, such as the frequent designation of colour for textiles. Ask yourselves, why would any scribe in his right mind write out the full name of the default colour white for linen, when he did not have to? He simply would not. On the other hand, the Linear B scribes did make use of an attributive supersyllabogram when they knew perfectly well that it was critical to the economic class status of the cloth so designated. For instance, purple cloth, designated by the supersyllabogram PU for Mycenaean Linear B pupureyo – a royal colour par excellence – was much more refined and far more expensive than the heavier and coarser plain white linen cloth (rino) spun for the hoi polloi (the lower classes). So they had to mention that for the sake of the “wanaka” or King (of Knossos or Mycenae) to whom this distinction was all too important, given that neither he nor his Queen no any of the princes royal would ever be caught dead wearing cheap cloth.

There is much more to this than meets the eye, as I shall clearly illustrate in the book, The Decipherment of Supersyllabograms in Linear B, which is to appear sometime in 2016, if all goes well.

I would be truly remiss were I not to acknowledge the major contributions the French researcher, Marie-Louise Nosch, whom I have cited 15 times (!) in my bibliography, has made to fundamentally accurate definitions of supersyllabograms in the textile sector of the Minoan-Mycenaean economy. Although I happened upon all of her astonishingly insightful research articles only after I had deciphered 32 of the 34 supersyllabograms (the other two being beyond me, as well as her), the truly accurate and intrinsically logical conclusions she came to on her own back up my conclusions on the meanings of practically all the intragrams for textiles almost to the letter. This amazing co-incidence, if that is merely what it is, serves as solid circumstantial collateral evidence to substantiate my Theory of Supersyllabograms. Co-incidence? I rather doubt that. It is a given that researchers in any scientific field tend to strike their bearings in the same general direction in any age, including our own. Like Odysseus, we are all heading for the same shore. The most convincing conclusions which will eventually be drawn from the research we are all sharing in now are yet in the offing. But in my eyes one thing is certain. Everything we researchers in Mycenaean Linear B, as a community, are aiming for now is bound to make a ground-breaking, perhaps even profound, contribution in the near future to make the further decipherment of Linear B considerably much more accurate than any we have seen to date.

The Bibliography to follow in two parts (1-69 & 70-138) in the next two posts.

ADDENDUM: I shall be publishing this post & the next two in academia.edu very soon, prior to my presentation at the Conference in Pultusk, Poland, June 30 - July 2, 2015.


All About Sypersyllabograms: Their Enormous Impact on the Nature of Linear B – Everything you ever wanted to know, but were afraid to ask!

All About Sypersyllabograms: Their Enormous Impact on the Nature of Linear B – Everything you ever wanted to know, but were afraid to ask!

Given that supersyllabograms invariably display the characteristics highlighted in the previous post, they must also be formulaic by nature. The several restrictions placed on their disposition next to or inside ideograms, the invariability of their meanings within each sector, and other such considerations means they are always formulaic. Although the language of Homer is also very often formulaic in the Iliad, especially in The Catalogue of Ships in Book II, there is probably little or no relationship between the formulaic nature of supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B and his archaic formulae. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that formulaic language is a particular characteristic of both Mycenaean Linear B and of Homer’s own so-called Epic Greek. However, the nature of the formulaic language of Linear B and that of Homeric Greek are of a different order.

In the chart which follows, we see for the first time ever on our blog the disposition of each supersyllabogram in each sector of Minoan/Mycenaean society, with repetitions of certain supersyllabograms, which re-appear in different sectors, usually with different meanings from one sector to the next, with the exception of the supersyllabogram “newo/newa”, which always means “new”, regardless of sector. It alone appears in three sectors: agriculture (livestock, mainly sheep, rams & ewes), textiles & vessels, as seen in the chart here: Click to ENLARGE


While the meanings of some supersyllabograms are firmly established, due primarily to their high frequency on Linear B tablets from Knossos, others are less firmly demonstrable. For instance, in the sector, agriculture, sub-sector sheep husbandry, the meanings of the supersyllabograms O = lease field, KI = plot of land , NE = new & PE = enclosure or sheep pen, are firmly established with a very high degree of probability, if not total accuracy. In the case of PE, the definition is 100 % confirmed, since on one of the tablets in that series, the scribe conveniently spelled out the word in full, instead of using the simple superyllabogram PE. It is this very tablet which establishes beyond a doubt the authenticity of supersyllabograms as a phenomenon innate to Linear B alone, and not found in Arcado-Cypriot Linear C. As for Minoan Linear A, no-one knows whether SSYLS exist, because the language remains recalcitrant to decipherment.

In the military sector, the supersyllabogram ZE almost certainly means “a pair of..” or “a team of...”, with a 90 % or greater probability. However, once we get past the two primary sectors in which supersyllabograms are used extremely frequently, given that there are so many tablets to be found in these two primary sectors of Minoan/Mycenaean society, the situation devolves by degrees into less certainty.

Supersyllabograms found adjacent to any ideogram, as for instance those with the ideograms for sheep, ram, ewe (livestock), or horse or chariot (military) are considered to be associative. Associative Supersyllabograms are those which define characteristics of the environment or specific context in which their associative ideograms appear. For instance, it is natural and logical to associate sheep with lease fields, plots of land & sheep enclosures. The same goes for military ideograms. The ideograms for horse and chariot naturally associate with pairs or teams of... (fill in the blanks).    

There are still quite a large number of tablets in the textiles sector; so the meanings of most of the supersyllabograms in that sector are more than likely still very reliable, not the least because each of them still makes good sense: KU = gold cloth, PA = dyed cloth, PU = purple or Phoenician cloth (amounting to pretty much the same thing, anyway) & RI = linen. I would assign at least a 70 % to 90 % degree of probability to each of the definitions I have deduced for each of these supersyllabograms in textiles. The supersyllabograms in the sector of vessels (amphorae, drinking cups, water jugs etc.) may be a little less firm, but I am still convinced that I deduced most of them accurately, yielding a probability of 70 % - 80 %.

Supersyllabograms in the textile and vessels sector are another kettle of fish. Since they appear inside the ideograms they modify, they are attributive in nature. In other words, they describe attributes of the textiles or vessels which they modify, and are, in almost all instances, adjectival in nature. Their placement inside the ideograms makes it quite clear that this is what the scribes actually indented, since a symbol inside another always describes attributes of the ideogram in which it appears. Should anyone doubt this, we have only to appeal to symbols appearing inside others as they are found in today’s world, since they follow the exact same principle. For instance, we have: click to ENLARGE:

Modern Superalphabetical Symbols

Need I say more?     

On the other hand, I have been quite unable to decipher at least one supersyllabogram, SE, which sadly appears only 3 times on extant tablets from Knossos. For this reason alone, I dare not assign it a meaning, since I am quite sure that if I did, I would probably be (way) off the mark.

There remain the supersyllabograms for place names, which are in a category of their own, since none of them appear with ideograms, and all of them are found on only 1 tablet, Heidelburg HE Fl 1994, which Prof. Thomas G. Palaima so expertly deciphered in 1994. Click on this banner to read his translation and my explanatory POST in its entirety:


There can be no question whatsoever that these are in fact supersyllabograms, the very first ever to have been isolated, for which we owe Prof. Palaima full credit. Of course, he did not define them as supersyllabograms, as he was unaware of the high frequency of the rest of them as adduced above in this post. Nevertheless, they are what they are, supersyllabograms. We have KO for Konoso (Knossos), MU for Mukene (Mycenae), ZA for Zakros etc.

And if a few of you are still in doubt as to the viability of supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B, remember: the very same phenomenon applies to internationally standardized signs nowadays.

Once again, nowadays, we have a symbol within a symbol, or if you like, a symbol inside an ideogram. It is truly amazing how such a practice has resurfaced after at least 32 centuries, even if it was only the Minoan/Mycenaean scribes in the ancient world who figured out the system in the first place, leaving it interred for 32 centuries before it re-appeared in the twentieth century. So once again, we find ourselves face to face with a very ancient script, namely the Linear B syllabary, which was so systematic, formulaic and logical that it can only be considered as a brilliant breakthrough in the art of writing. After all, supersyllabograms are not the only phenomenon Linear B sported with such bravado. Ideograms in and of themselves abounded (over 100 of them!). They even used ideograms as the equivalent of subject headings as they resurfaced in nineteenth century libaries, in the Dewey Decimal & Library of Congress systems.

Witness just one tablet alone, namely, Pylos 641-1952 (Ventris), the very first tablet ever translated with complete success by none other than the great Michael Ventris himself, and you can see these “subject headings” for yourself, plastered all over that amazing tablet! Why did the scribes use so many ideograms for vessel types on this single tablet? The answer was obvious, at least to them... the ideograms for vessels were the signposts or indexing markers of this tablet which instantly allowed the scribes to identify the precise type of vessel described in the full text immediately preceding each one, even before they bothered reading the descriptive text. That this is a very clever indexing system goes without saying. And it re-appears over and over on so many tablets that it is without question one of the hallmarks of the Linear B syllabary. Finally, their numeric accounting system was the most efficient ever devised in the ancient world. Summarizing all of the streamlined characteristics of Linear B we have just enumerated, it becomes obvious that Linear B was, first and foremost, a carefully devised form of shorthand for Mycenaean Greek. Once again, the Mycenaean scribes anticipated a methodology for writing business transactions which would not re-appear as modern shorthand – you guessed it – until the nineteenth century AD.

All of this adds up to one inescapable conclusion: Linear B was the world’s fist ever commercial shorthand, and until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there was nothing even remotely as efficient, logical and practical ever to be found throughout history until... the modern era. This is precisely why I am so in awe of Linear B, a script which was millennia ahead of its time. It is also why I refuse to characterize Linear B as being prehistoric. It is nothing of the sort. It is in a word, a proto-historic writing and accounting system, leading me to the inexorable conclusion that Minoan/Mycenaean society was in fact not prehistoric at all, but proto-historic. I am not the first linguist specializing in ancient linguistics to have asserted this claim, but I am the first to speak up as emphatically and unequivocally as this.        

This then has been a brief summary of the functions and the key rôle supersyllabograms play in the decipherment of Mycenaean Linear B.



Ideal Demands for ZERO-TOLERANCE in Accounting & Inventories from Mycenaean Greece, to Classical Athens, Imperial Rome, the House of Medici and beyond – References to Wikipedia Articles & Several Illustrations

Ideal Demands for ZERO-TOLERANCE in Accounting & Inventories from Mycenaean Greece, to Classical Athens, Imperial Rome, the House of Medici and beyond – References to Wikipedia Articles & Several Illustrations

Inventorial Accounting Demand for ZERO-TOLERANCE Applied to the Translation of the Tricky Linear B Tablet KN 1507 E d 231 by Rita Roberts: Click to ENLARGE

KN 1507 Ed 23l Nawiro Rams & Ewes
Our working hypothesis for Rita carefully considered translation of Knossos tablet KN 1507 E d 231.

Before proceeding to the genesis of our hypothesis for a realistic and practical translation of this very tricky Linear B tablet, allow me to inform you all that Rita is now being confronted with mind-bending challenges in the decipherment of really difficult Linear B tablets. Had I known this when I initially assigned Rita this tablet and the next one to be posted, I would have surely left them for her first year of her university level curriculum. However, as it turns out, the fact that she had to force herself to stretch her logical powers of observation to the extreme means that she is more than ready to rise to the even more daunting challenges facing her in the next month or so, when she finally embarks on her first year of university level studies. The fact that she was eventually able to translate this tough tablet, the two of using working together, speaks to her mastery of Linear B, which is already very considerable.

Working Hypothesis:

Since Linear B is first and foremost an accounting language for Mycenaean Greek, in other words, a subset of this archaic Greek dialect, we should expect that all accounting and inventorial records would have to be completely accurate, both with respect with line items and with total, zero-tolerance in arithmetical calculation in any Linear B tablet in this sphere, and that means something like 90-95 % of all tablets in Linear B, regardless of provenance. While there are quite a few tablets dealing with religious matters, meaning that in that case Linear B cannot be considered as an accounting subset of Mycenaean Greek, but must be construed as a religious affairs subset of the dialect, we leave this aside for future consideration.

Meanwhile, there are critical problems with not only this tablet, but plenty of others in the sphere of inventorial accounting, which simply must be addressed, and if possible, resolved. Based on the criteria our hypothesis for accounting and inventories demands in any society in any historical era, we should take into consideration several eras in succession, from the most ancient Babylonian through Egyptian, Mycenaean, the Athenian Treasury at Delphi: 507-470 BCE (Wikipedia) - a reasonably efficient financial system

Treasury of Athens at Delphi 507-470 BCE

and Roman Imperial Finances, the aerarium or state treasury under Augustus Caesar (62-14 BCE) and beyond (an exceedingly inefficient and corrupt financial system):

Roman Finance: Wikipedia (Click on the cameo of Augustus Caesar):

Cameo of Augustus Caesar 

to those of the Middle Ages, and above all else, the much more efficient accounting and banking procedures established by the Medici family in Florence in the 14th. And 15th. Centuries AD. ALL THIS IS NOT TO SAY THAT ACCOUNTING SYSTEMS WERE IN UNIVERSAL CONFORMITY IN EVERY HISTORICAL ERA, because they were not. This is especially true of the late Medieval era and the early Renaissance, when the sloppy Medieval accounting procedures in most European nations other than Italy seriously clashed with the extremely efficient banking system of the Medici in Florence.

The House of Medici (Wikipedia): Click on their Coat of Arms - ZERO-TOLERANCE Banking System


In fact, it was the Medici who invented the modern system of banking. Further developments and refinements ran through to the establishment of the Exchequer in Renaissance England: Click on the image of Thomas Cromwell - corrupt financial system

Thomas Cromwell Earl of Essex

Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540) Chancellor of 
the Exchequer under Henry VIII (1533-1540)

and Ministries of Finance in the Renaissance and the 17th.

Henri de Schomber 1575-1632 Superintendent of Finances 1619-1622
     Superintendent of Finances
(France: 1561-1661) - reasonably accurate

and 18th. centuries

Necker,_Jacques portait by Joseph Duplessis Finance Minister to Louis XVI 1788-1789
   Comptroller General of Finances
(France: 1681-1791) - extremely corrupt

on to the rigorous banking system of the late nineteenth and early 20th. Centuries to the most modern stock market software systems, it is patently obvious that they all should ideally demand the following basic criteria:

(a) line items in accounts and inventories must be completely accurate, and precisely named, down to the most specific details;
(b) line and summary calculations cannot and must not contain any errors whatsoever. Zero tolerance;
(c) accounting and inventorial procedures must be completely standardized across the board, from one site to another, from one city to another and one nation to another, regardless of historical period. Otherwise, the accounting system in place in that historical era collapses for lack of complete conformity. And all too many did! See above. We know that Mycenaean Linear B was consistent across the board, regardless of the site were the scribes used it, whether Knossos, Phaistos, Pylos, Thebes, Mycenae or elsewhere.
(d) Accounting systems, if they are be at all effective and rendered zero-tolerance, must be subject to audit, regardless of the historical era in which they are in use. Rita Roberts and I are convinced that such an auditing system was securely in place in Minoan/Mycenaean society in which Linear B was the standard language of accounting and inventory.

This is the administrative palatial accounting and inventorial system which Rita and I believe was operative in the Minoan/Mycenaean era when Linear B was the standard accounting language. Regardless of site, Knossos, Phaistos, Pylos, Thebes, Mycenae or elsewhere, it would appear that the administrative palatial accounting and inventorial offices were configured as follows:

The Efficient Audited ZERO-TOLERANCE Minoan + Mycenaean Palatial Office of Inventories and Accounting:

There was a large administrative palatial accounting and inventorial office (or room, if you must insist), especially at the metropolis of Knossos (pop. ca. 55,000), in which a relatively large number of scribes (possibly 10-40) ranged themselves for their daily work along a very long table or tables, all of them on the same side of each table, for the simple reason that each of the scribes must have had each of his tablets audited, either by the scribe to his left or right, or by both, to ensure zero-tolerance for line itemization and mathematical accuracy. If scribes had been seated on opposite sides of their table or tables, it would have been much more difficult to audit one another’s inventorial tablets, as they would have had to pass their work across the table(s), thereby adding to the risk of error, when zero-tolerance is demanded. That would have been an unacceptable scenario. Think of it this way: would anyone in their right mind nowadays allow for any deviance from the standardized international online stock market system? Never! Likewise, the Mycenaean system must have been based on the same general principles, and the pretty much the same specific accounting criteria put into practice. Otherwise, the system would have collapsed. Such a system makes perfect sense, especially for Mycenae an Greeks who were, after all, Greek. The ancient Greeks were notorious for their insistence on accuracy and logic, right from the outset, all the way through to the rise of their astonishingly consistent philosophical systems in the age of Plato and Aristotle, and far beyond.

Zero-Tolerance on any Linear B Inventorial Accounting tablet based on the template of Knossos Linear B Tablet KN 1507 E d 231:

Given the strict criteria for Mycenaean accounting procedures we have proposed above, Knossos Linear B Tablet KN 1507 E d 231 must stand up to scrutiny down to the very last detail. But there are problems with it which immediately leap to the fore. The scribe has scratched out, i.e. erased all the text to the left of the and below the number 2 (if it is the number 2). What does this tell us? If we assume our hypothesis is correct, and we are pretty much convinced it is, it tells us a great deal. First, it tells us that he was aware he had made a gaffe, and a big one at that. But how did he become aware of this? He was audited by another scribe or scribes, and according to the standard office procedure we have outlined above, by the scribe to his left or right, or by both of them. Take your pick. But the principle of zero-tolerance must apply. Perhaps he fell asleep at the switch after a long day slogging through numerous accounts, and writing down inventories on at least 5 tablets. Very demanding and exhausting work. Any accountant, past or present, can tell you that. However, if the standard practice was for fellow scribes to audit every single tablet they inscribed, zero-tolerance would prevail.

So the next step in our decipherment of this extremely tricky tablet (one among countless hundreds or thousands in any given fiscal year or “weto” in Mycenaean Greek) is to make a supreme effort to put ourselves in the same place as any Linear B scribe having to make a full inventory of anything anywhere in the Mycenaean Empire, and not only that, to assume one of our fellow accounts has caught us out and put us squarely on spot. Let us imagine the conversation:

Scribe A (the fellow who inscribed this tablet, KN 1507 E d 231) to Scribe B:
Well, I am done with this tablet. It is the end of a long day, and I am getting very tired. I may have made a mistake. Audit it.

Scribe B:
Hmmm. Let’s see. (reads the original figures on the tablet). Good gods, you wrote the same number for both the rams and the ewes! 38! That seems a remote possibility. Yes, you do look tired, and I can hardly blame you. What is the number of ewes? We have to get it right.

Scribe A:
Oh my gods, it is just 2 ewes! How could I have missed that!

So he scratches out all the Linear B numeric strokes for tens, i.e. 3 horizontal strokes & 6 for units (vertical strokes), leaving the number 2 (2 vertical strokes). Voilà. The calculation is completely accurate. We have zero-tolerance.        

Scribe B:
Good! It is fine now. Maybe we should go for a beer or two as soon as work is over, which is pretty soon.

Scribe A:
Great Idea!

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EREPATO in Mycenaean Greek. Is this the word for “ivory” or “slain in war”? Extensive Circumstantial Evidence for the case against the latter

EREPATO in Mycenaean Greek. Is this the word for “ivory” or “slain in war”? Extensive Circumstantial Evidence for the case against the latter

Here we have Gretchen Leonhardt’s translation of Knossos tablet KN V 684 (Click to ENLARGE):

KN V 684 Leonhardt spoils of war

From the very outset, when I ran across Ms. Gretchen Leonhardt’s highly unusual, irregular translation for the Mycenaean Greek word in Linear B, EREPATO (here latinized for most folks visiting our blog, who cannot read Linear B), my first reaction was to be totally confused, bordering on dazed. I just couldn’t wrap this decidedly esoteric translation around my head. I was stumped. Was Ms. Leonhardt on to something no other researcher has even remotely entertained as a possible translation of EREPATO in the past 62 years since the decipherment of Linear B by the brilliant Michael Ventris? OK, I thought, I will give her the benefit of the doubt, but when my own doubts starting piling up one on top of the other, the benefit of the doubt simply vanished in a puff of smoke. I hasten to add that my doubts as a Linear B researcher and translator, hopefully as adept as Ms. Leonhardt most certainly is, over her newly coined decipherment of this one word alone are founded, not on mere speculation, but on truly practical, experimental and logical factors which together conspire to cast serious doubt on, if not almost certain evidence strongly mitigating against such a translation.

To put a fine point on it, either one or the other of our translations, but not both, can reasonably be said to be close to the mark if not on it.

My reservations are based on the following factors impinging on Ms. Leonhardt’s highly imaginative – and I stress, imaginative – decipherment of EREPATO, and subsequently on the huge impact her translation has on the entire text, warping the meaning of the tablet way out of kilter.  Since I have spent months on end ruminating over her translation, I have come up with more and more practical and/or logical objections to it, and there are many. So please bear with me. These are:

[1] Given the minimal context surrounding the word EREPATO on this tablet, it would seem, at least on the surface, that Ms. Leonhardt is perfectly justified in entertaining a newly coined translation that makes sense, once it passes closer scrutiny. So where context is minimal, I must grant Ms. Leonhardt the prerogative to translate this word as she sees fit.

However, there is one Linear B tablet from Pylos containing the very same word, EREPATO, in which context is not minimal at all, but extremely precise.  And here it is Click to ENLARGE:

PY SA 794 English
I posit that in the context of the Pylos tablet, bearing on craftsmanship alone, EREPATO can mean one thing and one thing only, “ivory”. Certainly not “slain in war” or “slain by Ares” or more properly “slain by Ares in war”, unless the translator of the Pylos tablet consciously sets out to radically change the meaning of almost all the other words, to force them to conform with his or her pet decipherment of just one single word on the Pylos tablet. But this is patently a very risky, if not outright dangerous, route to pursue, since it is bound to warp huge chunks of Mycenaean vocabulary way out of joint, the more and more one relies on it and pursues it to the exclusion of most if not all other impinging factors for any and all Linear B tablets one intends to translate.

In this light, I would like to ask Ms. Leonhardt if she truly believes the Pylos tablet, of which the context is very precise, namely, the fine craftsmanship of chariot wheels, can be rendered any other way than it has already been. Is it even possible, let alone feasible and – I fear I must say it again -  practical or logical to pursue this method of decipherment of this particular tablet?

With all this in mind, I really have no other choice but to invite her to do precisely that, i.e. to decipher this detailed tablet as she sees fit, and to come up with a really convincing alternate translation. When I say “convincing”, I certainly do not mean to me alone (even if it does convince me, even partially) but convincing as a practical alternative substantial version to the community of Linear B translators at large of the very kinds of things Linear B scribes were so bent on tallying, almost exclusively in the domain of inventories or statistics.

[2] This brings us right to our next point, the overarching rôle of inventory keeping and statistical analysis which the Linear B scribes were fixated on, to the exclusion of practically any other consideration, almost without exception. I can hear Ms. Leonhardt proclaim, “But my translation is an inventory.”  Fair enough. But here lies the rub... an inventory of precisely what? To her mind, it seems pretty obvious – to a strictly military matter. But it is surely in this regard that the entire translation, let alone the rendering of EREPATO as “slain in war” or “slain by Ares” simply crumbles to pieces. And here is why. It is not a question of tabular context at all, since Ms. Leonhardt has frequently informed me that, to her mind at least, context is not an over-riding factor in the decipherment of any Linear B tablet. Again, fair enough. I’ll buy that, at least for the time-being.

But what Ms. Leonhardt has failed to seriously take into account is the level or frequency of occurrence of Linear B tablets specifically and solely concerned with military matters as their primary focus. And I hate to say this, there is not one single tablet or fragment in the 3,000 (give or take a few) that I have meticulously examined from Scripta Minoa that deals with anything like something as specific as Ms. Leonhardt’s translation, relating  - and I emphatically stress – to sweeping up the spoils of war from the battlefield. Not even remotely. But there is more, a lot more to take into account.

[3] In my recent exhaustive statistical analysis of the occurrence of the primary, over-riding concern of the huge cross-section of 3,000 of the Linear B tablets out of some 4,000+ (i.e. 75 %!) I closely examined from Knossos, I was astonished to discover that no fewer than 700+! or 20 %+ of all of them put together deal exclusively with sheep, rams and ewes, and nothing else. Here are the published results of my survey of sheepish tablets (pardon the pun!) Click to ENLARGE:

Linear B Tablets Knossos sheep rams ewes

In fact, the pre-occupation of the Linear B scribes with sheep at Knossos and everywhere else is nothing short of obsessive. Once we get past sheep — I stress again — every other agricultural, economic area of Minoan society, in short, any and all concerns otherwise addressed by the Linear B scribes, at least at Knossos, all come a very distant second to sheep. The Linear B scribes were utterly obsessed with sheep, and the reason is obvious. Sheep raising and husbandry was squarely at the heart of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy. It was, plainly put, the underpinning of their entire socio-economic platform. Now, what really amazes is that not even the consideration of wool, which is the end-product of sheep raising, plays anywhere near the rôle as do the sheep themselves on the 3,000 tablets and fragments I examined. There are only about 100 tablets or 3.3% zeroing in on wool in the entire inventory of 3,000. The situation gets worse and worse, even where other areas of the agricultural economy are concerned, which is after all the real underpinning of Minoan society (however huge the sheep subset is). This includes all other livestock, pigs, bulls and cows etc. regardless. These tablets and fragments account for something like 50 or a mere 1.65 % of all Linear B media.

When it comes to military matters, the situation is positively dismal. Of the 3,000 tablets and fragments at Knossos, only about 125 or a little over 4% deal with military matters whatsoever, all inclusively, from top to bottom, leaving nothing out, including the inventory of chariots as such, some 25 or about 0.8%, and then falling dramatically where the tablets and fragments deal specifically with things such as chariot wheels in working order or in need of repair, chariot bodies (5 as far as I can recall), horses etc. etc.  And of all the tablets specifically dealing with military matters, there is not a single one which zeroes in on gathering the trophies and spoils of war. Not one.

Why is this so? Well, I think one of the reasons for this state of affairs is that Knossos itself was a peaceful city, rarely, if ever involved in any wars (except when conquered by the Mycenaeans, if it ever was in the first place), to the extent that it was unwalled and practically undefended.  Granted, even if we still allow for Ms. Leonhardt’s highly imaginative translation, the Minoan Linear B scribes at Knossos would have inventoried the spoils or war only for their Mycenaean overlords (if that is even who they were) and for no other reason. Inventories of the actual spoils of war would be of such little concern to the scribes at Knossos that the whole business would have amounted to nothing more than a hill of beans, if that. Yet nowhere else than on this single tablet KN V 684, if we are to grant Ms. Leonhardt’s translation the benefit of the doubt, are military matters the subject of any great concern on any Linear B tablet, except for fixing broken wheels and chariots and boring things like that.

Come to think of it, practically everything the Linear B scribes so loved to inventory (at least at Knossos, where by far the greatest trove of extant tablets is found) sounds crashingly boring to us nowadays. But I put it to you, are not all inventories boring, even ours today? Yet the sole purpose of the Linear B tablets (with paltry exceptions few and far between) was to keep inventories on absolutely everything pertaining to the Minoan agri-economy. I have to say I was not prepared at all for their overwhelming obsession with sheep to the exclusion of so much else in their social fabric. In fact, I was astonished. But there you have it. Boring, yes, but to the Minoan scribes at Knossos, absolutely essential to the smooth functioning of their entire economy from top to bottom. Unfortunately, concern for inventory keeping for military matters was practically at the bottom of the barrel.

Such statistical evidence, if we are to put our faith in statistics, and in the case of Mycenaean Linear B literacy, there is nothing else to rely on, greatly mitigates against the possibility, even remote, of the decipherment Ms. Leonhardt attributes to KN V 684.

So what does this tablet really say?  Linear B translators, including myself, decipher it as follows (give or take a few picayune variations). This is my own translation, which in fact Ms. Leonhardt challenged to me decipher (Click to ENLARGE):

Linear B Tablet Knossos Kn V 684

As you can see, it is just another boring inventory, in this case of smashed ivory, as opposed to the perfectly intact ivory on the Pylos tablet. But that is what inventories always are, nothing more or less, dull as concrete. This does not mean that they are not significant!  They are in fact the only real-time indicators of the Minoan agri-economy we have to go on. I say, thank God the Minoan scribes at Knossos were hell-bent on inventories. The reason is apparent. The King or “wanax” of Knossos and his own subalterns, the overseers of the scribal community, positively demanded it.

[4] I am far from finished. Regressive extrapolation of archaic Greek vocabulary from the Catalogue of Ships in Book II of the Iliad, where the most archaic Greek in the entire Iliad appears, backwards to Mycenaean Greek actually seems to confirm (if we are to accept the premise of regressive extrapolation, and I do) that the word EREPATO in Mycenaean Greek is the exact counterpart of “elephantos” in Homer, which meant only one thing, “ivory” and not “elephant”. If you want to assign it the meaning of elephant too, that is fine with me. But in the context of the Pylos tablet above, that translation is silly. Given the strict application of “ivory” to EREPATO, I am strongly inclined to reject Ms. Leonhardt’s hypothetical “slain in war” or “slain by Ares” out of hand.

[5] And there is even more. In the entire lexicon of the extant Mycenaean vocabulary, there are almost no abstract words. This cannot come as the least surprise, since after all the entire purpose of keeping records in Linear B was to inventory everything and anything the Minoan scribes were obliged by their overseers to keep track of at all cost. The very presence of several words for overseer in Mycenaean Linear B (wanaka = king, damokoro = village overseer or mayor, qasireu = viceroy, korete = governor, opidamiyo = accountable village administrator, rawaketa = general & tereta = master of ceremonies, among others) serves to firmly underscore this phenomenon.

Unfortunately, however, Leonhardt’s “slain in war” or “slain by Ares” flirts almost too closely, if not actually crossing the line, with the semi-abstract. In and of itself, this factor again mitigates against her translation of EREPATO. 

[6] But it does much more than just that. It practically invalidates her entire translation, from top to bottom, because she makes the whole thing hinge exclusively on one word only, EREPATO, as she envisions it. The result is that her translation warps the meaning of the integral text of KN V 684 way out of whack.

What particularly disturbs me is the summative, indirect way she translates the tablet. She does not translate it word by word, but instead comes up with a summary, an ideal translation as she envisages it, “I envision the scribe, or another person, roaming the battlefield to loot bodies and to gather... passim... (Greek words omitted) ‘lost things on the ground’ detritus such as weapons, armor and personal items.” OK, let us take a good hard look at this translation, which strikes me far more like a quotation from Homer than an inventory.
(a) Why on earth would a Minoan scribe working exclusively at Knossos, just doing his job, which was solely to keep inventories, be wandering around in a battlefield to loot bodies and to gather detritus? This fanciful scene stretches my powers of reason beyond credulity. And since the Linear B tablets are concerned only with statistical inventories, and nothing else whatsoever, why would the scribes even bother to mention booty they themselves might have pilfered off some bloody battlefield (which, as I say, they never would have done), let alone from soldiers slain by Ares? What on earth did Ares have to do with looting battle fields?... and here I mean, in the scribe’s own mind, not mine. Probably bugger all, if you don’t mind my saying (and even if you do, I am just having a bit of fun). By the way, the word Ares does not appear in Tselentis’ huge Linear B Lexicon.      
(b) Can we really imagine that some bloodied, possibly injured, messenger or soldier from the battlefield would come barging into the office of a bunch of bureaucratic scribes half bored out of their skulls to report such esoteric, if not insignificant, information to them? They would either have been horrified at the intrusion, and summarily kicked him out or laughed at him. Not a pretty picture.
(c) Such a herald or messenger would have been completely illiterate (analphabetic), and a member of a lower stratum of Minoan society. The scribes were the only literate people in that society, apart (possibly) from the nobility, and their sole function was to serve their overseers without question, not to kowtow to their own subalterns.
(d) Now here the waters get really muddy. Why does Ms. Leonhardt tell us that she envisions, i.e. imagines this entire scenario, when all we are asked for is a straightforward decipherment and translation of what is ostensibly an inventory, period?  The whole exercise of decipherment and translation of Linear B tablets cannot and must not be the demonstrable result of some imagined or fanciful notion of what the tablet appears to say to the mind of the translator, but instead must be the ostensible result of a thorough-going practical, logical contextual and, if at all possible, cross-correlated analysis of any and all tablets referring to any single Mycenaean word one wishes to translate. Otherwise, the whole exercise invalidates itself in a hopeless cycle of purely hypothetical, tautological reasoning, even if it is reasoning at all. Poetry is fine, as poetry. I am a frequently published poet myself. But inventories are as far removed from poetry as a stone is from God.

[7] Compare my own crushingly boring translation with Ms. Leonhardt’s, and you will instantly observe the multiple practical and eminently logical processes I followed to arrive at the run-of-the-mill inventory of smashed ivory that I did. First off (a) given the sparse context of KN V 684, it was even pretty much impossible to verify that EREPATO meant “ivory”. So we had to have recourse to another extant tablet, if such exists, which provides plenty of sound context for the very same word... which is precisely what I did by digging up the Pylos tablet illustrated above. 

And guess what? It means “ivory”. Period.

I put it to you that of our two translations, taken as a whole, one or the other must be right, but certainly not both.

I repeat: given the fact that Mycenaean words are almost exclusively concrete, preference for a concrete over an abstract translation of any Mycenaean word on any Linear B medium must take overwhelming if not absolute precedence over the (semi-)abstract. In fact, I would be willing to posit the relatively sound hypothesis, that translation of any Mycenaean word as semi-abstract or an abstract is fraught with so many difficulties, contradictions and loopholes that it is a risky venture at best.

Unfortunately, Ms. Leonhardt’s translation of EREPATO suffers from all of these defects, and because of this, it in turn tinctures the connotation of all the other words she translates, even though her translations are technically correct. The real issue here is that she has taken all of these concrete words, which admit only of denotation, and turned them on their heads, so that taken all together, as an ensemble, as a sentence, if you like, they end up transformed into semi-abstracts with inherent connotations, thus essentially violating their own concrete meaning. It is a flat-out contradiction in terms.  This, I venture to say, is a decided step backwards in the decipherment of any medium in Mycenaean Greek written in Linear B. Just read her translation, and you can immediately see that it is the product of her own imagination, rather than of a thorough scientific, linguistic analysis of the actual text, based on such principles as (a)(absence of) context, (b) cross-correlation to contextually (more) precise Linear B media in which context sets the matter aright; (c) with the Idalion tablet in the slightly younger cousin dialect of East Greek Mycenaean Greek, Arcado-Cypriot, composed in Linear C and (d) regressive extrapolation from the Catalogue of Ships in Book II of the Iliad, and other similar procedures.

[8] There still lacks but one final step, which is bound to nip in the bud the matter of the precise meaning of a great many Linear B words once and for all, and that is to resort to cross-correlation between Linear B tablets in Mycenaean Greek and Linear C tablets in Arcado-Cypriot. There are several reasons to adopt this strategy, which I cannot as yet do, as I am still trying to master Linear C, yet another syllabary, which bears no physical resemblance to Linear B, but for which the values of almost every single syllabogram and every single word are either practically identical with their Linear B counterparts, or very similar to them.  The fact of the matter is that East Greek proto-Ionic Mycenaean Greek and Arcado-Cypriot are as closely related and as strikingly similar as are Ionic and Attic Greek some five centuries later, give or take.

And there is more. Not only was Arcado-Cypriot written in Linear C (almost exclusively for about 700 years, from ca. 1100 – 400 BCE), it ended up being written solely in the Greek alphabet from ca. 400 BCE onwards, for reasons which we shall not enter into at this time. What happened then goes without saying. All of the Arcado-Cypriot Linear C tablets, including the extremely long famous Idalion tablet, a legal proclamation, were translated into alphabetical Greek. All of the vocabulary on the Idalion tablets and others instantly leaped into clear focus.

The impact of this revolutionary development on the completely accurate translation of the entire vocabulary of the Idalion tablet is enormous. Once we know the precise meaning of the 100s of words on this tablet it is but one small step for man and one huge leap for mankind to cross-correlate the precise meaning of each and every Arcado-Cypriot word which has an exact or close match to its Mycenaean counterpart (and these are in the clear majority), to settle once and for all time the precise denotation of a large number of concrete Mycenaean words, the meaning of which is currently somewhat or seriously ambiguous or in doubt. I can at least assure Ms. Leonhardt that EREPATO is not one of those words, so she is safe on that account... at least for that word, but not for any exclusively concrete Mycenaean word which I successfully match up with its Arcado-Cypriot counterpart. And rest assured, there will be plenty. I do happen to know that the word for “physician” in Arcado-Cypriot Linear C and Mycenaean Linear B (iyate) is practically identical. So no matter how much any Linear B translator struggles to decipher it otherwise, he or she is bound to fail by default. In anticipation of a counter argument I suspect Ms. Leonhardt will advance, that plenty of words on the Idalion tablet are bound to be (semi-)abstract, given that it is a legal decree, I have only this to say. I simply would not even bother to take these words into account, as they would perforce invalidate my own procedure of cross-correlation. A rose is a rose is a rose. I hasten to add that I have read the Idalion tablet in the Arcado-Cypriot Greek dialect.  

I am astonished that for the last 62 years no Linear B researcher, expert in decipherment or translator has even bothered to take into consideration the extremely close relationship between these two pre-Ionic East Greek dialects in order to extract the precise meaning from a (large) number of concrete, denotative Mycenaean words, just as one would extract a tooth, let alone that anyone would take the next obvious step, take the trouble to learn Linear C, read the Idalion tablet in both Linear C and in Greek, and methodically have at it, surgically analyzing and cross-correlating every single concrete word on the Idalion tablet that (nearly) matches up with its Mycenaean Linear B equivalent. 
This is precisely what I intend to do, to lay to rest any lingering doubts about the meaning of (hopefully) a substantial number of Mycenaean words, and again to cross-correlate the results of these translations to a great number of other (similar) Mycenaean words, based on the orthographic conventions & the syntactical structure (so often identical) of both of these dialects.  Once we have the alphabetical version of any concrete Linear C word matched with its Linear B counterpart, it is but one small step to applying the same or similar orthography to its Mycenaean equivalent, let alone to firming up the precise meaning of the word in both dialects. This is going to be hard work, but a lot of fun, because I am more than just reasonably certain the overall results will shock the daylights out of the Linear B research community.

For the time being, I am not going to bother targeting Ms. Leonhardt’s heavy reliance on the West Greek Doric dialect, which bears little resemblance to the East Greek proto-Ionic dialects, Mycenaean Greek and Arcado-Cypriot, since this factor does not directly impinge on the validity or lack thereof of the translation in the context of the methodology by which we are here considering it. This analysis will have to wait until a later post, as it also will require my strictest attention to most of the vocabulary Ms. Leonhardt translates on at least one Linear B tablet.   


Comparison of the Merits/Demerits of the Linear B, Greek & Latin Numeric Systems

Comparison of the Merits/Demerits of the Linear B, Greek & Latin Numeric Systems:

Linear B:

As can be readily discerned from the Mycenaean Linear B Numeric System, it was quite nicely suited for accounting purposes, which was the whole idea in the first place. We can see at once that it was a simple matter to count as far as 99,999. Click to ENLARGE:

Mycenaean Linear B Numeric System and Alpha

In the ancient world, such a number would have been considered enormous.  When you are counting sheep, you surely don't need to run into the millions (neither, I wager, would the sheep, or it would have been an all-out stampede off a cliff!)  It worked well for addition (a requisite accounting function), but not for subtraction, multiplication, division or any other mathematical formulae. Why not subtraction, you ask?  Subtraction is used in modern credit/deficit accounting,  but the Minoans and Mycenaeans took no account (pardon the pun) of deficit spending, as the notion was utterly unknown to them. Since Mycenaean accounting ran for the current fiscal year only, or as they called it, “weto” or “the running year”, and all tablets were erased once the “fiscal” year was over, then re-used all over for reasons of practicality and economy, this was just one more reason why credit/deficit accounting held no practical interest to them. Other than that, the Linear B numeric accounting system served its purpose very well indeed, being perhaps one of the most transparent and quite possibly the simplest, ancient numerical systems.

Of course, the Linear B numerical accounting system never survived antiquity, since its entire syllabary was literally buried and forgotten with the wholesale destruction of Mycenaean civilization around 1200 BCE (out of sight, out of mind) for some 3,100 years before Sir Arthur Evans excavated Knossos starting in early 1900, and successfully deciphered Linear B numerics shortly thereafter. This “inconvenient truth” does not mean, however, that it was all that deficient, especially for purposes of accounting, for which it was specifically designed in the first place. 


Greek alpha-numeric
On the other hand, the Greek numeric system was purely alphabetic, as illustrated above. It was of course possible to count into the tens of thousands, using additional alphabetic symbols, as in the Mycenaean Linear B system, except that the Greeks were not anywhere near as obsessive over the picayune details of accounting, counting every single commodity, every bloody animal and every last person employed in any industry whatsoever.  The Minoan-Mycenaean economy was hierarchical, excruciatingly centralized and obsessive down to the very last minutiae. Not surprisingly, they shared this zealous, blinkered approach to accounting with their contemporaries, the Egyptians, with whom the Minoan-Mycenaean trade routes and economy were inextricably bound on a vast scale... much more  on this later in 2014 and 2015, when we come to translating a large number of Linear B transactional economic and trade records.

However, we must never forget that the Greek alphabetic system of numeric notation was the only one to survive antiquity, married as it is to the universal Arabic numeric system in use today, in the fields of geometry, theoretical and applied algebra, advanced calculus and physics applications. Click to ENLARGE:

geometry with Greek and English algebraic annotation 
It would have been impossible for us to have made such enormous technological strides ever since the Renaissance, were it not for the felicitous marriage of alphabetic Greek and Arabic numerics (0-10), which are universally applied to all fields, both theoretical and practical, of mathematics, physics and technology today. Never forget that the Arabians took the concept of nul or zero (0) to the limit, and that theirs is the decimal system applied the world over right on through to computer science and the Internet.

Latin (Click to ENLARGE):

Latin 1-1000

When we come to the Roman/Latin numeric system, we are at once faced with a byzantine complexity, which takes the alphabetic Greek numeric system to its most extreme. Even the ancient Greeks and Romans were well aware of the convolutions of the Latin numeric system, which made the Greek pale in comparison. And Roman numerics are notoriously clumsy for denoting very large figures into the hundreds of thousands. Beside the Roman system, the Linear B approach to numerics looks positively like child's play. Thus, while major elements of the alphabetic Greek numeric system are still in wide use today, the Roman system has practically fallen into obscurity, its applications being almost entirely esoteric, such as on clock faces or in dating books etc. And even here, while it was still common bibliographic practice to denote the year of publication in Roman numerals right on through most of the twentieth century, this practice has pretty much fallen into disuse, since scarcely anyone can be bothered to read Roman numerals anymore. How much easier it is to give the copyright year as @ 1998 than MCMXCVIII. Even I, who read Latin fluently, find the Arabic numeric notation simpler by far than the Latin. As for hard-nosed devotees of Latin notation, I fear that they are in a tiny minority, and that within a few decades, any practical application of Latin numeric notation will have faded to a historical memory.


Translation of Knossos Tablet KN 684, Loss of 46 Ivory Fragments

Translation of Knossos Tablet KN 684, Loss of 46 Ivory Fragments (Click to ENLARGE):

Linear B Tablet Knossos Kn V 684


Sir Arthur Evans’ successful decipherment of the Numeric Accounting System in Linear B:

Sir Arthur Evans‘ successful decipherment of the Numeric Accounting System in Linear B (Click to ENLARGE):

Scripta Minoa Arthur Evans Numerics pp. 51-52

as published in Scripta Minoa (Oxford University Press, 1952), the very same year that Michael Ventris finally deciphered the entire Linear B syllabary as well as a large number of its ideograms. Sir Arthur Evans had, of course, deciphered the numeric system years before.


Progressive Linear B: Level 4.3 Accounting List Ideograms of Crops & Produce:

Progressive Linear B: Level 4.3 Accounting List Ideograms of Crops & Produce (Click to ENLARGE):


This soi-disant (i.e. unattested) “tablet” written in Linear B, presumably from Pylos, amply serves to illustrate the eminently practical methodology for shorthand the Mycenaean scribes followed to compile accounting lists of any kind, as we can see for instance in this specific example. The “tablet” you see here never did exist, but there can be no doubt whatsoever that Mycenaean scribes, whether here, at Pylos, or anywhere else they worked (Knossos, Chania, Mycenae etc.) could have, and probably did compile lists very much like the one you see here. I compiled this accounting list of agricultural crops and produce to clearly illustrate the almost universal application the scribes made of ideograms – instead of syllabograms – to compile lists, usually for accounting purposes. As we have previously demonstrated on this blog, the use of syllabograms only for such long lists would have proven to be wasteful in the extreme on the small baked tablets the Linear B scribes used in an agro-thalassocratic economy as prosperous as that of the Minoans and Mycenaeans, so heavily reliant on widespread international trade to all parts of the he Mediterranean (Egypt, Phoenicia, Tyre, the Hittite Empire and beyond), which they seem to have dominated for at least two centuries from ca. 1450 – ca. 1200 BCE.


Progressive Linear B: Level 4.2 (Advanced) Livestock Syllabograms versus Ideograms

Progressive Linear B: Level 4.2 Livestock Syllabograms (Click to ENLARGE):

Progressive Linear B Level 4.2 Livestock Syllabogrrams

It is absolutely essential to read the above table in its entirety if you wish to distinguish between Linear B Syllabograms and Ideograms for any field: agriculture, construction, manufacturing, trade, religion, the military etc., since the Linear B scribes followed a consistent procedure in the application of syllabograms and ideograms on extant tablets.  In other words, we can extrapolate a fundamental principle from scribal usage of syllabograms and ideograms.  At the specific level of livestock and animals in the field of agriculture, we note that scribes never used ideograms for land, land tenure or agricultural techniques, but only for livestock and animals. Even in the latter case, they only used syllabograms for generic animal nomenclature, e.g. “horse” and “pig”, but not for the masculine and feminine of that animal. The reasons, as I see them, are enumerated in this table.

Finally, to make it quite clear what an Ideogram is (in modern terms), I provide you with the following example:

modern ideograms

I have to say that I find the “Do not feed the birds” ideogram quite funny!


INTRODUCTION TO IDEOGRAMS: Level 4 (Advanced) 2014

INTRODUCTION TO IDEOGRAMS: Level 4 (Advanced) 2014

It is absolutely essential that you read the table below which includes (Click to ENLARGE):

MERITIRIYA ideograms man woman horse chariots

[1] an actual extant Linear B tablet, which contains the ideogram for “woman” &

[2] examples of 5 basic ideograms for – man/human being, woman, horse, chariot (with wheels) & chariot without wheels.  It is vital to understand that there are well over 100 ideograms in Linear B, all of which you will have to learn if you are to translate Linear B tablets, since the scribes almost always made copious use of ideograms to save precious space on the small clay tablets they used for transcription of what was, after all, primarily accounting information. So once again, we are confronted with the phenomenon of shorthand, to which the Minoan & Mycenaean scribes had frequent recourse in principle and in practice, again to save precious space on the tablets.  Shorthand is a prime characteristic of Linear B, which sets the script apart from alphabetic Greek, which, being a literary language,  resorted to shorthand far less often.  Oh and by the way, if you are already finding this POST tedious to read, why bother reading any further?  If you are at Level 1 & 2 (Basic) or only part way through Level 3 (Intermediate), this is probably what is bound to happen. So if I were you, which admittedly I am not, I would tuck this post away in the back of my mind, copy the text into my "Linear B Lessons" folder, and come back to it later, when I am really ready to proceed to Level 4 (Advanced).  Otherwise, I guarantee this post is going to bring on a headache!  That's what it almost did to me when I wrote it!

[3] Read the copious Notes, which clarify the application of ideograms to scribal transcriptions on Linear B tablets, on which the use of ideograms is – I repeat – the rule rather than the exception. If you do not read the Notes, you will not grasp one of the most fundamental principles and practices of scribal execution of Linear B; hence, you will not be able to translate the vast majority of Linear B tablets. 

[4] As the Notes explain (in excruciating detail!) the application of ideograms to Linear B writing, you will benefit immensely from reading them thoroughly and as often as required until you finally have the concept of ideograms down pat.  Once you reach this threshold in learning Linear B  at Level 4 (Advanced), you will be in a solid position to start translating Linear B tablets.  But a word of warning!  There are 2 Advanced Levels, 4 & 5, and you will not be able to “completely” master the art of translating Linear B tablets until you have pursued the Lessons from Levels 1 & 2 (Basic) through Level 3 (Intermediate) all the way to Levels 4 & 5 (Advanced).  Still, not to worry, friends.  You can take all the time you need and want to learn Linear B, as I tailor the teaching/learning process to the individual needs and learning curve(s) of each student.   I am here for you and not the other way around.

For those of you who already have a decent grasp of Linear B, and feel confident enough to proceed to  Level 4 (Advanced: Part 1), we will proceed in earnest with our lessons at this level  starting in January 2014.  As for the rest of you, please do not worry, and do not let this concern you in the least.  When you feel you are ready to advance to Level 4, we will do just that, but not before.  I honestly dislike placing needless pressure on my students.   Rushing things achieves nothing but frustration for teacher and student alike.  And who needs that, like a hole in the head? 




Derivation [D] of Linear B Numerics: 1-10 20 100 & 200 [Click to ENLARGE]:

Derivation [D] of Linear B Numerics: 1-10 20 100 & 200 [Click to ENLARGE]:


Derivation [D] of Linear B Numerics: 1-10 20 100 & 200 as reconstructed in Progressive Linear B Grammar:

Explanation of the Table of Numerics:

The Principle of Derivation [D] as applied to the reconstruction of the orthography of numerics in Linear B. Even though there are very few attested [A] examples of numbers spelled out on Linear B tablets, I believe that we can safely derive them with a considerable degree of confidence, if we strictly apply the spelling or orthographic conventions of Linear B, which are available online here:


[1] These numbers are all spelled identically in Linear B and in ancient alphabetic Greek.

[2] The linear B number QETORO [4] is obviously a variant of the Latin “quattro”. There is nothing unusual whatsoever about the parallelism between Linear B & Latin orthography, since linguistically speaking, Q or QU are interchangeable with T.  First, we have the spellings of 4 in Greek (te/ssarej te/ttarej).  Though it will come as a surprise to many of you that the Linear B spelling for 4 QETORO would eventually morph into (te/ssarej te/ttarej) in ancient Greek & then back to “quattro” in Latin, there is a perfectly logical explanation for this phenomenon. This is why you see a ? to the left of the Greek for 4, because it is all too easy to fall into the trap of erroneously concluding that Linear B QETORO cannot have been a ancestor of the ancient Greek spellings for 4, when in fact it is. In order to put this all into proper perspective, Latin spells 4 as “quattro” for the simple reason that “tattro” would simply not do. All this boils down to a single common denominator, the principle of euphonics, meaning the alteration of speech sounds, hence orthography, such that any word in any language sounds pleasing to the ear to native speakers of that language (not to non-speakers, i.e. anyone who cannot speak the language in question). Every language has its own elemental principles of euphony, but some languages place far more stress on it than others. Greek is notorious for insisting on euphony at all times.

? The masculine for the number 1 is missing for the exact same reason that the 2nd. person singular is missing from my paradigm for the present tense of Linear B verbs. I find it impossible to accurately reconstruct any Greek word ending in eij for the simple reason that it not possible for any word to end in a consonant in Linear B. So why bother? This handicap will return to haunt us over and over in the Regressive reconstruction of all the conjugations and declensions and parts of speech in Linear B Progressive grammar, leaving gaping holes all over the place.

Orthography of Numerics In Linear B:

At a glance, we can instantly see that the spelling of several numerals in Linear B is identical to that of their later Greek alphabetic counterparts, with the exception of marking initial aspirates & non-aspirates, which Linear B was unable to express with just one exception, the homophone for HA. This speaks volumes to the uniformity of the spelling of numerics over vast expanses of time, as in this case, from ca. 1450 BCE (Linear B) – ca. 100 AD and well beyond. In fact, some numbers are still spelled exactly the same way in modern Greek, meaning that the orthography of the Greek numeric system has remained virtually intact for over 3,400 years!

Linear B’s Conspicuous Reliance on Shorthand:

Since the Mycenaeans used Linear B primarily for accounting, agricultural, manufacturing & economic purposes, they almost never spelled out numbers, for the obvious reason that they needed to save space on tablets that were small, because they were baked, hence fragile, and not only that, destroyed at the end of every “fiscal” year, to make room for the following year’s statistics. Their habitual use of logograms for numbers was in fact, (a type of) shorthand. Keep this in mind, because Linear B makes use of shorthand for various annotative purposes – not just for numerals. This is hardly surprising, considering that the tablets were used almost exclusively for accounting. So if we think shorthand is a modern invention, we are sorely mistaken. The Mycenaeans & Minoans were extremely adept in the liberal use of shorthand to cram as much information, or if you like, data on what were, after all, small tablets. But there is more: every extant single tablet is a record of the agricultural, manufacturing & economic activities for one single year. It also means that there is no way for us to know which, if any, of the tablets from one site, for instance, Knossos, where the vast majority of tablets have been found, represent accounting statistics for exactly the same year as any of the others. So we have to be extremely careful in interpreting the discrepancies in the quasi-chronology and even reverse-chronology of the data found on the tablets. There are several other reasons why we need to exercise extreme caution in interpreting the data on extant tablets, but since these are of a different nature, I shall not address them here.




A Linear B Tablet listing 50 swords

A Linear B Tablet listing 50 swords (CLICK to enlarge):

Linear B Tosa Pakana

This small Linear B tablet clearly illustrates the accounting system adopted for Linear B. Once again, we see an Ideogram, which is tagged with an asterisk (*).  It may seem rather odd that on this particular tablet the scribe actually supplemented the word for sword, “pakana” with its ideogram, which sounds counter-intuitive, given what I just said in the last post, that the whole idea of the Linear B accounting system was to save space on the tablets, not waste it. But in fact, such is not the case. The explanation is simple: in this particular case, the scribe is making certain that no one mistakes what he is counting, by not only writing out the word but also inscribing its ideogram right beside it.  It’s almost as if he were self-auditing. This makes the Linear B accounting system even more coherent and consistent than it might otherwise have been. We will see that this practice of writing the word for the total number of items accounted for + its ideogram recurs frequently in Linear B tablets. However, the downside of this is that some Linear B scribes were apparently either lazy or in a rush or simply felt that the ideogram alone more than sufficed in tabulating accounting lists. Thus, on some (but far from all) Linear B tablets, accounting lists give only the ideograms for the items in the list(s), which means that unfortunately for us, we have to learn all the major ideograms if we are to be in a position to decipher all the accounting records.  We cannot count on finding both the words and the ideograms for each item being listed in all Linear B tablets.