1. Education
Send to a Friend via Email

Linear A and Linear B - Decipherment of Linear A and B


Information in Linear B on hides for shoes and saddles.

Information in Linear B on hides for shoes and saddles. Baked in the Mycenaean palace of Pylos fire about 1200 B.C.

CC Flickr User clairity
Both Linear B and Linear A were written during the 2nd millennium B.C. in Minoan Crete. Although they are considered Greek, they are not connected with the Greek alphabet that came into use in the middle of the 8th century B.C. Somewhere between about 1100 and the first Olympic Games, in 776 B.C., use of Linear B died out.

Linear A

Linear A has not yet been deciphered. It is not clearly related to any known language family. It appeared at the same time as hieroglyphic writing in the same area. That Linear A hasn't been deciphered is not to say that no one has a clue. There are many symbols that are thought to have been interpreted. See John Younger's ideograms for the ongoing list. Younger reports there are 1427 Linear A documents with between 7362 an 7396 symbols.

Linear B

Linear B probably spread from the Minoans to the Mycenaeans, making Minoan Linear B or Mycenaean Greek an early form of Greek, but it is a written, mostly syllabic language, rather than an alphabet. Besides syllables, there are logograms, number symbols, and word separators, according to Ancient Scripts.

According to Aegean Prehistoric Archaeology, there are 89 syllabic signs in Linear B, plus more than one hundred ideograms. The site theorizes Linear B was developed from Linear A to cover a language other than the Minoan.

Mycenae (70 tablets [source: Chroology of Linear B Documents]), Tiryns (about 25 tablets), Pylos (1107 tablets), Thebes (perhaps, nearly 300 tablets), Knossos (3369 tablets), Chania, and Iklaina in Messenia are sources (mostly palatial) for Linear B tablets. Those from Knossos were baked and preserved by a palace fire, as were many of the others elsewhere. There are also painted Linear B inscriptions found at Thebes, Mycenae, Tiryns, Chania, Orchomenos, Kreusis (in southwestern Boeotia), Eleusis, Knossos, and the Mameloukas Cave (Crete).

Not all Mycenaean Greek words have Greek cognates, and some are proper names, according to Dartmouth's The Linear B Tablets and Mycenaean Organization. This makes Linear B difficult to understand.

Archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans (1851-1941) discovered the script at Knossos, but architect Michael Ventris (1922-1956) deciphered Linear B in 1952. Not everyone agrees that he was right. Its uses are mainly for accounting.

Other Ancient Scripts

Etruscan (Tabula Cortonensis)
North Picene (Novilara Stele)
Egyptian Hieroglyphs

Further Reference:

  • "An Introduction to Mycenology"
    W. Edward Brown
    The Classical World (1960)

Go to Other Ancient / Classical History Glossary pages beginning with the letter

a | b | c | d | e | f | g | h | i | j | k | l | m | n | o | p | q | r | s | t | u | v | wxyz

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.