Linear font B

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Writings from Mycenae in Linear B

Linear font B (as opposed to the older linear font A ) is the syllabary of the Mycenaean culture of Greece . It was built from the 15th century BC. Until the 12th century BC Used starting from Knossos on Crete and the Greek mainland. Their use is attested from the periods SM II to SM III B of the Bronze Age Minoan culture .

About 90 syllable characters , 160 characters with word meanings and various numerals are known. It was written from left to right.

The font is contained in Unicode in the blocks Linear-B-syllable characters , Linear-B-ideograms and Aegean numerals and is therefore standardized for use on computer systems.


The writing became known in 1878 through a find in Crete . The designation "Linear B" was coined by Sir Arthur Evans , the excavator of Knossos , and describes the appearance of the characters scratched with individual lines in clay tablets . Because of the close relationship with the linear script A, found clay tablets and the like were initially thought to be Minoan .

Finds of clay tablets (the Sigle ) come mainly from the palace archives of Pylos (PY), which were uncovered by Carl Blegen . Other tablets that indicate a palace administration come from the sites of Iklaina in Messenia (IK), Agios Vasilios in Laconia (HV), Mycenae (MY) and Tiryns (TI) in Argolis, Thebes (TH) in Boeotia, Volos (VOL) in Thessaly and Chania (KH) in Crete. In addition, vases with painted characters were found in several places, so u. a. in Tiryns, Midea , Mycenae, Eleusis , Kreusis , Orchomenos and in Thessaly Dimini on the mainland as well as Chania, Knossos, Malia and Prinias on Crete.

Outside of Greece, an unsecured vase inscription comes from Sidon (Lebanon). On the small Italian island of Vivara in the Gulf of Naples , where many imports from the early Mycenaean period were found, both clay seals with individual characters and fragments of a tablet made of tuff with numerical notes were discovered, which have strong similarities to the palm-leaf-shaped Linear-B -To show clay tablets from Greece. There are also two amber amulets found in 2000 from the Bronze Age fortifications near Bernstorf, each with three characters from an early linear B script. Should the authenticity of this find be clearly proven, it provided important evidence for the trade routes of the 15th century BC. Chr.


The foundations of deciphering were laid by the classical philologist Alice Kober between 1940 and her untimely death in 1950. Building on their systematic preparatory work, the British architect and linguist Michael Ventris succeeded in deciphering it together with John Chadwick in 1952 . It turned out that the texts found had been written in an early form of the Greek language ( Mycenaean Greek ). This represented a scientific sensation, as it had previously been assumed that it was the non-Indo-European language of the Minoans , which had previously been written with Linear A. Apparently, Linear B is an adaptation to the language of the Mycenaean conquerors. Moreover, it had previously been assumed that the Mycenaeans had not yet spoken Greek and that carriers of this language did not immigrate to Hellas until the Iron Age . When the Mycenaeans established their power in Crete after the Thera volcanic eruption (around 1625 BC), they had already begun to develop the Linear B syllabar from Linear A using some old European symbols and new creations.

The finds are not literary texts, but mainly notes for economic and administrative purposes that were not intended for permanent storage. The clay tablets only survived by chance because they were burned in disasters and thus made durable for a long time. Therefore they only report on the economic situation and the administration in the last months before the respective fire. Once a year a revision was carried out in which the contents of all the clay tablets were summarized and then most likely recorded on another, perishable material.

Examples of linear B characters

The characters of the linear fonts with their complicated structures and small details are not very suitable for scratching in clay. It is therefore assumed that writing was mainly carried out on other, but not very durable, materials such as papyrus or parchment .

In 2019 it was reported that a team headed by Jiaming Luo from MIT deciphered linear font B using machine learning alone , which may also open up new possibilities for deciphering linear font A.

Syllable characters

-a -e -i -O -u
? a ? e ? i ? o ? u
d- ? there ? de ? di ? do ? you
j- ? yes ? each ? jo ? ju
k- ? ka ? ke ? ki ? ko ? ku
m- ? ma ? me ? mi ? mo ? mu
n- ? na ? ne ? ni ? no ? nu
p- ? pa ? pe ? pi ? po ? pu
q- ? qa ? qe ? qi ? qo
r- ? ra ? re ? ri ? ro ? ru
s- ? sa ? se ? si ? so ? see below
t- ? ta ? te ? ti ? to ? do
w- ? wa ? we ? wi ? where
z- ? za ? ze ? zo

Some characters with special rules of reading (ai, rya, tya, dwe, twe, dwo, nwa, etc.) are not included in the table . A dozen syllable characters have not yet been deciphered (* 34, * 35 etc.).

Examples :

??? = ko-no-so / Knōsos /, the palace of Knossos

???? = a-mi-ni-so / Amnīsos /, Amnissos , the port of Knossos

??? = pa-i-to / P h aistos /, Phaistos on Crete

?? = pu-ro / Pulos /, the palace of Pylos

?? = te-qa / T h ēg w ai /, the palace of Thebes

??? = e-ma-a 2 / Hermahās /, the god Hermes

??? = wa-na-ka / wanaks / "king" (ancient Greek ἄναξ )

???? = qa-si-re-u / q w asileus / "a kind of official" (in later Greek βασιλεύς "king")

??? = e-ra-wo / elaiwon / " olive oil "

?? = pe-mo / spermo / "Saat, Same"

??? = ti-ri-po / tripos / " tripod "

??? = pa-ra-jo / palaios / "old"

Writing rules

Since only simple syllables (either vowel or consonant + vowel) can be written in Linear B, the orthography does not reflect the sound shape poorly. A Greek word written in Linear B often has several possible readings. The spelling, on the other hand, is quite clear and in the majority of cases follows the following rules:

  • Vowel length is not specified: The two O-vowels in KNOSOS (classical Κνωσός ) are not distinguished.
  • Diphthongs on U (AU, EU) are written with a syllable plus the vowel U (LEU is re-u). There is a special syllable symbol for AU at the beginning of a word.
  • In diphthongs on I, the I is omitted (PHAI becomes pa; however, the irregular spelling pa-i-to ??? is also found for the example word PHAISTOS ). At the beginning of the word, AI can be written either with a or a special character ai.
  • If further vowels follow U or I, then a sliding sound w or j is inserted. This also applies to diphthongs from U or I, although the I is not written in the latter (LAIO is written as ra-jo, KUA results in ku-wa).
  • Double consonants (geminals) are written as single consonants (SSO becomes so)
  • Consonant clusters, the first component of which is a plosive , are resolved into two syllables with the same vowel (KNO results in ko-no).
  • Clusters of continuant + plosive, on the other hand, are shortened to a simple syllable by leaving out the continuant (STO results in to).
  • In clusters of two continuants, both consonants are always written (MNI becomes mi-ni). There are exceptions to this, however, in which the first consonant is omitted from the spelling. This is systematically always the case when the second consonant is S, but there are also cases that cannot be predicted with a simple rule.
  • The distinction between voiced, unvoiced and aspirated plosives can usually not be reproduced in writing (KA / KHA / GA are written with ka and PA / PHA / BA with pa). Only for the voiced Dental D there is a separate series of syllables, so that DA is written with da and TA / THA with ta.
  • No distinction is made between L and R.
  • Consonants at the end of a word are usually dropped. In the rare cases where a word ends in -qs, -ps or -ks, the plosive is written with the vowel of the penultimate syllable: In the last example word, the word final QS is written with the preceding vowel as qo.

See also


Popular science presentations

  • Ernst Doblhofer : The decipherment of ancient scripts and languages (=  Reclam Taschenbuch . No. 21702 ). Philipp Reclam jun., Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-15-021702-3 , chariot and cup: The decipherment of the Cretan-Mycenaean linear script B, p. 251-295 .
  • Werner Ekschmitt : The controversy surrounding Linear B . Beck, Munich 1969.
  • Margalit Fox: The riddle of the labyrinth. The quest to crack ancient code and the uncovering of a lost civilization . Profile Books, London 2013, ISBN 978-1-78125-132-4 . ( About the book )
  • Simon Singh : The code book. The science of secrecy from ancient Egypt to quantum cryptography . Fourth Estate, London 1999, ISBN 1-85702-879-1 . German: Secret Messages . The art of encryption from ancient times to the Internet . 7th edition. Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, Munich 2006, ISBN 978-3-423-33071-8 ( dtv 33071).

Scientific literature

Text editions

  • Vassilis L. Aravantinos , Louis Godart , Anna Sacconi : Thèbes. Fouilles de la Cadmée. Vol. 1: Les tablettes en line B de la Odos Pelopidou. Fabrizio Serra, Pisa-Rome 2001.
  • Robert Browning (Ed.): The Linear B Texts from Knossos . Transliterated and edited. London 1955 (Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies of the University of London, Supplementary Papers, No. 1).
  • Emmett Leslie Bennett : The Pylos Tablets. A Preliminary Transcription. Princeton UP, Princeton 1951.
    • Emmett Leslie Bennett: The Pylos Tablets. Texts of the inscriptions found 1939-1954. Princeton UP, Princeton 1956. - Reviewed by: Leonard Robert Palmer . In: Gnomon , 29, 1957, 113-117.
    • Emmett Leslie Bennett, Jean Pierre Olivier: The Pylos Tablets Transcribed. Vol. 1: Text and notes ; vol. 2: Hands, concordances, indices . Ed. dell'Ateneo, Roma vol. 1: 1973, vol. 2: 1976.
  • Emmett Leslie Bennett: The Mycenae Tablets. With an Introduction by Alan B. Wace . In: Proceedings of the American Philological Society , 97.4, 1953, pp. 422-470, ( online ).
    • Emmett Leslie Bennett: The Mycenae Tablets II. With an Introduction by Alan B. Wace and Elizabeth B. Wace . Translations and Commentary by John Chadwick. In: Transactions of the American Philological Society , 48.1, 1958. - Review by: Leonard Robert Palmer. In: Gnomon , 31, 1959, pp. 429-433.
  • Emmett Leslie Bennett, John Chadwick, Michael Ventris: The Knossos Tablets. A revised transliteration of all the texts in Mycenaean Greek recoverable from Evans' excavations of 1900-1904 based on independent examination. London 1956 (Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, Supplementary Papers, 2) - Review by: Leonard Robert Palmer. In: Gnomon , 29, 1957, pp. 113-117.
    • Emmett Leslie Bennett, John Chadwick, Michael Ventris: The Knossos Tablets. A revised transliteration of all the texts in Mycenaean Greek recoverable from Evans' excavations of 1900-1904 based on independent examination. Second edition with corrections and additions by John Chadwick with the assistance of Fred W. Householder Jr. London 1959 (Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, Supplement no. 7) - Review by: Joshua Whatmough. In: Classical Philology , 57, 1962, pp. 244-246.
  • Michael Ventris : Documents in Mycenaean Greek . Second edition by John Chadwick. Cambridge University Press, London 1973, ISBN 0-521-08558-6 .

Web links

Commons : Linear B  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Ivo Hajnal: The voralphabetischen writings in Crete and Cyprus. (PDF; 1.1 MB), May 20, 2007, p. 9 , archived from the original on July 10, 2012 ; Retrieved February 10, 2012 .
  2. Thomas Balistier: The disc of Phaistos . The story of a riddle & the attempts to solve it. 3. Edition. Dr. Thomas Balistier, Mähringen 2008, ISBN 978-3-9806168-1-2 , view and direction of the symbols, p. 95 .
  3. Deborah Anderson, Michael Everson: N2378: Final proposal to encode Aegean scripts in the UCS. (PDF; 150 kB) ISO / IEC JTC1 / SC2 / WG2, October 3, 2001, accessed on February 4, 2013 (English).
  4. Cynthia W. Shelmerdine : Iklaina tablet IK X . In: P. Carlier et al .: Études mycéniennes 2010. Actes du XIIIe colloque international sur les textes égéens . Biblioteca di “Pasiphae” X, Pisa / Rome 2012, ISBN 978-88-6227-473-9 , pp. 75-78.
  5. V. Aravantinos , A. Vasilogamvrou: The first Linear B documents from Ayios Vasileios (Laconia) '' . In: P. Carlier et al .: Études mycéniennes 2010. Actes du XIIIe colloque international sur les textes égéens . Biblioteca di “Pasiphae” X, Pisa / Rome 2012, ISBN 978-88-6227-473-9 , pp. 41–54.
  6. ^ E. Skafida et al .: Two new Linear B tablets from the site of Kastro-Palaia in Volos '' . In: P. Carlier et al .: Études mycéniennes 2010. Actes du XIIIe colloque international sur les textes égéens . Biblioteca di “Pasiphae” X, Pisa / Rome 2012, ISBN 978-88-6227-473-9 , pp. 55–73
  7. A. Sacconi: Il supplemento al corpus delle iscrizioni vascolari in linear B . In: P. Carlier et al .: Études mycéniennes 2010. Actes du XIIIe colloque international sur les textes égéens . Biblioteca di “Pasiphae” X, Pisa / Rome 2012, ISBN 978-88-6227-473-9 ; Pp. 123-142
  8. Maurizio Del Freo : Rapport sur les 2006-2010 text en écriture hiéroglyphique crétoise, linéaire en en A et B linéaire . In: P. Carlier et al .: Études mycéniennes 2010. Actes du XIIIe colloque international sur les textes égéens ; Biblioteca di “Pasiphae” X, Pisa / Rome 2012, ISBN 978-88-6227-473-9 , p. 21
  9. ^ Nancy H. Demand: The Mediterranean Context of Early Greek History. John Wiley & Sons, 2011, p. 145 (with further references).
  10. Harald Haarmann : In the footsteps of the Indo-Europeans. From the Neolithic steppe nomads to the early advanced civilizations. Beck, Munich 2016, p. 324 f.
  11. Sascha Mattke: Lost language "Linear B" decrypted with machine learning. On , July 11, 2019 (accessed July 12, 2019).