Linear B  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Linear B is a syllabic script that was used for writing Mycenaean Greek, an early form of Greek. It pre-dated the Greek alphabet by several centuries (ca. 13th but perhaps as early as 17th century BC, see Kafkania pebble) and seems to have died out with the fall of Mycenaean civilization. Most of the tablets inscribed in Linear B were found in Knossos, Cydonia, The succeeding period, known as the Greek Dark Ages, provides no evidence of the use of writing.




The tablets are classified by the location of their excavation.

  • KN Knossos: ca. 4,360 tablets (not counting finds of Linear A).
  • PY Pylos : 1,087 tablets.
  • TH Thebes: 99 tablets + 238 published in 2002 (L. Godart and A. Sacconi, 2002; see under Thebes tablets)
  • MY Mycenae: 73 tablets.
  • TI Tiryns: 27 tablets.
  • KH Chania: 4 tablets.
  • another 170 inscriptions in Linear B were found on vessels.

If it is genuine, the Kafkania pebble, dated to the 17th century BC, would be the oldest known Mycenean inscription, and hence the earliest preserved testimony of the Greek language, but it is likely a hoax. A clay tablet was found in Iklaina dating to between 1450 and 1350 B.C.


The main archives for Linear B are associated with these stages of Late Minoan and Helladic pottery:

LM II (1425-1390 BC):

  • Knossos, Room of the Chariot Tablets.

LM IIIA2 (1370-1340 BC) or IIIB (1340-1190 BC):

  • Knossos, main archive.


  • Chania, tablet Sq 1, 6659, KH 3 (possibly Linear B).

LH/LM IIIB1 end:

  • Chania, tablets Ar 3, Gq 5, X 6.
  • Mycenae, tablets from Oil Merchant group of houses.
  • Thebes, Ug tablets and Wu sealings.

LH IIIB2, end:

  • Mycenae, tablets from the Citadel.
  • Tiryns, all tablets.
  • Thebes, Of tablets and new Pelopidou Street deposit.
  • Pylos, all but five tablets.


The Knossos archive was dated by Sir Arthur Evans to the destruction by conflagration at about 1400 BC (which baked and preserved the clay tablets), in the Late Minoan II (LM II) period. Evans made a career of excavating the Knossos site in the late 19th century and early 20th century and creating the concept of Minoan civilization, which he believed was historically accurate.

This view stood until Carl Blegen excavated the site of ancient Pylos in 1939 and uncovered tablets inscribed in Linear B, one of the two scripts discovered at Knossos and named by Evans. Those tablets were fired in the conflagration that destroyed Pylos about 1200 BC, at the end of Late Helladic IIIB (LHIIIB). With the decipherment of Linear B by Michael Ventris in 1952, serious questions about Evans' date began to be considered. Most notably, Blegen said that the inscribed stirrup jars (an oil flask with stirrup-shaped handles) imported from Crete around 1200 were of the same type as those dated by Evans to the destruction of 1400. Blegen found a number of similarities between 1200 BC Pylos and 1400 BC Knossos and suggested the Knossian evidence be reexamined, as he was sure of the 1200 Pylian date.

The examination uncovered a number of difficulties. The Knossos tablets had been found at various locations in the palace and Evans had not kept exact records. Recourse was had to the day books of Evans' assistant, Duncan Mackenzie, who had conducted the day-to-day excavations. There were discrepancies between the notes in the day books and Evans' excavation reports. Worse, the two men had quarreled over the location and strata of the tablets, Mackenzie had called Evans a liar, and Evans had not only sacked him but made sure he did not excavate anywhere else.

The results of the reinvestigation were eventually published in a definitive work: Template:Cite book It consists of two works, Leonard Palmer's The Find-Places of the Knossos Tablets and John Boardman's The Date of the Knossos Tablets. In this book Palmer plays the role, so to speak, of prosecuting attorney and Boardman of defending attorney; consequently, the dispute was known for a time as "the Palmer-Boardman dispute".

Like questions concerning the veracity of Heinrich Schliemann, the controversy soon escalated beyond the evidence, which set the world of classical scholarship looking for a way to resolve the question once and for all, a still unfulfilled hope. There appeared to be no "smoking gun" of Evans' mendacity; that is, he could in his excavation reports have simply been generalizing to resolve contradictions in the data. Moreover Blegen's arguments depended more on a preponderance of evidence rather than any single incontrovertible proof. No such incontrovertible proof has ever been found.

The real issue is whether sufficient reason exists to question Evans, since there is as much evidence for 1400 as there is for 1200. Without a solid reason to doubt Evans, the community of classical scholars tends to support a date of 1400 by default; that is, LM IIIA:2. As for LH IIIB, it likely begins in the 1310s or 1300s BC, after Mursilis II's sack of Miletus; it ends around 1200 BC.

The intellectual positions of the scholars can be identified by the dates they give for the tablets. This article utilizes an outline developed by Cynthia Shelmerdine, who is in the Boardman camp. While stating two possibilities for the main archive of Knossian tablets, she accepts a 1400 date for the Room of the Chariot Tablets. There still might have been two conflagrations and tablet firings, one in 1200 and one in 1400. Jeremy Rutter is a scholar who is in the Palmer camp. Rutter relies on a similarity of scribal hand between one of the Chania tablets and the Knossos tablets and dates all the tablets from 1350-1300 to 1200 BC.

Nearly every scholar presents his or her view as the generally accepted view or the one most proved by recent evidence. Regardless of how the scholars may present their perceptions, the issue is very much open and the search for evidence continues.


The major cities and palaces used Linear B for records of disbursements of goods. Wool, sheep, and grain were some common items, often given to groups of religious people and to groups of "men watching the coastline."

The tablets were kept in groups in baskets on shelves, judging by impressions left in the clay from the weaving of the baskets. When the buildings they were housed in were destroyed by fires, many of the tablets were fired.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Linear B" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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