The Cultural Influence of Linear A and Linear B Script

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linear a and B script

Linear A and B script were developed on Crete but transmitted to the Greek mainland via trade. Photo from page 89 of the book “Scripta Minoa”, Evans A.J. 1909, Oxford

The earliest form of Minoan writing was pictorial. But its most famous forms were linear scripts which replaced images with the linear characters which give them their names: Linear A and Linear B. Linear A was the earliest form, developed in the Minoan period, followed by Linear B which developed during Crete’s Minoan-Mycenaean era.

Both scripts are found on a number of Cretan artefacts from religious objects to records. They were even used in artist’s signatures. Spread across the Aegean to the mainland via trade, they show the influence of Minoan culture on the early Greek world.

Linear A Script

Dating between 1850 to 1400BC, Linear A survives mainly on rectangular clay tablets and on religious objects such as offering tables. Written from left to right, it seems to have developed from earlier hieroglyphic forms of writing, with the original pictograms much simplified into strokes or lines-hence the term ‘linear’.

The largest single collection of evidence comes from the palace of Ayia Triada in southern Crete. Here, 150 small clay tablets were found, recording lists of stored goods from various people or places.

Linear A is thought to be written in the Minoan language. It has not yet been translated. This is because too few of the texts survive to allow comparison for successful deciphering. Despite this, many experts believe they can recognise Semitic or indo European elements in the script.


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Linear A script may not have been translated but experts believe they know how the language worked.

Linear A: Writing and Records

Linear A was a pictorial form of writing. It consisted of 100 symbols, each one representing a different phonetic syllable. Different combinations of different symbols would create word from sounds. At least twelve of the symbols are thought to have represented a whole word or sound on their own.

Numbers were represented as decimals. Vertical lines equalled units, dots tens, small circles hundreds and radial circles thousands.

Linear B Script

Linear B script, which postdated , or came after, Linear A, was discovered at Knossos by Sir Arthur Evans. A phonetic writing, Linear B is also formed of 90 symbols, some of which it shares with its precursor, Linear A

The Knossos collection of Linear B tablets represents the largest known deposit of this particular script in the Greek world. In all, 5500 tablets have been found at 6 palace sites across the Greek world, 4000 at Knossos.

Their discovery was something of a fluke. The script was written on unfired clay tablet which usually would not have survived in the archaeological record due to their tenuous nature. However, the fire that destroyed Knossos, inadvertantly fired and so preserved the tablets.

In 1952, Michael Ventris finally deciphered the script. Scholars then began to widely study the tablets, especially as the discovery of Linear B on the Greek mainland made full comparative study and deciphering possible.

Linear B script was in use on Crete in the Minoan and later Mycenaean periods, from 1600BC.

Linear B Writing and Records

Bust of Sir Arthur Evans, Crete

Sir Arthur Evans discovered Linear B script at Knossos, Crete. Image by Peterak.

Linear B writing survives mainly as records and accounts. Theses include rectangular clay tablets recording transactions and calculations, and clay ‘palm leaf’ tablets which were elongated tablets lists. The script is also found painted onto vases. In this form, it is thought to denote the items owner or the place and artist of origin.

Linear B tablets have been found to record many different things. These include:

  • Personal records
  • Records of domestic animals such as sheep
  • Records of crops such as corn
  • The distribution of food and olive oil
  • The distribution of religious offerings
  • The registering and distribution of manufactured items such as metalwork, fabric, vases and weapons and chariots.

Linear A and Linear B Writing in the Ancient Greek World

Both forms of writing have been found elsewhere in the Ancient Greek world. Linear A has been found on the Greek mainland at sites such as Milos, Thera and Naxos where it spread due to Minoan trade. It is also found in Cyprus where it survived, developing into Cypro-Minoan script.

Most surviving evidence for Linear B writing is on Crete but at least 1250 pieces of evidence have been found at sites such as Thebes, Pylos, Mycenae, Tiryns and Chania, with some inscriptions on vases from Eleusis.

On the Greek mainland, Linear B is thought to have been used to represent an early form of Greek- demonstrating the spread and influence of Minoan culture on the developing Greek world.

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© Copyright 2016 Natasha Sheldon, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Past

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