It was after making surprising studies related to ancient Greece Heinrich Schliemann attempted a dig at Mycenae in August 1876. The nature of the discoveries at Mycenae were so dramatic that Mycenaean became the name for the whole culture that spread across Greece. Although Schliemann discovered no writing his student Arthur Evans did. On Crete he found tablets with two types of cryptic scripts which he named Linear A and Linear B. Later Linear B. tablets were found on the mainland associated with the Mycenaean culture. In 1952 Michael Ventris identified a decipherment of Linear B as an old form of Greek and new information became available about the nature of the Mycenaean culture.
The texts turned out to be accounting lists rather than poetry or mythology. This writing system was most likely confined to a minority of the population who were professional scribes. By correlating the information from clay tablet lists in Linear B with archaeological information whereby many facts about the Mycenaean culture are revealed,
One reason that Linear B was able to be deciphered is that the language of the Mycenaean ‘s was an early form of Greek, while the language of the Minoans does not seem to have been Greek. When the Mycenaean culture collapsed around 1000 BCE the ability to write Linear B was lost. Later a new form of writing based on the Phoenician alphabet was then developed which included the feature of vowels which had already previously made its appearance in both the undeciphered Minoan Linear A script and Mycenaean Linear B. This new alphabet probably was developed by Greek merchants who needed to record transactions.. But its usefulness quickly spread. Many early Greeks may have learned to write so that they could read and cast curses, and send written prayers to divinities.
By 800 BCE the myths had been recorded in the various emerging dialects of the new script.The myths were based on the Mycenaean past but they had been preserved by itinerant story tellers who memorized the stories of their predecessors. It was common for them to use contemporary examples to make their stories more realistic. Thus the myths contain information about ancient Greece in the Mycenaean period, predating the myths themselves b y some 400 to 700 years (1200 to 1500 BCE) . Examples can be found in the works of Homer. Using Homer it is easy to identify the Mycenaeans with the Achaeans whom he refers to. In Homer’s IIiad Book 2, line 494 and following there is a catalog of ships, which lists the various communities which provided them. Mycenae is one of these , and the other places Homer mentions correspond closely to the findings of Mycenaean ruins.
Until its conquest by the Mycenaean’s the Minoan culture was dominant and many aspects of the Minoan culture were probably adopted by the Mycenaean’s This includes many place names (toponyms), personal names ( eponyms) agricultural records of livestock and crops,military matters crafts, textiles and even religion. The Greek language which was in a formative period when the Mycenaean’s conquered the Minoans was spread throughout the Greek area. While the Minoans did not seem interested in military lifestyles the Mycenaean’s were most interested in weapons and hunting. The Minoans focused on the sea while the Mycenaean’s possessed a small horse, called a poro = a foal which they rode on land. The Minoans developed a high culture which centred on their palaces, while the Mycenaean’s seem to have borrowed most of their culture from Crete. Like the Minoans the Mycenaean’s also developed palace culture.
THE Mycenaean Scribes and Linear B
Source : John Chadwick 1976
The study of Linear B handwriting has been extremely helpful to the task of distributing the tablets into their correct files. Just as modern handwriting differs so too Mycenaean scribes had characteristic hands; the way in which they make some of the common elements of signs allows us to clarify them. For instance, an inverted V forms the basis of several signs, and scribes can be grouped according to whether the sides of the V are straight or convex. Careful examination of the ridges formed by the way various scribes pressed the stylus in the clay reveals that we can tell the order in which intersecting strokes are written. The cross element, which recurs in a number of signs (e.g. KA6. ) may be made with the vertical stroke crossing the horizontal stroke or vice versa, or the strokes may even be curved.
Various forms of signs used by different scribes
Equally significant at this level are the way adjacent strokes are spaced, joined or left un-joined, the position and shape of minor elements., the doubling of lines. Using this approach, Bennett (l958) and Olivier (1967) were able to identify securely the personal handwriting of a large number of the more prolific scribes at Knossos and Pylos.
As a rule, all of the tablets were written by the same scribe in a single file though exceptions occur; and there are cases where two scribes have written on the same tablet, as if the appropriate clerks have each been ordered to add their own quota of information, ( Cf.Pylos tablet PY Ed 411). The number of different hands at each site is quite large, probably as many as 70 at Knossos, at least 40 at Pylos. This means that the scribes are literate officials who can write a tablet as and when required ,but also have other duties to attend to. Some senior officials seem rarely to have written a tablet themselves, no doubt leaving their subordinates to do most of the work, but occasionally they take the stylus in their own hands.
While the total number of documents at each site reveals a very small average production per scribe, in fact some scribes are prolific where others do very little, it is likely that most of them had other duties than writing, since one scribe could easily have written all the surviving documents from either Pylos or Knossos in a few weeks. No doubt moments of boredom would set in for these scribes, just as in modern offices of today. At such moments, a Mycenaean clerk would turn his tablet over and perhaps draw a sketch or pattern. We are lucky to have one among several examples of this kind of, shall we say doodling. Others of course must have ended up in the scrap basket.
Each horizontal line counts for 10; so the total is 50. However because the tablet is truncated on the right side it could be there were more than 50.
Lastly the incomplete condition of the archive that has come down to us presents us with many problems; but we have found means in some cases to overcome this deficiency, such as the discovery of ” supersyllabograms ” by Richard Vallance, my Linear B teacher,where we have two or more sets of tablets containing the same information….many of which are found on the tablets relating to military affairs which I am working on at the moment. It is on occasion relatively easy to use one tablet to supplement the gaps in another or others.
NOTE: I have many Linear B tablets of the Military affairs to translate which during the next few months I will publish here on my blog.