Saturday, November 12, 2011

Riddles in Linear A - Part I

I am pleased to announce that I managed to make a further post on this little blog. In the recent months, I browsed through quite a few original Linear A tablets (I mean, the "original" photographs), in an attempt to make the classification of certain signs more systhematic. Given the paucity of my free time, that project is still ongoing. But in the meanwhile, I also came upon many documents, whose reading and interpretation is quite tricky: Sometimes even well-established scholars were fooled by these muddled tablets. So I decided to share some of these minute discoveries with you, while I keep on analysing the other tablets to get (hopefully) some major results.

Basically, there can be several problems with the reading of a Linear A document (I assumed that you are familiar enough with the Aegean syllabaries in order to be able to read it): First, the tablet can be physically damaged, or be rendered illegible by improper scribal work (erasures, corrections). But even if it is otherwise well readable, the compressed context (and hard-to-interpret words) can make reading a real nightmare. I decided to break this lengthy topic into two parts: so I shall leave the "logical games" for the next time.

To begin, let us take a look at the tablet HT6. This is a tablet with quite a mixed context: Side A lists a variety of commodities (probably foodstuffs: figs and other edible materials) linked to a few names, while the tablet clearly switches to a simple list (of one commodity) on side B. To be more precise, this change in context already starts on the first side, following the entry referring to goods associated to the name DA-QE-RA. All the further entries on side B thus must refer to either PI-TA (bread?) or NI (figs), due to the "continuity principle" (as established by J. Younger). Though we cannot determine the exact goods, it is certain that all the names mentioned are somehow connected to food supplies. A few entries are definitely references to towns. Unfortunately, it cannot be decided whether some of the names are personal ones or all refer to places; though they could also plausibly be a mixture of these two. Nevertheless, tablet HT6 shall be a good example to illustrate how damage (wear, abrasion, breaks and missing pieces) cause problems in reading.

On side B, the first two names are easy to make out, but problems start to mount from the third one onwards. This term (name) spells at first sight as MA-RI-?-I (reading suggested by Olivier, Godart & Younger). It is pretty hard to identify the third sign of this sequence. It looks faintly like a malformed 'I', although the Lin A *28 signs never have a downward-directed right stroke like this. Olivier and Godart tried to suggest 'RE' (this is also how they presented it on the GORILA's official facsimile), but the sad truth is, it is nowhere near *27 (RE) in shape. Because of these difficulties, John Younger did not even try to read this sign. I also suggest the dear reader to ponder a bit on the problem before looking at the solution.

The answer to this question is provided by a simple observation. The table is badly abraded at both of its right and left side on many spots. That's why the baseline of the 'RI' sign is missing. But the same abrasion also covers the lower left end of our mysterious sign. Only a very faint crack is left. Once we draw that small trace with full width, we get the answer. The "mystery sign" is nothing but an ordinary 'KE', a bit damaged, but still legible. One should also note that the 'I' sign is in fact not a plain Lin A *28, but - observing the strokes above its right extension - it is the sign what Godart and Olivier labelled as *28b. Based on its distinct usage pattern, and its undeniable similarity to Linear B *43 (I3 or AI), I would propose to read it as 'JI'. The difference between this and the ordinary 'I' might be negligible, but 'JI' would fit the junctional rules (E-I → E-J) a slightly bit better. These observations yield the reading MA-RI-KE-JI for this name: simply and clearly. Logically, it should be a name, possibly a personal name, being a hapax (though I am not immediately swayed by random parallels like Semitic *mlk = 'king').

But the true riddles just start here! Immedietaly after MA-RI-KE-JI, the text seem to end abruptly. However, the traces of a '1/2' numerical sign following the three clearly visible strokes warns us that the text is probably abraded, but the row is not empty. The faint traces on this part probably belong to two additional syllabary characters, that start the word readable in the next line. The abraded pieces of lines are themselves perfectly compatible with the reading KU-DO-NI. The rest of the phrase reads DA-MA. This is not a compound word: the word-separator dot is small, but clearly visible after KU-DO-NI (placed to the base of the sign, as on side A). While KU-DO-NI is clearly a place-name (= Lin B KU-DO-NI-JA, modern Khania), the meaning of DA-MA is less clear: nevertheless, it does resemble the stem of Linear A words DA-ME [HT86, HT95, HT120] and DA-MA-TE [libation vessel KY Za2]. The following word is equally tricky to read: it consists of merely two signs (the traces before it belong to an 'L2' fraction sign (number), possibly 2/15), but the first one is damaged. Following the traces on the abraded surface, a 'TE' sign would be the most reasonable reconstruction. This yields a name TE-KI, which is - again - a toponym (perhaps denoting the ancient Greek town of Tegea on western Crete, near Khania). The text continues with further putative tomponyms, such as SA-MA [HT10, HT52] and PA3-NI-NA (as on HT93, an adjectival form of PA3-NI [HT85, HT102]). The last two lines also show traces of erasures: the 'MA' sign of SA-MA was erased, and then re-written, similarly, before the PA3 of PA3-NI-NA, there are traces of an erased sign, probably KU, but it was later completely overwritten with numbers belonging to SA-MA.

Tablet HT85
  Statement     Quantity  
A-DU • *307+*307 (women?) •
VIR (people) • DA-RI-DA

KI (=KI-RO?) • KI-RA-JA •
PA (=PA-I-TO?)1
KA (=KA-NU-TI?)1
DI (=DI-NA-U?)1

To verify our corrected list, we should turn to other - much better preserved - toponym lists. The best counterpart could be HT85 (see the table above). Not only many of the terms seen on the second part of HT6 recur here, but their relative order and grouping is also similar. Here, KU-DO-NI is directly followed by TE-KE (=TE-KI), just like on HT6. These two terms also directly stand next to each other on HT13 - the tight association of the two places could be very elegantly explained by the geographic proximity of Khania (Kydonia) and Kissamos (Tegea). But this is not the only pair repeated here. Though a much more obscure term, WA-DU-NI-MI is also paired with RE-DI-SE (=RA-TI-SE?). While I have no idea of the identity of the former, the latter name could easily be a declined form of RA-DU [HT58, probably also on the toponym list HT122], the name for ancient Lato (Lin. B RA-TO), near modern Aghios Nikolaos. RA-TI-SE and RE-DI-SE could both be slightly erroneously written versions of *RA-DI-SE then (c.f. QA-RA2-WA [HT86] which is undoubtedly equal to QE-RA2-U [HT95] as the rest of the two lists are the same). Note that HT 85 also contains plenty of abbreviations. While the sole KI sign on the header of side B is probably an abbrevation for KI-RO (=missing), other single syllables likely stand for well-known places: PA = PA-I-TO (Phaistos), KA = KA-NU-TI (?) and DI = DI-NA-U (?). All these three re-occur on HT97, where two of the three are written out in full (save DI, which is probably DI-NA-U [as on the toponym list HT9]). This slacky habit of Minoan scribes to abbreviate commonly used names is unique to Linear A; Mycenaean Greek scribes using Linear B had more strict rules and names were never abbreviated to a single syllable.

Lists counting persons are just as common in Linear A as in B, but they attempt to be as compact as possible. The scribes were often so absorbed in this goal, that they also sacrificed clarity for shortness, leaving behind considerable ambiguity. In some cases, the context can still help to solve these issues: for example, what could a sign 'NI'(*30) mean? First, and foremost, it can designate a type of goods, namely 'figs'; but it can also abbreviate transaction terms and even names. Because of the context, we can almost be certain that it meant the fruits on tablets like HT6, but it is an abbreviated transaction term on HT88 and HT99 (in contrary to the opinion of J. Younger, these tablets almost certainly count people as shown by the consistently integer values and have nothing to do with figs).

But it is not just the wear of centuries that can cause troubles at reading. The slack of certain scribes is definitely a contributory factor. The tablet HT29 shall be a good example of this. This small clay piece if full of erasures, hastily-written, malformed signs in irregular lines. As the scribe tried to salvage a tablet by erasing its previous contents, he sometimes unconsciously re-used earlier, half-visible strokes. The result is a complex maze of lines, parts of half-erased and rewritten signs. There is no surprise why all scholars had problems when attempting to read this document. But we shall see soon, that some names written on this tablet are fortunately not unique and thereby reconstructible by comparing the sign-groups with those on other, better-looking documents.

When attempting a reading, we already run into difficulties right at the first line. Although the term RU-MA-TA can be read with some effort (this name is also seen on HT99), the upper right corner of the tablet is broken off, preventing us to identify any logogram describing the goods assessed. But the strictly integer numbers themselves already suggest that it may count people; the suspect is just reinforced when finding traces of an earlier, erased VIR sign just at the initial position. So we may relatively safely assume that the numbers refer to people (just as Schoep has suggested) - and as we shall see soon - many of the names (entries) are probably places.

While the fourth term on this list can be easily identified as PA-JA-RE (also found on HT8 and HT88) despite its last sign being missing, the second and third names are a real headache. As they are apparently hapaxes and both miss some signs (on the broken-off segment), they cannot be restored with any level of certainty. And we are also plagued by the fact that some of the visible signs are in fact re-used fragments of erased ones, frequently making them nearly unidentifiable. One of the possible readings of the second line is ?-DA?-QI?, with the 'DA' sign seemingly being a salvaged upper part of an erased *310 one. The last sign here is so malfomed we cannot be certain of its reading, either. I only put 'A' as the hypothetic missing initial syllable, because a word exists on the Khania tablets (KH92: A-DA-QI-RI) that faintly resembles this garbled one.

The third name is much better legible, but it still has at least one initial syllable missing (as judged from the size of the broken fragment). Fortunately, the erasures that make our life hard, now also offer some help. In most cases of tablets with visible erasures (as on HT86), the erased text contains the same or almost the same entries as the latter one. HT29 is no different in this regard. Actually, behind the syllabograms 'DI', 'JA' and 'I', we can regognize earlier traces of the same, hinting that this name was erased, but then the scribe re-wrote it to almost exactly the same spot. Careful examination also reveals that an additional sign was originally also written in this line, right before the other three: judged by its shape, it was possibly JE, so we may use this information to reconstruct this term as JE?-DI-JA-I (still a hapax, and hard to interpret).

From the fouth line, we have an easier job. Not that the signs were written with more clarity: The fourth word reads as either SA-?-RE or SA-?-SI at the first sight. The middle sign was interpreted as a somewhat misshapen *323 logogram by Godart and Olivier. But at a closer look, it rather resembles a hastily-written 'MA' sign (the 'cat head'), to which the sloppy scribe simply forgot to add the ears and eyes. This means that the word recorded here was probably SA-MA-RE, a declined version of the putative place-name SA-MA [HT10, HT52, also SA-MA-TI on HT39]. Again, the erasures reinforce our reading: traces of earlier, erased 'MA' and 'RE' signs are discernible somewhat right from the actual term (this also helps to make clear that the last sign was indeed 'RE', and not 'SI'.)

Immediately thereafter we can see another suspicious term. This was read as ?-KI-TA by J. Younger. Godart and Olivier even labelled the misshapen initial syllabogram with a novel identifier as *340. But this one really looks like the upper half of a well-known *306 sign - of which the lower half was accidentally erased by the scribe, when plowing over the next line to be obliterated. If so, the reading was originally intended to be *306-KI-TA or WO-KI-TA - perhaps unsurprisingly - another place-name. This time again, the traces of all 'WO', 'KI' and 'TA' are also visble under the erasure, shifted rightwards with two positions (partly under the next word).

The last two words appear to be hapaxes, and - as a consequence - difficult to ascertain. The logic of erasures - both A-RE-DA?-I and QA?-DU-MA-NE were re-written while shifting leftwards - still helps a bit. Since there is a nicely visible erased 'RE', and there was clearly an 'I' sign behind the 'DU', it is probable that the sign at the beginning of line 5 is a superimposed image of an earlier 'DA' (that the scribe failed to erase) and another one with a rounded top, possibly 'QA'. Note that originally there was another term after WO-KI-TA (the 'SI' is still visble under the 'RE' of A-RE-DA?-I), but it was later completely removed from the list after a revision. This way, most of the erased remnants of QA?-DU-MA-NE were not overwritten (the earlier 'MA' and the 'NE' can still be found with some effort).

Thus we have seen, that it is possible to read at least some of the names on this garbled tablet. But to decipher the true meaning behind these names, it is obligatory to look at the Zakros tablets. Interestingly, both SA-MA and PA-JA-RE recur on the the same list (ZA10), that lists donors of cheap wine (VINb). RU-MA-TA is also seen in the form RU-MA-TA-SE (declined variant, genitive?) on ZA20. The wide variety of goods per name, their consistent grouping and the considerable geographic distances between archives taken into account, these names are less likely to be persons (unless they are extremely common personal names, unlike even Linear B Greek ones), and much-much more likely to be places. This appears to be a striking difference between Linear A and B: Mycenaeans were more "individualistic", in the sense that their accounting also recorded the names of persons, while it mostly sufficed for Minoans to only state the place of origin or destination when speaking about groups of persons, taxes, gifts, supplies, or other types of deliveries.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Potential 'MO', 'JO' and 'WE' signs in Linear A - lessons learned from the latest Minoan clay tablets

Instead of making any more wild theories about the meaning of certain Minoan phrases, I decided to turn back to the basics once again. After all, how can we understand words written in Linear A, if we cannot even be certain about their reading? The existence of many signs without any phonetic value assigned is especially annoying. The situation is definitely worse than in Linear B, partly because some Linear B signs do not even have a Linear A counterpart (ancestor) identified. Now, how can we reconcile this? It is very likely that at least some "asterisked numbers" do correspond to already-deciphered Linear B syllabograms. So, what I am going to present in the next series of posts is a new attempt to identify the phonetic values of the more common, yet-unreadable Linear A signs.

To achieve this goal, we have to browse through all the original tablets, over and over again, to find clues. The positional distribution of the signs in question (initial, medial or terminal) and the phonetic values of neighbouring signs offer a good deal of information. But this has to be evaluated within the bounds of the Minoan language, since we know it was radically different from Mycaenean Greek. Comparisons with Linear B sign-distributions do not help much, that was also noted by Packard. The graphic appearence and variation classes of syllabograms - on the other hand - do give us a chance to meaningfully compare Linear A signs with either Hieroglyphic or Linear B ones. The last one especially comes handy, since we may get a good phonetic value if we can find the correct assignment.

Fortunately, there are some spectacular Linear A documents that help us in our quest more than a thousand other tablets. In this post, I will be focusing upon the clay tablet KH11. Although it may appear as an oddball of a specimen at first, we shall see soon that these features are explainable with the tablet being in some sense "transitional" towards Linear B: both in style and in context!

You can see the facsimile of KH11 and the suggested reading of its entries on figure #1. Note that I have been playing with the values of fractional signs a lot, slightly altering some of the traditionally assigned numbers. Although nothing is set in stone yet, this is something that I plan to make a separate post later on. I will not mention the details here: everything comes at its own time.

The first entry of KH11 starts with the word A-DU-RE-ZA. It has two possible interpretations: first of all, it could be a pair of separate words: A-DU  RE-ZA (transaction term + toponym). But it is more probable that the table refers to persons instead of places (due to the small quantity of goods mentioned). This could also happen if A-DU-RE-ZA (as a single word) was a personal name or title somehow derived from DU-RE-ZA (mentioned on KH20, also recurring on ZA10 and ZA20 in the form DU-RE-ZA-SE), another place-name. On KH11, every donor (person?) delivers an array of different goods, often with small, fractional quantities. The most important of them was marked with the logogram *303. Based on the context of other tablets (e.g. KH6, KH7) and the shape of the sign, it must have been an important foodstuff for humans and animals alike, most likely a type of grain: barley. Two common variants exist in Linear A: the bare *303 sign - that I labelled HOR (Latin hordeum = barley) - and "fractionalized" variants, for example HOR+1/4. The meaning of the latter is unclear, though the GRA sign (grain: likely wheat) also somes with similar fractional ligatures. Another type of goods was labelled with *306. This sign is mostly phonetical in Linear A, with the possible value WO (same as Lin B WO). But on the KH tablets, it also denotes a type of agricultural goods. It comes in integer quantities only, and *306 looks like an animal head, so I assigned it the reading donkey, ASI (Latin asinus = donkey). Other tablets from Khania (e.g KH 6) also list animals with portions of barely - usually, it cannot be decided whether the barely was a low-quality one, used as fodder, or intended for human consumption.

Although the sign Lin A *303 is slightly dissimilar in shape to the Linear B sign denoting barley, it still very closely resembles a purely phonetic sign: Linear B MO. Immediately in the second line of KH11, we also see a series of two *303 signs next to each other. This is almost impossible to explain as pure logograms. Godart & Olivier noted that one of these signs contains a tiny extra stroke, so they designated it as a new sign, *348. Nevertheless, its graphic image does not support the distinction. Also, why would one repeat the same type of goods from one donor three times over? It is way more sensible therefore, to read these *303 signs not as HOR, but with a phonetic value: MO. This yields a new name in the second line: MO-RO-MO (the middle sign should be RO instead of fraction B). This is the first time we see a genuine MO (= Lin B *15) in Linear A.

And the tablet just keeps giving surprises. In the third line, we can read another name, transliterated by J. Younger as A-TO-*349-TO-I.The penultimate sign is damaged, so we cannot meaningfully decide whether it was indeed TO or NA instead. But the one identified as *349 looks fairly similar to the Linear B JO sign: especially with its "wavy" shaft. It is generally dissimilar to anything other in Linear A, except perhaps the very peculiar TO sign on the vessel KN10 (that could also be a JO, by the way). So now we have another name with a lot of 'o' sounds in it, probably A-TO-JO-TO-I. Serious caution is adviced, though, before defining a new sign-class from a single occurrance. The Linear B JO sign is also possible to derive - by simplification - from other signs, most prominently Lin A *310. At the same time, *349 could also be a regular *301 sign, to which the scribe simply forgot to add a vertical stroke. This would support a reading A-TO-WE-TO-I instead (very putatively: *Αρτοϝενθοι from Ancient Greek αρτος, bread - see the discussion later).

The last full word on the tablet is equally interesting: It starts with an A, surely enough. The second sign is a hastely written SU (and probably not TA). The third sign - for some inexplicable reasons - was given a unique identifier (*350) by Godart: I am not sure why, because it looks like a good-enough PU sign for me. The last syllabogram of this word is the well-known *301 - in its "wavy" variant. It does not only look like Linear B WE, but also gives a meaningful reading this way: the word is thus A-SU-PU-WE - known from other Linear A tablets in different forms (A-SU-PU-WA on ARKH2 and A-SI-SU-PO-A on KH9). Judged by the context (no logogram follows it), it is probably a transaction term - I have no better idea.

The conclusion that *301 can in fact be read as WE also receives a nice reinforcement from another source: The inscribed vessel TY Zb4 shows a correcture *306 → *301. Although it was probably incorrect (the form *306-KI-TA or WO-KI-TA is known from other sources), the error was not particularly big if *301 was indeed WE. This also means that we can now finally read the first words of the libation formulae in full. Although A-TA-I-WE-WA-JA or TA-NA-I-WE-U-TI-NU are a bit unexpected due to the high frequency of semivowels, we have no real reason to dismiss this reading. It is also possible that one or more additional consonants were ommitted here. Just remember that clusters like *-rw- also get simplified to *-w- in Linear B (c.f. KO-WO from *korwos = boy). If one observes carefully, the shape of Lin A *301 also shows a clear evolution. The earlier (Middle Minoan) verson is still similar to its Hieroglyphic ancestor (the "adze"-figure), while the Late Minoan versions are gradually becoming more-and-more similar to a "dollar" character. They are also frequently mirrored all the time. Finally, the central shaft is ommitted, and we have the snake-like Linear B *75 = WE sign!

But how can we interpret all these unusual names on KH11? Their most prominent feature - the one that triggered the use of "rare signs" - is the high frequency of 'o' vowels. This is uncommon in Minoan contexts, but it is perfectly what we would expect if their bearers were Mycaenean Greeks. Indeed, this tablet (as all the Khania tablets) comes from the end of the Late Minoan Ib period (approx. 1425 BC). This was a time of great turmoil, war and destruction on Crete: many of the cities were burnt to the ground, never to be re-settled again. And even in those that remained inhabited, the subsequent appearence of Linear B inscriptions (in early Greek) points to a shift of power - to a centralized Mycaenean administration controlled by a Greek-speaking aristocracy. While the destruction on the eastern end of the island was severe at the end of LMIb, the transition was probably less violent in the west (note that Khania as well as other settlements remained inhabited without a major break). And it is perfectly possible that some Greek individuals were already present on the island in the LMI era, well before a major wave of continental Greeks reached and settled on Crete in the LMII period. Linear B itself is more-or-less a straight continuation of the (150 years earlier) late Linear A script, without any major changes to the phonetic values, ortography, or the shapes of the signs. This gives hope that - one nice day - the phonetic values behind even the most mysterious Linear A signs will be deciphered.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"My Lady Rhea"

It happens every day. A celebrated scientist discovers something, makes up a daring theory and finds initial proof. Then the theory begins to spread to all corners of the world. More and more scientists support it. Younger generations may take it as an axiom. Everyone is happy; and then it is suddenly disproven. In my area of expertise: molecular biology, I have seen countless theories born, flourish and finally crumble to dust, even in our lab. And no one is immune to such fallacies. In fact, I would be overjoyed to get 1/10 of my experiments to actually see publication. Similarly, I would be very happy if I knew that just 10% of the things I stated in this blog would stand the test of time. But without preconceptions, no research can be truely successful; and they say no pain, no gain. So here am I again to share some bits of my research with you.

Eteocretan language is a difficult subject to study. Partly because there are very few inscriptions known, most of them are fragmentary, and both the vocabulary and grammar are quite exotic. The hardships of understanding even bits of it even prompted some scholars to reject any connections between Minoan (i.e. the language underlying Linear A) and Eteocretan. This was an utterly unwise idea: after all, where could Eteocretan stem from if not from the earlier, Pre-Greek inhabitants of the Aegean? And indeed, I keep stumbling upon more purely Minoan phrases in Eteocretan inscriptions, the more I look. The very provocative title I gave to this post is none other than the preliminary translation of the Eteocretan phrase TUPRMĒRIĒIA. I shall show in my current post that each and every part of the phrase Tupṛ mē-Riēya is of Minoan stock, and - what is more - clearly attested in Bronze-age Cretan scripts!

There are less than a dozen Eteocretan inscriptions, and none of them are complete. All of them come from the eastern half of Crete, from Dreros and Praisos. It is likely that Eteocretan was already a language in decline by the time these texts were composed, as many are bilingual in Greek. But the Greek halves of the Drerian inscriptions are actually a great help to understand (at least roughly) the meaning of these texts, even the Eteocretan parts. Although I am referring to these texts as being bilingual, this does not imply that the two halves are always word-by-word translations.

My attention was drawn to one of the Drerian inscriptions (#2). These texts are all written in an archaic Greek alphabet, and thus easily legible. Unfortunately, this small piece of stone is weathered and the letters are heavily damaged. Only one line of the Eteocretan text survived: this ends with the phrase TUPRMĒRIĒIA. We know that this is a complete Eteocretan word, because the inscription does contain word-dividers. Dreros #2 is actually a bilingual inscription, the lower half being composed in Doric Greek. The Greek part is also damaged, but still largely legible; according to van Effenterre, it is a religious oath. The Greek formula does not contain the name of any deity; yet that might be present in the Eteocretan text, since they are not necessarily strict translations of each other (the Eteocretan one looks much shorter). After doing some research and extensive comparisons with Minoan finds, I came to the conclusion that the word TUPRMĒRIĒIA might be this missing invocation.

Let us consider the first half of this phrase. We may separate the part Tupṛ - as we know from other examples, that Eteocretan allowed syllabic sonorants. The reason to do so is that there exists a similar word in Minoan libation formulae, traditionally transliterated as DU-PU2-RE. There are many ambiguities with its reading: the precise value of the Minoan D-series is disputed (*d? *t? *th? *dh?), and we know that RE can stand for both *-re and *-le. But we also know that PU2 certainly had a special value, as it stands for *phu or *bu in Linear B, but never for a simple *pu. It is also possible, that the sound it used to mark was partially voiced in Minoan as well, explaining its use in the word reconstructed as *duphre.

In his fundamental article about the Minoan language, the Portuguese scholar Miguel Valério made a crucial discovery about the phrase DU-PU2-RE. Several Anatolian languages used similar words: *tapar(riya)- meant 'to rule' in Luwian and taparnas (or dabarnas) was the title of Hittite kings. The latter also comes in a variant laparnas (labarnas): both the stem and its mutations are similar to the one observed in Greek λαβύρινθος (vs. Mycaenean DA-PU2-RI-TO-JO • PO-TI-NI-JA, referring to a sanctuary near Knossos). Since the Labyrinth is consistently associated with Crete, we may safely assume that this word entered the Mycaenean language as a loan-word form Minoan. Thus it is not just possible, but outright expected to see related stems in Minoan texts. Therefore Valério's explanation for the phrase DU-PU2-RE as a form closely related or identical to Anatolian *tapar- (or *dabar-) is likely correct.

There is also an account of ancient Greek authors on the temple of Zeus Labraundos in Caria, citing that λάβρυς denoted "double-axe" in the local language. I do not know if there is any connection between labrys and the modern middle-eastern (Persian, Indian) term for battle-axe: tabar, but to compare a word for 'ruler' with 'axe' could be a conflation of similarly-sounding words from the side of the Greeks. Yet this question is currently far from being solved.

Given the roots of DU-PU2-RE, Valério gave a translation 'lord', 'ruler' or 'master'. This raw translation may now be refined further. The phrase DU-PU2-RE is not an independent word: it forms a part of compound phrases like JA-DI-KI-TE-TE-DU-PU2-RE. In this word, the first half is a geographic term: Mount Dikte. But in Linear B, the term DI-KA-TA is used in a much more restricted sense: it refers to a particular sanctuary on Dikte (maybe near the cave of Psychro). So (J)A-DI-KI-TE-TE-DU-PU2-RE is more likely a religious title and not referring to a king. There is also clear evidence, that both A-DI-KI-TE-TE (e.g. there is the phrase A-DI-KI-TE-TE-?-KE-RE on PKZa11) and DU-PU2-RE (see PA-TA-DA-DU-PU2-RE on HTZb160, where PA-TA-DA is another place-name) can combine with other words. Hence there can be no doubt of their separate nature.

We also know that Minoan probably had no grammatical genders. They even used the same base logogram for men and women: this would have been impossible in Mycaenean, and indeed, Linear B has separate signs for women and men. But if there was indeed no gender distinction in Minoan, then why not read DU-PU2-RE as 'lady' or 'mistress'? And it might not be a reference to just any lady, but to a goddess. Those who were hunting for divine names in the Libation Formula can now rejoice: after all, JA-DI-KI-TE-TE-DU-PU2-RE (*i-Adiktete-Duphre) may now be read as 'that of the Lady from the Dikte'. If some titles (especially divine titles) were used in the same form for males and females alike, that could explain the confusion of Egyptian scribes, and why they referred to Minoan goddesses *Amaya and *Raziya as male gods in the Keftiu-incantations.

In correspondence with the above concept, all inscriptions that contain the term JA-DI-KI-TE-TE-DU-PU2-RE also present a chain of hapax legomena (names?) right afterwards it. This helps to explain the uncomfortable situation that the "Mistress of the Dikte" stands on a place in these formulae, which is normally occupied by toponyms (clearly donors and not recipients). But I still have to concede it to Glen Gordon, that these expressions only work if we allowed the recipient to take an *-e ending, normally expected for a donor in the original theory. Thus the expression A-PA-RA-NE • QA-ZI-RA-RE [HT96] probably has *Aplan as a recipient (but literally, it is: "of Aplan, from the chieftaindom"): only this proposition would allow to identify that name with the Greek theonym Ἀπόλλων (or Roman Apollo).

Staying by divine names, this is where the Phaistos Disc comes into sight. We cannot make out much yet of its very unique-styled Minoan inscription. But one thing seems probable: certain words that are marked with an additional wedge, seem to be names. One of such terms reads as RA2-*07 (the sign Pha *07 cannot be read with any certainty). It also returns in the form MA-RA2-*07, where *MA- seems to be a prefix element (it is seen on other words on the Disc and - albeit very rarely - in Hieroglyphics). This prefixed form is actually very similar to the second half of TUPRMĒRIĒIA: which is probably *mē-Riēya. The correspondence of Eteocretan to Minoan could be pretty regular, if its vowels developed similarly to early Greek ones. The core stem (Rya-*07 on the Disc and Rieya here) also displays a high similarity with the classic Greek theonym Rhea. Two things are worth noting: first of all, the Cretan forms have a consistent *ry- cluster in their stem, what the Greek version lacks. Second, we cannot make out the value of that missing Pha *07 sign that easily, as the contemporary Egyptian rendering of this name: R-ṯ3-jj (perhaps *Ratsiya) warns us of a potential stop consonant in the original stem. This was probably lenitioned out and lost in later stages of the Minoan language, but might still be seen on Middle Minoan relics. I am not going into irresponsible guessings here, but the value of Pha *07 could be either 'TA', 'TI' or even 'SI'.

Prefixes are frequently seen in Linear A and seem to be an intergral part of the Minoan language. These might also be clitics or simply, irregularly-written short particles. Nevertheless, they are often difficult to interpret. Because prefixes combine freely with suffixes (e.g. locative, elative or ablative cases), any theory that seeks to explain these as a marker of just another regular case (say, dative) runs into a serious trouble. Based on extant languages that use both prefixes and suffixes at the same time on nouns (e.g. the Mesoamerican Nahuatl language, or certain Caucasian languages), a separation of roles is expected: if suffixes express directionalty and location, it is probable that prefixes would instead be pronominal in nature.

This is also what the study of potentially related languages hints at. While Minoan Linear A shows prefixes *i- (that looks like a generic deictic / connector) and *a- (that seems to refer to persons only), Etruscan has third person pronouns in the forms in (inanimate version, 'it') and an (animate version,'he'/'she'). Even so, the reading of rare prefixes, like *ma- remains uncertain. But if all prefix-like elements are indeed pronouns (which is a big assumption), then *ma- could plausibly be a first person possessive pronoun ('my') in an enclitic form. Note that verbs take personal markings as suffixes (e.g. KA-NI-JA-MI [CRZf1] or KA-NI-JA-SI [PKZa12] - both verbal forms of KA-NA [HT23], 'gift'), not as prefixes. As with all novel decipherment attempts, the reading of Tupṛ mē-Riēya remains unconfirmed: we still need more insight, especially into the nature of prefix elements before we can either confirm or reject this explanation.

I realized that I was not paying enough attention to a particular detail. Even if we posit a form *dabrwintha as ancestral to λαβύρινθος, we still have to count with two different, but related Cretan stems: *daphr- and *duphr-. While this was not impossible in Minoan (e.g. *qazil vs. *qizil), it adds an unnecessary level of complexity to the problem. By the same virtue, we may also suppose that these two stems were unrelated to each other. Note that other explanations also exist for *duphr-: for example, Glen Gordon has equated the Eteocretan tupr with the Etruscan word θuφ - which he proposed to read as "oath". Although I cannot say that the meaning of θuφ is certain to any extent, it is still insteresting to observe that θuφ also - very characteristically - stands as an epithet to the sky-god Tinia in one of his many roles ("Tin θuf").

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Those "bloody" Minoans...

For my next post, we are going to discuss yet another popular topic: the forms and possible meaning of word A-SA-SA-RA-ME. It is also time for me to get my hand dirty, since I have never seen so many ill-fitting translations of Minoan phrases that was given for this poor little word. Now is the time to try and find better explanation(s).

Up to date most (all?) theories aspire to read (J)A-SA-SA-RA-ME as some sort of divine name. Apart from some (phonologically and semantically) really implausible explanations, there are two main problems with this theory. First of all, the term (J)A-SA-SA-RA-ME is very common: found on almost all objects of ritual context: on libation tables, on sacrificial vessels, on a statue and even on a silver pin, a total of at least 16 times. A little bit too common, if you ask me. Given the highly polytheistic nature of almost all bronze-age religions (as also evidenced by both Linear A and B tablets), this is not what we would expect if it were a theonym. The only religious term in Linear B that could match this high frequency would be PO-TI-NI-JA. This is, however, not a proper name, but a title ('lady', 'mistress') appended to the names of most if not all the goddesses invoked.

The other problem is the baffling word-formation observed on the stone vessel KNZa10, where a derived case: JA-SA-SA-RA-MA-NA can be read. The *-na ending seen here is suspiciously similar to the one seen on words expressing ethnic origin (Phraisona = 'from Praisos' in Eteocretan or PA3-NI-NA = 'from PA3-NI' in Linear A) and on innumerable Pre-Greek place-names (mostly hellenized to *-nos). This could be explained as a 'pertinentive adjective', also found (in the same form) in other Aegean languages, such as Etruscan. Such a derived form is not what we would expect if (J)A-SA-SA-RA-ME were a proper name. After all, the Greek priests would have given offerings to Zeus (or perhaps even of Zeus), but probably not Zeusian offerings. But it does not exclude a reading as a more generic term (even as an epithet). I am yet to see examples of a language that prefers to cite the very names of divinites in an adjectival form when speaking about sacrifices. If you have any good examples, I would appreciate if you could share them with me.

To this end, I looked up the word isḫassaras in the Etymological Dictionary of the Hittite Inherited Lexicon (here is a link for the online pdf version). This is the so-far best match in any other language, based on its form and meaning - if we stick with the original 'theonymy' theory. Isḫassara- is a compound stem, made up from isḫa- = 'lord' and the feminizing suffix -sara-, thus meaning 'lady'. None of its parts have a particularly good Indo-European etymology. But to derive A-SA-SA-RA-ME from this word, we have to conjecture a formative (*-ma). Does isḫassara- admit further derivations in Hittite? Much to my surprise, it does: we even have an adjective isḫassarwant- = 'lordly'. This could also potentially make our first theory work: after all, the sacrifices offered on the stone altars could have been 'lordly', 'noble' or 'divine' in a sense of either the donor (official), the circumstance (feast) or the recipient (divinity). To get this, we have to conjecture a chain of derivative suffixes on the stem of JA-SA-SA-RA-MA-NA (*-m(a)-na), not mentioning the pronominal prefix element *i- my readers are likely already familiar with.

The fact that a Minoan word can admit multiple formatives in a long chain is not an isolated phenomenon. Let us consider the word-formation in I-PI-NA-MI-NA-TE, a word seen on the sacrificial stone-vessel APZa2. This single word is enough to illustrate
the polysynthetic tendency of the Minoan language. The base stem appears to be *ip(i). Let's say (as a simple assumption - based on earlier considerations) that *ip meant 'blood'. Then *ipna would mean 'bloody' (adjective in *-na), *ipnama would be 'bloodletting' (*-ma ending: expressing action?), thus *ipnaməna 'bloodletting cup' (the same *-na formative again). and finally *ipnamənate(n) = 'from (this) bloodletting cup': a regular elative (suffix *-(a)te(n)). I wrote *-te(n) instead of just *-te, to connect this ending with the Classic Greek elative case in -θεν and the Hurrian ablative ending *-tan, as they could be related forms (due to a linguistic areal effect). Also, to explain the *-i- (*-ə-?) vowel, we have to keep in mind that many of the Minoan suffixes appear to intrude into the stem they fit on, deleting or re-colouring (i.e. *a→*i) any stem-vowels they collide with.

It is also possible that the -i- (*-ə-?) vowel was only inserted into the word I-PI-NA-MI-NA to make the *-mn- cluster easily pronounceable. In a number of cases, a (helper?) -i- vowel is seen, that has been deleted in others: the most famous example could be KU-NI-SU (= Knossos?): here, the methathesis is already seen in the Linear B version: KO-NO-SO (due to the spelling rules, this cannot be any other form, just Knossos). That is only possible if KU-NI-SU was also pronounced as *Kunəsu and even as *Kunsu in real life.

Before discarding this (highly hypothetic) derivation, one should also look at some Hittite grammar-books for parallels: the Anatolian stem esḫar- (= 'blood') is derivatized in a comparable way : although the formatives themselves are different, the result is fairly similar. Thus isḫarnumae- actually means 'to make bloody'. In Luwian, the related word: asḫarnummai- may translate similarly: 'be covered in blood'.

And thus we have arrived to the point to discuss a second theory about the meaning of A-SA-SA-RA-ME. It will be more in-line with the contemporary Minoan customs, but probably less pleasing to a faint-hearted reader. This possible explanation would be to compare A-SA-SA-RA-ME with the hieroglyphic Luwian word asḫarmis (plural: a-sa-ḫa+ra-mi-sa) = 'offering', 'sacrifice' (or similar). Hittitologists tend to connect this word with Luwian asḫar- = 'blood', thus *asḫar-m-is- originally meaning 'bloody sacrifice'. Whatever its orginal etymology was, it was used in a bit more generic sense in the Karkamiš inscriptions, since at least one of its mentions (see the figure) also involves sacrifice of bread, not just animals. Given the number of phrases in Minoan with possible Anatolian cognates, we should not be surprised to see yet another one added to the list. While the gemination of SA syllables is definitely problematic in Minoan (we must assume a development *-asḫa-*-asaḫa-*-asasa- upon borrowing - as Minoan might not have had the consonant ) and its stem-ending is different, a generic meaning 'sacrifice' would fit exceptionally well with *A-SA-SA-RA-M-. Should this identification be true, A-SA-SA-RA-ME could mean 'of sacrifice' and conversely A-SA-SA-RA-MA-NA 'sacrificial'. This could easily explain the universal use of these terms in religious contexts.

The fact that Minoans practiced animal sacrifices regularly, is well-evidenced by archeological finds in and around many sanctuaries. The public altar found in the courtyard of Gournia could have served a smilar purpose as Ian Swindale has suggested (and it might be true to the site of Mallia as well). The spectacular Haghia Triada sacrophagus also depicts such a scene on one of its sides (see figure): Here, the priestess - dressed in a ceremonial robe and a crown with feathers - collects the blood of the sacrificed cow into a conical vessel, quite similar to the inscribed stone cup APZa2. The blood is presumed as having been poured onto the altar-stone by the same three figures, as shown on the opposite side of the sacrophagus. The slaughter of animals was just a small part of religious feasts. The meat was likely roasted or cooked and was offered as a communal meal for all participants (gathered outside the temple - one thing the large squares in the Minoan city-centres were exceptionally good for). Ceremonies of this sort were commonplace in Classic Greece, where they lasted for multiple days, and encompassed processions, sacred chants and drama sessions (in theatre), sports competitions, etc. These festivities also appear to be very similar in core to the (pagan) Old English Blót.

There is also a "dark side" of Minoan customs we should not ommit the mention of. The deep discordance of Middle Minoan arcaeological finds (when animal sacrifice was common), and the Linear B archives of Knossos, that clearly avoids any mentions of bloody sacrifices, cries out for an answer. Because regular animal sacrifice was mentioned at Pylos, this must have been a specifically Cretan trend. One cannot dismiss the deduction that the avoidance of bloody rites was a kind of "rebound", in response to the morally repugnant practice of human sacrifice on Crete, rarely, but definitely seen in both Middle and Late Minoan archaelogical contexts. As in Pylos, this kind of action was likely a "last resort": only executed in times of great calamities. If there is any historical basis of Greek myths, in particular the legend of the Minotaur, we may assume that it were the early Greeks who put an end to the Minoans' unsavoury willingness to sacrifice young boys and girls to their gods if their outlooks on war were grim. But as it was just a far-flung extension of the annual, usual religious ceremonies involving animal slaughter and feasting, the Greek rulers might have opted to suppress these customs altogether. Though they probably did not die out, as the sacrificial scenes on the Haghia Triada sacrophagus suggest - this marvellous piece of Cretan art was clearly made under the late Mycaenean era (ca. 1370-1320 BC).

Monday, June 27, 2011

'Governor' in Minoan - the origins of Greek Βασιλεύς

Hello again, dear readers! To keep the interest in this little blog, I have decided to leave the topic of toponyms for a while, and cruise into foreign waters. One thing the classification of Linear A terms was exceptionally good for - to get those words, which are (with high probability) not toponyms. But it is not chaff that remained in our hands after gleaning out the place-names. Rather, it is a handful of gems. We shall see, that some of these terms turn out to be administrative titles, that - by finding their original phonetic values - can be identified with Mycaenean and even Modern Greek words!

One term in question traditionally reads as QA-*118, and has a clearly related word in the form QI-*118. Although these terms are mentioned all across the island (Haghia Triada, Khania, Archanes, Zakros), they never occur on place-name lists. Instead, they look a lot like titles, especially QI-*118, that typically stands alongside hapax legomena (one-time terms, highly likely personal names).

But how do these terms read? To get an idea, we have to go back to one of the earlier posts, where I suggested the Lin A *118 / Lin B *83 sign to be read with a value ZI (based on the identity of place-names DA-SI-*118 / DA-*83-JA). Plugging this value into the cited titles yields readings QA-ZI and QI-ZI. This is nice, but we are not done yet: There are still a few mentions of derived cases from QA-ZI - with some strange extensions. They had to be set apart from the common *i- prefix that likely denotes a deictic or connector ('that', 'which', 'what') - frequently seen on initial words or in longer phrases.

On HT70 we can read a form QA-*118-[*]: the sign on the place of the asterisk could equally have been SA or RE (undecidable, since a breakage line runs straight through it). On the other hand, HT96 clearly gives a form QA-*118-RA-RE. Here the sudden occurrance of an -R- after QA-ZI implies that the stem word ended with a consonant (*-r or *-l), simply ommitted due to the Linear A writing conventions. It is only seen here because of the addition of the *-(a)le suffix onto the stem: that case-ending is supported by a number of other Minoan words (e.g. compare JA-MI-DA-RE [HT122, toponym on a list] with A-MI-DA-U [ZA10, the same toponym on another list]).

This is the point when one would suddenly feel enlightned: After all, the form QA-ZI-R is almost exactly the same as the Mycaenean (Linear B) QA-SI-RE-U, meaning 'village chieftain' or 'governor'. Actually, it is also the same stem what the Greek word for 'king': βασιλεύς (or modern Greek βασιλιάς) shows! The Pre-Greek origin of basileus / QA-SI-RE-U was already suggested by many linguists, yet no one was able to pin-point the origins of the stem. Now we have a plausible ancestor, for the first time!

It has to be mentioned though, that there are a lot of phonological ambiguities regarding both QA-SI-RE-U and QA-ZI. The Z-series probably expressed affricates (*ts), however, this is not a 100% proven fact. The interpretation of the Q-series is even more difficult: while they probably stand for *kw or *gw in the Mycaenean texts, no one can be sure of their Minoan values: this could theoretically be *kw, *gw, *g, *ḫw or even *ḫ. Therefore I will henceforth render these terms in my article with their traditional values (e.g. *qasileus instead of *gwasileus and *qazil instead of any other speculative value).

Going back to the Linear A tablets, the lists clearly support the important role of *qazil: for example, on HT96, more than 40 units of grain are noted (approx. 1300 litres, if measured by volume: a high quantity for a person compared to other tablets) as being donated by the *qazil. The first term in the sequence A-PA-RA-NE • QA-ZI-RA-RE specifies the circumstance or the recipient of this donation, and may possibly be connected with the theonym Apollon (who might have received gifts from the *qazil). HT131 also reports a considerable quantity (58 units) of grain as paid by the QA-ZI. On ARKH2 (see figure), a particularly concise list can be found: the first two entries probably refer to inhabitants of a place *Sidata, that returns in the second line in the form A-SI-DA-TO-I. It is speculative, but based on the form of toponyms found on jars (e.g. A-[WO]-KI-TA-A  vs. WO-KI-TA or A-TU-RI-SI-TI  vs. TU-RU-SA) it could denote an ethnic in a grammatically strange way (by the addition of an *a- prefix ('who'?) and a locative or similar suffix simulateously). It is the 3rd line where we see a combination of a personal name and the title QI-ZI.

One thing remains problematic, though: In linear B, we have the terms QA-SI-RE-U (*qasileus, 'governor') and QA-SI-RE-WI-JA (*qasilewiya, 'governance'), while Linear A shows the forms QA-ZI (*qazil) and QI-ZI (*qizil). The variation of the Linear A forms looks pretty regular and they are clearly not dialectal variants (e.g. both forms are attested from Khania, compare KH10 with KH88), just like their Linear B parallels. Now, which one is which? The troblesome question of assignment is fortunately eased by the context the terms are mentioned at. In Linear B, QA-SI-RE-U would normally attract a nominative case, if mentioned together with the name of the official (which is rare), while QA-SI-RE-WI-JA typically stands alongside personal names in genitives (as the example from Knossos: SE-TO-I-JA • SU-KE-RE-O • QA-SI-RE-WI-JA [As(2)1516] shows).

In Linear A, QA-ZI mostly stands alone, without a name (on all mentions at HT). Only a single tablet from Khania [KH10] mentions a longer statement, namely: I-PA-SA-JA • QA-ZI • A-KI-PI-E-TE. While I-PA-SA-JA could be an adjectival term of PA-SE - a word common at Haghia Triada (with the *i- prefix and a *-ja suffix added, resulting in a phrase 'that(the)-[PA-SE]-ian') - it is unlikely that this would refer to a place. Yet it could easily parallel the names standing in genitive as seen in Linear B. At the same time, the hapax term A-KI-PI-E-TE could be a toponym by the virtue of its elative *-(a)te suffix. On the other hand, the phrase QI-ZI regularly (always) stands alongside personal names of various endings, as another tablet-header from Khania [KH88] illustrates: QA-NU-MA • QI-ZI. Since there is no trace of any grammatical ending on those names, it is tempting to believe that QI-ZI was the title itself (= QA-SI-RE-U), while QA-ZI refers to the office (= QA-SI-RE-WI-JA). This is also what the Greek terms would suggest; so the person who led a *qazil was simply called *qasileus.

Our identification also has far-reaching ramifications regarding the origins of the Greek suffix *-εύς. Here, the opinion of the scholars is still deeply divided: some cling to it being a genuine Greek grammatical element, while others (especially Beekes) proposed it to be a loaned structure. But we now see that - while the stem of words in *-εύς might be of foreign origin - this suffix appears to be a normal part of the Myceaenean Greek (but not of the Minoan) language.

A very interesting parallel to the word βασιλεύς could be the stem of the name Ὀδυσσεύς. Although Classic Greek may also offer (a somewhat artificial) etymology for Odysseus, it is widely believed to be a Pre-Greek loanword. The theories on its origins have not yet reached a conclusive result. As for me, I find it interesting to compare the name Ὀδυσσεύς with the prehellenic place-name *Udweza - found in Linear A as U-DE-ZA or U-DWE-ZA (there were likely multiple towns by this name across the Aegean). The *-εύς ending could have been added by the Achaian Greeks, then. Yet it is nothing but a weak parallel - because frankly, we know nothing of the true meaning of *Udweza, and thus cannot fit it with the usual 'agentive' meaning of *-εύς. I can only hope that more examples of hellenized Minoan words will be uncovered in the future, to enlighten us in these matters.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Place-names on Cretan sealstones - A key to the decipherment of Minoan Hieroglyphics?

There is one last post I would like to append to my long series on bronze-age Cretan place-names. This one will encompass some fairly new research into the oldest relics of Minoan writing. I am struggling to make it simple, so I hope you will find it interesting even without being a professional in ancient writing systems.

In my previous post, I mentioned that some words found on Cretan hieroglyphic seals can be interpreted as place-names. I also made a number of assumptions when reading toponyms in Linear A. For example, one of the place-names was reconstructed there as *306-KI-TA, from barely two occurrences of the name - both texts were damaged, and they were showing derived cases only. This would have left this toponym highly tentative - until now.

While browsing the database for Cretan hieroglyphic seals, to either confirm or dismiss the idea about reading place-names on sealstones, I came across specimen CHIC302. This single seal presents a word WO-KI-TA - a toponym in its "base" case, just as it was predicted from Linear A! To get this reading, some very simple rules have to be kept in mind: The sealstone is actually a multi-faceted bar. It was drilled in the middle, in order to be worn on a necklace by the owner. When used to "sign" a document, the bar was rotated on a flat layer of clay (by an indefinite number of times), to give a continuous impression. Therefore the sign-groups on each facet are not independent from each other. On the contrary: they give a coherent text from the start until the end, with many of the words "overflowing" from one side to another. There are no word-divisors to help us, just small "start signs" to emphasize the direction of reading. In most cases, the inscriptions turn out to be boustrophedons: The signs are arranged in the most economic way possible, and their direction reverses (alternates) each line.

On the cited sealstone (CHIC302), there is only one facet that has a start sign on it. Therefore it is concieveable that reading has to be started there. While the introductory term is found on certain other seals with longer text, we do not have any hint on its meaning. On the other hand, the second side clearly presents a hapax: a one-time word, suggesting that this is a personal name. The immediately following term consists of three signs, and it is reasonably common on other seals as well. Although the value of the middle sign is uncertain, a potential reading could be JA-RA-RE. In some seals, it returns as JA-RA only (basic case?). I labelled it secondary title, to reflect the fact that it is not an obligatory component of any sealstone, and found only on a fraction of them - but there, it can also substitute a personal name. Next comes the term WO-KI-TA (split between two facets) - this is clearly a place-name, based on Linear A parallels, and could be an early reference to Lyttos. The last two signs make up an incredibly common word - found on most seals. This is what I call primary title. Despite the fancy name, I have no idea of its precise reading or meaning: it could have designated an impersonal entity as well ("polity", "kingdom", "province", etc.)

Perhaps it is useful to make a de-tour from the topic, and examine the Eteocretan material for parallels. Unfortunately, Eteocretan inscriptions are few and far between, and most of them are pretty fragmentary. Yet one of the Praisian stone slabs offers us a particularly interesting insight to the sequence seen on CHIC302. On the second line of the stone, the following sequence can be read (in Ionic letters): ?δο??ιαραλαφραισοιιναι. Unfortunately there is no word separation; yet - if we follow van Effenterre's considerations - we can be almost sure that the word *inai was separate. This phrase is also seen on a bilingual Drerian inscription, where it seems to parallel the Doric Greek verb εϝαδε = "(it) pleased", "(it was) decided", "(it) came to pass that". If so, it is most plausible that it be preceded by a name or a title - or even a series of them. That phrase could have been either *?doph? iarala Phraisoi (this is the most straightforward one) or *?doph? iaral Aphraisoi (this is what Linear A parallels suggest - c.f. SI-DA-TE vs. A-SI-DA-TO-I, both on ARKH2). In either case, the term *iaral(a) could correspond to our "secondary title" JA-RA-RE. Note that there is not a single occurrance with an initial A-, so the J- initial was probably part of the stem, and not an attached prefix particle. That would make it similar to the Greek word ἱερός (='holy'), despite the fact that ἱερός has a good Indo-European etymology: It is thought to stem from PIE *(e)is-əro = 'exalted one', making any connections to the Minoan title *yara-(a)le very dubious.

CHIC302 is not the only seal that features toponyms. There are at least a dozen seals with comparably long inscriptions. But the scarcity of signs with easily identifiable Linear A counterparts severely limits our reading capability. Four other seals exist that feature the term KI-TA-NA or its derivatives. CHIC295 has a fairly similar composition of names and titles as we have seen before. The text is also a boustrophedon - this is highlighted by the "start signs", featured in every line. The only interesting feature of this seal is the presence of not one, but two primary titles. Conversely, the second title seems to be declined - as it possesses both a prefix (the MA- prefix seen on the Phaistos Disc) and a suffix (perhaps -SE or -RI). However, I can offer no guide on whatever these might mean.

Some caution is yet to be exercised; in spite of the plausibility of these readings. I have intentionally selected seals that have a relatively clear composition and direction of reading. Many of the seals are not so easily cracked: they are full of artistic ligatures, complicated circular arrangements of signs, and decorative placeholders - that might look like signs - while they are in fact nullities - fancy decorations only. Sometimes they are even inserted in the middle of a line - making the job of the reader really hard.

This problem also applies to sealstone CHIC260: a nice triangle-based prism with rather clear figures. The reading of the first line is however, dubious: it depends on whether we regard the simple, circular drill as a sign (Hiero *73, probably QE, giving the name JA-QE-RA), or a nullity, in which case the remaining signs form a "secondary title" JA-RA. In the second and the third line, an already familiar term is found: these signs read KI-TA-NA-SI, a declined form of KI-TA-NA, similar to what is seen in Linear A on the pithos PEZb3: KI-TA-NA-SI-JA-SE. Finally, the last two signs give the same "primary title" as seen on all our previous examples. We can see that in this case, reading is linear: this is due to the mathematical impossibility to make an infinite but regular boustrophedon from an odd base number of sides on the prism to be rotated.

No matter how many sealstones exist in the museums of the world (CHIC260 and CHIC302 can be seen in life at the Metropolitan Museum, New York, while CHIC295 resides on Crete, in the Iraklio Museum), the find-spots of specimens are rarely known. This is because they are valuable, and can be looted rather easily from tombs. Therefore we do not know where CHIC302 hails from: but it could have been plundered off Kastelli hill (the site of ancient Lyktos). Out of the four seals which feature KI-TA-NA, only two has a known provenience: CHIC238 comes from Mochlos and CHIC310 was found near Sitia. Looking at the map where these places lie shows a spectacular overlap with Linear A inscriptions containing KI-TA-NA: all these spots concentrate in a well defined area of easternmost Crete. While the vessels tell only little of history and geography (as they are traded freely), the presence of sealstones with the same city-name over a wider area paints a more definite picture on the political landscape of eastern Crete. It could easily imply that the towns at Mochlos and Sitia - and perhaps Palaikastro, Praisos and Makryghialos as well - fell under the same single authority. Given the impressive size of its city-center ("palace"), that central authority could not have been other than the polity of Zakros.

Based upon this realization, I slightly amended the map of Prof. Metaxia Tsipopoulou: the spread of references to KI-TA-NA implies that Eastern Crete was a politically unified entity, not a collection of rivalling city-states as previously assumed. While Zakros was deserted after the LMIb period - making it a ghost-town in the Mycaenean era, it was not completely erased from memory. For example, the Linear B tablet Am821 clearly refers to a person as hailing from KI-TA-NE-TO • SU-RI-MO. The latter name is known to be a place lying on the easternmost end of the island, together with U-TA-NO: Thus *Surimos could have been the same as Palaikastro (it was a powerful settlement in the LMIII era), and *Utanos the neighbouring Itanos. So it could be that Mycaenean Greeks still referred to the Eastern Lasithi province as KI-TA-NE-TO, despite the earlier demise of its name-giving capital city at Zakros.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A new map of Middle Minoan Crete - Assessing the place-names on vessels inscribed with Linear A

Greetings to all my readers once again. In the previous series of posts, we have seen ample examples of place-names on the Linear A tablets. But miscellaneous objects inscribed in Linear A were not yet discussed. As we shall see, Cretan vessels - both religious and profane vases - will turn out to be a real treasure trove of Minoan toponyms. And since they were found all across the island, they can be used to map out where these places were actually located!

There are a number of reasons why jars or amphores would be inscribed. The most practical reason is that it makes them easier to administer, just think about trade! This is the very reason why so many vases were found from the Mycaenean era, containing in scriptions in Linear B. Kim Raymoure has a nice collection of such jars-texts on her website. These texts are typically short, consisting almost exlcusively of names: anthroponyms (personal names), toponyms (place-names) or a combination of both, with some titles mixed in. In case only a single word is inscribed, it is most frequently a name of a town. Obviously, they describe the provenience of the vessel or the producer of its contents. Finding such jars on one place inscribed with the name of another is a clear indicator of trade relationships; and can be used to map out ancient trade routes.

Religious vases and altar-stones were inscribed for different reasons. Given that most ancient (and modern) temples acquired their prosperity and material wealth through donations, many objects that are inscribed contain the name of their donors. The more important sanctuaries could amass a respectable amount of goods through the centuries or millennia. It is enough to take a look at the ruins of the Oracle at Delphi; where most of the ruins enclosed within the temenos wall belong to treasuries from various polities. Athens erected a separate building for them, so did Sparta, Argos, Thebes and Corinth. Even smaller polities, like Siphnos or Sicyon had their very own treasury constructed, and the sanctuary received items from as far as Knidos, the opposite end of the Aegean Sea. Obviously, the "attraction radius" of a sanctuary was proportional to its imporance: minor temples might have received donations only from their immediate surroundings. Given this tradition of state (or polity) gifts, finding toponyms on materwork Minoan vessels that once served as libation cups or portable altar-stones (the so-called libation tables) is the least surprising discovery.

First of all, take a look at the stone libation vessel found at Apodoulou (slightly north-west from Phaistos). This cup has a number of interesting phrases on it (see figure). The key word is I-PI-NA-MA, that is repeated in the lower line as I-PI-NA-MI-NA-TE (restored reading). But it is a toponym that is most intesting. One of the words very clearly reads I-KU-PA3-NA-TU-NA-TE (the first sign has only its corner visible). This very name returns as KU-PA3-NA-TU (without the *i- prefix and the *-ate suffix) on Haghia Triada tablets HT47 and HT119. The latter tablet probably lists people by places (it was not included in my previous lists due to the ambiguous topic). It is very unlikely that the name would be independent of KU-PA3-NU, another putative place-name: rather, it just seems to be a regular variant. On the tablets, KU-PA3-NU very frequently groups with genuine western Cretan names (e.g. KU-DO-NI); this could mean if KU-PA3-NU and KU-PA3-NA-TU are one and the same (or two, directly next to each other), they should definitely lie west of Phaistos, probably in west-central Crete.

References to a place SU-KI-RI-TA are encountered on vases found at Phaistos and Haghia Triada. This time we have an easier job: SU-KI-RI-TA is not only commonly mentioned in Linear B at Knossos (when it was apparently a local province capital of some sort), but the place is extant: it is none else than Classical Sybrita, modern Syvritos. Its location south-west of the Idaian range can explain the distribution of its references reasonably well.

Turning to the Linear B documents, apart from SU-KI-RI-TA and PA-I-TO, there is a third place that is mentioned as having its very own QA-SI-RE-WI-JA (local chieftaindom): SE-TO-I-JA. Despite the obvious similarity with the name of modern Sitia (ancient Séteia), this identification is not necessarily straightforward or correct. SE-TO-I-JA never groups with eastern Cretan places on the Knossos tablets, and in Linear A, it is mentioned only on a libation table found at Prassas, next to Knossos. A second, doubtful mention could be on the libation table found in the Psychro cave (PS Za 2), where a word [?-?-?]-JA-TI was restored as SE-TO-I-JA-TI by Gareth Owens, based on the length of the missing fragment and the rarity of other place-names in Linear A ending with -JA. Nevertheless, his identification of SE-TO-I-JA with Archanes is questionable: Why would a town so close to Knossos be a local province capital? Judged by the considerable distance of Sybrita (westwards) and Phaistos (southwards) from Knossos, it is more plausible that SE-TO-I-JA was a key city on eastern Crete, perhaps lying at Mallia or even further to the east. These local centres are seldom mentioned on Linear B place-name lists, making their localization difficult by groupings alone. Therefore I do not yet discard the original hypothesis of placing SE-TO-I-JA to Sitia (i.e. the Minoan site of Petras, near Sitia).

On a mundane amphore from Tylissos, another interesting term can be read. The text consists of a single word: A-[*]-KI-TA-A: The sign originally standing at position * was probably *306 (it is still partly visible), before it was erased and changed to *301. Because we already have a putative toponym from the Haghia Triada tablet HT122 in the form [?]-*306-KI-TA2, the correcture of the scribe was likely erroneous. While the reading of Lin A *306 is officially "unknown", it very closely corresponds to Linear B sign *42, that is, WO. Such a phonetic value is not unlikely in Linear A, either, because semivowels, including approximants are commonly seen in word-initial positions. Yet even if the stem word was indeed WO-KI-TA, it is hard to identify it with any Cretan place. Well, unless "Luke" is a "wookie" [StarWars pun intended], in which case *Wúkita could be Mycaenean Lukitos (Lin B RU-KI-TO), modern Lyttos. Unfortunately, while the change of laterals into approximants is common in all languages of the world, I have no idea if the reverse process could ever happen. But at least at some rare borrowings, the initial *w- can change over to other consonants, as the example of the Behistun inscriptions show: the Old Persian name Wishtashpa (= Greek Hystaspes, the father of Great King Darius I) is repeated in the form Mishtashba in the Elamite text. (Use of the same cuneiform sytem makes a scribal error extremely unlikely.) Therefore I do not discard this theory, that gets further support from the Knossos archives: Lyktos is probably the most commonly mentioned place on all tablets. It likely also had strong trade connections with Tylissos, as these places are frequently mentioned together. This could easily explain why excavations have discovered a vase at Tylissos, imported from Lyktos. And at least on a single tablet, Lyktos is also listed together with Daos (perhaps Haghia Triada itself). But even without direct identification, the distribution of places where *306-KI-TA was mentioned would place *Wúkita somewhere into central Crete, close enough to Lyktos anyway.

Speaking about Haghia Triada, it is an interesting fact that none of the place-names mentioned on the HT tablets can be equated with the town itself. From the Linear B material we know however, that Phaistos did have a sister-town called Daos (DA-WO, almost always paired with PA-I-TO). Yet by sheer luck, there is a single fragment of a libation vessel found at Knossos (KN Za 10, see figure), that contains a severely damaged series of signs; the term DA-WA-[SI?] is still readable. If interpreted correctly (I am uncertain if putting an "arbitrary" divisor to the broken off segment was right), that could mean that it was *Dawa, that is Daos (i.e. Haghia Triada) that donated this stone plate to the temple of Knossos and the offerings it once held to please the gods.

The original Minoan name of Tylissos (Linear B TU-RI-SO) is similarly difficult to find out. In this case, the documents supply us with not one, but two candidates. One of them is DU-RE-ZA, a toponym on the clay tablets found at Khania and Zakros; the other one is a certain TU-RU-SA mentioned on a vessel at Kophinas and also at Knossos (in the form of A-TU-RI-SI-TI). I have no idea whether *Duletsa or *Tursa is a better match for Tylissos: I leave it to the reader to decide which one looks like a better candidate.

The site of the mountain-sanctuary of Syme also bestowed us a number of probable toponyms. Out of these many, the term PA3-NI stands out. This place is also frequently mentioned at Haghia Triada, as a donor of specialized agricultural goods (such as figs, several types of grain, malt, etc.). The occurrance of this term at Syme (one time securely on SY Za4, and possibly another time on SY Za7) hints that this was a place at mid-eastern Crete. Perhaps it is not an overtly bold step to search for PA3-NI in the Hierapetra region. A large settlement at that time: Gournia is definitely a good candidate. It is also worth to note that PA3-NI is very frequently paired with DI-RI-NA (*Drina) on the Haghia Triada tablets. Eerily enough, there is a small town called Prina roughly 15kms west from the excavation site of Gournia, but I am not sure if that town's name is ancient.

Some of the terms provisionally transliterated by John Younger (whom I cannot thank enough for providing on-line access to the original images) need slight corrections. One of the terms, now read as JA-PA-RA-JA-NA-SE is especially interesting, as it seems to recall the same stem as the famous historical polity Praisos has. The town of Praisos has at least 4000 years of history: Several middle and late minoan ruins were excavated in the region, at Zou and at Praisos itself. Later into the classical era, Praisos was one of the last strongholds of Eteocretans and their poorly understood language. Nevertheless, the term *A-PA-RA-JA (*Apraya) looks like an un-derived original version (i.e. without the *-(i)ssos ending), but it is suffixed similarly to the Eteocretan ethnic term Phraisona.

Two eastern cretan locations: Petras and Palaikastro supply us with references to a place called *KI-TA-NA. Because this very term also appears on a number of hieroglyphic seals (e.g. from Mochlos and Sitia), it must have been a place of paramount importance. There is one more-or-less obvious candidate on the eastern end of Crete: the palatial site of Zakros. This toponym is not seen anywhere in the Linear B archives, which is explained well by the fact that the town of Zakros and many other places lay in ruins and were completely uninhabited by that time. Note that the name of Palaikastro (Greek: "Old Castle") is not ancient, either, but I was unable to find any reliable reference to that in Linear A materials (yet it is likely that the town is mentioned in Linear B). In contrast to that, the name of another mid-eastern Cretan town: Polychna (perhaps modern Vryses, near Mallia) returns as PU-RE-KA-NA on one of the Hieroglyphic seal impressions found at Knossos. The name *Pulekna (which I initially incorrectly assumed to be a personal name) shows a very nice correspondence with Polychna, the latter one seems to be a hellenized version (as *pule- is meaningless in Greek, but *poly- would mean "many"). Simiar warpings can be found in the names Aptera, earlier Aptawa, Linear B A-PA-TA-WA (πτερος = "wing") and Hierapetra, previously Hierapythna (πετρα = "stone"). These un-systematic changes testament the process how certain, originally non-Greek names became established in Hellenic dialects. But the very same fact makes their reconstruction difficult. Yet we have seen it is not impossible, fortunately for us.

As a special gift, I made a supplementary figure - a map to show all places we have talked about at once. Although I did not discuss that before, it also displays the potential location of KU-DA (HT122), likely the same as classic Kytaion (Lin B KU-TA-I-TO ?), as well as DA-RE (potentially Tarra, on south-western Crete).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What do the Minoan Linear A tablets tell us about Cretan geography? - Part II

As planned, I shall continue with our discussion of known and putative toponyms in Linear A. As we have seen it before, these place-names are not just mentioned haphazardly, but are clearly grouped on the tablets, for example - by geographic proximity. So the overall situation is similar to what is seen on Linear B documents, particularly the Pylos and Knossos archives.

Unfortunately, many of the Linear A tablets are damaged, broken off, abraded or simply fragmentary. This very fact makes it difficult to read an entire tablet from its start to the end, and even more difficult, to understand the precise context of listings. Yet while individual names are difficult to restore, terms that recur repeatedly again and again are much easier to guess at. For example, it does not take heavy imagination to reconstruct the word [?-?]-TI-JO as PA-I-TI-JO (*Phaistios = 'of Phaistos') on Linear B tablet As1516.

A similar method can also be applied to certain Linear A tablets. A heavily fragmented tablet from Phaistos (PH31) dealing with flocks of animals was already partly restored by John Younger. It defintitely made his job easier that most of the names seem to be toponyms that very frequently recur on other tablets from the neighbouring Haghia Triada. In my current post, I shall attempt a similar reconstruction of entries on Haghia Triada tablet HT122.

Tablet PH 31 (reconstructed)
 Statement   Item   Quantity 
? CAPf  (nanny-goat) 2
OVISf  (sheep/ewe) 1
?-DU-RI CAPm  (billy-goat) 1
TU-JU-MA CAPf  (nanny-goat) 1
PA-TA-NE CAPm  (billy-goat) 1
CAPf  (nanny-goat) 5
TE-RI OVISm  (sheep/ram) 1
OVISf  (sheep/ewe) 1
A-MI-DA-O OVISm  (sheep/ram) 1
? SI+AU+RE (young?) 1
QA-QA-RU CAPm+KU (? goat) 1
MA-DI OVISm  (sheep/ram) 1
OVISf  (sheep/ewe) 1
OVISm  (sheep/ram) 1
KU-PA3-NU SI+AU+RE (young?) 1
PA-TA-DA OVISm  (sheep/ram) 1
KU-ROCAPm+KU  (? goat) 1
OVISm  (sheep/ram) 5
OVISf  (sheep/ewe) 3
CAPm  (billy-goat) 2
CAPf  (nanny-goat) 8

Tablet HT122 is one of those rare Linear A finds that list people instead of agricultural goods. (Such a theme is commonly seen in Linear B.) Moreover, a majority of entries on both sides of HT122 contain reference to multiple men or women. This is very difficult to explain other than assuming a list of towns under the control of the Phaistos polity, each one contributing to the personnel serving the kingdom. Sadly, the header of side A (that seems to be the starting point of this list) is largely broken off, so we cannot learn the purpose of gathering these people. Many of its entries were also obliterated when the tablet broke into pieces. Luckily, some of the names can still be restored, and we shall see very soon how.

At the beginning of row 3, two terms were rendered largely illegible. But unlike the completely missing entry in the preceding row, small traces of the lower halves of signs are still clearly visible. Therefore we can be certain that whatever signs word PA-?-? contained at positions ?, they all had a long, straight vertical line at their lower end. Signs with this property are not that common: Only 20 syllabograms: A, I, U, DA, DI, ME, MU, NA, NI, PA, PO, RE, RO, RU, SA, SE, SI, TE, TO and ZA have this property. We also know - from the context - that the missing name should have been a toponym. This restriction leaves only one possible reconstruction: the missing term is none other than PA-I-TO, the town of Phaistos!

And we are not done yet! Substitution of the term PA-I-TO - together with the numerals following it - leaves a space for only one sign to precede the ?-DI ending of the next word. This time, the context of other place-name listing tablets helps us out: One of the more commonly seen term listed alongside with PA-I-TO is the putative toponym MA-DI. That would definitely fit here as well. One can even notice that the corner of the left ear of the 'cat-head' sign MA is still visible on the neighbouring fragment - a further nice bit of confirmation for the correctness of substitution.

Some of the numeral values pertaining to the damaged entries can also be guessed at. We know that the sum of individual values was 31 (apart from KU-DA, that is not added to KU-RO, but instead carried over to side B and directly added to PO-TO-KU-RO). The numeral following PA-I-TO is completely missing, but we can still see two strokes following the completely obliterated name directly above it. That name itself was likely 3 syllabograms long (e.g. KU-DO-NI or RI-RU-MA), but cannot be restored just based on this property. Though we know that it contributed to the sum with 2+x persons. Now, if PA-I-TO sent y, then the equation x+y=10 must be satisfied. From the symmetric position of the two visible strokes, the numeral of the missing entry should have been even (odd numerals are mostly arranged in a way that strokes are not placed directly above each other). So - for example - if PA-I-TO gave 6 servants, then the unknown town must have given 4. Or reversed. Anyway, a numeral higher or equal to 8 is unlikely, compared with other values (it would not even fit the narrow space between PA-I-TO and MA-DI).

Further down the tablet - in line 7 - there is another name largely obliterated by abrasion and fragmentation. Only the second sign is legible. Out of the first sign, only a single, barely visible oblique stroke remains. This makes our guess at ?-DU rather difficult. Based on the shape and peculiar direction of that single stroke, a RA sign could nicely fit in there. That would yield a reading of RA-DU, that is, the town of Lato, on east-central Crete (mentioned as RA-TO in Linear B). The same name is also found on tablet HT58 , starting with QE-TI RA-DU (despite the lack of word-dividers, we can be almost certain that word QE-TI was separate, as it is on the header of tablet HT7). The only problem with this interpretation is the fact that the ancient city of Lato (next to modern Aghios Nikolaos) lies much closer to the sites of Mallia and Knossos, than to Phaistos - making its status as tributary to the latter less plausible.

Tablet HT122 (side B) - restored
 Statement   Item   Quantity 
JE-DI • *346 • VIR (people) 40?
A?-*306-KI-TA2 7
TA-NA-TI? 10?
DI 2
KU-RO 65

The other side of the same tablet is - fortunately - much more complete. There is only one entry that is partly missing in line 2. Judged from the broken TA syllabogram at its start and considering its length, the name was probably TA-NA-TI - known from quite a few Linear A tablets. The only really interesting feature of side B is the large discrepancy of numbers at individual entries (always less than 10) and the whopping 65 after KU-RO. Even if we suppose that TA-NA-TI sent at least 10 men, on the end of the first line (following JE-DI) there should have been a numeral of 40. Otherwise the names seem to be wildly varied: sometimes abbreviated into a single syllable (DI), sometimes complimented with additional information. A-RA-JU U-DE-ZA looks like a precise reference to another U-DE-ZA town, near A-RA-JU. Similar geographical references are found on other Linear A tablets (e.g HT10: KU-NI-SU • SA-MA) as well as in Linear B (e.g. KO-NO-SO • TE-PE-JA on L641). It is tempting to see it as an attempt to separate towns with identical names, as a modern example of the German towns by the name Frankfurt shows (officially referred to as Frankfurt am Main and Frankfurt an der Oder).

What have we learnt today? We have used our knowledge to successfully restore a tablet dealing with some sort of workforce assignment. This is just an illustration of what deeper understanding of Linear A tablets can give us. If we further our research into toponyms, we can definitely do even more. In the next post, we shall examine another source of evidence: libation tables and inscibed jars, to further us in our goal: to be able to draw a true map (with the names of towns in place) of Minoan Crete!