Virtually visiting the Archaeological Museum of Thebes

The Archaeological Museum of Thebes reopened a few years ago after a long period of closure for renovations. My only previous visit to Thebes was during that closure, so visiting to see the new galleries has been on my wishlist for a while now. Obviously that’s not possible at the moment, since museums are closed and travelling around Greece isn’t allowed, but happily I just found that the museum has a virtual tour and lots of other online resources – so I’ve been on a virtual visit to its Mycenaean gallery.

The tour is pretty high-resolution and gives a very good view of a lot of the objects and of the larger text panels. Since I work on the Linear B writing system, I was happy to see a whole display about it (above, far right) and lots of tablets on display (though sadly they’re a bit small to be able to see very well in the virtual tour). I also like the way the displays have been arranged thematically, combining different types of evidence for aspects of Mycenaean life: e.g. the display on religious practices incorporates a fresco depicting a procession, vases used in rituals, clay figurines of worshippers, and Linear B tablets containing the names of gods.

I was also happy to see a display of lots of ‘inscribed stirrup jars’ – large jars used for transporting liquids like olive oil, with Linear B inscriptions painted on them before the jars were fired. (The ‘stirrup’ part refers to the shape of their handles; uninscribed stirrup jars are also found and in fact are far more common than the inscribed kind). Although many of these were found in Thebes and other places on the Greek mainland, they were generally produced in Crete, and the inscriptions seem to be part of a Cretan administrative process tracking the production of the jars and/or their contents. I wrote an article about these jars some time ago, so it’s nice to see them on display!

Display of 7 large jars with stirrup-shaped handles and spouts at the top, painted with Linear B inscriptions around the belly, resting off the ground in a frame. Behind is a text panel headed 'Olive oil from Crete in Thebes'
Inscribed stirrup jar display

There are also lots of interactive elements in the exhibition, which aren’t fully available online, but can be previewed: I think this activity about writing administrative texts in Linear B with ‘Eteokles the scribe’ looks fantastic!

There are also pages on each section of the museum, with general information about the periods and photographs of objects (here is the Mycenaean one), and even a collection of online games: restoring broken artefacts, a memory game with potsherds, ancient Greek dress-up, and even writing your name in Linear B or the Greek alphabet from various different periods. (The latter involves choosing a name from a list, only in Greek; unfortunately since sharing this on Twitter yesterday I’ve seen some results where the game hasn’t gotten the – rather complicated – Linear B spelling rules quite right…maybe in a later post I’ll explain why that is difficult!).

Screenshot of the 'write your name in Linear B' game. Text at the top says, in Greek, 'you wrote: Agamemnon in Linear B'; the Linear B spelling of this name is below
Write your name in Linear B, showing the spelling of ‘Agamemnon’

I’m very much looking forward to the time (hopefully in the not too distant future…) when travelling and visiting museums will be possible again, so that I can go see the Thebes museum in person. For now, though, the virtual tour is a nice taster, and I highly recommend using it to explore the museum’s collections!

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 885977.

Author: Anna P. Judson

Researcher of Linear B, currently in Athens

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