A tour of Mycenaean Thebes

Banners on the wall of the Archaeological Museum of Thebes, showing finds including statues, a fresco, and the name Thebes in Linear B

Last (for now!) in my series of virtual tours of Mycenaean sites, following Tiryns and Mycenae in the north-east Peloponnese, is this tour of Thebes in Boeotia, north-west of Athens (Myceanean te-qa Thēgwai, classical Greek Θῆβαι Thēbai, modern Greek Θήβα Thiva).

This one is a bit different from the last two, because unlike most other Mycenaean palatial sites we know, the citadel of Thebes has been continuously occupied from the Bronze Age to the present day – so the central area of the Mycenaean site corresponds more or less exactly to the modern town centre. Evidently, this makes excavation a challenge; much of the work that’s been done has been rescue excavations before construction work, so relatively few of the excavated areas remain visible, and because excavations have taken place in lots of separate, mostly unconnected sites, it’s very hard to get a joined-up picture of the Mycenaean citadel as a whole. Below is a Google map of locations mentioned in this post; this interactive map, the product of Dr Anastasia Dakouri-Hild’s ‘Digital Thebes’ project’, is also handy for seeing where excavations have taken place even where the results are not visible (you can choose various layers to show finds from different time-periods, including plans of buildings which may be associated with the Mycenaean (Late Helladic) palace and findspots of ‘palatial’-type objects such as Linear B inscriptions, frescoes, and craft workshops).

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A tour of Mycenae

Following on from last year’s virtual tour of the Mycenaean site of Tiryns, now it’s the turn of the site after which the “Mycenaean” societies of Late Bronze Age Greece are named – Mycenae (ancient Greek Μυκήναι, modern Greek Μυκήνες Mikines). This impressive fortified citadel is only about 20km from Tiryns, which was probably a subordinate/secondary site to Mycenae (although the exact relationship between the two is disputed), so if travelling by car the two can easily be done in one trip. Read on for the tour!

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How to make your own Linear B tablet / πως να φτιάξετε τη δική σας πινακίδα σε Γραμμική Β

Everyone enjoys playing with clay, and now you can make and write your own Linear B tablet thanks to this video and worksheet based on my research into how these clay tablets were made in the Mycenaean palace of Pylos c.1200 BCE. This activity is suitable for use with school students, at home with your own children, or by anyone who feels like getting some clay and having a go! In the 12min-long video, I talk about what these tablets were used for, why knowing how they were made is important, and how experimental archaeology can help us answer that question, as well as demonstrating some different ways the tablets were made, which you and your students/children can then try out. The worksheet then explains how to write on your tablet in the Linear B script, as well as giving some extra information and prompts for discussion for use in running this activity. The worksheet is available in both English and Greek, and the video is in English with subtitles in both languages. Enjoy!

Σε όλους αρέσει να παίζουν με τον πηλό, και τώρα μπορείτε να φτιάξετε και να γράψετε τη δική σας πινακίδα σε Γραμμική Β! Ορίστε ένα βίντεο και ασκήσεις που βασίζονται στην έρευνά μου για το πως φτιάχτηκαν αυτές οι πινακίδες στο μυκηναϊκό ανάκτορο της Πύλου περίπου το 1200 π.Χ. Αυτή η δραστηριότητα είναι κατάλληλη για μαθήτες στα σχολεία, για τα παιδιά σας στο σπίτι, και για όποιον θέλει να την δοκιμάσει! Στο βίντεο (12 λεπτά) μιλώ για τις χρήσεις αυτών των πινακίδων, γιατί είναι σημαντικό να ξέρουμε πώς φτιάχτηκαν, και πώς η πειραματική αρχαιολογία μπορεί να μας βοηθήσει να το καταλάβουμε αυτό. Δείχνω επίσης διάφορες μεθόδους για την κατασκευή των πινακίδων, τις όποιες εσείς και οι μαθητές ή τα παιδιά σας μπορούν να δοκιμάσουν. Οι ασκήσεις θα βοηθήσουν τους μαθητές ή τα παιδιά να γράψουν στις πινακίδες τους σε Γραμμική Β, και έχουν επίσης πληροφορίες για τους καθηγητές ή τους γονείς. Το βίντεο είναι στα αγγλικά με αγγλικούς και ελληνικούς υπότιτλους, και οι ασκήσεις διατίθενται στα αγγλικά και στα ελληνικά (και τα δύο είναι επαγγελματικά μεταφρασμένα).     

Have fun/καλή διασκέδαση!

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.

Aegean scripts in the digital age 2: practising Linear B

Following on from my round-up of fonts to use for Linear B and other Aegean and Cypriot writing systems, a quick post to share two options for practicing reading Linear B online or on your phone!

The first option is a Memrise course to learn and practice all the signs of the Linear B script, including all the syllabograms (signs representing syllables, used to spell out words), logograms/ideograms (signs representing the objects being recorded on the Linear B administrative documents – people, animals, goods), and the weights and measures symbols. It was created by former Cambridge student C N Howarth for the course I used to teach there in reading Linear B texts, but is suitable for anyone wanting to learn or practice recognising the Linear B signs!

Screenshot of Memrise Linear B course showing the syllabograms qa, qe, qi, qo
Screenshot of Learn Linear B app showing vocabulary list. Each entry has the Linear B version, transcription, interpretation, and a comparison to Classical Greek. These entries read: me-re-u-ro "flour", related to ἄλευρον; na-u-do-mo "shipbuilders", related to ναῦς & δέμω; po-ti-ni-ja "mistress" compare classical πότνια

The second is a new “Learn Linear B” app (available for Android and iPhone), created by Bill Linney with consultation from Emily Egan, Dimitri Nakassis, and me. Unlike the Memrise course, it only includes the ‘core’ syllabograms (five vowel signs, and various series of signs representing a single consonant plus a vowel; not the more complex ‘extra’ signs or the undeciphered signs), and a selection of ideograms; however, it also has numerals and a vocabulary list with a selection of two-, three-, and four-character words, plus some contextual information.

Of course, there’s always also the good old-fashioned way I learned Linear B, by making flashcards out of index cards… If any other students or teachers of Linear B have other recommendations for practice quizzes etc, do let me know in the comments and I’ll add them here!

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.

Learning to spell in Linear B

Screenshot of Cambridge University Press website for the Cambridge Classical Journal, showing title "Learning to spell in Linear B: orthography and scribal training in Mycenaean Pylos" and beginning of abstract

My article on how Mycenaean scribes at the palace of Pylos learned to spell in the Linear B writing system has now been published in the Cambridge Classical Journal via ‘First View’ – i.e. it’s published online in advance of the print issue which should be out later this year. “Learning to spell in Linear B: orthography and scribal training in Mycenaean Pylos” is freely available to read and download (thanks to my EU Marie-Skłodowska Curie funding which enabled it to be published gold open access), and you can also read my previous blog posts giving some background on Linear B spelling (and how it’s surprisingly similar in some ways to the syllabary used to write the Native American language Cherokee!) and summarising my article. Questions and comments welcome below!

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.

Spelling B: how did Mycenaean scribes learn to spell in Linear B?

Rectangular tablet oriented horizontally with four lines of Linear B writing, and a small wooden stylus beneath it
Replica of a Linear B tablet from Pylos recording religious offerings of grain, and replica stylus. Tablet made by me, stylus by Philip Boyes

In my last post I wrote about the apparent ‘problems’ in how the prehistoric Linear B script is used to write the Mycenaean Greek language, and how these are actually not ‘problems’ at all, but a compromise between accurate representation of the language and economy in the number of different signs in the writing signs – as demonstrated by the use of very similar orthographic strategies in how the modern Cherokee syllabary represents the Cherokee language. Today I want to look in more detail at how Mycenaean writers actually used the Linear B orthographic system, and what this can tell us about both their attitudes towards ‘correct’ spelling and the way(s) in which they were taught to spell in the first place.

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A tale of two scripts: Linear B and Cherokee

The writing system used for the Native American language Cherokee (ᏣᎳᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ‎ Tsalagi Gawonihisdi) was invented by a Cherokee man called Sequoyah (ᏍᏏᏉᏯ Ssiquoya), a silversmith by profession, between c.1809-1821. It’s a syllabary of 85 signs, each standing for a syllable consisting of a vowel or a consonant plus a vowel, which was rapidly adopted by the Cherokee after its invention and is still in use today (the Cherokee language is endangered, with only c.2,000 first-language speakers, but the Cherokee Nation is working to promote the learning of both the language and the syllabary). The story of how Sequoyah invented this writing system is a fascinating one in its own right, but also surprisingly relevant to the study of the Bronze Age Greek syllabary Linear B – read on to find out why!

Cherokee Syllabary chart (Mattie.walkerr, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
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A tour of Mycenaean Tiryns

The Mycenaean palace of Tiryns (Τίρυνθα), located in the Argolid between Argos and Nafplio, has been known since ancient times for its impressive fortifications, made of stones so large they were said to have been built by the Cyclopes. It’s a site well worth visiting if you’re in the area, and after a recent trip there, I thought I’d share some photos and information here as a virtual tour.

Photograph of tall stone fortification wall, with river bed to left and blocks of stone on ground in front
Panoramic view of the fortifications of Tiryns from near the north end of the lower citadel; the upper citadel is to the right
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How to make a clay tablet, part 1

As part of my research into writing practices in the Mycenaean palace of Pylos, I’m looking at how the clay tablets on which administrative documents were written in the Linear B script were made in the first place: after all, creating the object you’re going to write on is as crucial a part of the whole package of writing practices as actually doing the writing, even if we don’t know whether this was usually done by the writers themselves or by other tablet-makers. Earlier on I did some preliminary work preparing and trying out different clays, and now that I’ve been able to start examining the actual tablets in the National Archaeological Museum here in Athens, I’ve also started some more systematic experiments trying out different methods of tablet-making. I’ve just presented this work-in-progress at the European Association of Archaeologists‘ annual conference, so it seemed a good time to share it here as well!

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Women in Mycenaean Greece

Reconstruction of a wall-painting from Thebes. Five women dressed in elaborate, brightly-coloured ruffled skirts, open-fronted tops, and headdresses, walk in a procession, holding offerings such as flowers. Photo: George E. Koronaios, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The wall-painting shown above, reconstructed from fragments found on the Mycenaean citadel of Thebes and dating from the Late Bronze Age (late second millennium BCE), shows a group of elaborately-dressed women taking part in a ritual procession: each holds an offering – a box, a bunch of flowers – in her hands, presumably to offer to the deity (goddess?) in whose honour this ritual celebration took place. But what do we actually know about the lives of women in Thebes and other parts of Mycenaean Greece – whether the elite who would have taken part in events like the one shown in this painting, or those lower down the social scale? For International Women’s Day today (March 8th), I’d like to look at some of the evidence we can use to try and reconstruct the activities of Mycenaean women.

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