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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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 Mycenaean octopus – in cross-stitch

Happy New Year/Καλή Χρονία to all my readers! Just a quick post to share my recent craft project: over the holidays, I’ve been combining my hobby of cross-stitching with my love of the octopuses that are a frequent decoration of vases from prehistoric Greece, ranging from the elaborate to the cartoonish, as you can see in these photos of vases in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

My absolute favourite is this worried-looking little fellow in Heraklion, found near the palace of Knossos on Crete and dating to 1300-1200 BCE, so it was him that I picked to make and sew a cross-stitch pattern: here he is in ceramic and cross-stitch form!

If any other cross-stitching octopus fans are reading this, you can download my pattern below: why not have a go yourself at the sampler above, or do it in any other colours you feel like (a neon octopus would be fun!)? If you do, please send me a photo of the result!

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.

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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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.

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Formatting Bronze Age Tablets

Today’s new issue of ‘Archaeology’ magazine has a short piece based on my recent article on how Linear B scribes edited their documents, called “Formatting Bronze Age Tablets” – you can check it out here! For more on this topic, see also my previous post about the article, which is also available open-access here.

Screenshot of article entitled "Formatting Bronze Age Tablets", by Daniel Weiss, showing large picture of front and back of clay Linear B tablet