New Features in Old Texts. A Diachronic Study of Linear B Tablets from the Room of the Chariot Tablets at Knossos to the Odos Pelopidou at Thebes

Rachele Pierini

Citation with persistent identifier: Pierini, Rachele. “New Features in Old Texts. A Diachronic Study of Linear B Tablets from the Room of the Chariot Tablets at Knossos to the Odos Pelopidou at Thebes.” CHS Research Bulletin 8 (2020).

This research project aims to investigate the diachronic development of Linear B tablets (standardly approached, instead, as a synchronic dataset) by focusing on specific idiosyncrasies in order to gain a new understanding of the earliest stage of the Greek language. The specific focus is on the ending -Xo of the o-stem genitive singular, i.e. a particular linguistic feature that allows dealing with, at once, (i) Linear B tablets in diachrony, (ii) the relationship between the Linear A and the Linear B scripts, (iii) the early stages of PIE. Results will appear in a volume containing the complete dossier, analysis, and commentary of genitives in -Xo in their PIE background.

This type of project cannot be carried out within a single academic field. Rather, it requires a multidisciplinary approach. The research, therefore, has a highly interdisciplinary profile, combining three fields of expertise: comparative philology, historical linguistics, and archaeology.


The RCT is understood to be the earliest Linear B archive at Knossos and Linear B documents from this deposit represent the closest parallel to Linear A tablets, on account of their chronological and geographical proximity. If in terms of relative chronology the RCT is currently datable to LM II-IIIA1 on archaeological and palaeographic grounds, what is yet difficult to establish is the absolute chronology of the Aegean Bronze Age. The dating of the RCT is a crucial aspect of my research project and a hotly debated matter, mainly because of the unsystematic and contradictory nature of the primary sources (cf. Del Freo 2016). A brief recap of its state of the art reads as follows. As regards the task of identifying the find-spots of Linear B inscriptions at Knossos, one now relies on two robustly argued, precise and up-to-date works (Firth 1996-1997; 2000-2001). With respect to the issue of dating the Knossos inscriptions, after a first classification attempt (Palmer-Boardmann 1963), a thorough palaeographical study (Olivier 1967) took the subject a step forward and, in addition, singled out two particular Linear B tablet deposits for their idiosyncratic features, namely the RCT and the North Entrance Passage (NEP). Further in-depth palaeographical analyses, along with probative archaeological, epigraphical, and pinacological evidence, powerfully demonstrated that RCT and NEP not only fail to show any link with other Knossos deposits (albeit with some caveat: Driessen 1999, Salgarella 2020), but also that the former is the earliest Linear B archive on Crete (possibly earlier than Mainland archives as well), and the latter is slightly later in date than the RCT but earlier than all other Knossos deposits (Driessen 1990; 1999; 2000). Recently, the phylogenetic systematics method, commonly used in biology to trace the evolutionary path of organisms, has been applied to Mycenaean palaeography and has corroborated the isolation of the RCT (Firth-Skelton 2016). Follow-up inquires have added further weight to the hypothesis that especially tablets from the RCT are the closest in shape and physical characteristics to the Linear A documents (Tomas 2017).

The ending -Xo and the diachronic perspective

The ending -Xo of the o-stem genitive singular is a problematic issue in Mycenaean studies for two main reasons: the very existence of the ending and its morphological interpretation. Although previous discussions deal with this question (lastly Thompson 2017), the chronological gap between tablet deposits has not yet been taken into due account. By looking at data in their diachronic development, I argue that the scenario is significantly different. First, the ending ‑Xo is directly linked to both the first reconstructable stages of Proto-Indo-European and data on tablets from the RCT and Thebes. Second, whereas the RCT is datable to Late Minoan II-IIIA1 (possibly 1450 BC), the Thebes tablets date to Late Helladic IIIB2, about 1200 BC (TFC). However, on the Thebes tablets the question of the ending -Xo is directly related to the sign *65, a yet-to-be-deciphered sign of the Linear B syllabary appearing in a group of terms that are potential examples of o-stem genitive singular ending in -Xo, e.g. ra-ke-da-mi-ni-jo-*65. The palaeographic evidence relative to this particular sign seems to be indicative of a direct link between RCT, Theban, and Linear A documents, thus pointing to a slightly different picture.

Further findings at the CHS

During the fellowship at the Center for Hellenic Studies, I completed the first draft of the monograph. The implications of this research are significant as it draws a clear picture of the nominal and morpho-syntactic formation of the Greek language since its earliest stages. It also sheds light on the process of reconstructing PIE and is helpful to focus on the early stages of the splitting process of PIE into individual language branches. In fact, whereas alphabetic Greek allows reconstructing *-osyo as the common ancestor of the various 1st millennium BCE outcomes, Linear B documents seem to show the previous chapter, i.e. the various steps through which the PIE ending has become *-osyo.

In addition, I have carried out research on two closely related issues. First, I have focused on possible echoes of the interactions between the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures (only the latter seems to belong to the PIE heritage, according to Duhoux 1978) in the Greek literature. Preliminary results have been presented during a lecture at the University of Chicago, which I gave during my fellowship at the CHS. Second, I have broadened the comparison between the Linear A and the Linear B scripts by involving a topic largely present on Pylos tablets as well, i.e. perfumed oil. Results will be presented in the upcoming international conference on Mycenaean studies.

Moreover, initially informal discussions among colleagues on Linear B studies have led to the systematic organization of meetings entirely devoted to the topic. During the fellowship at the CHS I have organized three out of three of these reunions and now I am the co-founder and director of MASt @ CHS, Meetings on Aegean Studies at the Center for Hellenic Studies, which aim to promote the debate on this topic.

Furthermore, I have focused on all relevant literature on the earliest studies on Linear A and Linear B. Although this kind of scholarship does not meet stricto sensu the definition of a “rare books collection,” it is indeed a particular segment that is usually very hard to fully access. By providing a magnificent amount of resources for classicists and a superb network of internationally highly renowned scholars, the residency at the CHS has been crucial to dive deep into this particular task as well.

Select Bibliography

Deger-Jalkotzy, S., S. Hiller, and O. Panagl, eds. 1999. Floreant studia Mycenaea: Akten des X. Internationalen Mykenologischen Colloquiums in Salzburg vom 1.–5. Mai 1995.  2 volumes. Vienna.

Del Freo, M. 2016. “I find-spot e la cronologia dei documenti in Lineare B.” In Del Freo and Perna 2016: 185-197.

Del Freo, M., and M. Perna, eds. 2016. Manuale di epigrafia micenea. 2 volumes. Padua:

Driessen, J. 1990. An Early Destruction in the Mycenaean Palace at Knossos: A New Interpretation of the Excavation Field-Notes of the South-East Area of the West Wing. Leuven.

———. 1999. “The Northern Entrance Passage at Knossos. Some Preliminary Observations on its potential Role as ‘Central Archives’.” In Deger-Jalkotzy, Hiller, and Panagl 1999:205-226.

———. 2000. The Scribes of the Room of the Chariot Tablets at Knossos: Interdisciplinary Approach to the Study of the Linear B Deposit. Salamanca.

Duhoux, Y. 1978. “Une analyse linguistique du linéaire A.” In Duhoux 1978a:65-129.

———. 1978a. Etudes minoennes. Leuven.

Firth, R. 1996-1997. “The Find-Places of the Tablets from the Palace of Knossos.” Minos 31-32:7-122.

———. 2000-2001. “A Review of the Find-Places of the Linear B Tablets from the Palace of Knossos.” Minos 35-36:63-290.

Firth, R., and C. Skelton. 2016. “A study of the scribal hands of Knossos based on phylogenetics methods and find-place analysis.” Part I-II-III, Minos 39:159-188; 189-214; 215-228.

Olivier, J.-P. 1967. Scribes de Cnossos. Essai de classement des archives d’un palais mycénien. Rome.

Nagy, G. 1968. “On Dialectal Anomalies in Pylian Texts.” In Atti e memorie del 1° congresso internazionale di micenologia, vol. 2, 663–679. Rome.

Nosch, M.-L., and H. Landenius Enegren, eds. 2017. Aegean Scripts. Proceedings of the 14th Mycenological Colloquium held in Copenhagen, 2-5 September 2015, Rome: Edizioni Consiglio nazionale delle ricerche, Istituto di studi sul Mediterraneo antico.

Packard, David. 1974. Minoan Linear A. Berkeley.

Palaima, Thomas. 1988. The Scribes of Pylos. Rome.

Palmer, L.R., and J. Boardman. 1963. On the Knossos Tablets: The Find-Places of the Knossos Tablets. The Date of the Knossos Tablets. Oxford.

Pierini, R. 2018. “Syllaboram *65 or Logogram *129 (= far)? The Sign 𐀎 on Thebes Tablets, AB 65 in Linear A, and Some Remarks on the o-stem Genitive Singular in ‑Xo.” SMEA NS 4:111-129.

Salgarella, E. 2020. Aegean Linear Script(s): Rethinking the Relationship between Linear A and Linear B. Cambridge.

Schoep, I. 2002. The administration of neopalatial Crete: a critical assessment of the Linear A tablets and their role in the administrative process. Salamanca.

Tomas, H. 2017. “From Minoan to Mycenaean elongated tablets: defining the shape of Aegean tablets.” In Nosch-Landenius and Enegren 2017:115-126.

Thompson, H. 2017. “The Mycenaean o-stem Genitive singular in -o: a Re-evaluation.” In Nosch-Landenius and Enegren 2017:575-589.

TFC = Aravantinos, V., L. Godart, and A. Sacconi. 2001. Thèbes, Fouilles de la Cadmée, I. Les tablettes en linéaire B de la Odos Pelopidou, Édition et commentaire. Pisa-Rome.

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