Linear B

Linear B
NAMA Linear B tablet of Pylos.jpg
Syllabary with additional ideograms
LanguagesMycenaean Greek
Time period
Late Bronze Age
Parent systems
Linear A
  • Linear B
Sister systems
Cypro-Minoan syllabary
ISO 15924Linb, 401
Unicode alias
Linear B

Linear B is a syllabic script that was used for writing Mycenaean Greek, the earliest attested form of Greek. The script predates the Greek alphabet by several centuries. The oldest Mycenaean writing dates to about 1450 BC.[1] It is descended from the older Linear A, an undeciphered earlier script used for writing the Minoan language, as is the later Cypriot syllabary, which also recorded Greek. Linear B, found mainly in the palace archives at Knossos, Cydonia,[2] Pylos, Thebes and Mycenae,[3] disappeared with the fall of Mycenaean civilization during the Late Bronze Age collapse. The succeeding period, known as the Greek Dark Ages, provides no evidence of the use of writing. It is also the only one of the prehistoric Aegean scripts to have been deciphered, by English architect and self-taught linguist Michael Ventris.[4]

Linear B consists of around 87 syllabic signs and over 100 ideographic signs. These ideograms or "signifying" signs symbolize objects or commodities. They have no phonetic value and are never used as word signs in writing a sentence.

The application of Linear B appears to have been confined to administrative contexts. In all the thousands of clay tablets, a relatively small number of different "hands" have been detected: 45 in Pylos (west coast of the Peloponnese, in southern Greece) and 66 in Knossos (Crete).[5] It is possible that the script was used only by a guild of professional scribes who served the central palaces.[citation needed] Once the palaces were destroyed, the script disappeared.[6]


Linear B has roughly 200 signs, divided into syllabic signs with phonetic values and ideograms with semantic values. The representations and naming of these signs have been standardized by a series of international colloquia starting with the first in Paris in 1956. After the third meeting in 1961 at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine, Wisconsin, a standard proposed primarily by Emmett L. Bennett, Jr. (1918–2011), became known as the Wingspread Convention, which was adopted by a new organization, the Comité International Permanent des Études Mycéniennes (CIPEM), affiliated in 1970 by the fifth colloquium with UNESCO. Colloquia continue: the 13th occurred in 2010 in Paris.[7]

Many of the signs are identical or similar to those in Linear A; however, Linear A encodes an as-yet unknown language, and it is uncertain whether similar signs had the same phonetic values.[8]

Syllabic signs

The grid developed during decipherment by Michael Ventris and John Chadwick of phonetic values for syllabic signs is shown below.[9]

Initial consonants are in the leftmost column; vowels are in the top row beneath the title. The transcription of the syllable (it may not have been pronounced that way) is listed next to the sign along with Bennett's identifying number for the sign preceded by an asterisk (as was Ventris' and Chadwick's convention).[note 1] In cases where the transcription of the sign remains in doubt, Bennett's number serves to identify the sign.[10] The signs on the tablets and sealings often show considerable variation from each other and from the representations below. Discovery of the reasons for the variation and possible semantic differences is a topic of ongoing debate in Mycenaean studies.

Recognised signs of shape V, CV[note 2]
-a -e -i -o -u
𐀀 Linear B Syllable B008 A.svg a


𐀁 Linear B Syllable B038 E.svg e


𐀂 Linear B Syllable B028 I.svg i


𐀃 Linear B Syllable B061 O.svg o


𐀄 Linear B Syllable B010 U.svg u


d- 𐀅 Linear B Syllable B001 DA.svg da


𐀆 Linear B Syllable B045 DE.svg de


𐀇 Linear B Syllable B007 DI.svg di


𐀈 Linear B Syllable B014 DO.svg do


𐀉 Linear B Syllable B051 DU.svg du


j- 𐀊 Linear B Syllable B057 JA.svg ja


𐀋 Linear B Syllable B046 JE.svg je


𐀍 Linear B Syllable B036 JO.svg jo


k- 𐀏 Linear B Syllable B077 KA.svg ka


𐀐 Linear B Syllable B044 KE.svg ke


𐀑 Linear B Syllable B067 KI.svg ki


𐀒 Linear B Syllable B070 KO.svg ko


𐀓 Linear B Syllable B081 KU.svg ku


m- 𐀔 Linear B Syllable B080 MA.svg ma


𐀕 Linear B Syllable B013 ME.svg me


𐀖 Linear B Syllable B073 MI.svg mi


𐀗 Linear B Syllable B015 MO.svg mo


𐀘 Linear B Syllable B023 MU.svg mu


n- 𐀙 Linear B Syllable B006 NA.svg na


𐀚 Linear B Syllable B024 NE.svg ne


𐀛 Linear B Syllable B030 NI.svg ni


𐀜 Linear B Syllable B052 NO.svg no


𐀝 Linear B Syllable B055 NU.svg nu


p- 𐀞 Linear B Syllable B003 PA.svg pa


𐀟 Linear B Syllable B072 PE.svg pe


𐀠 Linear B Syllable B039 PI.svg pi


𐀡 Linear B Syllable B011 PO.svg po


𐀢 Linear B Syllable B050 PU.svg pu


q- 𐀣 Linear B Syllable B016 QA.svg qa


𐀤 Linear B Syllable B078 QE.svg qe


𐀥 Linear B Syllable B021 QI.svg qi


𐀦 Linear B Syllable B032 QO.svg qo


r- 𐀨 Linear B Syllable B060 RA.svg ra


𐀩 Linear B Syllable B028 RE.svg re


𐀪 Linear B Syllable B053 RI.svg ri


𐀫 Linear B Syllable B002 RO.svg ro


𐀬 Linear B Syllable B026 RU.svg ru


s- 𐀭 Linear B Syllable B031 SA.svg sa


𐀮 Linear B Syllable B009 SE.svg se


𐀯 Linear B Syllable B041 SI.svg si


𐀰 Linear B Syllable B012 SO.svg so


𐀱 Linear B Syllable B058 SU.svg su


t- 𐀲 Linear B Syllable B059 TA.svg ta


𐀳 Linear B Syllable B004 TE.svg te


𐀴 Linear B Syllable B037 TI.svg ti


𐀵 Linear B Syllable B005 TO.svg to


𐀶 Linear B Syllable B069 TU.svg tu


w- 𐀷 Linear B Syllable B054 WA.svg wa


𐀸 Linear B Syllable B075 WE.svg we


𐀹 Linear B Syllable B040 WI.svg wi


𐀺 Linear B Syllable B042 WO.svg wo


z- 𐀼 Linear B Syllable B017 ZA.svg za


𐀽 Linear B Syllable B074 ZE.svg ze


𐀿 Linear B Syllable B020 ZO.svg zo


Special and unknown signs

In addition to the grid, the first edition of Documents contained a number of other signs termed "homophones" because they appeared at that time to resemble the sounds of other syllables and were transcribed accordingly: pa2 and pa3 were presumed homophonous to pa. Many of these were identified by the second edition and are shown in the "special values" below.[11] The second edition relates: "It may be taken as axiomatic that there are no true homophones." The unconfirmed identifications of *34 and *35 as ai2 and ai3 were removed. pa2 became qa.[12]

Special values
Character 𐁀 Linear B Syllable B025 A2.svg 𐁁 Linear B Syllable B043 A3.svg 𐁂 Linear B Syllable B085 AU.svg 𐁃 Linear B Syllable B071 DWE.svg 𐁄 Linear B Syllable B090 DWO.svg 𐁅 Linear B Syllable B048 NWA.svg 𐁇 Linear B Syllable B062 PTE.svg 𐁆 Linear B Syllable B029 PU2.svg 𐁈 Linear B Syllable B076 RA2.svg 𐁉 Linear B Syllable B033 RA3.svg 𐁊 Linear B Syllable B068 RO2.svg 𐁋 Linear B Syllable B066 TA2.svg 𐁌 Linear B Syllable B087 TWE.svg 𐁍 Linear B Syllable B091 TWO.svg
Transcription a2 (ha) a3 (ai) au dwe dwo nwa pte pu2 (phu) ra2 (rya) ra3 (rai) ro2 (ryo) ta2 (tya) twe two
Bennett's Number *25 *43 *85 *71 *90 *48 *62 *29 *76 *33 *68 *66 *87 *91

Other values remain unknown, mainly because of scarcity of evidence concerning them.[11][note 3] Note that *34 and *35 are mirror images of each other but whether this graphic relationship indicates a phonetic one remains unconfirmed.

Untranscribed and doubtful values
Character 𐁐
Linear B Symbol B018.svg
Linear B Symbol B019.svg
Linear B Symbol B022.svg
Linear B Symbol B034.svg
Linear B Symbol B047.svg
Linear B Symbol B049.svg
Linear B Symbol B056.svg
Linear B Symbol B063.svg
Linear B Symbol B064.svg
Linear B Syllable B065 JU.svg
Linear B Symbol B079.svg
Linear B Symbol B082.svg
Linear B Symbol B083.svg
Linear B Symbol B086.svg
Linear B Symbol B089.svg
Transcription *18 *19 *22 *34 *35 *47 *49 pa3? *63 swi? ju? zu? swa? *83 *86 *89
Bennett's Number *18 *19 *22 *34 *35 *47 *49 *56 *63 *64 *65 *79 *82 *83 *86 *89

In recent times, CIPEM inherited the former authority of Bennett and the Wingspread Convention in deciding what signs are "confirmed" and how to officially represent the various sign categories. In editions of Mycenaean texts, the signs whose values have not been confirmed by CIPEM are always transcribed as numbers preceded by an asterisk (e.g., *64). CIPEM also allocates the numerical identifiers, and until such allocation, new signs (or obscured or mutilated signs) are transcribed as a bullet-point enclosed in square brackets: [•].

Spelling and pronunciation

The signs are approximations―each may be used to represent a variety of about 70 distinct combinations of sounds, within rules and conventions. The grid presents a system of monosyllabic signs of the type V/CV. Clarification of the 14 or so special values tested the limits of the grid model, but Chadwick in the end concluded that even with the ramifications, the syllabic signs can unexceptionally be considered monosyllabic.[13]

Possible exceptions, Chadwick goes on to explain, include the two diphthongs, 𐁁 (ai) and 𐁂 (au), as in 𐁁𐀓𐀠𐀴𐀍, ai-ku-pi-ti-jo, for Aiguptios (Αἰγύπτιος, "Egyptian") and 𐁂𐀐𐀷, au-ke-wa, for Augewās (Αὐγείας "Augeas").[note 4] However, a diphthong is by definition two vowels united into a single sound and therefore might be typed as just V. Thus 𐁉 (rai), as in 𐀁𐁉𐀺e-rai-wo, for elaiwon (ἔλαιον),[note 5] is of the type CV. Diphthongs are otherwise treated as two monosyllables: 𐀀𐀫𐀄𐀨, a-ro-u-ra, for arourans (accusative plural of ἄρουραι, "tamarisk trees"), of the types CV and V.[14] Lengths of vowels and accents are not marked.

𐁌 (Twe), 𐁍 (two), 𐁃 (dwe), 𐁄 (dwo), 𐁅 (nwa) and the more doubtful 𐁘 (swi) and 𐁚 (swa) may be regarded as beginning with labialized consonants, rather than two consonants, even though they may alternate with a two-sign form: o-da-twe-ta and o-da-tu-we-ta for Odatwenta; a-si-wi-jo and a-swi-jo for Aswios (Ἄσιος). Similarly, 𐁈 (rya), 𐁊 (ryo) and 𐁋 (tya) begin with palatalized consonants rather than two consonants: -ti-ri-ja for -trja (-τρια).

The one sign Chadwick tags as the exception to the monosyllabic rule is 𐁇 (pte), but this he attributes to a development pte<*pje as in kleptei<*klep-jei.

Linear B does not consistently distinguish between voiced and unvoiced stop consonants (except in the dental series) and between aspirated and unaspirated stops even when these distinctions are phonemic in Mycenaean Greek. For example,[15] pa-te is patēr (πατήρ), pa-si is phāsi (φησί);[note 6] p on the other hand never represents β: βασιλεύς ("basileus", meaning in this period "court official or local chieftain") is qa-si-re-u[note 7]); ko-ru is korus (κόρυς, "helmet"), ka-ra-we is grāwes (plural of γρηύς), ko-no is skhoinos ("rope"). Exceptionally, however, the dentals are represented by a t-series and a d-series for unvoiced and voiced: to-so for tosos (τόσος or τόσσος) but do-ra for dōra (plural of δῶρον, "gift"). Aspiration, however, is not marked: to-ra-ke for thōrākes (plural of θώραξ, "breastplate"). In other cases aspiration can be marked but is optional: pu-te for phutēr ("planter", from φυτεύω), but phu-te-re for phutēres ("planters"). Initial aspiration may be marked only in the case of initial a and rarely: ha-te-ro for hateron (masculine ἅτερος),[16] and yet a-ni-ja for hāniai (ἁνίαι).

The j-series represents the semivowel equivalent to English "y", and is used word-initially and as an intervocalic glide after a syllable ending in i: -a-jo for -αῖος (-aios); a-te-mi-ti-jo for Ἀρτεμίτιος (Artemitios). The w-series similarly are semivowels used word-initially and intervocalically after a syllable ending in u: ku-wa-no for kuanos (κύανος, "blue").[17]

The r-series includes both the /r/ and /l/ phonemes: ti-ri-po for tripos (τρίπος, i.e. τρίπους) and tu-ri-so for Tulisos (Τυλισός).

The q-series is used for monosyllables beginning with a class of consonants that disappeared from classical Greek by regular phonetic change: the labialized velar consonants (see under Mycenaean Greek). These had entered the language from various sources: inheritance from Proto-Indo-European, assimilation, borrowing of foreign words, especially names. In Mycenaean they are /kʷ/, /gʷ/, and rarely /kʷh/ in names and a few words:[18] a-pi-qo-ro for amphiquoloi (ἀμφίπολοι); qo-u-ko-ro for guoukoloi (βουκόλοι. "cowherders"); -qo-i-ta for -φόντης.

Some consonants in some contexts are not written (but are understood): word-initial s- and -w before a consonant, as in pe-ma for sperma (σπέρμα, "seed"); syllable-final -l, -m, -n, -r, -s; only word-final velars are notated by plene writing: a-to-ro-qo for anthrōquos (ἄνθρωπος, "human being, person"). In the first example, the pe-, which was primarily used as its value pe of grid class CV, is being used for sper-, not in that class. This was not an innovative or exceptional use, but followed the stated rules. Similarly, a, being primarily of grid class V, is being used as an- and could be used for al, am, ar, and so on.

Clusters of two or three consonants that do not follow the initial s- and -w rule or the double consonants: ξ (ks or x), ψ (ps) and qus (which later did not exist in classical Greek) were represented by the same number of signs of type CV as the cluster had consonants: ko-no-so for Knōsos,[note 8] ku-ru-so for khrusos (χρυσός, "gold"). The consonants were the same as in the cluster. The vowels so introduced have been called "empty", "null", "extra", "dead" and other terms by various writers as they represent no sound. The sign was not alphabetic: rules governed the selection of the vowel and therefore of the sign. The vowel had to be the same as the one of the first syllable following the cluster or if at the end of the word, preceding: ti-ri-po with ti- (instead of ta-, te- and so on) to match -ri-. A rare exception occurs in words formed from wa-na-ka, wanax (ϝάναξ, Homeric and Classical ἄναξ): wa-na-ka-te for wanaktei (dative), and wa-na-ka-te-ro for wanakteros, the adjectival form.


Linear B also uses a large number of ideograms. They express:

  • The type of object concerned (e.g. a cow, wool, a spear)
  • A unit of measure.

They are typically at the end of a line before a number and appear to signify the object the number applies to. Many of the values remain unknown or disputed. Some commodities such as cloth and containers are divided into many different categories represented by distinct ideograms. Livestock may be marked with respect to their sex.

The numerical references for the ideograms were originally devised by Ventris and Bennett, divided into functional groups corresponding to the breakdown of Bennett's index. These groups are numbered beginning 100, 110, 120 etc., with some provision of spare numbers for future additions; the official CIPEM numberings used today are based on Ventris and Bennett's numbering, with the provision that three or four letter codes (written in small capitals), based on Latin words that seemed relevant at the time, are used where the meanings are known and agreed. Unicode (as of version 5.0) encodes 123 Linear B ideograms.

The ideograms are symbols, not pictures of the objects in question—e.g. one tablet records a tripod with missing legs, but the ideogram used is of a tripod with three legs. In modern transcriptions of Linear B tablets, it is typically convenient to represent an ideogram by its Latin or English name or by an abbreviation of the Latin name. Ventris and Chadwick generally used English; Bennett, Latin. Neither the English nor the Latin can be relied upon as an accurate name of the object; in fact, the identification of some of the more obscure objects is a matter of exegesis.[19]

Glyph Codepoint[note 9] Bennett[20] CIPEM[21] English[22]
People and Animals
Linear B Ideogram B100 Man.svg U+10080 100[23] A- VIR
Linear B Ideogram B102 Woman.svg U+10081 102 A- MUL
Linear B Ideogram B104 Deer.svg U+10082 104 Cn CERV
Linear B Ideogram B105 Equid.svg U+10083 105 Ca S- EQU
Linear B Ideogram B105F Mare.svg U+10084 105 Ca EQUf mare[24]
Linear B Ideogram B105M Stallion.svg U+10085 105 Ca EQUm stallion
𐀥 U+10025 106
Bous ergatēs
"Adjunct to ox" (1973)[25]
Linear B Ideogram B106F Ewe.svg U+10086 106b C- D- OVISf EWE
Linear B Ideogram B106M Ram.svg U+10087 106a C- D- OVISm RAM
𐁒 U+10052 107
𐂈 U+10088 107b C- Mc CAPf SHE-GOAT
𐂉 U+10089 107a C- CAPm HE-GOAT
𐁂 U+10042 108
*85 C-
𐂊 U+1008A 108b C- SUSf SOW
𐂋 U+1008B 108a C- SUSm BOAR
𐀘 U+10018 109
*23 C-
𐂌 U+1008C 109b C- BOSf COW
𐂍 U+1008D 109a C- BOSm OX/BULL
Units of Measurement
110 Z
111 V
112 T Dry
113 S Liquid
114 Weight
*21 Weight
*2 Weight
115 P Weight
116 N Weight
117 M
118 L
*72 G- Bunch?
*74 S- Pair
*15 S- Single
*61 Deficit
By Dry Measure
𐂎 U+1008E 120 E- F- GRA
𐂏 U+1008F 121 F- HORD
𐂐 U+10091 122 F- U- OLIV
𐀛 U+1001B NI
*30 F
𐀎 U+1000E *65 FARINA FLOUR
"some kind of grain"[28]
𐂑 U+10091 123 G- Un AROM
*70 G-
𐀭 U+1002D SA
*31 G-
*81 G-
*9 G-
*80 G-
124 G- PYC cyperus
𐂒 U+10092 125 F- CYP cyperus?
126 F- CYP+KU cyperus+ku
𐂓 U+10093 127 Un KAPO fruit?
𐂔 U+10094 128 G- KANAKO safflower
By liquid measure
𐂕 U+10095 130 OLE
𐂖 U+10096 131 VIN
𐂘 U+10098 133 unguent
𐂙 U+10099 135 honey
By weight
By weight or in units
Counted in units
𐃟 U+100DF 200
𐃠 U+100E0 201 TRI
𐃡 U+100E1 202
𐃢 U+100E2 203
𐃣 U+100E3 204 Ta
𐃤 U+100E4 205 K Tn
𐃥 U+100E5 206 HYD
𐃧 U+100E7 208 PAT
𐃨 U+100E8 209 AMPH
𐃩 U+100E9 210 STIRRIP JAR
𐃪 U+100EA 211 WATER BOWL?
𐃫 U+100EB 212 SIT
𐃬 U+100EC 213 LANX
𐃄 U+100C4 220 Ta
𐃅 U+100C5 225 ALV
𐃆 U+100C6 230 R HAS
𐃇 U+100C7 231 R SAG
𐃈 U+100C8 232 Ta *232 ?
𐃉 U+100C9 233 Ra DAGGER
𐃊 U+100CA 234 GLA
𐃌 U+100CC 240 Sc BIG
𐃍 U+100CD 241 Sd Se CUR
𐃎 U+100CE 242 Sf Sg CAPS
𐃏 U+100CF 243 Sa So ROTA
Other Languages
Afrikaans: Lineêr B
العربية: نظام خطي ب
беларуская: Лінейнае пісьмо Б
български: Линеар Б
català: Lineal B
dansk: Linear B
Ελληνικά: Γραμμική Β
español: Lineal B
Esperanto: Linia skribo B
français: Linéaire B
galego: Lineal B
한국어: 선형문자 B
hrvatski: Linear B
Bahasa Indonesia: Linear B
íslenska: Línuletur B
italiano: Lineare B
македонски: Линеарно писмо Б
Nederlands: Lineair B
日本語: 線文字B
norsk: Linear B
norsk nynorsk: Linear B
português: Linear B
Scots: Linear B
Simple English: Linear B
slovenčina: Lineárne písmo B
slovenščina: Linearna pisava B
српски / srpski: Линеар Б
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Linear B
svenska: Linear B
Türkçe: Linear B
українська: Лінійне письмо Б
Tiếng Việt: Linear B