|MM IB to LM IIIA 1800–1450 BC|
|Linear B, Cypro-Minoan syllabary|
"Final Accepted Script Proposal" (PDF).
Linear A is a writing system that was used by the Minoans (Cretans) from 1800 to 1450 BC to write the hypothesized Minoan language. Linear A was the primary script used in palace and religious writings of the Minoan civilization. It was discovered by archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. It was succeeded by Linear B, which was used by the Mycenaeans to write an early form of Greek. No texts in Linear A have been deciphered.
The term 'linear' refers to the fact that the script was written by using a stylus to cut lines into a tablet of clay, as opposed to cuneiform, which was written by using a stylus to press wedges into the clay.
Linear A belongs to a group of scripts that evolved independently of the Egyptian and Mesopotamian systems. During the second millennium BC, there were four major branches: Linear A, Linear B, Cypro-Minoan, and Cretan hieroglyphic. In the 1950s, Linear B was deciphered as Mycenaean Greek. Linear B shares many symbols with Linear A, and they may notate similar syllabic values. But neither those nor any other proposed readings lead to a language that scholars can read. The only part of the script that can be read with any certainty is the signs for numbers, which however are only known as numerical values; the words for those numbers remain unknown.
Most hypotheses about the Linear A script and Minoan language start with Linear B.
Linear A has hundreds of signs, believed to represent syllabic, ideographic, and semantic values in a manner similar to Linear B. While many of those assumed to be syllabic signs are similar to ones in Linear B, approximately 80% of Linear A's logograms are unique; the difference in sound values between Linear A and Linear B signs ranges from 9% to 13%. It primarily appears in the left-to-right direction, but occasionally appears as a right-to-left or boustrophedon script.
Linear A may be divided into four categories:
- numerals and metrical signs,
- phonetic signs,
- ligatures and composite signs, and
Numbers follow a decimal system, units are represented by vertical dashes, tens by horizontal dashes, hundreds by circles, and thousands by circles with rays. Specific signs that coincide with numerals are regarded as fractions.
An interesting feature is the recording of numbers in the script: The highest number recorded in known Linear A texts is 3000, but there are special symbols to indicate fractions and weights.
Integers can be read, and there is consensus on the fractions 1⁄2, 1⁄4 and 1⁄8. The other fractions are less certain. Corazza et al. (2020) decipher the following values, most of which had been previously proposed:
|W||𐝍||= BB? (2⁄5)|
|X||𐝎||= AA? (1⁄12)|
Other fractions are composed by addition: the common 𐝕 JE and 𐝓 DD are 3⁄4 and 1⁄3 (2⁄6), 𐝒 BB = 2⁄5, EF = 3⁄8, etc. (and indeed B 1⁄5 looks like it might derive from KK 2⁄10). They propose that the hapax legomenon, glyph L 𐝈, is spurious.
Several of these values are supported by Linear B. Although Linear B used a different numbering system, several of the Linear A fractions were adopted as fractional units of measurement. For example, Linear B 𐝓 DD and 𐝎 (presumably AA) are 1⁄3 and 1⁄12 of a lana, while 𐝇 K is 1⁄10 of the main unit for dry weight.
Linear A has been unearthed chiefly on Crete, but also at other sites in Greece, as well as Turkey and Israel. The extant corpus, comprising some 1,427 specimens totalling 7,362 to 7,396 signs, if scaled to standard type, would fit easily on two sheets of paper. Linear A has been written on various media, such as stone offering tables, gold and silver hairpins, and ceramics. The earliest inscriptions of Linear A come from Phaistos, in a layer dated at the end of the Middle Minoan II period: that is, no later than c. 1700 BC. Linear A texts have been found throughout the island of Crete and also on some Aegean islands (Kythera, Kea, Thera, Melos), in mainland Greece (Ayos Stephanos), on the west coast of Asia Minor (Miletos, Troy), and in the Levant (Tel Haror).
The main discoveries of Linear A tablets have been at three sites on Crete:
- Hagia Triada in the Mesara, 147 tablets
- Zakros, on the east coast, 31 tablets
- Khania, in the northwest, 94 tablets.
Discoveries have been made at the following locations on Crete:
- Hagia Triada (largest cache)
- Kato Simi (also spelled Kato Syme)
- Mochlos (also spelled Mokhlos)
- Mount Juktas (also spelled Iouktas)
- Myrtos Pyrgos
- Poros, Heraklion
- Psychro (also spelled Psykhro)
- Pyrgos Tylissos
- Skotino cave
- Troulos (or Trulos)
Most—if not all—inscriptions found outside Crete appear to have been made locally, as indicated by the composition of the substrate and other indications. Also, close analysis of the inscriptions found outside Crete indicates the use of a script that is somewhere between Linear A and Linear B, combining elements from both.
Other Greek islands
Linear A became prominent during the Middle Minoan Period, specifically from 1625 to 1450 BC. It was contemporary with and possibly derived from Cretan hieroglyphs, and is an ancestor of Linear B. The sequence and the geographical spread of Cretan hieroglyphs, Linear A, and Linear B, the three overlapping but distinct writing systems on Bronze Age Crete and the Greek mainland, can be summarized as follows:
|Writing system||Geographical area||Time span[a]|
|Cretan Hieroglyphic||Crete||c. 2100 – 1700 BC|
|Linear A||Crete, Aegean islands (Kea, Kythera, Melos, Thera), and Greek mainland (Laconia)||c. 1800 – 1450 BC|
|Linear B||Crete (Knossos), and mainland (Pylos, Mycenae, Thebes, Tiryns)||c. 1450 – 1200 BC|
Archaeologist Arthur Evans named the script "Linear" because its characters consisted simply of lines inscribed in clay, in contrast to the more pictographic characters in Cretan hieroglyphs that were used during the same period.
Several tablets inscribed in signs similar to Linear A were found in the Troad in northwestern Anatolia. While their status is disputed, they may be imports, as there is no evidence of Minoan presence in the Troad. Classification of these signs as a unique Trojan script (proposed by contemporary Russian linguist Nikolai Kazansky) is not accepted by other linguists.
Linear A and Linear B comparison
In 1945, E. Pugliese Carratelli first introduced the classification of Linear A and Linear B parallels. However, in 1961 W.C. Brice modified the Carratelli system that was based on a wider range of Linear A sources, but Brice did not suggest Linear B equivalents to the Linear A signs. Louis Godart and Jean-Pierre Olivier introduced in the 1985 Recueil des inscriptions en linéaire A (GORILA), based on E.L Bennett's standard numeration of the signs of Linear B, introduced a joint numeration of the Linear A and B signs.
The majority of signs in the Linear A script appear to have graphical equivalents in the Linear B syllabary. Comparison of the Hagia Triada tablets HT 95 and HT 86 shows that they contain identical lists of words and some kind of phonetic alteration. Scholars that approached Linear A with the phonetic values of Linear B produced a series of identical words. The Linear B–Linear A parallels: ku-ku-da-ra, pa-i-to, ku-mi-na, di-de-ro →di-de-ru, qa-qa-ro→qa-qa-ru, a-ra-na-ro→a-ra-na-re.
Theories regarding language
It is difficult to evaluate a given analysis of Linear A as there is little point of reference for reading its inscriptions. The simplest approach to decipherment may be to presume that the values of Linear A match more or less the values given to the deciphered Linear B script, used for Mycenaean Greek.
In 1957, Bulgarian scholar Vladimir I. Georgiev published his Le déchiffrement des inscriptions crétoises en linéaire A ("The decipherment of Cretan inscriptions in Linear A") stating that Linear A contains Greek linguistic elements. Georgiev then published another work in 1963, titled Les deux langues des inscriptions crétoises en linéaire A ("The two languages of Cretan inscriptions in Linear A"), suggesting that the language of the Hagia Triada tablets was Greek but that the rest of the Linear A corpus was in Hittite-Luwian. In December 1963, Gregory Nagy of Harvard University developed a list of Linear A and Linear B terms based on the assumption "that signs of identical or similar shape in the two scripts will represent similar or identical phonetic values"; Nagy concluded that the language of Linear A bears "Greek-like" and Indo-European elements. Michael Ventris' decipherment of Linear B in 1952 suggests an old form of Greek: it is derived from Linear A. Therefore, we can assume that the signs related to the Linear A express the same value as the Linear B. In all Linear B values for related words give a large number of identical forms or identical root forms, but alternate with the final vowel, or almost identical forms among linear texts, mainly those of Hagia Triada.
Extracting conclusions or arguments from a simple morphology can hardly be considered methodologically satisfactory. Yves Duhoux in the "Linear A as Greek" discussion at AEGEANET in March 1998:
I would like to remind you of some basic facts related to the Greekness of Linear A's language: (1) The word for "total" is different in Linear A and in Linear B: LB to - so(- de); LA > B ku-ro. (2) The Linear B language is significantly less "prefixing" than Linear A. (3) Votive Linear A texts, where we are pretty sure to have variant forms of the same "word", show morphological (I mean: grammatical) features totally different from Linear B. The conclusion must be that even if one can find some casual resemblances between words in both languages (remember this MUST statistically happen: e.g. English and Persian use the same word "bad" to express the meaning of BAD, although it is proven that both words have no genetic relation at all), they are probably structurally different.
Palmer (1958) put forward a theory, based on Linear B phonetic values, suggesting that Linear A language could be related closely to Luwian. The theory, however, failed to gain universal support for the following reasons:[according to whom?]
- There is no remarkable resemblance between Minoan and Hitto-Luwian morphology.
- None of the existing theories of the origin of Hitto-Luwian peoples and their migration to Anatolia (either from the Balkans or from the Caucasus) are related to Crete.
- There was a lack of direct contact between Hitto-Luwians and Minoan Crete; the latter was never mentioned in Hitto-Luwian inscriptions. Small states located along the western coast of ancient Asia Minor were natural barriers between Hitto-Luwians and Minoan Crete.
- Obvious[clarification needed] anthropological differences between Hitto-Luwians and the Minoans may be considered as another indirect testimony against this hypothesis.
There are recent works focused on the Luwian connection, not in terms of the Minoan language being Anatolian, but rather in terms of possible borrowings from Luwian, including the origin of the writing system itself.
In an article from 2001, Margalit Finkelberg, Professor of Classics emerita at Tel Aviv University, suggested a "high degree of correspondence between the phonological and morphological system of Minoan and that of Lycian" and proposed that "the language of Linear A is either the direct ancestor of Lycian or a closely related idiom."
Cyrus H. Gordon first proposed in 1966–1969 that the texts contained Semitic vocabulary that was based on the lexical items such as kull -. meaning 'all' (Akkadian kalu, kullatu, Hebrew kol). Gordon uses morphological evidence to suggest that u- serves as a prefix in Linear A like Semitic copula u-. However, Gordon's copula u- is based on an incomplete word, and even if some of Gordon's identifications were true, a complete case for a Semitic language has not yet been built.
In 2001, the journal Ugarit-Forschungen published the article "The First Inscription in Punic – Vowel Differences in Linear A and B" by Jan Best, claiming to demonstrate how and why Linear A notates an archaic form of Phoenician. This was a continuation of attempts by Cyrus Gordon in finding connections between Minoan and West Semitic languages.
Another recent interpretation, based on the frequencies of the syllabic signs and on complete palaeographic comparative studies, suggests that the Minoan Linear A language belongs to the Indo-Iranian family of Indo-European languages. Studies by Hubert La Marle include a presentation of the morphology of the language, avoid the complete identification of phonetic values between Linear A and B, and also avoid comparing Linear A with Cretan hieroglyphs. La Marle uses the frequency counts to identify the type of syllables written in Linear A, and takes into account the problem of loanwords in the vocabulary.
However, La Marle's interpretation of Linear A has been subject to some criticism; it was rejected by John Younger of the University of Kansas who showed that La Marle had invented at will erroneous and arbitrary new transcriptions, based on resemblances with many different script systems (as Phoenician, Hieroglyphic Egyptian, Hieroglyphic Hittite, Ethiopian, Cypro-Minoan, etc.), ignoring established evidence and internal analysis, while for some words La Marle proposes religious meanings inventing names of gods and rites. La Marle made a rebuttal in "An answer to John G. Younger's remarks on Linear A" in 2010.
Italian scholar Giulio M. Facchetti attempted to link Linear A to the Tyrrhenian language family comprising Etruscan, Rhaetic, and Lemnian. This family is reasoned to be a pre-Indo-European Mediterranean substratum of the 2nd millennium BC, sometimes referred to as Pre-Greek. Facchetti proposed some possible similarities between the Etruscan language and ancient Lemnian, and other Aegean languages like Minoan.
Employing the hitherto-unsuccessful method of applying Linear B sound values to Linear A: "below are listed the main 25 Minoan words...presented here with Linear B sound values,"  Gareth Alun Owens believes that Linear A represents the Minoan language, with "the possibility that it might be Indo-European." 
Attempts at decipherment of single words
Some researchers suggest that a few words or word elements may be recognized, without (yet) enabling any conclusion about relationship with other languages. In general, they use analogy with Linear B in order to propose phonetic values of the syllabic sounds. John Younger, in particular, thinks that place names usually appear in certain positions in the texts, and notes that the proposed phonetic values often correspond to known place names as given in Linear B texts (and sometimes to modern Greek names). For example, he proposes that three syllables, read as KE-NI-SO, might be the indigenous form of Knossos. Likewise, in Linear A, MA+RU is suggested to mean wool, and to correspond both to a Linear B pictogram with this meaning, and to the classical Greek word μαλλός with the same meaning (in that case a loan word from Minoan).
The Linear A alphabet (U+10600–U+1077F) was added to the Unicode Standard in June 2014 with the release of version 7.0.
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
- Beginning date refers to first attestations, the assumed origins of all scripts lie further back in the past.
- Daniels & Bright 1996, pp. 132.
- Palaima 1997, pp. 121–188.
- Packard 1974, Chapter 1: Introduction.
- Younger, John (2000). "7b. The Script". Linear A texts in phonetic transcription. University of Kansas.
- Owens 1999, pp. 23–24 (David Packard, in 1974, calculated a sound-value difference of 10.80% ± 1.80%; Yves Duhoux, in 1989, calculated a sound-value difference of 14.34% ± 1.80% and Gareth Owens, in 1996, calculated a sound-value difference of 9–13%).
- Packard 1974, pp. 23–24
- Michele Corazza, Silvia Ferrara, Barbara Montecchi, Fabio Tamburini & Miguel Valério, 'The mathematical values of fraction signs in the Linear A script: A computational, statistical and typological approach', Journal of Archaeological Science, online 7 September 2020
- Ω is a hapax legomenon, and no researcher has yet determined a value for Y.
- Younger, John (2000). "5. Basic statistics". Linear A texts in phonetic transcription. University of Kansas.
If there are 4,002 characters (font Times, pitch 12, no spaces) on an 81⁄2 × 11 inch sheet of paper with 1 inch margins, all extant Linear A would take up 1.84 pages. ... (14.34 pages for Linear B).
- Winterstein, Gregoire; Cacciafoco, Francesco Perono; Petrolito, Ruggero; Petrolito, Tommaso. "Minoan linguistic resources: The Linear A digital corpus". Proceedings of the 9th SIGHUM Workshop on Language Technology for Cultural Heritage, Social Sciences, and Humanities (LaTeCH) – via Academia.edu.
- Woudhuizen, Fred C. (2016). Documents in Minoan Luwian, Semitic, and Pelasgian. Amsterdam: Nederlands Archeologisch Historisch Genootschap. ISBN 9789072067197. OCLC 1027956786.
- Schoep 1999, pp. 201–221.
- Cacciafoco, Francesco Perono (January 2014). Linear A and Minoan. The riddle of unknown origins (slides). pp. 3–4. Retrieved 13 July 2020 – via Academia.edu.
- Finkelberg 1998, pp. 265–272.
- Pullen, Daniel J. (2009). "[Review of] W.D. Taylour & R. Janko, Ayios Stephanos: Excavations at a Bronze Age and Medieval Settlement in Southern Laconia. British School at Athens, 2008". Bryn Mawr Classical Review.
Its location on the Laconian coast, easily accessible from Kythera, undoubtedly encouraged early contacts with Crete whether directly or indirectly (see the Linear A sign catalogued in chapter 11).
- Olivier 1986, pp. 377f.
- Robinson 2009, p. 54.
- Finkelberg, Margalit (2001). "The Language of Linear A: Greek, Semitic, or Anatolian?". In Drews, Robert (ed.). Greater Anatolia and the Indo-Hittite Language Family. Journal of Indo-European Studies Monograph Series. 38. p. 81-105. ISBN 978-0941694773 – via Academia.edu.
- Younger, John (2000). "1. List of Linked Files". Linear A texts in phonetic transcription. University of Kansas. A comprehensive list of known texts written in Linear A.
- Nagy 1963, p. 210 (Footnote #24).
- Georgiev 1963, pp. 1–104.
- Nagy 1963, pp. 181–211.
- Palmer 1958, pp. 75–100.
- Marangozis, John (2006). An introduction to Minoan Linear A. LINCOM Europa.
- Rendsburg, Gary A. (2001). "Cyrus H. Gordon (1908-2001): A Giant among Scholars". The Jewish Quarterly Review. 92 (1/2): 137–143. ISSN 0021-6682. JSTOR 1455617.
- Dietrich & Loretz 2001.
- La Marle, Hubert. Linéaire A, la première écriture syllabique de Crète. Paris: Geuthner, 4 Volumes, 1997–1999, 2006; Introduction au linéaire A. Geuthner, Paris, 2002; L'aventure de l'alphabet: les écritures cursives et linéaires du Proche-Orient et de l'Europe du sud-est à l'Âge du Bronze. Paris: Geuthner, 2002; Les racines du crétois ancien et leur morphologie: communication à l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, 2007.
- Younger, John (2009). "Linear A: Critique of Decipherments by Hubert La Marle and Kjell Aartun". University of Kansas. According to Younger, La Marle "assigns phonetic values to Linear signs based on superficial resemblances to signs in other scripts (the choice of scripts being already prejudiced to include only those from the eastern Mediterranean and northeast Africa), as if C looks like O so it must be O."
- La Marle, Hubert (September 2010). An answer to John G. Younger's remarks on Linear A (Report) – via Academia.edu.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Facchetti & Negri 2003.
- Yatsemirsky 2011.
- Owens 1999, pp. 17.
- Owens 1999, pp. 15.
- Younger, John (2000). "10c. Place names". Linear A texts in phonetic transcription. University of Kansas.
- Chadwick, John (1967). The Decipherment of Linear B. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-39830-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Daniels, Peter T.; Bright, William (1996). The World's Writing Systems. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507993-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Dietrich, Manfried; Loretz, Oswald (2001). In Memoriam: Cyrus H. Gordon. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-934628-00-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Facchetti, Giulio M.; Negri, Mario (2003). Creta Minoica: Sulle tracce delle più antiche scritture d'Europa (in Italian). Firenze: L.S. Olschki. ISBN 978-88-222-5291-3.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Finkelberg, Margalit (1998). "Bronze Age Writing: Contacts between East and West" (PDF). In Cline, E.H.; Harris-Cline, D. (eds.). The Aegean and the Orient in the Second Millennium. Proceedings of the 50th Anniversary Symposium, Cincinnati, 18–20 April 1997. Liège 1998. Aegeum. 18. pp. 265–272. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 March 2016.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Georgiev, Vladimir I. (1963). "Les deux langues des inscriptions crétoises en linéaire A". Linguistique Balkanique (in French). 7 (1): 1–104.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Haarmann, Harald (2008). "The Danube Script and Other Ancient Writing Systems: A Typology of Distinctive Features". The Journal of Archaeomythology. 4 (1): 12–46.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Nagy, Gregory (1963). "Greek-Like Elements in Linear A". Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies. Harvard University Press (4): 181–211.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Olivier, J.P. (1986). "Cretan Writing in the Second Millennium B.C.". World Archaeology. 17 (3): 377–389. doi:10.1080/00438243.1986.9979977.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Owens, Gareth (1999). "The Structure of the Minoan Language" (PDF). Journal of Indo-European Studies. 27 (1–2): 15–56.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Owens, Gareth Alun (2007). "Η Δομή της Μινωικής Γλώσσας" [The Structure of the Minoan Language] (PDF) (in Greek). Heraklion: TEI of Crete –Daidalika.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Packard, David W. (1974). Minoan Linear A. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-02580-6.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Palaima, Thomas G. (1997) . "Cypro-Minoan Scripts: Problems of Historical Context". In Duhoux, Yves; Palaima, Thomas G.; Bennet, John (eds.). Problems in Decipherment. Louvain-La-Neuve: Peeters. pp. 121–188. ISBN 978-90-6831-177-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Palmer, Leonard Robert (1958). "Luvian and Linear A". Transactions of the Philological Society. 57 (1): 75–100. doi:10.1111/j.1467-968X.1958.tb01273.x.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Robinson, Andrew (2009). Writing and Script: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-9-40-215757-4.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Schoep, Ilse (1999). "Tablets and Territories? Reconstructing Late Minoan IB Political Geography through Undeciphered Documents". American Journal of Archaeology. 103 (2): 201–21. doi:10.2307/506745. JSTOR 506745.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- van Soesbergen, Peter (2016). "Part 1, Text". Hurrians and Hurrian in Minoan Crete. Minoan Linear A. I. Amsterdam: Brave New Books. ISBN 978-0-19-956778-2.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Yatsemirsky, Sergei A. (2011). Opyt sravnitel'nogo opisaniya minoyskogo, etrusskogo i rodstvennyh im yazykov [Tentative Comparative Description of Minoan, Etruscan and Related Languages] (in Russian). Moscow: Yazyki slavyanskoy kul'tury. ISBN 978-5-9551-0479-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Best, Jan G. P. (1972). Some Preliminary Remarks on the Decipherment of Linear A. Amsterdam: Hakkert.
- Marangozis, John (2007). An introduction to Minoan Linear A. LINCOM Europa, ISBN 3-89586-386-6
- Montecchi, Barbara (January 2010). "A Classification Proposal of Linear A Tablets from Haghia Triada in Classes and Series". Kadmos. 49 (1): 11–38. doi:10.1515/KADMOS.2010.002. S2CID 124902710.
- Nagy, Gregory (October 1965). "Observations on the Sign-Grouping and Vocabulary of Linear A". American Journal of Archaeology. 69 (4): 295–330. doi:10.2307/502181. JSTOR 502181.
- Palmer, Ruth (1995). "Linear A Commodities: A Comparison of Resources" (PDF). Aegeum. 12.
- Thomas, Helena. Understanding the transition from Linear A to Linear B script. Unpublished PhD dissertation. Supervisor: Professor John Bennet. Thesis (D. Phil.). University of Oxford, 2003. Includes bibliographical references (leaves 311–338).
- Woodard, Roger D. (1997). Greek Writing from Knossos to Homer. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-510520-9. (Review)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Linear A.|
- Linear A Texts in Phonetic Transcription by John Younger (Last Update: 10 July 2020).
- Interactive database of Linear A inscriptions
- DAIDALIKA – Scripts and Languages of Minoan and Mycenaean Crete
- Omniglot: Writing Systems & Languages of the World
- Mnamon: Antiche Scritture del Mediterraneo (Antique Writings of the Mediterranean)
- GORILA Volume 1
- Ugarit-Forschungen, Band 32
- Linear A Explorer