Writing in Bronze Age Greece

Cretan Hieroglyphic survives in circa 300 inscriptions and remains very poorly understood even though we know a little about its relationship with the other scripts. One problem is that the inscriptions are often decorative and it is difficult to tell how to read them – they present some similar issues to the decorative Mayan writing. Although some signs look similar to ones in Linear A and B, meaning we can guess at their values, their ‘pictorial’ nature is quite different from the more abstract shapes of signs in the other systems.

[Seal made of green jasper with Cretan Hieroglyphic inspription]
Linear A survives in circa 1,500 inscriptions, many clay tablets and sealings although other items like jewellery, pottery and stone vessels were also inscribed. It is usually labelled as ‘undeciphered’ but this is a good example of a script where we could read sequences aloud reasonably accurately because many of its signs are shared (along with their values) are shared by the later, deciphered Linear B system. However, we do not understand the language of the inscriptions, other than being able to can ascertain the meaning of a word from its context (most notably the word for “total”, ku-ro, appearing at the end of lists).
[Linear B tablet writter in Greek, listing woman workers]
Linear B survives in circa 6,000 inscriptions and is the only fully deciphered Bronze Age Aegean script. It was Michael Ventris who cracked the code and announced his decipherment in 1952 (read more here), demonstrating that the language written in Linear B was an early form of Greek. Almost all surviving examples are administrative clay documents, and because we understand their content we can glean from them a wealth of historical information about the economy of the Mycenaean world.
[Bronze ingot with a Crypto-Minoan inscroption]
Cypro-Minoan survives in circa 250 inscriptions, most foundly on Cyprus. Probably derived from Linear A, we are able to work out the values of some Cypro-Minoan signs but do not understand the underlying language. The inscriptions are very varied in type and date and most are very short - it is rare to find one of more than a few signs -, making it much more difficult to try to understand their content.

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