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Linear A
Type Undeciphered (likely Syllabic and Ideographic)
Spoken languages 'Eteocretan' (unknown)
Time period Possibly from MM IB to LM IIIA
ISO 15924 Lina
Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.
Linear A incised on tablets found in Akrotiri, Santorini.

Linear A is one of two linear and possibly syllabic scripts used in ancient Crete before Mycenaean Greek Linear B. In Minoan times, before the Mycenaean Greek dominion, Linear A was the official script for the palaces and cults and Cretan Hieroglyphs were mainly used on seals. These three scripts were discovered and named by Arthur Evans. In 1952, Michael Ventris discovered that Linear B was being used to write the early form of Greek now known as Mycenaean. He and others used this information to achieve a significant and now well accepted decipherment of the script, although many points remain to be elucidated. A failure to discover the language of Linear A has prevented the same sort of progress being made in its decipherment.

Though the two scripts – Linear A and B – share some of the same symbols, using the syllables associated with Linear B in Linear A writings produces words that are unrelated to any known language. This language has been dubbed Minoan and corresponds to a period in Cretan history prior to a series of invasions by Mycenaean Greeks around 1450 BC.

Linear A seems to have been used as a complete syllabary around 1900–1800 BC, although several signs appear as mason marks earlier. It is possible that the Trojan Linear A scripts discovered by Heinrich Schliemann and one inscription from central Crete, as well as a few similar potters' marks from Lahun, Egypt (12th dynasty) come from an earlier period, ca. 2100–1900 BC, which is the period of the construction of the first palaces.


Theories of decipherment

Linear A incised on a vase, also found in Akrotiri.

As the Minoan language is lost to the modern day, it is hard to be certain whether or not a given decipherment is correct. The simplest approach to decipherment may be to presume that the values of Linear A match more or less the values given to the fully transliterated Linear B script, used for Mycenean Greek.[1] This point of view has been of great interest to archaeologists. The lack of a decipherment means there is no definitive evidence for this view, though there is support based on onomatopoeia (for example: AB 23 'mu' from Hieroglyphic 12, a bull-head; AB 80 'ma' from H cat-head; AB 67 'ki' from H 57 a sistrum (a type of rattle); AB 60 'ra' from H 18 dog-head; AB 50 'pu' from H 58 harp). In addition, complex words of three or more syllables appear in both Linear A and B (therefore, 12 signs have the same values in both syllabaries: DA, I, JA, KI, PA, PI, RO, RI, SE, SU, TA, O).

One of the very few understood words so far, the summarizing term KU-RO, most likely meaning 'total' or something similar to it, could be of either Indo-European *kwol- (o-grade form of *kwel-[2]), or Semitic (*kull- 'whole') origin. This ambiguity is representative of the current state of understanding of the language of Linear A: the known elements are too scarce to build a safe hypothesis on supposed genetic affiliations with known languages.



Vladimir I. Georgiev published his Le déchiffrement des inscriptions crétois en linéaire A in 1957 stating that Linear A contains Greek linguistic elements.[3] In 1963, he published an article, "Les deux langues des inscriptions crétoises en linéaire 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.[4]


Since the 1960s, a theory based on Linear B phonetic values suggests that Linear A language could be an Anatolian language, close to Luwian.[5] In 1997, Gareth Alun Owens published a collection of essays entitled Kritika Daidalika, which support the view that Linear A might represent an archaic relative of Luwian. Owens based this assertion on the perceived Indo-European but non-Greek roots of a small number of words he was able to read by using the known Linear B or Cypriot sound values of certain Linear A signs. He does not claim a systematic decipherment of Linear A, and remarks in the book that he intended his Luwian hypothesis to provoke discussion, not to settle the issue.

The theory for the Luwian origin of Minoan, however, failed to gain universal support for the following reasons:

  • 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) is related to Crete. However, Linear A tablets have been found by German scientists near the town of Kardzhali in southern Bulgaria.[6]
  • Lack of direct contacts between Hitto-Luwians and Minoan Crete; the latter was never mentioned in Hitto-Luwian inscriptions. Small states located along the western coast of the ancient Asia Minor were a natural barrier between Hitto-Luwians and Minoan Crete.
  • Obvious anthropological differences between Hitto-Luwians and the Minoans may be considered as another indirect testimony against this hypothesis.


In 2001, the journal Ugarit-Forschungen, Band 32 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.[7] This was a continuation of attempts by Cyrus Gordon in finding connections between Minoan and West Semitic languages. His methodology drew widespread criticism. While one or two terms may apparently be of Semitic origin (such as KU-RO, see below), there is yet not enough evidence to secure a connection between the language of Linear A and Semitic idioms. Contrary to most other scripts used for Semitic languages, Linear A presents many written vowels.


Another interpretation, based on the frequencies of the syllabic signs, and on complete palaeographic comparative studies, recently suggests that Minoan Linear A language belongs to the Indo-Iranian family of Indo-European languages.[8] 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.[8] 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.[8] However, the La Marle interpretation of Linear A has been criticized by John Younger of Kansas University for erroneous and arbitrary transcription.[9][10]


Attempts have been made 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 millenium BCE, sometimes referred to as Pre-Greek, and this is supported by confirmation from ancient Greek authors like Herodotus in Histories that the Etruscans were from Lydia (SW Turkey). G. M. Facchetti has proposed some possible similarities between the Etruscan language and ancient Lemnian, and other Aegean languages like Minoan.[11] Michael Ventris who along with John Chadwick successfully deciphered Linear B, also believed in a link between Minoan and Etruscan.[12]

Nature of the texts

A stone ladle from Troullos (TL Za 1) is a likely exemplar of a votive text read according to the hypothesis that Linear A values are equal to Linear B values:

a-ta-i-*301-wa-ja o-su-qa-re ja-sa-sa-ra-me u-na-ka-na-si i-pi-na-ma si-ru-te

While the Haghia Triada tablet 13 (HT 13) is an example of an accounting text:

ka-u-de-ta [wine ideogram]. te. re-za 5½ te-ro2 56 te-ki 27½ ku-dzu-ni 18 da-si-*118 19 ?-su-?-si 5 ku-ro 130½

  • ka-u-de-ta is followed by an ideogram almost identical to one in Linear B meaning 'wine'. These are followed by a list of six names each followed by a numeral, and then a total (ku-ro) of the preceding numbers — slightly in error, as the correct sum is 131.[13]


This glossary contains terms that are possible meanings according to the rule that Linear A values are the same symbolically and phonetically to Linear B values. The following values remain conjectural because of the paucity of lengthy Linear A texts available:

  • A-KU-TU / A-KO-TO: name, Άκτωρ(?).[14]
  • (J)A-DI-KI-TE-TE / JA-DI-KI-TU: Mount Dikte.
  • DI-KI-SE / DE-KE-SE-U: name, Dexeus or Derxeus (derived from δέχομαι or δέρκομαι).[15]
  • DU-PU2-RE: ruler, master.
  • I-DA: Mount Ida (Crete).
  • I-JA-TE: iātēr (Homeric Greek: ιητήρ), a word which occurs in Linear B as well.[16]
  • I-TA-NU / U-TA-NO: place name, probably the Cretan city of Itanos.[17]
  • KA-DA-NA / KA-DA-NO: name, Χαλδάνος(?).[18]
  • KA-RU / KA-RO: name, Κάλλων or Χαίρων or Χάρων(?).[19]
  • KI-RO: missing, debt (possibly Greek: khreos "debt").
  • KU-MI-NA: Semitic loanword meaning "cumin"; also appears in Linear B documents.[20]
  • KU-RO: whole, total (vel. sim.) (Cyrus Gordon: < Semitic *kull-; or Greek holon "total"/"whole").
  • KU-RU-KU / KU-RU-KA: name, Γλύκη(?).[21]
  • MA-DI: name, Μαίδος(?) from *Maidos to Maidos.[22]
  • MA-RI-TA: ethnic Malitās (Greek: Μαλίτης "Melian").[23]
  • MA-RU / MA-RO: name, Μάρων(?).[24]
  • PA-DE: a theonym (name for a god), appearing on Linear B tablets as well (as pa-de / pa-ze); Cf. Sanskrit pati, lord, Greek Pater, father, master.
  • PA-I-TO: place name, Phaistos; the same name is common on Linear B documents.[25]
  • PO-TO-KU-RO: grand(?) total (vel. sim.).
  • RU+JA (the two signs joined together into a ligature): pomegranate, same as Classic Greek rhoia (or Rhea).
  • SE-TO-I-JA: place name, which occurs in Linear B as well.
  • SU-KI-RI-TA: Sugrita, a place name which occurs in Linear B as well; the town survives today as Sybrita.[26]
  • SU-KI-RI-TE-I-JA: possibly "Sugritaian".[13]

Apart from these, there are a considerable number of proper names and related elements occurring both in Linear A and Linear B namely in the Mycenaean texts from Knossos.

Sites yielding Linear A inscriptions

Timeline of Cretan scripts

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:[27]

Writing system Geographical area Time span[A 1]
Cretan Hieroglyphic Crete ca. 1625s−1500 BC
Linear A Aegean islands (Kea, Kythera, Melos, Thera), and Greek mainland (Laconia) ca. 1700s−1450 BC
Linear B Crete (Knossos), and mainland (Pylos, Mycenae, Thebes, Tiryns) ca. 1375s−1200 BC

See also



  1. ^ Beginning date refers to first attestations, the assumed origins of all scripts lie further back in the past.


  1. ^ A site maintained by John Younger of Kansas University has a comprehensive list of known texts written in Linear A.
  2. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000. Appendix I: Indo-European Roots
  3. ^ Nagy 1963, p. 210 (Footnote #24).
  4. ^ Nagy 1963, p. 210 (Footnote #24).
  5. ^ See the works of Sir Leonard Palmer.
  6. ^ Novinite (Sofia News Agency). "German Scientists: Europe's Oldest Script Found in Bulgaria". 18 May 2005.
  7. ^ Dietrich, Manfried and Loretz, Oswald (ed.) Ugarit-Forschungen, Band 32: Internationales Jahrbuch fur die Altertumskunde Syrien-Palastinas. Verlag Butzon & Bercker, 2001. ISBN 3934628001.
  8. ^ a b c La Marle, Hubert. Linéaire A, la première écriture syllabique de Crète. Geuthner, Paris, 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. Geuthner, Paris, 2002; Les racines du crétois ancien et leur morphologie: communication à l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, 2007.
  9. ^ Younger, John G. Linear A Texts. University of Kansas. 15 August 2009 (Accessed: 22 December 2009).
  10. ^ Younger, John. Critique of Hubert La Marle's Decipherment. University of Kansas. 15 August 2009 (Accessed: 22 December 2009).
  11. ^ Facchetti, Giulio M. & Negri, Mario. Creta Minoica. Sulle tracce delle più antiche scritture d'Europa. Leo S. Olschki Editore, 'Biblioteca dell'Archivum Romanicum. Serie II: Linguistica' nº 55, 2003. ISBN 8822252918.
  12. ^ Chadwick 1990, p. 34. "The basic idea was to find a language which might not be related to Minoan. Ventris' candidate was Etruscan; not a bad guess, because the Etruscans, according to ancient tradition, came from the Aegean to Italy."
  13. ^ a b Younger, John. Linear A Texts in Phonetic Transcription — Introduction. University of Kansas. 15 August 2009 (Accessed: 22 December 2009).
  14. ^ Nagy 1963, p. 189.
  15. ^ Nagy 1963, p. 191.
  16. ^ Nagy 1963, p. 186.
  17. ^ Nagy 1963, p. 190.
  18. ^ Nagy 1963, p. 190.
  19. ^ Nagy 1963, p. 190.
  20. ^ Nagy 1963, p. 187.
  21. ^ Nagy 1963, pp. 190-191.
  22. ^ Nagy 1963, p. 188.
  23. ^ Nagy 1963, p. 191.
  24. ^ Nagy 1963, p. 189.
  25. ^ Nagy 1963, p. 186.
  26. ^ Nagy 1963, p. 186.
  27. ^ Olivier 1986, pp. 377f.


  • Chadwick, John. The Decipherment of Linear B. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521398304. 
  • Nagy, Gregory (1963). "Greek-Like Elements in Linear A". Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies (Harvard University Press) (4). 
  • Olivier, J. P. (1986). "Cretan Writing in the Second Millennium B.C.". World Archaeology 17 (3): 377–389. 

Further reading

  • Best, Jan G. P. (1972). Some Preliminary Remarks on the Decipherment of Linear A. Hakkert. ISBN 9025606253. 
  • Woodard, Roger D. (1997). Greek Writing from Knossos to Homer. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195105206.  (Review.)

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


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Proper noun

Linear A


Linear A

  1. a syllabary used to write the as-yet-undeciphered Minoan language, and an apparent predecessor to other scripts, such as Linear B



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