Ancient writing systems in the Mediterranean

A critical guide to electronic resources

Linear B

- 14th - 13th century BC

Examples of writing

Tablet PY An 657 (Pylos, Messenia, end 13th century BC)

Tablet PY An 657 (Pylos, Messenia, end 13th century BC)


.1     o-u-ru-to , o-pi-a2-ra , e-pi-ko-wo , 
.2    ma-re-wo , o-ka , o-wi-to-no ,
.3    a-pe-ri-ta-wo , o-re-ta , e-te-wa , ko-ki-jo , 
.4    su-we-ro-wi-jo , o-wi-ti-ni-jo , o-ka-ra3 VIR 50
.5                     vacat
.6    ne-da-wa-ta-o , o-ka , e-ke-me-de ,
.7    a-pi-je-ta , ma-ra-te-u , ta-ni-ko , 
.8    a2-ru-wo-te , ke-ki-de , ku-pa-ri-si-jo VIR 20
.9                     vacat
.10   a3-ta-re-u-si , ku-pa-ri-si-jo , ke-ki-de VIR 10
.11   me-ta-qe , pe-i , e-qe-ta , ke-ki-jo ,
12   a-e-ri-qo-ta ,   e-ra-po , ri-me-ne , 
   .a           o-wi-
.13   o-ka-ra , -to-no VIR 30 ke-ki-de-qe , a-pu2-ka-ne , 
.14.  VIR 20  me-ta-qe , pe-i , a3-ko-ta , e-qe-ta ,
.15                    vacat

Greek interpretation

.1      hōs wruntoi opihala epikowoi

.2    Mālēwos orkhā O-wi-tnōi

.3    Ampelitāwōn, Orestās, Etewās, Gorgiōn, 

.4    Su-we-ro-wios, O-wi-tnioi O-ka-rai VIR 50

.5                     vacat

.6    Nedwātāo orkhā Ekhemēdēs,

.7    Amphietās, Malantheus, Ta-ni-kos, 

.8    Halwontei Ke-ki-des Kuparissioi VIR 20

.9                     vacat

.10   Aithaleusi Kuparissioi Ke-ki-des VIR 10

.11   meta kwe spheihi hekwetās Kerkios

.12   Aerikhwoitās  Elaphōn Limenei

.13   O-ka-rai O-wi-tnōi VIR 30 Ke-ki-des kwe A-pu2-kānes 

.14.  VIR 20  meta kwe spheihi Aigotās hekwetās

.15                    vacat



.1    This is how the guards defend the coastal areas.
.2    The command of  Māleus in O-wi-tnos:
.3    Ampelitāwōn, Orestās, Etewās, Gorgiōn
.4    Su-we-ro-wios, 50 “O-ka-rai” men from O-wi-tnos (at their orders);
.6    The command of Nedwātās: Ekhemēdēs,
.7    Amphietās, Malantheus, Ta-ni-kos,
.8    in Halwons 20 “Ke-ki-des” men from Kuparissos (at their orders);
.10   in Aithalēwes 10 “Ke-ki-des” men from Kuparissos (at their orders);
.11   and with them (is) the son of Kerkis as officer
.12   Aerikhwoitās; in Deer Harbor
.13   30 “O-ka-rai” men from O-wi-tnos and 20 “Ke-ki-des A-pu2-kānes” men
.14.  (are at their orders) and with them (is) the officer Aigotās.

The first of the so-called “o-ka” or “coast guard” tablets. It is commonly believed that the document recorded the organization of military contingents to defend the coasts of the reign of Pylos in Messenia.

Note:  There are also other interpretations for some of the anthroponyms and toponyms. In those cases where there are not satisfactory interpretations, the transliteration is simply repeated with the sole addition of the most probable endings. The terms describing soldiers are enclosed in quotation marks because it is not clear if they are adjectives referring to ethnic origins, appellations, or something else. For wruntoi, cf. Greek rhuomai; for opihala, ephala; for epikowoi, compounds like purkoos; for orkhā, arkhē.

Stirrup Jar TH Z 852 (Thebes, Kadmeion, 13th century BC)

Stirrup Jar TH Z 852 (Thebes, Kadmeion, 13th century BC)



a-re-me-ne  wa-to , re-u-ko-jo

                (Note: only the signs “ko-jo  a-re-me” are visible in the photo)

Greek interpretation


Areimenēs Wa-tos Leukoio




Areimenēs (city of) Wa-tos, (dependent) di Leukos

The inscriptions painted on the “stirrup jars” (vases used for the trade of olive oil and wine) have formulas similar to the ones found on the tablets. It is therefore probable that these inscriptions registered the person responsible for the production of the foodstuffs. In a few rare cases there are isolated syllabic sequences on cups, goblets and bowls. It is possible that these inscriptions had a “private” function.

The amphora in the photo was found at Thebes in Boeotia, but the inscription records the toponym wa-to, a west Cretan place name often mentioned in the Linear B archives from Knossos and – in the ethnic form wa-ti-jo – in a tablet from Khania. Many inscribed stirrup jars found on the Greek Mainland have Cretan toponyms or ethnic adjectives and, as such, indicate the existence of interregional commerce.