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)
Source: Courtesy of the Palace of Nestor Excavations, Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati.




.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 “re-me-ne”) 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.


Tablet PY Ta 709 (Pylos, Messenia, end of the 13th century BC)

Tablet PY Ta 709 (Pylos, Messenia, end of the 13th century BC)




.1 pi-je-ra3 , to-qi-de-ja *200VAS 3 pa-ko-to , a-pe-te-me-ne *214VAS 2 po-ro-e-ke-te-ri-ja *228VAS 1 ko-te-ri-ja 6   .a                                                                                                                                                                                                   -sa-qe 1

.2 au-te 1 pu-ra-u-to-ro 2 qa-ra-to-ro 1 e-ka-ra , a-pi-qo-to , pe-de-we-sa 1 e-ka-ra , i-to-we-sa , pe-de-we-sa , so-we-ne-ja , au-de-we-

.3 ti-ri-po , ke-re-si-jo , we-ke , *34-ke-u *201VAS 1 ti-ri-po , ke-re-si-jo , we-ke , o-pi-ke-wi-ri-je-u *201VAS 1  


Greek interpretation  


.1 Phielai torkwideiai *200VAS 3 phaktō apethmene *214VAS 2 prohelktēriā *228VAS 1 khōstēriai 6

.2 austēr 1 puraustrō 2 skwalathron 1 eskharā amphigwotos pedwessa 1 eskharā histowessa pedwessa so-we-neia, au-de-wessa 1

.3 tripōs krēsiowergēs *34-k-eus *201VAS 1 tripōs krēsiowergēs o-pi-ke-wi-ri-j-eus *201VAS 1  




.1 Boiling pans with running spiral patterns 3 a-pe-te-me-ne containers 2 brazier tongs 1 shovels 6

.2 brush 1 fire-tongs 2 fire-rake 1 round brazier with feet 1 round brazier with an histos and *so-we-no and *au-do patterns 1

.3 tripod cauldron of Cretan workmanship of *34-ke-u type 1 tripod cauldron of Cretan workmanship of o-pi-ke-wi-ri-je-u type 1


The Pylos Ta tablets contain an inventory of precious objects for a sacrifice and banquet related to the appointment of a high official. Some expressions describing the objects and their decorations are difficult to interpret as in tablet Ta 709. The transcriptions and translations proposed here are among the most probable. When a term is not clear, it is simply transliterated.