Ancient writing systems in the Mediterranean

A critical guide to electronic resources

Mycenaean Greek

edited by: Maurizio Del Freo (translation revised by Melanie Rockenhaus)

  • Introduction
  • Ancient Writing Systems
  • Further information

Mycenaean is a form of the Greek Language attested on Crete as well as on the Greek Mainland from the 14th to the 13th century BC. The texts, which are written in Linear B (a syllabic script), contain nearly exclusively inventory lists and records of economic transactions.

The term “Mycenaean”, which was first introduced by Michael Ventris and John Chadwick in 1953, has no geographical implications. It simply means that this form of Greek was spoken in Greece during the Late Bronze Age, a period which is traditionally called “Mycenaean” by the archaeologists, owing to the predominance of Mycenae in the material culture.

Mycenaean does not show any significant dialectal differences, but only a number of phonetic and morphological fluctuations, which are identical at all sites. Such uniformity suggests that Mycenaean was perhaps a sort of koine.

The Greekness of Mycenaean appears from a number of pan-Hellenic (i.e. shared by all the Greek dialects) innovations. In this regard, the main phonetic features are: the devoicing of the I.-E. voiced aspirated stops (e-re-u-te-ro, eleutheros ‘free’ < *leudh‑, not **e-re-u-de-ro), the lenitions *s- > h- and *-s- > -h- (a2-te-ro, hateron ‘the other of two’ < *sem-; pa-we-a2, pharweha ‘cloths’ < *pharwes-), the changes of the clusters “consonant +  s” and “s + consonant” (e.g. me-no, mÄ“nnos ‘month’ [gen.] < *mÄ“ns-), the twofold evolution of *y- (ze-so-me-no, dzessomenon ‘to be boiled’ < *yes-; o-, hōs ‘thus’ < *yo-), the changes of the clusters formed by “consonant + *y” (e.g. to-so, tos(s)on ‘total’ < *tot-yo-), the different evolutions of the I.-E. laryngeals *H1, *H2 and *H3 (a-ne-mo, anemos ‘wind’ < *anH1-; pa-te, patÄ“r ‘father’ < *pH2-; do-so-mo, dosmos ‘tribute’ < *dH3-).

As far as morphology is concerned, the main features are: the nom. sg. -ās of the masculine -ā- stems (e-re-ta, eretās ‘rower’), the nom. pl. -ai of the feminine -ā- stems (di-pte-ra3, diphtherai ‘hides’), the dat. pl. -si of the consonant stems (ka-ke-u-si, khalkeu-si ‘to the bronze-smiths’), the generalisation of the -sa- characteristic of the sigmatic aorists (de-ka-sa-to, dek-sa-to ‘he received’), the -hen infinitives (e-ke-e, ekhehen ‘to have, own’); as regards word formation, the feminines in -ya-/-yā- (i-je-re-ja, hiereia ‘priestess’) and the masculine nomina agentis in -tā- (e-re-ta, s. above) can be mentioned.

Mycenaean shows a substantial number of archaisms. As regards phonetics, one can mention: the preservations of the I.-E. labiovelar stops *kw, *gw, *gwh (e.g. qo-u-ko-ro, gwoukolos ‘ox-herder’, Gr. boukolos; re-qo-me-no, leikwomenoi ‘remaining’, Gr. leipomenoi), the preservation of the semivowel *w (wa-na-ka, wanaks ‘king’, Gr. anaks; ne-wo, newos ‘new’, Gr. neos; ko-wo, korwos ‘boy’, Gr. kouros, koros) and the preservation of *ā (ma-te, mātÄ“r ‘mother’, Ion.-Att. mÄ“tÄ“r). As regards morphology, the main archaisms are: the absence of the article, the instrumental -phi (pa-we-pi, phares-phi ‘for the cloths’), the dative singular of the consonant stems -ei (po-se-da-o-ne, Poseidāhōn-ei ‘to Poseidon’), the suffix of comparative -yos- (me-wi-jo-e, meiwiohes ‘smaller’, ‘younger’, me-zo-e, medzohes ‘larger’, ‘older’, resp. from *meiw-yos- and *meg-yos-), the verbal endings -toi and -ntoi (e-u-ke-to, eukhe-toi ‘he claims, declares’; di-do-to, dido-ntoi ‘they give’) and the suffix of the perfect participle active ‑wos- (te-tu-ko-wo-a, tetukh-woh-a ‘fully worked, finished’, from the root of Gr. teukhō).

The place of Mycenaean with regard to the other Greek dialects is a much-debated topic. According to the most common opinion, Mycenaean would be the ancestor of the Arcado-Cyprian dialects.

Ancient Writing Systems

  1. Linear B

Further information

  1. Bibliography
  2. Online resources