Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What do the Minoan Linear A tablets tell us about Cretan geography? - Part II

As planned, I shall continue with our discussion of known and putative toponyms in Linear A. As we have seen it before, these place-names are not just mentioned haphazardly, but are clearly grouped on the tablets, for example - by geographic proximity. So the overall situation is similar to what is seen on Linear B documents, particularly the Pylos and Knossos archives.

Unfortunately, many of the Linear A tablets are damaged, broken off, abraded or simply fragmentary. This very fact makes it difficult to read an entire tablet from its start to the end, and even more difficult, to understand the precise context of listings. Yet while individual names are difficult to restore, terms that recur repeatedly again and again are much easier to guess at. For example, it does not take heavy imagination to reconstruct the word [?-?]-TI-JO as PA-I-TI-JO (*Phaistios = 'of Phaistos') on Linear B tablet As1516.

A similar method can also be applied to certain Linear A tablets. A heavily fragmented tablet from Phaistos (PH31) dealing with flocks of animals was already partly restored by John Younger. It defintitely made his job easier that most of the names seem to be toponyms that very frequently recur on other tablets from the neighbouring Haghia Triada. In my current post, I shall attempt a similar reconstruction of entries on Haghia Triada tablet HT122.

Tablet PH 31 (reconstructed)
 Statement   Item   Quantity 
? CAPf  (nanny-goat) 2
OVISf  (sheep/ewe) 1
?-DU-RI CAPm  (billy-goat) 1
TU-JU-MA CAPf  (nanny-goat) 1
PA-TA-NE CAPm  (billy-goat) 1
CAPf  (nanny-goat) 5
TE-RI OVISm  (sheep/ram) 1
OVISf  (sheep/ewe) 1
A-MI-DA-O OVISm  (sheep/ram) 1
? SI+AU+RE (young?) 1
QA-QA-RU CAPm+KU (? goat) 1
MA-DI OVISm  (sheep/ram) 1
OVISf  (sheep/ewe) 1
OVISm  (sheep/ram) 1
KU-PA3-NU SI+AU+RE (young?) 1
PA-TA-DA OVISm  (sheep/ram) 1
KU-ROCAPm+KU  (? goat) 1
OVISm  (sheep/ram) 5
OVISf  (sheep/ewe) 3
CAPm  (billy-goat) 2
CAPf  (nanny-goat) 8

Tablet HT122 is one of those rare Linear A finds that list people instead of agricultural goods. (Such a theme is commonly seen in Linear B.) Moreover, a majority of entries on both sides of HT122 contain reference to multiple men or women. This is very difficult to explain other than assuming a list of towns under the control of the Phaistos polity, each one contributing to the personnel serving the kingdom. Sadly, the header of side A (that seems to be the starting point of this list) is largely broken off, so we cannot learn the purpose of gathering these people. Many of its entries were also obliterated when the tablet broke into pieces. Luckily, some of the names can still be restored, and we shall see very soon how.

At the beginning of row 3, two terms were rendered largely illegible. But unlike the completely missing entry in the preceding row, small traces of the lower halves of signs are still clearly visible. Therefore we can be certain that whatever signs word PA-?-? contained at positions ?, they all had a long, straight vertical line at their lower end. Signs with this property are not that common: Only 20 syllabograms: A, I, U, DA, DI, ME, MU, NA, NI, PA, PO, RE, RO, RU, SA, SE, SI, TE, TO and ZA have this property. We also know - from the context - that the missing name should have been a toponym. This restriction leaves only one possible reconstruction: the missing term is none other than PA-I-TO, the town of Phaistos!

And we are not done yet! Substitution of the term PA-I-TO - together with the numerals following it - leaves a space for only one sign to precede the ?-DI ending of the next word. This time, the context of other place-name listing tablets helps us out: One of the more commonly seen term listed alongside with PA-I-TO is the putative toponym MA-DI. That would definitely fit here as well. One can even notice that the corner of the left ear of the 'cat-head' sign MA is still visible on the neighbouring fragment - a further nice bit of confirmation for the correctness of substitution.

Some of the numeral values pertaining to the damaged entries can also be guessed at. We know that the sum of individual values was 31 (apart from KU-DA, that is not added to KU-RO, but instead carried over to side B and directly added to PO-TO-KU-RO). The numeral following PA-I-TO is completely missing, but we can still see two strokes following the completely obliterated name directly above it. That name itself was likely 3 syllabograms long (e.g. KU-DO-NI or RI-RU-MA), but cannot be restored just based on this property. Though we know that it contributed to the sum with 2+x persons. Now, if PA-I-TO sent y, then the equation x+y=10 must be satisfied. From the symmetric position of the two visible strokes, the numeral of the missing entry should have been even (odd numerals are mostly arranged in a way that strokes are not placed directly above each other). So - for example - if PA-I-TO gave 6 servants, then the unknown town must have given 4. Or reversed. Anyway, a numeral higher or equal to 8 is unlikely, compared with other values (it would not even fit the narrow space between PA-I-TO and MA-DI).

Further down the tablet - in line 7 - there is another name largely obliterated by abrasion and fragmentation. Only the second sign is legible. Out of the first sign, only a single, barely visible oblique stroke remains. This makes our guess at ?-DU rather difficult. Based on the shape and peculiar direction of that single stroke, a RA sign could nicely fit in there. That would yield a reading of RA-DU, that is, the town of Lato, on east-central Crete (mentioned as RA-TO in Linear B). The same name is also found on tablet HT58 , starting with QE-TI RA-DU (despite the lack of word-dividers, we can be almost certain that word QE-TI was separate, as it is on the header of tablet HT7). The only problem with this interpretation is the fact that the ancient city of Lato (next to modern Aghios Nikolaos) lies much closer to the sites of Mallia and Knossos, than to Phaistos - making its status as tributary to the latter less plausible.

Tablet HT122 (side B) - restored
 Statement   Item   Quantity 
JE-DI • *346 • VIR (people) 40?
A?-*306-KI-TA2 7
TA-NA-TI? 10?
DI 2
KU-RO 65

The other side of the same tablet is - fortunately - much more complete. There is only one entry that is partly missing in line 2. Judged from the broken TA syllabogram at its start and considering its length, the name was probably TA-NA-TI - known from quite a few Linear A tablets. The only really interesting feature of side B is the large discrepancy of numbers at individual entries (always less than 10) and the whopping 65 after KU-RO. Even if we suppose that TA-NA-TI sent at least 10 men, on the end of the first line (following JE-DI) there should have been a numeral of 40. Otherwise the names seem to be wildly varied: sometimes abbreviated into a single syllable (DI), sometimes complimented with additional information. A-RA-JU U-DE-ZA looks like a precise reference to another U-DE-ZA town, near A-RA-JU. Similar geographical references are found on other Linear A tablets (e.g HT10: KU-NI-SU • SA-MA) as well as in Linear B (e.g. KO-NO-SO • TE-PE-JA on L641). It is tempting to see it as an attempt to separate towns with identical names, as a modern example of the German towns by the name Frankfurt shows (officially referred to as Frankfurt am Main and Frankfurt an der Oder).

What have we learnt today? We have used our knowledge to successfully restore a tablet dealing with some sort of workforce assignment. This is just an illustration of what deeper understanding of Linear A tablets can give us. If we further our research into toponyms, we can definitely do even more. In the next post, we shall examine another source of evidence: libation tables and inscibed jars, to further us in our goal: to be able to draw a true map (with the names of towns in place) of Minoan Crete!


  1. Mr Zeke,
    Can you find any clues as to what the place name for the port of Phaistos and Agia Triada may be in Linear A or B inscriptions that you have studied? Evans called it Komo. Excavator J. Shaw has continued with that term Kommos and considered Amyklaion.
    James Stratis

  2. This is a difficult task. Especially because neither Kommos, nor Amyklaion recurs in Linear A or B. From the little what I understand of the Linear A tablets, the places NA-TI, TA-TI and MA-DI may have the closest link with Phaistos (PA-I-TO). They are all mentioned together on tablet HT97. Unfortunately, very little can be said about the first two. Now with MA-DI, there is another problem: This settlement should have been fairly large, slightly more distant and significant on its own. I am uncertain if the goods produced by MA-DI (e.g. the pigs, sheep and goats) would mesh well with the environment of Kommos. But the idea cannot be completely dismissed, either.

    Please note that the name of Haghia Triada is not mentioned in the local archives. But the Knossos Linear B tablets tell us about a place called Daos (DA-WO), always paired with Phaistos. The only clue about its Minoan form comes from a (damaged) libation table at Knossos, containing a word in Linear A with the stem DA-WA (logically, this refers to the donor, and agrees with the Linear B form well).

  3. I assume you specifically are referring to KN Za 10: ]-TA-NU-MU-TI • YA-SA-SA-RA-MA-NA • DA-WA-[•]-DU-WA-TO • I-JA[.

    I've been translating it so far as *Tan muti [DA-WA] [DU-WA-TO] iya. = 'The pit of (goddess) Asasarama [...] here.' Or alternatively *Tan umuti... 'the dedication...'. At any rate, given that avenue of translation, I'm skeptical how a city-name might fit within this sentence.

  4. I checked the original specimen to get the best transliteration. It turns out that there is clearly a missing (damaged) sign within the sequence DA-WA-[?]-DU-WA-TO. Based on its visible ends, it was either [TI•], [E•] or [•DE] (the latter rendering is suggested by the facsimile of Godart & Olivier). Nevertheless, a breaking point is probably present there. In either case, DA-WA-TI, DA-WA-E or DA-WA seem to be grammatically valid words. In the above sequence, the usual order of libation formulae appears to be perturbed: the first word (α) is directly followed by a modified γ term, thereupon comes an unknown phrase (maybe that's word β, typically a place-name). Note that there is no word δ (no U-NA-KA-NA-SI), ε (I-PI-NA-MA) or ζ (SI-RU-TE), so either the verb is to be found at the (now broken off) end, ?-DU-WA-TO is verbal, or the phrase TA-NU-MU-TI itself contains that verb (note the accusative case). It somehow resembles the short inscription PRZa1 (TA-NA-SU-TE-[?]-KE • SE-TO-I-JA • A-SA-SA-RA-ME), where the first phrase more or less obviously contains a verb. Anyhow, I am a bit sceptic about the usual reading of (J)A-SA-SA-RA-ME. Here we find a version with an *-na ending - that is suspiciously the same as the well-known adjectival -na formative. If it is true, then a theonym is meaningless here. (After all, who would say "great-goddess-ly" ?)

  5. To sum up, I would put my "five cents" on one of the following readings. Undoubtedly, the table is very incomplete (only one corner was found, that could mean that 1/3 to 1/4 part of the text is what we know). Note that both its start- and endpoint is incomplete (I can still see the corner of a sign that ended the word before TA-NU-MU-TI). I also made use of the fact that a number of words in linear A ending in -O seem to be past participles (e.g. KU-RO, KI-RO). The prefix particle *i- is here interpreted as a connector (..., that...)

    Reading#1: [...the devout followers...] this(acc)-(they)give, that-[A-SA-SA-RA-M]-ly Daos(city) [DE-DU-WA-T]-ed, that-[...].

    Reading#2: [...the gift-bearers offer...] this(acc)-gift, that-[A-SA-SA-RA-M]-ly Daos(city) [DE-DU-WA-T]-ed, that-[...].

    Reading#3: [...the devout followers...] this(acc)-(they)give, that-[A-SA-SA-RA-M]-ly (at/of)Daos(city) [DU-WA-T]-ed, that-[...].

    Reading#4: [..the gift-bearers offer..] this(acc)-gift, that-[A-SA-SA-RA-M]-ly (at/of)Daos(city) [DU-WA-T]-ed, that-[...].

  6. Just a little update on this topic: I have been eyeing the photographs of that pot, catalogued as KNZa10, to get the best transcription possible. In the end of the day, I came to the conclusion, that the damaged sign could also be SI •. If Godart and his friend based their facsimile on this very photo, they were very mistaken: it really seems that the outline of the SI sign is not just a random crack.

    Nevertheless, it is now it falls to me to post the corrected facsimile of this very object. I shall also add APZa2, where I also corrected a number of errors of transcription (e.g. it reads I-PI-NA-MI-NA-TE there, not just I-PI-MI-NA-TE as J.Y. writes - and KU-PA3-NA-TU-NA-TE is actually I-KU-PA3-NA-TU-NA-TE). There are so many things to be put to right!

  7. I can spend some words on it. Linear A inscriptions will be not a secret anymore, I am already on the road, some words are very clear to me. I am referred to "Stone libation formula inscriptions". Parietal frescoes does confirm my painstaking work. And the result is so simple and logic. A good view is Robert B. Koehl pamphlet, available on-line, for free. I begun with "Pre-Greek loans in Greek" by R.S.P. Beekes, and then I went to Linear A inscriptions; the result is quite satisfactory.

  8. Bayndor: "Here we find a version with an *-na ending - that is suspiciously the same as the well-known adjectival -na formative. If it is true, then a theonym is meaningless here. (After all, who would say 'great-goddess-ly' ?)"

    But you leap to an unproven conclusion that this is specifically an *adjective* formant. Guided by Etruscan grammar, nouns and adjectives are often indistinguishable in form so that mlaχ may mean "blessed" or "blessed one" in precisely the same way as Latin bonum may mean both "good" (neuter adjective) or "good thing" (neuter noun), dependent on the syntax.

    In case you doubt, I give the examples of adjective aisna 'godly, divine' (from ais 'god') and noun śuθina 'tomb offering' (from śuθi 'tomb'). In some contexts, the former word must even be treated as a noun (nb. aisunal 'of the god-offering') because adjectives that modify nouns remain entirely undeclined for case.

    And fortunately to add to my argument, Etruscan -na is even found in divine epithets too. I mentioned one such epithet already on my blog, Sal Aracune-ta, found on a mirror next to a winged female who is likely Vanth which I've managed to translate as "The noble one of the hawks" (nb. Hesychius' gloss of the Tyrrhenian word for 'hawk' or 'falcon', ἄρακος < Etruscan *araχ).

    So back to the related Minoan language, its -na may identically be considered a noun *and* adjective formant with a meaning of pertinence, derivation or origin. Therefore I treat YA-SA-SA-RA-MA-NA in the same way I treat the above Etruscan epithet and translate it as 'of Asasarama, pertaining to Asasarama', a kind of "adjective-like" word that goes with the main noun of the NP, TA-NU-MU-TI. The preceding accusative distal demonstrative (= Etruscan tan 'that, the') establishes this as the grammatical object of a verb, undoubtedly a verb of offering.

  9. You are basically right in this line of thoughts. I checked the Hittite phrase isḫassara- (='lady') - the most popular parallel to the cited Minoan phrase up to date. Much my surprise, it does admit further formatives, e.g. the term isḫassarwant- = 'lordly'. This means, that for whatever A-SA-SA-RA-ME meant, an epithet cannot be completely excluded. I therefore restrict my orginal objection to the fact that it cannot be a proper name. Well, it can, but its meaning would quickly become overstrained in the given context (after all, the Greek priests likely would have given offerings to Zeus, but not Zeusian offerings). There are other explanations as well - some pretty enticing ones - but I do not want to rush ahead, as it will be the topic of my very next post!

  10. "I therefore restrict my orginal objection to the fact that it cannot be a proper name."

    Hunh? It's meaning would "quickly become overstrained" as a proper name but not as an epithet?? I don't follow. Your assumptions need further justification.

    My opinion is that Asasarama is likely borrowed from Luwian, but not necessarily a meaningful epithet in Minoan itself where it would simply be a foreign theonym. It's possible that a term *asasara 'lady' was imported into Minoan too but this isn't something we need necessarily assume.

    "[...] (after all, the Greek priests likely would have given offerings to Zeus, but not Zeusian offerings)."

    Etruscan uses the genitive to convey the recipient of an offering. So "I give (a libation) to Nethuns" is expressed literally as "I give (a libation) of Nethuns" or "I give Nethuns's (libation)" (Mi un Nethunsl tura.).

    If an inherited Proto-Aegean quirk, I'd expect this same genitive of the recipient in Minoan. At the same time, considering the repurposing of adjectival suffixes in Anatolian for new genitive forms, I suggest that this grammatical pattern may have been rubbing off on the Keftian population too.

  11. Yeah, that is definitely a possiblity to compare A-SA-SA-RA-ME with the Hittite word isḫassara-, expecially that the latter has no really convincing IE etymology at all. However, there is also a chance of an alternative correspondence (another loanword-theory); namely that it would be a descendant of H.Luwian asḫarmis = 'sacrifice' (especially, animal sacrifice). That would make sense, if I-PI-NA-MA has anything to do with bloodletting. That would leave the word DU-PU2-RE to fill the role of a name-substituent (title, such as 'lord' or 'lady'). And I was pleased to see that it re-appears in Eteocretan as part of the phrase TUPRMĒRIĒIA (probably Tupṛ mē-Riēya, based on Minoan parallels). But I do not want to rush so much ahead. I am just prepairing my next post, so please, have patience.