Mycenaean Greek is the most ancient attested form of the Greek
language, on the Greek mainland,
Cyprus in Mycenaean Greece
(16th to 12th centuries BC), before the hypothesised Dorian invasion,
often cited as the terminus post quem for the coming of the Greek
language to Greece. The language is preserved in inscriptions in
Linear B, a script first attested on
Crete before the 14th century.
Most inscriptions are on clay tablets found in Knossos, in central
Crete, as well as in Pylos, in the southwest of the Peloponnese. Other
tablets have been found at
Tiryns and Thebes and at
Chania, in Western Crete. The language is named after Mycenae, one
of the major centres of Mycenaean Greece.
The tablets long remained undeciphered, and many languages were
suggested for them, until
Michael Ventris deciphered the script in
The texts on the tablets are mostly lists and inventories. No prose
narrative survives, much less myth or poetry. Still, much may be
glimpsed from these records about the people who produced them and
about Mycenaean Greece, the period before the so-called Greek Dark
4 Greek features
4.1 Phonological changes
4.2 Morphological changes
4.3 Lexical items
6.1 Variation within corpus
9 Further reading
10 External links
Mycenaean Greek written in Linear B. Archaeological
Museum of Mycenae.
The Mycenaean language is preserved in
Linear B writing, which
consists of about 200 syllabic signs and logograms. Since
Linear B was
derived from Linear A, the script of an undeciphered Minoan, the
sounds of Mycenaean are not fully represented. In essence, a limited
number of syllabic signs must represent a much greater number of
produced syllables that would be better represented phonetically by
the letters of an alphabet.
Orthographic simplifications therefore had to be made:
There is no disambiguation for the Greek categories of voice and
aspiration except the dentals d, t: 𐀁𐀒, e-ko may be either egō
("I") or ekhō ("I have").
Any m or n, before a consonant, and any syllable-final l, m, n, r, s
are omitted. 𐀞𐀲, pa-ta is panta ("all"); 𐀏𐀒, ka-ko is
Consonant clusters must be dissolved orthographically, creating
apparent vowels: 𐀡𐀵𐀪𐀚, po-to-ri-ne is ptolin (classical
polin, "city" accusative case).
R and l are not disambiguated: 𐀣𐀯𐀩𐀄, qa-si-re-u is
gʷasileus (classical basileus, "king").
Rough breathing is not indicated: 𐀀𐀛𐀊, a-ni-ja is hāniai
Length of vowels is not marked.
The consonant usually transcribed z probably represents *dy, initial
*y, *ky, *gy.
q- is a labio-velar kʷ or gʷ and in some names ghʷ:
𐀣𐀄𐀒𐀫, qo-u-ko-ro is gʷoukoloi (classical boukoloi,
Initial s before a consonant is not written: 𐀲𐀵𐀗, ta-to-mo is
stathmos ("station, outpost").
Double consonants are not represented: 𐀒𐀜𐀰, ko-no-so is
Knōsos (classical Knossos).
In addition to the spelling rules, signs are not polyphonic (more than
one sound), but sometimes are homophonic (a sound can be represented
by more than one sign), which are not "true homophones" but are
"overlapping values." Long words may omit a middle or final sign.
Further information: Linear B
Mycenaean preserves some archaic
Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Greek
features not present in later Ancient Greek.
One archaic feature is the set of labiovelar consonants [ɡʷ, kʷ,
kʷʰ], written ⟨q⟩, which split into /b, p, pʰ/, /d, t, tʰ/, or
/g k kʰ/ in Ancient Greek, depending on the context and the dialect.
Another set is the semivowels /j w/ and the glottal fricative /h/
between vowels. All were lost in standard Attic Greek, but /w/ was
preserved in some Greek dialects and written as digamma ⟨ϝ⟩ or
It is unclear how the sound transcribed as ⟨z⟩ was pronounced. It
may have been a voiced or voiceless affricate /dz/ or /ts/, marked
with asterisks in the table above. It derives from [kʲ], [ɡʲ],
[dʲ] and some initial [j] and was written as ζ in the Greek
alphabet. In Attic, it was pronounced [zd] in many cases, but it is
[z] in Modern Greek.
There were at least five vowels /a e i o u/, which could be both short
As noted above, the syllabic
Linear B script used to record Mycenaean
is extremely defective and distinguishes only the semivowels ⟨j
w⟩; the sonorants ⟨m n r⟩; the sibilant ⟨s⟩; the stops ⟨p
t d k q z⟩; and (marginally) ⟨h⟩. Voiced, voiceless and aspirate
occlusives are all written with the same symbols except that ⟨d⟩
stands for /d/ and ⟨t⟩ for both /t/ and /tʰ/). Both /r/ and /l/
are written ⟨r⟩; /h/ is unwritten unless followed by /a/.
The length of vowels and consonants is not notated. In most
circumstances, the script is unable to notate a consonant not followed
by a vowel. Either an extra vowel is inserted (often echoing the
quality of the following vowel), or the consonant is omitted. (See
above for more details.)
Thus, determining the actual pronunciation of written words is often
difficult, and using of a combination of the PIE etymology of a word,
its form in later Greek and variations in spelling is necessary. Even
so, for some words the pronunciation is not known exactly especially
when the meaning is unclear from context, or the word has no
descendants in the later dialects.
Nouns likely decline for 7 cases: nominative, genitive, accusative,
dative, vocative, instrumental and locative; 3 genders: masculine,
feminine, neuter; and 3 numbers: singular, dual, plural. The last two
cases were lost by Classical Greek. In Modern Greek, only nominative,
accusative, genitive and vocative remain. Adjectives agree with
nouns in case, gender, and number.
Verbs probably conjugate for 3 tenses: past, present, future; 3
aspects: perfect, perfective, imperfective; 3 numbers: singular, dual,
plural; 4 moods: indicative, imperative, subjunctive, optative; 3
voices: active, middle, passive; 3 persons: first, second, third;
infinitives, and verbal adjectives.
The verbal augment is almost entirely absent from
Mycenaean Greek with
only one known exception, 𐀀𐀟𐀈𐀐, a-pe-do-ke (PY Fr 1184),
but even that appears elsewhere without the augment, as
𐀀𐀢𐀈𐀐, a-pu-do-ke (KN Od 681). The augment is sometimes
omitted in Homer.
Main article: Proto-Greek language
Mycenaean had already undergone the following sound changes peculiar
Greek language and so is considered to be Greek:
Initial and intervocalic *s to /h/.
Voiced aspirates devoiced.
Syllabic liquids to /ar, al/ or /or, ol/; syllabic nasals to /a/ or
*kj and *tj to /s/ before a vowel.
Initial *j to /h/ or replaced by ζ (exact value unknown, possibly
*gj and *dj to ζ.
The use of -eus to produce agent nouns
The third-person singular ending -ei
The infinitive ending -ein, contracted from -e-en
Uniquely Greek words:
𐀷𐀩𐀏, wa-na-ka, *wanax (later Greek: ἄναξ, ánax, "lord")
𐀣𐀯𐀩𐀄, qa-si-re-u, *gʷasileus (later Greek:
βασιλεύς, basiléus, "king")
𐀏𐀒, ka-ko, *kʰalkos (later Greek: χαλκός, chalkos,
Greek forms of words known in other languages:
𐀁𐀨𐀺, e-ra-wo or 𐀁𐁉𐀺, e-rai-wo, *elaiwon (later
Greek: ἔλαιον, élaion, "olive oil")
𐀳𐀃, te-o, *tʰehos (later Greek: θεός, theos, "god")
𐀴𐀪𐀠, ti-ri-po, *tripos (later Greek: τρίπους, tripous,
This section's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date
information. Please update this article to reflect recent events or
newly available information.
Last update: Since e.g.
Thomas G. Palaima (2002-3), a source cited
herein, there have been many more discoveries; see for example the
Dāmos database which lists many more items. (March 2014)
Linear B § Corpus
The corpus of Mycenaean-era Greek writing consists of some 6,000
tablets and potsherds in Linear B, from LMII to LHIIIB. No Linear B
monuments or non-
Linear B transliterations have yet been found.
If it is genuine, the Kafkania pebble, dated to the 17th century BC,
would be the oldest known Mycenean inscription, and hence the earliest
preserved testimony of the Greek language, but it is likely a hoax.
While the use of
Mycenaean Greek may have ceased with the fall of the
Mycenaean civilization, some traces of it are found in the later Greek
dialects. In particular,
Arcadocypriot Greek is believed to be rather
close to Mycenaean Greek. Arcadocypriot was an ancient Greek dialect
Arcadia (central Peloponnese), and in Cyprus.
Ancient Pamphylian also shows some similarity to Arcadocypriot and to
Variation within corpus
While the Mycenaean dialect is relatively uniform at all the centres
where it is found, there are also a few traces of dialectal variants:
i for e in the dative of consonant stems
a instead of o as the reflex of ṇ (e.g. pe-ma instead of pe-mo <
the e/i variation in e.g. te-mi-ti-ja/ti-mi-ti-ja
Based on such variations,
Ernst Risch (1966) postulated the existence
of some dialects within Linear B. The "Normal Mycenaean" would
have been the standardized language of the tablets, and the "Special
Mycenaean" represented some local vernacular dialect (or dialects) of
the particular scribes producing the tablets.
Thus, "a particular scribe, distinguished by his handwriting, reverted
to the dialect of his everyday speech" and used the variant forms,
such as the examples above.
It follows that after the collapse of Mycenaean Greece, while the
standardized Mycenaean language was no longer used, the particular
local dialects reflecting local vernacular speech would have
continued, eventually producing the various Greek dialects of the
Such theories are also connected with the idea that the Mycenaean
language constituted a type of a special koine representing the
official language of the palace records and the ruling aristocracy.
When the 'Mycenaean linguistic koine' fell into disuse after the fall
of the palaces because the script was no longer used, the underlying
dialects would have continued to develop in their own ways. That view
was formulated by Antonin Bartonek. Other linguists like L.R.
Palmer (1980), and de:Yves Duhoux (1985) also support this
view of the 'Mycenaean linguistic koine'. (The term 'Mycenaean
koine' is also used by archaeologists to refer to the material culture
of the region.) However, since the
Linear B script does not indicate
several possible dialectical features, such as the presence or absence
of word-initial aspiration and the length of vowels, it is unsafe to
Linear B texts were read as consistently as they were
The evidence for "
Special Mycenaean" as a distinct dialect has,
however, been challenged. Thompson argues that Risch's evidence does
not meet the diagnostic criteria to reconstruct two dialects within
Mycenaean. In particular, more recent paleographical study, not
available to Risch, shows that no individual scribes consistently
Special Mycenaean" forms. This inconsistency makes the
variation between "Normal Mycenaean" and "
Special Mycenaean" unlikely
to represent dialectical or sociolectical differences, as these would
be expected to concentrate in individual speakers, which is not
observed in the
Linear B corpus.
^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds.
(2017). "Mycenaean Greek".
Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck
Institute for the Science of Human History.
^ *Chadwick, John (1976). The Mycenaean World. Cambridge UP.
^ Ventris and Chadwick (1973) pages 42–48.
^ a b Ventris and Chadwick (1973) page 389.
^ Ventris & Chadwick (1973) page 390.
^ Andrew Garrett, "Convergence in the formation of Indo-European
subgroups: Phylogeny and chronology", in Phylogenetic methods and the
prehistory of languages, ed. Peter Forster and Colin Renfrew
(Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research), 2006, p.
140, citing Ivo Hajnal, Studien zum mykenischen Kasussystem. Berlin,
1995, with the proviso that "the Mycenaean case system is still
controversial in part".
^ Hooker 1980:62
^ Ventris & Chadwick (1973) page 68.
^ Thomas G. Palaima, "OL Zh 1: QVOVSQVE TANDEM?" Minos 37-38
(2002-2003), p. 373-85 full text
^ RISCH, Ernst (1966), Les differences dialectales dans le mycenien.
^ a b c Lydia Baumbach (1980), A DORIC FIFTH COLUMN? (PDF)
^ Bartoněk, Antonín, Greek dialectology after the decipherment of
Linear B. Studia Mycenaea : proceedings of the Mycenaean
symposium, Brno, 1966. Bartoněk, Antonín (editor). Vyd. 1. Brno:
Universita J.E. Purkyně, 1968, pp. -51
^ BARTONEK, A. 1966 'Mycenaean Koine reconsidered', Cambridge
Colloquium on Mycenaean Studies' (CCMS) ed. by L. R. Palmer and John
Chadwick, C.U.P. pp.95-103
^ Palmer, L.R. (1980), The Greek Language, London.
^ Duhoux, Y. (1985), ‘Mycénien et écriture grecque’, in A.
Morpurgo Davies and Y. Duhoux (eds.), Linear B: A 1984 Survey
^ Stephen Colvin, ‘The Greek koine and the logic of a standard
language’, in M. Silk and A. Georgakopoulou (eds.) Standard
Languages and Language Standards: Greek, Past and Present (Ashgate
^ Thompson, R. (2006) ‘
Special vs. Normal Mycenaean Revisited.’
Minos 37–38, 2002–2003 , 337–369.
^ Palaima, T. (1988) The Scribes of Pylos, Rome.
Aura Jorro, Francisco (1985–1993). Diccinario micénico. 2 vols.
Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, Instituto de
Bartoněk, Antonin (2003). Handbuch des mykenischen Griechisch.
Heidelberg: Carl Winter. ISBN 3-8253-1435-9.
Chadwick, John (1958). The Decipherment of Linear B. Second edition
(1990). Cambridge UP. ISBN 0-521-39830-4.
Chadwick, John (1976). The Mycenaean World. Cambridge UP.
Palaima, Tom (1988). The Scribes of Pylos. Rome.
Thompson, Rupert (2006). "
Special vs. Normal Mycenaean Revisited".
Minos. 37-38: 337–369.
Ventris, Michael; Chadwick, John (1953). "Evidence for Greek dialect
in the Mycenaean archives". Journal of Hellenic Studies. 73: 84–103.
doi:10.2307/628239. JSTOR 628239.
Ventris, Michael and Chadwick, John (1956). Documents in Mycenaean
Greek. Second edition (1973). Cambridge UP.
ISBN 0-521-08558-6. CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list
Easterling, P & Handley, C. Greek Scripts: An illustrated
introduction. London: Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies,
2001. ISBN 0-902984-17-9
Fox, Margalit (2013). The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack
an Ancient Code. Ecco. ISBN 978-0062228833.
Jeremy B. Rutter, "Bibliography: The
Linear B Tablets and Mycenaean
Social, Political, and Economic Organization"
The writing of the Mycenaeans (contains an image of the Kafkania
Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory (PASP)
Palaeolexicon, Word study tool of ancient languages
Studies in Mycenaean Inscriptions and Dialect, glossaries of
individual Mycenaean terms, tablet, and series citations
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