Sunday, May 1, 2011

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

Time has come to continue our discussion about place-names found in Minoan Linear A contexts. As I mentioned before, one of the gravest problems of identifying toponyms on the Minoan tablets is their meager overlap with place-names known from Mycenaean Linear B - or to be more precise - the Knossos Linear B archive. Taking a look at the lists I posted previously, and a list of Linear B localties (for example, the concise list of Hart [Mnemosyne, 1965]) it becomes apparent that there are almost no exact matches (except PA-I-TO or SE-TO-I-JA). The number of words that have a similar stem to the Mycenaean ones is slightly higher, but at best, these comprise only about 30% of the putative Linear A toponyms (and even less of the known Mycenaean town-names).

How can we reconcile this obvious problem? Well, there are three possible explanations, and later we shall see that all three does play a definite role in explaining the discrepancies between Linear A and B. First of all, the languages of the two scripts are clearly different: the Linear A tablets record a not-yet-well-understood extinct Aegean language termed Minoan, while the language of Linear B materials is an archaic version of Greek. Here comes the next difference: Between the last Linear A tablets, and the earliest Linear B tablets at Knossos, there is a time gap of at least 150 years! There is ample evidence of wars, bloodshed and towns being completely destroyed during this 'undocumented' period, that led to the establishment of the Mycenaean kingdom of Crete, with the capital of Knossos. Thus the settlement structure might not have been the same around 1300 BC as several hundred years before. There is also a third problem, namely that most of the known Linear A tablets (roughly half of the corpus) were found at Haghia Triada - that is, at the Phaistos polity, while the overwhelming majority of Linear B tablets come from Knossos. The tendency of the Cretan Linear B tablets to prominently feature places close to Knossos was already noted by researchers in the 1960s. But Haghia Triada is next to Phaistos and nowhere near Knossos, hence we would expect those places to be featured, that were important for Phaistos, not those in the vicinity of Knossos.

Still, with all these possible explanations, a lingering sense of discomfort remains: Was the identification of these Linear A terms as place-names correct? Or these were just some randomly selected words from obscure lists? How can we ascertain our identifications, if we cannot find these names on the Linear B tablets?

The proof that the previously listed terms in fact very nicely correspond to Cretan localties comes from an unexpected source. We shall take a closer look at the Haghia Triada tablet no. 13 (see figure). In fact this is the most commonly shown tablet in books, because of its nice shape, clarity and readibility. Now we shall read - and interpret - it, word by word. The first sign-group of the header: KA-U-DE-TA is the most obscure term of the tablet. It could either be a name of a month (as common in Linear B headers referring to collection of taxes), or some broader geographic term (more on this later). It is followed by the logogram of wine. The text term, TE is an (abbreviated) transaction term, quite common on Linear A tablets. It probably translates as give(s), pay(s) or payment. Thereafter come six names (with numbers), all pertaining to places.

There is only a single name that can be immediately identified with an extant town. On the fourth entry of the tablet, KU-DO-NI is the same as modern Khania, classic Kydonia (Lin. B KU-DO-NI-JA). The immediately preceding third entry, TE-KI recalls the name of another Cretan town from the classic era: Tegea - which once stood on Western Crete, in the vicinity of modern Kissamos. These two locations do not even fall far from each other.

The second entry is a bit more elusive: TE-TU resembles the name of the classical Tityros peninsula, modern Cape Rodopou. Not far from Khania, the place is completely uninhabited today. But from ancient authors, we know that a town once stood there. It was commonly referred to as Diktynnaion - being a principal site of worship to goddess Britomartis. The very first entry: RE-ZA looks like a Minoan rendering of the name of ancient Lissos, whose ruins are found near modern Sougia, a bit southwards from the other three locations. Up to date, no Minoan towns were identified in that area, but in the light of this identification, it might be a site worthwhile to examine.

The sixth entry refers to I-DU-NE-SI, with all likelyhood, a minute entity: Its contributions in wine are negligible, and the name never recurs on any other tablet. Hence we may never learn where it lies. Unlike this hapax, the name in the fifth entry: DA-SI-*118 is found on many other tablets at Haghia Triada. Although the name does not obviously resemble any modern town or geographical entity on Crete, it closely corresponds to a Linear B toponym: DA-*83-JA. The Linear B sign *83 looks almost the same as Linear A *118, hinting at their identity. Since the distribution of vowels in the surrounding syllables strongly suggests that it was an I-series sign, I tentatively assigned *118 / *83 the value ZI. Keep in mind that the Z-series probably represented affricates (*ts, thus ME-ZA-NA near Pylos = *Metsana, later Messene); this phonetic value could very nicely explain the discordance of the Linear A and Linear B forms (*Dasitsi*Dastsi*Datsiya). Unfortunately, DA-ZI-JA only rarely co-occurs with other place-names in Linear B texts (the only example is F670, where RU-KI-TO and O-NA-JO are also mentioned). This does not enable us to localize it: it could have been anywhere in the area from Rethymno to Arkalochori. The only thing we know is that it was a settlement of reasonably large size and importance.

The close proximity of the places identifiable on HT13 (see map) is astonishing. All the semi-regular phonetic and grammatic correspondences (i.e. *e vowels frequently changed over to *i, Minoan words ending in *-e / *-i receiving *-ya endings in Greek, -ZA endings corresponding to the famous Pre-Greek -ssos ones, etc.) also hint at the correctness of reading. This is simply too good to be true! Are indedeed all the previously collected terms places? And can they really be identified on today's greatly changed Cretan landscape? This is a highly exciting topic, and I look forward to continue our exploration in my next post.

1 comment:

  1. The name Tetu is interesting. There just so happens to be many hard-to-etymologize terms that start with titu- in classical Greek that are curiously connected with Dionysian cult and related icons. I can't help but feel that there's a "Pre-Greek" substrate root in all of this.