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Linear A is one of two linear scripts used in ancient Cretemarker before Mycenaean Greek Linear B. In Minoan times, before the Mycenaean Greek dominion, Linear A was the official script for the palaces and cults and Cretan Hieroglyphs were mainly used on seals. These three scripts were discovered and named by Arthur Evans. In 1952, Michael Ventris discovered that Linear B was being used to write the early form of Greek now known as Mycenaean. He and others used this information to achieve a significant and now well accepted decipherment of the script, although many points remain to be elucidated. A failure to discover the language of Linear A has prevented the same sort of progress being made in its decipherment.

Though the two scripts – Linear A and B – share some of the same symbols, using the syllables associated with Linear B in Linear A writings produces words that are unrelated to any known language. This language has been dubbed Minoan and corresponds to a period in Cretanmarker history prior to a series of invasions by Mycenaean Greeks around 1450 BC.

Linear A seems to have been used as a complete syllabary around 1900–1800 BC, although several signs appear as mason marks earlier. It is possible that the Trojan Linear A scripts discovered by Heinrich Schliemann and one inscription from central Crete, as well as a few similar potters' marks from Lahun, Egypt, (12th dynasty) come from an earlier period, ca. 2100–1900 BC, which is the period of the construction of the first palaces.

Theories of decipherment

Linear A incised on a vase, also found in Akrotiri.

As the Minoan language is lost to the modern day, it is hard to be certain whether or not a given decipherment is correct. The simplest approach to decipherment may be to presume that the values of Linear A match more or less the values given to the fully transliterated Linear B script, used for Mycenean Greek. This point of view has been of great interest to archaeologists. The lack of a decipherment means there is no definitive evidence for this view, though there is support based on onomatopoeia (for example: AB 23 'mu' from Hieroglyphic 12, a bull-head; AB 80 'ma' from H cat-head; AB 67 'ki' from H 57 a sistrum (a type of rattle); AB 60 'ra' from H 18 dog-head; AB 50 'pu' from H 58 harp). In addition, complex words of three or more syllables appear in both Linear A and B (therefore, 12 signs have the same values in both syllabaries: DA, I, JA, KI, PA, PI, RO, RI, SE, SU, TA, O).

One of the very few understood words so far, the summarizing term KU-RO, most likely meaning 'total' or something similar to it, could be of either Indo-European *kwol- (o-grade form of *kwel-), or Semitic (*kull- 'whole') origin. This ambiguity is representative of the current state of understanding of the language of Linear A: the known elements are too scarce to build a safe hypothesis on supposed genetic affiliations with known languages.


In 1957, Vladimir I. Georgiev published his La position du dialecte cretóis des inscriptions en linéaire A stating that the language of Linear A was Greek and similar to the dialect spoken at Knossos where Linear B was used.


Since the 1960s, a theory based on Linear B phonetic values suggests that Linear A language could be an Anatolian language, close to Luwian. In 1997, Gareth Alun Owens published a collection of essays entitled Kritika Daidalika, which support the view that Linear A might represent an archaic relative of Luwian. Owens based this assertion on the perceived Indo-European but non-Greek roots of a small number of words he was able to read by using the known Linear B or Cypriot sound values of certain Linear A signs. He does not claim a systematic decipherment of Linear A, and remarks in the book that he intended his Luwian hypothesis to provoke discussion, not to settle the issue.

The theory for the Luwian origin of Minoan, however, failed to gain universal support for the following reasons:
  • No remarkable resemblance between Minoan and Hitto-Luwian morphology.
  • None of the existing theories of the origin of Hitto-Luwian peoples and their migration to Anatolia (either from the Balkans or from the Caucasus) is related to Crete. However, Linear A tablets have been found by German scientists near the town of Kardzhalimarker in southern Bulgaria.
  • Lack of direct contacts between Hitto-Luwians and Minoan Crete; the latter was never mentioned in Hitto-Luwian inscriptions. Small states located along the western coast of the ancient Asia Minor were a natural barrier between Hitto-Luwians and Minoan Crete.
  • Obvious anthropological differences between Hitto-Luwians and the Minoans may be considered as another indirect testimony against this hypothesis.


In 2001, the journal Ugarit-Forschungen, Band 32 published the article "The First Inscription in Punic — Vowel Differences in Linear A and B" by Jan Best, claiming to demonstrate how and why Linear A notates an archaic form of Phoenician. This was a continuation of attempts by Cyrus Gordon in finding connections between Minoan and West Semitic languages. His methodology drew widespread criticism. While one or two terms may apparently be of Semitic origin (such as KU-RO, see below), there is yet not enough evidence to secure a connection between the language of Linear A and Semitic idioms. Contrary to most other scripts used for Semitic languages, Linear A presents many written vowels.


Another interpretation, based on the frequencies of the syllabic signs, and on complete palaeographic comparative studies, recently suggests that Minoan Linear A language belongs to the Indo-Iranian family of Indo-European languages. This study includes a presentation of the morphology of the language, and avoids the complete identification of phonetic values between Linear A and B. It also avoids comparing Linear A with Cretan Hieroglyphs. La Marle uses the frequency counts to identify the type of syllables written in Linear A, and takes into account the problem of loanwords in the vocabulary.


Attempts have been made to link Linear A to the Tyrrhenian language family which includes Etruscan, Rhaetic, and Lemnian. Similarities have been noted between the words for "bearing libations" in Etruscan and Linear A ( It has been proposed that the Minoan of Linear A be linked to a "pre-Indo-European Mediterannean substratum" of languages. In this sense G.M. Facchetti has proposed some possible similarities between the Etruscan language and ancient Lemnian, and other Aegean languages like Minoan. However, that this is by no means a common view; there are just as serious attempts of linking Eteocretan and Eteocypriot with Semitic (see above), and mainstream scholarship takes no position. Facchetti himself claims that it is only an hypothesis.

Nature of the texts

A stone ladle from Troullos (TL Za 1) is a likely exemplar of a votive text read according to the hypothesis that Linear A values are equal to Linear B values:

a-ta-i-*301-wa-ja o-su-qa-re ja-sa-sa-ra-me u-na-ka-na-si i-pi-na-ma si-ru-te

While the Haghia Triada tablet 13 (HT 13) is an example of an accounting text:

ka-u-de-ta [wine ideogram]. te. re-za 5½ te-ro2 56 te-ki 27½ ku-dzu-ni 18 da-si-*118 19 ?-su-?-si 5 ku-ro 130½
  • ka-u-de-ta is followed by an ideogram almost identical to one in Linear B meaning 'wine'. These are followed by a list of six names each followed by a numeral, and then a total (ku-ro) of the preceding numbers — slightly in error, as the correct sum is 131.


This glossary contains terms that are possible meanings according to the rule that Linear A values are the same symbolically and phonetically to Linear B values. The following values remain conjectural because of the paucity of lengthy Linear A texts available:
  • (J)A-DI-KI-TE-TE-/JA-DI-KI-TU: 'Mount Diktemarker' (Miguel Valério 2007)
  • DU-PU2-RE: 'ruler, master' (Miguel Valério 2007)
  • 'I-DA: 'Mount Ida marker'
  • KU-RO: whole, total (vel. sim.) (Cyrus Gordon: Semitic *kull-; or Greek holon "total"/"whole").
  • KI-RO: missing, debt (possibly Greek khreos "debt").
  • MA+RU (ligature of the two signs): wool, same as later Greek mallós. Possibly a Minoan loanword in Greek. Possibly related to Sumerian bar-lu best quality wool blend.
  • PA-DE: a theonym (name for a god), appearing on Linear B tablets as well (as pa-de / pa-ze). Cf. Sanskrit pati, lord, Greek Pater, father, master.
  • PA-I-TO: place name, Phaistosmarker. The same name is common on Linear B documents.
  • PO-TO-KU-RO: grand(?) total (vel. sim.).
  • RU+JA (the two signs joined together into a ligature): pomegranate, same as Classic Greek rhoia (or Rhea).
  • SE-TO-I-JA: place name, which occurs in Linear B as well.
  • SU-KI-RI-TA: *Sugrita, a place name which occurs in Linear B as well; the town survives today as Sybritamarker.
  • SU-KI-RI-TE-I-JA: possibly "Sugritaian"

Apart from these, there are a considerable number of proper names and related elements occurring both in Linear A and Linear B namely in the Mycenaean texts from Knossosmarker. On the basis of the Indo-Iranian hypothesis, a Minoan-English glossary by Hubert La Marle will be published soon; it already exists in French. This translation has been critiqued by John Younger at Kansas University (

Sites yielding Linear A inscriptions

See also


  1. A Site maintained by John Younger that has a comprehensive list of known texts written in Linear A.
  2. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000. Appendix I: Indo-European Roots
  3. Georgiev, Vladimir I. La Position du dialecte Cretois des inscriptions en Lineaire A. Sofia: Academy of Science of Bulgaria, 1957.
  4. See the works of Sir Leonard Palmer.
  5. Novinite (Sofia News Agency). "German Scientists: Europe's Oldest Script Found in Bulgaria". 18 May 2005.
  6. Ugarit-Forschungen Internationales Jahrbuch für die Altertumskunde Syrien-Palästinas
  7. Einsenbrauns
  8. Hubert La Marle. Linéaire A, la première écriture syllabique de Crète, 1997–1999.
  9. Younger, Linear A Texts in phonetic transcription — Introduction.


  • Best, Jan G. P. Some preliminary remarks on the decipherment of Linear A. ISBN 90-256-0625-3
  • G. J. K. Campbell-Dunn. Who were the Minoans, an African Answer. United States: Authorhouse Press, 2006.
  • Facchetti, Giulio M. & Negri, Mario. Creta Minoica. Sulle tracce delle più antiche scritture d'Europa. Leo S. Olschki Editore, 'Biblioteca dell'Archivum Romanicum. Serie II: Linguistica' nº 55, 2003. ISBN 8822252918.
  • Woodard, Roger D. Greek Writing from Knossos to Homer. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-19-510520-6 ( Review.)
  • Younger, John G. Linear A Texts.

  • Hubert La Marle. Linéaire A, la première écriture syllabique de Crète. Geuthner, Paris, 4 volumes, 1997–1999; 2006.
  • Hubert La Marle. Introduction au linéaire A. Geuthner, Paris, 2002.
  • Hubert La Marle. L'aventure de l'alphabet : les écritures cursives et linéaires du Proche-Orient et de l'Europe du sud-est à l'Âge du Bronze. Geuthner, Paris, 2002.
  • Hubert La Marle. Les racines du crétois ancien et leur morphologie : communication à l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, 2007.

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