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The Thebes tablets are clay tablets discovered at the city of Thebes, Greecemarker, with inscriptions in the Mycenaean Greek language in the Linear B script. They belong to the Late Helladic IIIB context, contemporary with the finds at Pylosmarker. A first group of 21 fragments were found in the 1963-4 campaign; a further nineteen tablets were found in 1970 and 1972. Using Near Eastern cylinder seals associated with the finds, the editors of the published corpus of the whole archive now date the destruction of the Kadmeion, the Mycenaean palace complex at Thebes, and therefore the writing of the tablets, some of which were still damp when they were unintentionally fired, to a time not long after 1225 BC. Chadwick identified three recognizable Hellenic divinities, Hera, Hermes and Potnia "the mistress", among the recipients of wool. He made out a case for ko-ma-we-te-ja, also attested at Pylosmarker, as the name of a goddess.

Quite early, before the more recent discoveries, F.M. Ahl made the astute observation of the phoinikeia grammata, the "Phoenician" or the "palm-leaf" (phoinix) letters: "Cadmus did bring writing to Thebes, but this writing was not the Phoenician alphabet, but Linear B".


A substantial additional portion, some 250 tablets, amounting roughly to 5% of the entire Mycenaean corpus from all sites, was discovered in Pelopidou Street and the "Arsenal" by Vassilis L. Aravantinos, the current archaeological superintendent of Thebes, from 1993 to 1995, in a rescue excavation. In 1996 a few more tablets were identified in a museum among finds from the 1963-64 dig in Thebes.

The number of tablets given by the editors is actually misleading. For example, as Tom Palaima and Sarah James have independently demonstrated, the '123 tablets' of the Fq series) actually are many fragments of texts that originally made up between fifteen and eighteen tablets at the most.


The French and Italian linguists Louis Godart and Anna Sacconi were charged with the publication of these tablets. During the following years, their tantalizing glimpses of the contents resulted in impatient accusations; when the tablets were finally published in 2001, the impact of their overall content was perceived by most reviewers to be rather less than expected.


Many of the Thebes tablets can be read as containing information on divinities and religious rites; others mention quantities of various commodities. By the sites mentioned, the boundaries of the region controlled by the Theban palace can be estimated: the Theban palace controlled the island of Euboiamarker and had a harbour in Aulis. The tablets contain a number of important terms previously unattested in Linear B, such as ra-ke-da-mi-ni-jo /Lakedaimnijos/ "a man from Lacedaemonia (Spartamarker)", or ma-ka /Mā Gā/ "Mother Gaia" (a goddess still revered in Thebes in the 5th century BC, as reported e.g. in Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes). Interesting is also ku-na-ki-si /gunaiksi/ "for women", exhibiting the peculiar oblique stem of Greek "woman".

Godart and Sacconi read the tablets to indicate cult activity dedicated to Demeter, Zeus protector of crops, and to Kore, and they speculate that the roots of the Eleusinian Mysteries can be traced back to Mycenaean Thebes. Palaima, however, has lambasted their suggestions as "subject to very dubious interpretations" and "highly suspect on linguistic and exegetical grounds". Other arguments against the identification of cult activity in the texts have been advanced by Sarah James and Yves Duhoux.

Palaima does attach importance to one tablet (Uo 121) as evidence of linking sacrificial animals with foodstuffs at the end of LHIIIB. The same phenomenon, part of ritual Mycenaean feasting, occurs in the contemporary Pylosmarker tablets.

The Vienna symposium, 2002

The results of a specialist symposium held in Vienna December 5-6, 2002 have now been published. These papers further dismantle the "house of cards" constructed by the editors of the tablets concerning religious references in the Thebes tablets.

Günter Neumann (pp. 125-138) demonstrates clearly that the animals in the Thebes tablets are not in any way sacred or 'divine', but are animals that would naturally be part of everyday life for Mycenaean and later Greeks. He gathers the explicit historical evidence for this, including references to these animals being fed grains.

Michael Meier-Brügger (pp. 111-118) clearly demonstrates that de-qo-no as "master of banqueting" is linguistically impossible. It must be deipnon "main dinner' as in Homer; that di-wi-ja-me-ro cannot equal 'the part for the goddess Diwia' but has to be 'two-day period' (as also argued earlier by Melena and in this volume by Killen); that si-to is not an otherwise unattested god Sito (Grain) but plain siton "grain".

José Luis Garcia Ramón (pp. 37-69) demonstrates that linguistically a-ko-ro-da-mo cannot signify agorodamos 'mystic assembler of the people'. He proposes the simple Greek man's name Akrodamos. He also sees that o-po-re-i is a personal name parallel to another in these Thebes texts me-to-re-i. They mean respectively "On the mountain" and "Beyond the mountain." So o-po-re-i does not mean "Zeus of the Fall Harvest", which is impossible according to Mycenaean usage for god's names and epithets.

John T. Killen (pp. 79-110) specifically concludes (p.103): "...the fact that ma-ka, o-po-re-i, and ko-wa never all occur together, and that it requires a special hypothesis to explain this fact, combined with what I believe are the continuing difficulties with explaining o-po-re-i as a theonym /Opo:rehi/, make me reluctant for the present to accept the ma-ka = Ma:i Ga:i [i.e., Mother Earth] equation."


  1. They were published by John Chadwick in Minos 10 1970:115-37
  2. Theodoros G. Spyropoulos and John Chadwick, The Thebes Tablets II (Salamanca: Universitad de Salamanca) 1975.
  3. Ahl, "Cadmus and the Palm-Leaf Tablets" The American Journal of Philology 88.2 (April 1967, pp. 188-194) p. 188.
  4. V. Aravantinos,L. Godart and A. Sacconi, Thèbes: Fouilles de la Cadmée I (Pisa/Rome) 2001.
  5. Palaima, "Sacrifical Feasting" p. 218, citing his own reviews "Rev. of Aravantinos, Godart, and Sacconi 2001", in Minos 35–36, pp. 475–486; review of Aravantinos, Godart, and Sacconi 2001, in AJA 107, pp. 113–115.
  6. S. Deger-Jalkotzy and O. Panagl, Die Neuen Linear B-Texte aus Theben (Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 2006); On-line abstract.

Further reading

  • V. L. Aravantinos, L. Godart, A. Sacconi, Thèbes: Fouilles de la Cadmée I: Les tablettes en Linéaire B de la Odos Pelopidou: Édition et commentaire. Pisa and Rome: Istituti editoriali e poligrafici internazionali, 2001. ISBN 88-8147-228-7
  • V. L. Aravantinos, L. Godart, A. Sacconi, A. Sacconi, Thèbes: Fouilles de la Cadmée III: Corpus des documents d'archives en linéaire B de Thèbes (1-433). Pisa and Rome: Istituti editoriali e poligrafici internazionali, 2002. ISBN 88-8147-354-2 ISBN 88-8147-301-1
  • V. L. Aravantinos, M. del Freo, L. Godart, Thèbes: Fouilles de la Cadmée IV: Les textes de Thèbes (1-433): Translitération et tableaux des scribes. Pisa and Rome: Istituti editoriali e poligrafici internazionali, 2005. ISBN 88-8147-421-2 ISBN 88-8147-434-4
  • Bryn Mawr Classics Review 20: review of all three volumes, 2005.
  • Duhoux, Yves, "Dieux ou humains? Qui sont "ma-ka", "o-po-re-i" et "ko-wa" dans les tablettes linéaire B de Thèbes," Minos p. 37-38 (2002-2003 [2006]), p. 173-254.
  • S.A. James, "The Thebes Tablets and the Fq series: A Contextual Analysis," Minos 37-38 (2002-2003 [2006]), p. 397-418.
  • S. Deger-Jalkotzy and O. Panagl, Die Neuen Linear B-Texte aus Theben (Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 2006). ISBN 978-3-7001-3640-8

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