Commemorating the decipherment of Linear B and the discovery of Mycenaean Greek.


  • Stavroula Nikoloudis The University of Melbourne


Includes image: 'St Cecilia', 1938.


Linear B is the writing system used by the Mycenaean Greeks dur­ ing the Late Bronze Age, roughly between 1450 - 1200 BCE. Clay tablets inscribed in the Linear B script had been unearthed at the excavations of Knossos, Crete, in the early 1900s and subsequently at Pylos and Mycenae on the mainland of Greece,1 but they had remained largely unreadable for decades, until a British architect by the name of Michael Ventris, who had always had a keen interest in languages, announced on a BBC radio pro­ gramme, that was aired on 1st July 1952, that he had deciphered Linear B and that it represented the earliest surviving form of the Greek language.2 This was a major breakthrough, complementing the archaeological inves­ tigations of the time by giving scholars access to the textual information recorded in the Linear B tablets about the socio-political, economic and religious facets of life in the Mycenaean world. This paper commemorates the 60th anniversary of this important achievement in two ways: first, it outlines the unique contributions of the four main pioneers involved in the decipherment (Michael Ventris, Alice E. Kober, Emmett L. Bennett, Jr. and John Chadwick); second, it focuses on a small section of Linear B tablet PY Ep 704 in order to illustrate the detailed information contained in these texts and to consider the diachronic development of the Greek language by pointing to several key similarities and differences between Mycenaean and Modern Greek.