Code-breakers:
deciphering the languages and
writing systems of the ancient
world
Writing systems
• Hieroglyphs: Egypt, Anatolia, Crete
• Cuneiform (Wedge-shaped script): Sumerian,
Akkadian, Old Persian, Babylonian, Elamite,
Luwian.
• Linear A (Syllabograms?) Unknown language
Minoans not Greek
• Linear B (Syllabograms for Greek)
Mycenaeans were Greek
• Ogham (Irish system): Gaelic/Irish
Hieroglyphic
Scripts
• Hieros
- sacred
• Glyphein
- to carve
• Egyptian
• Anatolian or
Hittite or
Luwian
• Cretan
• Mayan
Egyptian
Hieroglyphs
•
•
•
•
3,300 bc
Logograms (word)
Ideograms (idea)
Alphabetic letters
The Rosetta
Stone
• Napoleon in Egypt
1798-1801
• Jean-François
Champollion
1822 Translation
• 3 scripts
– Greek
– Hieroglyphic Egyptian
– Demotic Egyptian
(easier to write on papyri)
Luwian
Language
• Hittites
• Hieroglyphs &
Cuneiform
• Trojans? Seal
with Luwian
Hieroglyphics
From Pictogram to Cuneiform
Cuneiform
Technique
Cuneiform
Texts
Deciphering Cuneiform
The Behistun Inscription
• Old Persian, Elamite, Babylonian
• Darius I (521-486 bc)
• Henry Rawlinson, Edward Hincks
Interlude…
• Stop it, you
little monster,
or I’ll go out to
the barn, and
tell your father!
• Pasiphae and
Minotaur
• RF vase,
Etruria,
c.340bc
Cretan Hieroglyphics:
The Phaistos Disk
Related scripts, partly syllabic,
partly logographic:
– Linear A
– Anatolian hieroglyphs
– Egyptian hieroglyphs.
The Minoans: Linear A
• Arthur Evans
• Unknown language
(NOT Greek)
• Minoan, Eteocretan?
• Linear B syllabograms
derived from Linear A
• Linear A = Luwian?
• Linear A = Phoenician?
• John Younger
The Mycenaeans: Linear B
• Arthur Evans effect
• Linear B &
Etruscan?
• Syllabograms &
Logograms
• Total of 200 signs
Michael Ventris
• Michael Ventris
1922-1956
• John Chadwick
• Inflected Language
Declensions
Conjugations
• Cretan Place names?
• Greek!
Greek in Syllabograms
Linear B &
Mycenaean Social Order
• WA-NA-KA [wanax] The King
• RA-WA-KE-TA [lawagetas]
Leader of the People = Prince?
• E-QE-TA [heqetas]
Companion or Member of Warrior Caste?
• KE-RO-SI-JA [geronsia] Council of Elders?
• DA-MO [damos] village
• KO-RE-TE, PO-RO-KO-RE-TE [koreter,
prokoreter] Official & Deputy
• DO-E-RO, DO-E-RA [doeros, doera]
Slave/Servant (doulos=slave)
Phoenician
Alphabet
• Semitic letter names
• Aleph - ox - alpha
• Bet - house - beta
Greek Alphabet
Alphabet in History…
• Herodotus:
“The Phoenicians who
came with Cadmus
introduced into Greece
…a number of
accomplishments, of
which the most
important was writing,
an art till then, I think,
unknown to the Greeks.
Or Is it Pure
Myth?
• Cadmus, brother
of Europa
• Founder of
Thebes
• Date?
Family Tree of
Danaos & Cadmus
POSEIDON_____________LIBYA
I
__________I__________
I
I
AGENOR
BELUS
I
__________I______
CADMUS
I
I
AEGYPTUS
DANAOS
I
I
I
I
50 SONS
50 DAUGHTERS
Cadmus Myth
• Cadmus, founder of
Thebes, preceded
Trojan War by
several generations
• Conventional date of
Trojan War:
early C12th bc
• Cadmus C14th bc
• Cadmeian alphabet
not found in Greece
before about the
middle of C8th bc.
Writing in Homer:
Iliad 6.197-202
• He (Proetus, King of
Argos) balked at killing the
man (Bellerophon) - he’d
some respect at least.
• But he quickly sent him off
to Lycia, gave him tokens,
• Murderous signs,
scratched in a folded
tablet,
• And many of them, too,
enough to kill a man.
• He told him to show them
to the father of Antea (wife
of Proetus, false accuser
of B):
• That would mean his
death…
Baleful Signs
• When the tenth dawn
shone with her rose-red
fingers,
• He began to question him,
asked to see his
credentials,
• But then, once he received
that fatal message
• Sent from his own
daughter’s husband, first
• He ordered Bellerophon to
kill the Chimaera
Memory of Linear B
or New Phoenician
Alphabet?
• Uluburun
shipwreck writing
tablets
• late C14th bc
• Cypriot or
Levantine Origin?
• LHIIIA2 pottery
• Cargo from entire
Aegean world:
Mycenaean,
Cypriot,
Canaanite,
Kassite, Egyptian,
and Assyrian.
Ogham
carved & read
from bottom
to top
• 5th century Ireland (Wales, Cornwall, Scotland,
Isle of Man, Shetland Islands).
• letters consist of 1-5 perpendicular or angled
strokes, meeting or crossing a center line.
• letters easily carved on wood or stone objects,
with edge of object forming the center line.
• Irish had no other written alphabet until Christian
missionaries introduced Latin (C8th)
• Ogham died after first few centuries of Christian
era, as use of inscription languages was reviled
as a pagan practice.
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Code-breakers: deciphering the languages and writing