Mycenaean Greek

Mycenaean Greek is the most ancient attested form of the Greek language, on the Greek mainland, Crete and Cyprus in Mycenaean Greece, before the hypothesised Dorian invasion, often cited as the terminus ad quem for the introduction of the Greek language to Greece. The language is preserved in inscriptions in Linear B, a script first attested on Crete before the 14th century. Most inscriptions are on clay tablets found in Knossos, in central Crete, as well as in Pylos, in the southwest of the Peloponnese. Other tablets have been found at Mycenae itself, Tiryns and Thebes and at Chania, in Western Crete. The language is named after Mycenae, one of the major centres of Mycenaean Greece.
The tablets long remained undeciphered, and many languages were suggested for them, until Michael Ventris deciphered the script in 1952.
The texts on the tablets are mostly lists and inventories. No prose narrative survives, much less myth or poetry. Still, much may be glimpsed from these records about the people who produced them and about Mycenaean Greece, the period before the so-called Greek Dark Ages.


The Mycenaean language is preserved in Linear B writing, which consists of about 200 syllabic signs and logograms. Since Linear B was derived from Linear A, the script of an undeciphered Minoan language, the sounds of Mycenaean are not fully represented. In essence, a limited number of syllabic signs must represent a much greater number of produced syllables that would be more concisely represented by the letters of an alphabet.
Orthographic simplifications therefore had to be made:
In addition to the spelling rules, signs are not polyphonic, but sometimes are homophonic, which are not "true homophones" but are "overlapping values." Long words may omit a middle or final sign.


Mycenaean preserves some archaic Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Greek features not present in later ancient Greek.
One archaic feature is the set of labiovelar consonants, written, which split into,, or in ancient Greek, depending on the context and the dialect.
Another set is the semivowels and the glottal fricative between vowels. All were lost in standard Attic Greek, but was preserved in some Greek dialects and written as digamma or beta.
It is unclear how the sound transcribed as was pronounced. It may have been a voiced or voiceless affricate or, marked with asterisks in the table above. It derives from,, and some initial and was written as ζ in the Greek alphabet. In Attic, it may have been pronounced in many cases, but it is in Modern Greek.
There were at least five vowels, which could be both short and long.
As noted above, the syllabic Linear B script used to record Mycenaean is extremely defective and distinguishes only the semivowels ; the sonorants ; the sibilant ; the stops ; and. Both and are written ; is unwritten unless followed by.
The length of vowels and consonants is not notated. In most circumstances, the script is unable to notate a consonant not followed by a vowel. Either an extra vowel is inserted, or the consonant is omitted.
Thus, determining the actual pronunciation of written words is often difficult, and using a combination of the PIE etymology of a word, its form in later Greek and variations in spelling is necessary. Even so, for some words the pronunciation is not known exactly, especially when the meaning is unclear from context, or the word has no descendants in the later dialects.


Nouns likely decline for 7 cases: nominative, genitive, accusative, dative, vocative, instrumental and locative; 3 genders: masculine, feminine, neuter; and 3 numbers: singular, dual, plural. The last two cases had merged with other cases by Classical Greek. In Modern Greek, only nominative, accusative, genitive and vocative remain as separate cases with their own morphological markings. Adjectives agree with nouns in case, gender, and number.
Verbs probably conjugate for 3 tenses: past, present, future; 3 aspects: perfect, perfective, imperfective; 3 numbers: singular, dual, plural; 4 moods: indicative, imperative, subjunctive, optative; 3 voices: active, middle, passive; 3 persons: first, second, third; infinitives, and verbal adjectives.
The verbal augment is almost entirely absent from Mycenaean Greek with only one known exception, ????, a-pe-do-ke, but even that appears elsewhere without the augment, as ????, a-pu-do-ke. The augment is sometimes omitted in Homer.

Greek features

Mycenaean had already undergone the following sound changes peculiar to the Greek language and so is considered to be Greek:

Phonological changes

The corpus of Mycenaean-era Greek writing consists of some 6,000 tablets and potsherds in Linear B, from LMII to LHIIIB. No Linear B monuments or non-Linear B transliterations have yet been found.
If it is genuine, the Kafkania pebble, dated to the 17th century BC, would be the oldest known Mycenean inscription, and hence the earliest preserved testimony of the Greek language.

Variations and possible dialects

While the Mycenaean dialect is relatively uniform at all the centres where it is found, there are also a few traces of dialectal variants:
Based on such variations, Ernst Risch postulated the existence of some dialects within Linear B. The "Normal Mycenaean" would have been the standardized language of the tablets, and the "Special Mycenaean" represented some local vernacular dialect of the particular scribes producing the tablets.
Thus, "a particular scribe, distinguished by his handwriting, reverted to the dialect of his everyday speech" and used the variant forms, such as the examples above.
It follows that after the collapse of Mycenaean Greece, while the standardized Mycenaean language was no longer used, the particular local dialects reflecting local vernacular speech would have continued, eventually producing the various Greek dialects of the historic period.
Such theories are also connected with the idea that the Mycenaean language constituted a type of a special koine representing the official language of the palace records and the ruling aristocracy. When the 'Mycenaean linguistic koine' fell into disuse after the fall of the palaces because the script was no longer used, the underlying dialects would have continued to develop in their own ways. That view was formulated by Antonin Bartonek. Other linguists like Leonard Robert Palmer, and :de:Yves Duhoux also support this view of the 'Mycenaean linguistic koine'. However, since the Linear B script does not indicate several possible dialectical features, such as the presence or absence of word-initial aspiration and the length of vowels, it is unsafe to extrapolate that Linear B texts were read as consistently as they were written.
The evidence for "Special Mycenaean" as a distinct dialect has, however, been challenged. Thompson argues that Risch's evidence does not meet the diagnostic criteria to reconstruct two dialects within Mycenaean. In particular, more recent paleographical study, not available to Risch, shows that no individual scribe consistently writes "Special Mycenaean" forms. This inconsistency makes the variation between "Normal Mycenaean" and "Special Mycenaean" unlikely to represent dialectical or sociolectical differences, as these would be expected to concentrate in individual speakers, which is not observed in the Linear B corpus.


While the use of Mycenaean Greek may have ceased with the fall of the Mycenaean civilization, some traces of it are found in the later Greek dialects. In particular, Arcadocypriot Greek is believed to be rather close to Mycenaean Greek. Arcadocypriot was an ancient Greek dialect spoken in Arcadia, and in Cyprus.
Ancient Pamphylian also shows some similarity to Arcadocypriot and to Mycenaean Greek.