Sunday, October 21, 2018


Louis Godart, Anna Sacconi (ed.), Supplemento al Corpus delle iscrizioni vascolari in lineare B. Biblioteca di Pasiphae. Pisa; Rome: Fabrizio Serra Editore, 2017. Pp. 224. ISBN 9788862279482. €225.00.

Reviewed by Anna P. Judson, Gonville & Caius College, University of Cambridge (

Version at BMCR home site

The Linear B writing system, used to write the Mycenaean Greek language in Late Bronze Age Crete and mainland Greece (c.1400-1200 BCE), is almost exclusively attested on clay documents into which signs were incised with a stylus. The main exception to this is the group of up to c.200 inscriptions painted onto pottery vessels before firing, produced at various locations on Crete but found at sites on both Crete and the mainland: these vessels, which are almost all coarse-ware stirrup jars (so-called because of the shape formed by their handles and false neck) used for transporting liquids such as oil or wine, are known as the inscribed stirrup jars (ISJs). The function for which these inscriptions (which usually consist only of personal and/or place names) were produced has been the subject of considerable debate, with some scholars suggesting that they marked out jars being sent as gifts from one palace to another,1 and others regarding them as forming part of the Cretan administrative system, with their occurrences on the mainland being due to secondary re-use in trade.2

Since the publication of Anna Sacconi's 1974 Corpus delle iscrizioni vascolari in lineare B (Rome), henceforth the Corpus, there have been many more finds of ISJs, published in a wide variety of articles and archaeological reports: the collection of 48 of these inscriptions in this supplement to the Corpus (henceforth the Supplement) is therefore very welcome in providing much easier access to the majority of post-1974 finds. The volume's introduction summarises the finds of inscriptions included in the Corpus and the Supplement, with full references to their previous publications, as well as providing a useful list of reports of discoveries of ISJs which remain unpublished and therefore could not be included in the Supplement. The Corpus includes inscriptions from three sites on Crete (Chania, Knossos, Mamelouko) and six on the Greek mainland (Eleusis, Kreusis, Mycenae, Orchomenos, Thebes, Tiryns); this Supplement adds finds from three new sites on Crete (Armenoi, Malia, Prinias) and three on the mainland (Dimini/Iolkos, Midea and perhaps Gla), as well as further finds from sites included in the Corpus (Mycenae, Tiryns, Thebes, Knossos, and Chania, which has provided over half of the ISJs included in the Supplement). Two notable omissions are one inscription from Chania, KH Z 45, which, although it is included in the previous publication of the Chania ISJs,3 does not appear in the Supplement, and two further ISJs from Malia, MA Z 3 and 4, which are published in Driessen et al. 2015 (op. cit. note 1; listed as still forthcoming in the Supplement, p.14).

In general, the introduction provides a useful summary for specialists of the discoveries made since 1974; however, with the exception of the brief mention of the inscriptions' chronology (most ISJs date from the LM/LH IIIB period, c.1300-1200 BCE) and the list of standard transcription conventions used, there is little concession to any potential non-specialist readers. Although a corpus such as this is necessarily a highly specialised publication, a brief introduction to the ISJs and to current debates over their production context and purpose could nonetheless have been beneficial for students or researchers for whom the ISJs may be relevant but who may not be immediately familiar with current scholarship on this relatively niche subject (e.g. archaeologists working on Late Bronze Age Aegean trade and exchange, or epigraphers and linguists whose work on Linear B focuses mainly on the tablets).

The main body of the Supplement consists of a section containing drawings and transcriptions of each of the 48 inscriptions, together with essential information such as their findspot, physical characteristics, current location, and previous publications, followed by a section containing photographs of each ISJ. In general, the images are clear and reproduced to a high standard, and the drawings accurately depict both the signs of the inscriptions and the form and decoration of the jars or fragments on which they appear. There are, however, occasional exceptions to this, notably the drawing of TI Z 53, which is of a much lower quality and does not appear to provide a wholly accurate representation of the inscription and decoration as seen in the photograph of this jar. The transcriptions, too, are generally highly accurate; in the majority of cases they either are identical to those previously published or diverge only in small details, such as the level of certainty with which particular signs are read. An example of this is the reading of KH Z 22 as u-ṣọ or KH Z 29 as ]ru[, previously read u-so and ]ṛụ[ respectively in Hallager 2011, pp.417-18, op. cit. note 3; in the first case the addition of underdots seems appropriate given the unusual form of the ṣọ, while in the second, the underdots would perhaps have been better retained, due to the fragmentary nature of the inscription.

Some more substantial changes include the reading of TH Z 977 as ][, which seems a more probable reading than the previous ]ẉạ[,4 and the readings of KH Z 19 as ]ọ-na-ta ,̣[ and KH Z 23 as ]ti-da-ṃẹ[, previously read ]-na-ta-[ and ]ti-da-ṭọ[ respectively by Hallager 2011, pp.416-17, op. cit. note 3 (in these two cases, the previous readings seem perhaps more secure). In a few other cases, although there has been no change from previous editions, I would suggest a slightly different reading from the one given: e.g., although the given reading ]j̣ạ[ seems a possibility for TH Z 976, an alternative reading of ]*5̣6̣[ might be more plausible, while a reading of TH Z 981 as ]-ru[ would seem more secure than the Supplement's ]ḍụ-ru[. (The latter reading is based on a comparison of this inscription to o-du-ru-wi-jo on TH Z 839, in the Corpus, and the suggestion that these may have both been painted by the same person; however, the forms of ru on each jar are distinctly different and the two jars show significant typological differences, TH Z 839 being painted light-on-dark while 981 is dark-on-light).

Since many of these inscriptions are very fragmentary and the readings uncertain, the transcriptions could in general benefit from the more frequent mention of previous readings or other possible alternatives (which have been consistently included only in the case of the Chania inscriptions). In addition, the information provided for each inscription does not include the results of the typological, chemical, and petrographic analyses carried out on 29 of these inscriptions, which have enabled their likely areas of production on Crete to be identified: since most ISJs are not found at the locations where they were produced, users of the Supplement would have benefitted significantly from mentions of these analyses or at least a reference to their publication (which also includes analyses of many of the ISJs in the Corpus).5

The next section sets out the authors' attributions of many of the inscriptions in the Supplement and the Corpus to 21 different scribes, identified on the basis of similarity of sign-forms and the inscriptions' content and format, with illustrations of the inscriptions attributed to each scribe. In general, ISJs which share the same inscription (of which there are a relatively large number of examples) also show very similar formatting and sign-forms, so that they can be fairly confidently taken at least as originating from the same workshop, if not also the same painter. Assigning relatively complete inscriptions with similar content and formatting, and which have also been shown by typological, chemical, and/or petrographic analysis to originate from the same area of Crete, to 'workshop groups' vel sim. would therefore be regarded as plausible by most if not all scholars working on the ISJs. Assigning them to 'scribes', however, not only suggests a status similar to that of the writers of the Linear B tablets—a status which, even if their level of writing ability may frequently have been underestimated, most ISJ painters are unlikely to have had—but also implies a high level of certainty in these identifications of individual 'hands', despite the inscriptions' short lengths and the impossibility of securely distinguishing inscriptions painted by the same person from those copied from a single model (cf. the possibility of scribe 502 bis having copied 502's inscriptions: p.155). Moreover, some groupings have not taken into account the analyses of the ISJs' likely locations of origin (Haskell et al. 2011, op. cit. note 5) on the basis of typology and/or clay type (for example, of the three inscriptions attributed to Scribe 514, TH Z 844 and 848 are light-on-dark jars of West Crete α clay type, while TH Z 971 is a dark-on-light jar of West Crete β type, making it less likely that this ISJ originates from the same workshop or individual as the first two).6

The Supplement ends with tables of sign-forms and indices of words on the ISJs: in each case information from the Supplement is presented both alone and alongside information from the Corpus, enabling the immediate comparison of inscriptions across both publications—which is particularly useful in the cases of ISJs bearing similar inscriptions, as discussed above. Readers should, however, note that the indices only sometimes include alternative readings given in the notes, and that (as in the Corpus) the sign-forms in the palaeographic tables are sketches, sometimes with reconstructed elements, rather than exact reproductions of the signs as seen in the drawings: these are therefore useful primarily for broad-brush comparisons of different forms rather than precise palaeographic analysis.

Overall, this volume could have benefitted from the provision of further references and information such as previous readings of the texts and the jars' probable locations of origin, as well as some discussion of the potential methodological issues involved in the attribution of these inscriptions to scribal hands. However, the existence of this Supplement to the 1974 Corpus and its provision of convenient access to the texts and to high-quality photographs and drawings of the majority of the ISJs published in the last four decades will be a considerable advantage to any researchers studying the uses of the Linear B writing system, the administrative systems of Late Bronze Age Crete, or the exchange of goods between Mycenaean Crete and the Greek mainland, for which these jars and their inscriptions provide important evidence.


1.   Y. Duhoux (2011), 'La fonction des vases à étrier inscrits en linéaire B', Kadmos 49, pp.47-92; J. Driessen, A. Farnoux, and C. Langohr (2015), 'Two more Linear B inscribed stirrup jars from Malia', in D. Panagiotopoulos, I. Kaiser, and O. Kouka (eds.) Ein Minoer im Exil. Festschrift für Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier (Bonn), pp.59-74.
2.   J.-P. Olivier (1996-1997), 'El comercio micénico desde la documentación epigráfica', Minos 31-32, pp.275-92; P.G. van Alfen (1996-1997), 'The Linear B inscribed stirrup jars as links in an administrative chain', Minos 31-32, pp.251-74; J. Zurbach (2006), 'Les vases inscrits en linéaire B: tentative d'interprétation globale', Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts. Athenische Abteilung 121, pp.13-71; A.P. Judson (2013), 'The Linear B inscribed stirrup jars', Kadmos 52:1, pp.69-110.
3.   E. Hallager (2011), 'The Linear B inscriptions and potter's marks', in E. Hallager and B.P. Hallager (eds.) The Greek-Swedish Excavations at the Agia Aikaterini Square Kastelli, Khania, 1970-1987 and 2001. Vol. 4: The Late Minoan IIIB:1 and IIIA:2 settlements (Stockholm), vol.4.1 pp.414-28; vol. 4.2 plates 270-79. For KH Z 45, see p.419; plate 276.
4.   V.L. Aravantinos, I. Fappas, L. Godart, and A. Sacconi (2014), 'Sei frammenti di vasi con iscrizioni in lineare B da Tebe', Pasiphae VIII, pp.19-21. For TH Z 977, see p.19.
5.   H.W. Haskell, R.E. Jones, P.M. Day, and J.T. Killen (2011), Transport Stirrup Jars of the Bronze Age Aegean and East Mediterranean (Philadelphia); see especially pp.92-96 and Table 27.
6.   Cf. my previous comments (Judson 2013, pp.96-101, op. cit. note 2) on the preliminary presentation of these scribal attributions in A. Sacconi (2012), 'Il supplemento al corpus delle iscrizioni vascolari in lineare B', in P. Carlier et al. (eds.) Études mycéniennes 2010: actes du XIIIe colloque international sur les textes égéens: Sèvres, Paris, Nanterre, 20-23 septembre 2010 (Pisa/Roma), pp.123-42; note, however, that some changes have been made to the attributions in the Supplement (detailed on pp.155-6).

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