BMCR 2005.09.80

Thèbes: Fouilles de la Cadmée I, III, and IV

, , , Thèbes: Fouilles de la Cadmée I: Les tablettes en Linéaire B de la Odos Pelopidou: Édition et commentaire. Pisa, Rome: Istituti editoriali e poligrafici internazionali, 2001. 457 pages. ISBN 9788881472284
, , , Thèbes: Fouilles de la Cadmée III: Corpus des documents d'archives en linéaire B de Thèbes (1-433). Pisa, Rome: Istituti editoriali e poligrafici internazionali, 2002. 323 pages. ISBN 9788881473014
, , , Thèbes: Fouilles de la Cadmée IV: Les textes de Thèbes (1-433): Translitération et tableaux des scribes. Pisa, Rome: Istituti editoriali e poligrafici internazionali, 2005. xii, 339 pages. ISBN 9788881474349

[The editors apologize for the delay in reviewing volumes I and III.]

Great international excitement attended the discovery, in a rescue excavation from 1993 to 1995, of 238 new Linear B tablets from Thebes. In 1996 a few more were discovered lying unrecognized in a museum among the finds from a 1963-4 dig in Thebes that had itself produced a considerable number of recognized and published tablets. This new corpus includes all three groups of Thebes tablets and is thus a crucial resource for anyone working on Linear B.

The corpus is divided into four volumes, of which three have appeared so far; the missing volume is Volume II, which is expected to be dedicated to the archaeological context of the tablets and the publication of the other finds from the excavation begun in 1993. The first volume contains illustrations, transliterations, translations, and commentary on the newly-excavated tablets, while the third contains illustrations and transliterations of both the new tablets and those from earlier excavations in Thebes, as well as sign tables. The original projection, stated at the front of both these volumes, was that the publication would consist of these two volumes plus the forthcoming Volume II, and therefore scholars were surprised by the appearance of Volume IV. That volume contains transliterations of all the Thebes tablets, some basic information on each, and extensive sign tables.

Volume I, the first publication of the bulk of the new material, is the work on which scholarly attention has been primarily focused. It begins with a detailed discussion of the excavation that produced the new tablets, complete with maps of the site and discussions of finds that are useful in dating the tablets. Using Near Eastern cylinder seals found in the 1963-4 dig, the editors date the destruction of the Mycenaean palace at Thebes, and therefore the writing of the tablets, to sometime not long after 1225 BC.

The editors also argue that Linear B scribes were actually at work when the final destruction of the palace occurred. They base this conclusion on evidence that some tablets were still wet (a condition they would only have been in for a short time after being inscribed) when the shelves in the archive collapsed, and on evidence that some tablets had just been made but not yet inscribed, while others had just been filed, at the time of the disaster. This information has implications about the nature of the disaster that ended Mycenaean palace civilization; the editors consider an earthquake the most likely cause.

The second section of this volume is the edition. For every tablet and tablet fragment from the 1993-5 dig in the Odos Pelopidou, no matter how insignificant, the editors provide a photograph, a drawing (both well done and as legible as possible), a transcription, and detailed textual notes on debatable traces. The tablets discovered in the museum in 1996 are not included. The 238 tablets are numbered 100 to 405, with many gaps in the numbering where numbers were deleted as joins were made. They range from large page tablets with 15 lines of writing to tiny scraps with no surviving writing at all.

The edition is followed by a commentary section with six chapters. The first is a brief discussion of the different scribal hands identified at Thebes and a chart listing which tablets were written by each of the 12 scribes. The second, a hefty 155 pages, is the commentary proper. In this section the tablets are arranged by series (Av, Fq, etc.), rather than in numerical order as in the edition, and the transliterations and textual notes are repeated from the edition, followed by translations (into French, the language of all these volumes) and a phenomenally detailed word-by-word commentary. Every tablet in the edition is repeated in the commentary, even those that bear no writing and about which there are consequently no comments to be made. The third chapter discusses the contributions the editors believe the new tablets make to our understanding of Greek religion, which are numerous because many of the Thebes tablets can be read as containing information on divinities and religious rites. The fourth chapter discusses the quantities of various commodities mentioned on the tablets, the fifth the boundaries of the region controlled by the Theban palace, and the sixth certain still undeciphered signs. Some of the interpretations in the commentary section, particularly in chapters two and three, are disputed; for example there is considerable debate about whether the tablets really contain as much religious material as the editors suggest. As the individual issues have been discussed elsewhere in considerable detail,1 I shall not go into them here except to note that the commentary might in the long run have been more useful had some conclusions been stated more tentatively, to enable readers to draw a distinction between the contributions the tablets certainly make to our knowledge and those that they can be argued to make.

A conclusion succinctly summarizes the information derived from the new tablets. This is followed by an index of words and word fragments occurring on these tablets, an index of ideograms, a glossary, and a series of concordances listing tablet numbers, series, inventory numbers, and scribe numbers. The volume ends with a table showing all the different forms taken by every sign that appears on these tablets, with references to every tablet on which each occurs.

Volume III opens with an introduction explaining the history of the discovery of the Linear B tablets found at Thebes from 1963 until the 1993 dig, with maps and discussion of the archaeological contexts and of the original publication of the tablets found prior to 1993. The main body of the volume consists of an edition with photographs, drawings (both of high quality), transliterations, and textual notes on all the Thebes tablets: numbers 1-99 are re-edited after earlier publications, numbers 100-405 are reprinted from volume I, and numbers 406-433 are published here for the first time. This means that 129 pages of this volume are repeated from Volume I, identical even in layout to the material there. Most of the tablets first published in this volume are tiny and bear little or no legible writing, but one or two of them are larger and more interesting. The interest is left to the reader to determine, as the volume includes no translations or commentary.

This edition section is followed by a concordance listing the numbers, series, inventory numbers, scribes, and provenance of all the Thebes tablets. There is also a 62-page table of signs used at Thebes, repeating all the information from the sign table in volume I and adding the signs from tablets 1-99 and 406-433. Indices of words and of ideograms follow.

Volume IV contains transcriptions and textual notes on all the Thebes tablets; most of this information is identical to that found in Volume III (and for most tablets also in Volume ἰ, but minor changes are made to the readings of a few tablets (Fq 254+255 and X 386). Below each transliteration is given the information on provenance etc. previously relegated to concordances, together with a list of previous publications of the tablet. Though most of the previous publications listed are the earlier volumes of this corpus, some are less obvious, making this list helpful. The major innovation in presentation in this volume, and the justification for repeating the transcriptions yet again, is that the tablets are arranged by series rather than in numerical order as in volumes I and III.

The second half of Volume IV concerns scribal hands. There is an 87-page series of tables giving, for each scribe whose hand has been identified on the Thebes tablets, a complete list of signs attributed to him with all variant forms and references to the tablets on which these forms occur. Then there is a 24-page set of tables showing the way each scribe normally drew each sign, concordances by series, tablet number, scribe, and find site; and another set of indices of words and ideograms, this time including a reverse index of words.

It is unfortunate that there is no discussion in this volume of the identification of individual scribes; the only discussion of this issue in the corpus is the brief chapter in Volume I. The extent to which individual Linear B scribes can be accurately identified is a question on which there is still some debate, and it is regrettable that these editors did not feel the need to explain or justify the criteria by which they ventured to assign even tiny fragments to individual scribes. In this context it is interesting that the scribal attributions in Volume IV are by no means identical to those in Volume I; a good many tablets have been reassigned to different scribes without any explanation or discussion, and indeed the only way to tell which of the scribal attributions in Volume I no longer reflect the editors’ opinion is to compare them individually to the attributions in Volume IV.

Overall, there is no question that the editions contained in this corpus are of high quality: the illustrations are excellent and the transcriptions accurate. The interpretations are useful more often than not, though they would be more useful had the editors been more cautious about their conclusions. All the material presented here, however, could easily have been fitted into a single volume, and it is a pity that a combination of excessive repetition, unusually large type (even in tables and indices), and large amounts of blank space has stretched the corpus into three volumes, none of them inexpensive (though considering the number and quality of the photographs the prices could have been much worse).

Given the importance of this material and the excitement that attended its discovery, it is in some ways unfortunate that the tablets and their photographs were kept sequestered for so long (eight years from the initial tablet finds) while such a detailed corpus was prepared. The majority of scholars would have preferred the rapid publication of a basic edition. However, the high quality of the drawings and photographs in the current edition should allay much of the bitterness caused by the delay, as it makes this trove of Mycenaean material available to everyone.


1. See reviews by Thomas Palaima in Minos 35-6 (2000-1) 475-86 and AJA 107 (2003) 113-15, the editors’ reply in Kadmos 42 (2003) 15-30, and Palaima’s rebuttal in Kadmos 42 (2003) 31-8.