BMCR 2010.05.10

The People of Knossos: Prosopographical Studies in the Knossos Linear B Archives. Boreas. Uppsala Studies in Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Civilizations 30

, The People of Knossos: Prosopographical Studies in the Knossos Linear B Archives. Boreas. Uppsala Studies in Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Civilizations 30. Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2008. 219. ISBN 9789155471088 SEK 240.00 (pb).

[Table of Contents is provided at the end of the review.]

This study aims to provide a clearer profile of the people recorded in the Linear B tablets from Knossos. As such, it is a welcome addition to Mycenaean textual studies, and will stand alongside Margareta Lindgren’s People of Pylos. Prosopographical and Methodological Studies in the Pylos Archive (Uppsala, 1973). However, as Landenius Enegren points out, both chronological issues and the more fragmentary nature of the texts from Knossos present great challenges to providing a prosopographical study as rich in detail as Lindgren’s.

The book is divided into two main parts. Part One constitutes Landenius Enegren’s doctoral dissertation (for which Lindgren served as adviser) and consists of an Introduction and seven chapters in which Landenius Enegren presents the results of her analysis of personal names recorded on the Knossos tablets. Part Two comprises a catalogue of these personal names, listed in alphabetical order, with information for each entry relating to Tablet reference, Scribal Hand, Find-spot, Ideogram, Toponym and relevant publications. An Appendix contains a plan of the palace of Knossos, indicating the find-spots of tablets, and sixteen tables reflecting the scribes and subject matter of the various Knossos series of texts. The book ends with a helpful Index of Linear B terms (including the personal names) discussed in Part One.

Part One begins with an outline of the main differences between the Pylos and Knossos texts. The latter are more fragmentary and average fewer signs per tablet, so that information critical for prosopographical analysis is often lacking. Knossos also lacks a central Archives Complex comparable to that of Pylos and it is possible that some of the Knossos texts, which were found in deposits distributed throughout the palace, were not contemporary. Therefore, Landenius Enegren’s twin objectives are “not only to gain a better understanding of the interrelationships between the individuals and groups recorded in the Knossian Linear B texts but also to identify interconnections between archival find-spots” (p. 14). Her methodology is based on the principle of cross-referencing, with respect to recurrent clusters of personal names, identical toponyms, subject matter and find-spot: “the more cross-references, the greater the likelihood that identical personal names present on different tablets actually refer to the same individual” (p. 14). A sketch of Mycenaean palatial society provides some background to the textual analysis which follows: mention is made of the palace’s carefully managed textile and other industries, its interests ranging from secular to spiritual, the debated role of the palace in the overall economy (central power or one of several agents), and the range of relationships reflected in the texts between the palace and the people (e.g., fully or semi-dependent workers, ‘collectors’, etc.).

The scribal hands, which form Landenius Enegren’s starting point, are discussed in Chapter 1. This chapter contains a list of the scribal hands, their main subject matter and find-spot(s). This scribal register serves as an extremely useful reference point for the reader. Following Olivier, approximately 66-75 scribes are noted (pp. 17, 19-24). Most of the scribes at Knossos were specialised within a specific sector of the palatial economy, their records often characterised by a particular type of commodity or locality or personnel (p. 17). Worthwhile comparisons are made with the scribes of Pylos and Near Eastern societies, and Landenius Enegren emphasises the anonymity of the Mycenaean scribes and their unknown status. It is unclear, for instance, if the scribes at Pylos and Knossos were elites as in Mesopotamia and Egypt.

Chapter 2 offers details about the statistical analysis undertaken of the personal names preserved in the Knossos texts. This work was carried out by Annika Gunnerhed, as part of her MSc thesis. The model she adopted involved the study of pairs of identical names, as recommended by Prof. S. E. Alm, Department of Mathematical Statistics at Uppsala University (p. 25, n. 115). The final list comprised 1331 personal names recorded by 49 scribal hands (some scribes do not record personal names, and fragmentary names were eliminated from the study). The total number of different personal names was 1008 (p. 26). The statistical tests showed that name recurrences are more common within a scribal hand than between hands. This result, combined with the fact that many names are recorded on tablets without further specification leads Landenius Enegren to suspect that scribes tended to record the same individuals. If specific individuals were assigned to a particular scribe and were personally known to that scribe, then further specification may not have been necessary (pp. 18, 28). Yet, Landenius Enegren points to some problematic examples, such as the repetition of a personal name on a single tablet (e.g., tu-ka-na on KN Ap 639.10-11). Unless due to a scribal error, such examples highlight the difficulty in proving that identical names always refer to a single individual (pp. 38, 70). Secondly, the statistical analysis revealed that there was no interaction through name recurrences between Scribal Hand “124” (actually a group of scribal hands) responsible for tablets found in the Room of the Chariot Tablets (RCT) and other Hands, thus supporting the possibility that the records by Hand “124” concern another time period, thereby strengthening Driessen’s argument for an earlier dating of the RCT deposit (pp. 13-14, 28).

The personal names recorded by Hands 124 and “124” on tablets from the RCT are explored in detail in Chapter 3. There are fewer correspondences of names between Hand “124” and the other two most prolific Hands, 117 and 103, than would be expected at random, again suggesting that the RCT documents should be viewed separately from the rest of the Knossos corpus. This result assists in the interpretation of name recurrences. For example, in the case of da-nwa-re, which is recorded by Hands “124” and 117, referring to a charioteer and a shepherd respectively, it is reasonably concluded that two distinct individuals are concerned (p. 35). Landenius Enegren notes Driessen’s theory that the RCT texts may deal with a warrior class, given the military equipment recorded and the high percentage of Greek names involved, but she does not exclude the possibility that industrial production may have been their primary focus (pp. 31, 36).

Chapter 4 concerns the names of ‘shepherds’ recorded by Hand 117. Many of these sheep texts contain a second personal name, often in the genitive case, belonging to a higher-status ‘collector’/’owner’ (of sheep). Usually ‘shepherds’ served a single ‘collector’. There are only one or two exceptions, where a ‘shepherd’ is recorded with two different ‘collectors’: (pp. 38, 50). As Landenius Enegren explains, the ‘shepherds’ may in fact have been supervisors responsible for the sheep and they may have contracted under-shepherds to carry out the day-to-day pasturing of the flocks (as occurred at Nuzi). This may explain the recurrence of ‘shepherd’ names in different toponymic contexts. Alternatively these may refer to distinct individuals with identical names (Driessen) or they could reflect individuals involved in a system of transhumance (Melena) (p. 38). Landenius Enegren’s study confirms the connection observed by Killen between Hands 119 and 117. On the basis of arithmetic, he demonstrated that Hand 119 lists the shearing yields of sheep recorded by Hand 117 (p. 39). In most cases, Landenius Enegren finds that ‘shepherd’ names recorded by these two Hands share the same toponym and ‘collector’ name and are likely to refer to the same individual (p. 45).

‘Collector’ names recorded by Hand 117 are examined in Chapter 5. The collectors have been viewed by some scholars as the actual owners of the flocks (L.R. Palmer), and by others as administrative functionaries accountable to the palace (e.g., Godart). The relevant literature on the topic is provided by Landenius Enegren, who also includes in her discussion the interesting hypothesis that these names may express household/clan affiliations, in the manner of the second personal name recorded in the genitive case in early Mesopotamian texts (the pre-Sargonic Farah administrative lists) (pp. 51-52). The recording of the high status ‘collectors’ in the palace texts suggests some degree of palatial interest or control in their activities, the toponyms with which they appear indicate that their interests lay mainly in areas outside the immediate vicinity of Knossos, and their presence on other tablets dealing with industrial activities such as wool and cloth production, may reflect commercial interests and a role in the export trade (pp. 52-53). Names associated with the term o-pa (generally accepted to refer to a refurbishment process) may have belonged to owners or supervisors of refurbishment workshops. The status of these men may have been similar to that of the ‘collectors’, but Landenius Enegren stresses that their activities may have been quite distinct (pp. 58-59, 62).

Chapter 6 deals with the personal names recorded in the textile industry by Hands 103 and 115. A number of male and female textile workers are identified, along with owners/supervisors of workshops, the latter including the man known as qo-u-qo-ta and the woman named i-ta-ja. The status differences inherent in this group are considered, as are the technical terms pa-ro and o-pi (both often associated with workshop owners/supervisors). The occupational designations indicate a wide range of specialised tasks in the sphere of textile production reflecting a highly developed industry, of clear economic importance to the palace.

The personal names dealt with in Chapter 7 are those not treated in earlier chapters and often occur in more than two scribal hands. Usually there is not enough contextual evidence to determine if the names refer to one or more individuals.

Structurally, Landenius Enegren’s decision to divide her work on the basis of scribal hands has two immediate outcomes. While it provides a tight thematic focus for each chapter, it also produces a rather fragmented impression of the overall material. A final, comprehensive, contextual discussion highlighting some of the individuals encountered in the preceding chapters, comparing their possible interactions by means of a select group of examples, and expanding on several points raised in the Conclusions (e.g., that relatively few personal names are recorded in conjunction with titular or occupational designations) may have contributed towards a more integrated whole.

Perhaps the most telling conclusions of Landenius Enegren’s prosopographical and statistical analyses are that (a) most individuals appear to have been active within one specific economic sector or field of activity and (b) usually, intra-scribal repetition is more likely to refer to the same individual than inter-scribal repetition. If these observations can be taken to imply that scribes were responsible for a particular group of individuals ‘assigned’ to them, then it may be possible to argue, as Landenius Enegren suggests, that “scribes were not mere clerks, but perhaps had an official role as administrators” (p. 90). The idiosyncratic nature of the RCT texts is highlighted and a number of somewhat controversial Linear B terms are also illuminated by Landenius Enegren’s study. The latter include * ke-u-po-da, shown to be the personal name of a ‘collector’ at Knossos (pp. 57, 79-80, 89) and * ma-ri-ne-u, also taken to be an anthroponym at Knossos, not a theonym, belonging to another possible ‘collector’ (pp. 59, 83).

Minor technical oversights include sporadic grammatical errors, the missing title for Table 4 in Chapter 3 (p. 34), and the missing page reference on p. 16 for the Schematic Plan of the palace of Knossos (p. 202), which itself would have benefited from an additional reference to its Key found on pp. 95-96. Overall, Landenius Enegren’s study leaves the reader with a good sense of the Knossos textual corpus, its fragmentary nature and laconic style (p. 91), and the difficulties inherent in undertaking a prosopographical study based on it. Despite the obstacles, Landenius Enegren succeeds in offering us worthwhile glimpses of the people of Knossos.


Olivier, J.-P. Les scribes de Cnossos. (Incunabula Graeca, 18) Rome, 1967.

Driessen, J. “Quelques remarques sur la ‘Grande tablette’ (As 1516) de Cnossos.” Minos 19, 1985, 169-193 (see p. 173).

Melena, J.L. “Coriander on the Knossos tablets.” Minos 15, 1974 [1976], 133-163 (see p. 142).

Killen, J.T. “The wool industry of Crete in the Late Bronze Age.” BSA 59, 1964, 2-15 (see p. 10).

Palmer, L. R. The interpretation of Mycenaean Greek texts. Oxford, 1969 (see p. 165)

Godart, L. “Les collecteurs dans le monde égéen” in J.-P. Olivier (ed.) Mykenaika. Actes du IXe Colloque international sur les textes mycéniens et égéens organisé par le Centre de l’antiquité grècque et romaine de la Fondation Hellénique des Recherches Scientifiques et l’ École française d’Athènes (Athènes, 2-6 octobre 1990) (BCH Suppl. 25), Paris 1992, 257-283.

TABLE OF CONTENTS Acknowledgements, 7
List of Abbreviations, 9
Part One: Prosopographical studies
Introduction, 13
Chapter 1. The Scribal Hands, 17
Chapter 2. Statistical evaluation, 25
Chapter 3. Personal names recorded on tablets from the Room of the Chariot Tablets : Hands 124 and “124”, 30
Chapter 4. ‘Shepherd’ names, 37
Chapter 5. ‘Collector’ names, 51
Chapter 6. Personal names recorded in hands dealing with the textile industry: Hands 103 and 105, 63
Chapter 7. Recurrent personal names not treated in separate chapters, 70
Conclusions, 90
Part Two: General Catalogue of personal names
Introductory comments, 95
Catalogue, 97
Bibliography, 191
Appendix, 201
Index, 211