Cretan hieroglyphs

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Cretan hieroglyphs
Pini-plombe-orig-II2 316d 3.2.jpg
A green jasper Minoan seal with Cretan hieroglyphs, 1800 BC
Script type
(presumed ideographic, possibly with a syllabic component)
Time period
MM I to MM III 2100–1700 BC
LanguagesUnknown; possibly "Minoan"
Related scripts
Parent systems
  • Cretan hieroglyphs
Sister systems
Linear A
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and  , see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.

Cretan hieroglyphs are a hieroglyphic writing system used in early Bronze Age Crete, during the Minoan era. They predate Linear A by about a century, but the two writing systems continued to be used in parallel for most of their history.[1] As of 2023, they are undeciphered.


As of 1989, the corpus of Cretan hieroglyphic inscriptions included two parts:

  • Seals and sealings, 150 documents with 307 sign-groups, using 832 signs in all.
  • Other documents on clay, 120 documents with 274 sign-groups, using 723 signs.[2]

More documents, such as those from the Petras deposit, have been published since then. A four sided prism was found in 2011 at Vrysinas in western Crete.[3]

These inscriptions were mainly excavated at four locations:

The first corpus of signs was published by Evans in 1909.[5] The current corpus (which excludes some of Evan's signs) was published in 1996 as the Corpus Hieroglyphicarum Inscriptionum Cretae (CHIC).[6] It consists of:

  • clay documents with incised inscriptions (CHIC H: 1–122)
  • sealstone impressions (CHIC I: 123–179)
  • sealstones (CHIC S: 180–314)
  • the Malia altar stone
  • the Arkalochori Axe
  • seal fragment HM 992, showing a single symbol, identical to Phaistos Disk glyph 21.[7]

The relation of the last two items with the script of the main corpus is uncertain; the Malia altar is listed as part of the Hieroglyphic corpus by most researchers.[8]

Since the publication of the CHIC in 1996 refinements and changes have been proposed.[9][10]

Some Cretan Hieroglyphic (as well as Linear A) inscriptions were also found on the island of Samothrace in the northeastern Aegean.[11]

It has been suggested that there was an evolution of the hieroglyphs into the linear scripts. Also, some relations to Anatolian hieroglyphs have been suggested:

The overlaps between the Cretan script and other scripts, such as the hieroglyphic scripts of Cyprus and the Hittite lands of Anatolia, may suggest ... that they all evolved from a common ancestor, a now-lost script perhaps originating in Syria.[12]


The Archanes Script. MM IA / MMIB, 2100–1800 BC. Archanes type of Cretan hieroglyphs. Arhcanes Phourni. Archaeological Museum of Heraklion
Cretan hieroglyphs (1900–1600 BC) on a clay bar from Malia or Knossos, Crete. As exhibited at Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete, Greece. Dots represent numerals

Symbol inventories have been compiled by Evans (1909), Meijer (1982), and Olivier & Godart (1996).

The glyph inventory in CHIC includes 96 syllabograms representing sounds, ten of which double as logograms, representing words or portions of words.

There are also 23 logograms representing four levels of numerals (units, tens, hundreds, thousands), numerical fractions, and two types of punctuation.

Many symbols have apparent Linear A counterparts, so that it is tempting to insert Linear B sound values. Moreover, there are multiple parallels (words and phrases) from hieroglyphic inscriptions that occur also in Linear A and/or B in similar contexts (words for "total", toponyms, personal names etc.)[13]

It has been suggested[vague] that several signs were influenced by Egyptian hieroglyphs.[14][15]


The development of hieroglyphs passed 3 important stages:

  • Arkhanes script (signs look like pictograms, although their number and frequency rather suggest a syllabic script); this script was only described as a distinct stage in development of the Cretan hieroglyphic in the 1980s. Most of these seals contain a repetitive "Arkhanes formula" of 2-3 signs.[16]
  • Hieroglyphic A (best represented in archaeological records; similar to Arkhanes, but images of animals are reduced to heads only)
  • Hieroglyphic B (mostly on clay, characters are essentially simplified, may have served as a prototype for Linear A and possibly the Cypro-Minoan script). Only this latter version of the hieroglyphic includes signs that can possibly match ideograms known from Linear A.

The sequence and the geographical spread of Cretan hieroglyphs, Linear A, and Linear B, the five overlapping, but distinct, writing systems of Bronze Age Crete and the Greek mainland can be summarized as follows:[17]

Writing system Geographical area Time span[a]
Cretan Hieroglyphic Crete (eastward from the Knossos-Phaistos axis) c. 2100–1700 BC[12][18]
Linear A Crete (except extreme southwest), Aegean islands (Kea, Kythera, Melos, Thera), and Greek mainland (Laconia) c. 1800–1450 BC[19][20][21][22]
Linear B Crete (Knossos), and mainland (Pylos, Mycenae, Thebes, Tiryns, Agios Vasileios - the ancient name of the latter is unknown) c. 1450–1200 BC
Cypro-Minoan Cyprus c. 1550–1050 BC
Cypriot Cyprus c. 11th–4th centuries BC


The Aegean and Cretan Hieroglyphs fonts support Cretan hieroglyphs.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Beginning date refers to first attestations, the assumed origins of all scripts lie further back in the past.


Works cited[edit]

  • Best, Jan (2002). "The Lotus Flower in Cretan Hieroglyphic". Kadmos. 41 (1): 131–136. doi:10.1515/kadm.2002.41.s1.131. ISSN 0022-7498. S2CID 162230027.
  • Castleden, Rodney (2002). Minoans. Routledge. ISBN 1134880642.
  • Decorte, Roeland P.-J. E. (2018). "The First 'European' Writing: Redefining the Archanes Script". Oxford Journal of Archaeology. 37 (4): 341–372. doi:10.1111/ojoa.12152. S2CID 59417289.
  • Evans, A. J. (1909). Scripta Minoa: The Written Documents of Minoan Crete with Special Reference to the Archives of Knossos. Vol. I. The Hieroglyphic and Primitive Linear Classes with an Account of the Discovery of the Pre-Phoenician Scripts, their Place in Minoan Story and their Mediterranean Relations. Oxford.
  • Finkelberg, Margalit (1998). "Bronze Age Writing: Contacts between East and West" (PDF). In Cline, E. H.; Harris-Cline, D. (eds.). The Aegean and the Orient in the Second Millennium: Proceedings of the 50th Anniversary Symposium, Cincinnati, 18–20 April 1997. Aegeum 18. Liège. pp. 265–272. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-03-19.
  • Haarmann, Harald (2008). "The Danube Script and Other Ancient Writing Systems: A Typology of Distinctive Features" (PDF). Journal of Archaeomythology. 4 (1).
  • Hallager, Erik; Papadopoulou, Eleni; Tzachili, Iris (2012). "VRY S (4/4) 01 – The First Hieroglyphic Inscription from Western Crete". Kadmos. 50 (1): 63–74. doi:10.1515/kadmos.2011.004. S2CID 163980198.
  • Jahandarie, Khosrow (1999). Spoken and Written Discourse: A Multi-disciplinary Perspective. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-1-56750-427-9.
  • Jasink, Anna M. (2009). Cretan hieroglyphic seals: A new classification of symbols and ornamental filling motifs. Pise-Rome: Fabrizio Serra.
  • Karnava, Artemis (1999). The Cretan Hieroglyphic Script of the Second Millennium BC: description, analysis, function and decipherment perspectives (Thesis). Vol. 1–2. Bruxelles.
  • Macdonald, P. Jackson (1999). "A Statistical study of the Phaistos Disc". Kadmos. 38 (1–2): 19–30. doi:10.1515/kadm.1999.38.1-2.19. ISSN 0022-7498. S2CID 162209854.
  • Montecchi, Barbara; Ferrara, Silvia; Valério, Miguel (2021). "Rationalizing the Cretan Hieroglyphic signlist". Kadmos. 60 (1–2): 5–32. doi:10.1515/kadmos-2021-0003. ISSN 1613-0723. S2CID 247979947.
  • Olivier, Jean-Pierre (1986). "Cretan Writing in the Second Millennium B.C." World Archaeology. 17 (3): 377–389. doi:10.1080/00438243.1986.9979977.
  • Olivier, Jean-Pierre (1990). "The Relationship between Inscriptions on Hieroglyphic Seals and those Written on Archival Documents". In Palaima, Thomas G (ed.). Aegean Seals, Sealings, and Administration (PDF). Université de Liège, Histoire de l'art et archéologie de la Grèce antique. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-03.
  • Olivier, Jean-Pierre; Godart, Louis; et al. (Poursat, Jean-Claude) (1996). Corpus hieroglyphicarum inscriptionum Cretae. Études Crétoises 31 (in French). Paris: De Boccard. pp. 1–447. ISBN 2-86958-082-7.
  • Meijer, Louk C. (1982). Eine strukturelle Analyse der Hagia Triada-Tafeln: ein Beitrag zur Linear A-Forschung (in German). John Benjamins Publishing. ISBN 978-90-6032-187-4.
  • Redmond, Marian (2007). Literacy and History: The Greeks. R.I.C. Publications. ISBN 978-1-74126-506-4.
  • Robinson, Andrew (27 August 2009). Writing and Script: A Very Short Introduction. OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-157916-5.
  • Sanavia, A. (2017). "An Overview of the Protopalatial Impressed Fine Ware from Phaistos and Some Comparisons with the Phaistos Disc". LUME. 95: 81.
  • Tsipopoulou, Metaxia; Hallager, Erik (2010). The Hieroglyphic Archive at Petras, Siteia (with contributions by Cesare D'Annibale & Dimitra Mylona) (PDF). Monographs of the Danish Institute at Athens, 9. Athens: Aarhus University Press. ISBN 978-87-7934-293-4.
  • Wheatley, Paul (2008) [1971]. The Origins and Character of the Ancient Chinese City, Volume 2: The Chinese City in Comparative Perspective. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 978-0-202-36769-9.
  • Woudhuizen, Fred C. (2002). "The "Trowel"-sign (Evans No. 18): Another Instance of Egyptian Influence on Cretan Hieroglyphic". Kadmos. 41 (1): 129–130. doi:10.1515/kadm.2002.41.s1.129. ISSN 0022-7498. S2CID 161315443.
  • Yule, Paul (1981). Early Cretan Seals: A Study of Chronology. Marburger Studien zur Vor und Frühgeschichte 4. Mainz. ISBN 3-8053-0490-0.

Further reading[edit]

  • W. C. Brice, Notes on the Cretan Hieroglyphic Script: I. The Corpus. II. The Clay Bar from Malia, H20, Kadmos 29 (1990) 1-10.
  • W. C. Brice, Cretan Hieroglyphs & Linear A, Kadmos 29 (1990) 171-2.
  • W. C. Brice, Notes on the Cretan Hieroglyphic Script: III. The Inscriptions from Mallia Quarteir Mu. IV. The Clay Bar from Knossos, P116, Kadmos 30 (1991) 93-104.
  • W. C. Brice, Notes on the Cretan Hieroglyphic Script, Kadmos 31 (1992), 21-24.
  • M. Civitillo, LA SCRITTURA GEROGLIFICA MINOICA SUI SIGILLI. Il messaggio della glittica protopalaziale, Biblioteca di Pasiphae XII, Pisa-Roma 2016.
  • G. M. Facchetti La questione della scrittura «geroglifica cretese» dopo la recente edizione del corpus dei testi. Pasiphae: Rivista di filologia e antichita egee. 2007.
  • [1]Ferrara, Silvia, Barbara Montecchi, and Miguel Valério, "IN SEARCH OF LOST SIGNS: A NEW APPROACH TO THE ISSUE OF WRITING AND NON‐WRITING ON CRETAN HIEROGLYPHIC SEALS", Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 2023
  • Silvia Ferrara, "The Making of a Script: Cretan Hieroglyphic and the Quest for Its Origins", Bulletin of ASOR, vol. 386, pp. 1–22, November 2021
  • Ferrara, Silvia; Valério, Miguel; Montecchi, Barbara (2022). "The Relationship between Cretan Hieroglyphic and Linear A: a palaeographic and structural approach". Pasiphae - Journal of Aegean Philology and Antiquity. 26 (16): 81–109. doi:10.19272/202233301006.
  • Jasink, Anna Margherita. "The So-called klasmatograms on Cretan Hieroglyphic Seals" , KADMOS, vol. 44, no. 1-2, 2005, pp. 23-39
  • G. A. Owens, The Common Origin of Cretan Hieroglyphs and Linear A, Kadmos 35:2 (1996), 105–110.
  • G. A. Owens, An Introduction to «Cretan Hieroglyphs»: A Study of «Cretan Hieroglyphic» Inscriptions in English Museums (excluding the Ashmolean Museum Oxford), Cretan Studies VIII (2002), 179–184.
  • Perna, Massimo. "A seal in the British Museum with a Cretan Hieroglyphic inscription (CR (?) S (1/1) 07)" Kadmos, vol. 58, no. 1-2, 2019, pp. 49-60
  • Revesz, Peter Z. (2016). "A computer-aided translation of the Cretan Hieroglyph script" (PDF). International Journal of Signal Processing. 1: 127–133.
  • Salgarella, Ester (2021). "Imagining Cretan Scripts: the Influence of Visual Motifs on the Creation of Script Signs in Bronze Age Crete". The Annual of the British School at Athens. 116: 63–94. doi:10.1017/S0068245421000034. ISSN 0068-2454. S2CID 244183664.
  • I. Schoep, A New Cretan Hieroglyphic Inscription from Malia (MA/V Yb 03), Kadmos 34 (1995), 78–80.
  • J. G. Younger, The Cretan Hieroglyphic Script: A Review Article, Minos 31-32 (1996–1997) 379–400.

External links[edit]