Aegean Bronze Age literacy and its consequences
Pluta, Kevin Michael
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The Mycenaeans used writing for a variety of administrative purposes. The archaeological evidence for writing suggests that it was a highly restricted technology. Mycenaeans used the Linear B script to write clay tablets, inscribe sealings, and paint on vessels. There is evidence to suggest that ephemeral documents of parchment or papyrus also were used for writing. In most of these instances, writing recorded economic transactions involving the material wealth of the state. The only exception is a small number of open-shaped vessels that are likely inscribed with personal names. The Linear B script is often blamed for the restriction of writing by the Mycenaeans. This open-syllabic script does not well represent the sound of spoken Greek, and requires the frequent use of dummy vowels and the omission of consonants at the end of syllables. Studies in literacy theory, however, suggest that script usage, reading, and writing are dictated by social factors and by need, rather than by forces supposedly inherent in the script itself. Writing was restricted because Mycenaean society dictated a restricted use. The sealings and tablets, which are found at several sites throughout mainland Greece and Crete, are small in size and are found almost exclusively in administrative contexts, in buildings that have functions in central administration. Writing is never found in public displays, as it is in the contemporary Near East. There was no intent to familiarize the Mycenaean populace with the technology of writing. Training in literacy likewise appears to have been highly restrictive, with new individuals being taught by scribes on an ad hoc, individualized basis. The loyalty of scribes to the king would have been essential. The sealings and tablets record the material wealth of the kingdom that was under the management of central administration. Furthermore, the contents of the tablets are not countermarked by seal impressions that would confirm their authenticity. Scribes would have been among the king’s closest administrators and members of the elite. The restriction of writing would ensure that all written words were legitimate, as they could only be written by the most trusted individuals in the kingdom.