Cretan hieroglyphs
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:

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:

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] The main issue is that a number of symbols found on sealstones, tending to be more image-based, were deemed as purely decorative and not included in the sign list (or are transcribed when read). The concern is that this process may have resulted in actual signs being deprecated.[11][12]

Some Cretan Hieroglyphic (as well as Linear A) inscriptions were also found on the island of Samothrace in the northeastern Aegean.[13]

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.[14]

New exemplars continue to be found. During recent excavation at the Neopalatial area of the Cult Centre of the City of Knossos a seal stone was found in a foundation deposit. The steatite seal had four inscribed faces and the deposit dated to Final Palatial Period into LM III B. The room were the deposit was found had a "religious sceptre" inscribed all over with Linear A.[11]


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.)[15]

It has been suggested[vague] that several signs were influenced by Egyptian hieroglyphs.[16][17]


Main article: Minoan chronology

See also: Chronology of Linear A and Chronology of Linear B

The development of hieroglyphs passed three important stages:

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:[19]

Writing system Geographical area Time span[a]
Cretan Hieroglyphic Crete (eastward from the Knossos-Phaistos axis) c. 2100–1700 BC[14][20]
Linear A Crete (except extreme southwest), Aegean islands (Kea, Kythera, Melos, Thera), and Greek mainland (Laconia) c. 1800–1450 BC[21][22][23][24]
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.[25]

See also


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


  1. ^ Yule (1981), pp. 170–171.
  2. ^ Olivier (1990).
  3. ^ Hallager, Papadopoulou & Tzachili (2012).
  4. ^ Tsipopoulou & Hallager (2010).
  5. ^ Evans (1909).
  6. ^ Olivier & Godart (1996).
  7. ^ Sanavia (2017).
  8. ^ Macdonald (1999).
  9. ^ Jasink (2009).
  10. ^ Montecchi, Ferrara & Valério (2021).
  11. ^ a b Kanta, Athanasia, Palaima, Thomas G. and Perna, Massimo, "A Hieroglyphic seal from the cult centre of the city of Knossos (KN S (4/4) 01): with an appendix by Alessandra Giumlia-Mair", Kadmos, vol. 61, no. 1-2, pp. 61-96, 2022
  12. ^ [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, vol. 42, pp. 107-130, 2023
  13. ^ Finkelberg (1998), pp. 265–272.
  14. ^ a b Castleden (2002), p. 100.
  15. ^ Karnava (1999).
  16. ^ Woudhuizen (2002).
  17. ^ Best (2002).
  18. ^ Decorte (2018).
  19. ^ Olivier (1986), pp. 377–389 (377f.).
  20. ^ Robinson (2009), p. 55–.
  21. ^ Haarmann (2008).
  22. ^ Redmond (2007), pp. 2–.
  23. ^ Jahandarie (1999), pp. 200–.
  24. ^ Wheatley (2008), pp. 381–.
  25. ^ Unicode Fonts for Ancient Scripts by George Douros

Works cited

  • 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.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • 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.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)

Further reading