Two famous, apparently related scripts now known as Linear A (which encoded an as-yet undeciphered language) and Linear B (used to write Greek) were discovered on the island of Crete.

Why are these scripts known as "Linear"? Is there a story behind the etymology of the designation? While it is true that these scripts were written in lines, and that both scripts included some number of straight lines (along with curved ones), the designation does not seem very apt, as the (later) Semitic-derived Greek alphabet and Roman alphabet also include those same features.

Are the designations of these scripts as "Linear" simply an arbitrary or historical artifact, or is there something pecularly "linear" about these scripts that are not shared by other writing systems of the Mediterranean?

  • @sumelic Even if it's on Wikipedia, this deserves to be an answer, no? Jul 9, 2018 at 3:35
  • 1
    I'd argue that reusability of answers means this should be written as an answer, whether Robert had noticed it or not. The question isn't just Robert's, as far as StackExchange is concerned. Jul 9, 2018 at 4:44

2 Answers 2


The linked Linear A Wikipedia article says “Archaeologist Arthur Evans named the script "Linear" because its characters consisted simply of lines inscribed in clay, in contrast to the more pictographic characters in Cretan hieroglyphs that were used during the same period.”

The citation Wikipedia gives for this statement is Robinson, Andrew (2009). Writing and Script: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-9-40-215757-4, p. 54.


This has no source except an undergraduate language history class, but…

I learned that the scripts were called Linear in opposition to Cuneiform ("wedge-shaped"), the other popular script found on clay tablets. Cuneiform characters are made by pressing a wedge-shaped stylus tip straight down into the clay, while linear characters are made by using a thinner stylus to "draw" in the surface.

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