The so-called Mother of the Mountain and a possible reference to her in Linear A inscriptions found on two Minoan double-axes

2021.12.13 | By Gregory Nagy

§0. In an article I published over half a century ago (Nagy 1963), I drew attention to four “Linear A” syllabic characters inscribed on a golden double-axe dating from Minoan times, first published by my late colleague and friend Emily Vermeule (1959). In my article (p. 200), I suggested that the Linear A inscription, which I read as i-da-ma-te, referred to Mount Ida in Crete, and that the mountain is invoked, in the inscribed wording, as a ‘mother’. Since those publications, important new work by Georgia Flouda (2013 and 2015) on Minoan double-axes has emphasized the existence of a parallel inscription on another Minoan double-axe, which can be read the same way: i-da-ma-te. In what follows, I suggest that these inscriptions are relevant to the picturing of a Minoan goddess whom archaeologists conventionally describe as “The Mother of the Mountain”. Her image can be reconstructed on the basis of a set of Minoan sealings, and I show here a composite drawing of the reconstruction:

Sketch, by Jill Robbins, based on a drawing of impressions (= imprints) made on a number of clay sealings found at Knossos (“Central Shrine” and chamber to west, CMS II.8 no. 256, HMs 141/1-2, 166/1-3, 168/3). All these impressions were stamped by the same signet ring, which has not survived. Estimated dating of the original ring: Late Minoan I (1600–1450 BCE).

§1. In another essay (Nagy 2020.05.22 §10), I analyzed this composite picture showing the Minoan goddess at the moment of her arrival at her mountain. Descending from on high, she personifies the mountain that receives her, and she is taking her rightful place as the patroness of a hero who guards her sacred mountain. In yet another essay (Nagy 2021.11.15 §17), I suggested that this goddess, who as I already noted is conventionally known to archaeologists as “The Mother of the Mountain”, is handing a staff of authority to an early version of a hero known in later times as Herakles, who is pictured in Cretan myths as a native son of Mount Ida. Now in the present essay, I explore the possibility that the “The Mother of the Mountain” can be linked directly with Mount Ida in Crete. And a piece of evidence for such a link, I suggest, is the existence of Minoan double-axes inscribed with “Linear A” syllables that can be read as i-da-ma-te.

§2. For the archaeological contexts of these double-axes, I rely on the insightful analysis of Georgia Flouda (2015:45–48). As for a linguistic analysis of what I read as i-da-ma-te, I will simply say for now that i-da- corresponds to what was later written in alphabetic Greek as ῎Ιδα (ídā)—῎Ιδη in Homeric Greek—which is described in the etymological dictionary of Pierre Chantraine (1968–1980: under the entry ἴδη) as non-Indo-European, while -ma-te corresponds to what was later written in alphabetic Greek as μάτηρ (mā́tēr)—μήτηρ in Homeric Greek—which would be clearly Indo-European in derivation.

§3. But what about a palaeographical explanation for my reading phonetic values of “Linear B” into “Linear A” spellings, as in this case, i-da-ma-te? Here I return to my earliest study on “Linear A” (Nagy 1963), where I first suggested (p. 200) that the “Linear A” sequence as I have just interpreted it can be read in terms of phonetic values that we find in the “Linear B” syllabary. I have been away from studying such topics for a long time, returning to them only quite recently (Nagy 2019.12.27). As I look back on my argumentation in my two early articles on “Linear A” (Nagy 1963 and 1965), I find many things to update in many ways, but I stand by my main argument in both articles (as also in Nagy 2019.12.27): that the “Linear B” writing system, as a syllabary, was interchangeable, in terms of its phonetic values, with the “Linear A” syllabary. Such interchangeability has been convincingly affirmed in an article by Thomas Palaima (1988) and, more recently, in a thoroughgoing book by Ester Salgarella (2020).


Thanks to Georgia Flouda, I had added the following entries to the Bibliography below, for further discussion in the format of annotations that are planned to accompany the brief essay here: Meißner and Steele 2017, Thomas 2020/2021, Younger 2020.


Chantraine, P. 1968–1980. Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque, Histoire des mots (DELG). Paris. I (Α-Δ), 1968; II (Ε-Κ), 1970; III (Λ-Π), 1975; IV/1 (Ρ-Υ), 1977; IV/2 (Φ-Ω), 1980, by J. Taillardat, O. Masson, and J.-L. Perpillou. New edition 2009, with a supplement Chroniques d’étymologie grecque 1–10, ed. A. Blanc, Ch. de Lamberterie, and J.-L. Perpillou. Paris.

Flouda, G. 2013. “Materiality of Minoan Writing: Modes of Display and Perception.” In Writing as Material Practice: Substance, Surface and Medium, ed. K. E. Piquette and R. D. Whitehouse, 143–174. London.

Flouda, G. 2015. “Materiality and script: Constructing a narrative on the Minoan inscribed axe from the Arkalochori cave.” SMEA (Studi Micenei ed Egeo-Anatolici) Nuova Serie 1:43–56.

from the Arkalochori cave.” SMEA (Studi Micenei ed Egeo-Anatolici) Nuova Serie 1:43–56.

Meißner, T., and P. M. Steele. 2017. “Linear A and Linear B: Structural and Contextual Concerns.” In  Aegean Scripts. Proceedings of the 14th Mycenological Colloquium 2-6 September, Copenhagen 2015 (ed. M-L. Nosch and H. Landenius Enegren) 99–114.   Incunabula Graeca Vol. CV, 1. Rome.

Nagy, G. 1963. “Greek-like Elements in Linear A.” Greek Roman and Byzantine Studies 4:181–211.

Nagy, G. 1965. “Observations on the Sign-Grouping and Vocabulary of Linear A.” American Journal of Archaeology 69:295–330.

Nagy, G. 2019.12.27. “Minoan and Mycenaean fig trees: some retrospective and prospective comments.” Classical Inquiries.

Nagy, G. 2020.05.15. “Minoan-Mycenaean signatures observed by Pausanias at a sacred space dominated by Athena.” Classical Inquiries

Nagy, G. 2020.05.22. “More about Minoan-Mycenaean signatures observed by Pausanias at sacred spaces dominated by Athena.” Classical Inquiries. Updated 2020.05.23.

Nagy, G. 2020.05.29. “About some kind of an epiphany as pictured in Minoan glyptic art, and about its relevance to a myth as retold by Pausanias.” Classical Inquiries

Nagy, G. 2021.11.15. “Thinking about Herakles, ‘Dactyl’ of Mount Ida.” Classical Continuum.

Palaima, T. 1988. “The Development of the Mycenaean Writing System.” In Texts, Tablets and Scribes: Studies in Mycenaean Epigraphy and Economy offered to Emmett L. Bennett, Jr., ed. J.P. Olivier and T. Palaima, 269-342. Minos Supplement 10. Salamanca.

Salgarella, E. 2020. Aegean linear script(s): rethinking the relationship between Linear A and Linear B. Cambridge classical studies. Cambridge.

Thomas, R. 2020-04-01 (print) / 2011 (online). “Some reflections on morphology in the language of the Linear A libation formula.” Kadmos.

Vermeule, E.D.T. 1959, “A Gold Minoan Double Axe.” Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston 57/307:4-16.

Younger, J. 2020. Linear A Texts & Inscriptions in phonetic transcription & Commentary.

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