The Mycenaean Epigraphy Group is dedicated to the study of Linear B, a script used in Bronze Age Crete and Greece (c.1400-1200 B.C.E.) to write an early form of Greek, known as ‘Mycenaean’. It also encompasses the study of other related scripts from Crete (Linear A and Cretan Hieroglyphic) and Cyprus (Cypro-Minoan and the Cypriot Syllabary), as well as of the societies that created and used these scripts.
Cambridge has a long tradition of Linear B scholarship, reaching back to Michael Ventris’ decipherment of the script in 1952 and its publication by Ventris and the Cambridge classicist John Chadwick in 1953. It holds the single most important Linear B reference collection and archives in the world, and remains a major research centre, as well as offering undergraduate and graduate courses studying Linear B.
The origins of the Mycenaean Epigraphy Group lie with John Chadwick. After the seminal research meeting at Gif-sur-Yvette in 1956 a wonderfully international spirit of communication was opened up among scholars working on the decipherment. This led to Mycenologists world-wide drawing together to form the Comité International Permanent des Études Mycéniennes (International Permanent Committee of Mycenaean Studies), under the auspices of UNESCO. One undertaking of the committee was that research centres should be set up in various different countries: these would hold literature and archives essential for working on Linear B and encourage scholarship on the material. Chadwick established the Mycenaean Epigraphy Group as the research centre for the United Kingdom.
The Mycenaean Epigraphy Room was founded in the 1960s in university offices in Laundress Lane, overlooking the Mill Pond. In those days the Faculty of Classics was located in a house in Silver Street, which housed a small administrative office, and buildings leased from Peterhouse in Little St Mary’s Lane. This building (which is now Peterhouse’s Library) housed a lecture theatre and the famous cast collection of the Museum of Classical Archaeology (commonly known as “the Ark”). When the Faculty moved to its present location, on the Sidgwick site, Mycenaean Epigraphy moved to a purpose-built room in the new building.
Many of the scholars now prominent in Mycenology throughout the world were trained at the Laundress Lane and Sidgwick sites, or have come as visiting scholars. Thanks to its unique collections, the Mycenaean Epigraphy Group remains a vibrant research centre and a leading hub for those working on Linear B and other related scripts.