2 Jan 2010

The Minoan name for Minoa

Happy 2010, everyone. Rise and shine! Party's over so let's get back to dead languages. (Coffee helps a hangover so drink up, my puppies.)

Let's talk about the Minoan name for ''Minoa'' (ie. Crete and the surrounding region controlled by Minoans in the 2nd millenium BCE). Although we continue to use Sir Evan's label for Minoans, there's little mystery anymore what we probably should be calling them: Kaptarians. Alas, even so, I don't think the name will catch on any more than Nessite for the technically incorrect term Hittite. We have Kaptara in Mari texts, the Akkadian rendering Kabturi, Egyptian *Kaftiu (kftiw) and Biblical Kapthor. All of these names point to Crete and Minoan civilization. Yet if we know this much, we must ask: What exactly was the Minoan form of the name then and what did the name mean?

So far, I've settled on the form *Kapadar with stress accent fixed on the first syllable, as is the norm in Proto-Aegean languages. If *-r is the Minoan plural (nb. U-NA-(RU-)KA-NA-SI = una(r) kanasi 'they bear a libation/libations'; Etruscan -(a)r [animate plural]), there may be a singular noun *kapada here. But then, what would that word even sensibly mean in a way that explains the name for Crete? (Yes, I realize this is wild conjecture so far but bear with me.)

Coincidentally Latin capitalis 'capital, of the head' from whence English capital, a column, is derived from caput 'head'. Germanic *haubida- 'head' is related in some way but the reconstruction of PIE *kaput is illegitimate when supported by only two adjacent branches in Western Europe which don't even obey accepted sound correspondences. I don't have faith in it and it makes me suspect that, to the contrary, this is not a genuine PIE root but rather evidence of an underlying Proto-Aegean word *kapada 'summit', which would have syncopated in Pre-Etruscan, yielding Etruscan *capaθ, precisely the form to explain the source of Latin caput. The semantics work as well since the 'head' is the 'summit' of the body. (You may be asking "Why 'summit'??" but, again, bear with me because this all ties together.)

Solving the 'caput caper', we come back to this name for Crete, *Kapadar, and an interesting value now of 'Summits' or 'Peaks'. But what summits? Why, the divine peaks, of course: Mount Ida (Minoan *Ida I-DA) and Mount Dikte (Minoan *Adíkitu A-DI-KI-TU). We know these two in particular to be very sacred to the Minoans. That might explain the Horns of Consecration motif in Knossos, pictured below, which start to look a lot like twin peaks much like the undoubtedly related Egyptian aker symbolism also pictured below. The Egyptian symbol is reverence to both the evening sun as it passes into the underworld and the morning sun as it rises out of it and I doubt the meaning behind the Minoan symbol was much different.

Now we see why the value of 'summit' for an Aegean root *kapada works well to tie all of these ideas together. So is it possible that the true Minoan name for Minoa was also the name of an important symbol of their world-view?


  1. I was really hoping for a Twin Peaks tie in right by the end of all this... :P

    But to be serious, this is interesting, but I'm wondering about that second /a/ in kap(a)dar when the Akkadian, Egyptian, & Hebrew seem to systematically exclude it. Perhaps I'm missing something.

  2. That blasted TV corrupts everything, although I suppose my senseless capitalization deserves ridicule. There, fixed. LOL!

    As for the second vowel, the absence in many foreign renderings is explained by it being immediately following stress, thus prone to weakening. However, note Greek κεφαλή.

  3. This is very interesting, I can't believe nobody has seen the relation between Minoan and Etruscan, reading your blog posts it seems so darn obvious. I suspected a relation with Etruscan myself because of word ending similarities, but I don't know enough about Etruscan to be able to have figured it out like you have.

    I suspect that fear of looking like a loony Nostratacist (though I am a sympathizer of the concept of Nostratic like you) or some similar crackpottery makes professional scholars fearful of taking up the challenge.

  4. Taylor Selseth: "I can't believe nobody has seen the relation between Minoan and Etruscan, [...]"

    Read Chadwick, The decipherment of linear B (1990), p.34: "The basic idea was to find a language which might be related to Minoan. Ventris' candidate was Etruscan; not a bad guess, because the Etruscans, according to an ancient tradition, came from the Aegean to Italy."

    Michael Ventris wasn't a nobody. He proved his power of observation by deciphering Linear B. That Linear B turned out to be Greek is hardly proof against his initial supposition.

  5. This post is full of really interesting theories. Since I cannot add anything related to the theoretic "*kaupada", the only thing I would like to post a comment on is the famous "horns of consacration".

    These "horns" are a universal motif associated with divine entiti(es) on Crete, not only occurring as decoration of palaces (palaces? or rather sanctuaries?) but also on statuettes. Originally, this peculiar symbol was described as being "horns" (perhaps because Evans associated everything he found with the Minotaur), yet I can't shake the feeling that they are something else. The "twin peaks" interpretation is not a bad idea. I have also though about it depicting a sort of "wings" - maybe because they really resemble the Linear B *62 (="PTE") sign (that occurs only in Lin B) - thought to have come from the greek word for wings - "pteros". Let us confess: symbols like these fit way better to be an attribute of a goddess, than horns.

  6. Bayndor: "Let us confess: symbols like these fit way better to be an attribute of a goddess, than horns."

    Not true: Consider Hathor iconography. Notice the sun encapsulated within bull's horns. Know your history.

    What we learn from this is that there is a chronological order to the evolution of this symbolism. First, the 'hills' icon develops (since it's a direct representation of the horizon into which the sun descends). Following this, the hills are abstractified and begin to resemble horns of an animal, as with Hathor. In this respect, calling them 'horns' isn't entirely false.

  7. In ancient Sardinia Kappara means, location of Caper, where Kapa- means head of close flower of the Caper.Many links From Minoa island and Nuragic bronze People from 1800 bce. Then Sherdan rule Mediterranean sea from 1300 bce.

  8. B,

    Considering your suspiciously short name and lack of profile, I'll humour you temporarily by asking you to supply references for this claim.

    Particularly, how does a town in Malta (Kappara), south of the "boot" of Italy, have anything to do with ancient Sardinians to the west of Italy?

  9. Hi, Glen this is Francesco Biancu from Cagliari -Sardinia Italy, i beg your pardon from troubling you, really i love old mediterranean languages,Kappara-Caper is a location in Sardinia, where people find this incredible flower, very very important for cooking. Many are in the Mediterranean the locations called Kappara or Cappara, like in Malta, in Spain a road that start from Cappara leads to Emerita. We have the same culture, the most important is the Megalitic Culture, Mediterraneo is a lake where all we know, we have parents from the other side of this old old lake. Hi.Biancuf@tiscali.it

  10. Thanks, Francesco. I apologize but since bloggers face so many internet vandals, it's recommended to add a description of oneself in one's profile as a sign of genuine commitment.

    Indeed, the caper-plant has an important usage in Sardinian cuisine and its name has a long history with an unknown origin (< Latin capparis < Greek κάππαρις < Minoan?). There is also such a place as Cáparra in Spain, although it's spelling is different and its alleged connection to capers, Sardinia or Malta is hardly established. In etymology, we should avoid factless eyeballing.

    Concerning a city in Sardinia named "Caper", I honestly don't know what you're talking about. The closest thing I can find is Cabras but, again, any connection to capers or Etruscans needs to be proved.

    Also, it should be known that the language of Ancient Sardinian was completely unrelated to Etruscan and Rhaetic and is completely unrelated to the modern Sardinian language which is from Latin (but which still retains Ancient Sardinian substrate). However, it's reasonable to expect Etruscan loanwords in Ancient Sardinian since the Etruscans were right beside them and traded as far as Carthage. The problem is that there is very little known about the Ancient Sardinian language.

    1. He may have something here. Take a look at mtDNA and how Sardinia and so very strangely how North Eastern Iberian have genetic affinities to the ancient Minoan mtDNA found in the Lassithi Plateau.

  11. You might be interested to find out that Nanno Marinatos also believes the 'horns of consecration' actually represent sacred peaks. Her latest book, Minoan Kingship and the Solar Goddess, devotes a chapter to it.

  12. Nice plug, but the relationship of Minoan Horns of Consecration to the Egyptian aker (ie. mountain peaks) was already noticed as early as 1909 by Newberry (read Nilsson, The Minoan-Mycenaean religion and its survival in Greek religion (1971), p.187). There's little doubt that Minoans were heavily impacted by Egyptian influence of all sorts.

    What I haven't seen published yet, however, is the interpretation of iconography from a linguistic perspective as I've attempted above.

  13. Well, Paleo-Sardinian is thought to be related to Basque or Iberian...it may have been more than one language also...it may have involved Phoenician and Punic (and through them, Tamazight/ Berber, the "gh" is pronounced as "r") as there are North African influences that are also apparent in names and placenames.

    But based on the majority of toponyms and genetics ties to the Basques, the link to the Basques or Iberians is thought to be the oldest...The Sardinians have the highest frequency of a certain Y-chromosome lineage where the second highest concentration is found among the Basques of the Pyrennes...or those people derived from the Basques, but lost (over time) or no longer speak the language.

    Pronunciation of Tamazight: