Cyprian Shekel Weight

Brian E. Colless


This object was found at Enkomi, on the east coast of Cyprus, across the sea from Ugarit in Syria.

It belongs to the Bronze Age, and may be dated around 1500 BCE (before the current era).

The general opinion identifies it as a weight, though the hole suggests that it was on a thread and so possibly a talisman to hang around a person's neck; or else it is a label (étiquette). Nevertheless, I will argue that the word 'shekel' is written on it, confirming that it is a weight.

I am looking for inscriptions to test my own system for the Bronze-Age script of Cyprus (called 'Cypro-Minoan' because its signs are obviously derived from Cretan Linear A, the 'Minoan' writing system), which developed into the Linear C script of the Iron Age, used (mainly) for writing Cyprian Greek. My method was to match each Cypro-Minoan sign with its LA and LC counterparts. The results are not much different from earlier attempts (notably that of Werner Nahm in the journal Kadmos, 1981).

The first sign on the right is a good example: it represents a tree , and it stands for the syllable TE. In the Linear A script the tree can have the branches as straight horizontal bars or oblique lines (as here), and the same applied in the archaic stage (CA) of the Cyprus script.

The next letter on the right would be KE. No Linear A form of KE looks quite like that, but it still fits reasonably into the line of development of the Cyprian KE.

The cross is LO, taken from the Linear A syllabogram for RO (including LO); in the Cyprian syllabary there were separate R- and L- signs, and RO is the last one on the left of this inscription. The body and legs of RO were usually square rather than angular (as seen here). Cyprian RO bears some resemblance to the Linear A syllabogram DE, and it may be modeled on it; T- and D- were distinguished in Cretan scripts, but not in Cyprian writing, and so D- signs could be used for other purposes in Cyprus. Thus Cretan DA ( |- ) was used for TA.

The small vertical stroke would be a word-separater.

The wavy line is obviously PE, fitting the pattern of Cyprian (Linear C) PE; it also helps in the search for the lost PE of Linear A, which I identify as A305, equivalent to Linear B 72.

The Y-shaped letter is clearly SA (AB 31), originally representing the cuttlefish (sepia, kalamari).

Thus the inscription on this weight reads according to my system:

(R -> L) TE-KE-LO | PE-SA-RO

The first word is surely Semitic theqel/sheqel (shekel), a unit of weight (about 10 grams); Akkadian shiqlu, Arabic thiqlu, Hebrew sheqel, Aramaic t(h)iqla. I will not attempt to explain the vowels in the inscription. Notice, however, the K not Q for Semitic Q, which is not KW.

The second word (pesaro) may contain a case of metathesis, with S and R exchanging positions (either a dialectal form or a scribal error), corresponding to Semitic prs, a dry measure, for grain or flour; in Hittite texts and Aramaic usage it can be a measure of size and weight, one-half of a shekel.

Here we could make reference to "the writing on the wall" in Daniel 5:24-28 (Aramaic):


This involves an elaborate word-play, giving a message from God to King Belshassar of Babylon. The measures of weight are there: mina, shekel, peres. But the cryptic meaning is that the king has been counted (mnh) and weighed (tql) in the balance, and found to be wanting, and his kingdom shall be divided (prs) and taken from him by Persia (prs). The weight measures tqel and pres (shekel and half-shekel [rather than half-mina?]) may be in evidence on the Enkomi weight.

I think I might have found a "tripod" to support my decipherment (like the confirmatory Linear B inscription saying 'tripod', with a three-legged cauldron depicted on the tablet; and, similarly, my reading of the Megiddo signet ring as saying in West Semitic logo-syllabic script: "Sealed [nu-khu-ta-ma]: the sceptre of Megiddo").

My drawing of the text is based on a photograph and other published drawings; there is no difference of opinion on the shapes of the letters.


Jean-Pierre Olivier, Édition holistique des textes Chypro-Minoens (Pisa-Roma, 2007), p. 118 (04.Peson)

Silvia Ferrara, Cypro-Minoan Inscriptions, Volume II: The Corpus, p. 145 (95.Clay label); p.51,description.