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Magdalene College Cambridge

Dr Philippa Steele

Dr Philippa Steele is a Senior Research Fellow at Magdalene College and a Principal Research Associate in the Faculty of Classics of the University of Cambridge.

Dr Steele runs the ERC-funded project Contexts of and Relations between Early Writing Systems (CREWS), based in the Faculty of Classics and employing a research team to develop our understanding of how and why writing systems change over time and can be passed on from one society to another.

Following a doctorate focused on the languages of ancient Cyprus, Philippa has published widely on languages and writing systems of the ancient Aegean and Mediterranean.

Her current research looks at the social context of the development of Minoan and Mycenaean literacy, and she has further interests in the development of the regional Greek dialects and alphabets and in linguistic and cultural contact around the eastern Mediterranean.

Lego Dr Philippa Steele
In 2021 Dr Philippa Steele was immortalised as a Lego figure and inducted into the Lego Classicists Hall of Fame.

Later this year she will be launching a new five-year research project funded by the ERC: Visual Interactions in Early Writing Systems (VIEWS).

Research Interests

Ancient writing systems, decipherment, linguistic and cultural contact, dialectology, literacy and social context, languages of the ancient Aegean and eastern Mediterranean.


MA, MPhil, PhD (Classics, Cantab)

Career/Research Highlights

2022  Large grant from the European Research Council to run the project Visual Interactions in Early Writing Systems (grant no. 101044837)

2021  Immortalised as a Lego figure and inducted into the Lego Classicists Hall of Fame

2020  Arts and Humanities Impact Fund Award to develop free teaching materials on ancient writing systems (Writing in the Ancient World)

2016  Large grant from the European Research Council to run the project Contexts of and Relations between Early Writing Systems (grant no. 677758)

2014  Evans-Pritchard Lecturer, All Souls College, Oxford

2012  British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship

2011  Awarded Hare Prize for PhD thesis

2010  Junior Research Fellowship at Magdalene

Professional Affiliations

  • Postdoctoral Fellow of the British Academy
  • Cambridge Philological Society
  • Philological Society of Great Britain
  • Mycenaean Epigraphy Group
  • Cambridge Language Sciences Strategic Initiative
  • Comité International Permanent des Études Mycéniennes
  • Friend of the American Schools of Oriental Research

Selected Publications

The Social and Cultural Contexts of Historic Writing Practices, Oxford 2021 (ISBN Hardback: 9781789254785; Digital: 9781789254815)

The Early Greek Alphabets: Origin, Diffusion, Uses, Oxford 2021 (ISBN: 9780198859949)

‘Material entanglements of writing practices in the Bronze Age Aegean and Cyprus’ in Steel, L. (ed.) Exploring Materiality in the Bronze Age, special issue of Sustainability 12, 1-17

Understanding Relations Between Scripts II: Early Alphabets, Oxford 2019 (ISBN Hardback: 9781789250923; Digital: 9781789250930)

Writing and Society in Ancient Cyprus, Cambridge 2018 (ISBN 9781107169678).

Understanding Relations Between Scripts: The Aegean Writing Systems, Oxford 2017 (ISBN 9781785706448).

With Torsten Meißner: ‘From Linear B to Linear A: The problem of the backward projection of sound values’, in Steele, P.M. (ed.) Understanding Relations Between Scripts: The Aegean Writing Systems, Oxford 2017, 93-110.

‘A linguistic approach to population movements to ancient Cyprus’ in Maguire, R. and Chick, J. (eds.) Approaching Cyprus, Cambridge 2016, 2-17.

‘Aegean and Cypriot script reforms: Ruptures and continuities’, BICS 59.1 2016, 136-7.

Distinguishing between Cypriot scripts: Steps towards establishing a methodology’, Kadmos 53 2014, 129-48. (Appeared in 2015.)

‘The /d/, /t/, /l/ and /r/ series in Linear A and B, Cypro-Minoan and the Cypriot Syllabary’, Pasiphae 8 2014, 189-96.

‘The mystery of ancient Cypriot clay balls’, British Academy Review 24 2014, 60-3.

The Greek Writing Systems’, in G.K. Giannakis (ed.) Encyclopedia of Greek Language and Linguistics, Leiden 2013/4, 140-6.

A Linguistic History of Ancient Cyprus: The Non-Greek Languages, and their Relations with Greek, c.1600-300 BC, Cambridge 2013 (ISBN 9781107042865).

Syllabic Writing on Cyprus and its Context, Cambridge 2013 (ISBN 9781107026711).

‘The Diversity of the Cypro-Minoan Corpus’ in Carlier, P. et al. (eds.) Études mycéniennes 2010. Actes du XIIIe colloque international sur les textes égéens, Pisa-Rome 2012, 537-544.

‘'Legality' and Mycenaean Scribes’ in Kyriakidis, E. (ed.), Proceedings of the International Colloquium “The Inner Workings of the Mycenaean Bureaucracy”, University of Kent, Canterbury, 19-21 September 2008, Pasiphae 5, Pisa-Rome 2011, 119-26.

‘Eteocypriot: Linguistic and Archaeological Evidence’, in Georgiou, A. (ed.), Cyprus: an island culture. Society and Social Relations from the Bronze Age to the Venetian Period, Oxford 2011, 122-32.

<‘'Gaps' in Literacy: Social responses to economic crisis in the Late Bronze Age eastern Mediterranean’, Archaeological Review from Cambridge 26.1 2011, 53-63.

With Markus Egetmeyer (Chair of Greek Linguistics, Sorbonne): ‘A New Archaic and Possibly Cypriot Inscription from Cilicia’, Kadmos 49 2010, 127-32.

‘Methodology in Mycenaean Prosopography: The Use of Names as Evidence’, Kadmos 48 2009, 93-106.

‘A Comparative Look at Mycenaean and Near Eastern Bureaucracies: 'Bilateral' Documentation in the Linear B Archives?’, Kadmos 47 2008, 31-49.