Cuneiform or Sumerian cuneiform,[a] one of the earliest systems of writing, was invented by the Sumerians. It is distinguished by its wedge-shaped marks on clay tablets, made by means of a blunt reed for a stylus. The name cuneiform itself simply means "wedge shaped".
Emerging in Sumer in the late fourth millennium BC (the Uruk IV period) to convey the Sumerian language, which was a language isolate, cuneiform writing began as a system of pictograms, stemming from an earlier system of shaped tokens used for accounting. In the third millennium, the pictorial representations became simplified and more abstract as the number of characters in use grew smaller (Hittite cuneiform). The system consists of a combination of logophonetic, consonantal alphabetic and syllabic signs.
The original Sumerian script was adapted for the writing of the Semitic Akkadian (Assyrian/Babylonian), Eblaite and Amorite languages, the language isolates Elamite, Hattic, Hurrian and Urartian, as well as Indo-European languages Hittite and Luwian; it inspired the later Semitic Ugaritic alphabet as well as Old Persian cuneiform. Cuneiform writing was gradually replaced by the Phoenician alphabet during the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–612 BC). By the second century AD, the script had become extinct, its last traces being found in Assyria and Babylonia, and all knowledge of how to read it was lost until it began to be deciphered in the 19th century.
Geoffrey Sampson stated that Egyptian hieroglyphs "came into existence a little after Sumerian script, and, probably [were], invented under the influence of the latter", and that it is "probable that the general idea of expressing words of a language in writing was brought to Egypt from Sumerian Mesopotamia". There are many instances of Egypt-Mesopotamia relations at the time of the invention of writing, and standard reconstructions of the development of writing generally place the development of the Summerian proto-cuneiform script before the development of Egyptian hierogplyphs, with the suggestion the former influenced the latter.
Between half a million and two million cuneiform tablets are estimated to have been excavated in modern times, of which only approximately 30,000–100,000 have been read or published. The British Museum holds the largest collection (c. 130,000), followed by the Vorderasiatisches Museum Berlin, the Louvre, the Istanbul Archaeology Museums, the National Museum of Iraq, the Yale Babylonian Collection (c. 40,000) and Penn Museum. Most of these have "lain in these collections for a century without being translated, studied or published", as there are only a few hundred qualified cuneiformists in the world.
|Languages||Akkadian, Eblaite, Elamite, Hattic, Hittite, Hurrian, Luwian, Sumerian, Urartian, Old Persian|
|Created||around 3200 BC|
|c. 31st century BC to 1st century AD|
|None; influenced shape of Ugaritic; apparently inspired Old Persian|
An ancient Mesopotamian poem gives the first known story of the invention of writing:
Because the messager's mouth was heavy and he couldn't repeat (the message), the Lord of Kulaba pattes some clay and put words on it, like a tablet. Until then, there had been no putting words on clay.
The cuneiform writing system was in use for more than three millennia, through several stages of development, from the 31st century BC down to the second century AD. Ultimately, it was completely replaced by alphabetic writing (in the general sense) in the course of the Roman era, and there are no cuneiform systems in current use. It had to be deciphered as a completely unknown writing system in 19th-century Assyriology. Successful completion of its deciphering is dated to 1857.
The cuneiform script was developed from pictographic proto-writing in the late 4th millennium BC, stemming from the near eastern token system used for accounting. These tokens were in use from the 9th millennium BC and remained in occasional use even late in the 2nd millennium BC. It has been suggested that the token shapes were the original basis for some of the Sumerian pictographs.
Mesopotamia's "proto-literate" period spans roughly the 35th to 32nd centuries. The first documents unequivocally written in Sumerian date to the 31st century BC at Jemdet Nasr.
Certain signs to indicate names of gods, countries, cities, vessels, birds, trees, etc., are known as determinatives and were the Sumerian signs of the terms in question, added as a guide for the reader. Proper names continued to be usually written in purely "logographic" fashion.
The earliest known Sumerian king whose name appears on contemporary cuneiform tablets is Enmebaragesi of Kish. Surviving records only very gradually become less fragmentary and more complete for the following reigns, but by the end of the pre-Sargonic period, it had become standard practice for each major city-state to date documents by year-names commemorating the exploits of its lugal (king).
From about 2900 BC, many pictographs began to lose their original function, and a given sign could have various meanings depending on context. The sign inventory was reduced from some 1,500 signs to some 600 signs, and writing became increasingly phonological. Determinative signs were re-introduced to avoid ambiguity. Cuneiform writing proper thus arises from the more primitive system of pictographs at about that time (Early Bronze Age II).
In the mid-3rd millennium BC, the direction of writing was changed to left-to-right in horizontal rows (rotating all of the pictographs 90° counter-clockwise in the process) and a new wedge-tipped stylus was introduced which was pushed into the clay, producing wedge-shaped ("cuneiform") signs; these two developments made writing quicker and easier. By adjusting the relative position of the tablet to the stylus, the writer could use a single tool to make a variety of impressions.
Cuneiform tablets could be fired in kilns to bake them hard, and so provide a permanent record, or they could be left moist and recycled, if permanence was not needed. Many of the clay tablets found by archaeologists have been preserved by chance, baked when attacking armies burned the buildings in which they were kept.
The script was also widely used on commemorative stelae and carved reliefs to record the achievements of the ruler in whose honour the monument had been erected.
The spoken language included many homophones and near-homophones, and in the beginning similar-sounding words such as "life" [til] and "arrow" [ti] were written with the same symbol. After the Semites conquered Southern Mesopotamia, some signs gradually changed from being pictograms to syllabograms, most likely to make things clearer in writing. In that way the sign for the word "arrow" would become the sign for the sound "ti". Words that sounded alike would have different signs; for instance the syllable "gu" had fourteen different symbols. When the words had similar meaning but very different sounds they were written with the same symbol. For instance "tooth" [zu], "mouth" [ka] and "voice" [gu] were all written with the symbol for "voice". To be more accurate, scribes started adding to signs or combining two signs to define the meaning. They used either geometrical patterns or another cuneiform sign. As time went by, the cuneiform got very complex and the distinction between a pictogram and syllabogram became vague. Several symbols had too many meanings to permit clarity. Therefore, symbols were put together to indicate both the sound and the meaning of a compound. The word "Raven" [UGA] had the same logogram as the word "soap" [NAGA], name of a city [EREŠ] and the patron goddess of Eresh [NISABA]. Two phonetic complements were used to define the word [u] in front of the symbol and [gu] behind. Finally the symbol for "bird" [MUŠEN] was added to ensure proper interpretation.
Written Sumerian was used as a scribal language until the first century AD. The spoken language died out around the 18th century BC.
The archaic cuneiform script was adopted by the Akkadian Empire from the 23rd century BC (short chronology), and by the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age (20th century BC), it had evolved into Old Assyrian cuneiform, with many modifications to Sumerian orthography. The Semitic languages employed equivalents for many signs that were distorted or abbreviated to represent new values because the syllabic nature of the script as refined by the Sumerians was not intuitive to Semitic speakers. At this stage, the former pictograms were reduced to a high level of abstraction, and were composed of only five basic wedge shapes: horizontal, vertical, two diagonals and the Winkelhaken impressed vertically by the tip of the stylus. The signs exemplary of these basic wedges are
Except for the Winkelhaken which has no tail, the length of the wedges' tails could vary as required for sign composition.
Signs tilted by about 45 degrees are called tenû in Akkadian, thus DIŠ is a vertical wedge and DIŠ tenû a diagonal one. If a sign is modified with additional wedges, this is called gunû or "gunification"; if signs are crosshatched with additional Winkelhaken, they are called šešig; if signs are modified by the removal of a wedge or wedges, they are called nutillu.
"Typical" signs have about five to ten wedges, while complex ligatures can consist of twenty or more (although it is not always clear if a ligature should be considered a single sign or two collated, but distinct signs); the ligature KAxGUR7 consists of 31 strokes.
Most later adaptations of Sumerian cuneiform preserved at least some aspects of the Sumerian script. Written Akkadian included phonetic symbols from the Sumerian syllabary, together with logograms that were read as whole words. Many signs in the script were polyvalent, having both a syllabic and logographic meaning. The complexity of the system bears a resemblance to Old Japanese, written in a Chinese-derived script, where some of these Sinograms were used as logograms and others as phonetic characters.
This "mixed" method of writing continued through the end of the Babylonian and Assyrian empires, although there were periods when "purism" was in fashion and there was a more marked tendency to spell out the words laboriously, in preference to using signs with a phonetic complement. Yet even in those days, the Babylonian syllabary remained a mixture of logographic and phonemic writing.
Hittite cuneiform is an adaptation of the Old Assyrian cuneiform of c. 1800 BC to the Hittite language. When the cuneiform script was adapted to writing Hittite, a layer of Akkadian logographic spellings was added to the script, thus the pronunciations of many Hittite words which were conventionally written by logograms are now unknown.
In the Iron Age (c. 10th to 6th centuries BC), Assyrian cuneiform was further simplified. From the 6th century, the Akkadian language was marginalized by Aramaic, written in the Aramaean alphabet, but Neo-Assyrian cuneiform remained in use in literary tradition well into times of Parthian Empire (250 BC – AD 226). The last known cuneiform inscription, an astronomical text, was written in 75 AD.
The complexity of the system prompted the development of a number of simplified versions of the script. Old Persian was written in a subset of simplified cuneiform characters known today as Old Persian cuneiform, developed by Darius the Great in the 5th century BC. It formed a semi-alphabetic syllabary, using far fewer wedge strokes than Assyrian used, together with a handful of logograms for frequently occurring words like "god" and "king". This nearly alphabetical form of the cuneiform script (36 phonetic characters and 8 logograms), was specially designed and used by the early Achaemenid rulers from the 6th century BC.
For centuries, travellers to Persepolis, in modern-day Iran, had noticed carved cuneiform inscriptions and were intrigued. Attempts at deciphering these Old Persian writings date back to Arabo-Persian historians of the medieval Islamic world, though these early attempts at decipherment were largely unsuccessful.
In the 15th century, the Venetian Giosafat Barbaro explored ancient ruins in the Middle East and came back with news of a very odd writing he had found carved on the stones in the temples of Shiraz and on many clay tablets.
Antonio de Gouvea, a professor of theology, noted in 1602 the strange writing he had had occasion to observe during his travels a year earlier in Persia which took in visits to ruins. In 1625, the Roman traveler Pietro Della Valle, who had sojourned in Mesopotamia between 1616 and 1621, brought to Europe copies of characters he had seen in Persepolis and inscribed bricks from Ur and the ruins of Babylon. The copies he made, the first that reached circulation within Europe, were not quite accurate but Della Valle understood that the writing had to be read from left to right, following the direction of wedges, but did not attempt to decipher the scripts.
Englishman Sir Thomas Herbert, in the 1638 edition of his travel book Some Yeares Travels into Africa & Asia the Great. … , reported seeing at Persepolis carved on the wall "a dozen lines of strange characters…consisting of figures, obelisk, triangular, and pyramidal" and thought they resembled Greek. In the 1677 edition he reproduced some and thought they were 'legible and intelligible' and therefore decipherable. He also guessed, correctly, that they represented not letters or hieroglyphics but words and syllables, and were to be read from left to right. Herbert is rarely mentioned in standard histories of the decipherment of cuneiform.
Carsten Niebuhr brought the first reasonably complete and accurate copies of the inscriptions at Persepolis to Europe in 1767.:9 Bishop Friedrich Münter of Copenhagen discovered that the words in the Persian inscriptions were divided from one another by an oblique wedge and that the monuments must belong to the age of Cyrus and his successors. One word, which occurs without any variation towards the beginning of each inscription, he correctly inferred to signify "king".:10 By 1802 Georg Friedrich Grotefend had determined that two kings' names mentioned were Darius and Xerxes (but in their native Old Persian forms, which were unknown at the time and therefore had to be conjectured), and had been able to assign correct alphabetic values to the cuneiform characters which composed the two names. Although Grotefend's Memoir was presented to the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities on September 4, 1802, the Academy refused to publish it; it was subsequently published in Heeren's work in 1815, but was overlooked by most researchers at the time.
In 1836, the eminent French scholar Eugène Burnouf discovered that the first of the inscriptions published by Niebuhr contained a list of the satrapies of Darius. With this clue in his hand, he identified and published an alphabet of thirty letters, most of which he had correctly deciphered.:14
A month earlier, a friend and pupil of Burnouf's, Professor Christian Lassen of Bonn, had also published his own work on The Old Persian Cuneiform Inscriptions of Persepolis. He and Burnouf had been in frequent correspondence, and his claim to have independently detected the names of the satrapies, and thereby to have fixed the values of the Persian characters, was consequently fiercely attacked. According to Sayce, whatever his obligations to Burnouf may have been, Lassen's
...contributions to the decipherment of the inscriptions were numerous and important. He succeeded in fixing the true values of nearly all the letters in the Persian alphabet, in translating the texts, and in proving that the language of them was not Zend, but stood to both Zend and Sanskrit in the relation of a sister.— Sayce:15
Meanwhile, in 1835 Henry Rawlinson, a British East India Company army officer, visited the Behistun Inscriptions in Persia. Carved in the reign of King Darius of Persia (522–486 BC), they consisted of identical texts in the three official languages of the empire: Old Persian, Assyrian and Elamite. The Behistun inscription was to the decipherment of cuneiform what the Rosetta Stone was to the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Rawlinson correctly deduced that the Old Persian was a phonetic script and he successfully deciphered it. In 1837 he finished his copy of the Behistun inscription, and sent a translation of its opening paragraphs to the Royal Asiatic Society. Before his article could be published, however, the works of Lassen and Burnouf reached him, necessitating a revision of his article and the postponement of its publication. Then came other causes of delay. In 1847 the first part of the Rawlinson's Memoir was published; the second part did not appear until 1849.[b] The task of deciphering the Persian cuneiform texts was virtually accomplished.:17
After translating the Persian, Rawlinson and, working independently of him, the Irish Assyriologist Edward Hincks, began to decipher the others. (The actual techniques used to decipher the Akkadian language have never been fully published; Hincks described how he sought the proper names already legible in the deciphered Persian while Rawlinson never said anything at all, leading some to speculate that he was secretly copying Hincks.) They were greatly helped by the excavations of the French naturalist Paul Émile Botta and English traveler and diplomat Austen Henry Layard of the city of Nineveh from 1842. Among the treasures uncovered by Layard and his successor Hormuzd Rassam were, in 1849 and 1851, the remains of two libraries, now mixed up, usually called the Library of Ashurbanipal, a royal archive containing tens of thousands of baked clay tablets covered with cuneiform inscriptions.
By 1851, Hincks and Rawlinson could read 200 Babylonian signs. They were soon joined by two other decipherers: young German-born scholar Julius Oppert, and versatile British Orientalist William Henry Fox Talbot. In 1857 the four men met in London and took part in a famous experiment to test the accuracy of their decipherments. Edwin Norris, the secretary of the Royal Asiatic Society, gave each of them a copy of a recently discovered inscription from the reign of the Assyrian emperor Tiglath-Pileser I. A jury of experts was empanelled to examine the resulting translations and assess their accuracy. In all essential points the translations produced by the four scholars were found to be in close agreement with one another. There were of course some slight discrepancies. The inexperienced Talbot had made a number of mistakes, and Oppert's translation contained a few doubtful passages which the jury politely ascribed to his unfamiliarity with the English language. But Hincks' and Rawlinson's versions corresponded remarkably closely in many respects. The jury declared itself satisfied, and the decipherment of Akkadian cuneiform was adjudged a fait accompli.
In the early days of cuneiform decipherment, the reading of proper names presented the greatest difficulties. However, there is now a better understanding of the principles behind the formation and the pronunciation of the thousands of names found in historical records, business documents, votive inscriptions, literary productions and legal documents. The primary challenge was posed by the characteristic use of old Sumerian non-phonetic logograms in other languages that had different pronunciations for the same symbols. Until the exact phonetic reading of many names was determined through parallel passages or explanatory lists, scholars remained in doubt, or had recourse to conjectural or provisional readings. However, in many cases, there are variant readings, the same name being written phonetically (in whole or in part) in one instance and logographically in another.
Cuneiform has a specific format for transliteration. Because of the script's polyvalence, transliteration requires certain choices of the transliterating scholar, who must decide in the case of each sign which of its several possible meanings is intended in the original document. For example, the sign DINGIR in a Hittite text may represent either the Hittite syllable an or may be part of an Akkadian phrase, representing the syllable il, it may be a Sumerogram, representing the original Sumerian meaning, 'god' or the determinative for a deity. In transliteration, a different rendition of the same glyph is chosen depending on its role in the present context.
Therefore, a text containing DINGIR and MU in succession could be construed to represent the words "ana", "ila", god + "a" (the accusative case ending), god + water, or a divine name "A" or Water. Someone transcribing the signs would make the decision how the signs should be read and assemble the signs as "ana", "ila", "Ila" ("god"+accusative case), etc. A transliteration of these signs, however, would separate the signs with dashes "il-a", "an-a", "DINGIR-a" or "Da". This is still easier to read than the original cuneiform, but now the reader is able to trace the sounds back to the original signs and determine if the correct decision was made on how to read them. A transliterated document thus presents the reading preferred by the transliterating scholar as well as an opportunity to reconstruct the original text.
There are differing conventions for transliterating Sumerian, Akkadian (Babylonian) and Hittite (and Luwian) cuneiform texts. One convention that sees wide use across the different fields is the use of acute and grave accents as an abbreviation for homophone disambiguation. Thus, u is equivalent to u1, the first glyph expressing phonetic u. An acute accent, ú, is equivalent to the second, u2, and a grave accent ù to the third, u3 glyph in the series (while the sequence of numbering is conventional but essentially arbitrary and subject to the history of decipherment). In Sumerian transliteration, a multiplication sign 'x' is used to indicate typographic ligatures. As shown above, signs as such are represented in capital letters, while the specific reading selected in the transliteration is represented in small letters. Thus, capital letters can be used to indicate a so-called Diri compound – a sign sequence that has, in combination, a reading different from the sum of the individual constituent signs (for example, the compound IGI.A – "water" + "eye" – has the reading imhur, meaning "foam"). In a Diri compound, the individual signs are separated with dots in transliteration. Capital letters may also be used to indicate a Sumerogram (for example, KÙ.BABBAR – Sumerian for "silver" – being used with the intended Akkadian reading kaspum, "silver"), an Akkadogram, or simply a sign sequence of whose reading the editor is uncertain. Naturally, the "real" reading, if it is clear, will be presented in small letters in the transliteration: IGI.A will be rendered as imhur4.
Since the Sumerian language has only been widely known and studied by scholars for approximately a century, changes in the accepted reading of Sumerian names have occurred from time to time. Thus the name of a king of Ur, read Ur-Bau at one time, was later read as Ur-Engur, and is now read as Ur-Nammu or Ur-Namma; for Lugal-zage-si, a king of Uruk, some scholars continued to read Ungal-zaggisi; and so forth. Also, with some names of the older period, there was often uncertainty whether their bearers were Sumerians or Semites. If the former, then their names could be assumed to be read as Sumerian, while, if they were Semites, the signs for writing their names were probably to be read according to their Semitic equivalents, though occasionally Semites might be encountered bearing genuine Sumerian names. There was also doubt whether the signs composing a Semite's name represented a phonetic reading or a logographic compound. Thus, e.g. when inscriptions of a Semitic ruler of Kish, whose name was written Uru-mu-ush, were first deciphered, that name was first taken to be logographic because uru mu-ush could be read as "he founded a city" in Sumerian, and scholars accordingly retranslated it back to the original Semitic as Alu-usharshid. It was later recognized that the URU sign can also be read as rí and that the name is that of the Akkadian king Rimush.
The tables below show signs used for simple syllables of the form CV or VC. As used for the Sumerian language, the cuneiform script was in principle capable of distinguishing at least 16 consonants, transliterated as
as well as four vowel qualities, a, e, i, u. The Akkadian language had no use for g̃ or ř but needed to distinguish its emphatic series, q, ṣ, ṭ, adopting various "superfluous" Sumerian signs for the purpose (e.g. qe=KIN, qu=KUM, qi=KIN, ṣa=ZA, ṣe=ZÍ, ṭur=DUR etc.) Hittite, as it adopted the Akkadian cuneiform, further introduced signs such as wi5=GEŠTIN.
|g̃-||g̃á=GÁ 𒂷||g̃e26=GÁ 𒂷||g̃i6=MI 𒈪||g̃u10=MU 𒈬|
|ř-||řá=DU 𒁺||ře6=DU 𒁺|
|ed=Á 𒀉||id=Á 𒀉,
|eḫ=AḪ 𒄴||iḫ=AḪ 𒄴||uḫ=AḪ 𒄴,|
|-k||ak=AG 𒀝||ek=IG 𒅅||ik=IG 𒅅||uk=UG 𒊌|
|em=IM 𒅎||im 𒅎,
|-n||an 𒀭||en 𒂗,
|er=IR 𒅕||ir 𒅕,
|-s||as=AZ 𒊍||es=GIŠ 𒄑,
át=GÍR gunû 𒄉
|et=Á 𒀉||it=Á 𒀉||ut=UD 𒌓,|
|-z||az 𒊍||ez=GIŠ 𒄑,
|iz= GIŠ 𒄑,
|-g̃||ág̃=ÁG 𒉘||èg̃=ÁG 𒉘||ìg̃=ÁG 𒉘||ùg̃=UN 𒌦|
The Sumerian cuneiform script had on the order of 1,000 distinct signs (or about 1,500 if variants are included). This number was reduced to about 600 by the 24th century BC and the beginning of Akkadian records. Not all Sumerian signs are used in Akkadian texts, and not all Akkadian signs are used in Hittite.
Falkenstein (1936) lists 939 signs used in the earliest period (late Uruk, 34th to 31st centuries). With an emphasis on Sumerian forms, Deimel (1922) lists 870 signs used in the Early Dynastic II period (28th century, "LAK") and for the Early Dynastic IIIa period (26th century, "ŠL"). Rosengarten (1967) lists 468 signs used in Sumerian (pre-Sargonian). Lagash and Mittermayer ("aBZL", 2006) list 480 Sumerian forms, written in Isin-Larsa and Old Babylonian times. Regarding Akkadian forms, the standard handbook for many years was Borger ("ABZ", 1981) with 598 signs used in Assyrian/Babylonian writing, recently superseded by Borger ("MesZL", 2004) with an expansion to 907 signs, an extension of their Sumerian readings and a new numbering scheme.
Signs used in Hittite cuneiform are listed by Forrer (1922), Friedrich (1960) and the HZL (Rüster and Neu 1989). The HZL lists a total of 375 signs, many with variants (for example, 12 variants are given for number 123 EGIR).
The Sumerians used a numerical system based on 1, 10, and 60. The way of writing a number like 70 would be the sign for 60 and the sign for 10 right after. This way of counting is still used today for measuring time as 60 seconds per minute and 60 minutes per hour.
Cuneiform script was used in many ways in ancient Mesopotamia. It was used to record laws, like the Code of Hammurabi. It was also used for recording maps, compiling medical manuals, and documenting religious stories and beliefs, among other uses. Studies by Assyriologists like Claus Wilcke and Dominique Charpin suggest that cuneiform literacy was not reserved solely for the elite but was common for average citizens.
According to the Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture, cuneiform script was used at a variety of literacy levels: average citizens needed only a basic, functional knowledge of cuneiform script to write personal letters and business documents. More highly literate citizens put the script to more technical use, listing medicines and diagnoses and writing mathematical equations. Scholars held the highest literacy level of cuneiform and mostly focused on writing as a complex skill and an art form.
As of version 8.0, the following ranges are assigned to the Sumero-Akkadian Cuneiform script in the Unicode Standard:
The final proposal for Unicode encoding of the script was submitted by two cuneiform scholars working with an experienced Unicode proposal writer in June 2004. The base character inventory is derived from the list of Ur III signs compiled by the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative of UCLA based on the inventories of Miguel Civil, Rykle Borger (2003) and Robert Englund. Rather than opting for a direct ordering by glyph shape and complexity, according to the numbering of an existing catalogue, the Unicode order of glyphs was based on the Latin alphabetic order of their "last" Sumerian transliteration as a practical approximation.
|Location||Number of tablets||Initial discovery||Language|
|Kuyunkjik hill on Tigris River, Outside of Mosul, now in Iraq||NA||1840–1842|
|Khorsabad hill on Tigris River, Outside of Mosul, now in Iraq||Significant||1843|
|Library of Ashurbanipal||20,000–24,000||1849||Akkadian|
|Sippar||Tens of thousands||1880||Babylonian|
|Persepolis, Iran||1933||Old Persian|
|Ebla tablets||c.5,000||1974||Sumerian and Eblaite|
|Tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh||1||2011||Old Babylonian|
Since the decipherment of Babylonian cuneiform some 150 years ago museums have accumulated perhaps 300,000 tablets written in most of the major languages of the Ancient Near East – Sumerian, Akkadian (Babylonian and Assyrian), Eblaite, Hittite, Persian, Hurrian, Elamite, and Ugaritic. These texts include genres as variegated as mythology and mathematics, law codes and beer recipes. In most cases these documents are the earliest exemplars of their genres, and cuneiformists have made unique and valuable contributions to the study of such moderns disciplines as history, law, religion, linguistics, mathematics, and science. In spite of continued great interest in mankind's earliest documents it has been estimated that only about 1/10 of the extant cuneiform texts have been read even once in modern times. There are various reasons for this: the complex Sumero/Akkadian script system is inherently difficult to learn; there is, as yet, no standard computer encoding for cuneiform; there are only a few hundred qualified cuneiformists in the world; the pedagogical tools are, in many cases, non-optimal; and access to the widely distributed tablets is expensive, time-consuming, and, due to the vagaries of politics, becoming increasingly difficult.
Akkadian ( akkadû, 𒀝𒅗𒁺𒌑 ak-ka-du-u2; logogram: 𒌵𒆠 URIKI) is an extinct East Semitic language that was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia (Akkad, Assyria, Isin, Larsa and Babylonia) from the 30th century BC until its gradual replacement by Akkadian-influenced Old Aramaic among Mesopotamians by the eighth century BC.
It is the earliest attested Semitic language. It used the cuneiform script, which was originally used to write the unrelated, and also extinct, Sumerian (which is a language isolate). Akkadian was named after the city of Akkad, a major centre of Mesopotamian civilization during the Akkadian Empire (c. 2334–2154 BC), but the language itself precedes the founding of Akkad by many centuries.
The mutual influence between Sumerian and Akkadian had led scholars to describe the languages as a Sprachbund.Akkadian proper names were first attested in Sumerian texts from around the mid 3rd-millennium BC. From the second half of the third millennium BC (c. 2500 BC), texts fully written in Akkadian begin to appear. Hundreds of thousands of texts and text fragments have been excavated to date, covering a vast textual tradition of mythological narrative, legal texts, scientific works, correspondence, political and military events, and many other examples. By the second millennium BC, two variant forms of the language were in use in Assyria and Babylonia, known as Assyrian and Babylonian respectively.
For centuries, Akkadian was the native language in Mesopotamian nations such as Assyria and Babylonia. Because of the might of various Mesopotamian empires, such as the Akkadian Empire, Old Assyrian Empire, Babylonia, and Middle Assyrian Empire, Akkadian became the lingua franca of much of the Ancient Near East. However, it began to decline during the Neo-Assyrian Empire around the eighth century BC, being marginalized by Aramaic during the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III. By the Hellenistic period, the language was largely confined to scholars and priests working in temples in Assyria and Babylonia.
The last known Akkadian cuneiform document dates from the first century AD. Neo-Mandaic spoken by the Mandaeans, and Assyrian Neo-Aramaic spoken by the Assyrian people, are two of the few modern Semitic languages that contain some Akkadian vocabulary and grammatical features. Akkadian is a fusional language with grammatical case; and like all Semitic languages, Akkadian uses the system of consonantal roots. The Kültepe texts, which were written in Old Assyrian, include Hittite loanwords and names, which constitute the oldest record of any language of the Indo-European languages.Babylonian religion
Babylonian religion is the religious practice of Babylonia. Babylonian mythology was greatly influenced by their Sumerian counterparts, and was written on clay tablets inscribed with the cuneiform script derived from Sumerian cuneiform. The myths were usually either written in Sumerian or Akkadian. Some Babylonian texts were translations into Akkadian from the Sumerian language of earlier texts, although the names of some deities were changed.
Some of the stories of the Tanakh are believed to have been based on, influenced by, or inspired by the legendary mythological past of the Near East.Behistun Inscription
The Behistun Inscription (also Bisotun, Bistun or Bisutun; Persian: بیستون, Old Persian: Bagastana, meaning "the place of god") is a multilingual inscription and large rock relief on a cliff at Mount Behistun in the Kermanshah Province of Iran, near the city of Kermanshah in western Iran, established by Darius the Great (550–486 BC). It was crucial to the decipherment of cuneiform script as the inscription includes three versions of the same text, written in three different cuneiform script languages: Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian (a variety of Akkadian). The inscription is to cuneiform what the Rosetta Stone is to Egyptian hieroglyphs: the document most crucial in the decipherment of a previously lost script.
The inscription is approximately 15 metres high by 25 metres wide and 100 metres up a limestone cliff from an ancient road connecting the capitals of Babylonia and Media (Babylon and Ecbatana, respectively). The Old Persian text contains 414 lines in five columns; the Elamite text includes 593 lines in eight columns, and the Babylonian text is in 112 lines. The inscription was illustrated by a life-sized bas-relief of Darius I, the Great, holding a bow as a sign of kingship, with his left foot on the chest of a figure lying on his back before him. The supine figure is reputed to be the pretender Gaumata. Darius is attended to the left by two servants, and nine one-meter figures stand to the right, with hands tied and rope around their necks, representing conquered peoples. A Faravahar floats above, giving its blessing to the king. One figure appears to have been added after the others were completed, as was Darius's beard, which is a separate block of stone attached with iron pins and lead.Clay tablet
In the Ancient Near East, clay tablets (Akkadian ṭuppu(m) 𒁾) were used as a writing medium, especially for writing in cuneiform, throughout the Bronze Age and well into the Iron Age.
Cuneiform characters were imprinted on a wet clay tablet with a stylus often made of reed (reed pen). Once written upon, many tablets were dried in the sun or air, remaining fragile. Later, these unfired clay tablets could be soaked in water and recycled into new clean tablets. Other tablets, once written, were fired in hot kilns (or inadvertently, when buildings were burnt down by accident or during conflict) making them hard and durable. Collections of these clay documents made up the very first archives. They were at the root of first libraries. Tens of thousands of written tablets, including many fragments, have been found in the Middle East.In the Minoan/Mycenaean civilizations, surviving writing is mainly that used for accounting. Tablets serving as labels, with the impression of the side of a wicker basket on the back, and tablets showing yearly summaries, suggest a sophisticated accounting system. In this cultural region the tablets were never fired deliberately, as the clay was recycled on an annual basis. However, some of the tablets were "fired" as a result of uncontrolled fires in the buildings where they were stored. The rest are still tablets of unfired clay, and extremely fragile; some modern scholars are investigating the possibility of firing them now, as an aid to preservation.Cuneiform Records
Cuneiform Records is a record label in Silver Spring, Maryland.Founded in 1984, the label releases an mixture of musical styles, all with a Rock in Opposition aesthetic, including progressive jazz, jazz fusion, the Canterbury scene, and electronic music. Cuneiform has introduced many notable acts but also documents older bands who fit the profile, including its release of the Heldon catalog and several archival Soft Machine recordings. The label operates with a mail-order retailer, Wayside Music.Cuneiform announced that it would not release new music in 2018. Feigenbaum said he would assess the label's future.Cuneiform bones
There are three cuneiform bones in the human foot:
the first or medial cuneiform
the second or intermediate cuneiform, also known as the middle cuneiform
the third or lateral cuneiformThey are located between the navicular bone and the first, second and third metatarsal bones and are medial to the cuboid bone.Determinative
A determinative, also known as a taxogram or semagram, is an ideogram used to mark semantic categories of words in logographic scripts which helps to disambiguate interpretation. They have no direct counterpart in spoken language, though they may derive historically from glyphs for real words, and functionally they resemble classifiers in East Asian and sign languages. For example, Egyptian hieroglyphic determinatives include symbols for divinities, people, parts of the body, animals, plants, and books/abstract ideas, which helped in reading, but none of which were pronounced.Dingir
Dingir (𒀭, usually transliterated DIĜIR, Sumerian pronunciation: [tiŋiɾ]) is a Sumerian word for "god." Its cuneiform sign is most commonly employed as the determinative for religious names and related concepts, in which case it is not pronounced and is conventionally transliterated as a superscript "D" as in e.g. DInanna.
The cuneiform sign by itself was originally an ideogram for the Sumerian word an ("sky" or "heaven"); its use was then extended to a logogram for the word diĝir ("god" or goddess) and the supreme deity of the Sumerian pantheon An, and a phonogram for the syllable /an/. Akkadian took over all these uses and added to them a logographic reading for the native ilum and from that a syllabic reading of /il/. In Hittite orthography, the syllabic value of the sign was again only an.
The concept of "divinity" in Sumerian is closely associated with the heavens, as is evident from the fact that the cuneiform sign doubles as the ideogram for "sky", and that its original shape is the picture of a star. The original association of "divinity" is thus with "bright" or "shining" hierophanies in the sky.Elamite cuneiform
Elamite cuneiform was a logo-syllabic script used to write the Elamite language. The complete corpus of Elamite cuneiform consists of c. 20,000 tablets and fragments. The majority belong to the Achaemenid era, and contain primarily economic records.Hittite cuneiform
Hittite cuneiform is the implementation of cuneiform script used in writing the Hittite language. The surviving corpus of Hittite texts is preserved in cuneiform on clay tablets dating to the 2nd millennium BC (roughly spanning the 17th to 12th centuries BC).
Hittite orthography was directly adapted from Old Assyrian cuneiform. The HZL of Rüster and Neu lists 375 cuneiform signs used in Hittite documents (11 of them only appearing in Hurrian and Hattic glosses), compared to some 600 signs in use in Old Assyrian. About half of the signs have syllabic values, the remaining are used as ideograms or logograms to represent the entire word—much as the characters "$", "%" and "&" are used in contemporary English.
Cuneiform signs can be employed in three functions: syllabograms, Akkadograms or Sumerograms. Syllabograms are characters that represent a syllable. Akkadograms and Sumerograms are ideograms originally from the earlier Akkadian or Sumerian orthography respectively, but not intended to be pronounced as in the original language; Sumerograms are mostly ideograms and determiners. Conventionally,
Syllabograms are transcribed in italic lowercase
Akkadograms in italic uppercase
Sumerograms in roman uppercase.Thus, the sign GI 𒄀 can be used (and transcribed) in three ways, as the Hittite syllable gi (also ge); in the Akkadian spelling QÈ-RU-UB of the preposition "near" as QÈ, and as the Sumerian ideogram GI for "tube" also in superscript, GI, when used as a determiner.Lugal
Lugal (Sumerian: 𒈗) is the Sumerian term for "king, ruler". Literally, the term means "big man." In Sumerian, lu "𒇽" is "man" and gal "𒃲" is "great," or "big."It was one of several Sumerian titles that a ruler of a city-state could bear (alongside en and ensi, the exact difference being a subject of debate). The sign eventually became the predominant logograph for "King" in general. In the Sumerian language, lugal is used to mean an owner (e.g. of a boat or a field) or a head (of a unit such as a family).As a cuneiform logograph (Sumerogram) LUGAL (Unicode: 𒈗, rendered in Neo Assyrian).Luwian language
Luwian , sometimes known as Luvian or Luish, is an ancient language, or group of languages, within the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European language family.
The ethnonym Luwian comes from Luwiya (also spelled Luwia or Luvia) – the name of the region in which the Luwians lived. Luwiya is attested, for example, in the Hittite laws.The two varieties of Proto-Luwian or Luwian (in the narrow sense of these names), are known after the scripts in which they were written: Cuneiform Luwian (CLuwian) and Hieroglyphic Luwian (HLuwian). There is no consensus as to whether these were a single language, or two closely related languages.Old Persian cuneiform
Old Persian cuneiform is a semi-alphabetic cuneiform script that was the primary script for Old Persian. Texts written in this cuneiform have been found in Iran (Persepolis, Susa, Hamadan, Kharg Island), Armenia, Romania (Gherla), Turkey (Van Fortress), and along the Suez Canal. They were mostly inscriptions from the time period of Darius I, such as the DNa inscription, as well as his son, Xerxes I. Later kings down to Artaxerxes III used more recent forms of the language classified as "pre-Middle Persian".Stylus
A stylus, plural styli or styluses, is a writing utensil or a small tool for some other form of marking or shaping, for example, in pottery. It can also be a computer accessory that is used to assist in navigating or providing more precision when using touchscreens. It usually refers to a narrow elongated staff, similar to a modern ballpoint pen. Many styluses are heavily curved to be held more easily. Another widely used writing tool is the stylus used by blind users in conjunction with the slate for punching out the dots in Braille.
Styluses were first used by the ancient Mesopotamians in order to write in cuneiform. They were mostly made of reeds and had a slightly curved trapezoidal section. Egyptians (Middle Kingdom) and the Minoans of Crete (Linear A and Cretan Hieroglyphic) made styluses in various materials: reeds that grew on the sides of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and in marshes and down to Egypt where the Egyptians used styluses from sliced reeds with sharp points; bone and metal styluses were also used. Cuneiform was entirely based on the "wedge-shaped" mark that the end of a cut reed made when pushed into a clay tablet; from Latin cuneus = wedge. The linear writings of Crete in the first half of the second millennium BC which were made on clay tablets that were left to dry in the sun until they became "leather" hard before being incised by the stylus. The linear nature of the writing was also dictated by the use of the stylus.
In Western Europe styluses were widely used until the late Middle Ages. For learning purposes the stylus was gradually replaced by a writing slate. From the mid-14th century improved water-powered paper mills produced large and cheap quantities of paper and the wax tablet and stylus disappeared completely from daily life.Sumerian language
Sumerian is the language of ancient Sumer and a language isolate that was spoken in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). During the 3rd millennium BC, an intimate cultural symbiosis developed between the Sumerians and the Semitic-speaking Akkadians, which included widespread bilingualism. The influence of Sumerian and the East Semitic language Akkadian on each other is evident in all areas, from lexical borrowing on a substantial scale, to syntactic, morphological, and phonological convergence. This has prompted scholars to refer to Sumerian and Akkadian in the third millennium BC as a Sprachbund.Akkadian gradually replaced Sumerian as a spoken language around 2000 BC (the exact dating being subject to debate), but Sumerian continued to be used as a sacred, ceremonial, literary and scientific language in Akkadian-speaking Mesopotamian states such as Assyria and Babylonia until the 1st century AD. Thereafter it was likely forgotten until the 19th century, when Assyriologists began deciphering the cuneiform inscriptions and excavated tablets left by these speakers.Tarsometatarsal joints
The tarsometatarsal joints (Lisfranc joints) are arthrodial joints in the foot. The tarsometatarsal joints involve the first, second and third cuneiform bones, the cuboid bone and the metatarsal bones.
The eponym Lisfranc joint is named after 18th-19th century surgeon and gynecologist, Jacques Lisfranc de St. Martin.Tarsus (skeleton)
The tarsus is a cluster of seven articulating bones in each foot situated between the lower end of tibia and fibula of the lower leg and the metatarsus. It is made up of the midfoot (cuboid, medial, intermediate, and lateral cuneiform, and navicular) and hindfoot (talus and calcaneus).
The tarsus articulates with the bones of the metatarsus, which in turn articulate with the proximal phalanges of the toes. The joint between the tibia and fibula above and the tarsus below is referred to as the ankle joint.
In humans the largest bone in the tarsus is the calcaneus, which is the weight-bearing bone within the heel of the foot.Ugaritic alphabet
The Ugaritic script is a cuneiform abjad used from around either the fifteenth century BCE or 1300 BCE for Ugaritic, an extinct Northwest Semitic language, and discovered in Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra), Syria, in 1928. It has 30 letters. Other languages (particularly Hurrian) were occasionally written in the Ugaritic script in the area around Ugarit, although not elsewhere.
Clay tablets written in Ugaritic provide the earliest evidence of both the North Semitic and South Semitic orders of the alphabet, which gave rise to the alphabetic orders of the reduced Phoenician alphabet and its descendants (including Greek and Latin) on the one hand, and of the Ge'ez alphabet on the other. Arabic and Old South Arabian are the only other Semitic alphabets which have letters for all or almost all of the 29 commonly reconstructed proto-Semitic consonant phonemes. (But note that several of these distinctions were only secondarily added to the Arabic alphabet by means of diacritic dots.) According to Manfried Dietrich and Oswald Loretz in Handbook of Ugaritic Studies (eds. Wilfred G.E. Watson and Nicholas Wyatt, 1999): "The language they [the 30 signs] represented could be described as an idiom which in terms of content seemed to be comparable to Canaanite texts, but from a phonological perspective, however, was more like Arabic" (82, 89, 614).
The script was written from left to right. Although cuneiform and pressed into clay, its symbols were unrelated to those of Akkadian cuneiform.Writing
Writing is a medium of human communication that represents language and emotion with signs and symbols. In most languages, writing is a complement to speech or spoken language. Writing is not a language, but a tool used to make languages be read. Within a language system, writing relies on many of the same structures as speech, such as vocabulary, grammar, and semantics, with the added dependency of a system of signs or symbols. The result of writing is called text, and the recipient of text is called a reader. Motivations for writing include publication, storytelling, correspondence, record keeping and diary. Writing has been instrumental in keeping history, maintaining culture, dissemination of knowledge through the media and the formation of legal systems.
As human societies emerged, the development of writing was driven by pragmatic exigencies such as exchanging information, maintaining financial accounts, codifying laws and recording history. Around the 4th millennium BC, the complexity of trade and administration in Mesopotamia outgrew human memory, and writing became a more dependable method of recording and presenting transactions in a permanent form. In both ancient Egypt and Mesoamerica, writing may have evolved through calendric and a political necessity for recording historical and environmental events.
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