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.

Elamite cuneiform
Naram-Sin stele inscription in Elamite
Inscription of Shutruk-Nahhunte in Elamite cuneiform on the Victory Stele of Naram-Sin.
LanguagesElamite language
Time period
2200 BCE to 400 BCE
Parent systems
Sister systems
Old Persian cuneiform

History and decipherment

The Elamite language (c. 3000 BCE to 400 BCE) is the now-extinct language spoken by Elamites, who inhabited the regions of Khuzistān and Fārs in Southern Iran.[1] It has long been an enigma for scholars due to the scarcity of resources for its research and the irregularities found in the language.[1] It seems to have no relation to its neighboring Semitic and Indo-European languages.[2] Scholars fiercely argue over several hypotheses about its origin, but have no definite theory.

Elamite cuneiform comes in two variants, the first, derived from Akkadian, was used during the 3rd to 2nd millennia BCE, and a simplified form used during the 1st millennium BCE.[1] The main difference between the two variants is the reduction of glyphs used in the simplified version.[3] At any one time, there would only be around 130 cuneiform signs in use. Throughout the script’s history, only 206 different signs were used in total.

The earliest known Elamite cuneiform text is a treaty between Akkaddians and the Elamites that dates back to 2200 BCE.[1] However, some believe it might have been in use since 2500 BCE.[3] The tablets are poorly preserved, so only limited parts can be read, but it is understood that the text is a treaty between the Akkad king Nāramsîn and Elamite ruler Hita. Frequent references like "Nāramsîn's friend is my friend, Nāramsîn's enemy is my enemy" indicate so.[1]

The most famous and the ones that ultimately lead to its decipherment are the Elamite scriptures found in the trilingual inscriptions of monuments commissioned by the Achaemenid Persian kings.[4] The inscriptions, similar to that of the Rosetta Stone's, were written in three different writing systems. The first was Old Persian, which was deciphered in 1802 by Georg Friedrich Grotefend. The second, Babylonian cuneiform, was deciphered shortly after the Old Persian text. Because Elamite is unlike its neighboring Semitic languages, the script's decipherment was delayed until the 1840s. Even today, lack of sources and comparative materials hinder further research of Elamite.[1]


Elamite radically reduced the number of cuneiform glyphs. From the entire history of the script, only 206 glyphs are used; at any one time, the number was fairly constant at about 130. In the earliest tablets the script is almost entirely syllabic, with almost all common Old Akkadian syllabic glyphs with CV and VC values being adopted. Over time the number of syllabic glyphs is reduced while the number of logograms increases. About 40 CVC glyphs are also occasionally used, but they appear to have been used for the consonants and ignored the vocalic value. Several determinatives are also used.[3]

Elamite CV and VC syllabic glyphs
Monumental Achaemenid inscriptions, 5th century BCE
Ca Ce Ci Cu aC eC iC uC
𒉺 pa
𒁀 ba

𒁁 be
𒉿 pe ~ pi 𒁍 pu 𒀊 ap 𒅁 ip (𒌈 íp) 𒌒 up
𒋡 ka₄ 𒆠 ke ~ ki
𒄀 ge ~ gi
𒆪 ku 𒀝 ak 𒅅 ik 𒊌 uk

𒆪 da
𒋼 te 𒋾 ti 𒌅 tu, 𒌈 tu₄
𒁺 du
𒀜 at   𒌓 ut
š 𒐼 šá (𒊮 šà) 𒊺 še 𒅆 ši 𒋗 šu 𒀾 𒆜 iš ~ uš
z (č)
𒊓 sa
𒍝 ca
𒋛 se ~ si
𒍢 ce ~ ci
𒋢 su 𒊍 as/ac 𒄑 is/ic
y 𒅀 ya
l 𒆷 la 𒇷 le ~ li 𒇻 lu 𒌌 ul
m 𒈠 ma 𒈨 me 𒈪 mi 𒈬 mu 𒄠 am 𒌝 um
n 𒈾 na 𒉌 ne ~ ni 𒉡 nu 𒀭 an 𒂗 en 𒅔 in 𒌦 un
r 𒊏 ra 𒊑 re ~ ri 𒊒 ru 𒅕 ir 𒌨 ur
𒄩 ha
𒀀 a

𒂊 e
𒄭 hi
𒄿 i
𒄷 hu
𒌋 u, 𒌑 ú
𒄴 ah

Glyphs in parentheses in the table are not common.

The script distinguished the four vowels of Akkadian and 15 consonants, /p/, /b/,/k/,/g/,/t/,/d/,/š/,/s/,/z/,/y/,/l/,/m/,/n/,/r/, and /h/. The Akkadian voiced pairs /p, b/, /k, g/, and /t, d/ may not have been distinct in Elamite. The series transcribed z may have been an affricate such as /č/ or /c/ (ts). /hV/ was not always distinguished from simple vowels, suggesting that /h/ may have been dropping out of the language. The VC glyphs are often used for a syllable coda without any regard to the value of V, suggesting that they were in fact alphabetic C signs.[3]

Much of the conflation of Ce and Ci, and also eC and iC, is inherited from Akkadian (pe-pi-bi, ke-ki, ge-gi, se-si, ze-zi, le-li, re-ri, and ḫe-ḫi—that is, only ne-ni are distinguished in Akkadian but not Elamite; of the VC syllables, only eš-iš-uš). In addition, 𒄴 is aḫ, eḫ, iḫ, uḫ in Akkadian, and so effectively is a coda consonant even there.


Elamite cuneiform is similar to that of Akkadian cuneiform except for a few unusual features. For example, the primary function of CVC glyphs was to indicate the two consonants rather than the syllable.[3] Thus certain words used the glyphs for “tir” and “tar” interchangeably and the vowel was ignored. Occasionally, the vowel is acknowledged such that “tir” will be used in the context “ti-rV”. Thus “ti-ra” might be written with the glyphs for “tir” and “a” or “ti” and “ra”.

Elamite cuneiform allows for a lot of freedom when constructing syllables. For example, CVC syllables are sometimes represented by using a CV and VC glyph. The vowel in the second glyph is irrelevant so “sa-ad” and “sa-ud” are equivalent. Additionally, “VCV” syllables are represented by combining “V” and “CV” glyphs or “VC” and “CV” glyphs that have a common consonant. Thus “ap-pa” and “a-pa” are equivalent.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Khačikjan (1998)
  2. ^ Starostin, George (2002)
  3. ^ a b c d e Peter Daniels and William Bright (1996)
  4. ^ Reiner, Erica (2005)


  • Reiner, Erica. 2005. "Elamite" International Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Ed. William J. Frawley. Oxford University Press. Oxford Reference Online: <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t202.e0334> (accessed 5 November 2008)
  • Khačikjan, Margaret. 1998. "The Elamite Language". Documenta Asiana IV, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche Istituto per gli Studi Micenei ed Egeo-Anatolici. ISBN 88-87345-01-5
  • Peter T. Daniels and William Bright. 1996. “The World’s Writing Systems”. Published by Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507993-0
  • George S. Starostin. On the Genetic Affiliation of the Elamite Language. // Originally in: Mother Tongue, v. VII. 2002, pp. 147–170
Ancient Near East

The ancient Near East was the home of early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia (modern Iraq, southeast Turkey, southwest Iran, northeastern Syria and Kuwait), ancient Egypt, ancient Iran (Elam, Media, Parthia and Persia), Anatolia/Asia Minor and Armenian Highlands (Turkey's Eastern Anatolia Region, Armenia, northwestern Iran, southern Georgia, and western Azerbaijan), the Levant (modern Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, and Jordan), Cyprus and the Arabian Peninsula. The ancient Near East is studied in the fields of Near Eastern archaeology and ancient history.

The history of the ancient Near East begins with the rise of Sumer in the 4th millennium BC, though the date it ends varies. The term covers the Bronze Age and the Iron Age in the region, until either the conquest by the Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century BC, that by Macedonian Empire in the 4th century BC, or the Muslim conquests in the 7th century AD.

The ancient Near East is considered one of the cradles of civilization. It was here that intensive year-round agriculture was first practiced, leading to the rise of the first dense urban settlements and the development of many familiar institutions of civilization, such as social stratification, centralized government and empires, organized religion and organized warfare. It also saw the creation of the first writing system, the first alphabet (Abjad), the first currency in history, and law codes, early advances that laid the foundations of astronomy and mathematics, and the invention of the wheel.

During the period, states became increasingly large, until the region became controlled by militaristic empires that had conquered a number of different cultures.

Anshan (Persia)

Anshan (Sumerian: 𒀭𒍝𒀭 Anzan), modern Tall-i Malyan/Tal-I Malyun/Tal-e Malyan (Persian: تل ملیان‎), was an ancient city in Persia. It was located in the Zagros Mountains in southwestern Iran, approximately 46 kilometres (29 mi) north of Shiraz and 43 kilometres (27 mi) west of Persepolis in the Beyza/Ramjerd plain, in the province of Fars. Its location serves as a landmark for Elamite studies.

It was one of the earliest urban states of the Mesopotamian area and earliest capitals of Elam from the late 4th century. It fell under the rule of the Persians in the 7th century and then became one of the early capitals of Persia.

Most of what is known about Anshan has been discovered through ancient artifacts discovered in archaeological digs at Tall-i Malyan and passages in early Elamite texts.

Awan dynasty

The Awan Dynasty(Sumerian: 𒀀𒉿𒀭𒆠, awan) was the first dynasty of Elam of which anything is known today, appearing at the dawn of historical record. The Dynasty corresponds to the early part of the Old Elamite period (dated c.2700 – c. 1600 BC), it was succeeded by the Shimashki Dynasty (2200-1900 BCE) and later the Sukkalmah Dynasty. The Elamites were likely major rivals of neighboring Sumer from remotest antiquity; they were said to have been defeated by Enmebaragesi of Kish (c. 25th century BC), who is the earliest archaeologically attested Sumerian king, as well as by a later monarch, Eannatum I of Lagash.

Awan was a city or possibly a region of Elam whose precise location is not certain, but it has been variously conjectured to be north of Susa, in south Luristan, close to Dezful, or Godin Tepe.

Chogha Zanbil

Chogha Zanbil (Persian: چغازنبيل‎; Elamite: Dur Untash) is an ancient Elamite complex in Khuzestan province of Iran. It is one of the few existent ziggurats outside Mesopotamia. It lies approximately 30 km (19 mi) south-east of Susa and 80 km (50 mi) north of Ahvaz.


Cuneiform or Sumerian cuneiform, 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 hieroglyphs, 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.

Elamite language

Elamite is an extinct language that was spoken by the ancient Elamites. It was used in present-day southwestern Iran from 2600 BC to 330 BC. The last written records in Elamite appear around the conquest of the Achaemenid Empire by Alexander the Great. Elamite is generally thought to have no demonstrable relatives and is usually considered a language isolate. The lack of established relatives makes its interpretation difficult.

History of Khuzestan Province

The history of Khuzestan Province, a province in southwestern Iran, extends from the ancient pre-Aryan Elamite civilization to the modern day Islamic Republic.

History of writing

The history of writing traces the development of expressing language by letters or other marks and also the studies and descriptions of these developments.

In the history of how writing systems have evolved in different human civilizations, more complete writing systems were preceded by proto-writing, systems of ideographic or early mnemonic symbols (symbols or letters that make remembering them easier). True writing, in which the content of a linguistic utterance is encoded so that another reader can reconstruct, with a fair degree of accuracy, the exact utterance written down, is a later development. It is distinguished from proto-writing, which typically avoids encoding grammatical words and affixes, making it more difficult or impossible to reconstruct the exact meaning intended by the writer unless a great deal of context is already known in advance. One of the earliest forms of written expression is cuneiform.


Iran, also called Persia, and officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, is a country in Western Asia. With 82 million inhabitants, Iran is the world's 18th most populous country. Its territory spans 1,648,195 km2 (636,372 sq mi), making it the second largest country in the Middle East and the 17th largest in the world. Iran is bordered to the northwest by Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan, to the north by the Caspian Sea, to the northeast by Turkmenistan, to the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and to the west by Turkey and Iraq. Its central location in Eurasia and Western Asia, and its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz, give it geostrategic importance. Tehran is the capital, largest city, and leading economic and cultural center.

Iran is home to one of the world's oldest civilizations, beginning with the formation of the Elamite kingdoms in the fourth millennium BCE. It was first unified by the Iranian Medes in the seventh century BCE, and reached its territorial height in the sixth century BCE under Cyrus the Great, whose Achaemenid Empire stretched from Eastern Europe to the Indus Valley, one of the largest empires in history. The empire fell to Alexander the Great in the fourth century BCE and was divided into several Hellenistic states. An Iranian rebellion established the Parthian Empire in the third century BCE, which was succeeded in the third century CE by the Sasanian Empire, a leading world power for the next four centuries.Arab Muslims conquered the empire in the seventh century CE, and the subsequent Islamization of Iran led to the decline of the once dominant Zoroastrian religion. Iran's major contributions to art, philosophy, and science spread throughout the Muslim world and beyond during the Islamic Golden Age. Over the next two centuries, a series of native Muslim dynasties emerged before the Seljuq Turks and the Ilkhanate Mongols conquered the region. The rise of the native Safavids in the 15th century led to the reestablishment of a unified Iranian state and national identity, with the country's conversion to Shia Islam marking a turning point in Iranian and Muslim history.Under Nader Shah, Iran was one of the most powerful states in the 18th century, though by the 19th century, a series of conflicts with the Russian Empire led to significant territorial losses. The Iranian Constitutional Revolution in the early 20th century created a constitutional monarchy and the country's first legislature. A 1953 coup instigated by the United Kingdom and the United States resulted in greater autocratic rule under Mohammad Reza Shah and growing Western political influence. A far-reaching series of reforms known as the White Revolution was launched by the Shah in 1963, prompting industrial growth, land reforms, and increased women's rights. Nevertheless, widespread dissatisfaction and unrest against the monarchy persisted, leading to the 1979 Revolution, which established the existing Islamic republic. For most of the 1980s, Iran fought a war with Iraq that resulted in severe casualties and economic devastation for both sides.

Iran's political system has elements of a presidential democracy with a theocracy governed by an autocratic "Supreme Leader". It has been described as authoritarian, with significant constraints and abuses against human rights.Iran is a founding member of the UN, ECO, NAM, OIC, and OPEC. It is a major regional and middle power, and its large reserves of fossil fuels—including the world's largest natural gas supply and the fourth largest proven oil reserves—exert considerable influence in international energy security and the world economy. The country's rich cultural legacy is reflected in part by its 22 UNESCO World Heritage sites, the third largest number in Asia and 11th largest in the world. An historically multi-ethnic country, Iran remains a pluralistic society comprising numerous ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups, the largest being Persians, Azeris, Kurds, Mazandaranis and Lurs.

Linear Elamite

Linear Elamite is an undeciphered Bronze Age writing system used in Elam, known from a few monumental inscriptions only. It was used contemporaneously with Elamite Cuneiform and possibly records the Elamite language.

Niels Ludvig Westergaard

Niels Ludvig Westergaard (27 October 1815 – 9 September 1878) was a Danish Orientalist born in København. He was the father of economist Harald Westergaard (1853-1936).

Westergaard studied Old Norse and Sanskrit in Copenhagen, continuing his studies at the University of Bonn (1838 with Christian Lassen 1800–1876), and also in London (1839), Paris and Oxford. After returning to Denmark, he published "Radices linguae sanscritae".

From 1841 to 1844 he journeyed throughout India and Persia, where he conducted important investigations in Bombay and at Persepolis. In 1844 he began deciphering ancient Elamite cuneiform using the 3-way parallel text of the 6th cent. BC Behistun Inscription, finding 96 syllabic signs, 16 ideograms, and 5 determinants.In 1845 he was appointed professor of Indo-Oriental philology at the University of Copenhagen.

Persepolis Administrative Archives

The Persepolis Fortification Archive and Persepolis Treasury Archive are two groups of clay administrative archives — sets of records physically stored together – found in Persepolis dating to the Achaemenid Persian Empire. The discovery was made during legal excavations conducted by the archaeologists from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago in the 1930s. Hence they are named for their in situ findspot: Persepolis. The archaeological excavations at Persepolis for the Oriental Institute were initially directed by Ernst Herzfeld from 1931 to 1934 and carried on from 1934 until 1939 by Erich Schmidt.While the political end of the Achaemenid Empire is symbolized by the burning of Persepolis by Alexander the Great (dated 330/329 BCE), the fall of Persepolis paradoxically contributed to the preservation of the Achaemenid administrative archives that might have been lost due to passage of time and natural and man-made causes. According to archaeological evidence, the partial burning of Persepolis did not affect the Persepolis Fortification Archive tablets, but may have caused the eventual collapse of the upper part of the northern Fortification wall that preserved the tablets until their recovery by the Oriental Institute's archaeologists.Thousands of clay tablets, fragments and seal impressions in the Persepolis archives are a part of a single administrative system representing continuity of activity and flow of data over more than fifty consecutive years (509 to 457 BCE). These records can throw light on the geography, economy, and administration, as well as the religion and social conditions of the Persepolis region, the heartland of the Persian' Great Kings from Darius I the Great to Artaxerxes I.Persepolis administrative archives are the single most important extant primary source for understanding the internal workings of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. But while these archives have the potential for offering the study of the Achaemenid history based on the sole surviving and substantial records from the heartland of the empire, they are still not fully utilized as such by a majority of historians.The reason for the slow adoption of study of Persepolis administrative archives can also be attributed to the administrative nature of the archives, lacking the drama and excitement of narrative history.


The Proto-Elamite period, also known as Susa III, is the time from ca. 3400 BC to 2500 BC in the area of Elam. In archaeological terms this corresponds to the late Banesh period, and it is recognized as the oldest civilization in Iran.

The Proto-Elamite script is an Early Bronze Age writing system briefly in use before the introduction of Elamite cuneiform.


Writing is a medium of human communication that represents language with signs and symbols. For languages that utilize a writing system, inscriptions can complement spoken language by creating a durable version of speech that can be stored for future reference or transmitted across distance. Writing, in other words, is not a language, but a tool used to make languages readable. 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.

H.G. Wells argued that writing has the ability to "put agreements, laws, commandments on record. It made the growth of states larger than the old city states possible. It made a continuous historical consciousness possible. The command of the priest or king and his seal could go far beyond his sight and voice and could survive his death". As human societies emerged, collective motivations for the development of writing were driven by pragmatic exigencies like keeping history, maintaining culture, codifying knowledge through curricula and canon, organizing and governing societies through the formation of legal systems, census records, contracts, deeds of ownership, taxation, trade agreements, treaties, and so on. For example, 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, on the other hand, writing may have evolved through calendric and political necessities for recording historical and environmental events.

Individual motivations for writing include improvised additional capacity for the limitations of human memory (e.g., to-do lists, recipes, reminders, logbooks, maps, the proper sequence for a complicated task or important ritual), dissemination of ideas (as in an essay, monograph, broadside, petition, or manifesto), imaginative narratives and other forms of storytelling, personal or business correspondence, and lifewriting (e.g., a diary or journal).


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