bab_scroll.gif Ancient Babylonia - Cuneiform

BAR1.gif
BAR1.gif

BAB9.gif The script of the Sumerians and all the other inhabitants of Mesopotamia employed to write their language, up to the first century BC was cuneiform. The name cuneiform comes from the Latin word "cuneus", meaning wedge.

According to Babylonian beliefs Nabu, the god of scribal arts, who was also the city god of Borsippa, gave cuneiform to them.

When the Akkadians, Semite invaders from the desert, adopted the Sumerian civilization and part of the Sumerian Territory they also adopted cuneiform. They adapted the script to fit their own. The next wave of Semite invaders, the Amorites, did likewise, but they continued to speak the Akkadian tongue. Thus we find Hammurapi (1792-1760 BC) who was an Amorite, speaking Akkadian and writing cuneiform. Since the time of Hammurapi, successive Mesopotamian empires controlled huge empires in the Near East. Because of this cuneiform, Akkadian became the lingua franca of the Near East, as Latin was of Medieval Europe. This of course ended when Mesopotamian civilization declined so that cuneiform was no longer being used by about the first century BC.

When the Sumerians first brought cuneiform into being it was nothing like the script that it was to become. It was an ideogramatical script (a symbol represented by a word). For example a picture of sheep would mean sheep. When the Sumerians came into contact with the Akkadians they needed to adapt their script to fit. This was necessary even to write Akkadian names. Obviously it was far more important for the Akkadians because they needed to write their language in it. Cuneiform then underwent a transformation. It became a syllogramatical script where each symbol represented a sound. Therefore the symbol for a word such as 'dig', if we took an English equivalent would be correctly used in the second syllable of 'indignant'. This transformation enabled cuneiform to be used with other languages.

As cuneiform changed from an ideogramatical to a syllogramatical script its symbols were simplified. The original pictograms were complicated and hard to write on clay tablets. The symbols developed, losing many of their lines and the remaining lines were wedge shaped and straight.

Cuneiform was originally written with a reed or stick stylus but this was quickly developed into a precision tool. We have derived virtually all our knowledge of the Babylonians from texts written in cuneiform on clay tablets. From these tablets we have been able to learn their law, business, administration, religion and all other aspects of Babylonian civilization. Without these texts we would know little about the Babylonians.

BAR1.gif
BAR1.gif

Ancient Babylonia

Return to Bible History Online