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HOME : Near Eastern Art : Cuneiform Tablets : Sumerian Cuneiform Tablet
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Sumerian Cuneiform Tablet - AM.0062
Origin: Eastern Mediterranean
Circa: 2027 BC
Dimensions: 2.13" (5.4cm) high x 4.49" (11.4cm) wide
Collection: Ancient Writings

£3,000.00
Location: Great Britain
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Description
Sumerian cuneiform is one of the earliest known forms of written expression. First appearing in the 4th millennium BC in what is now Iraq, it was dubbed cuneiform (‘wedge-shaped’) because of the distinctive wedge form of the letters, created by pressing a reed stylus into wet clay. Early Sumerian writings were essentially pictograms, which became simplified in the early and mid 3rd millennium BC to a series of strokes, along with a commensurate reduction in the number of discrete signs used (from c.1500 to 600). The script system had a very long life and was used by the Sumerians as well as numerous later groups – notably the Assyrians, Elamites, Akkadians and Hittites – for around three thousand years. Certain signs and phonetic standards live on in modern languages of the Middle and Far East, but the writing system is essentially extinct. It was therefore cause for great excitement when the ‘code’ of ancient cuneiform was cracked by a group of English, French and German Assyriologists and philologists in the mid 19th century AD. This opened up a vital source of information about these ancient groups that could not have been obtained in any other way.

Cuneiform was used on monuments dedicated to heroic – and usually royal – individuals, but perhaps its most important function was that of record keeping. The palace-based society at Ur and other large urban centres was accompanied by a remarkably complex and multifaceted bureaucracy, which was run by professional administrators and a priestly class, all of whom were answerable to central court control. Most of what we know about the way the culture was run and administered comes from cuneiform tablets, which record the everyday running of the temple and palace complexes in minute detail, as in the present case. The Barakat Gallery has secured the services of Professor Lambert (University of Birmingham), a renowned expert in the decipherment and translation of cuneiform, to examine and process the information on these tablets. His scanned analysis is presented here. The document records the rations paid out to official messengers to sustain them on their travels.

Professor Lambert’s translation is provided below:

Clay tablet, 54x114 mm., with a total of 57 lines of Sumerian cuneiform on obverse, reverse, upper edge and left edge. An administrative document from the period of the Third Dynasty of Ur, dated to the second year of Ibbi-Sin, last king of the dynasty, messengers to sustain them on their travels.

60 sila of beer, 70 sila of bread: Nur-Shamash, rider, king’s messenger

2 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Shu-Ashtar, butler

(erased line)

2 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Dadum, the . . .

2 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Adda-kalla, the . . .

2 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Lu-dingirra, the . . .

2 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Shulgi-nada, the . . .

2 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Zaliya, the . . .

2 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Abbamu, the . . . when they went for the king’s offering

2 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Shu-Adad, . . .

2 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Abu-tab, butler

2 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Utu-barra, butler

2 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Arshu, the . . .

2 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: . . .

2 sila of beer, 5 sila of bread: Aku’u . . .

2 sila of beer, 5 sila of bread: Ur-Igalima, groom

2 sila of beer, 5 sila of bread: Lu- . . . , . . .

2 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Ine . . . , . . .

2 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Ilu-kin, throne- man [2] sila of [beer], 2 sila of bread: Shulgi-ili, the . . .

[gap]

[When] he went to Anshebaran-zikum

[2 sila] of beer, 2 sila of bread: Pululu, groom when he went to Anshebaran-zikum

[5] sila of beer, 5 sila of bread: […] ..ush, the sick man [when] he went to ….., smashing the bandits

20 sila of beer, 20 sila of bread: Puzur-Sin, son of the Grand Vizier

5 sila of beer, 5 sila of bead: Sharrum-bani, king’s messenger when they went to call up the sesame workers

5 sila of beer, sila of bread: Shulgi-satuni, king’s messenger when he went for the beer offering

15 sila of beer, 15 sila of bread: Shu-Sin- naram-Ashtar, chief singer

5 sila of beer, 5 sila of bread: Nur-ili, king’s messenger when they went for barley

10 sila of beer, 10 sila of bread: Shu-anna, vizier, king’s messenger

3 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Abbamu, king’s messenger when they went for the governor’s . . . .

3 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Adad-illati, king’s messenger when he went for . . .

3 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread : Lu-naru’a, the . . . when he went . . .

2 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Lugal- . . . when he went to Girsu

Total: 200[+ . . . .] of beer

Total: 207 sila of bread

Disbursement of the month . . . [ . . . ]

Year: the high priestess of Uruk [was chosen] by divination

A sila was a measure of capacity, about .85 of a litre. Beer is obviously measured in this way, but it is never explained how bread was measured thus. Perhaps the four, not the baked product, was measured. The interest in this tablet is that while it belongs to a well known category of Messenger Tablets, those published merely list the men and their rations, while this one gives the purpose of the trip as well. This is important material for study of the then current bureaucracy.

The bottom of the tablet is missing, and the ends of some of the lines are illegible on the edge, also the lines at the bottom of the reverse on the edge, but, as is clear above, most of the tablet is clear and legible. - (AM.0062)

 

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