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HOME : Near Eastern Art : Cuneiform Tablets : Sumerian Cuneiform Tablet
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Sumerian Cuneiform Tablet - AM.0085
Origin: Eastern Mediterranean
Circa: 2027 BC
Dimensions: 3.98" (10.1cm) high x 1.89" (4.8cm) wide
Collection: Ancient Writings

£7,500.00
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. The following is a transcription of his analysis of this tablet:

‘The tablet is written in a neat scribal hand and has been joined from a few major pieces, with a little loss of surface at the joins, but most of the script is preserved, and that loss can usually be restored from the contexts. This is an administrative document listing rations paid out to official messengers. It is dated to the second year of Ibbi-Sin, last king of the Third Dynasty of Ur, c. 2027 B.C.

Translation:

5 sila of beer, 5 sila of bread: Mr Shulgi-bani, king’s messenger [5 sila] of beer, 5 sila of bread: Mr Imtida, king’s messenger when they went from Der to the king 5 sila of beer, 5 sila of bread: Mr Sharrum- bani, king’s messenger 3 sila of beer, 2 sila of [bread]: Mr Shulgi- satuni [king’s] messenger 5 sila of beer, 5 sila of bread: Mr Tukin, king’s messenger 5 sila of beer, 5 sila of bread: Mr Ur-Enlilla, king’s messenger when they went to Der 5 sila of beer, 5 sila of bread: Mr Hulal, king’s messenger when he went on the journey to Anshebaran-Zikum 2 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Mr Pululu, groom when he went to Anshebaran-Zikum 5 sila of beer, 5 sila of bread: Mr Ushimma, king’s scribe 5 sila of beer, 5 sila of bread: Mr Ur- Eshkuga, king’s scribe 5 sila of beer, 5 sila of bread: Mr Lu- Shugalamma, king’s scribe when they went to bring out the barley of Egugishe 3 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Lu-dingirra, king’s messenger when he went to the governor 5 sila of beer, 5 sila of bread: Mr Sheshkalla king’s soldier when he for the guards…he struck the bandits 3 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Mr […]…, king’s soldier 3 sila of beer, 2 sila of bread: Mr Ur-Eanna, king’s soldier: sick when they went on the journey from the army. Disbursements of the month of Ezen-abi Year: the high priestess of Inanna of Uruk was chosen by divination. Left edge: 8th day

The interest of this tablet lies in the information that the king of Ur had so many messengers moving around his kingdom on particular missions. Previously published tablets of this kind do not give the purpose of at least some of these travels. It is also extremely rare to be informed that one of the messengers was ‘sick’: presumably he did not either undertake or complete the journey.

The sila was a measure of capacity, about .85 of a litre. Beer is obviously measured in this way, but how bread was so measured is never explained. Perhaps the flour rather than the baked bread was measured.’ - (AM.0085)

 

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