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Article

Stephanie Dalley

(1) Term used until 1869 for the language now known as *Sumerian. (2) Term used since 1869 for the East Semitic language that is also known by its northern and southern dialects as Assyrian and Babylonian. The language is first attested from personal names of the mid-3rd millennium when it began to supersede Sumerian. It was written on clay, stone, and waxed writing boards in *cuneiform script.

Article

Aramaic  

J. F. Healey

Aramaic, a *Semitic language, was used in the ancient near east from early in the 1st millennium bce and through the Roman period. Originating in upper Mesopotamia, it is first known through royal inscriptions from Syria and was used widely by the Assyrian and Persian administrations (note the *Elephantine papyri). After the fall of the Persian empire Aramaic continued to be used in the Hellenizing cities (see hellenism) of *Palmyra, *Edessa, *Petra, etc. , as well as in the *Parthian east (see hatra). There are many Greek–Aramaic bilingual inscriptions, the best known being the long Palmyrene Tariff. The Edessan dialect of Aramaic, later called Syriac, became the main language of the Christian Church of the middle east. Another late dialect of Aramaic, Mandaic, was used for the sacred writings of the Gnostic pagan sect of the Mandaeans or Sabians in southern Iraq. Modern dialects survive in southeast Turkey/northern Iraq and north of Damascus.

Article

Benjamin Fortson

Cuneiform denotes any of at least three writing systems of ancient Mesopotamia and the surrounding areas. It is characterized in its classical form by signs consisting of one or more wedge-shaped strokes (cf. Latin cuneus, “wedge”). The first such script to emerge, and the one most widely used, was Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform, which developed in what is now southern Iraq in the late 4th millennium bce. Its antecedents were more primitive methods of mercantile record-keeping using pictograms and tally marks. The earliest stages of the script contained patently pictographic signs drawn in clay with a pointed stylus. A later shift to the use of a reed with the end cut at an oblique angle produced the classic wedge-shaped impressions. The breaking-up of images into sets of wedges together with a gradual reduction in the number of strokes plus a ninety-degree rotation of the signs increased their abstractness and elevated the wedges (initially just an accidental byproduct of the writing technology) to an important design element. It became aesthetically prized in its own right and was carried over onto other media such as stone. The wedges were also imitated in the two other unrelated scripts that are also called cuneiform: Old Persian and Ugaritic.

Article

Philippa M. Steele

Eteocypriot (or Eteocyprian) is a modern term referring to a group of inscriptions written in an unknown language of Iron Age Cyprus (attested 8th–4th centuriesbce). The name was coined by analogy with the ancient term “Eteocretan” on the common assumption that Eteocypriot had survived from the Cypriot Bronze Age (perhaps related to a language written in the undeciphered Cypro-Minoan script); this is still often considered the preferred hypothesis, in the absence of any linguistic features that would point towards a relationship with known Indo-European, Semitic, or other languages. Eteocypriot was written in the deciphered (Classical) Cypriot Syllabic script (see pre-alphabetic scripts, Greek), which was predominantly used to write the Cypriot Greek dialect.In the inscriptions, several features belonging to a single language are well established, including a patronymic formula of uncertain morphological status (-o-ko-o-), a set of nominal endings (most famously, o-ti), the meanings of one or two lexemes (e.g., ke-ra-ke-re-tu-lo-se, probably “well-born” or similar) and a few phonological features.

Article

Benjamin Fortson

Old Persian was the Iranian language spoken by the ruling class of the Achaemenid Empire, probably reflecting the Southwest Iranian dialect of Persis (see Persia). It is preserved in documents in a cuneiform script superficially modeled on Mesopotamian (Sumero-Akkadian) writing and first used under Darius I in the late 6th centurybce. As a spoken language, Old Persian was the direct ancestor of Middle Persian and Modern Persian (Farsi). The script was the first cuneiform writing to be deciphered by modern scholars, starting in 1802 with the pioneering work of Georg Grotefend; this laid the basis for the subsequent decipherment of Mesopotamian cuneiform and the languages written in it, one of the most far-reaching achievements of 19th-century science (see cuneiform).Of the two Old Iranian languages that survive in written records (the other being Avestan, the language of the Zoroastrian liturgical texts), only Old Persian is attested to in original documents contemporary with when it was spoken. Most are monumental royal inscriptions, often trilingual (Old Persian, Elamite, Babylonian) in the early period, and have been found primarily in the historical regions of Persis, Elam, and Media. Many of these, most famously the massive trilingual inscribed on a high rock face at Bisotun (Behistun) that records the deeds of Darius I, are of immense value to historians. Though there is evidence of the language throughout the reign of Artaxerxes III (d.

Article

Heleen Sancisi-Weerdenburg and Josef Wiesehöfer

Old Persian (abbr. OP), an *Indo-European language of western Iran (first millennium bce). The identification of an administrative document written in OP among the texts in the Persepolis Fortification Archive indicates that, contrary to previous orthodoxy, the written language was not limited to royal inscriptions. The syllabic script has only 44 signs. The oldest extant and largest inscription is that of *Bisitun. It is debated whether the script was invented by *Darius I or had predecessors in western Iran. The majority of texts dates from the reigns of Darius and *Xerxes I. Thereafter texts are scarcer and contain more errors. OP was the first *cuneiform script to be deciphered (Grotefend, Rawlinson).

Article

Semitic  

J. F. Healey

Semitic, a term derived from the Old Testament personal name Shem, refers to a middle eastern language group (used linguistically by A. L. Schlözer in 1781, though J. G. Eichhorn claimed priority). Principal ancient constituents are *Akkadian, Ugaritic (see ugarit), Phoenician (see phoenicians), *Aramaic, Biblical Hebrew, Sabaic, and Ethiopic (Ge῾ez).

Article

Stephanie Dalley

Sumerian is the earliest known language of ancient *Mesopotamia, written on clay and stone in *cuneiform script. Unrelated to other known languages, it is agglutinative and ergative. Largely superseded by (Semitic) *Akkadian, it was used for some religious and literary purposes into the Seleucid period.