Cuneiform in the Akkadian, Babylonian and Assyrian Empires





Despite differences of language and culture, the elites of Akkad  adopted many Sumerian customs, including the building of ziggurats.  Even before Sargon I (2334-2279 bc) conquered Sumer and instituted  Akkadian as the language of administration, Akkadian scribes had  worked out ways to adapt Sumerian cuneiform to their own language.An important contribution of the Akkadians to the cuneiform writing system was the expansion of the syllabary, with the result that Akkadian, unlike Sumerian, was written mostly in syllabograms with the occasional logogram thrown in, rather than vice versa. This expansion and adaptation brought about the full maturation of the script.


Hammurabi, king of Babylon from 1792 BC to 1750 BC (standing), depicted as receiving his royal insignia from Shamash, the sun god from the upper part of the stele of Hammurabi's code of laws. It is one of the oldest deciphered writings of significant length in the world. Inscribed on a block of black diorite and found on the acropolis of Susa by an expedition sent out by the French Government under M. de Morgan in 1901. About one-eighth of the code (five columms) has been erased ; the remaining forty-four columns contain two hundred and forty-eight separate provisions. These provisions relate almost exclusively to civil and criminal law.

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Part of the Code of Hammurabi, which dates to 1772 B.C.

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The Code of Hammurabi



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This code is the oldest collection of public laws that has yet been dis- covered. It is a reflection of the social conditions existing in Babylonia 4,000 years ago. The jurist of to-day will recognize in it most of the fundamental principles on which our social legislation is based.

The code starts with "When Anu the Sublime, King of the Anunaki,and Bel, the lord of Heaven and earth, who decreed the fate of the land, assigned to Marduk, the over-ruling son of Ea, God of righteousness, dominion over earthly man, and made him great among the Igigi, they called Babylon by his illustrious name, made it great on earth, and founded an everlasting kingdom in it, whose foundations are laid so solidly as those of heaven and earth; then Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind."


Some of the Laws in Hammurabi's code of laws



 Inscription by Nebuchadnezzar on the Ishtar gate.

Inside the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

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1. Any person convicted of preferring charges against another person which he cannot substantiate shall be put to death.


2. In event anyone prefers charges against another person and the one against whom the charge is brought leaps into a body of water and is thereby drowned, that person who preferred the charge shall thereupon take possession of the property of the one so drowned. But if the person against whom the charge is preferred is not drowned, the person who made the charge shall be put to death and the one accused shall take possession of the property of his accuser.


3. Any person preferring a charge of malfeasance against a juror sitting in the case at bar, which charge he is unable to substantiate, and the hearing being one at the conclusion of which the death penalty may be adjudged, the person so preferring such charge shall be put to death.


4. Any person attempting to suborn a juror by a bribe of grain or gold shall be deemed to be guilty of felony and shall receive such punishment as might be adjudged proper to inflict upon a person guilty of the offence for which such trial was being conducted.


5. Any judge conducting a trial and rendering a written decision therein shall receive 12 fold the punishment administered by reason ot his decision, if the decision is subsequently proved to be erroneous.


6. Any person convicted of the ofifence of selling property stolen either from the citv or the temple shall be put to death and the person who receives the stolen goods from such offender shall likewise be put to death.


7. Any person purchasing silver, gold or a slave, either male or female, a beef or an ass or any other personal property from another person or from the slave of another person, without witnesses to the transaction or agreement, shall be adjudged to be a thief and shall be put to death.


8. Any person who without right sells a beef, a sheep, an ass or swine or other personal property, if it be the property of the temple or of the city, shall make restitution thereof 30 fold, if it be the property of a freedman, 10 fold; in event such person has nothing with which to make restitution in accordance with the foregoing provision, he shall be deemed to be a thief and shall suffer the death penalty.


9. If anyone has lost an article of personal property and discovers it in the possession of some other person and that person excuses his posses- sion by the statement that still another person sold it to him in the presence of witnesses and that he has paid therefor, and thereupon the owner of the article declares that he is able to bring witnesses to identify his property; it then becomes incumbent upon the possessor to produce the one whom he alleged sold him the article and likewise a witness to the transaction of purchase. The owner shall likewise produce witnesses to substantiate his ownership and all the witnesses shall proceed before a judge and all the witnesses being duly put upon their oaths, shall testify to the facts before the judge. In event the owner proves his property the seller of the article shall be deemed to be a thief and shall suffer the death penalty. The pur- chaser shall make restitution of the property to the owner and shall receive back from the, seller the purchase price.


10. In event of a failure on the part of the purchaser, vendor and the witnesses before whom he alleges he consummated the transaction to appear in the case, and the owner does produce witnesses to establish his ownership in said property, the purchaser, in failing to produce his witnesses to the transaction and the vendor as aforesaid, shall be adjudged to be a thief and shall suffer the death penalty. The property shall be restored to the owner. 11. In event of a failure, however, on the part of the claimant of the lost property to produce at the hearing competent witnesses to estabHsh his ownership, he shall be deemed guilty of having slandered the purchaser and shall suffer the death penalty. 12. In event the vendor of property which he has sold without right, shall die prior to a hearing upon the claim of the owner of the property, then the vendee shall receive from the estate of the vendor 5 fold the pur- chase price of the article disposed of to him by the decedent. 13. In event of inability to produce witnesses in such a case at the first hearing thereon, the judge shall continue the trial of the cause for a period not to exceed 6 months. In event of failure of either party to produce witnesses for their respective claims within that period, the one failing so to do shall be deemed guilty and shall receive such punishment as is herein- before provided for in such cases.


Made from baked clay over 4000 years ago, Nails (or Cones) of this type were placed in cavities within the walls of great buildings such as temples, and typically record information about the ruler of the time and the god to whom the building was dedicated. This practice ensured that future generations would be made aware of the ruler’s pious work. The exposed ends of these ancient artefacts were usually dipped in bright pigments and set in mosaic patterns or sheathed in bronze.



After the fall of Sargon's dynasty around 2100 bc, Sumerian once more  became the administrative language of the unified land called "Sumer  and Akkad." Later dialects of Akkadian known as Babylonian and  Assyrian eventually replaced Sumerian, but Sumerian continued to be  studied by scribes and scholars, and a considerable portion of the extant  literature in Sumerian was collected by the late Assyrian king Assurbanipal (668-627 bc) and housed in his library at Nineveh. Akkadian  also went on to produce a large corpus of legal, scientific, and literary  texts, such as the law code of Hammurabi, observations of the planet  Venus , and the Epic of Gilgamesh (originally a tale about  a Sumerian hero, but put into its final form by Akkadians).


The Assyrians



Ashurbanipal and the state-ment that he had caused them to be included in his library. This monarch reigned from B.C. 669 to about B.C. 625, and, though one of the last kings to occupy the Assyrian throne, he made strenuous efforts to pre- serve the ancient literature of Babylonia and Assyria. His scribes visited specially the ancient cities and temples in the south, and made copies of literary com- positions of all classes which they found there. These they collected and arranged in his palace at Nineveh, and it is from them that the greater part of our knowledge of Babylonian mythology and religion is derived.


Ashurbanipal  succeeded his  father Esarhaddon B.C. 668, and at a comparatively early  period of his reign he seems to have devoted himself to the study  of the history of his country, and to the making of a great  Private Library. The tablets that have come down to us prove  not only that he was as great a benefactor of the Library of the  Temple of Nebo as any of his predecessors, but that he was  himself an educated man, a lover of learning, and a patron of  the literary folk of his day. In the introduction to his Annals  as found inscribed on his great ten-sided cylinder in the British  Museum he tells us how he took up his abode in the chambers  of the palace from which Sennacherib and Esarhaddon had  ruled the Assyrian Empire, and in describing his own education  he says :


" I, Ashur-bani-pal, within it (i.e., the palace) understood  " the wisdom of Nebo, all the art of writing of every crafts-  " man, of every kind, I made myself master of them all (i.e.,  " of the various kinds of writing)."

Nothing is known of the early history of the Library 1 of  the Temple of Nebo   at Nineveh. There is little doubt that  it was in existence in the reign of Sargon II, and it was probably founded at the instance of the priests of Nebo who were  settled at Nimrud , about 20 miles  downstream of Nineveh. Authorities differ in their estimate  of the attributes that were assigned to Nebo  in Pre-Babylonian times, and cannot decide whether he was  a water-god, or a fire-god, or a corn-god, but he was undoubtedly  associated with Marduk, either as his son or as a fellow-god.  

It is certain that as early as B.C. 2000 he was regarded as one  of the " Great Gods " of Babylonia, and about 1,200 years  later his cult was general in Assyria. He had a temple at  Nimrud in the ninth century B.C., and King Adad-Nirari  (B.C. 811-783) set up six statues in it to the honour of the god ;  two of these statues are now in the British Museum. Under  the last Assyrian Empire he was believed to possess the wisdom  of all the gods, and to be the " All-wise " and " All-knowing."  He was the inventor of all the arts and sciences, and the source  of inspiration in wise and learned men, and he was the divine  scribe and past master of all the mysteries connected with  literature and the art of writing . Ashurbanipal addresses him as " Nebo, the beneficent son, the director of the hosts of heaven and of earth,  " holder of the tablet of knowledge, bearer of the writing-reed  " of destiny, lengthener of days, vivifier of the dead, stablisher  " of light for the men who are troubled "Ashurbanipal   succeeded his  father Esarh addon B.C. 668, and at a comparatively early  period of his reign he seems to have devoted himself to the study  of the history of his country, and to the making of a great .




As the writing system develops, the Sumerian and Akkadian civilizations start describing their world. The autobiography of the Akkadian King Sargon of Akkad is described.


Baked clay cylinder of Sennacherib, King of Assyria, from B.C. 705  to 681, inscribed with an account of eight campaigns of the king,  including the capture and sack of Babylon, the invasion of Palestine,  and the siege of Jerusalem


A Baked clay six-sided cylinder, inscribed with the Annals of Esarhaddon

, King of Assyria rom B.C. 681-668




Origin of Cuneiform


Cuneiform in the Hittite and Persian Empires