Writing is a form of human communication that involves the use of language, and Cuneiform writing is recognized as humankind’s earliest form of writing.

At this time, you will learn how the early people communicated through writing using a system called cuneiform.

Did they have depth just like the poems that we have now? You will discover how early people communicated their ideas and managed their lives in the face of their growing civilization.

With the growth of agriculture and commerce, communication was of paramount importance to the Sumerians.

Likewise, the developments in trade, religion, politics, and military systems were just some of the many important factors in Mesopotamia that created a need for writing. The creation of complex societies, politics, and agriculture all combined to create a need for written records.

While writing proves the depth of one’s knowledge and wisdom, it also reveals unforgettable thoughts hidden in the writer’s mind. It is a means of rendering a language in a written form. Meanwhile, others say you can write for others to be able to judge your intellect.

What Is Cuneiform Writing?

Cuneiform is a systematic logo-syllabic script used to write several languages in the ancient Near East. It is a term for the characteristic wedge-shaped impressions that form its signs.

Cuneiform came from Latin and Middle French, and you can appreciate that it was the most recognized and historically relevant writing system in the ancient Middle East.

Originally invented by the old Sumerians of Mesopotamia c. 3500 to 3000 B.C.E., Cuneiform, an ancient form of writing, is regarded as one of the most important contributions of the Sumerians to our civilization. You may consider it as a form of the commitment of Sumerians to our world and their genuine effort to ease the flow of communication in their period.

Where Was Cuneiform Writing Used?

Cuneiform represented proper names similar to that of the rebus principle. On the other hand, Rebus is the use of pictographic shapes to evoke in the reader’s mind an underlying sound form and meaning rather than the literal notion of the drawn object. You have to understand that Rebus wrote meanings and not the literal symbol of words, which led to a transition from pure word writing to a partial phonetic script.

Cuneiform was initially created to compose the Sumerian language of southern Mesopotamia, currently Iraq. Alongside Egyptian symbolic representations, it is one of the ancient forms of writing. Throughout its set of experiences, cuneiform was adjusted to compose various dialects etymologically disconnected to Sumerian.

However, the main purpose of the development of cuneiform was to facilitate more efficient commerce and trade. That’s why they needed writing to assist them in their records.

How Old is Cuneiform Writing?

The origin of cuneiform might be traced back to 4000 years B.C.E. Around then, the Sumerians conquered southern Mesopotamia and the district west of the Euphrates known as Chaldea. You would now be able to sort out that we’re discussing a classical language here.

While it doesn’t follow that they were the earliest inhabitants of the region or the genuine users of the language, it is from them that the first verified evidence of cuneiform composing was discovered.

The first accounts of the Sumerian language are pictographic tablets from Uruk (Erech), obviously records of items as recognized based on the drawings of the articles, joining numerals, and individual names on something they called a cuneiform tablet.

Origin and Character of Cuneiform Writing

Cuneiform was written using a reed stylus cut to make a wedge-shaped mark on cuneiform tablets. It only used between 600 and 1,000 characters called the cuneiform alphabet to express words or parts of them or even parts of syllables.

The first stage of cuneiform writings used pictures to denote meaning that was later used to record sounds. You should not assume that the Mesopotamians instantly used it because it looked complicated. The system was actually difficult to use, so there were scribes to record their trading. It may also have come before the Egyptian hieroglyphic writing. You could just imagine how hard they tried to make everything work.

Amazingly, cuneiform writing continued to be used in people’s trading activities, education, and correspondence until the first century A.D., eventually becoming a vital part of the Mesopotamia writing system.

From the early beginnings, cuneiform signs were gathered and evolved to represent sounds, so they were meant to record spoken language. Once this was accomplished, ideas and information could be elaborated on and communicated in writing.

Cuneiform writing was used to record a collection of information, such as temple routines, commerce, and trade, to name a few. Cuneiform was also designed to write stories, myths, and records.

The most recent known illustration of cuneiform is a cosmic book from C.E. 75. During its 3,000-year history, cuneiform was utilized to compose around 15 distinct dialects, including Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Elamite, Hittite, Urartian, and Old Persian. You can see from this fact how important the cuneiform writing system eventually became in ancient society.

The Spread of Cuneiform Writing

The earliest type of cuneiform in Mesopotamia was called the Old Akkadian, which was revealed in the engravings of the ruler Sargon of Akkad (died c. 2279 B.C.E.).

Sumer, the southernmost part of the nation, continued to control its autonomous city-states until it was united by Gudea of Lagash (died c. 2124 B.C.E.). Cuneiform was sighted to be in use in this impressive Sumerian culture at that time. It was a time in the country that was favorable for trade, so the people looked for ways to improve their recording, communicating, and trading.

The political system then passed decisively to the Akkadians. You can certainly remember the legacy of King Hammurabi of Babylon (died 1750 B.C.E.), who unified all of southern Mesopotamia. Babylonia subsequently became the exceptional and influential focal point of Mesopotamian culture because it was where inventions and developments in culture first appeared.

The famed Code of Hammurabi was written in Old Babylonian cuneiform, which served as the basis of the old standard moral obligation of the people. You may have encountered the Code of Hammurabi in grade school. It contained impressive philosophy and moral lessons for the entirety of humankind. Cuneiform was written in the records of Assyrian colonists in central Asia Minor and Middle Assyrian in an extensive Law Code and other records.

The development of cuneiform writing outside Mesopotamia began in the third millennium. You may be familiar with the fact that cultures and traditions influence each other when nations meet. Elam from southwestern Iran was in contact with Mesopotamian culture and embraced the system of writing. He thought it was a major achievement of man to be able to record his trade and success.

The Elamite influence of cuneiform proceeded far into the first millennium B.C.E. when it was presumably taught to the Indo-European Persians through samples of a new simplified quasi-alphabetic cuneiform writing for the Old Persian language.

In northern Mesopotamia, the Hurrians, on the other hand, also shared an exciting contribution when it adopted Old Akkadian cuneiform around 2000 B.C.E. and passed it on to the Indo-European Hittites who had attacked focal Asia Minor around that era.

In the second millennium, the Akkadian of Babylonia rapidly developed a lingua franca of global traders in the entire Middle East, in which they used cuneiform writing for more efficient transactions.

This series of events had made cuneiform a universal medium of written communication. Man has proven his ingenuity and wisdom once and for all.

You can also imagine how effective cuneiform was when it was able to stand and remain despite the innovations of that time. New writing systems have appeared, but cuneiform was greatly embraced by the different tribes.

Even after the fall of the Assyrian and Babylonian kingdoms in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C.E., when Aramaic had become a well-known language, cuneiform remained useful.

Pictograms

You already know that our ancestors originally used pictograms to draw or scribble on clay tablets with a sharpened reed stylus or incised in stone. They used pictograms to denote names of cities, gods, trees, and so forth.

Later on, many pictograms have been related to different meanings. The signs and symbols have been given more meanings as the people became more aware of their useful roles.

Archaic Cuneiform Writing

The mid-third millennium was welcomed with more developments in writing. It’s when the writing method was changed from a column going downward to symbols written from left to write in horizontal rows.

They also discovered the use of a new wedge stylus, which was pushed into clay to produce a wedge-shaped symbol. You could guess that the people felt elated about this new invention.

Akkadian Cuneiform Writing

The Akkadians adopted the use of archaic cuneiform with many modifications compared to other writing systems from c. 2500 B.C. Those changes had evolved into Old Assyrian cuneiform. Due to many users, the Semitic meanings of the signs have been distorted and given new phonetic values.

Assyrian Cuneiform Writing

This “mixed” method of Assyrian cuneiform writing was extended through the end of the Babylonian and Assyrian empires. You should not miss the fact that there was a tendency for “purism” at that time. The Babylonian syllabication method of writing was a combination of phonetic and ideographic writing.

The Hittite cuneiform is a modification of the Old Assyrian way of writing. When the cuneiform script was converted to writing Hittite, some parts of Akkadian spellings were added to the script, resulting in a new word that we no longer know how to pronounce.

Disappearance of Cuneiform

Understanding the meaning of cuneiform was possible for the Mesopotamians and other neighboring tribes, like the Hittites and Hurrians, but it significantly vanished along with their written records.

You might want to know how it happened. Scholars thought that cuneiform disappeared because of the rapid popularity of the Phoenician script in the western region of the Middle East.

You may also agree that an old system could possibly vanish when the people choose a more superior writing system like the Phoenician system. It was mentioned that cuneiform couldn’t offer genuine rivalry because the new system was more comprehensive, flexible, and organized. Its influence in the second millennium had waned by 500 B.C.E.

Influence of Cuneiform

Cuneiform has influenced the way people traded in that millennium. You may add that it was invented to improve trade and commerce between the Mesopotamians and their neighboring tribes. It highly influenced the hieroglyphic writing of the Hittites, Mycenaeans, and other races.

Records show that the Sumerian system seems to be the oldest form. Out of these forms of writing came faster trade, a more improved communication system, developed knowledge in writing, math, and history, and most of all, the facilitation of commerce.

Through the use of cuneiform, people were able to learn to record their crops, which paved the way toward better communication. You might be pleasantly surprised to know that through this system of writing, cheating was avoided because they had clear proof of their transactions.

Cuneiform writing had also eased the communication between employers and slaves. This made their relationships stronger because they trusted their written records and correspondences. You can say that culture, trade, and relationships have become more efficient due to the presence of their written records.

With cuneiform, writers could facilitate better storytelling, relate colorful histories, and understand the rule of kings. Furthermore, cuneiform was used to formally record the justice system, most particularly Hammurabi’s Code.

Decipherment of Cuneiform

Cuneiform was an innovation because it paved the way toward better trade between the Mesopotamians and their neighboring nations. Many of the civilizations using cuneiform like the Hurrian, Hittite, and Urartian gradually disappeared from existence. You can assume that the writing form also vanished along with them.

Experts claimed that it was because of the emergence of a stronger and more efficient language. They were suspecting that it’s all because of the growth of the Phoenician form. People became curious about the new method of writing, which according to some, was more systematic than cuneiform.

In addition, cuneiform was already being used in the Middle East. Yet, the glorious scholars of Greece were still unaware of its presence, more so when it ultimately disappeared except for the short mention of Herodotus.

When the classic cuneiform tablets of the Mesopotamia writing system were found and deciphered in the late 19th century C.E., they would practically transform and influence the human understanding of history. Before the discovery of cuneiform writings, the Bible was recognized as the oldest and most reliable book in the world.

This translation authorized other cuneiform tablets to be interpreted, which drove experts to reconsider the traditional understanding of the biblical version of history and made resolutions for more detailed and scholarly explorations of history moving forward.

Conclusion

Cuneiform is considered an ancient writing system that was first used by mankind around 3400 B.C. Known for its wedge-shaped marks on clay tablets, cuneiform writing is recognized as the oldest form of writing in the world, believed to have first appeared even earlier than Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Cuneiform was initially created to compose the Sumerian language of southern Mesopotamia, currently Iraq. Alongside Egyptian symbolic representations, it is one of the ancient forms of writing in the world. The two major languages written in Cuneiform are Sumerian and Akkadian, from ancient Iraq.

In the beginning, the cuneiform alphabet consisted of over 1,000 characters, although it was reduced in its later forms to around 400. These characters in the cuneiform alphabet were composed of various lines and triangle-shaped wedges that reflect the meaning of cuneiform in Latin. Cuneus means “wedge” or simply “wedge-shaped,” or the shape made each time a writer or scribe pressed his stylus into the clay. The stylus was made from a reed specially cut for writing.

The tablets were largely available on the river banks in Mesopotamian cities or currently Iraq and Syria in our generation. Historians have explained that these tablets were small and were only used for a few hours or days to record their crops in the market. You can recall that these tablets have survived only by accident.

The Sumerians used everything from very simple to very complex symbols. These characters were combined to produce compound words and related phrases. They began as pictographic representations and progressed into a complex arrangement of wedges and lines.

Historically, cuneiform evolved out of the necessity for accounting measures in the ancient Mesopotamian market. People found their own way of counting their livestock and crops. You must not forget that before the creation of cuneiform writing, traders back then were using clay tokens pressed into tablets to help them remember their trade. When the Mesopotamians eliminated the tokens, they resorted to drawing symbols in clay using reeds.

You have all the reasons to believe now that ancient writings came out of the confusion of the people and their ingenuity to solve such a dilemma. The cuneiform system of writing teaches us that innovation comes out of a challenging need. In other words, discoveries and inventions may have happened out of our curiosity to make something new. Thus, you can always count on humans’ innate creativity.

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