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Writing system of the ancient Near East / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Cuneiform[note 1] is a logo-syllabic script that was used to write several languages of the Ancient Middle East.[4] The script was in active use from the early Bronze Age until the beginning of the Common Era.[5] It is named for the characteristic wedge-shaped impressions (Latin: cuneus) which form its signs. Cuneiform was originally developed to write the Sumerian language of southern Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). Cuneiform is the earliest known writing system.[6][7]

Quick facts: Cuneiform , Script type, Created, Time period...
Trilingual cuneiform inscription of Xerxes I at Van Fortress in Turkey, written in Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian forms of cuneiform
Script type and syllabary
Createdaround 3500 BC[1]
Time period
c.35th century BC to c.2nd century AD
LanguagesSumerian, Akkadian, Eblaite, Elamite, Hittite, Hurrian, Luwian, Urartian, Palaic, Aramaic, Old Persian
Related scripts
Parent systems
  • Cuneiform
Child systems
None; influenced the shape of Ugaritic and Old Persian glyphs
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Xsux (020), Cuneiform, Sumero-Akkadian
Unicode alias
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and  , see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.

Over the course of its history, cuneiform was adapted to write a number of languages in addition to Sumerian. Akkadian texts are attested from the 24th century BC onward and make up the bulk of the cuneiform record.[8][9] Akkadian cuneiform was itself adapted to write the Hittite language in the early second millennium BC.[10][11] The other languages with significant cuneiform corpora are Eblaite, Elamite, Hurrian, Luwian, and Urartian. The Old Persian and Ugaritic alphabets feature cuneiform-style signs; however, they are unrelated to the cuneiform logo-syllabary proper.

The latest known cuneiform tablet dates to 75 AD.[12] The script fell totally out of use soon after and was forgotten until its rediscovery and decipherment in the 19th century. The study of cuneiform belongs to the field of Assyriology. An estimated half a million tablets are held in museums across the world, but comparatively few of these are published. The largest collections belong to the British Museum (approx. 130,000 tablets), the Vorderasiatisches Museum Berlin, the Louvre, the Istanbul Archaeology Museums, the National Museum of Iraq, the Yale Babylonian Collection (approx. 40,000 tablets), and Penn Museum.[13]