Cuneiform programme

This programme consists of four courses: Introduction to Ugaritic, Sumerian, The World of Cuneiform Writing, Introduction into Achaemenid-Elamite.

Time slot 1: Introduction to Ugaritic (9.30 - 11.00)

Agustinus Gianto (Rome)

Course outline
The indigenous language of Ugarit, a city-state on the northern Syrian coast that flourished in the second millennium BCE, is the oldest independently documented language in the Northwest Semitic group. Ugaritic has therefore a special relevance for the historical-comparative study of the Semitic languages. Its rich religious literature also provides an important context for the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible.
The basic grammar and vocabulary of Ugaritic will be presented in the first week as a preparation to reading continuous texts during the second week. At the end of the course the student will, among other things, be able to enjoy the following poetic passage in the original language: "I have a word to tell you, a story to recount to you: the tree's word and the stone's charm, the heavens' whisper to the earth, the deep ocean's to the stars […..]. Come and I will reveal it in the midst of my mountain, the divine Zaphon, in the holy place, the mountain of my inheritance, in the beautiful place, the hill of my might!" (Baal's message to Anat, KTU 1.3:III:21-25; 28-31).
A manual for use in class will be made available to those signing up for this course.

Basic reading 

  • Gianto, A., “Ugaritic” in: Languages from the World of the Bible, edited by Holger Gzella, Berlin – New York: de Gruyter 2011, 28-54.
  • Gianto, A., “Ugaritology and Biblical Interpretation” in: The Oxford Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation, edited by Steven L. McKenzie, Oxford: Oxford UP 2013, vol 2, 429-436.

For further studies

  • Bordreuil, P. – D. Pardee, A Manual of Ugaritic, Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns 2009. This manual contains an outline of Ugaritic grammar, fifty-five texts of various genres with copies, photos, transliteration, translation, copious notes, and glossary. The brief treatment of grammar can be supplemented by the following textbook.
  • Huehnergard, J., An Introduction to Ugaritic, Peabody: Hendrickson 2012. This textbook contains the basic grammar, practical exercises with keys, paradigms and twelve annotated texts of various genres, glossary. Included is an essay on the Ugaritic alphabetic script by John L. Ellison.
  • KTU / CAT = M. Dietrich – O. Loretz – J. Sanmartín, The Cuneiform Alphabetic Texts from Ugarit, Ras Ibn Hani and Other Places, AOAT 360/1, Münster 2013; this is the third, enlarged edition of Die keilalphabetischen Texte aus Ugarit, AOAT 24/1, Neukirchen – Vluyn 1976. Its numbering system has been widely accepted. 
  • del Olmo Lete, G. – J. Sanmartín, A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language in the Alphabetic Tradition, translated by W.G.E. Watson, 2 volumes, HdO I/67, 3rd edition, Leiden: Brill 2015. 
  • Parker, S.B. (ed.), Ugaritic Narrative Poetry, Scholars 1997. The texts are arranged in poetic lines with facing translation and brief explanatory notes by a team of scholars.
  • Tropper, J., Ugaritische Grammatik, 2nd edition, Münster: Ugarit-Verlag 2012. This is the most complete  reference grammar to date.
  • Watson, W.G.E. – N. Wyatt (eds.), Handbook of Ugaritic Studies, HdO I/39, Leiden 1999. This is a compendious overview of Ugarit's history, languages, literature, religion, and society.

Time slot 2: Sumerian (11.30 - 13.00)

Bram Jagersma (Leiden) 

Course description 
Sumerian is an ancient Near Eastern language which was spoken in what is now southern Iraq. It was there the main written language until ca. 1700 BC and is known to us from more than 100,000 inscriptions and clay tablets written in the cuneiform script, which the Sumerians invented around 3200 BC. Sumerian is a language isolate and its position in a remote corner of the Near East shows it to be a last remnant of the languages that preceded the arrival of Semitic languages in the area.

Course outline 
The first day we will look at the basic principles of the Sumerian script and spelling, and what they tell us and do not tell us about the Sumerian language and its pronunciation. During the rest of the course, we will cover the basic grammar of Sumerian and read a few simple texts in transliteration. The course materials, including an introductory grammar to Sumerian, will be supplied.

Students need to be familiar with basic linguistic terminology, but previous knowledge of Sumerian or the cuneiform script is not required.

Slot 3: The World of Cuneiform Writing (14.00 - 15.30)

Willemijn Waal e.a. (Leiden)

Course description
The cuneiform script was invented around 3200 BCE in Sumer (present-day Iraq) and it was used for over 3000 years in almost the entire Near East. It was written on clay tablets of which tens of thousands have survived, covering a wide range of text genres (administrative, religious, historical, literary etc.). The script was used for several languages including Sumerian, Akkadian, Hittite, Elamite and Ugaritic.
This course aims to give an introduction to the rich history of cuneiform writing. Various aspects will be discussed, such as the invention, development and decipherment of the script, the materiality of writing and the phonological problems posed by the cuneiform writing system. Attention will be also paid to the cultural-historical and archival context of the cuneiform tablets.

Level and requirements
The course is (primarily) meant for students following a course in one or more cuneiform languages (Sumerian, Ugaritic, Elamite). No prior knowledge is required.

Slot 4: Introduction into Achaemenid-Elamite (16.00-17.30)

Wouter Henkelman (Paris)

Course outline
The Achaemenid Persians adopted Elamite as an administrative language and used it within the large economic institutions they said up at several places on the Iranian plateau, notably at Persepolis, where thousands of Elamite clay tablets where found in the 1930s. Achaemenid Elamite is a typical contact language that shows morphosyntactical restructuring under the influence of Old Iranian. The course will introduce the 'classical' (Middle and Neo-Elamite) variety of the language, and then discuss the specific features of Achaemenid Elamite. In the second half of the course this phenomena will be illustrated by means of selected texts, including sections from king Darius’ Bisotun inscription.

M.W. Stolper, Elamite, in: R.D. Woodard (ed.), The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World’s Ancient Languages, Cambridge 2004: 60-94.