Glossary

Akkadian.

Akkadian is the name for a Semitic language that was used in ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) throughout most of its history. The main dialects include Babylonian (used in the South) and Assyrian (used in the North, around modern-day Mosul). Akkadian is closely related to languages such as Hebrew and Arabic.

 

Cuneiform.

The word cuneiform, derived from the Latin cuneus "nail," literally means "nailshaped (writing)." Each character is formed by a number of strokes, each of which resembles the wedge-shaped form of a nail. The signs were made with a pointed reed stylus in soft clay that was molded into a tablet-shaped form. The system was used in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) in a period of over three thousand years (3,200 BC Ð 100 AD) for a variety of languages, most importantly Sumerian and Akkadian. Each of the approximately 700 cuneiform signs may represent one or more words and/or one or more syllables.

 

Prism.

prism A prism is a clay object with four, six or (occasionally) eight sides, each inscribed in one or more columns. Prisms usually contain one entire lexical or literary composition. Their use in the Old Babylonian school system is still somewhat unclear, but it is likely that they were written by school boys and dedicated to Nisaba, the goddess of writing. All lexical compilations end with a formulaic praise to Nisaba and some prisms (not those from Nippur) add a short inscription in which the text is dedicated to several deities, usually including Nisaba and her consort Haia.

 

Sumerian.

Sumerian is an ancient language that was spoken in the deep South of present-day Iraq in third millennium BC. Spoken Sumerian died out at the end of that millennium but the language was still used for religious, literary, and scholarly purposes up to the first century AD. Sumerian is not related to any known language.

 

Type I Tablet.

Type I tablet A type I tablet is multicolumn tablet (4 to six columns on each side) which usually contains a complete lexical compilation or at least a very large section of such a compilation. They were written by scribal pupils, and perhaps dedicated to Nisaba, the goddess of writing.

 

Type II Tablet: Teacher-Student Exercise.

Type II tablet The most distinctive characteristic of Type II tablets is that they contain two different (often unrelated) exercises; a short one on the obverse and a much longer one on the reverse. The obverse exercise is the new assignment. The left column has a model text in the teacher's hand, to be repeated by the pupil in one or more columns on the right of the tablet. The reverse was used by the pupil for a long exercise in three to six columns, repeating subject matter that he already knew by heart. After the exercise was done type II tablets were meant to be recycled by throwing them into a basin of water that belonged to the standard equipment of a Babylonian school. Therefore, the presence of large numbers of these tablets in Nippur (more than 2,000) is somewhat puzzling. It has been suggested that this is due to a sudden destruction or desertion of the site, but this remains to be proven.

 

Type III Tablet: Single-Column Extract.

Type III tablet Type III tablets are single-column exercises that contain an extract from one lexical text, continuing from obverse to reverse. The exercise is of approximately the same length as the obverse of a Type II tablet. In fact, Type III tablets may have been copied from the teachers examples on broken or old (and dry) Type II tablets. Single-column extracts are relatively rare in Old Babylonian Nippur.

 

Type IV Tablet: Lentil.

Type IV tablet Type IV tablets or lentils are round and made to fit the hand. In Sumerian they are called im šu or "hand tablet." They usually contain two or three lines in a teacher's hand which are copied by a pupil beneath. It seems that Type IV tablets were more regularly kept (rather than recylced), perhaps as evidence of the student's progress.