The wedge-shaped is one of the oldest forms of writing. It is resulting from the oldest written form in the world, developped at the point into low Mésopotamie towards 3400-3500 before J. - C. With the linear departure, this writing gradually became wedge-shaped.
The wedge-shaped name means “forms some in corners” (Latin cuneus ), because of the shape of the stylet used (but one often speaks about “nail”). The wedge-shaped one was mainly written with a Calame in reed on shelves of argile.
In addition, in Anatomy, the wedge-shaped are three Os tarsus named thus for their form.
Material aspectsThe Mésopotamie being an area low in material, its inhabitants did not have a vast choice of instruments usable to write. It is the Argile and the Roseau, abundant in the south, which became the materials privileged for that.
From clay, one made a Tablette of size and wanted form, on which one wrote, before making it dry with the sun to harden it or, as well as possible, cooking it to obtain a better solidity (terracotta being very hard to break). Often, the old shelves were recycled. One reorganized them by erasing the former inscriptions then one re-used them. That is with the fact that the clay of quality was rather difficult to find. That thus poses a problem for the sources, since so a site generally delivers files going back to a few years before the destruction or the abandonment, but not more, since the older shelves have summers re-used. The shelves which reached us are moreover those which have summers cooked, because if not clay is degraded during time. So that clay cooked, it is necessary generally that the site was devastated by a fire (due to an accident or more often to a destruction).
The instrument used to write is the Calame, a piece of pointed reed or rounded at the beginning, then which is cut thereafter in bevel, which will give to the writings mésopotamiennes a wedge-shaped aspect: one plants initially the point, which gives the shape of nail, then one traces possibly a line after (certain signs being composed of simple nails). In Sumérien, one speaks about “triangle”, SANTAK ( santakku in Akkadien).
Other materials could be used as supports for wedge-shaped inscriptions. Certain texts were written on the wax surfaces supported by shelves in Bois or Ivoire, alone the latter material having resisted the attacks of time and informing us on this other support of writing (it is the case with Hattusha, or in the capitals Assyrie). One also registered Poterie S, Brique S (in Argile or sometimes in Pierre) of buildings, objects in Métal, rocks natural. It was necessary in these the last two cases to work the matter with an iron point. They are thus engravings, carried out by specialists, the Lapicides, which did not include/understand all the wedge-shaped one, but recopied the text starting from a draft written by a scribe.
Appearance of the writing
See also: Beginnings of the writing in Mésopotamie
The writing appears with the the Middle East, towards 3300-3400 av. J. - C., some share in the south of the Mésopotamie, undoubtedly on the initiative of populations sumériennes, considering which it presents of the characteristics which adapt to the structure of this language. The first attested forms of writing are however not wedge-shaped, but linear, that it is the writing mésopotamienne, or the Proto-élamite, even if one employs already the shelves of clay like support.
Development and assertion of the wedge-shaped C-W communication
The C-W communication of the writing Mésopotamie (the proto-élamite having remained linear) becomes wedge-shaped about the middle of thousand-year-old IIIe (antiquated Dynastique III), when instead of tracing linear features one chooses to apply the head of the Calame of Roseau, instrument being used to write on the clay shelves, which is of triangular form, before tracing a feature constituting the character that one wants to write. It is undoubtedly because it is practical, simpler to write on clay than a linear writing, than this form is spread. She is such a success that she is finally included in the monumental inscriptions (remained linear a long time), which then adopt a C-W communication close to that of the clay shelves (but often neater), gradually during the last two centuries of thousand-year-old IIIe.
The wedge-shaped writing is initially developed in the south of Mésopotamie, to write the Sumérien and the Akkadien. It was then employed in Syria, as also attests it the fact that the éblaïte is written into wedge-shaped, then in élamite, where it supplanted the local written alternative, which survives until the end of thousand-year-old IIIe in the form known as “élamite linear”. It is about of the same period as date the first wedge-shaped certificate of text written in Hourrite. At the beginning of thousand-year-old IIe, the wedge-shaped one is widespread Iranian Plateau (Suse) until the the Mediterranean (Ougarit, Qatna), of Palestine (Hazor) until in Anatolia (Hattusha). The dominant language is then the Akkadien. The Indo-European Languages of Anatolia, hittite, Louvite and Palaite, as well as the Hatti are written about the middle of thousand-year-old IIe. In second half of thousand-year-old IIe, the wedge-shaped akkadien (as well as the hittite and the hourrite) is written in Egypt. To the beginning of the thousand-year-old 1st, the urartéens, alive in the Anatolia Eastern one and the south of the the Caucasus, adapt this form of writing for their language.
Whereas these writings were based hitherto on the principle worked out by the sumériens, mixture of Idéogramme S, Phonogramme S and Déterminatif S, a Alphabet writes in wedge-shaped signs is created in Ougarit towards XIVe century, and disappears in XIIe. They are nevertheless alphabets linear (Hebrew Phénicien, , then especially Araméen) which becomes most popular, and supplant little by little the old wedge-shaped writing in the current of thousand-year-old Ier. A spelling-book simplified in Persian was written into wedge-shaped is developed by the Achéménide S, without big hit.
The paleographic characters of the wedge-shaped writing evolved/moved much. Already before the antiquated writing had known changes: the signs had been simplified, and one had changed them orientation while “turning over them” of 90°. The passage to a wedge-shaped C-W communication completed to make them lose their old pictographic aspect, and very little let guess their original direction. Whereas the first texts were cut out out of boxes, the last quarter of the 3rd millenium sees this setting forms some to disappear with the profit from an other in lines, that one reads from left to right.
The majority of the signs keep a base which, similar during time, makes that one can easily identify them starting from their basic features. Simplest, which cannot be modified too much, remain often identical. But some know great modifications. Starting from the C-Ws communication of the 3rd millenium, one notices an increasing simplification of many signs, by removal of features. One tends also to thousand-year-old 1st to reduce the number of oblique features to replace them by vertical or horizontal features. That is worth especially for the texts written on shelves, the royal inscriptions often resorting to antiquated C-Ws communication and readily more complex (a little as one a long time did in Western Europe by taking again the ancient Latin C-W communication; to see low).
As of the end of the 2nd millenium, the Assyrian C-W communication is standardized than that of Babylonia, and that is accentuated at the néo-Assyrian period. The first modern editors of wedge-shaped texts of this time melted besides of the block letters into wedge-shaped néo-Assyrian for the books which they printed. But that results from a contemporary interpretation, because the ancient scribes never sought to have a strictly standardized C-W communication, and of this fact there exist always variations (often negligible) in the writing from one scribe to another, even for an identical period.
“The last corner”
Starting from first half of the thousand-year-old 1st, the linear alphabetical writings often written on perishable supports (Papyrus, Parchment), derived from the Alphabet phenician, tend to becoming dominating in all Middle East. That which is the most success is the Araméen, because of numerical importance and of the geographical dispersion of these people. This language tends to supplant the Akkadien like lingua franca of the the Middle East, and the wedge-shaped one disappears at the beginning from the thousand-year-old 1st from the sites external with the Mésopotamie, except when they are sovereigns of the latter country which makes inscriptions. In Mésopotamie even, the alphabetical writing takes more and more weight in the empires néo-Assyrian and néo-Babylonian, and the reliefs and frescos of Assyrie often present a scribe writing on papyrus or parchment beside a scribe writing on shelf, sign of the cohabitation of the two systems. The Achéménides choose the araméen like official language, completing the process started by their predecessors.
The wedge-shaped tradition remains however in the Babylonia of the thousand-year-old 1st, but the contracting with the wire of the time of the corpora found in this area indicates that the writing on perishable support took the top. The private contractors still have wedge-shaped files until the Parthian time, but it is especially in the temples that the wedge-shaped one is still employed, interdependent of the antique tradition mésopotamienne which still survives in these places.
When was the “last corner” on a wedge-shaped shelf registered? The wedge-shaped shelf most recent which is known for us is an astrological text going back to 61 a. J. - C., found in the Esagil, temple of Marduk to Babylon, place crowned of old Mésopotamie if it is. But of the more recent texts were surely realized, which disappeared or still wait to be discovered. Mr. J. To freeze regard for its part that the wedge-shaped writing dies out towards the beginnings of the domination Sassanide in Babylonia, is about the middle of the 3rd century of our era.
Principles of the wedge-shaped writings
The sound records are signs applying to a sound, generally a syllable. One finds the syllables opened, of type VC (vowel-consonant, like um , ap , C etc) and CV ( ki , driven , Na etc), and of the syllables closed, type CVC ( tam , pure , put etc), according to a principle adapted to the language sumérienne, basically monosyllabic. One finds also signs having more complex values, the signs bisyllabic ( tared , reme , etc). The signs bisyllabic can be obtained by the binding of two simple syllabic signs, joined one with the other ( aš + šum = aššum ). Contrary, there exist simpler plus signs, applying to only one vowel, i.e. in the cases of has, E, I, U . Many signs have several phonetic values (polyphony), whereas certain sounds are written by different signs (homophony). The polyphony comes owing to the fact that a sign had several significances, with in addition to the derived signs, but also that to the phonetic values of the sumérien those of the akkadien were added. It can relate to different signs, for example when the same sign marks the sound C and the sound tam , but it also relates on close sounds, in particular to the phonetic proximity of the consonants k/g (ak/ag), b/p (ab/ap), t/d (ut/ud), and for the vowels between i/e (ib/eb, which is as the same sign as ip/ep). Homophony comes owing to the fact that the writing sumérienne had many homonyms, which at the base were marked by different signs ideographic. That complexes the reading of the wedge-shaped writing, more especially as these signs can also have at the same time ideographic or logographic values. But the comprehension of these signs is generally facilitated according to the context in which he is written.
The Idéogramme S are signs representing a word in itself. They are for a major part a heritage of the writing of the sumérien, since they are generally words sumériens written in a text in another language (of the sumérogrammes); but the wedge-shaped writing of the hittite includes/understands sometimes words akkadiens which have a similar function (without being ideograms strictly speaking).
The ideograms can represent a verb, a substantive, an adjective, an adverb, a preposition. Some are complex, and are composed of two signs even more.
The determinative ones
The determinative ones are used to facilitate the reading of the sign which they precede (determinative employees) or that they follow (determinative placed after), even registered in the sign even in certain cases. They indicate the class, or the nature of the word which they determine. It is generally about an ideogram. They had just a value with the reading, and did not decide. The use of determinative is not systematic, and it often happens that the scribe occurs from there. There exist however certain words (written phonetically or idéographiquement) for which the determinative one is always used, like the names of certain cities (determinative placed after KI). Certain determinative are directly included in the sign. Another category of determinative is of grammatical type, being used for example to mark plural, in sumérien or with sumérogrammes only.
This last category of sign is used to simplify the reading of the ideograms, in their placing after a phonetic sign indicating the termination of the word to reading. That is useful if a sign has several ideographic values, or when one hesitates between a ideographic or phonetic reading of this sign. For example, in the case of sign having for value ideographic DINGIR (god, so determinative of the divinity) phonetic year , when it is followed of a phonetic complement begin with - R, the first value will be chosen, and if it is followed of a complement beginning by - N, the second value will be selected.
the wedge-shaped alphabet of Ougarit
Although being not an evolution of the wedge-shaped system, but rather that of the hieroglyphic writing (of which it is a simplification, since it keeps only its phonetic principles), there was as of the development of the first alphabets among west-Semitic people of the forms using the wedge-shaped C-W communication. The oldest alphabetical form is however linear according to any probability. If the alphabet ougaritic is the only known example (except perhaps some documents difficult to identify), it is perhaps not in fact not oldest of these wedge-shaped alphabetical forms of writing.
The alphabet ougaritic was translated as of the interval wars, and having provided a very abundant documentation. It is the best known one of all the first forms of alphabet. The oldest documents date from the 14th front century J. - C., and the last are beginning of the 12th century. It takes again the principles of all the west-Semitic alphabets: writing only of the consonants and the semi-consonants, and thus exclusion of the vowels. But, with the imitation of the wedge-shaped writing “idéographico-syllabic”, it is read from left to right.
wedge-shaped old man-Persian
The Persian dynasty achéménide sponsored at the 6th-5th centuries the development of a semi-syllabic, semi-alphabetical system of thirty-six signs adapted starting from the wedge-shaped writing, of which he wanted to be a simplification, imitating the Semitic alphabets, but indicating the vocalization of the consonants sometimes, and having signs for mark the vowels has, U and I. It included/understood also some ideograms.
Social aspects and cultural
Social springs of the wedge-shaped writing
See also: Scribe in the old Middle East
Who wrote and read the wedge-shaped writing? It is initially the business of specialists: scribes. They play a role-key in the company, but for as much the function in itself does not induce particular prestige. It is acted in fact of a very heterogeneous medium, made up at the base by scribes having received a minimal instruction, able to write the simplest acts of the everyday life, know the number necessary of signs, without more. On a higher level, the palates and the temples employ scribes formed better for the most complex tasks of the administration, and to ensure the task of secretary of the most important characters, if those do not write themselves. The “well-read men” occupy as for them the top of the scale of the scribes, evolving/moving in the most prestigious temples and the entourage of the sovereign. They are often members of clergy (exorcists, soothsayers, etc).
The scribes are formed in schools often depending on a temple, or if not directed by a Master working for his own account. Progressively from the formation one learns more and more from signs, works, of languages, and one can specialize. But that relates to a limited number of scribes.
Beyond this medium of specialists, a limited fringe of the population includes/understands or writes the wedge-shaped one, but it is wider than it a long time was thought. The sovereigns, administrators of great organizations, or the merchants or managers of an important land inheritance were to be initiated at the bases of the writing, to be able to exert their task, which is facilitated by the recourse to the writing, without resting too much on their scribes. They privilege a phonetic writing based on a reduced number of signs, with some basic ideograms.
All depends indeed on the utility which one withdraws from the writing, and of its familiarity with this one. The major part of the population had never or but very occasionally recourse to the writing, therefore no need for learning how to read and write. The wedge-shaped system with dominant syllabic is certainly more complex to learn and handle that an alphabetical system, but that does not constitute in oneself a brake with the diffusion of the written practice; the problem is much more social and cultural that technical or intellectual.
Styles of writing
The formation of the scribes in a limited number of establishments easily brought to the constitution of kind of “schools” of scribes, having the same practices of writing. Those can relate to the signs employed: practice to use the same corpus of signs, in the same C-W communication, with the same directions. That could make that one more or less used signs ideographic by reports/ratios with the phonetic signs. Thus the paléo-Assyrian merchants, who make a practical use of the writing, undoubtedly without advanced formation, employ phonetic signs above all, with a corpus limited to 150 signs. But the scribes élam ites also were accustomed to using very few ideograms, even in the royal entourage.
The practices of the scribes define also the style of language which one employs: words, expressions are found in the shelves resulting from the same place, a kind of dialect of the written, and inevitably not spoken language. Moreover the spoken language can influence that which one writes when both are not the same ones: in the cases of the Letters of Amarna written by the scribes of the kings of Raising speaking about the languages “cananéennes”, as in that of the letters of Nuzi where one spoke Hourrite, the Akkadien which one wrote comprised of many “contaminations” by the vernacular languages. The same phenomenon is observed when the Araméen is diffused in first half of the thousand-year-old 1st.
It is in fact the whole of the form of the written texts, their internal diplomatic characters as external which are determined by the practices of the scribes. One uses the same type of shelf, one writes the contracts in the same way, by using the same expression-keys when they are stereotyped texts.
This phenomenon is observed on the same place, at the same period: the texts resulting from the same documentary corpus resemble each other much, and once initiated with the practices of the scribes, one includes/understands the remainder of the corpus easily. That makes it possible to gather shelves more easily resulting from clandestine excavations, to date them and locate their source. More largely, the sites of the same area or cultural surface and of the same period present a similar style of writing.
The practices also vary according to the types of documents, of their function. The royal inscriptions use a corpus of signs often varied, and archaïsant: thus the stele of the Code of Hammurabi registered at the 18th century employs a wedge-shaped style of writing of the shelves of the century. The religious texts also much are worked out, and often use signs and words which one does not find nowhere elsewhere, with often even a language literary rather different from that one finds in the documents of the everyday life (the “Babylonian standard” in Akkadien). The scribes which write these types of texts are formed better than those which write the texts administrative or legal, or the correspondences of private individuals. Some of the scribes of the medium of the temples of the late periods, broken being studied of texts of the old periods are even able to employ signs which are not any more of use since centuries, by “snobbery”.
Diffusion and dynamic of the wedge-shaped writing and the practices of the scribes
This homogeneity of the practices of the scribes of the same context makes it possible to study the diffusion of the writing at the geographical level. One thus could determine that the first sovereigns hittites (Hattushili Ier, Mursili Ier) recruited or more probably off-set scribes of Syria, because the scribes of the kingdom hittite write in a manner which seems resulting from that which was current in the Syrian kingdoms of the period amorrite. In this case there, the paleographic study confirms what the study of the events could let suppose. But in other cases, it would rather tend to cancel it: thus the study of the style of writing of the scribes writing into wedge-shaped at the Egyptian court of second half of the 2nd millenium seems to indicate that they employ a style resulting from the world hittite, and not among that of Raising as it would have been more logical. But in the absence of more proof the demonstration on the simple paleographic criteria is subject to deposit.
The styles of writing can change brutally according to this same process of diffusion, instead of evolving/moving slowly with the wire of time, by reduction or extension of the corpus of signs, slow modification their C-Ws communication and language employed, as it is most current. In the case of the scribes hittites considering previously, it should be recalled that the Anatolia “had tried out” the wedge-shaped writing as of first half of the 2nd millenium with the arrival of the Assyrian merchants, whose form of writing had been adopted by the local kings like those of Kanesh and Warshama (if one refers to the handle of texts written by the scribes of the latter which reached us). That can also occur in an area already quite accustomed with the writing. The most exemplary case is that of Mari which, at the beginning of the 18th century, know a brutal change in its style of writing, which is accompanied by a change of language, and even of new a comput of time. This change is in fact the adoption of the practices of the scribes of Eshnunna.
The action of the political power is strong in these processes of diffusion. The deportation of scribes was current. After the catch of Larsa, Hammurabi makes come the scribes from Rim-Sin, the king whom it overcame, in its capital, where they write to him royal inscriptions in the same style as that they employed for glorifier their former Master. The role of the administration of the empires can also be important: under the kings of Akkad is practiced a homogenization of the writing employed in the imperial administration, while for the business local continuous regional division.
As regards the adaptation of the wedge-shaped writing of a language to another, the diffusion is done within the same medium of scribes, obviously already accustomed with the wedge-shaped writing in another language, and probably in places where the process of interpenetration between the languages is already strongly advanced. That often occurring in badly documented contexts, one guesses more the process that it is not observed. The shelves of Ebla in Syria at the century are in majority in ideograms sumériens, foreign language with the place “imported” with the wedge-shaped writing since the south mésopotamien, but one starts to write some texts in the local language, the éblaïte.
The case of the creation of the ougaritic Alphabet is the reflection of a cultural context favourable with the development of a new written form. Ugarit is a cosmopolitan city, whose scribes are accustomed to the presence of several forms of writing, of which thewedge-shaped ones (hiéroglyphes Egyptian and hittites, spelling-book chypro-Minoan). This new form of writing testifies to fusion between two styles of writings which meet in Ugarit and in general with the Raising: wedge-shaped (for the C-W communication) the, originating one in Mésopotamie but practiced since several centuries in the area, and the first alphabetical writings (for the principle of writing), whose C-W communication linear, appeared in the south of Raising most probably under the influence of the Egyptian writings (hieratic Hiéroglyphes and ). This combination is undoubtedly related to the choice of the support, the shelf of clay, on which the inscription of linear signs is less easy than that of wedge-shaped signs.
Writing and capacity
One could see that the wedge-shaped writing is strongly related to the political power. Everywhere where it appears in a new place and an identifiable context, it is in an institutional context, generally that of the royal capacity. The writing remains thereafter the prerogative of the palate, and also of the temple, two institutions very related one to the other. The “private” batches of files (the direction and the range of this word for the context of the the old Middle East being discussed besides) only appear in great number more tardily, at the beginning of the 2nd millenium.
It is indeed before all the capacity which needs the writing. Before very for needs for operation: the palate and the temple are what one calls sometimes the “great organizations”, their management is heavy, and requires more the help of the writing and an army of scribe that the management of individual inheritances more limited inevitably. Moreover the private archives are the fact of richest, therefore among those which are related to the capacity.
The writing also has as a function the glorification of the gods and the king. One could put in parallel the appearance of the writing and that in the art of the increasingly marked royal representations. Both took part of the same phenomenon: the assertion of the official authority.
The best scribes are from time immemorial used within the framework of the palate or the temple, the use of the writing for the everyday life being limited, therefore entrusted more to scribes less better formed.
After its disappearance, the wedge-shaped written form was forgotten, only some travellers visiting Mésopotamie and Persia sometimes bringing back registered stones, of which they were unaware of almost all. That lasted until the beginning of the 19th century, in particular until in 1835, year when was discovered the Inscription of Behistun.
First advanced on the deciphering are due to Georg Friedrich Grotefend, which opened the way with Rask, Münter, Silvestre of Sacy, Rich, Edward Hincks, Edwin Norris, William Henry Fox Talbot, Julius Oppert, Rawlinson, etc
The deciphering was difficult, because one did not know even in which direction were read the wedge-shaped ones. The track used was an assumption that the ritual form of the tombstone inscriptions had been about preserved in spite of the changes of language: " Ci-to lie Y…, king, large king, wire of X…, king, large roi" , etc These structures were indeed observed, and one started to be able to decipher the wedge-shaped ones.
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