By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on
The Sumero-Akkadian educational system had profound influence on Near East regions surrounding Mesopotamia, including Syria, Hurri, Egypt and Phoenicia.
Oftentimes, Akkadian was taught alongside the region's native language. Tracking this influence shows an evolution of writing from its earliest stages as primitive receipts to its advanced stages as an immersive experience steeped in tradition (Robinson, 2007; Carr, 2005).
Influence in Elam
The Persian region of Elam – which was located in present-day Iran and flourished in Period II -- preserves some of the earliest available education texts. Dating to Old Babylon, these texts were likely written by scribes trained in Ur or Sippar. These texts show a strong Mesopotamian influence. In addition, Bronze Age educational texts from another region in present-day Iran show a strong Mesopotamian influence (Carr, 2005).
Influence in Syria
The Syrian city of Ebla (existing c. 3500-3000 BC) used a modified version of Sumerian cuneiform, in another early example of Mesopotamian influence on education. Revealingly, explorations of Ebla procured sign and lexical lists similar to those described by Robson (2001) and Tinney (1998) in their discussions of Nippur and Ur scribal instruction. In addition, a number of educational texts critical to Mesopotamian instruction have also been discovered at Ebla. Also, the ruins of Mari -- another Syrian city -- have revealed texts and even a potential school with a Sumero-Akkadian influence and; however, these findings are unpublished and/or controversial (Carr, 2005).
Like Ebla before it, the towns of Hurri -- despite their residents speaking mostly Hurrian -- contain Mesopotamian educational and other cuneiform texts. A dominant empire, Hurri encompassed northern Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia and made great use of the curriculum standardization that occurred in Mesopotamia. Two Hurrian towns -- Nuzi and Alakh, which flourished in the 1400s BCE -- are shining examples of this impact, with their numerous Mesopotamian educational lists. This tradition began as a side effect of proximity -- consecutive cultures incorporated elements of their ancestors -- but over many hundreds of years became an integral part of the social and mental transformation of a scribe into an educated human being. (Carr, 2005)
Hundreds of years later and further west, in the 13th and 12th centuries BCE, the Syrian city of Emar also a strong Sumero-Akkadian influence. Emar had a vast collection of Mesopotamian legal, instructional, literary texts -- including the advanced tales of Gilgamesh and the Palm and the Tamarisk. Emar also contained many Hittite and Hurrian texts, indicated a mixing of various cultural influences to form a more developed system above the elementary Sumer-Akkadian curriculum (Carr, 2005).
Influence in Asia Minor
The Hittite empire, which flourished c. 3000-2500 BC, built an elaborate scribal system with strong Sumero-Akkadian elements. Babylonian lists and standard texts -- in both their original Akkadian and translated Hittite forms -- as well as many Sumer-Akkadian hymns, incantations and divinatory texts, have been discovered in Hittite sites. At the same time, a unique Hittite educational system was being developed. This system was being developed to some extent directly from the Sumero-Akkadian tradition, with certain Mesopotamian elements being incorporated directly as the Hittites took over parts of Hurri. (Carr, 2005)
Influence in Egypt and Levant
Looking west, the ruins of Cappadocia have revealed that Egyptians used Akkadian to communicate with their foreign neighbors throughout the Syro-Palestinian area. Egyptians likely discovered the Sumero-Akkadian educational system via the Hittites, and adopted it alongside their highly developed and advanced Egyptian instruction. Although Akkadian communications were largely bureaucratic, Egyptians were nonetheless given brief instruction in Mesopotamian lore using abbreviated literary texts. Strikingly, these abbreviated texts contained red points to guide scribes-in-training in the spoken nuances of Akkadian (Carr, 2005).
Similar to the Egyptians, the Phoenician city of Ugarit taught Akkadian alongside its indigenous tongue. With their own copies of Sumero-Akkadian lexical lists, literary texts and hymns, Ugarites obviously had an extensive system of Akkadian instruction that was taught alongside their indigenous Phoenician language. This is particularly remarkable, not only as one of the latest examples of the Sumero-Akkadian education standards outside of Mesopotamia, but also because Ugarit's complex instructional matrix helped end the linguistic dominance of Akkadian while simultaneously furthering its literature and cementing its influence (Carr, 2005).
The cities and regions mentioned so far belong to the Bronze Age; continuing into the Iron Age, writing media transitioned from durable clay tablets to fleeting materials such as leather or papyrus. Over time, documents have decomposed such that only brief glimpses remain of the Iron Age’s texts. As Aramaic rose in prominence, Akkadian became delegated to certain diplomatic texts (taught now only by masters to their apprentices) and grew increasingly archaic. Drawings of scribes show Akkadian being used on old-style clay tablets, with Aramaic being written on modern and easier-to-use parchment. Despite this decrease in the prominence of Akkadian, its use actually spread as Assyrian kings conquered new territories (Carr, 2005).
Influence on Hebrews
Evidence that Akkadian reached the Israelites does not lie in Sumero-Akkadian instructional texts like before, but rather obtuse parallels between Akkadian and Israelite texts and concepts. Descriptions of prophet-student interaction, not to mention certain words, have been found in Israelite texts with very strong Sumero-Akkadian parallels. However, this can be considered minor tributes to Sumer-Akkadian culture rather than infallible testaments to strong Akkadian influence on Israelite culture. For example, a character in the Gilgamesh epic becomes human via clothing; in the Bible, the two residents of paradise lost also put on clothes. This could be interpreted as clear respect to the permeating Gilgamesh epic, or it could be considered a coincidence because, simply put, citizens of most civilized cultures have worn clothes. Thus, it is not at all unrealistic that characters in different literary works just happen to put on clothes. However, Biblical shimmers of Sumero-Akkadian influence show that, despite becoming a dead language after the birth of Christ, Akkadian had spread so far and affected so many cultures that to this day it continues to have increasingly indirect impacts on reading, writing and society (Carr, 2005).
Carr, David. 2005. Writing on the Tablet of the Heart, New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 47-61 (Influence of Mesopotamia).
Robson, Eleanor. 2001. The Tablet House: A Scribal School in Old Babylonian Nippur. RA 95: 39-66.
Tinney, Steve. 1998. Texts, Tablets, and Teaching: Scribal Education in Nippur and Ur. Expedition 40(2): 40-50.