Writing of Ancient Mesopotamia

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The earliest written language was created by the Sumerians. The population of Sumer needed a system for keeping track of financial transactions, property rights, and official documents as their settlements expanded into cities. The Sumerians started recording their events on clay tablets with pictorial symbols around 3300 BC.

Clay Tablets

Clay tablets were inscribed with writing. Scribes would push the lines and symbols into the soft, wet clay using a stylus, a rod formed from a reed. When they were finished, they would let the clay set up so that it would become permanent.


Simple drawings or pictograms were used in the Sumerian people’s earliest writing systems. For instance, the word “head” would be indicated by a depiction of a person’s head. But as time went on, Sumerian writing continued to advance and eventually began to encompass sounds and meanings. The stylus was used by scribes to form wedge-shaped impressions in the clay. The term “wedge-shaped” is used to describe this style of writing, which is known as cuneiform writing.


For archaeologists today, translating Mesopotamian script is challenging. This is due to the fact that there were over 700 different symbols, and the meanings and shapes of the symbols varied depending on the cities and regions. In addition, the symbols frequently evolved over time. Many Sumerian tablets, though, have been cracked. This is how we are able to understand so much about Mesopotamian history, culture, and governance.


While financial and administrative records have been found on the majority of the tablets, there are also some literary works among the writings. The mythology of the Mesopotamian gods, stories about their heroes, poetry, and songs are all included in this literature. Wisdom proverbs are included in some of the literature. Gilgamesh is the most well-known and epic work in Mesopotamian literature. For additional information about the Epic of Gilgamesh, click here.

Interesting Facts of Sumerian Writing:

Using personal seals fashioned of stone, metal, or wood, people signed objects.

Sumerian script was utilized by later Mesopotamian cultures including the Assyrians and Babylonians.

Near the end of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the Phoenician alphabet took the place of the thousands of years-old cuneiform writing system.

Cuneiform and hieroglyphics were both developed in Mesopotamia at the same period, although scholars think cuneiform arrived first.

The Sumerian language is unrelated to any other language spoken today, as far as archaeologists can discover.

Cuneiform is the method of writing a language, not necessarily a specific language. Initially employed in Mesopotamia to write Sumerian, it was then adapted for Akkadian, a language spoken by the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians.

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