Akkadian is one of the great cultural languages of world history. Akkadian
(or Babylonian-Assyrian) is the collective name for the spoken languages of the
culture in the three millennia BCE in Mesopotamia,
the area between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris, approx. covering modern Irak.
The name Akkadian --so called in ancient time-- is derived from the city-state
of Akkad, founded in the middle of the third millennium BCE and capital of one
of the first
great empires after the dawn of human history. The downfall of Akkad is
described (in literary terms) in the
curse of Akkad, but the name has continued to be used for millennia since.
is first attested to in proper names in Sumerian texts (ca. 2800 BCE). From ca.
2500 BCE one finds texts fully written in Akkadian. Hundreds of thousands of
texts and text fragments have been excavated, covering many subjects, e.g.
-economy (business, administrative records, purchase and rentals),
-law (witnessed and sealed contracts of marriage, divorce; codes of law),
-history (chronological text, census reports),
-letters (personal, business and state letters),
-religion (prayers, hymns, omens, divination reports),
-scholarly texts (language, word lists, history, technology, mathematics,
-literature (narrative poetry, recounting myths, epics).
The last texts date from the first century A.D. By then Akkadian was already an
extinct language, replaced as a spoken language by Aramaic.
The language used a writing system called cuneiform. Wedge shaped symbols were
inscribed on clay tablets with a reed stylus. This writing system was invented
by the Sumerians around the end of the fourth millennium BCE. Many neighboring
countries later adopted this writing method to record their own language (Eblaites,
Hittites, Hurrites, Elamites).
Akkadian has been for centuries the international medium of communication, the lingua
franca or language of diplomacy in the Ancient Near East. Because of this
(and also by other means) the Mesopotamian civilization has had a powerful
influence on other areas in the Ancient Near East and traces of it are found in
the Bible and in Greek civilization. The Occident, in several aspects,
indirectly became heir to the Orient, in science (astronomy, mathematics,
medicine), in art (narrative techniques, epic) and in religion (mythology,
theology). Indeed, in classical terminology one could say:
Ex oriente lux ''the light (comes) from the east''