Cuneiform script in different materials (f.l.t.r.: clay, lapiz lazuli and gold)
Cuneiform is the oldest known writing system in the world. It was developed around 3400 BC and used for the next three-and-a-half millennia.
Its place of origin lies in the south of modern Iraq, an area called ‘Mesopotamia’ by the Ancient Greeks, which means ‘between the rivers’ (the Tigris and Euphrates). The cuneiform world, however, extended much farther in all four cardinal directions: it not only covered the area of modern-day Iraq, but also parts of Iran, Turkey and Syria. Cuneiform tablets were even discovered in Bahrain and Akhetaton, an ancient city in Egypt. Furthermore, this writing system was primarily invented for the Sumerian language, but was subsequently adopted and adapted for Akkadian and its two dialects, Assyrian and Babylonian, as well as for several other regional languages.
(Drawing: Xavier Faivre)
This page aims to familiarise the reader with the ancient Near East and the civilisations that developed there. It provides a wealth of material on these subjects in the form of a documentary, maps, documents, online resources and a bibliography with suggestions for further reading.