The Spread of ‘Heavenly Writing’


  • Marina ZORMAN University of Ljubljana



cuneiform, writing, writing systems, history of writing, writing in Mesopotamia. Ključne besede, klinopis, pisava, vrste pisav, razvoj pisave, pisava v Mezopotamiji


Cuneiform is the name of various writing systems in use throughout the Middle East from the end of the fourth millennium BCE until the late first century CE. The wedge-shaped writing was used to write ten to fifteen languages from various language families: Sumerian, Elamite, Eblaite, Old Assyrian, Old Babylonian and other Akkadian dialects, Proto-Hattic, Hittite, Luwian, Palaic, Hurrian, Urartian, Ugaritic, Old Persian etc. Over the centuries it evolved from a pictographic to a syllabographic writing system and eventually became an alphabetic script, but most languages used a 'mixed orthography' which combined ideographic and phonetic elements, and required a rebus principle of reading.


Download data is not yet available.


Black, J. A. (2004). The literature of ancient Sumer. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cooper, J. (2010). 'I have forgotten my burden of former days!' Forgetting the Sumerians in Ancient Iraq. Journal of the American Oriental Society 130, pp. 327-335.

Damerow, P. (1999). The origins of writing as a problem of historical epistemology. Invited lecture at the symposium The Multiple Origins Of Writing: Image, Symbol, And Script, University of Pennsylvania, Center for Ancient Studies, March 26-27, 1999. Max-Planck- Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Preprint 114. Retrieved from

Dietrich, M., & Loretz, O. (1999). The Ugaritic script. In W. G. E Watson & N. Wyatt ( Eds.). Handbook of Ugaritic studies (pp. 81-90). Leiden: Brill.
Friedrich, J. (1957). Extinct languages. New York: Philosophical Library.
Geller, M. J. (2009). The last wedge. Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und Vorderasiatische Archäologie 87/1, pp. 43-95.

Gordin, Sh. (2014). The sociohistorical setting of Hittite schools of writing as reflected in scribal habits. In Sh. Gordin (Ed.). Visualizing Knowledge and Creating Meaning in Ancient Writing Systems, pp. 57-80. Gladbeck: PeWe-Verlag.

George, A. (2007). Babylonian and Assyrian. In J. N. Postgate (Ed.). Languages of Iraq, Ancient and Modern (pp. 31-71). London: British School of Archaeology in Iraq.

Justus, C. F. (2008). Cuneiform. In H. Selin (Ed.). Encyclopaedia of the history of science, technology, and medicine in non-western cultures (2nd ed., pp. 676-680). Berlin, New York: Springer.

Michel, C. (2010). Writing, counting and scribal education in Aššur and Kaniš. In F. Kulakoğlu & S. Kangal (Eds.). Anatolia’s Prologue Kültepe Kanesh Karum. Assyrians in Istanbul (pp.82-93). Baskent: Avrupa Kültür.
The Pennsylvania Sumerian dictionary (ePSD). [Philadelphia, Pa.] : University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Rerieved from
Radner, K., & Robson, E. (Eds.) (2011). The Oxford handbook of cuneiform culture. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

Rüster, Ch., & Neu, E. (1989). Hethitisches Zeichenlexikon. Inventar und Interpretation der Keilschriftzeichen aus den Bogazköy-Texten. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Schmitt, R. (1993). Cuneiform script. Encyclopaedia Iranica Vol. VI, Fasc. 5, pp. 456-462. Retrieved from

Veldhuis, N. (2012). Cuneiform. Changes and developments. In S. D. Houston (Ed.). The shape of script. How and why writing systems change (pp. 3-23). Santa-Fe: School of Advanced Research Press.

Waal, W. (2012). Writing in Anatolia: The origins of the Anatolian hieroglyphs and the introductions of the cuneiform script. Altorientalische Forschungen 39/2, pp. 287-315.

Walker, C. B. F. (1990). Cuneiform. Reading the Past. Ancient Writing from Cuneiform to the Alphabet (pp. 17-73). Berkeley: University of California, British Museum.

Weeden, M. (2011). Adapting to new contexts. Cuneiform in Anatolia. In K. Radner & E. Robson (Eds.), pp. 597-618.




How to Cite

ZORMAN, M. (2014). The Spread of ‘Heavenly Writing’. Acta Linguistica Asiatica, 4(1), 103–112.



Survey articles