Imperial Aramaic

Imperial Aramaic

Dashes and Alephs

Photograph of a forest on hills disappearing into fog
At least I am not claiming that I got lost in the mountains, although that is easier in Innsbruck this summer than you might think.

While troubles with my Internet connection have prevented me from posting anything substantial, this week I added a paragraph to my post on how to interpret the special characters in Latinizations of Near Eastern languages. Transliterations of Semitic names often contain dashes (<->) and alephs (<ˀ> or <‘>) and these can look a bit mysterious to the uninitated.

Read more


How Do You Pronounce Those Accented Characters in Ancient Near Eastern Languages Anyways?

An old cutwater of natural stones set in concrete, barely higher than the water which flows by it and into cracks in the end facing the onrushing water; some stones are covered with slimy moss
Rivers have their own interesting sounds. The cutwater of the old footings of a bridge in the river Inn. Photo by author.

Specialists in ancient Southwest Asia do not always name and define the special accented characters which they use to transcribe words in languages like Aramaic, Babylonian, Sumerian, and Old Persian. While this is convenient for fellow specialists, and avoids taking side in some debates about the sounds of ancient languages, it makes it hard for readers without their special training to read these words, to pronounce them, and to copy them on a computer. They also sometimes refer to these characters after their Greek or Hebrew names, which can also be confusing if one does not know these alphabets and how they are transcribed in Latin letters. One of the appendices to my doctoral thesis will give the names and pronunciations of every special character which I use. I thought it might be of interest to a wider audience. If a passing phoneticist drops in to prevent a poor historian from mangling the International Phonetic Alphabet or spreading nonsense about Akkadian phonology, so much the better! I would rather be corrected now than by a reviewer when in the distant future the dissertation becomes a book.
Read more


“Send a force and rescue us!”

A map of the southern Levant in antiquity with Eqron about 20 km inland from and a bit north of Ashkelon and 30 km west of Jerusalem
If one were reduced to a single atlas of the ancient world as I am, this one would not be a bad choice. From Anna-Maria Wittke et al., Historische Atlas der antiken Welt (J.B. Metzler Stuttgart 2012) Seite 45 Karte B.

Sometimes life is really like a romance. One of the oldest letters in Aramaic to survive from Egypt goes like this:

(1) To the lord of kings pharaoh; your subject Adon king of E[qrom wishes you well. May … the lady of] (2) heaven and earth and the lord of the heavens, [great] god, [make the throne of the lord of kings] (3) pharaoh like the days of heaven and seed [… Your subject wishes you to know that the forces] (4) of the king of Babylon have come and have reached Apeq and … (5) they have seized and brought … with all … (6) because the lord of kings pharaoh knows that his subject [cannot stand alone he begs you] (7) to send a force and rescue us and not abandon us. [If the lord of kings pharaoh does this,] (8) your subject will remember this kindness and this princeling … [If the king of Babylon takes it, he will establish] (9) a governor in the land, and alter the record …

(tr. Manning after the text in TADE, as I am only a beginner I urge readers with a serious interest to find a professional translation while keeping in mind that this edition of the Aramaic is different from some earlier ones)

One of pharaoh’s scribes in Egypt dutifully added a note in demotic on the back which mentions the “lady of Eqrom,” but pharaoh’s answer is unknown. While most ancient letters are the sort of text which only a special kind of nerd could love, I think that this one has potential. Scholars call it the Adon letter after its author or the Saqqara papyrus after the place where it was found in 1942. Although I don’t expect that any of the excavators were locked in a tomb full of snakes, conducting an excavation in quasi-independent Egypt while the Afrika Korps dashed back and forth between Tripoli and Alexandria must have had some excitement.

Read more


Letters and Tally Sticks

A photo of a flat wooden stick with black ink writing and lines and notches along the edge
A tally stick from Bactria or Sogdiana dated to the third year of Darius the King (probably 334/333 BCE). The text is in the Official Aramaic script. 12 cm long, 2 cm wide. Catalogue number D3 in Aramaic Documents from Ancient Bactria.

Read more