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Mesopotamian Scribes

The Scribes of Mesopotamia

More than 5,000 years ago, a glorious civilization called Mesopotamia arose in the area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. This civilization took advantage of its countless benefits. If there were any obstacles, the Mesopotamians adapted. Soon, great cities emerged as a result of the discovery of farming, and there was a surplus of food. Because of this surplus, not everyone had to farm, which allowed non-farming people to cull their expertise in other fields, so to say. These people created different careers and products, which in turn promoted trade: you have something I want, I have something you want…let’s switch. As new products were introduced and more people began to trade, and on a larger scale, people needed to keep track of their possessions and their transactions. This is when writing developed…and with it scribes (Haywood 22-24).

According to Oxford’s Compact English Dictionary(2006), the word scribe, meaning a person who copies out documents, is rooted in the Latin word for write, scribere. But scribes and their language have existed far longer than Latin. In fact, many ancient scribes created Latin’s roots. The earliest written language was pictographic, or writing with pictures, and was used to communicate basic information about crops and taxes. As the need for writing changed, pictograms evolved into cuneiform, a more complex form of writing that can also transcribe any language, and was. The Mesopotamians, having developed it, used cuneiform, but the nearby Elamites, Hittites, and Urartians used it too, since they themselves lacked a written language.

Just as the language the scribes used developed, so too did their tools. With pictograms, scribes used a pointed stylus, probably crafted from a reed, to scratch the needed symbol into a soft clay or wax tablet. But with cuneiform, the point was squared off, hence the wedge-shaped letters (The British Museum). The stylus was one of a scribe’s most important tools, however, it was not the only instrument used. Sometimes scribes would use cylinder seals made of stone or metal, and on which scenes of men, animals, and gods were carved. A seal could be rolled over a tablet of clay and act as a signature. Some people, though, didn’t need seals, or else were too poor, so they simply used their fingernail to sign (The British Museum).

Tablets were very common mediums for communication, but there were a great many styles of tablets in use. Made of...

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