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Writing Cuneiform

Excerpt from the film The Cyrus Cylinder.

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Video transcript

- Because the Cyrus Cylinder was meant for a Babylonian audience, it was written in the Babylonian language, which is a Semitic tongue related to the modern languages of Hebrew and Arabic and Aramaic. The writing system which Cyrus' officials used was the traditional cuneiform script which had been invented in ancient Iraq well before 3,000 B.C., which is written by pressing a stylus, something a bit like a chopstick, into the surface of the clay which is nearly dry and the signs which convey the sound of the language consist of different arrangements of these strokes. They are written one by one, and the reader has to join them up and the sound emerges from the clay. This is the line that says, "I am Kurash (mumbling) "King of the World, the Great King, King of Babylon," and so it goes on. So we begin to write Kurash, so the first sign Ku has the big vertical, two small horizontals, one bigger horizontal, a little vertical, and another horizontal like a box, this is Ku. Then Ra, we have three strong horizontals to begin, one big one next to it, and then one little vertical wedge and one bigger vertical wedge, Ku, Ra. Now we do Ash, which is three long horizontals comme ça and then a vertical in the middle. So we can read this, Ku Ra Ash, the name of Cyrus. (lively music)