Introduction to Sumerian

The Classical Association of Scotland is pleased to announce the latest instalment in its Free Online Seminar Series: an Introduction to Sumerian Cuneiform!

Taking place on Saturday 23rd October (2pm-5pm) and led by Christie Carr (DPhil student, University of Oxford), these sessions will offer participants a fantastic opportunity to engage with a subject rarely found outside the walls of a limited number of higher education centres.

Cuneiform is the world’s oldest writing system. Written upon clay tablets with a reed stylus, cuneiform writing was used from its invention around 3500 BC until the early centuries AD.  Mainly found in ancient Mesopotamia (modern Iraq and eastern Syria), the cuneiform script was used to write the first written languages, Sumerian and then Akkadian. Whilst Akkadian can be connected to other Semitic languages such as Aramaic, Hebrew and Arabic, Sumerian is a language unconnected to any other and still holds many mysteries and difficulties to the modern Sumerologist. Though many great and extraordinary works of Sumerian literature (as well as administrative text, laws, letters, royal inscriptions and scientific texts) survive today, they are little known, read or taught amongst the writings of the ancient world.

In these seminars, participants will be introduced to the basics of reading and translating Sumerian cuneiform across three sessions. From learning the basics of the cuneiform writing system and sign functions, we will move through how to read sentences in Sumerian, and ultimately be engaging with real Sumerian texts from the 3rd millennium BC.

Session One: An introduction to Sumerian 

This session will introduce the historical context of the Sumerian language, the cuneiform writing system and the functions of a cuneiform sign, nouns, adjectives, and noun phrases (‘the nominal chain’).

Session Two: The verbal chain 

The second session will explain the basics of the Sumerian verbal system, where we will read short sentences from real Sumerian texts.

Session Three: Reading Sumerian: Royal Inscriptions from the 3rd millennium BC

This session will give participants the opportunity to read authentic ancient texts. With guided translation, we will read royal inscriptions inscribed upon clay objects from the period of the Ur III dynasty.

As with all of our seminars, these are designed to be a friendly and low pressure environment to learn more about the rich tapestry of the ancient world. We therefore stress that no experience is necessary! We welcome any and all interested to join us on this journey!

To register on this course, please send an email to Dr Alex Imrie ( and we will ensure that you are sent the relevant Zoom information in advance of the sessions beginning. We hope to see many of you join us for this rare opportunity!