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Ancient Babylonia – Cuneiform, Music, & Hymns
Posted In: Other Exciting News  3/31/09
By: Yona Williams

When it comes to the literature of the ancient Sumerians, Babylonians, and other residents of Mesopotamia, cuneiform script served as an important outlet for keeping records and writing their language. Up until the 1st century BC, the Babylonians relied on cuneiform – one of the earliest known forms of written expression. It was the belief of ancient Babylonians that the god of scribal arts (Nabu), is responsible for introducing cuneiform – giving the script as a gift.

Cuneiform was passed on from one culture to another. For example, when the Akkadians came from the desert to invade, they not only embraced the ways of the Sumerian civilization, but also adopted cuneiform and transformed the script to fit their own needs. Evidence of this is seen in the Amorite Hammurapi (1792-1760 BC), who spoke the Akkadian language, but wrote cuneiform.

The later transformation of the early concept of cuneiform that the Sumerians created evolved into a script much different than it started out. In the beginning, symbols played an important role in communication. The script was called ideogrammatical, meaning a picture of a pig would stand for a pig.

When the Sumerians and Akkadians came in contact with one another, adaption of the script took place. Without this change, Akkadian names could not be written. At this point, the language became a 'syllogramatical script,' which incorporated syllables with symbols for words. For example, a symbol for the word 'black' could be used as the first syllable in the word 'blackberry.' This allowed other cultures to use this form of writing to suit their languages.

With cuneiform, scribes originally wrote using a reed or stick stylus, but another transformation took place that saw more precise tools being used. Interestingly, all of the information concerning ancient Babylonians has come from the texts that were written in cuneiform on clay tablets. These tablets have displaying details on the Babylonia way of business, law, religion, and beyond. If these texts could not have been deciphered, not much would be known on this intriguing culture.

Music

When it came to music, the ancient Babylonians viewed it as an accompaniment for their story telling or the chanting of a verse. Music also came in handy during religious ceremonies. Singing of lays took place, but for the most part, the Babylonians embraced instrumental music provided by the lyre, reed flute, trumpet, harp, and drums.

Prayers and Hymns

Any rituals that the Babylonians displayed cult-like characteristics, prayers and hymns played a common role. In the end, some of these writings would become influential works of literature. An example of this is seen in the Hymn to Shamash, which pays homage to the sun god. Throughout the 200-line composition, the following lines were used: "
 
"The far mountains are capped by thy brilliance,
Thy glow fills the entirety of lands,
Thou dost ascend the highlands to view the earth,
The perimeter of lands in the heavens thou dost weigh."


 

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