Old Babylonian School Texts

School texts refer to tablets and works copied and composed as part of the scribal curriculum from its earliest to its most advanced stages. Because Old Babylonian school texts are the best attested and most widely studied in the secondary sources, the typology presented here is based on texts from this period, although there is much overlap with other periods. In general, the texts suggest that the scribal curriculum progressed through four phases: 1. writing techniques, in which students learned to write wedges, sign forms, and basic signs; 2. thematic noun lists, such as ur.ra = hubullu; 3. advanced sign lists, such as Proto-Ea and reciprocals tables; and 4. introductory Sumerian, including model contracts, proverb. and literary excerpts in Sumerian (External Link).

Basic Typology

The typology presented here draws mainly from those presented in studies by N. Veldhuis and E. Robson. The typology does not reflect the chronological order in which the curriculum progressed.

Type I

Large multi-column tablets, usually made up of two to six columns of relatively small script, fall under the category of "Type I" tablets. These record advanced works, such as complete literary or lexical compositions, or collections of model contracts, which would have been copied by scribes relatively late in their schooling. Some scholars include prisms under this category, but these are treated separately here as Type V tablets below.

Type II

Type II texts refer to small multi-column tablets that showcase a model text in the lefthand column, when viewed from the obverse, to be copied by students in the subsequent columns to the right, which therefore functions as a "scratch pad" (Tinney). As a result, the right side of the obverse of the tablet can be thinner than the left due to erasures by scribal students. Often, there is divergent material on the obverse and reverse. More commonly, these texts record lexical lists and name lists, and less frequently, multiplication tables and excerpts from Sumerian proverbs or literary texts. For example, this Text from Nippur, which includes part of Syllabary Alphabet B, one of the first lists that a pupil learned to copy, shows typical wear on the right side of the obverse.

Type III

Imgidda tablets, or "Type III", take their name from the Sumerian for "long tablet" and refer to single-column tablets typically with 10-20 lines of text on each side. These include model contracts, extracts from longer compositions, and mathematical texts, such as lists of reciprocals.

Sample Text

An example of such a Text from the Cotsen Collection includes two model contracts, one regarding adoption and the other regarding a sale. A model contract is often distinguishable from a bona fide contract from certain features, such as the absence of a date or the use of hypothetical figures that do not add up.

SC 3, 024a:

Obv. 1. 1 dumu-nita2 gaba (Case 1:) One suckling male child,
2. ˹tul2˺-ta pa3-da at a well found,
3. sila-ta kur2-ra from the street rescued:
4. dišme-diškur nu-gig Simat-Adad, the nugig
5. ka ur-gi7-ra-ta ba-[da]-kar from the mouth of a dog has snatched
6. ka uga-ta ba-da-an-šub from the beak of a raven has made drop.
7. dišme-diškur nu-gig Simat-Adad, the nugig,
8. nam-dumu-ni-še3 šu ba-an-ti him as her son has adopted (and)
9. nam-ibila-ni-še3 in-gar him as her heir has established.
10. u4 kur2-še3 tukum-bi In the future, if
11. dišme-diškur nu-gig Simat-Adad, the nugig,
12. dumu-mu nu-me-en ba-an-na-du11 “You are not my son!” says to him,
13. e2 a-ša3 geškiri6 geme2 arad2 house, field, orchard, female and male slaves,
14. nig2-gur11-ra u3 geššu-kar2 possessions and utensils,
15. a-na gal2-la-am3 as much as there may be
16. ba-ra-an-e11-de3 she shall forfeit.
17. mu d˹nanna˺ dutu u3 [dri]-˹im˺-dsuen lugal in-pa3 By the name of Nanna, Šamaš, and of the king Rīm-Sîn she has sworn.
18. 2(iku)? geškiri6 gešgešimmar ib2-sa2 (Case 2:) 2 (3?) iku of an orchard with date palms filled,
19. gu2 i7 buranun on the bank of the river Euphrates,
20. us2-sa-du geškiri6 nu-ur2-eš18-dar (its) flank bordering the orchard of Nūr-Eštar,
21. us2-sa-du 2(diš)-kam dsuen-a-bu-šu (its) second flank bordering (the orchard of) Sîn-abūšu,
22. ˹sag˺-bi kaskal its head the roadway,
23. ˹sag˺-bi 2(diš)-kam i3-li2-a-bi its second head (the orchard of) Ilī-abi:
Rev. 1. geškiri6 dutu-re-me-ni the orchard of Šamaš-rēmēnī,
2. ki dutu-re-me-ni from Šamaš-rēmēnī,
3. lugal geškiri6-ke4 the lord of the orchard,
4. dišdsuen-a-ša-ri-du Sîn-ašarēdu
5. in-ši-sa10 purchased.
6. 1/3(diš) ma-na ku3-babbar sa10 til-la-bi-še3 1/3 mana of silver, as its full price,
7. in-na-[an]-la2 he weighed out for him.
8. u4 kur2-še3 u4 ˹nu-me-ak˺? dutu-re-me-ni (That) in the future, ever, Šamaš-rēmēnī
9. geškiri6-mu nu-ub-be2-a? “(It is) my orchard” will not say,
10. mu dnanna dutu u3 dri-im-dsuen lugal in-pa3 by the name of Nanna, Šamaš and of the king Rīm-Sîn he has sworn
11. inim gal2-la geškiri6 dutu-re-me-ni To any raised claim for the orchard, Šamaš-rēmēnī
12. ba-ni-ib-gi4-gi4 will be returned.

Type IV

This category refers to the lenticular tablets, or "lentils", which have a distinctly round shape and carry only a few lines of text, including excerpts from lexical texts, Sumerian proverbs, and mathematical exercises.

Sample Text

UET 6, 0276

Obv. 1. inim du14-da-ka In words of competition,
2. nam-šeš-e mu-un-dim2-dim2 brotherhood is fashioned;
3. ki inim-ma-ka In the place of witness,
4. nam-ku-li ba-an-zu-zu friendship is made known.

Type V

A "Type V", sometimes referred to as "Type P" (for prism), tablet refers to a prism of usually four to six sides with a hollow central axis that can record a complete composition or a collection of model contracts. Each side is divided into multiple columns of text, though smaller prisms may have only a single column per side (e.g., HS 1801). Given that they still contain errors, it likely that these texts represent not teacher models to be copied by students, but rather, the work of advanced students. As noted above, sometimes, these are groups under Type I texts; however, these objects are separated out in the present typology due to the difference in their shape.

Sample Text

old_babylonian_school_texts.txt · Last modified: 2015/10/19 14:50 (external edit)
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