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Old assyrian letters


During the Old Assyrian period (first three centuries of the 2nd millennium BC), Aššur was an independent city-state dominated by an oligarchy of merchants. At the end of 20th and beginning of 19th century BC, the Assyrian merchants developed long-scale trade to central Anatolia, settled there and organized trading outposts, most prominent of which was Kaneš, modern Kültepe (Turkey). Most of the 22,500 Old Assyrian tablets were found in the houses of merchants located in the lower town; they belong to the private archives, mainly of Assyrian merchants, and contain letters, legal texts and private notices.

Overview of corpus

Letters are usually the most numerous and form between 30 to 40% of an Old Assyrian archive. Almost 1000 Old Assyrian texts are classified as letters in the CDLI, making Old Assyrian one of the largest corpora of letters from Ancient Mesopotamia.

Click here for Old Assyrian letters in the CDLI


Old Assyrian letters start by the classical Mesopotamian address style: ana NP1 qibī-ma umma NP2-ma. But when the sender had a higher status than the recipient, the order was reversed. There could be several senders and/or several recipients. There is no blessing formula at the end of the letter.

A short exhortation can be found any place within the letter (abī atta, "You are my father!", often together with bēlī atta, "You are my lord!", ahī atta, "You are my brother!" etc.).

There was no standard size or shape for letters. Some were extremely short, written over less than five lines, others needed an additional tablet called ṣibat ṭuppim.

Letter from Aššur-takāku and Šamaš-abi to Abu-šalim and
Amur-Ištar, more specifically from Šamaš-abi to Amur-Ištar.
The text is written on a tablet and additional tablet, and is
preserved in its envelope.
Kt 93/k 211, excavated in 1993 at Kültepe.
Photo. C. Michel. ©Kültepe Archaeological Mission.

Letters were covered by clay envelopes which bear the identity of the correspondents as well as the seal impression of the sender. Letters in their envelopes were travelling wrapped in textiles and leather, on donkey caravans or by special messenger.


Letters form the correspondence exchanged between the Assyrian merchants in Kaneš, their families and colleagues in Aššur or settled in other Assyrian trading outposts located in Central Anatolia.They relate to commercial exchanges, but also tackle domestic matters and daily life, especially women’s correspondence. Some letters were sent by the ruler of Assur ("the foreman, or steward", wa-ak-lum2), "the trading post" (ka3-ru-um, Kaneš), or a specific trading post (ka3-ri-im GN)

A few letters exists that can be described as diplomatic correspondence involving the Assyrian authorities and local Anatolian rulers (LAPO 19 91 = RA 60, 120, LAPO 19 93 = Kt 85/k 27), or only Anatolian rulers (Example: LAPO 19 62 = Kt g/t 35).

Letters are never dated.

The letter is referred to by the words ṭuppum “tablet” or našpertum “message.”

The recipient kept in his archives the letters he received for personal reasons or for the data they contained, as a reminder of his commercial activities, of orders given to colleagues or representatives, etc. One could also keep in his archive copies of the letters he sent.

Sample Text

CCT 3, 20:

Ob. 1 a-na Pu-šu-ke-en6 qi2-bi-ma Say to Pūšu-kēn:
2 um-ma La2-ma-si2-ma 9 tug2hi-a thus (says) Lamassī. 9 textiles
3 Ku-lu-ma-a na-aš2-a-kum 3 tug2hi-a Kulumaya is bringing you. 3 textiles
4 I-di2-Su2-en6 na-aš2-a-kum Iddin-Suen is bringing you.
5 2 su2-pa2-ni ša zabar Dan-na-A-šur3 2 bronze supānum-bowls Dān-Aššur
6 ub-lam : 1 su2-pa2-nam ša zabar brought me. 1 bronze supānum-bowl
7 u3 it-qu3-ra-am ša zabar I-a-šar and a bronze ladle Ia-šar
8 ub-lam 2 it-qu2-ra-tim ša zabar brought me. 2 bronze ladles
9 I-di2-Su2-en6 ub-lam : 1 it-qu2-ra-am Iddin-Suen brought me. 1 ladle
10 ša zabar A-hu-wa-qar ub-lam in bronze Ahu-waqar brought me.
11 1 su2-pa2-nam ša ku3-babbar I-ku-pi2-a ub-lam Ikuppia brought me 1 silver supānum-bowl.
12 <1> su2-pa2-nam ša ku3-babbar dumu I-bi-su2-a ub-/lam The son of Ibbi-sū’a brought me 1 silver supānum-bowl.
13 sa3-ma-la2-tim it-qu2-ra-tim cups, ladles
14 u2 i2-ba-tim ub-lu-nim šu!-ma be-l i2 a-ta and ṣibtum-objects they brought me. If you are my master,
15 a-šu-mi3 : tug2hi-a ša ta-a2š-pu-ra-ni on account of the garments about which you have written me
16 la2 u2-še2-bi-la2-ku-ni li-ba-ka3 and (which) I have not sent you
17 la2 i-la2-mi3-in ki-ma ṣu2-ha-ar-[tum] do not be angry. Since the girl
18 i-ir-ta-bi-u2-ni : tug2 iš-te2-en6 u2 še2-na has grown up, a few heavy textiles
Rev.19 ka3-ab-tu3-tim a-na na-ar-ka3-ab1-/tim for the wagon
20 e-ta-pa2-aš2! ú a-na ni-ši2 be2-/tim I have made. And for the household personnel
21 u2 a-na ṣu2-uh3-ri-im and for the children,
22 e-pu-uš u2-la2 ak-ta-ša-ad-ma I also made (garments), (this is why) I could not manage
23 tug2hi-a la2 uš-te2-bi-la2-kum tug2hi-a to send you some textiles. Whatever textiles
24 ma-la2 qa2-ti2 i-ka3-šu-du iš-ti2 I can manage (to make), with
25 wa-ar-ki-u2-tim u2-še2-ba-la2-kum later caravans I will send you.
26 e2 A-bu-um-dingir i-na i-ga-ar-tim Concerning the house of Abum-ilī, against your wall,
27 ku-a-tim I-ku-pi2-a ša e2 A-ta-a Ikuppia, from the house of Ataya,
28 i-ga-ar-tam2 šu-a-tam2 iš-ta-kan2 placed his wall
29 u2 a-na-ku a-ṣa-al-ma um-ma šu-ut-ma so I made an objection, but he (said) as follows:
30 ta-pa2-u2-tum-ma u2-ta-pa2-šu mi3-ma-ma “I will reach an agreement with him.” (But)
31 u2-la2 u2-ta-pa2-šu : it-be2-a-ma (erased sign) I will not agree with him about anything! He set out
32 i-ta-ṣa-am a-ta a-ma-kam qi2-bi-šu-um and left. You, over there, tell him
33 um-ma a-ta-ma mi3-šu-um i-ga-ar-ta-ka3 as follows: “Why your wall
34 i-na e2be2-ti2-a : ta-aš2-ku-un have you placed against my house?
35 ki-ma e2 la2 a-ši2-ri-im : te2-pu-uš You just act as (someone would) with a property without a protector!”
36 u3 a-šu-mi3 ba-pi2-ri ša ta-aš2-pu-ra-ni Concerning the beer bread you wrote to me about
37 ba-pi2-ru-um wa-di2 e-pi2-iš ša-ak-/lu-ul – the beer bread is certainly made and ready!
38 u2 ṣu2-ha-ar-tum da-ni-iš The little girl has quite
Le.e.39 ir-ti2-bi te2-eb-a-ma a-tal-kam a-na su2-ni A-šur3 grown up, set out and come here. To (the god) Aššur
40 šu-ku-ši2 u3 še2-ep i3-li2-ka3 ṣa-ba-at consecrate her and touch the foot of your god!


C. Michel, 2001. Correspondance des marchands de Kaneš au début du IIe millénaire av. J.-C., Littératures du Proche-Orient ancien 19, Paris : Editions du Cerf.

C. Michel, 2008. La correspondance des marchands assyriens du xixe s. av. J.-C.: de l’archivage des lettres commerciales et privies. Pp. 117-140 in La lettre d’archive. Communication administrative et personnelle dans l’Antiquité proche-orientale et égyptienne, ed. Laure Pantalacci. Topoi Suppl. 9. Le Caire: IFAO.

C. Michel, 2015. Les lettres des rois d’Aššur découvertes à Kaniš (xixe siècle av. J.-C.), in S. Procházka, L. Reinfandt & S. Tost (ed.), Official Epistolography and the Language(s) of Power. Proceedings of the First International Conference of the Research Network Imperium & Officium. Comparative Studies in Ancient Bureaucracy and Officialdom. University of Vienna, 10-12 November 2010, Papyrologica Vindobonensia 8, Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, p. 43-60.

K. R. Veenhof, 2008. Communication in the Old Assyrian Trading Society by Caravans, Travelers and Messengers, in C. Michel (éd.), Old Assyrian Studies in Memory of Paul Garelli, OAAS 4, PIHANS 112, Leyde. Pp. 199–246.

Cécile Michel

old_assyrian_letters.txt · Last modified: 2016/04/14 09:19 by gombert
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