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The Arrival and Development of Writing in Anatolia

Written sources reveal that the Akkadians and the Assyrians arrived in Anatolia for trade as of the last quarter of 3rd millennium BC and early 2nd millennium BC, respectively.

Upon their arrival in Anatolia, these settlers brought along WRITING, which marked a turning point in Anatolian history. From the middle of 4th millennium onwards, writing was used in Mesopotamia, first by Sumerians and later by Akkadians and Assyrians. Until they encountered Akkadian and Assyrian merchants in 19th century BC, people of Anatolia did not have a writing system. Therefore, the first written documents in Anatolia are dated to the Age of Assyrian Merchant Colonies. The absence of a writing system in Anatolia can possibly be attributed to the lack of a commercial system that necessitated the keeping of economic records. Therefore, rather than a historic content, the first written documents were written entirely on business law and organization. More than twenty thousand tablets on commercial issues such as promissory notes of Assyrian merchants, caravan and credit-debit records, labor contracts, business letters, and court records on commercial disagreements have been discovered in Kültepe. 

Some researchers claim Ancient Assyrian cuneiform to be the origin of the writing system used for Hittite in Hattusa, whereas others argue that the cuneiform used in Level VII of Tell Atchana (Alalakh) in Northern Syria is the actual source. The original writing system of Anatolia is hieroglyphics. This writing system bears the influence of Egyptian hieroglyphics. Its roots may extend to the seal marks used in the 3rd millennium. Hieroglyphics was used both during the Hittite Era and the Late Hittite City States Era and constitutes an important example of cultural continuity in Anatolia in the transition from the 2nd to the 1st millennium.

One of the most important characteristics of 1st-milleinum Anatolia is the plethora of the different types of scripts. As the Urartians continued to use cuneiform in Eastern Anatolia, new writing systems of alphabet origin emerged from southern and western Anatolia. The introduction of the Phoenician script to Anatolia constituted a turning point. The Phoenician script quite possibly led to the birth of Phrygian writing. A distinctive Semitic influence is detected in the graffiti dated to 7th and 6th centuries B.C. Similar traces are also observed in the writing samples dated to earlier periods such as Lidian and Carian. Lycian is quite possibly the consequence of a proto-Anatolian writing system to have emerged in earlier periods.

The use of the Aramaic writing system was observed upon the arrival of Persians in Anatolia. Since the Aramaic writing system attained a global identity, it was embraced not only by the Persians, but by various local populations across Anatolia as well. Another defining development in terms of the history of writing in Anatolia was the spread of the Miletus script during the Classical Era. The Archaic Ionic writing system did not exist elsewhere in Anatolia except Ionia. The spread of the Hellenic script played a rather determining role in Anatolia as well. From the Hellenistic Period onwards, local writing systems disappeared, only to be replaced by Hellenic. Hellenes of Side and Pamphylia were the only ones to resist this dominant Hellenization with their own, original writing system. The Roman invasion of Anatolia partly gave way to the adoption of Latin among certain colonies; however, Latin did not find an area of use except in tombstone inscriptions and decrees. An important turning point in the area of Ancient Anatolian Languages was Christianity’s acceptance as the official state religion. Following the wide spread of Christianity in the 5th and 6th centuries A.D., they traces of any Anatolian peoples and writing disappeared.


Student Exercise Tablet

Place of Discovery: Karum-Kanesh (Kültepe, Kayseri)

Language: Old Assyrian

Date: 19th century BC

Material: Clay

Kayseri Museum of Archaeology Collection

The tablet, which includes names of students, still remains controversial. As there have been no archaeological finds indicating the presence of a school building in the excavations, it is not known whether the student work tablets (work books) belonged to a school.

Letter of Complaint  

Place of Discovery: Karum-Kanesh (Kültepe, Kayseri)

Language: Ancient Assyrian

Date: 19th century BC

Material: Clay

İstanbul Archaeological Museums Collection 

From Ilī-wēdāku to Puzur Aššur: “Why do you keep complaining about me to colleagues and friends there? You say: If Ilī-wēdāku has sent the money, I will be there to settle the accounts, if not, I shall not set foot in Kărum. You sent the merchandise to my address; remember: I am neither a swindler, nor an evil man. I am simply unable to send your money. This is why you say such theings. You neither consider yourself a man, nor me as your son. ‘Come, let us meet face to face,’ you say…”

[Transl.: I.A.M]

Thousands of inscription tablets discovered in the Ancient East shed light upon the social, cultural, and economic lives of people. Among these, some touch upon problems in daily life, whereas others reflect complaints and disagreements. In that regard, these tablets are quite similar to present-day correspondences.

Court record  

Place of Discovery: Karum-Kanesh (Kültepe, Kayseri)

Language: Ancient Assyrian

Date: 1950-1835 BC

Material: Clay

Museum of Anatolian Civilizations Museum Collection

It has been three years since our father died. You are suing me, (although) I did not receive anything from my father’s (inheritance) and I don’t owe anything to my father and to you and my father and you did not keep my documents (belonging to me) and you don’t have a loan on me. 

(Although) my father and you did not keep (any) tablets with envelopes, you file a complaint against me. If you are keeping (in your hands) a tablet with envelope belong- ing to me and if you have witnesses against me send here!

What more shall I say. My father remained in bed (he was bed-ridden) for 3 months, he did not say anything about whether or not he owned any silver. You stayed by (next to) our father and you know as well that our father has not left any silver.  You are suing me for imaginary things. You wrote a lot of words to me in a tablet today.

 Let’s envelope our tablet (approve our document), hear our father’s will and meet in Ashur according to our father’s will. Furthermore, I am feeding and clothing your concubine since our father died. During commercial restrictions (embargo), I took 1 1⁄2 minas of silver (on loan) from the house of an Anatolian in order to keep my family alive, (so) I kept myself and my family alive.70-71) Today the Anatolian is searching for me (for his claim). You killed me (commercially). When I did not take anything belong- ing to my father, you went and took 1⁄2 mina of silver from Hanunu and Anina in Luhuzattiya.

Come, our sister, the priestess and our brothers are in Ashur as well. Let’s do what our father’s will requires. Our father’s will (is) in the city. You put me in debt instead of encour- aging me by giving 10 shekels of sil- ver each (to) keep my family alive. Since our father died, I sent 10 shekels of silver each to the city for my family.

Since our father came to Kanesh, I was somewhere else (but) you were by his side, (then) you explain our father’s assets (his finan- cial situation)!”Based on these statements, the small-great assemblies of the karum Kanesh gave us (the duty of witness- ing) and we witnessed at the gate of the god, before the dagger of Ashur. Witness Išim-Suen, son of Šallim- Aššur, witness Dan-Aššur, son of Aššuriš-tikal.”