Clay Cuneiform Tablet


2027 BC


3.6″ (9.1cm) high x 2.04″ (5.2cm) wide





Gallery Location



Clay tablet, with 22 lines of Sumerian Cuneiform. This is an administrative document dated to the 2nd year of king Ibbi-Sin, last king of the third Dynasty of Ur, c. 2027 BC. It concerns aromatics: substances with nice smell in their various uses (incenses or perfume). The tablet is beautifully written in a large clear hand and is in a remarkable state of preservation. There are problems in translating: while some of the substances are well know, others are only known as words, not their meanings, and some appear to occur only here. They are all given with their weights or capacity measures, proving that even when not prefixed with the sign for “aromatic” they are not (sic) e.g. the timber, as the first line “cedar” might mean in other contexts. This is a rare type of tablet, and the background is extremely interesting, as will be explained later. Translation 3 talents, 52 1/3 minas of cedar 10 minas of cypress 5 minas of juniper 46 minas 10 shekels of myrtle 53 1/3 minas of… 1 talent 39 1/3 minas of spurge 50 minas of… 10 minas of… 1 talent 59 1/2 minas of sweet reed 262 silla of… 43 1/3 sila of “juniper grains” 1 gur 120 sila of … 190 sila of… 235 sila of… 61 sila of “juniper fronds” 88 talents, 25 minas of gypsum Bakmum, the scribe, received from Turam-ili, supervisor of the merchant bankers Year: the high priestess of Innana of Uruk was chosen by divination. The merchant bankers were individuals who financed trade, especially foreign trade. Most of the aromatics Most of the aromatics dealt with here were necessarily imports into Sumer, and the large quantities here in one document imply government purchase of other form of acquisition from these merchant bankers. It is always a question how far these people were private bankers, how far they were state controlled, so perhaps these substances were a kind of government tax imposed on the bankers. A mina was about 500 grams, a talent 60 minas, a shekel 1/60 of a mina. A sila was about .85 of a litre, and a gur was of (sic) 300 sila.

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