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History of the Ancient Near East / Monographs – X ——————————————————————



—————————————————————— S.A.R.G.O.N. Editrice e Libreria Padova 2010

HANE / M – Vol. X ——————————————————————

History of the Ancient Near East / Monographs Editor-in-Chief: Frederick Mario Fales Editor: Giovanni B. Lanfranchi —————————————————————— ISBN 978-88-95672-05-2 4227-204540

© S.A.R.G.O.N. Editrice e Libreria Via Induno 18B I-35134 Padova I edizione: Padova, aprile 2010 Proprietà letteraria riservata Distributed by: Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, Indiana 46590-0275 USA Stampa a cura di / Printed by: Centro Copia Stecchini – Via S. Sofia 58 – I-35121, Padova

—————————————————————— S.A.R.G.O.N. Editrice e Libreria Padova 2010


F.M. Fales – G.F. Grassi, Foreword ............................................................................. v I. SAILING FROM THE ADRIATIC TO ASIA/AFRICA AND BACK G.F. Grassi, Semitic Onomastics in Roman Aquileia ............................................... 1 F. Aspesi, A margine del sostrato linguistico “labirintico” egeo-cananaico ....... 33 F. Israel, Alpha, beta … tra storia–archeologia e fonetica, tra sintassi ed epigrafia ...................................................................................................... 39 E. Braida, Il Romanzo del saggio Ahiqar: una proposta stemmatica ................... 49 F.A. Pennacchietti, Il tortuoso percorso dell’antroponimo Asia tra omofoni e sviste .............................................................................................................. 65 G. Cifoletti, Venezia e l’espansione dell’italiano in Oriente: problemi connessi con la storia della lingua franca del Mediterraneo ............. 69 II. GENERAL AND COMPARATIVE AFROASIATIC LINGUISTICS G. Del Olmo Lete, Phonetic Distribution in Semitic Binary Articulation Bases ................................................................................................................ 79 M. Franci, Estensione della radice nella comparazione egitto-semitica .............. 87 P. Marrassini, South Semitic Again ..................................................................... 103 G. Hudson, Klimov’s Active-language Characteristics in Ethiopian Semitic ....... 111 O. Kapeliuk, Some Common Innovations in Neo-Semitic ................................... 123 H. Jungraithmayr, Mubi and Semitic — Striking Parallels ................................. 133 A. Zaborski, ‘Afar-Saho and the Position of Cushitic within Hamitosemitic/ Afroasiatic ...................................................................................................... 139 V. Blažek, On Application of Glottochronology to South Berber (Tuareg) Languages ...................................................................................................... 149 A. Mettouchi, D. Caubet, M. Vanhove, M. Tosco, Bernard Comrie, Sh. Izreʾel, CORPAFROAS. A Corpus for Spoken Afroasiatic Languages: Morphosyntactic and Prosodic Analysis ........................................................ 177 III. NORTHWEST SEMITIC A. Gianto, Guessing, Doubting, and Northwest Semitic YAQTUL-U ................... F.M. Fales, New Light on Assyro-Aramaic Interference: The Assur Ostracon ......................................................................................................... A. Faraj, An Incantation Bowl of Biblical Verses and a Syriac Incantation Bowl for the Protection of a House ................................................................ I. Zatelli, Performative Utterances in the Later Phase of Ancient Hebrew: the Case of Ben Siraʾ ......................................................................................

181 189 205 213

S. Destefanis, I Proverbi di Ahiqar nella versione neoaramaica di Rubeyl Muhattas. Un’analisi comparativa delle sue fonti ......................................... 221 R. Kim, Towards a Historical Phonology of Modern Aramaic: The Relative Chronology of Ṭuroyo Sound Changes ........................................................... 229 IV. EGYPTIAN H. Satzinger, Scratchy Sounds Getting Smooth: the Egyptian Velar Fricatives and Their Palatalization ................................................................................. G. Takács, The Etymology of Egyptian √mȜʕ ..................................................... F. Contardi, Egyptian Terms Used to Indicate the Act of Reading: An Investigation about the Act of Reading in the Egyptian Society ............... A. Roccati, Sono dei Re quelli specificati per nome (ḥqȜw pw mtrw rnw) ..........

239 247 261 271

V. ARABIC A.Gr. Belova, Études étymologiques du lexique arabe préislamique: correspondances sémitiques et le cas de la spécification ............................... 275 J. Lentin, Sur quelques préformantes utilisées dans la morphogénèse de la racine: l’exemple de l’arabe ................................................................. 281 A. Mengozzi, The History of Garshuni as a Writing System: Evidence from the Rabbula Codex ......................................................................................... 297 R. Contini, Travel Literature as a Linguistic Source: Another Look at Doughty’s Najdi Arabic Glossary....................................................................... 305 W.C. Young, T. Rockwood, Explaining Variation in Demonstrative Morphology and Syntax in Peninsular Colloquial Arabic: An Argument Based on Anaphoric and Exophoric Reference .............................................. 315 J. Guardi, Il ʿāmil nella linguistica araba moderna ........................................... 339 B. Airò, Aspetti e tendenze degli studi di linguistica araba in Tunisia (1985– 2005) .............................................................................................................. 349 VI. CHADIC O. Stolbova, Chadic Lateral Fricatives (Reconstruction and Parallels in Semitic, Cushitic and Egyptian) ..................................................................... 355 R. Leger, A. Suzzi Valli, The Lexeme “eye” in Chadic Reconsidered ................ 369 S. Baldi, R. Leger, North versus South. Typological Features of Southern Bole-Tangale Languages ................................................................................ 375 VII. CUSHITIC M. Tosco, Semelfactive Verbs, Plurative Nouns: On Number in Gawwada (Cushitic).......................................................................................................... 385 VIII. BERBER V. Brugnatelli, Problème de la négation en berbère: à propos de l’origine d’ulac, ula, ula d ............................................................................................. 401


Frederick Mario Fales

1. Assyro-Aramaic linguistic interference The degree of linguistic interference, and in fact of partial mutual integration, between Assyrian and Aramaic, i.e. resp. between the socially/politically dominant and subordinate languages of the NeoAssyrian empire (8th-7th centuries BC), has been the subject of a number of significant studies in the past 40 years.1 On the basis of the cumulated textual material which is nowadays at our disposal, it may be safely said that Aramaic, in its written and (quite surely also) spoken form, permeated large parts of the Assyrian empire with increasing depth in the wake of the political and military takeover of the Near East by the Assyrians between the 9th and the 7th centuries BC. This linguistic-cultural Aramaization of Assyria must be viewed as full-fledged counterpart to a policy of “Assyrianization” which the occupying forces imposed on the subjected countries.2 In other words, while an official plan of action on the part of the Assyrian administration was that of promoting and diffusing a basic knowledge of the Assyrian language and cultural values (but not the imposition of its particular religion, based on the cult of the god Aššur), Aramaic seems to have been making its own independent — and basically spontaneous — headway as a tool for everyday communication between conquerors and conquered, not only orally but also in writing.3 1

Cf. essentially Muffs 1969 (20032); Kaufman 1974, passim; Fales 1986; Kaufman 1989; Röllig 2000; Lipiński 2000, passim; Lemaire 2001; Fales 2005; Beaulieu 2006; Fales 2007a. 2 Cf. Tadmor 1982; Parpola 2004; Fales 2005. 3 In Fales 2007a, I posed the problem of the possible existence of a mixed spoken variety between Assyrian and Aramaic (“Assaramian”) used for practical purposes in the dealings of Assyrian bureaucracy, also in the light of the well-known statement by king Sargon II (722-705 BC) on his effort at unifying the idioms of the many peoples involved in the building of the new capital city of Dur-Šarruken: “The people of the four (quarters), of foreign tongue and divergent speech, inhabitants of mountain and plain, all those whom the Light of the gods, the lord of all, shepherded, (and) whom I had carried off with my powerful sceptre by the command of Assur, my lord — I made them of one mouth and located them in its (=Dur-Šarruken’s) midst”. In a nutshell, Sargon’s touted feat would have brought the Assyrians to “have all one language”, to borrow the words from the Biblical “Tower of Babel” episode (Genesis 11:1-9). And it may be recalled that in the Old Testament narrative, it was exactly the achievement of a remarkable linguistic unity, with its alleged implications for a strengthened statehood and policy — i.e. the ensuing fear that “nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do”— that brought about the Lord’s wrath, and the consequent confusion of tongues, upon the Babylonians who were erecting the tower.


Frederick Mario Fales

Was the widespread diffusion of Aramaic within the general population of the empire fully accepted on the part of the Assyrian political authorities? I believe that, all said and done, this must, in fact, have been the case, in consideration of the following well-known sets of data: 1. A group of fifteen bronze statuettes in the form of recumbent lions, of regularly decreasing size and weight, has come down to us from Nimrud, one of the main political centers of the empire. These lion-weights bear, deeply incised on the animals’ metal bodies, Aramaic epigraphs indicating the ponderal measures of the statuettes, alongside fully parallel Assyrian texts, as well as numerical bars for the untutored. Since these objects also bear (only in the cuneiform version) the names of different Assyrian kings, there can be little doubt that they represent a fully official issue, destined for a bilingual audience.4 2. The large bas-reliefs on stone orthostats which decorated the Assyrian palace halls with their scenes of war and conquest, and which were by and large executed with the aim of public admiration for the king and his deeds of conquest, show numerous scenes in which two scribes perform side by side the registration of war booty. The one nearest to the viewer bears a clay tablet or a wax-covered writing-board in one hand, and a stylus in the other; while the one farthest away bears a pliable scroll in one hand, and a brush. There can thus be no doubt that the first scribe was writing in Assyrian cuneiform script, and the other one in Aramaic alphabetic characters. These pictures match fully with a number of indications in the texts themselves, which speak of Aššuraya and Aramaya scribes working in pairs, for legal or administrative purposes.5 3. Finally, the onomastics drawn from the cuneiform documents of the Assyrian empire, and which at present number some 5000 items, show approx. 25-30% of personal names of West Semitic, and mainly Aramaic, affiliation. This piece of information should, of course, be used in a purely indicative sense for a straight ethno-linguistic evaluation, because it is plausible to infer that more than one name could have been in use at the same time, and that specific circumstances could force individuals to adapt their names, as still happens today in many countries where the integration of immigrants is at stake. However, the direction of such change would have been homogeneously toward an “Assyrianization” of the personal names themselves (as may be seen from a local case-study of the religious capital of Assur, where a high percentage of personal names included a reference to the homonymous national god); thus the overall amount of Aramaic onomastics in the sampler for the empire in its entirety takes on an even higher significance. In brief, onomastics confirm in general the acceptance of Aramaic as a linguistic-cultural complex with a standing of its own within the Assyrian empire.6 This said, however, the problems involved in qualifying in plausible historical detail the simultaneous presence of two languages within the Assyrian empire are many, and not of simple solution. One of the main difficulties lies in the scarcity of the Aramaic textual evidence itself. From the representation of the two scribes mentioned above, it may be reasonably inferred that most of the textual production in Aramaic was effected on pliable media, such as parchment or papyrus; in fact, the Neo-Assyrian documents at our disposal mention on various occasions both these media in connection with alphabetic script. But unfortunately, due to the ravages of time, not a shred of this — presumably very vast — written production has come down to us. This leaves us merely with a smattering of Aramaic documents which were luckily incised or painted on clay; they have come down to us both from the main cities of the Assyrian homeland, and from provincial towns and outposts. Especially the latter 4

Fales 1995; Zaccagnini 1999. Cf. Fales et al. 2005, 602-603. 6 The pioneering study on West Semitic onomastics in the cuneiform texts of the 1st millenmnium BC is Zadok 1977; see also Zadok 1995, and more recently the single onomastic items passim in PNA, by various authors. 5

New Light on Assyro-Aramaic Interference: the Assur Ostracon


group has significantly increased in recent decades, due to archaeological finds of complete archives within present-day Syrian territory; so that at present we may count on some 250 short texts, while an equal amount is still due to be published.7 This total is still of course a very far cry from the contemporary evidence in Neo-Assyrian cuneiform. An international project directed for 20 years by the Finnish assyriologist Simo Parpola, aimed at republishing the so-called “State Archives of Assyria” in a complete, scientifically updated, and conveniently translated form, and now reaching completion, has made a total of some 6,000 Neo-Assyrian “everyday” documents available for scholarship.8 On the basis of numbers alone, therefore, it appears quite difficult to institute functional parallels between the Assyrian and the Aramaic body of evidence, such as might lead to an in-depth understanding of the use of the two languages in the context of a single society. But, despite these shortcomings, some useful points of linguistic comparison may in fact be established. Since the alphabetic texts from Assyria stem almost exclusively from the legal sphere, they may be most functionally compared with the various hundreds of contemporary contracts and sale documents in cuneiform.9 This comparison, of course, finds its very limits in the use of a highly formulaic language, such as was used and accepted at the time, as a result of the development of legal practice through the centuries, for the writing out of deeds. Within these limits, however, it may be observed that the Aramaic legal language often followed closely the formulary of the Assyrian deeds, with recourse to quite interesting loan-translations, as the following examples may show: Contextual element



Names of documents: “conveyance document” dannutu


Names of documents: “contract”, (in general) “legal document”



Legal jargon in Assyrian and Aramaic deeds and contracts.


Cf. Fales 1986, for the first edition of recent times of these inscriptions on clay tablets, and Lemaire 2001 for additional pieces from private collections. As for the recently published texts from Syria, cf. Bordreuil – Briquel-Chatonnet 1996-1997 (texts from Tell Aḥmar, ancient Til Barsip); Röllig 2002 (texts from Tell Šeḫ Ḥamad, ancient Dur-katlimmu); Fales et al. 2005 (texts from Tell Shiukh Fawqani, ancient Burmarina). A further large group of monolingual Aramaic tablets from Tell Šeḫ Ḥamad awaits publication by W. Röllig. The 24 Aramaic monolingual tablets of illicit provenience from the ancient site of Maʾallanate in Syria, held at the Royal Museums of Brussels, have been announced as forthcoming for many years now (cf. Lipiński 1985). A number of passages from this keenly expected archive were quoted in part or in full in articles by E. Lipiński (see also Fales 1986, Appendices, and 2000): cf. Lemaire 2008, 91, for the latest bibliography on the partial editions of these texts. 8 Cf. the updated list of hitherto published volumes at 9 For the typologies of tablets written in Aramaic in the Neo-Assyrian period, cf. Fales 1986, 6-18; Fales 2000a; Zaccagnini 1997. 10 For the names of documents in Neo-Assyrian, cf. Radner 1997, 56-60 (dannutu), 60-62 (egirtu); for their counterparts in Aramaic, cf. DNWSI, 12 (ʾgrt), 256-257 (dnt). 11 For the particular use of the terms dnt and ʾgrt in the Dur-katlimmu texts, cf. most recently Fales et al. 2005, pp. 611-612. For the meaning of ʾgrt in the Assur ostracon, cf. fn. 33, below.


Frederick Mario Fales Formulae Contextual element



Acquisition clause I: “the money has been paid in its entirety”

kaspu gammur tadin

kspʾ hšlm yhb12

Acquisition clause II: “the slave woman is purchased and acquired”

amtu šuatu zarpat laqiʾat

ʾmt h zrpt lqḥt13

Clause against contestation: “whoever will revolt against whoever else”

mannu ša ina muhhi manni ibballakkatūni

mn ʿl mn yšb/ythpk 14

Place of delivery of the penalty fine: “he will place it on the lap of (the statue of) Issar of Nineveh”

ina burki Issar ašibat Ninua išakkan

ʿl brky ʾšr nnwh yśm15

Clause on the uselessness of a lawsuit: “he may litigate in his lawsuit, but not prevail”

ina dēnišu idabbubma la ilaqqē

ygrh dyn ...wlyrqh bh16

Restitution clause: “he will give back the silver n times to its owner(s)”

kaspu ana 10/20/30.MEŠ ana bēlī/ēšu ūtāra

kspʾ šlšn lmrʾwh yšb17

Legal jargon in Assyrian and Aramaic deeds and contracts.


Radner 1997, 349-350; Lemaire 2001, 25: Obv. 3. The parallelism in meaning between the Aramaic and the Assyrian clause was first pointed out by Lemaire (ibid., 27). It is interesting, on the other hand, to notice that also in Assyrian a hendiadys between the verb *šlm (D, “ to pay off in full”; CDA, 350a) and a verb meaning “to give” (nadānu) is attested. On the other hand, the relevant clause (ušallim ittidin) is not employed in sale documents as in the present Aramaic text, but in documents of receipt with reference to the repayment of a debt or a fine (cf. Postgate 1976, 56). 13 On the hendyadis between zarāpu and laqāʾu cf. Radner 1997, 343-344; for the Aramaic clause, cf. Lemaire 2001, 25: Obv. 4; 27. 14 For Aramaic mn ʿl mn yšb as loan-translation of mannu ša ina muhhi manni ibballakkatūni, cf. Fales 1986, no. 5 (:4, and p. 258. The variant mn ʿl mn ythpk is attested in two recently published texts, Lemaire 2001, no. 1:6-7, no. 2:5 (cf. p. 18, for the note that hpk is elsewhere unknown in Aramaic). 15 For the use of burku as “lap” of a deity or of a divine effigy (as in this case), cf. CDA, 49. For the Aramaic clause, cf. Lemaire 2001, 27, who however fails to note the slight difference between the two versions: the Aramaic has brky as construct plural, and thus means “knees”, while Neo-Assyrian never uses burku in the meaning “knee” in the dual in these formulae. In any case, *brk, “knee” is hitherto not attested in Early Aramaic. Also to be noticed is the Aramaic ʾšr nnwh for “Ištar of Nineveh” (on this figure, cf. Beckman 1998), which confirms once again the Assyrian rendering *Issar for the name of this goddess: see already Fales 1986, 271 on the “other” Assyrian “Ištar”, ʾšr ʾrbʾl, Issar of Arbaʾil, and cf. PNA I/1, p. xxv. 16 For the Assyrian clause, cf. Radner 1997, 3551953. The translation of the Aramaic by Lemaire 2001, 34 (no. 3:8-9, with the plural lyrqwn in the long imperfect), 42 (no. 4:19-20, in the singular) “et qu’il(s) n’y prenne(nt) pas plaisir” is meaningless; cf. DNWSI, 1083, s.v. rqh, for the suggestion “to prevail”, which fits the Assyrian parallel. 17 The parallel clauses are clearly brought forth by Lemaire 2001, 27-28, who correctly notes that the Aramaic has the singular mrʾwh, while Assyrian may quite often have EN.MEŠ-šu/šú. However it must be recalled that the MEŠ could represent a Neo-Assyrian scribal “rebus-type” habit to indicate the final long ī in the oblique case as a result of the well-known phenomenon of “Akzentverlängerung auf die Silbe vor dem Suffix” (von Soden 1969, §65a), and thus that EN.MEŠ-šu/šú could have stood for the singular form bēlīšu. On the other hand, Lemaire’s translation of kspʾ šlšn as “trente (sicles?) d’argent” (p. 26) fails to take account of the hyperbolic nature of the Assyrian clause, which threatens a possible restitution of a sum “10/20/30 times” the original amount.

New Light on Assyro-Aramaic Interference: the Assur Ostracon Contextual element


193 Aramaic

Punishment clause “the life of the king and of the crown prince / his loyalty oath will hold him responsible”

balāṭu ša šarri ša mār šarri ḥyy mlkʾ wʿdwh ina qātāšu ūbaʾʾūni ybʿmh bydh18

Interest clause (in loan contracts): “it will increase by one-fourth”

ana rabitišu irabbi

brbʿh yrbh19

Multiple responsibility clause: “he who is close / at hand will give back” (the object of a loan)

ša karmūni ušallam

mn qrb mnhm...yntn20

Witnesses, etc: “(the scribe) who took the tablet”

ṣābit danniti/ṭuppi/egirti

dnt lqḥ21

Legal jargon in Assyrian and Aramaic deeds and contracts.

As may be seen from the chart, the range of the loan-translations covers virtually the entire “stylesheet” of the sales documents and contract texts. In other words, it would seem as if a consistent, and “one-to-one”, rendering into Aramaic of all structural aspects of the Neo-Assyrian legal tradition had been progressively prepared. And, if we note that many of the alphabetic texts on clay at our disposal derive from mixed archives, comprising tablets both in Assyrian and Aramaic, it may be suggested that the profession of the “Aramaic scribe” was equally important as that of his Assyrian counterpart. In other words, the task of the Aramaya scribe was that of writing up alphabetic versions of the deeds for the benefit of those not versed in the intricacies of the cuneiform script, or perhaps not even in the language of the political dominators of the empire. And the resulting alphabetic texts — this fact must be underscored — were decidedly endowed with the same legal worth as their counterparts in Assyrian.22

2. The Assur Ostracon Despite these interesting perspectives regarding the bilingual legal jargon of Assyria, however, the basic problem of establishing if Aramaic had a “creative” force of its own within this historical and geographical context remains quite open. To clarify this point further, it may be best to tackle the issue from the opposite angle. Within the approx. 6,000 Neo-Assyrian “everyday” documents which were mentioned before, about half are epistolary texts. In other words, we have approx. 3,000 letters in


For the “life of the king” (or of a god) in Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian as an immanent essence on which an oath may be sworn, and which — correspondingly — may come back to hold responsible legal transgressors, cf. CAD B, 50a; for the Aramaic counterpart, cf. Kaufman 1977, 120, 125; Fales 1986, 89-90. The innovative Aramaic feature of ʿdwh = Assyrian *adêšu, “his loyalty oath” (which should be dated to Esarhaddon’s time as terminus ante quem non) was first discussed in Fales et al. 1996, then taken up by Lemaire 2001, 123ff. (esp. 126), and finally rediscussed in Fales et al. 2005, 659. For the numerous attestations of the NA expression adê ina qātāšu buʾʾû, and its variants, cf. Watanabe 1987, 20-21. 19 This clause is very frequent, and occurs also in later phases of Aramaic: cf. Fales 1986, 280b; DNWSI 1053-1054, with grammatical discussion. 20 On the parallelism and its juridical and semantic implications, especially regarding the Assyrian verb karāmu, cf. Zaccagnini 1994; Fales 2000b. 21 For the NA ṣābit danniti/ṭuppi/egirti, with reference to the scribe (or one of the scribes) present at the writing of the deed, cf. Radner 1997, 89-92. The Aramaic dnt lqḥ occurs in Fales 1986, no. 49:4, and its correspondence with the Assyrian expression may be accepted with some reservations, since in that text (from Assur), it is not a scribe, but a well-known hazannu of the city, Sin-naʾdi, who “took the tablet”. 22 On this point and its historical-juridical implications, cf. most recently Fales 2007a, 10231.


Frederick Mario Fales

cuneiform, written for the most part from the officials and the military operating far and wide in the Assyrian empire to the kings, stationed in the capital cities.23 These letters are for modern scholarship the true “salt of the earth” as regards the Neo-Assyrian dialect, or language: virtually the whole package of expressive means of Neo-Assyrian may be traced in these messages, dictated — at times in extreme haste and in the direst of straits — to scribes and thereupon painstakingly sent over the “Pony Express” which linked the faraway provinces of the Empire with the Royal Palace. Requests for orders and advice, objections and quarrels, petitions for justice: the entire gamut of communicational situations may be retrieved in this vast textual group — which, by the way, also provides the historian with many an insight into the daily difficulties of managing an imperial structure, vast and complex beyond all historical precedent.24 Vis-à-vis this extraordinary corpus of messages in cuneiform (which also usefully bear word-forword direct quotes many of the previous commands and recommendations of the Assyrian king himself), the contemporary body of epistolary documents in Aramaic is, alas, limited to one single exemplar. This is the so-called “Assur ostracon”, which was discovered in a private house near the western town wall of the city of Assur (Fig. 1):25 a thick sherd, found in numerous joining pieces, the glossy surface of which was covered by Aramaic cursive script in reddish ink, albeit with various gaps in the script. First published by Mark Lidzbarski in 192126 (Fig. 2), the Assur ostracon has been republished a number of times, but it is known among Semitists as a document of difficult interpretation and which yields only partial sense.27 But in point of fact, if one reads the text in the light of the basic “rules” which applied to contemporary Assyrian epistolography, and specifically to the small sub-group of private correspondence from this age, an adequately comprehensible version may be reached. I thus submit a new version in transliteration and translation of the Assur ostracon which shows a number of improvements in the overall sense of the document. Specific philological remarks are provided in the footnotes to the transliteration or the translation.28 23

Fales 2001, 99-102. Ibid., 116-134. 25 Cf. Pedersén 1986, 113-114, for the retrieval of the ostracon in a grave chamber in house no. 81 southwest of the New Palace, inside the town wall, ad bD6I. It is suggested (ibid.) that the text could have secondarily fallen down in the shaft of the grave chamber. 26 Lidzbarski 1921, 5-15. 27 Cf. Fitzmyer – Kaufman 1992, 42, for the main editions and commentaries on the ostracon; no significant additions are noted in the CAL bibliographical database; but cf. e.g. Lindenberger 2003, 18-20. Among Semitists and Assyriologists alike, this document is usually known as KAI 233, from its edition in Donner-Röllig 1968. 28 The language of the Assur Ostracon presents a certain number of unique traits, which, interestingly enough, connect it less to Assyrian Aramaic than to later varieties (cf. already Fales 1996, 42), although some conservative traits are present as well. For the latter, notice the following: in phonology, *ḏ is consistently realized as z, “ḍ” is realized as q (cf. e.g. qrqw in ll. 9, 13), *ṯ is always š except in the haphel yhtb (l. 11); in morphology, the infinitive lʾmr (ll. 8, 10, 17), and the pronoun ʾt (ll. 2, 19, [20], 21) link the ostracon with Old Aramaic. As for innovative traits, the m > w shift (e.g. in the PN šwdn for Šum-iddina, or in the GN byt ʾwkn for BitAmukanni) is attested regularly in Aramaic from Neo-Babylonian (NB) times; the independent pronoun zly (l. 13) is known from NB Neirab and Egyptian Aramaic; the interjection ʾrh, “behold!” (l. 19) is attested at Hermopolis; the independent pronoun hmw is used as the direct object of a finite verbal form (l. 7: yhb hmw ly mrʾy mlkʾ) as in Egyptian Aramaic; and finally, the conjunction ʾzy (ll. 6, 14 [2]), and the adverb mn ʿqb (l. 11) are hapax legomena for Aramaic (cf. DNWSI, 25, 881, resp.). Thus, in practice (cf. already Folmer 1995, 747), only some lexical items and basic features of syntax (OV word order and zy- phrases) connect the Assur Ostracon to the remainder of the Assyrian Aramaic material. 24

New Light on Assyro-Aramaic Interference: the Assur Ostracon


Transliteration 1. [ ..... ʾl ʾḥ]y prwr ʾḥwk blṭr29 šlm l[śgʾ] 2. [...] ʿmy ʾt bmtkdy wʾnh wʿrby wm[....] 3. [... ʾzl]t mn ʾrk ʿm grṣpn wʿm wgmr ʾ[...] 4. ʾnh[...............................] byt ʾwkn 3-1 hmw ʾgrt mlk bbl 5. bydh[ym] y[........................] byt ʾwkn bḥpyrw bmdbrʾ ʾḥzn hm[w 6. ʾythm [......... h]wšrt lmry mlkʾ ʾzy [...] ʾḥzn . mn . nh[...] 7. wʾtyt [........] qdm [mrʾ]y ml[kʾ] [...]n ʿm klbyʾ śmn yhb hmw ly mrʾy mlkʾ 8. kyz zʾ ʾmr ly mrʾy mlkʾ lʾmr [zlk] hmw wlṭḥnw lh wyṭʿm kh bzyt b[.... 9. byt ʾwkn hmw ydyhm ktbt wqmyt qdmy q[r]q qrqw hlw bbyt ʾwkn hmw mn ydhy[hm? ....] 10. ʾby yʾmr lʾmr mn šmhyqr [n]bwzrkn ʾḥš[y] wwlwl nbwzrkn wʾḥšy ʾpqnrbyl šm[...] 11. wwlwl šmhyqr wʾby hlw h[....] kzy yʾth ʾpqnrbyl ʾšwr mn ʿqb yhtb hmw lʾpq[nrbyl whn] 12. plsr [yš]ʾl hṣdʾ hny mlyʾ ʾlh b[lṭr] šmy ktb ʿl ydhyhm wqrʾ hmw šʾl hmw hṣ[dʾ...] 13. [mly]ʾ ʾlh hl[w] ʿbdn hmw zly qrqw hlw [....] zy byt ʾwkn hmw hlw ndmrdk ʿzrk šlḥt qdm[yk] 14. [...] hmw ʾḥzʾ hmw hwšr ln ʾzy br nm[...]bn wbr b[....]zbn zbnʾdn wnbwšlm zy byt ʾdn ʾzy 15. [...]ʿ šby šbh tkltplsr mn byt ʾwkn [wšby] šbh ʾlly mn byt ʾdn w šby šbh šrkn mn drsn 16. wšb[y šbh sn]ḥrb mn kšw[... mlky] ʾšwr ygz[.....] mn šnh yqrqn wyksʾn hmw wkymn mlky ʾ[šwr] 17. b[ʿ]dyn [.........] lʾmr qrqy ʾl tḥzw m[...]k [...........] ʾšwr ʾšh ʾklthm wmrʾy mlkʾ pqd[....] 18. l[.]m[.]nd ʾ[......] qrqy ʾšwr yksʾn 19. lnbwzrš[bš .........]ʾrh mlʾkty ʾšlḥ lk wg[...........] hlbty mlʾ ʾt lbt ʾlhʾ zy [.] ṭy[.....] 20. lmh lbty mlʾ [ʾt] wkʿt [.........] ʾpyʾ b[...]q[...............ʾ]pyʾ kzy tḥzh wyʾ[...] šnh šlḥnh [..........] 21. bbyt dblʾ l[....]n š[wd]n h[.....] zy hmrtk zy ʾt [..........] šwdn zy byt dblʾ

Translation 1. [......To my broth]er, Pirʾ-Amur(ru), (from) your brother Bel-eṭir. M[any] greetings. 2. [When] you were with me in Babylonia,30 and I and Arbayya and M[...], 3. [ ... and I was going] from Uruk with Ger-Ṣapunu31 and with Ugammar-A[ššur]32 4. I [......................] Bit-Amukanni. They were four: a letter33 from the king of Babylon 5. was in their hands. [They were going to] Bit-Amukanni. In Ḥapirû,34 in the open countryside, we caught them [, and .....] 29

For this salutatio, cf. most recently Contini 1995, 61. For mtkdy = Māt Akkadê (as the Babylonian region was commonly called), cf. the parallel attestation mt ʾkdh in the so-called “Beirut decree” from approx. 600 BC (cf. Fitzmyer – Kaufman 1992, 25) 31 As noted in PNA, 426b, the name is Canaanite (“client of the [god/mountain] Ṣapunu”). No prosopographical parallel for an individual of this name is attested in the NA epistolary corpus. 32 The final ʾaleph is given by all interpreters: ʾ[sr] is thus a possibility. 33 Cf. DNWSI, 12: this is the most ancient attestation for ʾgrt as “letter”, in conformity with the usage of the term in later Egyptian Aramaic, while — as visible also from the chart given above — in legal value in Assyrian Aramaic is “contract”, or perhaps even more generally “legal document”. On the other hand, egirtu in NB is well attested in the meaning “letter”. 34 The location of ḥpyrw is unknown, but since the four men were proceeding from Babylon (32°32.14′N, 44°26.41′E) southward to Bit-Amukkani, it should be located in the Euphrates catchment area, in the “open countryside” or “steppe” (mdbr) possibly not far to the northwest from the point of arrival. Uruk (31°19.3′N, 45°38.4′E) where the writer of the letter and his cronies were based and from which their patrol originated, is not very far to the east of the reconstructed territory of the Bit-Amukanni confederation. The data are based on Parpola – Porter 2001, passim. 30


Frederick Mario Fales them. [ I ....... and I w]rote35 to the king my lord. Then we took [...] from the riv[er] and I came[ ..........] before the [k]ing my [lord ....]: “They were placed with the infantry;36 (but) the king my lord will give them to me”. On this matter, the king my lord said to me: “They are [yours], and they will not serve him”. And he ordered thus. Into an inheritance portion of the hou[sehold of my father 37 I turned (?)] them, [these men from]

6. 7. 8.


Lit.: “I sent” (cf. DNWSI, 477), but notice that yšr Haphel would be used at the same time as šlḥ Qal (ll. 13, 19, 20) for “to send” (cf. already Fales 1996, 42, with previous bibl.). Thus, I believe that the causative of yšr should be here considered as a calque from Akkadian (and specifically NA) šapāru, with the specific nuance “to send a message”, i.e. “to write”. 36 ʿm klbyʾ śmn: this has always been, and still remains, an extremely tricky passage. Following Lidzbarski 1921 (11, 14), KAI II 283 translated “mit den Hunden waren sie eingesperrt” (cf. also Gibson 1971, 103: “...had been put with the dogs”; Lindenberger 2003, 19: “they were put with the dogs”). However, this interpretation does not tally in full with the wlṭḥnw lh of the following line, which implies that a specific person was responsible for these POWs — and this person cannot be identified with the Assyrian king, since it would have been redundant (as well as disrespectful) to say that the POWs did not work for him anymore, after he himself had graciously given them over to Bel-eṭir. Further, pace Lidzbarski and all the others, there is no record of POWs being placed with the dogs in the Assyrian epistolary corpus: the quotes brought forth on this count — from Assyrian royal inscriptions of Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal — refer in point of fact to the dire punishment of formerly rebellious kings, who were tied up with dog chains and made to stand guard at the city gates, also as examples for the populace (cf. CAD K, 69b). But, of course, these kings were not also expected to work for the Assyrian ruler in their “free” time! In the light of these arguments, it seems reasonable to seek other interpretations for the expression ʿm klbyʾ śmn. Many years ago (Fales 1987, 469) having decided that the klbyʾ of the clause in AP 30, l. 16 concerning the fate of the wicked Vidranga (klbyʾ hnpqw kblʾ mn rglwhy) could not be “dogs”, but were to be related to Assyrian kallābu, “auxiliary troops” (“the auxiliaries took away the anklet from his feet, and all the goods that he acquired were lost”), I also suggested that the same loan from Assyrian might apply to the present phrase (“they were placed with the auxiliary troops, and the king my lord gave them to me”). I still maintain the equation klbyʾ = kallābu for both passages, albeit taking account of the discussion by Lindenberger 2001, 142-143. Specifically, I would note that (1) kallābu should be translated as “(regular) infantry” on the basis of the conclusions reached in a detailed study on the matter (Fales 2009); (2) while I had previously considered kallābu as a collective singular, in fact a plural kallābāni, kallābī exists (CAD K, 77b), so that a straightforward rendering into an Aramaic plural form klbyʾ is plausible; (3) the problems of the attribution of POWs and deportees to this or that regiment/department, at times with inner conflicts among officials, are dealt with in numerous Neo-Assyrian letters (cf. fn. 49, below); thus, it is quite probable that the entire clause (“They were placed with the infantry; (but) the king my lord will give them to me”) was spoken by a further party, presumably a high-ranking official entertaining high hopes of appropriation, who was however overruled by the king in favor of the writer (“They are [yours], and they will not serve him”). 37 bzyt was analyzed by KAI II, 284-285 as “unklar; vielleicht 1. oder 2. P. m. sg. Qal von bzh, ‘verachten, geringschätzen’ oder Pa. Von bzh ‘teilen’ ”. DNWSI, 149, reports with some doubts these two interpretations (“to despise”/ “to divide”), albeit also adding other hypotheses, such as ḥ!zyt by Gibson 1971, 103, 107 (also Lindenberger 2003, 19: ḥzyt b[҅ynyn zyly mn], “I have seen with my own eyes”). The CAL ( refers the form back to bzz, “to despoil” an attempt to endow the overall complex of ll. 8-11 with a coherent sense, I suggest that zyt be understood as a hitherto unattested loanword from the Akkadian legal term zittu, “part, portion”, and the following words be integrated as b[yt ʾby], thus translating “into (b) a(n inheritance) portion of the hou[sehold of my father]” followed by a verb with the object “them”. In other words, Bel-eṭir should be relating the fact that, after the king had given him the men as his property, he passed them over to his father’s estate, albeit reserving them for his own inheritance portion. This solution would per se clarify the function as “my father” of the individual dubbed ʾ by in line 10, and who was understood by all previous interpreters as a personal name, Abay or similar — with the effect of introducing a further unknown protagonist in this already muddled tale.

New Light on Assyro-Aramaic Interference: the Assur Ostracon


9. Bit-Amukanni; their hands I inscribed, and I established before me. They had deserted, you see? They were in Bit-Amukanni. From [their] hands … 10. My father spoke thus: “Of (the four, i.e.) Śam-hayqar, Nabû-zer-ukin, Aḥḥešay, and Walūl, Upaqa-ana-Arbail is to take into cust[ody] Nabu-zer-ukin and Aḥḥešay, 11. and [he .....] (also) Walūl and Śam-hayqar”. And my father w[rote]: “When Upaqa-ana-Arbail comes to Assur, immediately he will make them return. For Upaqa-ana-Arbail”. And in case 12. Apil-Ešarra38 should ask: are these words really true? Bel-eṭir, my own name, is inscribed on their hands. Call them, and ask them (if) 13. these words are really true. They are my slaves, they had deserted. They [...] are from Bit-Amukanni. Now, I have sent Naʾdi-Marduk as your help before you. 14. [....] them; I want to see them. Send us a message. Further: (as for) the son of NM[......Za]ban, and the son of B[.....]Zaban, Zaban-iddina and Nabû-ušallim, from Bit-Adini,39 15. [list]en further: Tiglath-pileser40 took captives from Bit-Amukanni, and Ululayu41 [took] captives from Bit Adini, and Sargon took captives from Dur-Sin, 16. and [Senn]acherib took cap[tives] from Kšw[..... All the kings of] Assyria seiz[ed people, but year] after year they escaped, and they used to pursue them. But constantly, the kings [of Assyria] 17. in the treaty documents 42 [wrote...], saying: Do not look for the escapees; who[ever has sinned/rebelled against ] Assyria, the fire will consume them! But the king my lord has appointed [PN] 18. in GN, [and again] they are pursuing the escapees from Assyria. 19. For Nabû-zer-ušabši, [my brother]: behold, I am sending you my messenger Ug[ammar-DN]. Are you mad at me? The wrath of the god which ............... 20. Why are [you] mad at me? And now, ....... Opis, in .......... when you will see him [in] Opis; and he .... a year (ago) we sent it to him [.....] 21. in Bit-Diblā, ..... Šum-iddina ....[the one] who made you bitter, who caused .... is Šum-iddina of Bit-Diblā.


Or, less probably, “a temple-servant of Ešarra”, i.e. a servant of the temple of Assur in the Assyrian religious capital, as a codified professional name of Akkadian origin in Aramaic. 39 Bit-Adini refers to the Chaldean tribe of that name, which was a clan or subdivision of the major tribal confederation of Bit-Dakkuri and not to the homonymous tribal state on the bend of the Euphrates in NW Mesopotamia — which had been conquered in the 9th century by Shalmaneser III. The same place name occurs in the next line, in connection with Shalmaneser V’s conquests. Bit-Adini is further known from Sennacherib’s annals as one of the groups fighting against the Assyrians at the battle of Halulê, in 691 BC (cf. Lipiński 2000, 163). 40 The presence of a historical reminiscence on a specific theme, going back to the very beginnings of the Assyrian empire, is not unique to this text, but appears here and there also in the Neo-Assyrian epistolary corpus: cf. e.g. the following passage in a letter addressed to Sin-šar-iškun, son of Assurbanipal, from Babylonia (Reynolds 2003, no. 187:5-15), “Ever since the reign of Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, my fathers have kept the surveillance for (lit., “the watch of”) the kings of Assyria. Bel-šuma-iškun, my grandfather, whom Sennacherib and your father appointed, provided the [...]s for the repairs. He kept the surveillance of Sennacherib and Esarhaddon, and set up a fine household in [...]. During the revolt of Šamaš-šumu-ukin, just as Assurbanipal remembered those favors which my grandfather had rendered...(rest fragmentary)”. 41 This is the well-known Babylonian dynastic name of Shalmaneser V (727-722 BC); it is however strange that the name of his predecessor Tiglath-pileser III was not correspondingly given as Pwl, as it appears in the Bible (2 Kings, 15:19; 1 Chronicles, 5:26). 42 The sequence b[ʿ]dyn may be made out from Lidzbarski’s attempts, where an ʿayin is noted as possibility in second position; CAL has b[.]dyb, but the last beth is not indicated among Lidzbarski’s possibilities.


Frederick Mario Fales

A brief set of comments may begin by considering the Assur ostracon in its material nature, i.e. as an artifact.43 In the light of the archaeological and geographical-contextual coordinates of the document, it appears quite likely that this text painted on a sherd represented the preliminary draft of an epistolary message in Aramaic;44 this draft should have been subsequently recopied on a pliable scroll and sent to its intended addressee.45 While Bel-eṭir, the sender, seems to have resided in the city of Assur, on the northern Tigris valley (and possibly in or near the house where the ostracon was retrieved), Pir᾿Amur(ru) and Nabû-zer-ušabši, the addressees, were located in the southern Mesopotamian region. Thus the letter was written to be sent from north to south; but since the ostracon was in fact retrieved in Assyria, it can only have represented a first draft on which further texts were based. The second feature concerns the prosopographical aspects of the text. The Assur ostracon was written by an individual named Bel-eṭir, who is known from contemporary texts in cuneiform as a military, and specifically as a cohort commander (rab kiṣir) of king Assurbanipal, active in southern Mesopotamia (Fig. 3), presumably during the years in which the Assyrian ruler was engaged in warfare against his brother, Šamaš-šum-ukin, king of Babylonia (645-640 BC).46 An Assyrian letter indicates that the king had dispatched 200 horsemen under Bel-eṭir and Arbaya — who is also mentioned in the ostracon (l. 2), in the region of Uruk (see l. 3), to assist the local pro-Assyrian governor, Nabûušabši — who might be the same person as the Nabû-zer-ušabši mentioned in l. 19 of our text.47 We may at this point tackle the actual contents of the text. Bel-eṭir should have been in retirement from the battlefield in his city of birth, Assur, when he wrote this letter to a former army crony of his, Pir᾿-Amur(ru).48 In point of fact, the problem of which he writes occurred in the “old days” when the two were fighting together in southern Mesopotamia (“[When] you were with me in Babylonia”, l. 2). In the course of an action in the southern countryside, the group of Assyrian military had intercepted and captured four deserters, coming up from Bit-Amukkanni, who were bearing a secret letter from the enemy king (mlk bbl, ll. 4-5). Upon his return to Assyria, Bel-eṭir had made an entreaty to Assurbanipal that the four captives be assigned to his private domain as slaves; and, despite other bids, the ruler had agreed (l. 8).49 The slaves were branded, and possibly entrusted to Bel-eṭir’s father, but 43

For a similar approach, cf. already Fales 2007a. Or perhaps more than one of such messages: this uncertainty depends on whether the final three lines (19-21) should be considered as pertaining to one and the same epistolary text as the previous one (i.e. as a message within a message), or rather to a totally different letter. The first possibility seems the most probable, with Pirʾ-Amur(ru) and Nabû-zer-ušabši to be considered as presumably located in the same place. 45 In other words, it is hard to believe that the Assur ostracon could have circulated as such, due to its length and (consequently) size: cf. the discussion on ostraca as epistolary media somewhat similar to the modern “telegram” by Schwiderski 2000, 237-238. Indisputably, on the other hand, a final copy of the text (presumably enclosed within a container or sealed shut, on whatever medium) was destined for circulation, as is clear from the mention of a messenger in l. 19. 46 Cf. PNA 299b-300a, for the attestations of Bel-eṭir in Neo-Assyrian and the connection with the Assur ostracon. 47 For Nabû-zer-ušabši, cf. PNA, 912a, with reference to the Assur ostracon; for Nabû-ušabši, governor of Uruk ca. 661-649 BC, cf. PNA, 901b-902a. 48 For the equivalence of prwr to *Pirʾ-Amurru (although the latter is not attested as such in the NeoAssyrian text corpus), cf. PNA, 995b. Of course, the element -wr is the same as in the divine name ʾlwr in the inscription of Zakkur, line 1. For the god Amurru as subject-element in WSem PNs in cuneiform script, cf. PNA, 109a. 49 Cf. fn. 36, above. For the practice of assigning POWs to subordinates for their private domains, cf. e.g. already an 8th century letter from Nimrud/Kalhu, which runs as follows: “Out of the captives who came out, I searched and chose 30 persons among them. I applied to the Commander-in-Chief, and he assigned them to me. (Instead,) out of the captives who were inside the city of Rapiqu, I chose 10 persons among them, but the Com44

New Light on Assyro-Aramaic Interference: the Assur Ostracon


their property was soon contested. The father warns the writer that he has received a message stating that an official in Babylon, Upaqa-ana-Arbail, is to take custody of two of the men if not of all four (ll. 10 and 11), and will bring them back to the south when he comes to Assur. Bel-eṭir is undertandably upset, and points out that his name branded on their hands is proof of legitimate ownership (l. 12). The writer thus ends up by asking his old crony to look into the matter, and to help him settle the issue.50 A second point (from lines 14 onward) regards a number of other slaves, from the Chaldean tribe of Bit-Adini, about whom — presumably — the addressee Pir᾿-Amur(ru) had complained, possibly because they had escaped. Here our writer couches the most interesting lines of his text (ll. 15-18), since he briefly describes the Assyrian policies of deporting Babylonian populations, starting from the reign of Tiglath-pileser III (745-722 BC) down through all of his successors in the ruling dynasty to the present time, exactly one century later. He notes that escapees from deportation and servitude in Assyria had been a constant problem, but that the kings that succeeded one another on the throne had always taken a lax attitude on this count, merely cursing these people in their treaty-documents with the promise that due punishment by the national god Aššur would sooner or later catch up with them. Only Assurbanipal had — quite recently — revived the practice of factually hunting down those who escaped. And finally, the last three lines of the text (19-21) hold a message within the message, possibly to be read out to the governor of Uruk himself. The gist of this part is hard to make out, due to the fragmentary state of the text; but apparently Nabû-zer-ušabši had been angry with the writer, who shifts the blame for a possible misunderstanding onto another individual, Šum-iddina of Bit-Diblā.

3. Conclusions What may be deduced from this unique piece of evidence for letter-writing in Aramaic within the Assyrian empire? Of course, it may be well to keep in mind the valuable dictum that testis unus, testis nullus; nonetheless, a few points for reflection may be suggested. In the first place, as in the case of legal documents seen above, the basic “style-sheet” of Assyrian epistolography seems to have been respected: we have an initial salutatio, then the substance of the letter in two different points, and finally — as is often the case in private correspondence from this age — the already mentioned “message within a message”. Secondly, some of the well-known rhetorical tools used in Neo-Assyrian epistolary communication may be detected here as well: for example, the sender’s injunction (or plea) to ask third parties physically close to the addressee for an oral confirmation of his written words (ll. 11-13) is a frequently used topical expedient to assert one’s personal version of a complicated issue.51 Thirdly, a few loan-translations again mark this text, the most noteworthy of which is the frequently occurring expression mrʾy mlkʾ for šarru bēlī, “the king my lord”, used when referring to the Assyrian ruler on the part of his subjects.

mander-in-Chief was not in a good mood, so I did not apply to him. When he comes into the Palace, may (the king) my lord speak to him!” (Postgate 1974, no. 194; 7-23). 50 Notice the totally different (and very muddled) interpretation of this entire part provided by Gibson 1971, 101: “Later (6), another individual called Abai was captured; a second letter, addressed to him, had, it appears, been carried by the prisoners (10). Bel-etir then himself visited Assyria and found his captives being treated as royal or state prisoners. Ashurbanipal gave all five to him as his personal slaves (7-8), but when Beletir returned to Babylonia, he left them behind in Ashur in the care of someone called Upaqa-ana-Arbaili (10). He now writes to Pirʾi-Amurri to ask for them to be sent on to him (11). A subordinate of Pirʾi-Amurri (13) may have been the messenger, or the one whom Bel-etir intended should take the prisoners back to him”. 51 See e.g. Fales 2001, 122.


Frederick Mario Fales

In a nutshell, then, the Assur ostracon would seem to provide us with a partially similar picture to that deriving from the legal documents of this age: a specific, “one-to-one”, rendering into Aramaic of the stylemes and vocabulary of contemporary Assyrian letters was available to the Aramaya scribes, and it was as such easily understandable to a certain part of the population of the empire. More in general, it seems that the socially dominant linguistic variety — Assyrian — represented the reference point for the overall textual framework, whether it concerned the formulaic sequences of legal deeds or the basic layout of a personal message to be communicated. On its part, the socially subordinate linguistic variety — Aramaic — fulfilled the essential role of vehiculating a viable and running translation of all stylistic, rhetorical and lexical items which filled such a framework, such as to make all possible written utterances available to the general population. All this said, by far the most interesting feature of this text is also the most obvious one. The Assur ostracon written by and to individuals also known in the contemporary Neo-Assyrian correspondence as officials of the Empire; due to their rank, these people must have absolutely been expected to speak/read Assyrian on official matters, but this private letter was thought out and written in Aramaic. We are not dealing here with a family letter, in which private ideas and were exchanged among members of a tight-knit foreign community — as, e.g., in a number the letters in Aramaic from Achaemenid Egypt — but with a letter traded between “army buddies”, endowed with fully Assyrian names. These people chose to chew the fat, to set forth their private problems, and to ask for present support, in the vernacular, not in the official language of “work”.52 I now return to my initial point. The Assyrian authorities were surely well aware that two parallel traditions of legal writ and epistolary communication (and who knows, of how many other textual genres!) were circulating in their empire, but they must have accepted it as a fact of life. After all, the unique mix of peoples that the Assyrian Empire was increasingly producing in all its regional niches was the result of mass deportation policies that the Assyrians themselves had put in practice, so as to settle the ruling classes of the conquered areas far away from their original constituencies. Now, if these displaced people had found a common ground for the expression of their everyday business and communicational needs in a language other than the king’s own, but which did not in point of fact alter or betray the king’s words, there was nothing to do but to make the best of this state of affairs.


For Aramaic as vernacular language vis-à-vis Assyrian as the official language, cf. most recently Beaulieu 2006.

New Light on Assyro-Aramaic Interference: the Assur Ostracon



P.-A. Beaulieu 2006, “Official and Vernacular Languages: The Shifting Sands of Imperial and Cultural Identities in First Millennium B.C. Mesopotamia”, in S.L. Sanders (Ed.), Margins of Writing, Origins of Cultures, Chicago 2006, pp. 187-216. G. Beckman 1998, “Ištar of Nineveh Reconsidered”, Journal of Cuneiform Studies 50 (1998), 1-10. P. Bordreuil, F. Briquel-Chatonnet 1996-97, “Aramaic Documents from Til Barsib”, Abr-Nahrain 34 (1996-97), 100-107. CAL = S.A. Kaufman (Gen. Ed.), The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon website = CDA = J. Black, A. George, N. Postgate (Eds.), A Concise Dictionary of Akkadian, Wiesbaden 2000. R. Contini 1995, “Epistolary Evidence of Address Phenomena in Official and Biblical Aramaic”, in Z. Zevit, S. Gitin, M. Sokoloff (eds.), Solving Riddles and Untying Knots. Biblical, Epigraphic, and Semitic Studies in Honor of Jonas B. Greenfield, Winona Lake 1995, 57-67. DNWSI = J. Hoftijzer, K. Jongeling (Eds.), Dictionary of the North-West Semitic Inscriptions, I-II , Leiden/New York/Cologne 1995. F.M. Fales 1986, Aramaic Epigraphs on Clay Tablets of the Neo-Assyrian Period, Roma 1986. ——1987, “Aramaic Letters and Neo-Assyrian Letters: Philological and Methodological Notes”, Journal of the American Oriental Society 107 (1987), 451-469. ——1995, “Assyro-aramaica: the Assyrian Lion-Weights”, in K. van Lerberghe, A. Schoors (eds.), Immigration and Emigration within the Ancient Near East. Festschrift E. Lipiński, Leuven 1995, 33-55. ——1996, “Most Ancient Aramaic Texts and Linguistics: A Review of Recent Studies”, Incontri linguistici 19 (1996), 33-57. ——2000a, “The Use and Function of Aramaic Tablets”, in G. Bunnens (ed.), Essays on Syria in the Iron Age, Louvain-Paris-Sterling (Va.) 2000, 89-124. ——2000b, “Neo-Assyrian karāmu: A Unitary Interpretation”, in S. Graziani (ed.), Studi sul Vicino Oriente antico dedicati allq memoria di Luigi Cagni, Napoli 2000, I, 261-281. ——2001, L’impero assiro, Roma-Bari 2001. ——2007, “Multilingualism on Multiple Media in the Neo-Assyrian Period: A Review of the Evidence”, State Archives of Assyria Bulletin 16 (2007), 95-122. ——2007a, “Between Archaeology and Linguistics: the Use of Aramaic Writing in Painted Characters on Clay Tablets of the 7th Century BC”, in M. Moriggi (ed.), XII Incontro italiano di linguistica camito-semitica (afroasiatica), Soveria Mannelli 2007, 139-160. ——2009, “The Assyrian Words for ‘(Foot)soldier’ ”, in G. Galil – M. Geller ‒ A.R. Millard (eds.), Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies in Honour of Bustenay Oded, Leiden 2009, 71-94. F.M. Fales et al. 1996, “An Aramaic Tablet from Tell Shioukh Fawqani, Syria”, Semitica 46 (1996), 81-121 (Introduction by L. Bachelot, Appendix by E. Attardo). F.M. Fales, K. Radner, C. Pappi, E. Attardo 2005, “The Assyrian and Aramaic Texts from Tell Shiukh Fawqani”, in L. Bachelot, F.M. Fales (eds.), Tell Shiukh Fawqani 1994-1998, Padova 2005, 595-694. J.A. Fitzmyer, S.A. Kaufman 1992, An Aramaic Bibliography. Part I: Old, Official, and Biblical Aramaic, Baltimore-London 1992. M.L. Folmer 1995, The Aramaic Language in the Achaemenid Period. A Study in Linguistic Variation, Leuven 1995. J.C.L. Gibson 1971, Textbook of Syrian Semitic Inscriptions, II, Oxford 1971. KAI = H. Donner, W. Röllig, Kanaanäische und aramäische Inschriften, I-III, Wiesbaden 1968 (20032). S.A. Kaufman 1974, The Akkadian Influences on Aramaic, Chicago-London 1974. ——1977, “An Assyro-Aramaic egirtu ša šulmu”, in M. De Jong Ellis (ed.), Essays on the Ancient Near East in Memory of Jacob Joel Finkelstein, Hamden (Conn.) 1977, 119-127. ——1989, “Assyro-aramaica”, Journal of the American Oriental Society 109 (1989), 97-102. A. Lemaire 2001, Nouvelles tablettes araméennes, Genève 2001. ——2008, “Remarks on the Aramaic of Upper Mesopotamia in the Seventh Century B.C.”, in H. Gzella, M.L. Folmer (eds.), Aramaic in Its Historical and Linguistic Setting, Wiesbaden 2008, 77-92. M. Lidzbarski 1921, Altaramäische Urkunden aus Assur, Leipzig 1921.


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J.M. Lindenberger 2001, “What ever Happened to Vidranga? A Jewish Litany of Cursing from Elephantine”, in P.M. Michèle Daviau, J.W. Wevers, M. Weigl (eds.), The World of the Arameans III: Studies in language and Literature in Honor of Paul-Eugène Dion, Sheffield 2001, 134-157. ——2003, Ancient Aramaic and Hebrew Letters, Atlanta 2003. E. Lipiński 1985, Aramaic-Akkadian Archives from the Gozan-Harran Area, in J. Amitai (ed.), Biblical Archaeology Today, Jerusalem 1985, 340-348. ——2000, The Arameans. Their Ancient History, Culture, Religion, Leuven 2000. Y. Muffs 1969, Studies in the Aramaic Legal Papyri from Elephantine, Leiden 1969 (20032). S. Parpola 2004, “National and Ethnic Identity in the Neo-Assyrian Empire and Assyrian Identity in Post-Empire Times”, Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies, 18/2 (2004) ( ). S. Parpola, M. Porter 2001, The Helsinki Atlas of the Near East in the Neo-Assyrian Period, Casco Bay-Helsinki 2001. O. Pedersén 1986, Archives and Libraries in the City of Assur, II, Uppsala 1986. PNA = The Prosopography of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Hitherto published volumes: K. Radner (Ed.), Volume I, Part 1: A, Helsinki 1998; Part 2: B-G, Helsinki 1999; H.D.Baker (Ed.), Volume II, Part 1: H-K, Helsinki 2000; Part 2: L-N, Helsinki 2001; Part 3: P-Ṣ, Helsinki 2002. J.N. Postgate 1974, The Governor’s Palace Archive, London 1974. —— 1976, Fifty Neo-Assyrian Legal Documents, Warminster 1976. K. Radner 1997, Die neuassyrischen Privatrechtsurkunden als Quelle für Mensch und Umwelt, Helsinki 1997. F. Reynolds 2003, The Babylonian Correspondence of Esarhaddon, Helsinki 2003. W. Röllig 2000, “Aramäer und Assyrer. Die Schriftzeugnisse bis zum Ende der Assyrerreich”, in G. Bunnens (ed.), Essays on Syria in the Iron Age, Louvain-Paris-Sterling (Va.) 2000, 177-186. ——2002, “Aramäische Beischriften auf Keilschrifttexten aus Dur-Katlimmu”, in K. Radner, Die neuassyrischen Texte aus Tall Šeḫ Ḥamad, Berlin 2002, 22-23 (and cf. Passim). D. Schwiderski 2000, Handbuch des nordwestsemitischen Briefformulars, Berlin-New York 2000. H. Tadmor 1982, “The Aramaization of Assyria: Aspects of Western Impact”, in H.-J. Nissen, J. Renger (eds.), Mesopotamien und sene Nachbarn, II, Berlin 1982, pp. 449-470. W. von Soden 1969, Grundriss der akkadischen Grammatik, Roma 19692. K. Watanabe 1987, Die adê-Vereidigung anlässlich der Thronfolgeregelung Asarhaddons, Berlin 1987. C. Zaccagnini 1994, “Joint Responsibility in Barley Loans of the Neo-Assyrian Period”, State Archives of Assyria Bulletin 8 (1994), 21-42. ——1997, “On the Juridical Terminology of Neo-Assyrian and Aramaic Contracts”, in H. Waetzoldt, H. Hauptmann (eds.), Assyrien im Wandel der Zeiten [=XXXIX Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, 6-10/VI/ 1992], Heidelberg 1997, 203-208. ——1999, “The Assyrian Lion Weights from Nimrud and the ‘mina of the land’ ”, in Y. Avishur, R. Deutsch (eds.), Michael. Historical, Epigraphical and Biblical Studies in Honor of Prof. Michael Heltzer, Tel AvivJaffa, 259-265. R. Zadok 1977, On West Semites in Babylonia During the Chaldean and Achaemenian Period. An Onomastic Study, Jerusalem 1977. ——1995, “The Ethno-Linguistic Character of the Jezireh and Adjacent Regions in the 9th-7th Centuries (Assyria Proper vs. Periphery)”, in M. Liverani (ed.), Neo-Assyrian Geography, Rome 1995, 217-281.

New Light on Assyro-Aramaic Interference: the Assur Ostracon

Fig. 1. Plan of Assur.

Fig. 2. The Assur Ostracon.



Frederick Mario Fales

Fig. 3. The geographical setting of the Assur Ostracon.