The most important sources for our understanding of ancient Assyria are written sources, and that's why we should discuss how we know how to read these sources, and why these sources are preserved in the first place. Here, you see an image of two Assyrian scribes recording booty from Babylonia. As you can see, the two scribes have different materials in their hands. One has a floppy, floppy scroll in his hand, the other is much more rigid book-like thing. And both of them have writing instruments in their hands. They are quite different. The first scribe has a leather scroll in his hands, and he would be writing on that leather scroll with a pen and ink. The second scribe holds a writing board in his hands. In this case, a two-hinged one that you could open and close like a book. Its surface would be covered with wax, and into this wax the scribe would inscribe his characters of cuneiform script. Cuneiform script is a script that is typical of ancient Mesopotamia, and it's inscribed with a stylus, and we see the scribe holding the stylus in his hands. So these two writing materials are used for different scripts. On the one hand, the ink, the pen, the scroll for letters in Aramaic for an alphabetic script, and on the other hand, the clay tablet or the writing board with the stylus for cuneiform. So let's have a look at these types of script. This is Aramaic alphabet script. It's written from this direction to this direction, so from the right hand to the left hand and it is an alphabetic script closely related to the Greek, and later Latin script, and derived ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet script. It's used in Assyria to record the Aramaic language, which is one of the languages of the state. The other script is cuneiform. Cuneiform means, in Latin, “wedge-shaped”, and it describes the shape of the individual characters. They are, as I said, impressed with the stylus. So this is a three dimensional script, and every sign is made up of several impressions of the stylus. Here, for example, the sign be, made up of one horizontal wedge and this crooked one, and so on. Lí here with two horizontal ones and then two vertical set inside them. So on the surface, something that looks very complex, very unwieldy. But as soon as one is used to thinking in three dimensions, cuneiform is not hard to read, also not hard to write. And it is, in contrast to the alphabet script, the traditional writing system of ancient Assyria and ancient Mesopotamia, to think about the bigger cultural horizon. So the cuneiform script is used as one of the official scripts of the Assyrian Empire and the language that is recorded in this way is the Assyrian language. So on the one hand, we've got Aramaic script and the Aramaic language, and on the other hand, we've got the cuneiform script and the Assyrian language. Both of the scribes are working side by side, and as soon as you understand that they are using different writing materials, you also understand, therefore, that they are writing in different languages. And that is very, very interesting to us because it shows how complex the understanding of documentation was. In many ways, we can link this to the need to delegate and the need to control what is happening far away from the state. And we will revisit at other times the fact that we have these two scribes using different technologies, using different scripts, using different languages recording ultimately the same information. Now, however, we want to turn our attention to letters because letters in the Assyrian Empire play a very very important role, and we'll encounter them at other points. Letters in the Assyrian Empire, when used by the state, have to be written in clay, in cuneiform, and usually in the Assyrian language. They cannot be written in Aramaic. They cannot be written in the alphabetic script. And therefore, letters look like this. This is a shape that is only possible because of the use of a clay tablet. The clay tablet in the inside here is the letter with the text, and on the outside, we've got an envelope also made out of clay. In our case it's broken, of course, in order for you to see what's inside. And the envelope, when intact, would only record the name of the person who wrote the letter or sent the letter, I should say, and the person who was to receive the letter plus the impression of a seal. And we'll talk about the seal in a second. Otherwise, the envelope would be empty and only when you broke the envelope, when you opened the envelope, you'd be in a position to read what was within. So basically, we are dealing with something that is, in concept, very similar to our idea of a letter, but of course, makes use of a very, very different writing material: clay. And one has to stress that in the Assyrian period, we witnessed the spread of the alphabetic script because it is much, much easier to learn and to use than cuneiform. The alphabetic script has a couple of characters less than 30, like our own of course, and is used in order to record phonetically words, names, information, whereas the cuneiform script has a sign repertoire of several hundred signs, basically, a very very complicated script that falls into two categories: syllables like ma, um, mum, and entire words that can be combined to suit the individual writer. And it is a script that allows the writer to showcase how educated they are. It is possible to use a very simple repertoire of signs- less than a hundred- and you can write anything you like. And then of course, the difference in complexity is not as great compared to the alphabetic script, which uses just under 30 signs. But depending on social status, depending on context, the scribes like to advertise that they can do much better, that they are not limited to just the basics and they can basically show off. So that's, in a way, the big advantage of the cuneiform script. It is a much better way to display one's own command of the script. Every piece of writing gives information about the level of education, the cultural context of the writer, and that can be seen as a very, very positive thing in a society, of course, where not everyone could write and read in the first place. As we said, this was something that was quite well-established among the urban elites and certainly in running the state, but there were differences. So the Assyrian state, from the ninth century onwards, did employ the alphabetic script: much simpler, much easier to learn, much easier to read. But it insisted on continuing to use the cuneiform script. And for certain contexts, the cuneiform script was the only choice like letter writing, like officials’ letter writing. And this is very good for us today because, while the example of the Aramaic script that I showed before is preserved as it is inscribed in a piece of ivory, on the whole we have hardly anything left of the huge documentation that once existed because the most frequent writing material was leather. And that of course doesn't keep; leather rots away and there is no example of a leather scroll from the Assyrian period that would have survived until today. So we have hardly any original documentation in Aramaic. On the other hand, we have thousands of original documents inscribed on clay with cuneiform, and that's why we are very, very happy about the fact that the Assyrian Empire used several scripts for running the show. I have to emphasize that from the start, we always need to understand that half of our evidence is gone for good. We'll never be able to recover it. Every year excavations take place, for example in Northern Iraq, and more cuneiform tablets are being found. Fine. Our evidence is growing when it comes to clay tablets and cuneiform. Our evidence will not grow when it comes to Aramaic because nothing has been preserved. It's all gone. So we need to understand that we, as historians, work with a record full of gaps and we are very, very fortunate that the Assyrian Empire in the ninth century did not decide to say, "Hey, there is this new wonderful thing. The alphabetic script, our old enemies, the Arameans, whom we have now incorporated into our state, have been using it all along. They seem to be doing well with that. Let's just jump ship. Let's abandon cuneiform for good. Let's now focus only on Aramaic." Thank heavens they haven't done this because then we would not have anything to work with. We would not know any of their texts. Thank heavens they decided to keep a multiplicity of systems around because that enables us to reconstruct so much of their history. We will revisit why they did this. There were very good reasons for this to do with supervision, control and checking from a distance. But for now, be aware of the fact that what I say is overwhelmingly based on information from such cuneiform tablets. So I promised that we'd focus also on the sealing. Here is an impression of a cylinder seal. It's, of course, only partly intact because the envelope was opened at a later stage. And here is a modern impression of a cylinder seal from the Neo-Assyrian period and the cylinder seal itself. It's a small stone cylinder, usually made of precious or semi-precious stone, usually about two, two and a half centimetres tall. And all the way around this little cylinder, images were inscribed and sometimes also an inscription. And if you roll such a cylinder into clay, then you get this. And it is an image that is usually unique. Every person who needed a seal would see to it that they had one that was, in some way, characteristic and special for them. The idea was that your seal was an extension of your personality. It was something like a signature. It was used in legal context. It was used in order to seal letters as we've seen. But it also served as a talisman, an amulet. A seal was something very, very personal. We will see that another thing that was invented in the ninth century was a type of seal that was not unique, that was copied in many, many copies. And we'll discuss this later when we will talk about communication in the Assyrian Empire. But this is a cylinder seal. This is one of a kind. And with this, the Assyrians who used these tools stood in a millennial-long tradition because the use of cylinder seals is even older than the use of the cuneiform script. And the cuneiform script was invented in the late fourth millennium, more than 2000 years before the events that we are interested in. The final picture that I want to show highlights where in the world you can see cuneiform tablets best and that's undoubtedly the British Museum where a room has been recently restructured in order to enable the visitors to appreciate how clay tablets would have been stored, for example, in the Assyrian Royal Library in Nineveh. And as you can see, these library tablets were put into shelves pretty much like books. And if you want to see original cuneiform tablets, there is really no better way than to visit the British Museum, because in the mid-19th century, British explorers were among the first to explore the Assyrian heartland, and to excavate, especially in Nineveh. And therefore, the holdings of the palace archives, and the holdings of the palace library in Nineveh, are today in the British Museum. We will draw on these sources a great deal in the following weeks.