Akkadian Language

Akkadian was a Semitic language (part of the greater Afro-Asiatic language family) spoken in ancient Mesopotamia, particularly by the Assyrians and Babylonians. It used the cuneiform writing system derived ultimately from ancient Sumerian, an unrelated, non-Semitic language. The name of the language is derived from the city of Akkad, a major center of Mesopotamian civilization.


Akkadian is divided into dialects based on geography and historical period:

  • Old Akkadian – 2500 ­ 1950 BCE
  • Old Babylonian/Old Assyrian – 1950 ­ 1530 BCE
  • Middle Babylonian/Middle Assyrian – 1530 ­ 1000 BCE
  • Neo-Babylonian/Neo-Assyrian – 1000 ­ 600 BCE
  • Late Babylonian – 600 BCE ­ 100 CE

Clay Tablets – Cuneform

Akkadian scribes wrote the language using cuneiform script, an earlier writing system devised by the Sumerians using wedge-shaped signs pressed in wet clay that in Akkadian could represent either (a) Sumerian logograms (i.e. picture-based characters as in Chinese), (b) Sumerian syllables, (c) Akkadian syllables, and (d) phonetic complements. Cuneiform was in many ways unsuited to Akkadian: among its flaws was its inability to represent important phonemes in Semitic, including a glottal stop, pharyngeals, and emphatic consonants. In addition, cuneiform was a syllabary writing system – i.e. a consonant plus vowel comprised one writing unit – frequently inappropriate for a Semitic language made up of triconsonantal roots (i.e. three consonants minus any vowels). Older Sumerian cuneiform also distinguished between the vowels i and e; this distinction, though not originally present in Akkadian, was adopted by scribes to compensate for the disappearance (or non-writing) of the original Semitic pharyngeals.

Akkadian grammar

Akkadian is an inflected language, and as a Semitic language its grammatical features are highly similar to those found in Classical Arabic. It possesses two genders (masculine and feminine), distinguished even in second person pronouns (you-masc., you-fem.) and verb conjugations; three cases for nouns and adjectives (nominative, accusative, and genitive); three numbers (singular, dual, and plural); and unique verb conjugations for each first, second, and third person pronoun.

Akkadian nouns are declined according to gender, number and case. There are three genders; masculine, feminine and common. Only a very few nouns belong to the common gender. There are also three cases (nominative, accusative and genitive) and three numbers (singular, dual and plural). Adjectives are declined exactly like nouns.

Akkadian nouns are declined according to gender, number and case. There are three genders; masculine, feminine and common. Only a very few nouns belong to the common gender. There are also three cases (nominative, accusative and genitive) and three numbers (singular, dual and plural). Adjectives are declined exactly like nouns.

The remaining root stems are all derived from the first eight and are very similar in meaning. Akkadian verbs usually display the tri-consonantal root, though some roots with two- or four-consonant roots also exist. These are called radicals. There are three tenses, present, preterite and permansive. Present tense indicates incomplete action and preterite tense indicates complete action, while permansive tense expresses a state or condition and usually takes a particle.

Akkadian, unlike Arabic, has mainly regular plurals (i.e. no broken plurals), although some masculine words take feminine plurals. In that respect, it is similar to Hebrew.

Word Order

Akkadian sentence order was subject + object + verb (SOV), which sets it apart from most other Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew, which typically have a verb + subject + object (VSO) word order. (South Semitic languages in Ethiopia are another matter altogether.) It has been hypothesized that this word order was a result of influence from the Sumerian language, which was also SOV. There is evidence that native speakers of both languages were in intimate language contact, forming a single society for at least 500 years, so it is entirely likely that a sprachbund could have formed. Further evidence of an original VSO or SVO ordering can be found in the fact that direct and indirect object pronouns are suffixed to the verb. Word order seems to have shifted to SVO/VSO late in the 1st millennium BC to the 1st millennium AD, possibly under the influence of Aramaic.

Akkadian literature

Among the works written in Akkadian cuneiform are the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Atrahasis Epic. The Atrahasis Epic was a story writted in the early 2nd millennium B.C. in Akkadian. It is a cosmological epic that depicts the creation and early human history, including a flood. Its hero is Atrahasis. The flood account in tablet III of the Atrahasis Epic has much resemblance to that contained in the Gilgamesh Epic.

Reference: Mercer, Samuel A B (1961) Introductory Assyrian Grammar

A letter on a clay tablet, written in Akkadian cuneiform, found in Amarna  - Akkad اكد -  Chaldean Assyrian Syrian Iraqi Arab in Toronto Chaldean

A letter on a clay tablet, written in Akkadian cuneiform, found in Amarna

Akkadian period, reign of Naram-Sin  -  Akkad اكد -  Chaldean Assyrian Syrian Iraqi Arab in Toronto Chaldean

Akkadian period, reign of Naram-Sin

Akkad اكد -  Chaldean Assyrian Syrian Iraqi Arab in Toronto Chaldean

Akkad اكد -  Chaldean Assyrian Syrian Iraqi Arab in Toronto Chaldean

Ancient Akkad

Akkad was the northwestern division of ancient Babylonian civilization. The region was located roughly in the area where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are closest to each other and its northern limit extended beyond the line of the modern cities of Al Fallujah and Baghdad …..


Akkadian period

Sargon of Akkad’s (reigned c. 2334-c. 2279 BC) unification of the Sumerian city-states and creation of a first Mesopotamian empire profoundly affected the art of his people, as well as their language and political thought. The increasingly large proportion of Semitic elements in the population were in the ascendancy, and their personal loyalty to Sargon and his successors replaced the regional patriotism of the old cities. The new conception of kingship thus engendered is reflected in artworks of secular grandeur, unprecedented in the god-fearing world of the Sumerians.


One would indeed expect a similar change to be apparent in the character of contemporary architecture, and the fact that this is not so may be due to the paucity of excavated examples. It is known that the Sargonid dynasty had a hand in the reconstruction and extension of many Sumerian temples (for example, at Nippur) and that they built palaces with practical amenities (Tall al-Asmar) and powerful fortresses on their lines of imperial communication (Tell Brak, or Tall Birak at-Tahtani, Syria). The ruins of their buildings, however, are insufficient to suggest either changes in architectural style or structural innovations.


Two notable heads of Akkadian statues have survived: one in bronze and the other of stone. The bronze head of a king, wearing the wig-helmet of the old Sumerian rulers, is probably Sargon himself (Iraqi Museum). Though lacking its inlaid eyes and slightly damaged elsewhere, this head is rightly considered one of the great masterpieces of ancient art. The Akkadian head (Iraqi Museum) in stone, from Bismayah, Iraq (ancient Adab), suggests that portraiture in materials other than bronze had also progressed.

Where relief sculpture is concerned, an even greater accomplishment is evident in the famous Naram-Sin (Sargon’s grandson) stela (Louvre), on which a pattern of figures is ingeniously designed to express the abstract idea of conquest. Other stelae and the rock reliefs (which by their geographic situation bear witness to the extent of Akkadian conquest) show the carving of the period to be in the hands of less competent artists. Yet two striking fragments in the Iraqi Museum, which were found in the region of An-Nasiriyah, Iraq, once more provide evidence of the improvement in design and craftsmanship that had taken place since the days of the Sumerian dynasties. One of the fragments shows a procession of naked war prisoners, in which the anatomic details are well observed but skillfully subordinated to the rhythmical pattern required by the subject.

Some compensation for the paucity of surviving Akkadian sculptures is to be found in the varied and plentiful repertoire of contemporary cylinder seals. The Akkadian seal cutter’s craft reached a standard of perfection virtually unrivaled in later times. Where the aim of his Sumerian predecessor had been to produce an uninterrupted, closely woven design, the Akkadian seal cutter’s own preference was for clarity in the arrangement of a number of carefully spaced figures.

The Akkadian dynasty ended in disaster when the river valley was overrun by the mountain tribes of northern Iran. Of all the Mesopotamian cities, only Lagash appears somehow to have remained aloof from the conflict and, under its famous governor Gudea, to have successfully maintained the continuity of the Mesopotamian cultural tradition. In particular, the sculpture dating from this short interregnum (c. 2100 BC) seems to represent some sort of posthumous flowering of Sumerian genius. The well-known group of statues of the governor and other notables, discovered at the end of the 19th century, long remained the only criterion by which Sumerian art could be judged, and examples in the Louvre and British Museum are still greatly admired. The hard stone, usually diorite, is carved with obvious mastery and brought to a fine finish. Details are cleverly stylized, but the musculature is carefully studied, and the high quality of the carving makes the use of inlay unnecessary. The powerful impression of serene authority that these statues convey justifies their inclusion among the finest products of ancient Middle Eastern art.


History of Akkadia

During the 3rd Millennium BC, the Sumerians and the Akkadians lived peacefully together and created conditions for a common high civilization.

A few centuries later the first Akkadian king, Sargon of Akkad, ruled over an empire that included a large part of Mesopotamia. The ancient name Akkadian is derived from the city-state of Akkad. It appears that Semitic speaking people had lived for centuries amidst the Sumerians and gradually became an integral part of the Sumerian culture. We don’t hear much about them in the first part of the 3rd millennium, because the scholarly language used in writing at that time was Sumerian.

Akkadia was founded by Sargon I when he conquered Sumeria. Sargon reigned from 2334 to 2279 BCE, and during those fifty-five years Akkadia became the world’s first empire. During his reign, the Akkadian language became the lingua franca of the region. Along with the language came the Semitic culture it represented. The Biblical Shinar, the home of the tribe of Terach, father of Abraham, about 2400 BCE, was ancient Akkadia. It later became Babylonia, and it is now (roughly) Iraq. The art of glassmaking was born in Akkadia. It was a Semitic, and then a Jewish, art for the next three millennia. Glassmaking was unique among the arts, for it was invented only once in all of human history. Its spread through the world was parallel to, and coincident with, the dispersal of the Jews.

Akkadian is one of the great cultural languages of world history. Akkadian (or Babylonian-Assyrian) is the collective name for the spoken languages of the culture in Mesopotamia, the area between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris. Deciphered in the 1850s, Akkadian is the medium of innumerable documents from daily life as well as a vast literature, including the famous Epic of Gilgamesh, the quest of a man for eternal life.

Akkadian, the oldest known member of the family of Semitic languages, succeeded Sumerian as the vernacular tongue of Mesopotamia and was spoken by the Babylonians and Assyrians over a period of nearly two thousand years. It was written in the cuneiform script invented by the Sumerians, and the surviving documentation covers the period from 2350 BC to the first century AD. The oldest known writing system employed by Semitic-speaking peoples is cuneiform. It was adopted by the Akkadians ca.2500 BC from the Sumerians, whose language was not a Semitic tongue.

The city of Babel is thought to have been Babylon and the word babel comes originally from the Akkadian Bab-ilu meaning “gate of God”.

The earliest surviving inscriptions in the language go back to about 2,500 BC and are the oldest known written records in a Semitic tongue. The Semitic languages are named after Shem or Sem, the oldest son of Noah, from whom most of the languages’ speakers were said to be descended.

By the first century AD Akkadian had become an extinct language replaced as a spoken language by Aramaic.