The Ashmolean

Iraq: Navel of the World


People have spoken and written many different languages in Iraq since the invention of writing there over 5000 years ago. Some examples of the wide variety of scripts, languages and inscribed objects from Iraq are shown in this section. There are lots of others in the rest of the exhibition too.

The four main written languages of historical Iraq have been: Sumerian (c.3000-200 BC) and Akkadian (c.2500 BC-100 AD), both written in the syllabic cuneiform script; Aramaic (c.1200 BC-800 AD) and Arabic (c.600 AD-present), written using alphabets.

Sumerian has no known linguistic relatives, while Akkadian, Aramaic, and Arabic are all members of the Semitic language family, like Hebrew. Akkadian has two main dialects: Assyrian, used in the north of Iraq, and Babylonian, used in the south. Aramaic is still spoken by some communities in the north.

Click on the images below to find out more.