Evidence of personal written communications between individuals in Mesopotamia is either indirect, in the form of references made to letters in literary texts or scribal copies, or direct, in the form of primary documents. In order for a correspondence to be necessary and to function, the content must be of a nature that cannot be con veyed by oral means alone, and sender and recipient need to be literate or have somebody literate at their disposal. Quantities of cuneiform letters have been recovered at the Anatolian site Kultepe (see KANESH), concerning complex business and private arrangements between the merchants based back in Assyria and those in the tradecolony. The archive of Maripreserved many of the letters sent to the king, who was frequently away from the capital. They kept him informed of any developments that warranted his attention, from military to economic and even private matters. The Old Babylonian periodsaw comparatively high levels of literacy, with scribes being available to ordinary citizens as well as royal personnel. In the 14th century, the rulers of the main states in the ancient Near East sent each other missives written in Akkadian, to show goodwill and a readiness to enter into ceremonial exchanges, as documented in the Amarnacorrespondence.In the Neo-Assyrian period, scholars, diviners, military personnel, and other officials wrote detailed reports to their sovereign, which were filed in the state archives. The format of the letters, beginning with the phrase “To PN say the following” betrays their origin in verbal messages learned by heart.

Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. . 2012.


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