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Olga Olina

The Polyglots of Ancient Near East

The ancient Near East – a vast territory spanning Mesopotamia, Anatolia, ancient Egypt and the Levant – was home to many early civilizations. The wheel and the first currency systems were invented here, as well as the foundations of astronomy, physics and mathematics. Though of different descent, and each with their own language and history, the inhabitants of this region developed a mutual understanding which enabled them to flourish and trade despite the highly limited natural resources. These people were the first polyglots, in one of the cradles of modern civilization.

Due to the limited materials available to researchers for the study of multilingualism in ancient times, it is difficult to specify the exact status of the many languages spoken in the ancient Near East. Some information, however, can be inferred from bilingual attestations discovered by archeologists. Though the extant sources of many languages are very scarce, there is a number of languages – such as Sumerian, Akkadian or Hittite – with a rich surviving textual tradition.

In this talk I will introduce you to the peoples populating the ancient Near East, as well as their languages and literary tradition. I will explore when and why the first writing systems emerged, and examine the contents of the earliest written records. By setting focus on bilingual attestations I will give an account of multilingualism in the ancient Near East.

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