Introductory Sumerian

Key information

Module not running
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Religions and Philosophies

Module overview

An introduction to the Sumerian script and grammar, to include readings from elementary texts such as Early Dynastic royal inscriptions, the inscriptions of Gudea and Ur III kings, etc.


Introductory Akkadian is normally a prerequisite.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module the student should have acquired knowledge and understanding of basic Sumerian grammar, mastery of essential Sumerian vocabulary and competence in the reading of easy cuneiform texts in Sumerian; should have acquired competence in the translation and interpretation of cuneiform texts in the genres studied; should have acquired a fundamental understanding of the written legacy of Sumer; and should have gained appropriate knowledge of the philological and methodological issues with which Sumerologists engage.


The module will normally entail two or three hours in the classroom each week. Preparation for classes will include the study of passages from the set texts for reading in class.

Scope and syllabus

The module begins with three or four weeks of instruction in the basic elements of Sumerian grammar. Thereafter it comprises mainly the reading and discussion of a selection of set texts in cuneiform.

Method of assessment

One three-hour written examination taken in May/June (70%); an exercise to be submitted day 5 after reading week, term 1 (5%); an exercise to be submitted day 5, week 1, term 2 (10%); an exercise to be submitted day 5 after reading week, term 2 (5%); an exercise to be submitted day 5, week 1, term 3 (10%).

Recommended Reading:

  • Falkenstein, A.: Grammatik der Sprache Gudeas von Lagas. Analecta Orientalia, 28-9. Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1949-50
  • Thomsen, M.-L.: The Sumerian Language. Mesopotamia, 10. Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag, 1984 (good and easily accessable state of the art of the 1980s)
  • Attinger, P.: Eléments de linguistique sumérienne. La construction de du 11 /e/di <dire>. Freiburg/Göttingen, 1993
  • Edzard, D. O.: Sumerian Grammar. Handbuch der Orientalistik 71. Leiden: Brill 2003
  • Volk, Konrad: A Sumerian Chrestomathy. Subsidia et Instrumenta Linguarum Orientis (SILO) 5, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2012. ISBN: 978-3-447-06782-9 (recommended for purchase)
  • Zólyomi, G.: An Introduction to the Grammar of Sumerian. Budapest, 2016. PDF for download: (textbook with exercises)
  • Jagersma, A. H.: A Descriptive Grammar of Sumerian. Leiden, 2010. PDF for download: (most recent grammar of 3rd millennium Sumerian)
Further tools:
  • Landsberger, B., M. Civil and others: Materialien zum sumerischen Lexikon, later Materials for the Sumerian Lexicon. Rome: PIB, 1937- (vols. 1-17 so far)
    Sjoberg, Ake W. (ed.): The Sumerian Dictionary of the University Museum of the University of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: University Museum, 1984- (vols. A/I-III, B only) (abbr. PSD = Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary)
  • Mittermayer, C. Unter Mitarbeit von Pascal Attinger: Altbabylonische Zeichenliste der sumerisch-literarischen Texte. Fribourg/Göttingen, 2006 (Old Babylonian signs list with most up-to-date Sumerian sign values
    Online-glossary for want of a complete dictionary (ePSD = Electronic Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary):
    Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (ETCSL): (Sumerian texts and English translations)
    Browse through the different projects hosted at ORACC (Open Richly Annotated Cuneiform Corpus): (see, e.g., Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, the Digital Corpus of Cuneiform Lexical Texts, or the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Royal Inscriptions)
    Cuneiform Digital Library initiative (CDLI): (online repository for photos of cuneiform tablets and much more)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules