SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

The Standard Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh

Sources of the Standard Babylonian poem

The Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh is preserved on three groups of manuscripts (clay tablets), which give an account of the poem at different stages in its evolution, from the eighteenth century BC to the first millennium BC.

So far eleven pieces of Old Babylonian versions of the epic are extant, and eighteen pieces are known from later in the second millennium (Middle Babylonian and other intermediate manuscripts). If these twenty-nine fragments were all that had survived we would not be able today to give an accurate account of the poem's narrative and plot. Fortunately we have 184 fragments from the first millennium (count at January 2003). These come from ancient libraries in Assyria, most notably the library of the seventh-century king, Ashurbanipal, and from slightly later collections of tablets found in Babylonia, chiefly at Babylon and Uruk.

These Babylonian and Assyrian fragments bear witness to a standardized edition of the poem, which we call the Standard Babylonian epic. This last version of the poem was the result of a deliberate work of editorial, according to tradition carried out by a learned scholar called Sin-leqi-unninni, who probably flourished about 1100 BC. The oldest sources for his version are from the ninth or eighth centuries; the last dated manuscript comes from about 130 BC, when Babylonia was a dominion of the Parthian kingdom.

The edition of the Standard Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh published in Andrew George's critical edition of the poem (further details available from Oxford University Press) is a composite variorum edition, in which the evidence of the different first-millennium manuscripts is combined. The result is a transliterated text reconstructed from the cuneiform witnesses according to the editor's judgement.

George's composite transliteration and translation of the standardized first-millennium text was based on a previous transliteration of the text of each individual manuscript. The text was established by first-hand study of each individual tablet and, for the most part, a newly drawn hand-copy (facsimile) of the cuneiform. The cuneiform of every fragment was published alongside the composite text.

Readers of the epic who do not read cuneiform may wish to consult the evidence of individual manuscripts. To this end, George's synoptic ("score") transliterations of each of the twelve tablets of the Standard Babylonian Epic of Gilamesh are published here as PDF files.

  1. SB Gilgamesh Tablet I (PDF)
  2. SB Gilgamesh Tablet II (PDF)
  3. SB Gilgamesh Tablet III (PDF)
  4. SB Gilgamesh Tablet IV (PDF)
  5. SB Gilgamesh Tablet V (PDF)
  6. SB Gilgamesh Tablet VI (PDF)
  7. SB Gilgamesh Tablet VII (PDF)
  8. SB Gilgamesh Tablet VIII (PDF)
  9. SB Gilgamesh Tablet IX (PDF)
  10. SB Gilgamesh Tablet X (PDF)
  11. SB Gilgamesh Tablet XI (PDF)
  12. SB Gilgamesh Tablet XII (PDF)