The Museum Collection Of Cappadocian Tablets*

By: A. H. Sayce

Originally Published in 1918

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The collection of Cappadocian tablets in the University Museum which I have recently examined and copied has furnished some additional knowledge of this interesting class of early cuneiform documents.

In 1881 Dr. Pinches drew attention to two cuneiform tablets, one in the British Museum and the other in the Louvre, which were in a peculiar form of cuneiform script and apparently in a language that was not Assyrian. As they were said to come from Kaisariyeh, he proposed for them the name “Cappodocian.” Shortly afterward Sir W. M. Ramsay visited Kaisariyeh and I asked him to see, while he was there, if he could find any similar tablets in the bazaars. The result was the discovery of several more tablets, which he purchased and which are now in the British Museum.

Little was known at the time about the earlier forms of the Babylonian script, and the consequence was that erroneous values were given to some of the characters found in the tablets. This led to false readings and the belief that the language they contained was not Semitic. I pointed out, however, that one of the texts was clearly in Assyrian, or at all events was full of Assyrian words.

The Kaisariyeh dealers stated that the tablets had been disinterred from a mound about three miles from Kaisaryeh, and the mound was finally localised by M. Chantre, the French explorer, at a place known as Kara Eyuk (“Black Village”) or Gyul Tepé (“Burnt Mound”). Here M. Chantre excavated and discovered the site of a large city which had been entirely destroyed by fire and reduced to a heap of black ashes. As all the pottery seemed to belong to one period, the excavator concluded that after the destruction of the city the site was not occupied again.

In 1889 M. Golénisheff, the Russian Egyptologist, acquired a large collection of tablets from the site, which he published along with a list of the characters in them as well as their values. Thanks to the abundance of his materials, he was able to identify most of the characters and to show that the texts were written in the Assyrian language.

On the basis of M. Golénisheff’s work Professor Friedrich Delitsch wrote a memoir on the inscriptions, in which he gave transliterations of them with a vocabulary, and I published translations of many of them in the Records of the Past. Since then many more tablets have come to light, most of which I have published with translations and notes in the French periodical Babyloniaca. Just before the war 1200 tablets, mostly in a perfect condition, were discovered by the peasants, 800 of which were seized by the Turkish government, but the rest found their way into the hands of the dealers. Some of them came to Paris and were bought by the Bodleian Library and Ashmolean Museum at Oxford as well as by myself ; what has become of the others I have failed to learn.

We now know the date to which the tablets must be assigned. The forms of the characters and the proper names belong to the period of the Third Dynasty of Ur (B. C. 2500), and one of them is dated in the reign of a king of that dynasty. They show that at that early epoch eastern Asia Minor was under the control of the Babylonian government and that Babylonian civilisation was firmly planted there. The silver, copper and lead mines of the Taurus were worked for Babylonian firms, good roads had been made along which the postman regularly travelled, and walled cities had been built which served partly as garrisons for the Babylonian troops who kept the country in order, partly as centers for the Babylonian merchants and their agents. Most of the tablets are concerned with commercial and legal business and prove how brisk a trade was carried on; but there are also a good many private letters which throw light on the social life of the people. The soldiers were mainly drafted from Assyria, which was at that time a province of Babylonia, and the Assyrian mode of reckoning time by eponyms was in use. Frequent mention is also made of a week of five days. The language spoken was a dialect of Assyrian which differed considerably from the standard speech, and in its pronunciation was greatly influenced by the native languages of the country. The agents of the Babylonian firms were constantly moving about, and even a species of draft or cheque was already known.

The University Museum contains a considerable number of Cappadocian tablets, though unfortunately very few of them are at all perfect. The greater part of them relate to trade and commerce. But there is one which has a brief notice which is of a more domestic character (No. 4052): “The prefect Khakhum has given the wine, and Manawir, the son of the doctor, the scribe is content in heart. Datia is surety.”

The word for “prefect” is garu(m). By the side of the “prefect,” a “prefectess” (garutum) is also mentioned. They represented the chief magistrates of the cities, and were assisted in their duties by “eponyms” (limi) who gave their names to the successive “weeks” of five days. The whole province was under the control of a “prince” (rubaum) who probably belonged to a native family. Thus one of the tablets (No. 5681) begins: “To the prince Sirme the son of Aru . . thus says the prefect of Ganis: 1 maneh of pure silver and 3 shekels of gold which my father and his agent (?) had acquired we have sent to you.” In another (No. 5680) we read: “To Sirme [the prince] and the prefectess thus says the prefect Wakh-su-sana [and] the prince of Waskhanê,” a name which reminds us of Axeinos, the original Greek name of the Black Sea. We hear of Wakh-su-sana in another tablet (No. 4050) which is addressed by him to two ladies and which begins: “Tablet (or letter) of the prefect Wakh-su-sana: tell Sakeldatim and the prefectess as follows.”

Ganis was the name of a city which could not have been very far from Kara Eyuk. Kara Eyuk itself was called Burus, which may be the Borissos of later Greek geography.

One interesting tablet (No. 4081) relates to the sale of a son by his parents. The boy, it is stipulated, shall “become a slave” (sabdeu) for the sum of half a maneh and 6½ shekels of silver. In case anything occurs to prevent the completion of the sale, a daughter is to be substituted for the son at a very much reduced price. The father’s name is E eruwa, which does not seem to be Semitic.

Yet another tablet (No. 4051), unfortunately much mutilated, is of a legal character and describes the process whereby a younger son can be given the status and legal rights of the eldest. The law is confined to the upper classes, and is applicable only in the case of “the nobles, the magistrates and the learned class, “”a man of the people” being expressly excluded. The proceedings had to take place “in private,” at the house of the prefect apparently, and only after they were concluded did the parties appear before the scribe for registration.


* Professor Sayce has copied, translated and prepared for publication all of the Cappadocian tablets in the Museum’s collection. This article which he has prepared for the JOURNAL. gives a general idea of the origin and contents of these tablets. Professor Sayce, who is now in Egypt, has had no opportunity of reading the proofs of this article.—EDITOR.

Cite This Article

Sayce, A. H.. "The Museum Collection Of Cappadocian Tablets*." The Museum Journal IX, no. 2 (June, 1918): 148-150. Accessed February 21, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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