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Records of the Past, 2nd series, Vol. II, ed. by A. H. Sayce, [1888], at

p. 178


By Theo. G. Pinches.

There is probably no branch of Assyro-Babylonian literature that is more attractive than the correspondence. Not only do the letters which have been found in the ancient record-offices of Assyria and Babylonia furnish the student with specimens of the modes of thought and expression of the ordinary people, and enable him to see in what consisted their communications, what were their intrigues, their joys, and their sorrows; but they also furnish him with valuable sidelights upon the history, religion, manners, customs, and last, not least, important philological information—the peculiar idioms and pronunciation of different districts, the varieties of style of the different scribes.

The National Collection contains several hundred tablets bearing inscriptions of this class, addressed to and from various persons in different parts of the Assyrian empire, implying a very perfect system of communication between Nineveh, the capital, and the outlying districts. The subjects treated of vary from simple greetings to descriptions of hostile demonstrations,

p. 179

congratulations, claims upon the royal clemency, answers to astrological, philological, and other questions, medical and other reports, proclamations, etc. etc. These letters are generally oblong tablets of baked clay, across which the lines of writing are inscribed the narrow way. It is not unlikely that many of the documents of this class which have come down to us are copies, the originals having been sent away from Nineveh. Papyrus was probably used for these documents, but clay letters were also sent about. These latter sometimes bad an envelope of clay around them, addressed and sealed with the sender's cylinder.

The number of dated letters is very small in comparison with those without dates, so that we can only arrive at an idea as to when they were written by internal evidence, such as names, places, and historical events. The precise dates of many of them, however, must always remain uncertain.

These documents vary in length from one to six inches, and in width from three-quarters of an inch to about two inches and a half. The present texts are of sizes about midway between these two extremes.

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