Ancient oriental languages

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The ancient Near Eastern languages are the extinct languages ​​of the Ancient Near East , which in the broadest sense includes the Middle East , Asia Minor , Egypt , the Arabian Peninsula , Iran and other Hellenistic-Iranian Asian regions. The upper limit of time for this term is just as fuzzy as the geographic one; for this overview the end of antiquity is taken as the borderline.

The "Old Orient" in a narrower sense - which is mainly defined by the spread of the Mesopotamian cuneiform script - consists of Mesopotamia , Syria , Asia Minor and Elam . The temporal end of the "Old Orient" is then the beginning of the rising Hellenism , which inherits the ancient oriental cultures.

The ancient oriental languages ​​and the scriptures and cultures associated with them are the subject of research in ancient oriental studies or more special disciplines, such as Akkadian studies (previously mostly called Assyriology ), Semitic studies , Hittitology , Sumerology , Hurritology , Elamistics , and in a broader sense Egyptology , Coptology , Iranian Studies and others Special subjects.

This article offers a complete overview of the ancient oriental languages ​​(in the broadest sense), puts the individual languages ​​in their genetic context and refers to the articles of the relevant individual languages ​​and language groups.

State of delivery

The traditional state of these languages ​​is very different: of some languages ​​almost only the name has been preserved (e.g. Lulubian, Gutaean), of others extensive text corpora of all kinds have been passed down (e.g. Egyptian , Sumerian , Akkadian , Hittite , Elamish ), which allow a comprehensive insight into the corresponding cultures. There are many gradations in between.

Classification according to origin

According to their origin, the ancient oriental languages ​​can be divided into three groups:

  • Indo-European ancient oriental languages
  • Afro-Asian ancient oriental languages
  • Isolated ancient oriental languages ​​that are not related to any other known language

The Indo-European languages ​​of the ancient Orient

The Afro-Asian Languages ​​of the Ancient Orient

The isolated ancient oriental languages

In addition to the Afro-Asian and Indo-European languages ​​of the Ancient Near East, there are a number of ancient Near Eastern languages ​​which, according to the current state of knowledge, are isolated, i.e. cannot be assigned to a larger linguistic unit. The four best traditional ones are

Hurrian and Urartian are related to each other; However, the younger Urartian does not stem from Hurrian, but both go back to a common, unknown predecessor language; some researchers see a relationship between the Hurrian-Urartian and the East Caucasian languages .

Some other far less traditional isolated languages ​​are

Gutean and Lulubian may be related to each other.


  • Roger D. Woodard (Ed.): The Cambridge Encyclopedia of World's Ancient Languages. Cambridge University Press, 2004. (In this compilation, competent authors cover a total of 25 of the oriental languages ​​listed. The relevant articles are: Sumerian, Elamite, Hurrian, Urartian, Afro-Asiatic, Ancient Egyptian and Coptic, Akkadian and Eblaite, Ugaritic, Hebrew, Phoenician and Punic, Canaanite Dialects, Aramaic, Ge'ez, Ancient South Arabian, Hittite, Luvian, Palaic, Lycian, Lydian, Carian; Old Persian, Avestan, Pahlavi, Phrygian.)
  • Michael P. Streck (ed.): Languages ​​of the Ancient Orient. 2nd Edition. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2006. (This is a current compilation of ancient oriental languages ​​"in the narrower sense". It deals with Sumerian, Akkadian, Hittite, Hattic, Hurrian, Urartian and Elamite.)
  • Holger Gzella (ed.): Languages ​​from the world of the Old Testament. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2009. (Ugaritic, Phoenician, Hebrew, Moabitic, Old and Imperial Aramaic, Old South Arabic, Old Persian and Greek are dealt with.)