Assyrian Cuneiform Tablet

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Assyrian Cuneiform Tablet

Circa 1900 B.C.,
Old Assyrian Period
L: 8.5 cm, W: 6 cm



A clay tablet featuring fifty inscribed lines in Akkadian on the obverse, reverse, and lower edge. The text is a business letter sent by a certain Sabasi’a to three recipients: Puzur-Aššur, Šalim-Ištar, and Ikuppi-Aššur. The letter discusses a payment of silver due to be settled by Sabasi’a with the others.

Akkadian is the earliest documented Semitic language. It was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia from the third millennium B.C. until it was gradually replaced by Old Aramaic by the eighth century B.C.. It was written in cuneiform. Cuneiform is the logo-syllabic script used to write several languages between the early Bronze Age and the beginning of the Common Era. It was originally developed to write the Sumerian language of southern Mesopotamia and is the earliest known writing system.

The Old Assyrian period is the first period from which there is evidence of the development of an Assyrian culture separate from that of Mesopotamia, as well as the emergence of the Akkadian language, and a native Assyrian calendar. Much is known about the culture and society of this period from their extensive cuneiform records, with over 22,000 clay tablets found at the trading colony at Kültepe. These tablets record that the Assyrians had their own distinct administrative structures and court at this site, and were thus self-governing to some extent.


Burkhart Keinast, Die altassyrische Texte des Orientalischen Seminar der Universität Heidelberg und der Sammlung Erlenmeyer-Basel, part 11, ‘Die Texte der Collection Erlenmeyer (Basel)’ (1960), pp. 90-92, no. 64.
Ancient Near Eastern Texts from the Erlenmeyer Collection, Christie’s, London, 13 December 1988, Lot 109.
Database of the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI) no. P358396.


Private Collection of Hans Erlenmeyer (1900-1967) and Marie Louise Erlenmeyer (1912-1997), Basel, from 1943 to the early 1960s.
Sold at: Ancient Near Eastern Texts from the Erlenmeyer Collection, Christie’s, London, 13 December 1988, Lot 109.
Private Collection of Jacques Carré (1927-2015), Antwerp, acquired from the above sale.
Thence by descent to Olivier Carré.
ALR: S00234414, with IADAA Certificate, this item has been checked against the Interpol database.

Note on the Provenance

Professor Hans Erlenmeyer (1900-1967) was a well-respected Swiss-German chemist from a line of chemists, and a professor of inorganic chemistry who eventually became Head of the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry in Basel.

He was, with his second wife Marie-Louise Erlenmeyer (née Binder, 1912-1997), a passionate and serious collector of antiquities, focusing primarily on prehistoric and ancient art from Greece and Mesopotamia. Between 1943 and 1967 they built up a considerable collection, which included important groups of Mediterranean and near eastern cylinder seals and texts, and well as part of the Keros hoard, which they bought in the late 50s/early 60s. The Erlenmeyer Painter, a Corinthian vase painter, was so-named for a vase in their collection. Some of their collection was lent to the Basel Museum of Antiquities, as well as major international exhibitions, and the Erlenmeyers themselves contributed scholarly articles on the field on archaeology in scientific publications.

In 1981 Marie-Louise founded the Erlenmeyer Foundation, a charitable organisation dedicated to the protection of animal welfare, to manage their antiquities collection. Most of the collection was sold at a series of auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s between 1988 and 1998.
Jacques Carré (1927-2015) grew up in Paris, where he studied electrical engineering, before moving to Antwerp. He began collecting in the 1960s, initially with a focus on Japanese art and, over the next thirty years, became one of the most important European collectors of his generation, with an outstanding collection of netsuke and lacquer. His interest in Japanese art began when he selected a netsuke he spotted in a dealer’s window on the Île Saint-Louis as a gift from his mother for graduating engineering school in 1947. His passion and curiosity drew him towards the arts of other cultures, and in the late 1970s he started to collect more broadly: Carré acquired Islamic and ancient art from Egypt and the Near East, as well as a select collection of Roman glass. According to his son, Carré was never happier than when visiting fellow collectors and connoisseurs, both abroad and at home.

Carré acquired his collection of 21 cuneiform texts in London and Paris between 1982 and 1993. Their appeal lay in their status as the earliest form of writing and an account of everyday life from over four millennia ago. These texts trace the history of cuneiform, and feature letters as well as business and administrative documents. Professor Wilfred Lambert (1926-2011), one of the key post-war scholars of Assyriology, supplied notes and translations for all of the pieces.