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Sumerian was a language spoken in Ancient Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). It is first attested in the archaic texts from Uruk (late 4th to early 3rd millennium BCE). By the end of the 3rd millennium, Sumerian had died out as a spoken language. However, it was still used in writing until the disappearance of the Mesopotamian civilization during the Parthian period (141 BCE–224 CE).

The corpus of Sumerian texts is unique in the Ancient World. It includes literary and mythological compositions, songs, love poetry, liturgical compositions, law collections, royal inscriptions, magical texts, and scholarly works, alongside vast numbers of economic, administrative, and legal documents. Sumerian is the language of the first laws ever written (those of Ur-Namma, 21st century BCE) and of the earliest literary compositions telling the deeds of legendary kings (Lugalbanda, Enmerkar, Gilgamesh).

Sumerian is an isolate, that is, it is not related to any other language or language family, a fact that adds to its intriguing nature. The writing system used for Sumerian, Mesopotamian cuneiform, was eventually used for Akkadian as well.


Our department offers Sumerian (CAMS 471) with regularity and Advanced

Sumerian (CAMS 520) when there is sufficient demand.

Student Testimonial

“The day I changed my major to Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies was one of the happiest of my college career.  Even before switching to CAMS,  I was interested in what the department had to offer. (...)
An undergraduate advisor suggested LATIN 003 as a way of easing into college life, as I had taken Latin classes throughout high school and had performed well on the Advanced Placement exams.  The beginning was rough, but I enjoyed the challenge of translating Latin prose and the information that the texts conveyed.  Although I pursued an Advertising degree during my first two years of college, I continued to sign up for Latin courses, and by the end of my sophomore year, I had realized that Classics, not Advertising, was the right major for me. In addition to the Latin courses, I also studied the ancient civilizations of Rome, Greece, and Egypt in the CAMS major.  All of these classes were interesting, educational, and taught by knowledgeable faculty members.   The CAMS faculty is always helpful; they provide insight into the class material and make suggestions for outside reading during office hours and after class.  When I wrote my senior thesis for the Honors College, I received much help from the CAMS faculty while researching and writing the thesis.  Now that I have received my diplomas from Penn State, both in Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies and Spanish, I have decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Education.  I have been accepted at the Complutense University of Madrid, one of the oldest universities in Europe, to study secondary education, specializing in classical languages.  I am confident that the education I received at Penn State, notably in the CAMS department, will aid me greatly in my postgraduate studies and in securing a teaching job, whether in the United States, Spain, or elsewhere.”

Celia Meehan
2010 CAMS graduate

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