New Developments in the Social History of Music and Musicians in Ancient Iraq, Syria, and Turkey

By Mirelman, Sam | Yearbook for Traditional Music, January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

New Developments in the Social History of Music and Musicians in Ancient Iraq, Syria, and Turkey


Mirelman, Sam, Yearbook for Traditional Music


Background

The ancient cultures of Iraq, Syria, and Turkey are distinguished by the existence of extensive documentation in cuneiform script, amongst which are texts concerning music and musicians. Along with a common script, a common corpus of terms (with local variants) for instruments, musicians, theory, and performance, were transmitted in various languages and dialects in the third and second millennia BCE. Apart from later sources from ancient Greece, only ancient Egypt can compare in terms of the extent of textual information in the region.1 In contrast, the musical cultures of ancient Iran are known mostly through iconography and remains of musical instruments (Lawergren 2009). The same is true for Israel/Palestine, where the sources are essentially material, apart from the Old Testament and a handful of other texts (Braun 2002).

The first known written sources concerning music come from southern Iraq.2 These documents are spread over a time-span of approximately three thousand years before the present era. The texts are written in cuneiform script on clay tablets, primarily in Sumerian and Akkadian languages. Akkadian is a Semitic language, belonging to the same family as Hebrew and Arabic. Sumerian is an isolate (unrelated to any known language), and is probably the first attested (i.e., written) language. Akkadian was also used as a written language in various regional sites outside of Mesopotamia during the second millennium BCE, including the western city of Mari in present-day Syria. In the third millennium BCE the cuneiform script had also spread further west in Syria, to the city of Ebla. In Ebla, the script was mostly used to record a local Semitic language. In the second millennium BCE, the cuneiform script spread to Anatolia, and it was used to write the Indo-European language now known as Hittite. Most Hittite texts were found in the city of Bogazköy (now Bogazkale, ancient Hattusas). Also in the second millennium BCE, the cuneiform script was adapted to write an alphabetic language known as Ugaritic, in the Syrian coastal city of Ugarit. Texts from the above regions and sites3 tell us about the nature and structure of musical instruments, music theory, elements of musical practice, and the place of musicians in society. This ancient world of texts (and music) has been ingeniously reconstructed after approximately two millennia since cuneiform script died out (cuneiform texts were only deciphered in the nineteenth century CE).4

The textual evidence is complemented by archaeological remains from Mesopotamia, Syria, and Anatolia. Remains of instruments from southern Mesopotamia provide us with the first known actual remains of lyres and harps. Remains of silver pipes, copper clappers, bronze and clay bells, clay and metal rattles, and bronze cymbals have survived, and an abundant quantity of iconographic sources from all periods has also survived in the form of miniature cylinder seals, figurines, plaques, wall reliefs, and stelae. The visual sources often represent music in the context of mythological and cultic scenes. Through an analysis of context, iconographic sources can be used to illuminate aspects of the social history of music. Visual representations usually illustrate music in the context of the temple, palace, festivals involving sports, funerals, military events, and sexual activity (Collon 1993-97:488-91). However, studies which go beyond the purely empirical discussion of musical instruments and general social contexts of music to discuss possible symbolic associations are scarce (e.g., Eichmann 1997).

The topic of music in ancient Mesopotamia has gained attention from the 1960s onwards due to the "discovery"5 of music theory texts, and one example of notation, dating to the second millennium BCE, well before anything comparable in ancient Greece or elsewhere. In contrast, the social history of music in ancient Mesopotamia, and the Near East in general, has received relatively little attention until recently. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

New Developments in the Social History of Music and Musicians in Ancient Iraq, Syria, and Turkey
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.