The alphabet replaces cuneiform – West Asian writing

Home » The alphabet replaces cuneiform – West Asian writing
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This inscription from Kandahar, in Afghanistan, has Greek writing at the top, translated into Aramaic at the bottom. The Mauryan Indian king Ashoka put it up about 258 BC.

This inscription from Kandahar, in Afghanistan, has Greek writing at the top, translated into Aramaic at the bottom. The Mauryan Indian king Ashoka put it up about 258 BC.

When the Assyrian Empire collapsed in the 600s BC, the short-lived Babylonian Empire also used cuneiform writing. But when the Persians took over West Asia in 539 BC they used cuneiform only for official inscriptions. For everyday writing they used Aramaic (a Semitic language, the language Jesus spoke) and the Aramaic alphabet. The Persians also brought with them old Indo-European stories like the story of Sohrab and Rustem. These stories now became part of West Asian literature.

When Alexander and the Greeks took over West Asia in 331 BC, his administrators started to use the Greek alphabet in addition to Aramaic. The Hellenistic was a time where West Asian people had a lot of choices about how to write. Religious officials still even used cuneiform for religious occasions until the time of Jesus. The last cuneiform inscription is from 75 AD.


People speaking Aramaic

After that everybody used the alphabet, both the Romans and the Parthians. But the Romans used an alphabet descended from the Greek one, and also continued to use the Greek alphabet. In the Parthian Empire, the Parthians used an alphabet descended from the Phoenician one. With that alphabet, the Parthians made their own contributions to West Asian literature. They wrote stories like the love story of Vis and Ramin.

Then when West Asia was conquered by the Arabs in the late 600s AD, the Arabic alphabet gradually replaced the earlier ones throughout the area. This is the alphabet still in use all over West Asia today, except in Israel, where people use Hebrew. People wrote a lot of literature during the Islamic period: you can read about it in our article on Islamic literature.

Learn by doing: Cuneiform
More about cuneiform
More about the alphabet

Bibliography and further reading about Mesopotamian writing:

Indian Literature
Greek Literature
Egyptian Literature
Chinese Literature

More about West Asia
Quatr.us home

By |2018-04-07T17:04:54+00:00September 15th, 2017|Literature, West Asia|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. The alphabet replaces cuneiform – West Asian writing. Quatr.us Study Guides, September 15, 2017. Web. October 19, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.