In transcriptions of the Akkadian language, there are frequently superscript prefixes. For example, in the transcription of Amarna Tablet #16:

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Here there are prefixes such as "matu" and "ilu". What is the meaning of the prefixes? If they represent characters in the actual cuneiform text, why are they not rendered the same as the other characters?

Also, as long as we are on the topic, what does the notation

mean (found twice in the transcription above)? Note that this transcription is from Die Amarna Tafeln by Knudtzon, one of the standard works of historical Assyriology.

1 Answer 1


These are so-called determinatives. They are not part of the word, but help to define the semantic scope of the following word. The raised “l” means that it is a male personal name. The sign which Knudtzon transcribed as a raised “ilu” means that it is the name of a god. (ilu is the Akkadian word for “god”; the practice of modern Assyriology is to transcribe it as “d”, short for dingir, the Sumerian word for “god”). And so forth.

  • So in this case, the determinative for a god is being applied to the king a-sur-uballit? What is the determinative "matu"? Apr 4, 2017 at 9:44
  • The dingir sign is used because the first element of the name Aššur-uballiṭ is the name of the god Aššur. mātu (Sumerian KUR) means “land” and is the determinative for the names of countries or regions.
    – fdb
    Apr 4, 2017 at 13:42

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