Inscribed on a bronze sword in the British Museum is a statement of ownership, which the museum attributes to "Marduk-nadin-ahhe". However, the inscription does not directly say this, but gives the name as "d.amar.utu-sum-šeš.meš". When I look up the Marduk name in Thallquist's Assyrian Names, it lists 3 explanations for this name as follows:


None of these match the inscription "amar.utu-sum-ses.mes". How should I interpret Thallquist's dictionary? Is the Marduk name Assyrian and then the definitions various variants of the same name in Babylonian, or vice versa? And how is that the British museum is equating amar.utu.sum-ses.mes with Marduk-nadin-ahhe?


The name "Marduk", as in the deity, was originally written 𒀭𒀫𒌓. This spells out something like amar utu, with the first sign being silent ([DIŊIR], or [D] for short—basically meaning "what follows is a divine name", for disambiguation). All together, it means something like "solar calf", in Sumerian.

When the Akkadians and others borrowed the writing system, though, they didn't always use it phonetically. When they wanted to write about Marduk, they used these same signs for Marduk—even though the Akkadians pronounced their deity's name Marduk, and the signs phonetically spell out Amar Utu.

This is called a Sumerogram, and in Latin transcriptions, it's written with capital letters to show that those letters have no relationship to the actual pronunciation. When an Akkadian-speaker writes 𒀭𒀫𒌓, we transcribe it as [D]AMAR.UTU, and it phonetically spells out amar utu, but the actual intended pronunciation was more like marduk.

So the capitalization in the British Museum's transcription is important: Marduk-nadin-ahhe's name, as written on the blade, is [D]AMAR.UTU-SUM-ŠEŠ.MEŠ. In other words, there are three different Sumerograms, which represent Sumerian words pronounced amar utu, sum, and šeš meš.

But the name, as actually spoken, used translations of those three words: Marduk, nādin, aḫḫē. That is, his name was pronounced something like Marduk-nādin-aḫḫē by his subjects, despite the spelling—amar utu sum šeš meš is just what you get when you read the characters as if they were Sumerian.

(His name is also sometimes written as [M][D]AMAR.UTU-na-din-MU, using a mixture of Sumerograms and actual phonetic characters. Here, the characters in the middle actually represent the pronunciations na and din, not any meaning in Sumerian.)

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  • Okay, but why are they giving the Sumerian pronounciation of an Akkadian name? For example, the Japanese use Chinese characters, but when we transcribe Japanese texts, we give the Japanese pronounciation, not the Chinese pronounciation. – Tyler Durden Jul 12 '19 at 8:42
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    @TylerDurden Since we don't have any Assyrian-speakers around to ask about the pronunciation, and since cuneiform was annoyingly difficult to reproduce in pre-Unicode days, it's a way of transcribing the original without forcing any assumptions about pronunciation onto it. This way someone examining the artifact can write down exactly what's on the blade for other people to analyze and translate, without losing any information (since it's clear exactly what Cuneiform characters [D]AMAR.UTU represents), and the translators can then say "ah, that means Marduk". – Draconis Jul 12 '19 at 16:34
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    It helps that the characters are pretty much phonetic for Sumerian, so we can be confident in the pronunciation amar utu: think of the characters as kana instead of kanji, to continue the Japanese analogy. Now imagine if the Chinese saw Japanese people using 花 and はな (hana, "flower") as equivalent, and started substituting はな for 花 in Mandarin writings, even though in Mandarin "flower" is huā, not hana…it's one of the reasons literacy was so rare in ancient Babylonia; learning to read was hard! – Draconis Jul 12 '19 at 16:42
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