Akkadian was the lingua franca of the ancient Near East for thousands of years. It exploded in popularity after Sargon the Great’s conquests c. 2300 BCE, and it stayed the most important language for diplomacy, imperial administration, and literature until it was eventually replaced by Aramaic, Greek, and then Arabic thousands of years later.
Because Akkadian was around for such a long time, there are regional variations and even chronological phases within those variations. While much of the language is preserved from region to region and throughout the ages, the differences are large enough that each has to be learned separately, although learning one will certainly aid in learning the rest.
Akkadian is written in cuneiform, a writing system made from pressing wedges into soft clay. The system was originally designed for writing Sumerian, and was adopted to write not only Akkadian, but also Hittite, Elamite, and Hurrian among others. A section on how to read cuneiform is forthcoming.
PRIMERS & TEXTBOOKS
A Grammar of Akkadian, by John Huehnergard. Brill. Third edition: 2011.
Originally released in 1997 and now in its third edition, Huehnergard’s grammar is more appropriately a textbook for learning Akkadian. Grammar and vocabulary is introduced to students in a series of lessons, with exercises following each chapter. It, however, does not spoonfeed the information, and the book is fairly comprehensive; it even goes into cuneiform and contains plenty of actual readings from a variety of different genres. It was designed chiefly with college students or other serious learners in mind. A companion answer key is also published alongside the textbook, which is vital for any autodidact.
Basics of Akkadian: A Grammar, Workbook, and Glossary by Gordon P. Hugenberger & Nancy Erickson. Zondervan. 2022.
For students who might need or otherwise desire a more paced introduction to Akkadian, Hugenberger & Erickson’s textbook is an excellent beginner’s primer. The book does not go into as much detail as Huehnergard, but their goal instead is to introduce and provide a basic foundation for Akkadian to students especially in Biblical studies. It thus rounds out the series that begun with Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek and Pratico and Van Pelt’s Basics of Biblical Hebrew.
Introduction to Akkadian by Richard Caplice. Biblical Institute Press. Fourth edition: 2002.
Caplice’s textbook was the best on the market in 1980 when it was first released. Since then, it can feel at times rather dated in comparison to newer textbooks, but it is still a solid resource if this is the textbook you or your school chooses. Where cuneiform is concerned, it actually has a slight edge over other grammars. Unlike Huehnergard, who waits a whole nine chapters before introducing it, Caplice introduces cuneiform from the outset, which, although makes learning Akkadian more difficult, does get the student used to reading cuneiform more regularly. One potential issue, however, is that the cuneiform is all hand-drawn, and thus sometimes difficult to read. This could potentially be handy in actually reading real cuneiform. Signs can vary slightly and it is not always very neat. That said, the general idea is to learn ideal shapes first before learning messy writing. A more serious misgiving is that the glossary in the back merely points to chapters, which makes thumbing through the book more tedious than necessary.
Complete Babylonian by Martin Worthington. McGraw-Hill. 2010.
Worthington’s entry into Akkadian textbooks under the Teach Yourself series is better than expected. Whereas Huehnergard and Caplice start with Old Babylonian, this book chiefly covers Standard Babylonian, a variant of Akkadian rooted in Babylon in the latter half of the second millennium BCE. It also at times goes into more detail and breaks up learning into more lessons than the other grammars. While it is little used in a classroom setting, it does contain a key, so it is a good choice for autodidacts.
A Concise Dictionary of Akkadian, edited by Jeremy Black, Andrew George, and Nicholas Postgate. Second edition. Harrassowitz Verlag: 2000.
We here at Ephorus have dubbed this dictionary the BGP, though the editors of the dictionary label themselves the CDA. This dictionary was the first intermediate (thus “concise”) Akkadian-English dictionary, and thus fulfills the very important role of an affordable dictionary for quick look-up of unfamiliar Akkadian words. The dictionary is fairly complete enough that one would only rarely need to consult a more in-depth dictionary. Entries specify not only the multitude of meanings from various variants, but also indicate to which period a particular connotation belongs. [Review in Journal of Hebrew Scriptures].
Grundriss der akkadischen Grammatik by Wolfram von Soden with W. R. Mayer. Third edition. Gregorian & Biblical Press: 1995.
Von Soden’s grammar is the standard reference grammar for Akkadian. It was updated in 1995 with additions and revisions from Werner Mayer, bringing it in line with current scholarship.
The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
Also known as the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary (CAD), this is the most complete dictionary of the Akkadian. Each entry contains multiple citations for each shade of meaning, as well as example sentences and translations. The dictionary is divided into twenty-one volumes, with some volumes further divided into two parts. The total price tag for all of this is prohibitive to all but research libraries, but fortunately—and thankfully—it can all be downloaded online for free.
Akkadisches Handwörterbuch, edited by Wolfram von Soden. Second edition. Harrassowitz Verlag: 1985.
For students who are more familiar with German than English, von Soden’s Akkadisches Handwörterbuch (AhW) is another exhaustive dictionary of Akkadian. One major benefit of AhW is the comparative evidence from other Semitic languages. However, the citations provided, exhaustive as they are, generally are not translated.
An Introduction to Akkadian Literature: Contexts and Content by Alan Lenzi. Eisenbrauns: 2019.
Lenzi provides a fairly thorough and well-thought-out overview of the many different genres of Akkadian literature, from epics of gods and heroes to simple prayers and imprecations. This is great not only for those needing an introduction to Akkadian works, but also a handy reference guide for advanced students and budding scholars to grasp and synthesize the many strands of Akkadian literature’s long and storied history.