Cuneiform Culture – Everyday Life In The Ancient Near East


Meets once a week for 8 weeks
4 – 9 learners, ages 13-18

The cuneiform script, the writing system of ancient Mesopotamia, was witness to one of the world’s oldest literate cultures. For over three millennia, it was the vehicle of communication from (at its greatest extent) Iran to the Mediterranean, Anatolia to Egypt. This course examines the Ancient Middle East through the lens of cuneiform writing. Join us to learn about the education of Neo-Assyrian princes, student–teacher relationships, war strategies, smuggling practices, barbarian invasions, lazy little brothers, spoiled teenagers, royal gossip, and customer service complaints.


This course will explore, define, and to some extent look beyond the boundaries of the written word, using Mesopotamia’s clay tablets and stone inscriptions not just as ‘texts’ but also as material artifacts that offer much additional information about their creators, readers, users, and owners.

Learners will explore surprisingly modern ancient topics like a Babylonian tablet from 1750 BCE which goes to show that customer service and client/vendor disputes were happening well before shopping malls and Amazon. The clay tablet comes from the ancient city of Ur, now part of southern Iraq. The complaint is rather detailed.

Written in cuneiform, the letter from Nanni to Ea-nasir is a complaint about the wrong grade of copper delivered and Ea-nasir’s subsequent slights as Nanni attempted to get his proper delivery.

This course aims to provide a panoramic view of Mesopotamian life in order to convey a more intimate and varied image of the ancient Near Eastern world than that offered by the readily available translations of Akkadian epic texts, royal inscriptions, and law codes. Although the selection of tablets we will examine is, ultimately, subjective, as a guiding principle, we have chosen the atypical rather than the typical to reproduce the kaleidoscopic diversity of life as mirrored in these documents

Polyhistoria classes emphasize critical thinking, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. We believe that students learn history best by doing what professional historians do.

(Read more about our approach to history.)

Our approach to academics helps learners view traditional disciplines in unconventional ways. With immersive classes that cross disciplines, learners stretch themselves both within and beyond conventional academic pathways, while small classes encourage close collaboration between learners and instructors. Today, Polyhistoria is the only comprehensive online learning platform teaching in-depth, cutting-edge social science scholarship to teenagers.

(Read more about our teaching philosophy.)

Learning is not a spectator sport. Interaction and intellectual exchanges involving all students and the instructor enrich learning for all. Studying history involves an accumulation of knowledge about the past. But it also requires that we communicate that knowledge to others. You must be ready to share your views in class. A worthwhile course depends upon active participation by all students in class discussions.

The goal here is to advance an intelligent conversation from which we all learn. The most obvious way to do that is to say smart things and say them clearly. But that is not the only meaningful way to participate. Asking a question, connecting something already on the table to another thing, clarifying something that someone else has said, and offering evidence from the text under discussion are also all valuable. Bonus points are awarded for contributions that draw on what others have said. Other things to keep in mind: aim for clarity, keep in mind the value of an amicable classroom environment, and try not to monopolize the conversation.

1) Students’ cameras and microphones must be turned on during the class.
2) This class requires the continuous use of logical thinking & hypothetical reasoning skills to critically and creatively analyze the topics covered in the class. These cognitive functions are generally not sufficiently developed until a student is 13+ years old. Students must have the ability to think critically and logically to analyze the topics covered in the class.

Assignments will be posted on the classroom wall each week for students and may include reading, researching, and watching videos. It will also include participation in the threaded discussions on the classroom wall.

1 hour per week in class, and an estimated 0 – 1 hour per week outside of class.

Meets once a week for 8 weeks
4 – 9 learners, ages 13-18