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General information

Publication history

This is the second edition of the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (ETCSL). The first edition, less comprehensive and without linguistic annotation, is also accessible:


The literature written in Sumerian is the oldest human poetry that can be read, dating from approximately 2500 BCE onwards. It includes narrative poetry, praise poetry, hymns, laments, prayers, songs, fables, didactic poems, debate poems and proverbs. The majority of this has been reconstructed during the past fifty years from thousands of often fragmentary clay tablets inscribed in cuneiform writing.

Relatively few compositions are yet published in satisfactory modern editions. Much is scattered throughout a large number of journals and other publications. Several important poems must still be consulted in twenty-year-old unpublished doctoral dissertations, some with translations which have now become unusable because of progress in our knowledge of the language. And some compositions have not yet been edited in print at all. Consequently, prior to publication of the corpus, Sumerian literature had remained largely inaccessible to many of those who might wish to read or study it, and virtually unknown to a wider public.

One of the main aims of the ETCSL project has been to meet the need for a coherently and systematically published, universally available textual corpus. More than 350 poetic compositions, equipped with translations and bibliographies, have been published. As our work on each composition is finished it is published on the website.

There is also a broader dimension to the project. Sumerian literature is a considerable and sophisticated ancient literature which is still so far unfamiliar to scholars in other fields. Historically, a rich stream of survivals flowed on through Babylonian literature and, mediated by translations into other languages and by oral transmission, into ancient Indian, Arabic and Greek civilisation, and from there into the European tradition. Potentially, this interdisciplinary interest extends to those working in comparative literature and history of religion. Beyond this, there is a great interest in ancient literatures from a wide general public, who are as much drawn to their exotic and alien character as struck by their undeniable connection to the modern tradition.

The pilot project

A pilot project, funded by a pump-priming grant from the University of Oxford's Research and Equipment Committee, ran from January to September 1997. The pilot employed a full-time postdoctoral researcher, Dr Eleanor Robson, under the direction of Dr Jeremy Black. The primary aims of the pilot project were:

  • to establish the extent of the Sumerian literary corpus and to collect complete source and publication information on each composition;
  • to investigate and devise suitable technical procedures and format for publication of the corpus;
  • to establish international collaboration, and the sharing of material and expertise, with other electronic text corpora and Sumerian projects, in particular with the universities of Chicago and Philadelphia;
  • to produce specimen text and a publicly accessible pilot website.

The pilot project largely fulfilled its aims and was able to attract funding from the Leverhulme Trust for the main project, which began in November 1997.

The main project

Preparation of the corpus began at the University of Oxford in November 1997, supported by substantial funding from The Leverhulme Trust. The project team consisted of Dr Jeremy Black, Dr Graham Cunningham and Dr Gábor Zólyomi, with the continued collaboration of Dr Eleanor Robson.

In 2001, the project secured a five-year grant from The Arts and Humanities Board. This generous grant made it possible to continue to expand and enhance the corpus, and also to take on board new project members. An up-to-date list of project members can be found on the Copyright/Credits page. A more detailed, but somewhat technical, description of the project can be found under Technical info.


Funding for the ETCSL project came to an end in the summer of 2006. The project staff are now working on the Diachronic Corpus of Sumerian Literature ( For the time being general questions relating to Sumerian or the content of the ETCSL site cannot be answered.

Technical queries relating to the ETCSL site should be sent to it-support(AT) Requests for permission to cite from the ETCSL should be addressed to orient(AT), specifying in the subject line: Faculty Board Secretary: ETCSL.

Sumerian scribe

© Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 The ETCSL project, Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford
Updated 2006-10-24 by JE

University of Oxford