Cuneiform and Epigraphy

About Cuneiform

The oldest documents held by RBML are over 500 cuneiform tablets, ranging in date from 2300 B.C.E.  to 300 B.C.E., from the Sumerian, Old-Babylonian, Kassite, and Neo-Babylonian Periods. There are also a few cylinder seals.

Some 455 of the tablets were purchased for Columbia College in 1895. Sixteen tablets were given by Professor David Eugene Smith and 34 by George Arthur Plimpton as part of their libraries. Plimpton's gift included Plimpton 322, possibly the most famous mathematical tablet in the world.  There have been a few gifts of tablets since.

Finding Cuneiform

Consult the following catalogs, available at the RBML Reference Desk:

  • Stephen Garfinkle, Herbert Sauren, and Marc Van de Mieroop, Ur III tablets from the Columbia University Libraries (Bethesda, Md.: CDL Press, 2010) Cornell University studies in Assyriology and Sumerology; v. 16. This publication lists 318 tablets.
  • Isaac Mendelsohn, Catalogue of the Babylonian Tablets in the Libraries of Columbia University: A list of Cuneiform Documents from the Sumerian, Old-Babylonian, Kassite, and Neo-Babylonian Periods, with Photographic Reproductions of Selected Seals, and Clay Objects (New York: Columbia University Libraries, 1943). Includes 111 tablets not also found in Garfinkle.

About Epigraphy

RBML has a group of about 130 samples of Latin inscriptions inscised in stone and lead, with just a few Greek items. These date largely from the first two centuries C.E. and come mostly from Rome.

Finding Epigraphy

A set of photographs of the epigraphic specimens are found in three binders at the RBML reference desk, please consult a librarian. 

The epigraphy collection, a collection of ancient coins, and a collection of Latin inscriptions on bronze, lead, and stamped terracotta now held by the Art Properties Department were bequeathed to the University in 1912 by Professor George N. Olcott.

For more information, and a short list of the inscriptions, see John Bodel and Stephen Tracy’s "Greek and Latin inscriptions in the USA: a checklist" (Rome, The American Academy, 1997).

RBML also holds a collection of squeezes (molded copies of epigraphy). A photocopy of the old handwritten catalog for this collection is also found at the reference desk.