Wrap up: Masterclass in Achaemenid Elamite in Helsinki, 16–20 April 2018

11.5.2018
A special event in April was an intensive course in Achaemenid Elamite given by Wouter Henkelman from the École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris. For five days we delved into the structure of this ancient Iranian language and its rich socio-cultural context. The masterclass was co-hosted by ANEE and CSTT.

Starting with not much more than a general interest in ancient languages and/or the Persian empire, a group of students, doctoral candidates, post-docs and senior scholars embarked on the adventure of learning the more or less isolated agglutinating language of ancient Elamite within 5 days. What seemed to be completely fantastic actually worked out to an amazing degree. Though any finer points of the language, the acquisition of the available vocabulary and the expertise to read the actual ancient cuneiform documents are obviously still beyond us, the most important issue is not: Wouter Henkelman achieved to show the richness of the data provided by the Elamite monumental and archival sources and the feasibility to access this corpus by learning at least rudiments of the language, in which it was written.

However, this was not a mere language class. Introductions to the text genres, grammar and semantic lexicon as well as reading sessions of original texts, albeit in transcription instead of cuneiform, were interspersed with comments on the development of the field and an outlook on the culture of 2nd and 1st mill. Elam: the cultural cohesion throughout the mountain, plain and sea regions making up the heartland of ancient Elam, the obvious playing with the natural setting through echoes or the negotiation of Elamite as ancient foreign language.

Many thanks to Wouter for sharing his fascination for this language and the text corpora written in it. I am still not sure whether I can agree with his statement that Elamite is easy, but it certainly seems by now to be manageable enough to wish for more. He certainly made me feel the pull of joining in his huge venture: to make the data preserved in thousands of administrative documents available to a much larger audience than the few persons currently specialising in Elamite and, hence, to keep revolutionising our outlook on the Achaemenid empire.

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