Assyrian Dictionary Project

Date: August 6, 2021

In 1921, James Henry Breasted, the founder of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, decided to gather up a team of scholars to create an Assyrian Dictionary.  He envisioned that the scholars would study the texts of ancient Assyrian tablets to create a dictionary of the language used by Ancient Assyria.  Little did he know that this project would take 90 years to complete. 


The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute is often referred to as CAD, which stands for “Chicago Assyrian Dictionary.”  Eighty-eight scholars ultimately worked on this 21-volume set.  The volume containing the letter H (Het), which is now volume 6, was the first to be published in 1956.  The final volume was for the letters U/W, and was published in 2011 as volume 20.  As scholars worked on the dictionary, they ultimately left 2 million index cards of research, as they tried to determine the different meanings of all of the 28,000 words ultimately found in the dictionary.  CAD follows the style of the Oxford English Dictionary in that it not only provides the definition of a word, but also its cultural and historical context. 


The July, 1956 issue of The Assyrian Star (which was the same year that the first volume of CAD was published) has a brief article about the Assyrian Dictionary.  In the article, it says that the dictionary will be published in a span of 10 years, after 35 years of work, the aid of 50 scholars, and $800,000.  It also states that CAD will consist of 19 volumes and contain 300,000 words.  Little did The Assyrian Star know that the number of scholars, number of years, number of volumes, and number of dollars would all ultimately exceed its prediction. 


Although a full set of the Assyrian Dictionary can cost approximately $1,400, the Oriental Institute has made PDFs of the entire set available online for free.  Take a look at CAD and compare the language of ancient Assyria, called Akkadian, with the Assyrian language used today. 



Written by Esther Lang 



“The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (CAD).” The Oriental Institute (accessed April 19, 2021). 


“The Assyrian Dictionary Project.” The Assyrian Star. August 1987. 


Cohen, Sharon. “Assyrian Ancient World Dictionary Finished – After 90 Year.” Nineveh 35, no.2 (2011): 24-25. 


“Dictionary of Dead Language Complete after 90 Years.” Nineveh 40, no. 1-4 (2016): 34-36. 


Mullen, William. “University of Chicago Institute Completes Dictionary of Ancient Language after 9 Decades.” Chicago Tribune. June 5, 2011. (accessed on April 19, 2021). 


“New Assyrian Dictionary.” The Assyrian Star. July 1956. 


Reiner, Erica. An Adventure of Great Dimension. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2002.