Paul Haupt, Professor of Semitic Languages at Johns Hopkins between 1883 and 1926, was in the habit of writing congratulatory cuneiform tablets to his colleagues at the University to commemorate key achievements or events. On December 30th, 1899, he presented a tablet to Daniel Coit Gilman to celebrate Gilman’s twenty-fifth anniversary as President of Johns Hopkins. Written in Akkadian script, in the style of Neo-Assyrian (9th-7th C BCE) letters usually presented to rulers, this 19th century tablet begins with an invocation of Gilman’s title and proceeds to praise him for his leadership and wishes him continued prosperity. The end also notes that Haupt prepared this message while on the “swift cars of the road of iron”, i.e., a train on the railroad “between the City of Brotherly Love [Philadelphia] and the Monumental City [Baltimore].”
The tablet was placed on view in the archaeological collection of the Oriental Seminary (as the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum was once called) on the third floor of McCoy Hall in downtown Baltimore. The Gilman tablet was later exhibited alongside another tablet, inscribed two years later–also by Paul Haupt–for Classics professor Basil Gildersleeve.
The tablet was translated in a brief article, “A Modern Cuneiform Congratulatory Message” by W.B. McPherson in the Johns Hopkins University Circular in May 1900. Click here to read the original Circular at the Sheridan Libraries’ JScholarship site (found on pages 40-41). The Akkadian text was translated as follows:
“To the great chief,
Dani’ilu the son of Gilmanu
thy servant Pa’ulu the son of Ha’uptu:
A hearty, hearty greeting to my lord!
On the auspicious day when 25 years ago
thou wast chosen
to the Presidency of the great school;
the house of teaching and instruction,
the seat of the Lord of Inscrutable Wisdom,
established in the Monumental City–
when thou wast selected by the wise men
whom the Prince of Merchants,
Shunsu the son of Hupkinsu,
had entrusted with his great wealth,
for the benefit of knowledge and righteousness,
to teach human kind truth–
on this day may the Lord of Heaven and Earth
grant length of days, health of mind and body
to the great chief, my lord.
May He extend thy rule to the end of days!
I pray daily for the life of the chief, my lord,
May it be well with thee in the new year!
May the Lord of Heaven and Earth prosper the work of thy hands;
may He establish prosperity in the house of the great school.
Nebo, the Scribe of the Universe,
hath joyfully looked on thy deeds.
Thou hast erected a monument above all monuments of the Monumental City.
The splendor of thy name is established for ever.
Written upon the swift cars
of the road of iron,
between the City of Brotherly Love and the Monumental City,
on the 30th day of the 12th month of the year of our Lord 1899.”