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|History of literature
|Modern by century|
The history of literature begins with the invention of writing, in Bronze Age Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. Writing developed out of proto-literate sign systems in the 30th century BC, although the oldest known literary texts date from the 27th or 26th century BC.
Literature from the Iron Age includes the earliest texts which have been preserved in a manuscript tradition (as opposed to texts which have been recovered by archaeologists), including the Avestan Gathas (see date of Zoroaster), the Indian Vedas (see Vedic period), parts of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament; cf. dating the Bible), and the earliest literature from Ancient Greece.
Classical Antiquity is generally considered to begin with Homer in the 8th century BC, and it continues until the decline of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD. Although the earliest Classics were in Ancient Greek, from the 3rd century BC Greek literature was joined by Latin literature. As well as the Western canon, there is also a period of classical Sanskrit literature and Sangam literature in India, Chinese classics in China, and in Late Antiquity the beginning of classical Syriac and Middle Persian literature.
The following is a chronological list of literary works up until the 5th century AD. Literature of the 6th to 9th centuries is covered in Early medieval literature.
For a list of the earliest testimony in each language, see list of languages by first written accounts.
List of ancient texts
- See also: Sumerian literature, Akkadian literature, Ancient Egyptian literature, Hittite texts, Vedic Sanskrit
Early Bronze Age: 3rd millennium BC (approximate dates shown) The earliest written literature dates from about 2600 BC (classical Sumerian). The earliest literary author known by name is Enheduanna, dating to ca. the 24th century BC. Certain literary texts are difficult to date, such as the Egyptian Book of the Dead which was recorded in the Papyrus of Ani around 1240 BC, but other versions of the book probably date from about the 18th century BC.
- 2600 Sumerian texts from Abu Salabikh, including the Instructions of Shuruppak and the Kesh temple hymn
- 2400 Egyptian Pyramid Texts, including the Cannibal Hymn
- 2400 Sumerian Code of Urukagina 
- 2400 Egyptian Palermo stone
- 2350 Egyptian The Maxims of Ptahhotep
- 2270 Sumerian Enheduanna's Hymns
- 2250-2000 Sumerian Earliest stories in the Epic of Gilgamesh 
- 2100 Sumerian Curse of Agade
- 2100 Sumerian Debate between Bird and Fish
- 2050 Sumerian Code of Ur-Nammu
- 2000 Egyptian Coffin Texts
- 2000 Sumerian Lament for Ur
- 2000 Sumerian Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta
Middle Bronze Age: ca. 2000 to 1600 BC (approximate dates shown)
- 1950 Akkadian Laws of Eshnunna
- 1900 Akkadian Legend of Etana 
- 1900 Sumerian Code of Lipit-Ishtar
- 1900 Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh
- 1850 Akkadian Kultepe texts
- 1800 Egyptian Story of Sinuhe (in Hieratic)
- 1800 Sumerian Eridu Genesis
- 1800 Akkadian Enûma Eliš
- 1800 Akkadian Atra-Hasis epic
- 1780 Akkadian Code of Hammurabi stele
- 1780 Akkadian Mari letters, including the Epic of Zimri-Lim
- 1750 Hittite Anitta text
- 1700 Egyptian Westcar Papyrus
- 1650 Egyptian Ipuwer Papyrus
Late Bronze Age: ca. 1600 to 1200 BC (approximate dates shown)
- 1700-1100 Vedic Sanskrit: approximate date of the composition of the Rigveda. Many of these were not set to writing until later.
- 1600 Hittite Code of the Nesilim
- 1500 Akkadian Poor Man of Nippur 
- 1500 Hittite military oath
- 1550 Egyptian Book of the Dead
- 1500 Akkadian Dynasty of Dunnum
- 1440-1400 Hebrew Torah, also called the Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses with a final redaction between 900-450 BC. Some give an alternate date of 1320-1280.
- 1400 Akkadian Marriage of Nergal and Ereshkigal
- 1400 Akkadian Autobiography of Kurigalzu
- 1400 Akkadian Amarna letters
- 1330 Egyptian Great Hymn to the Aten
- 1240 Egyptian Papyrus of Ani, Book of the Dead
- 1200-900 Akkadian version and younger stories in the Epic of Gilgamesh
- 1200 Akkadian Tukulti-Ninurta Epic
- 1200 Egyptian Tale of Two Brothers 
Iron Age texts predating Classical Antiquity: 12th to 8th centuries BC
- 1200-1100 BC approximate date of books RV 1 and RV 10 in the Rigveda
- 1200-800 BC approximate date of the Vedic Sanskrit Yajurveda, Atharvaveda
- 1100-800 BC date of the redaction of the extant text of the Rigveda
- 1050 BC Egyptian Story of Wenamun
- 1050 BC Akkadian Sakikkū (SA.GIG) “Diagnostic Omens” by Esagil-kin-apli.
- 1050 BC The Babylonian Theodicy of Šaggil-kīnam-ubbib.
- 1000-600 BC Chinese Classic of Poetry (Shījīng), Classic of Documents (Shūjīng) (authentic portions), Classic of Changes (I Ching)
- 950 BC date of the Jahwist portions of the Torah according to the documentary hypothesis
- 900 BC Akkadian Epic of Erra
- 850 BC date of the Elohist portions of the Torah according to the documentary hypothesis
- See also Ancient Greek literature, Syriac literature, Latin literature, Indian literature, Hebrew literature, Avesta
- See also: centuries in poetry: 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st
8th century BC
- Greek Trojan War cycle, including the Iliad and the Odyssey
- 800-500 BC: Sanskrit Brahmanas
- Oldest non-Pentateuchal books of the Hebrew Bible (the Book of Nahum, Book of Hosea, Book of Amos, Book of Isaiah)
7th century BC
6th century BC
- Hebrew Bible: Psalms (according to late dating) Book of Ezekiel, Book of Daniel (according to conservative or early dating)
- Chinese: Sun Tzu: The Art of War (Sūnzǐ Bīngfǎ)
5th century BC
- 5th century BC to 4th century AD: Sanskrit: Epics (Mahabharata and Ramayana)
- Avestan: Yasht
- Pindar: Odes
- Herodotus: The Histories of Herodotus
- Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War
- Aeschylus: The Suppliants, The Persians, Seven Against Thebes, Oresteia
- Sophocles: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone, Electra and other plays
- Euripides: Alcestis, Medea, Heracleidae, Hippolytus, Andromache, Hecuba, The Suppliants, Electra, Heracles, Trojan Women, Iphigeneia in Tauris, Ion, Helen, Phoenician Women, Orestes, Bacchae, Iphigeneia at Aulis, Cyclops, Rhesus
- Aristophanes: The Acharnians, The Knights, The Clouds, The Wasps, Peace, The Birds, Lysistrata, Thesmophoriazusae, The Frogs, Ecclesiazousae, Plutus
- Hebrew: date of the extant text of the Torah
4th century BC
- Hebrew: Book of Job, beginning of Hebrew wisdom literature
3rd century BC
- Avestan: Avesta
- Etruscan: Liber Linteus Zagrabiensis (Linen Book of Zagreb)
- Sanskrit: Panchatantra by Vishnu Sarma
- Hebrew: Ecclesiastes
- Lucius Livius Andronicus (c. 280/260 BC — c. 200 BC), translator, founder of Roman drama
- Gnaeus Naevius (ca. 264 — 201 BC), dramatist, epic poet
- Titus Maccius Plautus (c. 254 — 184 BC), dramatist, composer of comedies: Poenulus, Miles Gloriosus, and other plays
- Quintus Fabius Pictor (3rd century BC), historian
- Lucius Cincius Alimentus (3rd century BC), military historian and antiquarian
2nd century BC
- Avestan: Vendidad
- Chinese: Sima Qian: Records of the Grand Historian (Shǐjì)
- Aramaic: Book of Daniel
- Hebrew: Sirach
- Terence (195/185 BC — 159 BC), comic dramatist: The Brothers, The Girl from Andros, Eunuchus, The Self-Tormentor,
- Quintus Ennius (239 BC — c. 169 BC), poet
- Marcus Pacuvius (ca. 220 BC — 130 BC), tragic dramatist, poet
- Statius Caecilius (220 BC — 168/166 BC), comic dramatist
- Marcius Porcius Cato (234 BC — 149 BC), generalist, topical writer
- Gaius Acilius (2nd century BC), historian
- Lucius Accius (170 BC — c. 86 BC), tragic dramatist, philologist
- Gaius Lucilius (c. 160's BC — 103/2 BC), satirist
- Quintus Lutatius Catulus (2nd century BC), public officer, epigramatist
- Aulus Furius Antias (2nd century BC), poet
- Gaius Julius Caesar Strabo Vopiscus (130 BC — 87 BC), public officer, tragic dramatist
- Lucius Pomponius Bononiensis (2nd century BC), comic dramatist, satirist
- Lucius Cassius Hemina (2nd century BC), historian
- Lucius Calpurnius Piso Frugi (2nd century BC), historian
- Manius Manilius (2nd century BC), public officer, jurist
- Lucius Coelius Antipater (2nd century BC), jurist, historian
- Publius Sempronius Asellio (158 BC — after 91 BC), military officer, historian
- Gaius Sempronius Tuditanus (2nd century BC), jurist
- Lucius Afranius (2nd & 1st centuries BC), comic dramatist
- Titus Albucius (2nd & 1st centuries BC), orator
- Publius Rutilius Rufus (158 BC — after 78 BC), jurist
- Quintus Lutatius Catulus (2nd & 1st centuries BC), public officer, poet
- Lucius Aelius Stilo Praeconinus (154 BC — 74 BC), philologist
- Quintus Claudius Quadrigarius (2nd & 1st centuries BC), historian
- Valerius Antias (2nd & 1st centuries BC), historian
- Lucius Cornelius Sisenna (121 BC — 67 BC), soldier, historian
- Quintus Cornificius (2nd & 1st centuries BC), rhetorician
- 1st century BC
- Pali: Tipitaka
- Chinese: Ban Gu: Book of Han (Hànshū)
- Latin: see Classical Latin
- 2nd century
- Sanskrit: Aśvaghoṣa: Buddhacharita (Acts of the Buddha)
- Latin: see Classical Latin
- 3rd century
- Avestan: Khordeh Avesta (Zoroastrian prayer book)
- Pahlavi: Mani: Shabuhragan (Manichaean holy book)
- Chinese: Chen Shou: Records of Three Kingdoms (Sānguó Zhì)
- Greek: Plotinus: Enneads
- Latin: see Late Latin
- Hebrew: Mishnah
- Latin: see Late Latin
- Syriac: Aphrahat, Ephrem the Syrian
- Hebrew: Gemara
- 5th century
- Chinese: Fan Ye: Book of the Later Han (Hòuhànshū)
- Sanskrit: Kālidāsa (speculated): The Recognition of Śakuntalā, The Cloud Messenger
- Latin: see Late Latin
- 6th century
- Latin: Boethius, De consolatione philosophiae (The Consolation of Philosophy) 524 AD, widely considered to be the last work of classical philosophy.
- Grimbly, Shona (2000). Encyclopedia of the Ancient World. Taylor & Francis. p. 216. ISBN 978-1-57958-281-4. "The earliest written literature dates from about 2600 BC, when the Sumerians started to write down their long epic poems."
- Jones, Mark (2006). Criminals of the Bible: Twenty-Five Case Studies of Biblical Crimes and Outlaws. FaithWalk Publishing. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-932902-64-8. "The Sumerian code of Urukagina was written around 2400 BC."
- Stephanie Dalley (ed.). Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-953836-2.
- Eccles, Sir John Carew (1989). Evolution of the Brain: Creation of the Self. Routledge. p. 118. ISBN 978-0-415-03224-7. "The Epic of Gilgamesh, written in Sumer about 2200 BC."
- Dalley, Stephanie, ed. (2000). "Etana (pp. 189ff.)". Myths from Mesopotamia. Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0199538360; ISBN 9780199538362.
- Oberlies (1998:155) gives an estimate of 1100 BC for the youngest hymns in book 10. Estimates for a terminus post quem of the earliest hymns are far more uncertain. Oberlies (p. 158) based on 'cumulative evidence' sets wide range of 1700–1100
- Noonan, John T. (1987). Bribes. University of California Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-520-06154-5. "The Poor Man of Nippur dates from about 1500 BC."
- Thorkild Jacobsen (1978). The treasures of darkness: a history of Mesopotamian religion. Yale University Press. pp. 167–168, 231. “Perhaps it was brought east with the Amorites of the First Dynasty of Babylon.”
- according to ancient Jewish and Christian tradition, and some modern scholars; see above inline citations.
- Talmud, Bava Bathra 146
- Mishnah, Pirqe Avoth 1:1
- Josephus, Flavius (1926). "11:8". The Life. Against Apion. (Loeb Classical Library). Loeb Classical Library. p. 448. ISBN 978-0-674-99205-4. "For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another (as the Greeks have) but only 22 books, which are justly believed to be divine; and of them, five belong to Moses, which contain his laws, and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death."
- Stuart, Douglas K (2006). New American Commentary Vol. II: Exodus. Holman Reference. p. 826. ISBN 978-0-8054-0102-8.
- "Introduction to the Pentateuch. Introduction to Genesis.". ESV Study Bible (1st ed.). Crossway. 2008. p. XLII, 29–30. ISBN 978-1-4335-0241-5.
- RA Torrey, ed. (1994). "I-XI". The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth (11th ed.). Baker Academic. ISBN 978-0-8010-1264-8.
- Hoffmeier, James K (1999). Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition. Oxford University Press. p. 280. ISBN 978-0-19-513088-1.
- Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol.2, 1980, p.203
- Alan Lenzi (2008). "The Uruk List of Kings and Sages and Late Mesopotamian Scholarship". Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 8 (2): 137–169.
- The Consolation of Philosophy (Oxford World's Classics), Introduction (2000)
- Dante placed Boethius the “last of the Romans and first of the Scholastics” among the doctors in his Paradise (see The Divine Comedy).