Were There Translators in Ancient Times?

Language is one of the most significant tools for communication, and yet, people from different parts of the world speak various languages. As a result, language barriers can arise, especially in ancient times when traveling across borders was not easy.

So, how did people communicate with others who spoke different languages Did they have translators

Early Forms of Translation

The answer is yes! Translators have existed for centuries, dating back to ancient times.

In fact, the first known translation was done in ancient Mesopotamia around 2000 BCE. The translation was from Sumerian to Akkadian and involved translating a religious text.

During this time period, translation was mainly used to translate religious texts or diplomatic communications between empires. This type of translation was often done by bilingual individuals who were fluent in both languages.

The Role of Interpreters

Interpreters also played a crucial role during ancient times. While translators dealt with written documents, interpreters translated spoken language. Interpreters were essential for trade negotiations and diplomatic missions.

One notable interpreter from ancient history is La Malinche, also known as Dona Marina. La Malinche was a Nahua woman who acted as an interpreter for Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes during the Spanish conquest of Mexico in the early 16th century.

Ancient Translation Techniques

The techniques used for translation during ancient times were quite different from modern translation methods. For example, instead of translating word-for-word, translators would often translate concepts or ideas instead.

Another technique used by ancient translators involved copying texts from one language into another without necessarily understanding their meaning. This technique is known as “transliteration,” and it was common in ancient Egypt, where hieroglyphics were translated into Greek.


In conclusion, the need for translation has existed for centuries, and ancient civilizations had their own methods of translation. Translators and interpreters played a crucial role in facilitating communication between different cultures, religions, and empires. Despite the differences in translation techniques, it is evident that language barriers have always been a significant challenge and that translation has been an essential tool for overcoming these barriers.