Past events

« Back to upcoming events

7 May 2018Contextualizing Jewish Temples
Caroline Waerzeggers
Rotas and the administration of time in Babylonian temples
Bar-Ilan University, Israel

4 May 2018 | Ancient World Lunch Talks
Melanie Gross
A network of traders in Babylonian Sippar
Leiden University

10 April 2018 | LIAS PhD presentations
Ivo Martins
Linear and Cyclical time in Akkadian texts from the First Millennium B.C.E.

Akkadian literature features numerous examples of linear and cyclical chronology. Various cosmogonies, epics, wisdom and propaganda texts take full advantage of both ideas of time by combining them in different ways for the construction of their narratives. In later texts, however, linear chronology assumes a more prominent place. As I shall argue, this evolution reflects the shifting worldviews of first-millennium Assyrian and Babylonian scholars as reflected in the ways they conceptualize time and history. Reinforced by the phenomenon of antiquarianism in the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, the scholars’ desire to align their work with their cultural heritage and literary tradition led to the prevalence of linear chronology and contributed to the gradual disappearance of cyclical chronology in Akkadian texts.

18 March 2018Convention of the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies
Uzume Wijnsma
Lost in Translation? The Provenance and Historical Context of Pap. Amherst ’63’

Ilia State University in Tbilisi, Georgia

Papyrus Amherst ’63’ is a ca. fourth-century BC Egyptian papyrus, written in the Aramaic language but in Demotic script. The papyrus consists of a collection of mostly religious texts, ranging from hymns (some of which resemble Biblical Psalms) to a literary story about the Assyrian king Assurbanipal. Whereas previous research has mainly focused on the religious texts of the papyrus, and the ultimate geographical origins of the Aramaeans who wrote it, this paper will elucidate a somewhat neglected topic: the papyrus’ contemporary context. What is the papyrus’ provenance, who were the people that wrote it down, and what led them to use the Demotic script for their Aramaic literature? Based on archival research into the acquisition history of the Amherst papyri and a thorough investigation of the papyrus’ historical context, this paper will argue that none of the previously proposed Egyptian sites (Thebes, Elephantine/Syene, and Edfu) are the papyrus’ likely provenance; and that its authors may have become invisible in our historical record due to thorough Egyptianisation.

6 March 2018 | Ancient Digital Humanities Workshop
Melanie Groß
An Open Access Database: the “Prosopography of Babylonia”

University of Helsinki

In this paper I will present the online “Prosopography of Babylonia: 620–300 BCE” which is currently being developed at Leiden University within the framework of the ERC project “Persia and Babylonia” (PI C. Waerzeggers).

Thousands of cuneiform texts have survived in archives of Babylonian families and temples (c. 620-330 BCE). These sources offer valuable data for socio-historical research but their potential is difficult to exploit so far. The Leiden project wants to contribute to their accessibility by creating an online prosopography, designed to provide information about attested individuals in Babylonia during the Neo-Babylonian and Persian periods. As an open access database it will (along with other online databases) be an effective research tool for specialists and hopefully also contribute to a better insight into the cuneiform material for nonspecialists.

While parts of the database are still under construction, data entry has begun in February 2018. This lecture discusses the structure of the database, the range of data systemized in the database and its envisaged contribution to the field of “new digital prosopography”.

1 February 2018 | HOVO course: Nineveh

Caroline Waerzeggers
Teksten gevonden in Nineveh


25 January 2018 | Orientalists Day
Symposium organised by Persia & Babylonia

With a lecture by Melanie Gross
ˀbrk – A hapax legomenon in the Hebrew Bible revisited

Programme & abstracts

22 January 2018 | Creating and recreating Nineveh
Conference organised by Rijksmuseum van Oudheden and Persia & Babylonia

With lectures by Melanie Gross (Creating a Royal Court) and Uzume Wijnsma (Creating Stories)


13 December 2018 | Ancient Worlds Lecture
Caroline Waerzeggers
More than exilic history: what the Yahudu tablets tell us about the Persian Empire

Universität Innsbruck

Since the By the Rivers of Babylon exhibit at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem (2015) and the accompanying publication of the so-called Yahudu tablets in the collection of David Sofer (Pearce and Wunsch, CUSAS 28), we have seen an explosion of scholarly articles mining these cuneiform tablets for information about the Judean exile in Babylonia. In this lecture, I will intervene in the process of appropriation of these tablets for (re)writing exilic history, by drawing them into the orbit of Persian history. I will argue that they provide unique insights into the technologies of population control and resource management in the Persian Empire. My lecture will necessarily also ask questions about the problematic provenance of these tablets and will address the ethical problems involved in any scholarly engagement with them.

1 December 2017 | Inaugural Lecture
Caroline Waerzeggers, Professor of Assyriology
Academy Building, Leiden University

Read: De wilde jeugd der assyriologie
In the news: ‘The study of cuneiform texts is still an open field’

18 November 2017ASOR Annual Meeting
Conference paper by Melanie Gross
It is all about the people: the workforce of the palace and temple institutions in the Neo-Assyrian Empire

This paper aims at discussing the lower-ranking personnel of the Neo-Assyrian palace and temple households as the economic driving force of their institutions and beyond. While the Neo-Assyrian Empire is well-known for its powerful kings, effective state officials and strong army, the lower strata of Assyrian society have been taken into account on a much lesser extent in Assyriological research. Although the focus of the preserved written sources lies on the royal sphere and state matters, there is nevertheless sufficient information available from the archival documentation (letters, administrative records and legal documents) for studying those who did not manage and delegate work but actually did the work.

In the scope of this paper I will limit myself on the skilled workforce – that is, craftsmen (weavers, smiths, stone-workers, …) – and examine their tasks and functions but especially the type of connection they maintained to the said institutional households. I will examine the different modes of employment, ranging from the circumstance that workforce formed an integrative part of a household to cases where the household employed workforce on contractual basis. In doing so, I will also compare the households of the temple and the palace and discuss their interaction relating to the issue of the organization of workforce. My aim is to show that outsourcing of work was a central issue especially for the palace institution and that the close connection between temple and palace formed a central socio-economic aspect of the two institutions and, moreover, of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in its entirety.

17 November 2017 | The Labyrinth of Scripts
Lecture by Uzume Wijnsma
Writing and power in the Persian Empire

Exhibition at Expobar Nautilus, Amsterdam
3 – 17 November 2017

11 November 2017 | Coffee & Science
Speed lecture by Uzume Wijnsma
Hoe bestuurden de Perzen hun enorme rijk?

InScience film festival, Nijmegen
8 – 12 November 2017

1 November 2017 | Letters from Baghdad
Documentary screening with an introductory lecture by Nicky van de Beek
‘I prefer the East to the West’: Gertrude Bell

Leiden International Film Festival
National Museum of Anitiquities (RMO), Leiden

19 October 2017 | Opening night Nineveh exhibition
Speed lectures:
Caroline Waerzeggers, Assurbanipals boeken
Maarja Seire, Het zondvloedtablet uit de bibliotheek van Assurbanipal

National Museum of Antiquities (RMO), Leiden

9 August 2017 | SBL International Meeting
Conference paper by Melanie Gross
The king and his treasurer in the 1st millennium BCE

Berlin, 7 – 11 August 2017

This paper aims at examining the office of the treasurer as one key position of the royal household on the basis of the archival documentation of the Neo-Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian and Persian periods, the Greco-Roman historiography and the Old Testament. In order to establish a profile of this office, it deals with the identification of office holders and discusses the variety of their functions and responsibilities as well as the circumstances and events in which these office holders are particularly involved. By taking a comparative perspective one can trace chronological developments and identify differences as well as similarities of this office across state borders.

While the diverse source material must be treated with caution, it also offers the possibility to get a deeper understanding of each individual situation and to draw conclusions by analogy. The study of the office of the treasurer represents one puzzle piece of my current research project about the core group of royal officials in Middle Eastern Empires of the 1st millennium BCE which I am conducting within the framework of the ERC project “Persia and Babylonia” at Leiden University.

9 August 2017 | SBL International Meeting
Conference paper by Uzume Wijnsma
Between Language and Script: The Choices Involved in the Demotic-Aramaic Combination of Papyrus Amherst 63

Berlin, 7 – 11 August 2017

Papyrus Amherst 63 is a fourth-century BCE Egyptian papyrus containing an amalgam of mostly religious texts. The papyrus is a prime example of the creative use of language and script within the Achaemenid empire: while the script of the papyrus is Demotic, its language is Aramaic – with possible differences in Aramaic dialects and even some passages in Aramaicized Hebrew. Although the combination of an Egyptian script or language with a foreign one has been attested multiple times, those instances mainly concerned words or phrases in an otherwise Egyptian language context; Papyrus Amherst 63 is unique in Egypt in its lack of such a context as well as the sheer length of the combination. Indeed, a script-language combination of such length is rare in other times and places as well.

The question rises why such a peculiar combination was used: was it a question of pragmatism, symbolism, or both? And if the combination had some symbolic value, which would that have been? This paper will try to illuminate such questions by, on the one hand, grounding the papyrus firmly within its historical context, and, one the other, by using comparative cases of other times and regions that similarly played with such lengthy script-language combinations. It forms a part of the broader panel on ‘Translation, Language Appropriation, and Control in the Achaemenid Empire’.

8 August 2017 | SBL International Meeting
Conference paper by Caroline Waerzeggers
Cuneiform literacy and control in the first Persian Empire

Berlin, 7 – 11 August 2017

When Cyrus conquered Babylonia in 539 BC, he did not only add a huge territory to his growing empire, but also a highly multi-ethnic populace. In previous decades, especially due to Nebuchadnezzar II’s politics of deportation, the south-eastern part of Mesopotamia had become a multi-lingual region where dozens of non-native communities had been settled to live in exile under Babylonian rule. This region now assumed critical strategic importance in the formation of the Persian Empire, both as a corridor between three major centres of rule (Elam, Persia, Babylonia) and as a source of labour and agricultural income. How did the Empire control and exploit this region? This paper will look specifically at the role of cuneiform literacy in these efforts.

In recent years, several exilic communities of south-eastern Mesopotamia have become known to us through the “archive of Yahudu” — an archive of c. 250 cuneiform tablets recording financial transactions by and involving communities of forced migrants bound to the state through a system of land-allotments and labour obligations. These records allow us for the first time to study the transition of these communities from Babylonian to Persian rule, and to map the changing administrative structures that were put in place by the Persian Empire better to control and exploit their productivity. On a more fundamental level, we need to ask why and by whom this documentation was produced, and why in an area where Aramaic was the principal means of oral communication among a multi-lingual population, and in an empire that used Aramaic as the language of imperial administration, Babylonian cuneiform was, and continued to be, used to record legal transactions in a politically and economically highly sensitive region.

6 August 2017 | 17th World Congress of Jewish Studies
Lecture by Caroline Waerzeggers
A Window on the Exile? Colony, State, and Writing in the āl-Yāhūdu Archive

Jerusalem, 6 – 10 August 2017

The metaphor of the archive as a window on the past is widespread in Yahudu scholarship. While most historians these days would contend that archives distort as much as they depict, readers of the Yahudu tablets are confident that what they are getting is a straightforward, unmediated account of everyday exilic life. Two factors instill this confidence. On the one hand, the mundane nature of the transactions recorded in the texts lends them an aura of innocent objectivity. Judeans are seen paying taxes, selling fish, and renting plow animals — activities that can hardly be interpreted otherwise than in the literal sense. On the other hand, the idea that the tablets constitute a private, or personal, archive of one Judean family — the so-called family of Ahiqam — creates the impression that the ‘voices’ we hear in this archive are those of the Judean deportees themselves.

In this lecture I will question these intuitive responses to the Yahudu tablets. Before we mine this archive any further for testimony of the exile, we need to understand how it was shaped, how it came into being, whose viewpoint it represents. Every archive is, through its very existence, a statement of power — and this is not any different in the case of the Yahudu archive. On the contrary, I will argue that the very act of cuneiform writing in this community was a manifestation of state authority.

24 July 2017 | 63rd Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale
Conference paper by Melanie Gross
The King and his Officials – Power Structures of the First Millennium BCE in a Diachronic Perspective

Philipps-Universität Marburg, 24 – 28 July 2017

This paper aims at comparing the composition of the core group of royal officials of the first three Empires (Neo-Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, Persian) of the first millennium BCE. While the individual royal households of the three Empires have been studied quite intensively, there is still space for diachronic comparative studies. One of the main questions that will be addressed is which central functions do we expect to have been fulfilled by specific officeholders (on the basis of court studies in general) in the immediate sphere of the king and whom of these functionaries can we detect in the sources for the three different empires. In doing so, we will take into account that we are dealing with sources of different type and perspective, ranging from indigenous everyday documents to reports from Greek authors. This study of the respective political and administrative centres will contribute to a better understanding of the nature and dynamics of power in early empires.

14 June 2017 | Guest Lecture
Anne Goddeeris (Ghent University)
Small Souls: Family Fortunes in Old Babylonian Nippur

Leiden University

As in other Old Babylonian cities, real estate constitutes the major asset of the family estate, but in the religious capital, temple offices offer a means of wealth and prestige. However, the practice of partitive inheritance does not allow to keep a family fortune together over the generations. During my talk, I will illustrate this phenomenon, and how it can be bypassed, on the basis of some family archives.

29 May 2017 | Neo-Babylonian Network Meeting
Lecture by Uzume Wijnsma
Political legitimacy in the Persian Empire: the cases of Egypt and Babylonia
Response: Paola Corò (Università Ca’ Foscari, Venezia)

VU University Amsterdam

10 May 2017 | Lunch Talk: Biographical Databases
Maxim Romanov, Javier Cha and Caroline Waerzeggers
Leiden University Centre for Digital Humanities

For the second LUCDH lunch lecture of this term we have invited Leipzig-based scholar of Islamic culture, Maxim Romanov, to discuss the role of digital humanitites in his work. He studies Islamic historical texts with computational methods, currently focusing on the analysis of multivolume biographical and bibliographical collections. On Wednesday he will be talking specifically about a project on biographical databases. Joining him in a discussion is LUCDH staff member Javier Cha and professor of Assyriology Caroline Waerzeggers.

9 May 2017 | Eerste Leidse Oudheid Netwerkbijeenkomst
Lecture by Caroline Waerzeggers
Spijkerschrift en wereldgeschiedenis: een nieuw onderzoeksproject over het ontstaan van het Perzische rijk

Alumni event, Leiden University

4 May 2017 | Guest Lecture
Seth Richardson (Chicago)
From Prosopography to Politics: the late Old Babylonian case

Leiden University

The analysis of archives has been the cornerstone of economic, political, and social studies of ancient Babylonia for the past fifty years.  But what do you do when archives don’t tell you enough?  This discussion of an allied prosopographic approach to documentary evidence illustrates what is possible when we shift the focus away from the few figures who dominate the record and onto — well, everyone.  The results of this project gives us a sociological picture of official classes in fin de siècle Babylon I, and what that tells us about the collapse of the dynasty across the 17th c. BC.

12 April 2017 | Rosenthal Seminar
Caroline Waerzeggers
Writing and Control in the Exilic Community of Yahudu

Yale University


11 April 2017 | Rosenthal Lecture
Caroline Waerzeggers
Keeping track of what happened? A new look at the Babylonian chronicles

Yale University