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1-2 June 2022Archival Scribes and Archival Literacy in Babylonia: Theory and Practice
Leiden University, The Netherlands

Organised by Caroline Waerzeggers and Maarja Seire

1 June 2022Archival Scribes and Archival Literacy in Babylonia: Theory and Practice
Leiden University, The Netherlands

Presentation by Maarja Seire:
The legal and social practices of writing Neo-Babylonian archival documents

The Neo-Babylonian period private archives contain many tablets in which the scribe also had another role in the document which he wrote. Most commonly, the scribe of the document also acted as debtor. However, sometimes we also find the scribe of the document in the role of the creditor, lessee, or seller, among many other combinations.
Therefore, it does not seem to be the case that only the party that takes on an obligation or gives up their rights could write that very document. Nevertheless, the phenomenon needs a more focused study. In my presentation, I will try to discern the possible social and legal limitations for scribal activities. In which circumstances was it allowed to write a document in which the scribe’s personal interests were at play? What does it tell us about the power balance between the various parties mentioned in the document? This presentation is a statistical study regarding how often scribes functioned in other roles and which roles these were. The results will also shed light on the professionalism of the scribes and how literacy was applied in Babylonia during the long sixth century.

1 June 2022Archival Scribes and Archival Literacy in Babylonia: Theory and Practice
Leiden University, The Netherlands

Presentation by Caroline Waerzeggers:
Archivalization in Babylonian society: why, when, who?

Today we know 6th-century Babylonia as a place of intensive record-keeping. The practice of collecting and curating texts was widespread and took place in temples, palaces, and especially also in domestic homes. For many decades, we (historians) have scrutinized the testimony of these archives to study the region’s society, economy and political history. Yet, many fundamental questions about the text corpus itself remain unanswered. In this lecture, I want to zoom in on one such basic question.
After the end of the Kassite period in the mid-twelfth century, archival activity ceased in Babylonia until the mid-8th century when archival mentalities re-emerged. This new trend sets off, quite punctually, from the time of Marduk-aplu-iddina II onwards (r. 722–710 BCE) when several families began to curate archives at home. This raises the question why archive-keeping became a socially appealing activity around this time.
It seems significant that the process of archivalization ran in sync with two other developments that happened around the same time, one in society and the other in textual culture. In this lecture, I will examine this social and textual background of the re-emergence of an archival culture in Babylonia in the second half of the 8th century and I will trace how archivalization further developed in Babylonian society (albeit only in broad strokes) into the late Achaemenid period.

18 May  2022 | Lecture
Basel University, Switzerland

Invited lecture by Caroline Waerzeggers:
Borderland Archives: The Yahudu tablets in the light of Babylonian archival history

Nanterre University (Paris),  France

Workshop presentation by Maarja Seire:
The Scribes of Itti-Marduk-balāṭu

More than 10,000 private archival documents have survived from the Neo-Babylonian period, containing information regarding economic, social, and legal life. These clay tablets mention the contract parties, the witnesses, and the scribe of the document. The frequent use of family names from the 6th century BCE onwards makes it easier to identify people and trace their activities. Among the elite of Babylonia, many businessmen were literate, yet others wrote documents for them. For this workshop, I will analyse the “client-scribe” relationships of Itti-Marduk-balāṭu, the son of Nabû-ahhē-iddinfrom the Egibi family, who was one of the main actors in the Egibi archive. The Egibi archive with its Nūr-Sîn annex is one of the largest private archives from the Neo-Babylonian period. At present day, it contains more than 1,750 documents and covers five generations of business activities. In addition to this, the archive sheds light on matters related to property ownership, family life and disputes. Therefore, this archive enables studying relationships in detail. Itti-Marduk-balāṭu himself is attested in ca. 350 documents, written by more than 200 different scribes. Who were the individuals who wrote tablets for this literate businessman? What was their relationship to the persons mentioned in the tablets they wrote? Furthermore, can the context allow us to discern social and legal conventions regarding who functioned as a scribe? For studying these relationships, I am using social network analysis. While the results of this case study reflect on social frameworks, they also demonstrate how cuneiform literacy was applied to writing legal documents. These insights offer new avenues on understanding professionalism.

14-18 March 2022 | Securing Data in Mesopotamia: New Technologies for Secured Cuneiform Texts
Leiden, The Netherlands

Organised by Caroline Waerzeggers, Dominique Ngan-Tillard, Hubert Mara, Dirk Roorda and Rients de Boer

With a lecture by Caroline Waerzeggers:
Ancient archives in the archival turn

4 August 2021 | EABS Meeting

Wuppertal, Germany

Lecture by Mathieu Ossendrijver (FU Berlin) and Caroline Waerzeggers (Leiden):
Astronomy and the writing of history in Babylonia (late first millennium BCE)

12-16 July 2021 | 67th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, 12-16 July 2021
Torino, Italy

Paper by Ivo Martins:
A new look at BM 38299

30 April 2021 | Ancient World Network lunch talks
Leiden University (via Zoom)

Lecture by Uzume Wijnsma:
Mining or Moving through? The Wadi Hammamat Inscriptions of the Achaemenid Period

21 April 2020Seminar: Written Sources from the Near East and Egypt
Catholic University of Louvain (via Zoom)

Guest lecture by Melanie Groß:
Managing an Empire: The highest officials of Assyria

20 April 2021 | Contextualizing Jewish Temples 
Bar-Ilan University (via Zoom)

Book publication celebration (contribution by Caroline Waerzeggers)

9 April 2021 | Akkadian seminar
Tehran University (via Zoom)

Guest lecture by Caroline Waerzeggers in an Akkadian workshop. This workshop introduces attendants from Tehran University to the Akkadian language and cuneiform script, by means of the Gilgamesh Epic. Organiser: dr. Nasir Eskandari.

25 March 2021 | Ancient and Medieval Middle East (AMME)
The Centre of Excellence in Ancient Near Eastern Empires (ANEE), University of Helsinki (via Zoom)

Guest lecture by Uzume Wijnsma:
The rebellions of Achaemenid Egypt: a comparison between Greco-Roman and Egyptian evidence

21 March 2021 | Podcast 
Podchaser (Trevor Culley)

Podcast about the research of Uzume Wijnsma

18 March 2021Securing data in Mesopotamia: New technologies for secured cuneiform texts

Opening of the kick-off meeting by Caroline Waerzeggers

Click here for the program

February 2021-May 2022 | Digital Prosopography
Leiden University (zoom)

Several thinktank meetings about Digital prosopography in Assyriology organised by Caroline Waerzeggers, Laurie Pearce (Berkeley University), and Saana Svärd (University of Helsinki)

February-May 2021 | Seminar
Leiden University

Seminar held by Maarja Seire:
Reading Old Babylonian

3 December 2020 | Guest lecture for The Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures
University of Hamburg (via Zoom)

Lecture by Caroline Waerzeggers and Maarja Seire:
Accessibility of archives: the case of Babylonia (c. 620-480 BCE)

When Cyrus the Great added Babylonia to his growing empire in 539 BCE, he became master of a dense and productive archival landscape. Cuneiform writing had been in use in Mesopotamia for over two millennia, and a significant percentage of Babylonia’s urban population was able to read and write, and, to keep and manage written documents in archives. Over 100 archives survive from Babylonia in the period between 620–480 BCE, varying in size from a handful to several thousand cuneiform tablets. Excavated in the late 19th century, most of these archives lack a sound archaeological context which means that we are badly informed about their physical environment. Topics such as the spatial dimension of storage and the monitoring of access to archives are difficult to study.
In this lecture we will examine internal data—i.e. testimony provided by records kept in these archives—to find some answers to the question of accessibility. We will do this from several vantage points. First, we will study the social geography of Babylonia’s archival landscape: which groups in society kept archives, where and for which purposes? We will see that whereas some groups were largely self-reliant in matters of writing and archiving, others had no access to these practices except through outsiders. In this sense, writing and archiving could work as an integrative as well as a distancing force in society, depending on the social context. A second topic that we will explore is the permeability of archival boundaries: how did records move into, out from and between archives? Finally, we will ask whether the Persian rulers had any interest in the archives of their Babylonian subjects, and if yes, how they gained access to these collections, bridging differences in language, medium and knowledge.

2 December 2020Melammu workshop Living under Empires: “A View from Below”
University of Helsinki (via Zoom)

Workshop paper by Caroline Waerzeggers:
Managing populations from the Babylonian to the Persian Empire

In the words of Ann L. Stoler, “colonial administrations were prolific producers of social categories” (Along the Archival Grain, p. 1). This paper argues that the introduction of the new social label “shushanu”, attested in Babylonian cuneiform texts dated to the last quarter of the sixth century BCE, should be seen in this light. The imperial administration of the Persian Empire introduced this label in an effort to homogenize the multi-ethnic and amorphous rural populations of the eastern Babylonian plain. The people placed under this label were given a uniform legal status and a reproducible template for community organization that enabled their deployment for the Empire. Given the origins of these population groups in the deportation politics of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, a diachronic approach is necessary to understand the novelty of this social category under the Persian Empire. However, in contrast to earlier studies of the “shushanu” people, I will argue that the moment of the term’s introduction as well as its archival expression provide the key to the specific geo-political goals that was served by this program of population design. Moreover, I will argue that the introduction of this new social category did not only affect the people who were put in this box but also those outside of it. This will involve stepping away from the rural communities (and the texts that concern them) into the Babylonian cities where the implications of the new system were equally noticed/noticeable.

1 December 2020Melammu workshop Living under Empires: “A View from Below”
University of Helsinki (via Zoom)

Workshop paper by Melanie Groß:
Trading communities in Sippar and their social circumstances during Achaemenid rule

30 September 2020Radio Interview

Interview with Caroline Waerzeggers:
Doorbraak in de studie van het spijkerschrift

17 September 2020 | Identity in the Ancient World, AMME Seminar
University of Helsinki (via Zoom)

Presentation by Ivo Martins:
Babylonia 539 BCE: The world against Nabonidus?

539 B.C.E. has been hailed as a turning point on the history of the Ancient Near East. In just a few months Cyrus II invaded Babylonia, defeated the Babylonian army, seized Babylon and capture the last Babylonian monarch Nabonidus. Amongst the literary evidence on these events, there is the inadequately called “Persian Verse Account of Nabonidus”.
Identified almost a century ago on a clay tablet kept at the British Museum (BM 38299), the text remains enigmatic and its information should be approached cautiously. Little is known with certainty and a lot is assumed through circumstantial evidence.
As it is now understood, the composition reads as an indictment of Nabonidus and an apology of Cyrus II. Yet, the name of Nabonidus is not preserved and the involvement of Persian central power in the creation of the text is unproven. In effect, date of production, authorship, intentionality, genre and a substantial portion of its content are objectively lost to us.
In this presentation, we will analyse BM 38299 under the perspective of identity. On the one hand, we will search for traces of political and cultural identities behind the production of the text. On the other hand, we will explore the significance of archetypal characters and the “identities” they intended to represent.

12 September 2020Radio Interview
BNR radio

Interview with Caroline Waerzeggers:
Kunstmatige Intelligentie kan oud spijkerschrift voorspellen

7 September 2020 | National Newspaper Interview
NRC Newspaper

Interview with Caroline Waerzeggers:
Computer raadt missend spijkerschrift

September-December 2020 | Seminar
Leiden University

Interview with Uzume Wijnsma:
Van Nijl tot Indus: de bronnen van het Perzische Rijk

September-December 2020 | Online Seminar

Leiden University

Online seminar organised by Melanie Groß:
The Ancient Near Eastern Royal Court in Diachronic Perspective

Including the following “Meet the master” sessions:

15.09.2020: Jeroen Duindam: Courts and dynasties: comparative perspectives
29.09.2020: Nele Ziegler: The population of the palace of Mari
13.10.2020: David Kertai: Assyrian palace architecture
03.11.2020: Michael Jursa: Court officials in Babylonia
17.11.2020: Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones: The Achaemenid harem
24.11.2020: Catherine Draycott: The Persian court in Asia Minor
01.12.2020: Rolf Strootman: The Seleucid court

27 August 2020 | Recent Developments in Digital Assyriology – Zoom Workshop, Helsinki, August 26-27, 2020
University of Helsinki (via Zoom)

Presentation by Melanie Groß:
Prosobab: Online Prosopography of Babylonia (620-330 BCE)

This paper presents the online “Prosopography of Babylonia: 620–330 BCE” which is currently being developed at Leiden University within the framework of the ERC project “Persia and Babylonia”.

Thousands of cuneiform clay texts have survived in archives of Babylonian families and temples (c. 620–330 BCE). These sources offer valuable data for socio-historical research into a pivotal period of Mesopotamian history. The Leiden project wants to contribute to the accessibility of this data by developing an online prosopography, providing information about attested individuals in Babylonia during the Neo-Babylonian and Persian periods based on a questionnaire. As an open access database it is intended as a research tool for specialists. At the same time it aims at contributing to a better insight into the cuneiform material for non-specialists. Moreover, it provides the flexibility and durability required by the ever on-going publication of the text corpus.

While we are still busy with adding and processing data, we publicly released the first batch of data in July 2019. In this talk we will demonstrate how Prosobab can facilitate research into the social history of Babylonia and stimulate new research questions, and how it envisages to contribute to the field of “digital prosopography”.

17 June 2020Radio Interview
NPO Radio 1

Interview with Uzume Wijnsma:
Egyptian Revolts against the Persian Empire

5 March 2020 | Historical Novel conference (5-7 March)
Lisboa, Colégio Almada Negreiros

Presentation by Ivo Martins:
The Verse Account of Nabonidus: History, Fiction and something in-between…

For the best part of a century, Assyriology fought a hard battle for the recognition of a proper historiographical tradition in the cuneiform cultures of Ancient Mesopotamia against Hellenocentric definitions of History. Today, Assyriologists no longer feel the need to justify the existence of historiography “before the Greeks”. Now, the battle joined for a better and more precise distinction between primary and secondary sources. Especially at the level of secondary sources, a correct classification of the material is highly needed as all the evidence is literary in nature (e.g. chronicles, royal inscriptions, king-lists, epics, legends, prophecies ex-eventum, pseudo auto-biographies, etc.). Within such a diverse range of forms and textual typologies, determining the reliability of the historical data provided by these texts is the foremost concern.
In the field of Assyriology, the question has been met by two parallel discussions. On the one hand, studies focused on political history debate the bias and the propagandistic value of the material seen as historical. On the other hand, researchers pursuing a literary perspective prefer to classify compositions on their formal, functional, poetic and prosodic features. The terms fiction and historicalfiction are absent of both discussions.
However, a 1st Millennium composition traditionally known as The Verse Account of Nabonidus (BM 38299) looms large at the crossroads of these debates. Incorporating pure fictionalized events along with characters which are well-attested in archival and archaeological sources, the Verse Account demands a clarification of the concepts of historiography, fiction and historical-fiction in the Mesopotamian context. To what extent can its data be used as corroborative evidence? Where and how shall we draw the line between fictional literature and a “literature of facts”?

19 February 2020Cambridge Ancient Near East Seminar Series
University of Cambridge

Lecture by Melanie Groß:

Family firms and their efforts for conducting trade in Babylonian Sippar during Persian rule

19 February 2020 Human – Machine Cooperation in Archaeology, Epigraphy and Ancient History
Bar Ilan University and Ariel University

Presentation by Maarja Seire:
Networks of Scribes: The social and legal conventions of scribal practice in Babylonia

Several studies discuss the document types and their legal formulas in Babylonia during the mid-first millennium BCE. However, little is known about the individuals who wrote these private archival documents. Assyriologists have often assumed that the individuals who wrote archival documents were professional scribes, and further speculated that they drew up documents against a fee. However, many ‘scribes’ wrote documents for themselves, or for their friends and family. Were there limitations to the autonomy that kinship groups in Babylonia seem to have enjoyed? Since private archival documents relate to family life, ownership and lease of property, employment and financial transactions, the networks of ‘scribes’ and their ‘clients’ could help in answering this question. My research is looking at the social and legal conventions that determined who could draw up binding agreements. In other words: Who could write which documents? The source material from the Neo-Babylonian and Persian period reaches up to 10,000 clay tablets, but I will use case studies to analyze the corpus. However, even then it is difficult to get a grasp on the connections between various individuals and the tablet trail that connects them. To solve this problem, my research relies heavily on social network analysis. Therefore, I will study scribal practice through network perspective.

18 February 2020 | Assyriology Colloquium
University of Oxford

Lecture by Melanie Groß:
Family firms and their efforts for conducting trade in Babylonian Sippar during Persian rule

February-May 2020 | Seminar
Leiden University

Seminar held by Maarja Seire:
Reading Old Babylonian

February-May 2020 | Seminar
Leiden University

Seminar held by Melanie Groß:
Legal Texts from First Millennium BCE Assyria and Babylonia

30 January 2020 |  NINO annual meeting
University of Amsterdam

Lightning session presentation by Caroline Waerzeggers, Melanie Groß, and Maarja Seire

18 December 2019Minisymposium De Joodse Diaspora in Perspectief
Joods Historisch Museum, Amsterdam

Lecture by Caroline Waerzeggers:
Judeeërs in Babylonië

21 November 2019 | Asor Annual Meeting, Workshop “Between Cities: Exchange and Urban Networks”
San Diego

Workshop paper by Melanie Groß:
At the Harbor of Sippar: The Activities of Merchant Families in Babylonia during Persian Rule

Located between the Euphrates and Tigris in northern Babylonia, Sippar was a traditional transit point for people and goods on land and water. At times of Persian rule a cluster of families living in Sippar engaged in trading activities. One purpose of this paper is to discuss the possible trading goods, their origin, and their nearer or more distant destinations. Another is to discuss the mentality and integration into society of the traders and their families. How were they connected among each other and with whom did they interact beyond this circle, be it men from Sippar or men from outside the city? How did their involvement in trade influence their social standing, especially in view of the disparity between long-established families living in the city and newcomers who migrated from other cities or even other countries? To what extent was their daily life characterized by encounters with people passing through the city’s harbor rather than with inhabitants of the city? Considering the possibility of regional but also trans-regional trade, what social and economic impact did these trading activities have on the city, on the province of Babylonia, and even on the Persian Empire as a whole? The paper is based on the on-going full edition of the so-called “Maštuk group,” comprising three private archives. It aims to shed more light on the socio-economic realities of Babylonian citizens who engaged in trading and to provide a better understanding of Sippar and its role as a trading center during Persian rule.

18 November 2019 | Interview
Universidad Eclesiástica San Dámaso, Madrid

Interview with Caroline Waerzeggers (youtube)

18 November 2019Jornadas 2019 San Justino
Universidad Eclesiástica San Dámaso, Madrid

Lecture by Caroline Waerzeggers:
Israel during the Babylonian Exile: New Insights from cuneiform texts


7–10 October 2019 | Masterclass “Registration Practices”
Leiden University

Masterclass taught by Johannes Hackl (Leipzig University):
Registration Practices in Late Period Babylonia and Their Supposed Precursors: A Reassessment

19 September 2019Sign, Speech, and Society in the Ancient Near East: 100 Years of Ancient Near Eastern Studies in Prague
Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague

Conference paper by Melanie Groß:
Prosobab: An online prosopography of Babylonia in the Neo-Babylonian and Persian periods

The database Prosobab (“Prosopography of Babylonia: 620-330 BCE”) is currently being developed at Leiden University within the framework of the ERC project “Persia and Babylonia: Creating a New Context for Understanding the Emergence of the First World Empire” ( led by Caroline Waerzeggers.
Thousands of cuneiform clay 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 an online prosopography, designed to provide information about attested individuals in Babylonia during the Neo-Babylonian and Persian periods based on a questionnaire. As an open access database it is (along with other online databases) intended as a research tool for specialists. At the same time it also aims at contributing to a better insight into the cuneiform material for non-specialists. Moreover, it provides the flexibility and durability required by the ever on-going publication of the corpus.
While we are still busy with adding and processing data, we publicly released the first batch of data in July 2019. The first part of this talk discusses the structure of the database and the range of data collected and systemized in the database. The second part aims to demonstrate how Prosobab can facilitate research and also stimulate new research questions, and its envisaged contribution to the field of “new digital prosopography”

18 September 2019 | National TV Documentary
NTR, “De kennis van nu”

Documentary with Caroline Waerzeggers:
Het verwoeste verleden

3 September 2019 | Lecture at the opening of the new academic year
Museum of Antiquities, Leiden

Lecture by Caroline Waerzeggers:
Ezida prebendaries’ texts

September-December 2019 | Seminar
Leiden University

Uzume Wijnsma:
History Writing in and on the Achaemenid Empire

September-December 2019 | Seminar
Leiden University

Uzume Wijnsma:
Van Nijl tot Indus: de bronnen van het Perzische Rijk

September-November 2019 | Autumn lecture series
Leiden University

Organized by Uzume Wijnsma

26 September – Thomas Harrison: Herodotus and the Persian Empire
11 October – Mark Garrison: Achaemenid Glyptic
31 October – Elspeth Dusinberre: Cultural interactions in Anatolia
13 November – Wouter Henkelman: The Persepolis Fortification Archive

11-14 August 2019 | Workshop ‘Empire and Historiography’EABS annual meeting

Organized by the Judaeans in the Persian Empire Research Unit (Caroline Waerzeggers, Jason Silverman, and Anne-Mareike Wetter) jointly with the Impact of Hellenistic Empires Research Unit (Benedikt Eckhardt and Sylvie Honigman).

For EABS 2019 Judaeans in the Persian Empire had a joint call for papers with the new Impact of Hellenistic Empires Research Unit on the theme of “Empire and Historiography”. We invited papers examining the ideology of and discourse on Empire in any form of historiography documented in Judaea and in neighbouring societies, in a broad range of periods (Persian, Hellenistic, and Early Roman Empire), and/or how the fact of empire impacts historiography. The relevant literature in Judaea includes biblical literature of Persian times (e.g., Deuteronomic history; Chronicles; Prophetic books); works from Hellenistic times (1 Macc; 2 Macc; Daniel); apocrypha; apocalyptic literature, Qumran; Flavius Josephus, and more. Literatures from neighbouring societies may include works composed in ancient Greek, Akkadian, and Demotic. All topics related to “Empire and Historiography”, such as the reflection of empire in a specific work, or how the fact of empire impacts this discourse, were welcome.

10 July 201965th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, 8-12 July 2019

Conference paper by Lidewij van de Peut:
Addressing the Public? On the Performance of Prayers by the Hittite King

What does the Hittite king have in common with Churchill, Obama, and Macron? Besides being heads of state, they also react in similar ways when their country is in distress: by addressing the public in a speech. In this way modern rulers calm their people down by informing them about the state of affairs and what the authorities are doing to end the crisis. When the Hittite Empire was in dire need, the Hittite king directed prayers to the gods. As argued in this paper, while addressing the gods, the king indirectly also spoke to a part of the people of his land. By showing that he took the matter up with the gods, the monarch ensured these people that he was resolving the current crisis, just like modern rulers do with their speeches. As a consequence, this would strengthen the position of the Hittite king as a ruler. This paper will examine the performance of the so-called “personal” prayers of the Hittite king and compare them to the giving of speeches by modern heads of state. Our knowledge of the performance of Hittite prayers is quite limited, but some information can be found scattered throughout the relatively small corpus of just over twenty such texts uncovered at the Hittite capital city Hattusa. It will be demonstrated that their performance strengthens the legitimacy and power of the monarch by looking at the reasons for which the prayers were composed, the king’s role in the performance, and the presence of a human audience that even participated occasionally in the performance of the prayer.

8 July 201965th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, 8-12 July 2019

Conference paper by Melanie Groß:
Trading activities in Sippar in light of state interests

This paper investigates the role of Sippar as a center of trade during the Neo-Babylonian and Persian periods and to which extent the crown might have been the driving force of trading activities in this city. Due to its geo-political situation and economic importance Sippar and its harbor served as a focal point for trade in Northern Babylonia. This emerges from the archival documentation originating from that city, including three private family archives dating to late Neo- Babylonian and Persian times. These archives were identified by C. Waerzeggers as the “Maštuk group” and, as part of my ongoing study, are currently fully (re-)edited and evaluated. In addition to clear prosopographical connections, all three archives exhibit a strong focus on joint trading enterprises. By looking into this documentation in detail, we will discuss the social standing and economic role these families and their members had in Sippar. Furthermore, we will consider the extent to which these trading activities were concern of the state or the crown rather than that they have been initiated and conducted by these families on the basis of their private interests alone.

8 July 201965th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, 8-12 July 2019

Conference paper by Julia Giessler:
Ten to One for a Dead Man’s House

The rich administrative and legal documentation of first millennium Babylonia makes this period one of the best known in Mesopotamian history. Still, collections all over the world house unpublished tablets, which add more pieces of information to our perspective and pose new questions respectively. Amongst the recent re-discoveries is a small and well preserved piece from the city of Sippar in the ascension year of Cyrus, which will be introduced in the course of this paper. The tablet in question records a short and enigmatic agreement in favour of the Maštuk family that becomes partially, but by far not on in all aspects comprehensible through comparison data from contemporary archival material: Its brief and uncommon formula finds at least one parallel in the transmission from the Eanna temple. Also some of the protagonists are already known from previous research on the closely connected Maštukand Baliḫû clan. While it is thus likely that Bēl-iddin, the main character and patron of theMaštuks, was already deceased, when this tablet was drafted, the identity of his opponent Mušallim remains yet unclear. The lack of attestations for preceding conflicts between the litigant parties prevents us from understanding the threat Mušallim must have posed on goodsand chattels of the Maštuks in detail. Only the legal background of the punishment invoked for their protection could give another hint of the back story.

3 July 2019 | Kleitabletten in de kernreactor: nieuw onderzoek naar de spijkerschriftteksten uit de Böhl-collectie
Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden

Conference paper by Lidewij van de Peut:
Een klein kleitablet vertelt een groot verhaal

Organized by C. Waerzeggers and C. van Zoest (NINO)

27-28 June 2019 | Antigüedades de Oriente Próximo y Egipto en España y Portugal: Viajeros, pioneros e coleccionistas
Museo de Zamora

Programme: Programa Congreso Zamora

Conference paper by Ivo Martins:
Palavra e Imagem: o séc. XVII e o papel de Gouveia na redescoberta de Persépolis e da escrita cuneiforme

[Word and Image: the 17th century and the role of Gouveia in the rediscovery of Persepolis and the cuneiform script]

27 June 2019What’s (new) in Name? Onomastics, Databases and the Ancient World  
University of Coimbra

Conference paper by Melanie Groß:
”The Prosopography of Babylonia” open access database

24-28 June 2019  | Broadening Horizons 6

Keynote lecture by Caroline Waerzeggers:
Ancient Person Data in the Digital Age


6 June 2019 | Representing Networks: Past and Present
University of Cologne

Workshop paper by Maarja Seire:
Casting a Wide Net: The Distant Reading of Archival Documents from Babylon

In total, ca. 10,000 private archival documents in various cuneiform tablet collections date to the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid period (626–323 BCE). One of the best represented cities is ancient Babylon, where ca. 20 private archives, totalling about 2,500 documents, have been found. Since the private documents relate to marriage, property, work, and loans – all of which are often proven to take place within the circle of close acquaintances –, the social networks can represent meaningful relationships. Due to large amount of documentation, these archives have often been analysed as separate entities. However, one would expect that the social world of each of these archives is connected to other archives. My approach is turning the traditional method of close reading the documents in one archive upside down. I will first apply social network analysis to the material, thus practicing the distant reading of the documents, and then let the results (e.g. ties between the archives) determine which documents I will use for close reading. By doing so, I aim to connect the bits and pieces that bind the archives together and make the social fabric of Babylon. Which individuals and what kind of social and economic contracts connect the inhabitants of Babylon?

30 May 2019 | Postgraduate Conference “Reframing Wisdom Literature
King’s College London 

Conference presentation by Ivo Martins:
Reframing wisdom through liminality in Akkadian literature

‘Wisdom’ was a pervasive concept across the scholarly and literary traditions of several ancient cultures. Acknowledging this pervasiveness, modern scholars assembled texts sharing similar themes into corporaunder the heading of wisdom literature. Concerning Akkadian sapiential literature (ca. 12th – 1stcent. B.C.E.), assyriologists have collected compositions which address religious, ethical and existential issues. In essence, Assyriology delimited its wisdom corpusby replicating the biblical label.
Yet, the universal appeal of wisdom and the ubiquity of these themes over a diverse range of cultural and social contexts have not been conveniently explained. If during the last century, reliable critical editions of that corpuswere achieved, generic and conceptual studies have been less successful in constructing a theoretical frame and in providing tools to identify wisdom in a less arbitrary manner. The search for a solution led current scholarship to explore the socio-economic setting and the archival context of wisdom texts to explicate the historical conditions surrounding the production of these texts. Still, an optimal solution needs to bring together both these external factors and the internal literary features of the compositions.
Since the common subject of these texts is human experience, the socio-anthropological concept of liminality, i.e. a period which suspends social norms and allows their critical evaluation by an individual or a group (Turner, 1969), is instrumental in explaining the social functions of wisdom.
In this paper I will argue that by using narratology to describe plot and characters and by analysing stylistic devices which represent material boundaries and social marginality, we can identify the liminal aspects of wisdom, both in the texts and in their scholarly contexts. This approach offers a more coherent method to detect sapiential literature and explainsits function and universal appeal.

24 May 2018 | Annual Meeting “Greeks and Persians in the Hellenistic World”
Amsterdam, Kring Antieke Cultuur

Response by Caroline Waerzeggers

8 May 2019Tweede Leidse Oudheid Netwerkbijeenkomst
Leiden University

Talk by Lidewij van de Peut:
Leiden – (Iraq) – Berlin – Leiden

5 May 2019 | Workshop “Persia and Babylonia: the Achaemenid Empire in light of Babylonian sources”, Kashan University, Iran

The workshop is organized by Leila Makvandi, Caroline Waerzeggers, Melanie Gross, Uzume Wijnsma, and Ivo Dos Santos Martins.

1. “Introducing Achaemenid Babylonia” (10.00-12.00) with lectures by Uzume Wijnsma (Babylonian archives), Melanie Gross (Prosopography and the “Persia and Babylonia” database), and Ivo Dos Santos Martins (Babylonian libraries and literary texts).
2. “Seminar Akkadian language” (14.00-16.00) by Caroline Waerzeggers

9 April 2019 | The 2nd Minorities in Mesopotamia Workshop
The Finnish Institute in the Middle East, Beirut

Talk by Melanie Groß:
Ethnic diversity at the royal court

31 March 2019 | Lecture
Tel Aviv University

Lecture by Caroline Waerzeggers:
Literature of fact: reconsidering the Babylonian chronicles

26-27 March 2019 | Masterclasses
Tel Aviv University

Masterclasses by Caroline Waerzeggers:
Judah-town in Babylonia 
An Edict of King Meli-shipak

15 March 2019 | Lecture

National Museum of Anitiquities (RMO), Leiden, at 15:00

Lecture by Caroline Waerzeggers:
100 jaar assyriologie in Leiden


14 February 2019 | Leiden Loves Science
Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, 18:30-22:00

A poster and video presentation by Uzume Wijnsma:
De Perzen: stichters van het eerste wereldrijk in de geschiedenis (ca. 539 – 330 v.C.) [The Persians: founders of the first world empire in history (ca. 539 – 330 BC)]

31 January 2019 | NINO annual meeting
University of Groningen

Lightning sessions by:

– Maarja Seire: Archival Scribes and Archival Practice during the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid Periods (7th – 4th c. BCE)

– Evelien Vanderstraeten: The Social World of Marriage

– Ivo Dos Santos Martins: The Persian Verse Account of Nabonidus: Propaganda, Historiography, or Both?

29 January 2019 | News item
Leiden University

News item about Uzume Wijnsma:
Promovenda Uzume Wijnsma in Lijst Elsevier “30 talenten onder de 30”

15 January 2019 | Violence, Punishment and Labour in Ancient Egypt and the Ancient Near East
Egyptian Museum of the University of Bonn

Conference paper by Julia Giessler:
Mark them or put them in fetters! On punitive functions of body marks in first millennium Babylonia

The praxis of ownership marking affected Babylonia’s (semi-)dependent workforces on several levels. As the application of personal names and divine symbols on the hands of chattel slaves and temple servants was non-mandatory, it exceeded its primary function as a legally valid proof for private and institutional ownership claims respectively. The marked ones were not only tagged as property of a specific owner, but visibly distinguished from unmarked fellows and freemen alike. While a juridical distinction between divergent social groups is traditionally entrenched in Mesopotamian society, and underlined in all periods of cuneiform transmission by the use of differentiated designations, the impact of human markedness is neither defined in law codes, nor clearly tangible in archival documents. Only a few texts shed light on individual meanings of ownership marks by contextualizing their application with flight attempts of workers on the one and punishments of disobedient free children on the other hand. This paper aims at clarifying these apparently different uses of ownership marking by approaching the underlying structural dependencies on the basis of the household model that correlates domestic with institutional power relations. Punitive functions of Babylonian ownership marks will be furthermore discussed in the light of their historical development.

10 January 2019 | Persian Empire, Social Sciences, and Historiography Exploratory Workshop
University of Helsinki

Workshop paper by Uzume Wijnsma:
Barking Dogs Never Bite? Elite criticism and quietism in First Persian Period Egypt

The Persian Empire was a vast, multi-ethnic state. To keep its widely disparate regions together and yet rule it effectively the Persians had to rely on the cooperation of local elites. It were they who bridged the gap between the imperial administration and local structures; and it were they who helped the Achaemenids rule their regions in the service of the Great King. The status of such local elites was necessarily ambiguous. They were not quite “imperial agents”, nor were they the “representatives” of some collective, local interest. So how should we understand their position within the imperial structure? How did they view themselves, both in relation to the Persians (or “the empire”) and in relation to their countrymen (or “their homeland”, with its own political and cultural history)? What can the sources at our disposal actually tell us, and what are their limitations?

The present paper will take Egypt as a case-study for analysing local elite identity in the Persian Empire. It will do so by looking at 1) Egyptian stories that express “anti-Persian” or “anti- imperial” views, stories which are often understood to emanate from the elite (priestly) classes of society; and 2) the frequent Egyptian rebellions against Persian rule and the identity of those who participated in them. In the end, the paper will argue that the social groups linked to one or the other issue can rarely be linked to each other: i.e. explicit formulations of dissatisfaction with Persian rule cannot be linked to open resistance against it. This only underlines the “ambiguous” position of certain elite groups in society; and it raises new questions about how we should understand dissatisfaction with empire, and the position of those who voiced it.

9 January 2019 | Persian Empire, Social Sciences, and Historiography Exploratory Workshop
University of Helsinki

Workshop paper by Maarja Seire:
The Authority and Autonomy of Archival Scribes in Mid-First Millennium BCE: The client-scribe relationships in Bēl-rēmanni and Marduk-rēmanni archives and Āl-Yāhūdu archival complex

In mid-first millennium Babylonia, many archive holders and their family members were literate in Babylonian cuneiform. Yet, Assyriologists have assumed that the (illiterate) clients paid archival scribes for drawing up their documents. In fact, there is little research into who wrote private archival documents: their social and economic background is unknown, and we do not know their career paths and how their professional life related to writing documents for other people. Furthermore, it is not clear why certain individuals were chosen to draw up the documents. Was it based on their skills in literacy, their work at institutions, or perhaps, because of their relation to the client? This paper compares client-scribe relationships during the Neo-Babylonian (626–539 BCE) and Achaemenid periods (539–331 BCE). It takes three contemporaneous archives from central Babylonia as case studies and uses prosopography and statistical information for drawing conclusions.

January 2019 | Magazine item
Elsevier Weekblad

Magazine item about Uzume Wijnsma:
30 onder de 30: jonge talenten om in de gaten te houden

21 November 2018 | Persia and Babylonia Masterclass, Leiden University

Johannes Bach (University of Helsinki):
Intertextuality and Assyrian Royal Texts: Theory, Methodology and Case Studies

The talk will address various issues pertaining to structural intertextual research of Mesopotamian literature, specifically Assyrian royal narrative texts. Firstly some modern day theories on inter- and transtextuality will be introduced and discussed briefly, with a short evaluation of their usefulness, respectively: applicability. The theory of transtextuality by Gérard Genette will be discussed in more detail, since it is the most useful approach to the subject. Next, the talk will focus on the subject of architextuality and genre formation (form, mode and content) and highlight some developments of the so-called narrative form of Assyrian royal narratives texts (narratorial perspective, focus, distance, narrative content). After this, the talk will focus on a 5-step methodology for a structural study of inter- and transtextualities, and elucidate on every step with a row of examples.

In the second half of the talk two case studies will be presented. The first case study discusses allusions to the Gilgamesh epic under the Sargonids, and analyses prominent intertextualities following the scheme presented in the first half of the talk. The first case study will focus on the texts “Sargon’s Eighth Campaign” and “Esarhaddon’s Apology”, and will try to show how a new way of presenting royal identity was established by using intertextual methods. The second case study discusses a specific part of the so-called “Underworld Vision of an Assyrian Prince” as well as this text’s connection to the Gilgamesh epic, and offers a comparative evaluation of its poetics, essentially declaring parts of the text as a form of “Ancient Science Fiction”.

27 October 2018 | 13th Zenobia Conference: “Xerxes’ droom: de Perzische oorlogen en de Gouden Eeuw van Griekenland”
Amsterdam University

Lecture by Caroline Waerzeggers:
Xerxes in Babylon: tiran of bureaucraat?

16 October 2018 | Ancient World Lunch Talks
Leiden University

Lecture by Lidewij van de Peut:
Written to be Read. Evidence for the use of clay tablets during the performance of rituals and prayers in the Middle Hittite period

Though many ritual compositions and other performative texts have been found in the Hittite capital city Ḫattuša, there is little evidence of the use of these texts during the performance. This paper presents one clear case where the it was intended that the performer read from that specific tablet during the performance of the ritual.

18–19 September 2018 | Re-orienting Achaemenid Persia
Parliament Hall, University of St Andrews

Lecture by Caroline Waerzeggers:
Reconsidering, restating and reassessing … What’s at stake in the debate about Xerxes’ rule in Babylonia?

In Achaemenid scholarship of the last 30 years, “continuity” has been important in analyzing the nature and impact of the Persian Empire on its subject territories. In the case of Persian-period Babylonia, this construct derives from two disconnected trends that mutually enforced each other; on the one hand the attempts of “New Achaemenid” historians to dehellenize the history of the Persian empire and re-integrate it within the long history of the Ancient Near East, and on the other hand, the foregrounding of the micro-level in Neo-Babylonian studies, which led to a disregard of imperial politics. I will discuss the reign of Xerxes in Babylonia as a topic of heightened scholarly interest where different views of the Persian Empire are increasingly in contention.

11 September 2018  | What follows la mort de l’auteur? Re-Evaluating the Concept of Authorship in Hebrew Bible Studies
Castelen (Basel), 11–13 September 2018

Lecture by Caroline Waerzeggers:
Authorial presence in late Babylonian historiography

7 September 2018 | Lecture at the opening of the new academic year
Leiden University

Lecture by Caroline Waerzeggers:
Xerxes in Babylonië: van Herodotus tot ‘300’

Academic year 2018/2019, Semester 1 | Seminar at Leiden University

MA seminar by Melanie Groß:
Royal inscriptions from the Assyrian to the Persian Empire

Course description

2 August 2018 | SBL-EABS meeting
Helsinki, 30 July – 3 August 2018

Lecture by Caroline Waerzeggers:
Elite shifts in Babylonia under Xerxes

The question how violently Xerxes responded to the revolts in Babylonia of 484 BCE is much debated, but scholars generally agree that his reprisals involved at the very least an “elite shift”: after the revolts, pro-insurgency groups were dismissed from their positions of influence and replaced with new ones favored by the Persian Empire. Evidence from Uruk suggests that the Empire tracked down social networks even beyond the area of unrest, in what seems to be a targeted punitive program. The selective reprisals have earned Xerxes the benevolent title of “architect of a stable empire” among ancient historians, while Assyriologists insist on the disruptive nature of this social intervention. In this paper I will reflect on the concept of “elite shift” and its application to post-insurgency Babylonia. In particular, I will argue that this de-personalized notion tends to mask the repercussions of state intervention in the lives of “real” people. The paper will identify specific victims of this abstract policy and trace their fate.

2 August 2018 | Workshop “Elite Cultures and Achaemenid Koine”, EABS meeting
Helsinki, 30 July – 3 August 2018

Organised by the Judaeans in the Persian Empire Research Unit (Chairs: Anne-Mareike Wetter; Caroline Waerzeggers; and Jason M. Silverman)

At the 2018 meeting in Helsinki, the research unit “Judaeans in the Persian Empire” considers changing local hierarchies and elite networks in dialogue with the emergence of a broader Achaemenid Koine as attested in material culture and manifested in regional literatures. How can we understand the relations between pre-existing local elites, the Iranian imperial elites, and emerging elites? Where should we assign the components of reinscribed memory, distance/migration and appropriation among the groups concerned?

20 July 2018Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale
Innsbruck University, 16 – 20 July 2018

Conference paper by Julia Giessler:
A New Case of Cattle Theft from the Eanna Archive

Huge flocks of livestock from various temples pastured in the hinterland of Mesopotamian cities, where not only beasts of prey, but also human predators posed a threat to their survival. Although a thirtyfold penalty for theft of “divine property” (makkūr ilī) could be invoked, Late-Babylonian records from the Eanna archive prove that hunger, poverty and greed were sometimes strong enough for people to risk an attempt. Those who tried to get their hands on a piece of Ištar’s and Nanāya’s flocks were especially challenged by the star-shaped brand (kakkabtu), which marked these deities’ ownership and counted as valid proof in court. Except for the unblemished sacrificial animals that remained out of reach, namely in the safety of a fattening stable, only meager newborn ones could be found unmarked, whereas the precious adults used for breeding or ploughing were marked permanently with the star-symbol that put casual observers on the alert all too easily: Even the temple’s own shepherds were detained, when trying to leave the city with animals wearing the star-mark. One thief however used a hitherto unknown method to avoid the inevitable accuse of temple theft for a while. His allegedly pioneering idea, attested on an unpublished tablet from the British museum, may in fact have been a common way to obliterate the impact of the temples’ ownership-marks in cases of legal purchase.

18 July 2018Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale
Innsbruck University, 16 – 20 July 2018

Conference paper by Lidewij van de Peut:
The Rise and Fall of the Hymn in Hittite Literature

Hymns praise a deity by describing his or her qualities. This paper examines the reception of Mesopotamian hymns in Hittite Anatolia. Whereas in Babylonian literature hymns occur in many different text genres and almost seem to be omni-present, in Hittite Anatolia they do not have such a prominent place. This paper argues that the hymn was initially foreign to the Hittites and that the originally Mesopotamian hymn was not very successful in Hittite literature.

The Hittites came in contact with hymns of praise only after Sumerian and Akkadian examples were brought to Anatolia from Babylonia. Hittite scribes studied Akkadian (and Sumerian) hymns and made a selection to keep in their tablet collections. The first attestation of a Hittite hymn in a Hittite context occurs in the Middle Hittite Prayer of a king (CTH 374), but the same hymn was probably also part of the earlier Prayer of Kantuzili (CTH 373) though it is not preserved in this text. It is an adaptation of a Babylonian hymn (and prayer) to the Sun-god Utu/Šamaš, which combines Mesopotamian and Anatolian motifs. From that moment on hymns start to occur in Hittite prayers as part of their introduction, but they never became an obligatory element of the prayers, nor did they find their way into other text genres. In fact, with the passing of time, the hymns became shorter and shorter, and they eventually seem to disappear from the Hittite literature once again.

17 July 2018 | Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale
Innsbruck University, 16 – 20 July 2018

– Conference paper by Caroline Waerzeggers and Melanie Groß:
The “Prosopography of Babylonia: c. 620-330 BCE” Database

– Poster presentation by Melanie Groß, Maarja Seire and Caroline Waerzeggers: PROSOBAB. Prosopography of Babylonia (c. 620–330 BCE): an online database

5 July 2018 | Persia and Babylonia Workshop
Leiden University

Yuval Levavi (Bar-Ilan University):
Disambiguation of individuals in Late-Babylonian letters

Neo-Babylonian scribes were mostly satisfied with using first name base in their letters. That, in addition to the practice not to date proper letters, make the task of prosopography especially complicated. It is like joining late to an ongoing conversation, asking: whom, and what are we talking about? But unlike the polite answer of, say, legal text, letters simply mumble, “you just had to be there”. We will explore ways to overcome these obstacles and discuss the validity of first name based identifications.

21 June 2018 | Persia and Babylonia Workshop: Digital Pasts
Leiden University

Annelies Van de Ven (University of Melbourne):
Exploring the research, teaching and engagement potential of digitisation in archaeology

In this workshop Annelies Van de Ven highlights some of the ways that digital humanities have altered how we interact with archaeological materials. She will demonstrate how these new technologies and methodologies have helped find solutions to problems such as data-sharing, public engagement and record storage, focusing primarily on the methods of digital imaging. Showing examples from her own work, including the digitisation of a portion of the Liagre Böhl collection, and from ground-breaking projects across the field, she will present new opportunities and pathways for research.

Read more: 3D scanning and the future of clay tablets

18–21 June 2018 | Seminar
Leipzig University, Altorientalisches Institut

Melanie Groß (Leiden University) and Johannes Hackl (Leipzig University):
Tempel und Palast – Institutionelle Haushalte in Mesopotamien im ersten Jahrtausend v. Chr.

Das Blockseminar bietet eine Auseinandersetzung mit den institutionellen Haushalten der neuassyrischen und neubabylonischen Zeit und ihrer historischen und sozialwirtschaftlichen Einbettung. In Auswahl werden neuassyrische und neubabylonische Texte gelesen, die mit institutionellen Haushalten unmittelbar in Verbindung stehen und ihren fortlaufenden Betrieb beleuchten. Zum einen sind dies Alltagstexte, insbesondere Verwaltungsbriefe und -urkunden, und zum anderen offizielle Urkunden, darunter z.B. königliche Dekrete. Besonderes Augenmerk wird auf die verwendete Verwaltungsterminologie gelegt und auf die Beziehung der unterschiedlichen Textgattungen zueinander. Daneben werden die Unterschiede und Gemeinsamkeiten zwischen der Überlieferung aus Assyrien und Babylonien diskutiert werden – auch unter Berücksichtigung der Frage, welche Verwaltungsvorgänge aus welchen Gründen auch immer keinen Eingang in die Dokumentation gefunden haben.

8 June 2018 | Time and Chronology in Creation Narratives
University of Wales

Conference paper by Ivo Martins:
Creation and Recreation: Linear and Cyclical time in Akkadian texts from the First Millennium B.C.E.

Akkadian literature features numerous examples of linear and cyclical chronology. In fact, several cosmogonies, epics, wisdom and propaganda texts written in Akkadian take full advantage of both ideas of time by combining them in the construction of their narratives. However, in later texts, linear chronology assumes a more prominent place. I shall argue that this development resulted from a perception change brought about by the increasing consciousness of the historicity of cuneiform culture during the first millennium B.C.E.

The interaction of the two concepts takes diverse forms. They are either used in sequence with linear chronology following the cyclical one each occupying a different section of the composition, such as in the Enūma Eliš; or they are employed together with cyclical and linear time intertwined throughout the text as in Atrahasīs; or the linear time takes a more active role with the circular chronology present on the background, as in the Epic of Gilgameš or the Babylonian Theodicy. Significantly, all these literary compositions had Middle-Babylonian origins or Sumerian forerunners. By contrast, in new texts, written during the First Millennium B.C.E., the cyclical chronology is all but absent.

As this presentation will show, the interaction of both ideas of time in various texts is not a mere question of literary style. The evolution of their use rather reflects the shifting world-views of first millennium Assyrian and Babylonian scholars and the related notions of time and history. The knowledge of their extensive cultural heritage and literary tradition, reinforced by the phenomenon of antiquarianism in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.E, imposed upon those scholars the idea of a linear chronology and contributed to the gradual disappearance of cyclical chronology from Akkadian texts.

29 May – 1 June 2018 | Onomastics Training Week
Ca’ Foscari University, Venice

Organised by Persia and Babylonia in cooperation with Paola Corò (Ca’ Foscari University, Venice) and Kathleen Abraham (KU Leuven).

Read more: Onomastics Training Week in Venice: Names, Names, Names

28 May 2018 | Neo-Babylonian Network Meeting
Ca’ Foscari University, Venice

With papers by:
– Maarja Seire: Archival Scribes and Archival Practice During the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid Periods (7th–4th Century BCE)
– Ivo Dos Santos Martins: Tradition and Revision. The Verse Account and Cuneiform Culture in Achaemenid Babylonia (ca. 539-330 B.C.E.)
– Evelien Vanderstraeten: Towards a Social History of Neo-Babylonian Women

7 May 2018Contextualizing Jewish Temples
Bar-Ilan University, Israel

Lecture by Caroline Waerzeggers:
Rotas and the administration of time in Babylonian temples

Repetition and regularity were key in the sacrificial cult of Babylonian temples. Several rotas were used to organize ritual labor in an orderly and punctual fashion: some rotas pivoted on the trimester, others on the month and still others on the fortnight. As a result of these rotas, priests were called to duty for small periods of time at regular intervals, always in a fixed order with their colleagues.

This lecture looks at several aspects of priestly courses in Babylonia (c. 650-484 BCE). First, I will argue that rotational office marked a fundamental difference in rank between higher-level priesthoods, who did not operate under this sytem, and lower-level priesthoods (mostly those performing menial tasks), who did. Second, I will present the various models of rotation that were in use in Babylonian temples. Third, as all rotas were based on the normative calendar of 360 days (twelve 30-day months), the idealized regularity of the priestly watches needed to be adapted in practices. Fourth, I will look at the wider application of priestly watches in society, and at the life cycle (creation, development, suspension) of courses.

4 May 2018 | Ancient World Lunch Talks
Leiden University

Lecture by Melanie Groß:
A network of traders in Babylonian Sippar

This paper deals with three private family archives from Sippar dating to late Neo-Babylonian and Persian times. Originating from clandestine excavations, they were identified as the “Maštuk group” (Waerzeggers 2014), which shares common origin and business interests. In the scope of the full (re-)edition and study of this text group, I am going to discuss kinship ties and the principal businesses the protagonists conducted, including trade and agricultural entrepreneurship, mainly at a time of Persian supremacy over Babylonia. This also touches upon the question of the protagonists’ relation to other business families settled in Sippar and their existing connections to the institutions temple and state, that is, the Persian court and its representatives in Babylonia.

Waerzeggers, C. (2014), Marduk-rēmanni. Local Networks and Imperial Politics in Achaemenid Babylonia (OLA 233), Leuven.

14 April 2018 | The 7th Annual Oxford Postgraduate Conference in Assyriology (OPCA)
University of Oxford, 13–14 April 2018

Lecture by Lidewij van de Peut:
When the King Speaks to the Gods: on the Performance of Hittite Prayers

When the Hittite royal family or the Hittite Empire were in dire need, the king could address the gods directly in a prayer. In this way he could ask the gods to resolve the problem. This paper examines what we can learn from these so-called personal prayers about their performance. It will be argued that they were performed to strengthen the position of the Hittite king as a ruler and that they were probably read from the tablet rather than recited from memory.

Our knowledge of the performance of the personal prayers of the Hittite king is quite limited. Just over twenty such prayers have been uncovered at the ancient Hittite capital city Hattusa, modern Boğazköy/Boğazkale. The role of the prayers in strengthening the legitimacy and power of the ruler is clear from the reasons for which they were composed, from the fact that they were recited by the king himself (or by someone on his behalf), and that this was done in front of a human audience. This group of people occasionally even participated in the performance. The little evidence there is for ritual acts accompanying the recital of a prayer shows that offerings were presented to the gods to ascertain their presence. Finally, for one prayer within a ritual it will be demonstrated that the text to be recited was read from the tablet during the performance.

10 April 2018 | LIAS PhD presentations
Leiden University

Presentation by 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
Ilia State University in Tbilisi, Georgia

Conference paper by Uzume Wijnsma:
Lost in Translation? The Provenance and Historical Context of Pap. Amherst ’63’

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
University of Helsinki

Conference paper by Melanie Groß:
An Open Access Database: the “Prosopography of Babylonia”

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”.

19 February 2018 | LCANE Lecture Series
London Center for the Ancient Near East

Lecture by Caroline Waerzeggers:
Cuneiform writing and control in the community of Al-Yahudu

1 February 2018 | HOVO course: Nineveh
National Museum of Anitiquities (RMO), Leiden

Caroline Waerzeggers:
Teksten gevonden in Nineveh


25 January 2018 | Orientalists Day
Leiden University

Symposium organised by Persia and 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
National Museum of Anitiquities (RMO), Leiden

Conference organised by the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden together with Persia and Babylonia

With lectures by:
– Melanie Groß: Creating a Royal Court
– Uzume Wijnsma: Creating Stories


13 December 2018 | Ancient Worlds Lecture
Innsbruck University

Caroline Waerzeggers:
More than exilic history: what the Yahudu tablets tell us about the Persian Empire

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
Leiden University

Caroline Waerzeggers, Professor of Assyriology:
De wilde jeugd der assyriologie

Read more: ‘The study of cuneiform texts is still an open field’

18 November 2017ASOR Annual Meeting
Boston, US

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.

Read more: Across the Ocean – A trip to the USA in the service of Assyriology

17 November 2017 | The Labyrinth of Scripts
Exhibition at Expobar Nautilus, Amsterdam
3 – 17 November 2017

Opening lecture by Uzume Wijnsma:
Writing and power in the Persian Empire

11 November 2017 | Coffee & Science
InScience film festival, Nijmegen
8 – 12 November 2017

Speed lecture by Uzume Wijnsma:
Hoe bestuurden de Perzen hun enorme rijk?

1 November 2017 | Letters from Baghdad
Leiden International Film Festival
National Museum of Anitiquities (RMO), Leiden

Documentary screening with an introductory lecture by Nicky van de Beek:
‘I prefer the East to the West’: Gertrude Bell

23 October 2017 | Ex Oriente Lux Lectures

Lecture by Caroline Waerzeggers:
De Babylonische ballingschap: nieuwe inzichten uit spijkerschriftteksten

19 October 2017 | Nineveh exhibition opening night
National Museum of Antiquities (RMO), Leiden

With speed lectures by:
– Caroline Waerzeggers: Assurbanipals boeken
– Maarja Seire: Het zondvloedtablet uit de bibliotheek van Assurbanipal

9 August 2017 | SBL International Meeting
Berlin, 7-11 August 2017

Conference paper by Melanie Groß:
The king and his treasurer in the 1st millennium BCE

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
Berlin, 7-11 August 2017

Conference paper by Uzume Wijnsma:
Between Language and Script: The Choices Involved in the Demotic-Aramaic Combination of Papyrus Amherst 63

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’.

9 August 2017 | SBL International Meeting
Berlin, 7-11 August 2017

Workshop “Translation, Language Appropriation, and Control in the Achaemenid Empire”, organised by the Judaeans in the Persian Empire Research Unit (Chairs: Anne-Mareike Wetter; Caroline Waerzeggers; and Jason M. Silverman)

The Achaemenid Empire was a decidedly multilingual entity, despite the imperial adoption of an administrative language. In this context, the use of a particular script, medium, and language implied choices. These choices in turn imply both pragmatic and status-related considerations. In a number of contexts, continuity of practices can be observed across linguistic boundaries, as well as texts which utilize multiple languages that are not translations of each other. This theme invites an interdisciplinary perspective to explore the status of texts and contexts which utilize multiple languages. We seek to understand how these choices reflect the transmission of cultural knowledge in terms of particular cultural practices and scribal training.

8 August 2017 | SBL International Meeting
Berlin, 7-11 August 2017

Conference paper by Caroline Waerzeggers:
Cuneiform literacy and control in the first Persian Empire

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 | World Congress of Jewish Studies
Jerusalem, 6-10 August 2017

Conference paper by Caroline Waerzeggers:
A Window on the Exile? Colony, State, and Writing in the āl-Yāhūdu Archive

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 | Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale
Philipps University Marburg, 24 – 28 July 2017

Conference paper by Melanie Groß:
The King and his Officials – Power Structures of the First Millennium BCE in a Diachronic Perspective

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.

Read more: Mesopotamia in Marburg: The 63rd Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale

27 June 2017 | News item
Leiden University

News item about Uzume Wijnsma:
Uzume Wijnsma’s ode aan “de kleine wetenschap”

14 June 2017 | Persia and Babylonia Lecture
Leiden University

Anne Goddeeris (Ghent University):
Small Souls: Family Fortunes in Old Babylonian Nippur

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
VU University Amsterdam

Conference paper by Uzume Wijnsma:
Political legitimacy in the Persian Empire: the cases of Egypt and Babylonia
With a response by Paola Corò (Ca’ Foscari University, Venice)

10 May 2017 | Lunch Talk: Biographical Databases
Leiden University Centre for Digital Humanities

Maxim Romanov, Javier Cha, and Caroline Waerzeggers:

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
Leiden University

Lecture by Caroline Waerzeggers:
Spijkerschrift en wereldgeschiedenis: een nieuw onderzoeksproject over het ontstaan van het Perzische rijk

4 May 2017 | Persia and Babylonia Lecture
Leiden University

Seth Richardson (Chicago):
From Prosopography to Politics: the late Old Babylonian case

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
Yale University

Caroline Waerzeggers:
Writing and Control in the Exilic Community of Yahudu


11 April 2017 | Rosenthal Lecture
Yale University

Caroline Waerzeggers:
Keeping track of what happened? A new look at the Babylonian chronicles

10 February 2017 | Annual meeting of the Oud-Testamentisch Werkgenootschap

Caroline Waerzeggers:
Het spijkerschrifarchief uit Yahudu

7 January 2017 | ECOLe lunch bytes
Leiden University

Caroline Waerzeggers:
The use of memrise in digital teaching

2017 | Video
NEMO Kennislink (Alina Idzerda)

Video about and with Uzume Wijnsma:
De geborte van het eerste wereldrijk