Maria Teresa Renzi-Sepe

Title: The Perception of the Pleiades in the Mesopotamian Culture

University: Universität Leipzig

Supervisor: Prof. Michael P. Streck

Abstract: The study aims at analysing the conceptualisation of the Pleiades as reflected in the Mesopotamian Culture. The Pleiades are among the most visible stars to the naked eye, and they are perceived in Ancient Mesopotamia as a group of “seven.” The task of describing and analysing the role of Pleiades is accomplished by focusing on three main aspects. First, the constellation’s practical function in cuneiform sources as a setting tool for the Mesopotamian calendar. Second, a collection and study of all the Pleiades’ references in literary texts, such as myths, prayers, rituals, reports, letters, and omens. Third, an edition and study of the relevant Enūma Ānu Enlil tablets to the Pleiades (the assumed tablets 52 and 53). Part of the last aspect involves collecting tablets in museums to reconstruct their original text.

The study is framed by an introductory chapter on celestial bodies’ role within the cuneiform knowledge and by a final chapter that summarises the foregoing investigation and describes the perception of the Pleiades in comparison with other cultures. Further, a study on the structure and the interpretation of celestial omens is included to highlight their logic and working principles.

Keywords: Akkadian, astral science, astronomy, astrology, divination, Pleiades


Adam Howe

Title: Conceptions of Transgression and Its Consequences in the Mesopotamian Exorcistic Corpus

University: University of Oxford

Supervisors: Dr Frances Reynolds (Oxford), Prof Daniel Schwemer (JMU Würzburg)


My doctoral research examines the portrayal of suffering in the Mesopotamian exorcistic corpus (āšipūtu) that was attributed to the consequences of an individual’s transgressive actions. Key to the āšipūtu rituals’ conceptualization of transgression and its punishment is the concept of ‘self-curse’, represented by the Akkadian terms māmītu and arratu, and these therefore form the main focus of my research. Recently published namerimburruda-rituals, which target māmītu-curse and its effects, allow for a reassessment of this concept, while previously unpublished material demonstrates that arratu-curse occasionally had a complementary function. Throughout my research, these concepts are situated within their wider intellectual context, in relation to other causes of suffering addressed by the āšipūtu corpus as well as conceptions of divine punishment in other areas of Mesopotamian literature.

The body of my dissertation has a tripartite structure. First, I examine the portrayal of the ultimate causes of suffering, namely the possible acts of transgression that are listed in incantations. I also consider elements that problematize a direct link between these actions and the resultant suffering: the sufferer’s ignorance of possible transgressions; the possibility of contracting the suffering through contagion; and the portrayal of ‘self-curse’ as externalized, demon-like entities. Second, I look at the manifestation of suffering as a state of ‘reduced existence’. This includes physical and psychological ‘medical’ symptoms, as well as damage to the victim’s socio-economic standing and relationship with the gods. Finally, I assess the methods employed by the exorcist to remove the patient’s state of suffering. The way these methods were understood to work provides further insight into the exorcist’s conceptualization of transgression and its consequences.

Overall, my findings suggest a significant new approach to the theology of sin and divine punishment in late Mesopotamian scholarship and give insights into the theoretical background of the āšipūtu corpus.

Keywords: transgression, curse, divine punishment, ritual, religion, history of medicine


Antonia Pohl

Title: Die akkadischen Hymnen der altbabylonischen Zeit

University: Universität Leipzig

Supervisors: Prof. Michael P. Streck; Prof. Nathan Wasserman


Although the Akkadian hymns from the Old Babylonian period have been known for a long time, they were never studied as a corpus. But examining those well-known texts as one corpus with similar features promises fresh perspectives. Thus, the first part of my dissertation consists of studying the grammatical features of the hymns in depth. Despite the fact that von Soden’s well received articles from the 1930s already mention the main part of the hymns’ grammatical aspects, there are still characteristics that were not recognized as such and will therefore be treated thoroughly in my dissertation. I will also question the term “hymno-epic dialect”, as I find “hymnic register” to be more fitting, at least for the Old Babylonian period: the epic texts of this period show significantly less “hymno-epic” features than the hymns. The second part of the dissertation deals with stylistic features, especially chiasms, since they make up the bulk of the hymns’ stylistic means. The third and longest part of the work is the edition of the known Akkadian hymns from the Old Babylonian period. The most important aspect of this is, of course, the philological commentary. In it, I will summarize previous editions, add new suggestions, and try to solve philological problems arising from the different ideas. There will be two new editions, namely of the somewhat problematic CUSAS 32, 77 (which is treated as a hymn), and CT 44, 49 in the appendix, because it is most probably not a hymn but a kind of prayer.

Keywords: literature, hymns, grammar, stylistics, Akkadian, Old Babylonian


Sophie Cohen

Title: Tablets to Nineveh

University: Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, München

Supervisors: Prof. Enrique Jiménez (LMU), Dr Jonathan Taylor (The British Museum)


The dissertation, part of the project ‘Reading the Library of Ashurbanipal. A Multi-sectional Analysis of Assyriology’s Foundational Corpus’, aims to examine the cuneiform traditions that coalesced in the library of Nineveh. The study is based on a colophon database which was created in the framework of the project, containing almost 2300 records. Information on the tablets’ Vorlagen provided by the colophons will be used to create statistics about them. The goal is to correlate the indication of the provenance of the original with the type of text contained in a manuscript, in order to discover patterns in the transmission of tablets to Nineveh. All scribes attested in Nineveh colophons will be studied, and correlated with the library records. In addition, the cuneiform traditions emanating from Nineveh will be analyzed: this will be an opportunity to test the method on a different corpus while complementing the PhD topic. The main questions of the dissertation will be:

    • How are the Mesopotamian traditions reflected in the Nineveh library?
    • Where did the tablets come from?
    • How is the information between the colophons and library records and different catalogues related?
    • How Assyrian was the Nineveh library?

Keywords: Nineveh, Neo-Assyrian period, Library of Assurbanipal, colophons, provenance, scribes

Tommaso Scarpelli

Title: Das Wetter in der Mesopotamischen Kulturgeschichte des II. und I. Jahrtausends V. Chr.

University: Universität Leipzig

Supervisor: Prof. Michael P. Streck


The aim of the project is to provide an overview on the human perception of meteorological phenomena. Many different texts describe the consequences of natural events on everyday life and how weather phenomena were considered with regard to the supernatural. This work treats the dependent relationship of the Mesopotamians with weather during the 2nd and 1st Millennium B.C. only by means of philological methodology. It is possible to summarize the main sources for this research as follow: everyday texts, letters and administrative texts, omens, documents from the Mesopotamian divinatory tradition, meteorological recordings from the 1st Millennium B.C., literary compositions. The first task of the work consists in collecting both detailed and brief attestations dealing with atmospheric events, that are contained in cuneiform letter corpora from two Millennia, and to present them in chronological order. The texts should be analyzed in each geo-climatic context, in order to provide a better understanding of the use of natural resources in Mesopotamian cultural history. The weather appears in omen compendia as part of the protasis, or as part of the apodosis. After collecting meteorological omens and integrating them to the Enūma Anu Enlil Tablets 42-49 (previously edited by E. Gehlken), they will be examined and compared to each other as well as to omens drawn from other phenomena with which weather is combined, such as astral events. A first edition of unpublished omen tablets in the British Museum is also planned with a view to investigate a continuous development of weather divination throughout two Millennia. In conclusion, a study on weather terminology will be provided together with idiomatic and regional expressions: figures of speech are often based on meteorological elements, so they offer another key to unlock Mesopotamian perceptions of weather.

Keywords: Akkadian, weather, environment, everyday life, divination, letters, philology, cultural perception, lexicon


Luca Volpi

Title:The “Ubaid” pottery in a regional perspective. Proposals for a re-evaluation of the pottery repertoire of central-southern Mesopotamia and for the identification of pottery regional groups within the “black-on-buff horizon” between the VI and the V millennium BC.

University: Sapienza University, Rome

Supervisor: Prof. Davide Nadali


The work aims to analyse in detail the phenomenon known as the “Ubaid phenomenon”‘ or “Black-on-buff phenomenon”, characterised by the diffusion of some shared formal traits over a wide geographical area including the entire “Greater Mesopotamia” between the Early and Middle Chalcolithic periods (late 7th – 5th Mill. BC). Specifically, the focus is the analysis of the ceramic repertoire, ubiquitous and present in large quantities, through which it is possible to investigate similarities and differences between different areas of Greater Mesopotamia. The study follows a pyramidal logic, starting from the top (representing the in-depth study of a limited repertoire) and widening the perspective to the base (representing the “Black-on-buff” repertoire of the Greater Mesopotamian regions), and was conducted through four consecutive steps: 1) the morphological, technological and decorative-based study of the ceramic repertoire being excavated from the site of Tell Zurghul (Lagash region) in southern Mesopotamia. 2) The analysis of the repertoire of the entire central-southern Mesopotamia undertaken on the basis of available publications and of a selection of repertoires analysed directly by the author from the sites of Tell al-Muqayyar – Ur, Warka – Uruk, Tell al-Ubaid, Nuffar – Nippur and Qal’at Hajji Muhammad. 3) The first-hand analysis of the published and unpublished ceramic repertory from the site of Tepe Gawra, considered as the key-site of the northern Mesopotamian region, with the aim of investigating the characteristic and distinctive local features of the ceramic repertoire of northern Mesopotamia in comparison with the central-southern Mesopotamia. 4) Once established the possibility of identifying local distinctive traits at morphological, technological and decorative level within the “Black-on-buff” repertoires of the Greater Mesopotamia regions, the repertoires of the Hamrin region, Iraqi Kurdistan, Jezirah and the Khabur area, the Balikh area, the Middle Euphrates area of Syria and the area of north-western Syria and south-eastern Anatolia have been analysed on the basis of the published data of selected key-sites. As regards central-southern Mesopotamia, the research led to a complete study of the “Ubaid” pottery found at Tell Zurghul, to a reassessment of the contexts and coeval ceramic repertories currently known for the sites in the region, and to an updated periodization of the ceramic repertories based on morphological aspects. As regards the other regions of “Greater Mesopotamia”, the study outlined the existence of a number of “ceramic regions” with distinctive local characters (morphological, technological and/or decorative) that differentiate these assemblages from the one of central-southern Mesopotamia.

Keywords: Ubaid pottery, “Black-on-buff” pottery, ceramic regions, Greater Mesopotamia, Early and Middle Chalcolithic periods, Prehistory  of ANE

Etienne Van Quickelberghe

Title: Le Royaume de Tarhuntassa : nouvelle étude critique des sources

University: Université catholique de Louvain

Supervisor: Prof. Jan Tavernier


Les sources cunéiformes et glyphiques pour une étude historique du royaume hittite de Tarhuntassa à l’âge du bronze tardif (capitale impériale puis vice-royauté) sont analysées en détail. La première partie s’intéresse plus particulièrement au toponyme TONITRUS.URBS, longtemps considéré comme la graphie glyphique de Tarhuntassa. L’identification de ce toponyme avec la ville septentrionale de Nerik nous permet de proposer une nouvelle traduction de la célèbre inscription du Südburg. La seconde partie de notre recherche se concentre sur les inscriptions du roi Hartapu. Notre analyse nous permet de dater son règne immédiatement après l’époque impériale, à l’instar d’autres chercheurs avant nous. La troisième partie reprend l’étude de des textes d’Ougarit et d’Emar qui mentionnent la ville de Tarhuntassa. Nous proposerons notamment une nouvelle graphie du toponyme en cunéiforme. Enfin, la quatrième partie évoquera à nouveau les traités passés entre Tarhuntassa et le Hatti, étudiés à l’aune de la découverte récente du site très prometteur de Türkmen-Karahöyük.

Keywords: Tarhuntassa, Yazilikaya, seals, Luwian, Hartapu, Ugarit, Emar, Hittite, treaties

Evelien Vanderstraeten

Title:  Connected through Marriage: A Social History of Marriage in Mesopotamia (c. 934–141 BCE)

University: University of Helsinki

Supervisors: Prof. Saana Svärd, Dr Jason Silverman, Prof. Caroline Waerzeggers


This dissertation examines the historical development of marriage as an adaptive and responsive social institution in first millennium BCE Mesopotamia (c. 934-141 BCE). Marriage was a major life-changing event, regulated by laws and customs, entailing changes in people’s legal, social, economic statuses, roles and responsibilities. Important recent social historical studies on marriage are Waerzeggers 2020 (JANEH 7/2) who looked into the marriage practices of the elite and non-elite families in Babylonia and Still 2019 (CHANE 103, Brill) who explored the marriage practices of the Borsippean priests. This dissertation takes it a step further by examining the social identities of the men, women and children directly or indirectly involved in or connected to a marriage in the empires of the Assyrians, Chaldeans/Babylonians, the Persians and Macedonians/Seleucids.

I apply approaches from both digital humanities and social sciences to explore the relationships that are shaped, expanded or strengthened through marriage and what these sets of human actions and interactions can tell us about the social organization of first millennium Mesopotamian societies. I use software specifically designed within kinship studies to build a genealogical database that will be published open-access. The database will provide an overview of the marriages in different social strata and population groups attested in the cuneiform clay tablets. The database not only generates family trees, but also matrimonial circuits and kinship networks. Although the cuneiform sources constitute the main, primary sources of this study, I will also look into archaeological features (burials), structures (houses) and artefacts (jewellery, figurines, etc.) as well as visual imagery (seals, reliefs, etc.). I hope to assess if and how marriage or married life is visible in the archaeological record and the art of the first millennium BCE Mesopotamia (seals, reliefs, etc.) and what it can tell us about kinship groups, marriage and social organization.

Keywords: Marriage, Family, Kinship, Social History, Kinship Network Analysis, Assyria, Babylonia, Cuneiform Tablets, Archaeology, Neo-Assyrian period, Neo-Babylonian period, Achaemenid period, Hellenistic period