Mathilde Touillon-Ricci

Title: Individuality and Identity in Writing: Personalising Cuneiform Documentation in the New Sumerian and Old Assyrian Periods (21st and 19th Centuries BCE)

University: SOAS-University of London and The British Museum

Supervisors: Dr Mark Weeden and Dr Jon Taylor


Inscribed objects, beyond their documentary content, materialise the writing process and the context in which it was performed. This research aims to further our understanding of the material aspects of cuneiform writing beyond its documentary and historical nature and to develop our insight into literacy and writing practices.

Writing, as a conception as well as a process, being a combination of rules and standards performed by individuals: can identity and individuality be revealed in writing? Over its long and diverse history, cuneiform adapted and evolved while maintaining characteristically consistent features: what freedom did scribes have to express variations? Cuneiform objects display a variety of sizes, shapes and writing styles, revealing their social, geographical, and chronological contexts of production: how does cuneiform writing also reflect on literacy and writing practices?

Individuality and identity in cuneiform are analysed by investigating two contrasting corpora: the institutionalised cuneiform production of professional New Sumerian scribes at the epicentre of state bureaucracy in Southern Iraq; the practical literacy of Old Assyrian merchants’ documents produced along the trading routes between Mesopotamia and Anatolia.
Considering the artefactual value of inscribed objects, this research applies palaeographic and diplomatic analysis to provide new sources to support existing archaeological and historical knowledge of ancient Mesopotamia. Reaching new layers of information through the study of features such as manufacturing techniques or character forms and formation, this project provides new evidence about literacy and idiosyncrasy in writing in the New Sumerian and Old Assyrian periods, as well as new methodologies of investigation.

This research is conducted in partnership with the Department of the Middle East at the British Museum and the Department of History at SOAS-University of London, as part of the Collaborative Doctoral Awards scheme supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council UK.

Keywords: palaeography, diplomatics, materiality, writing practices, New Sumerian,  Old Assyrian


Anita Fattori

Title: Tissage de la Trame Sociale : Femmes et Réseaux Commerciaux dans L’ancienne Mésopotamie

University: Universidade of São Paulo/Université Paris 1

Supervisors: Prof. Cécile Michel and Prof. Marcelo Rede


Pendant la période paléo-assyrienne, plus précisément au début du IIe millénaire avant-J.-C., les Assyriens ont occupé une place importante dans la scène du commerce à longue distance. Organisés en firmes familiales pour commercialiser des étoffes et de l’étain en échange d’or et d’argent, les marchands assyriens sont partis d’Aššur avec pour destination principale Kaneš, en Anatolie, où ils se sont installés pendant des longues périodes. Dans ce projet, je traiterai le cas spécifique de l’action sociale des femmes assyriennes dans ce réseau commercial, initialement par l’analyse d’environ 80 lettres destinées à ces femmes ou envoyées par ces femmes. Je pense l’action sociale des femmes assyriennes en termes de human agency, un concept produit dans la théorie sociale pour rendre compte de la relation dialectique entre la structure cognitive de l’action et la production, la reproduction et les transformations de ces structures dans le domaine de la pratique. Mon objectif est de conduire une recherche historique basée sur l’analyse du contexte discursif de la période paléo-assyrienne. De cette façon, je réaliserai une lecture du cadre social de la période à partir de la perspective de genre, afin de comprendre non seulement les aspects sociaux de ces femmes dans ce contexte mais aussi d’appréhender leur place dans la société par comparaison avec celle tenue par les hommes.

Keywords: historiography, social history, Old Assyrian, gender studies, genre studies


Lucrezia Menicatti

Title: An Investigation of Repetition and Analogical Reasoning in Mesopotamian Divinatory Literature from the First Millennium B.C.E. 

University: Universität Wien

Supervisor: Prof. Nicla de Zorzi


My PhD thesis is part of the project “Repetition, Parallelism and Creativity: An Inquiry into the Construction of Meaning in Ancient Mesopotamian Literature and Erudition” (REPAC). The project, which was funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and is led by Assoz. Prof. Dr. Nicla De Zorzi, investigates repetition and parallelism in different branches of Akkadian literature and scholarly writing.

This thesis focuses on divinatory literature from the first millennium B.C.E. The corpora under investigation include the extispicy series Bārûtu, and the astrological series Enūma Anu Enlil. My main objective is to define principles and rules that structure these texts, both on the horizontal and on the vertical axis.

To achieve this goal, I will investigate these two divinatory series on two different levels. On the one hand, consideration will be given to the relation between sign and prediction in single omens, and I will elucidate and explore the role of analogy, similarity, and repetition in establishing the so-called syntagmatic connection between protasis and apodosis on the horizontal axis. On the other hand, I will focus on the inter-omen connections and on the so-called paradigmatic relationships between different omens on the vertical axis. It will be shown that the choice of terms and themes is often dictated by principles of analogy and by the inter-play of repetitive patterns and concepts not only on the horizontal, but on the vertical axis as well. This will shed a light on the structure of larger omen sequences.

The aim is therefore to provide a thorough investigation of omen-organisation and omen sequencing in the first Millennium divinatory sources, focusing especially on the generative power of repetition and analogy in the macro-structure of divinatory compendia. Eventually, this research will lead to a better understanding of how repetition and analogical thought reflect the Mesopotamian worldview, which understood the world as governed by correspondences resulting from similarity and contrast between different elements. This thesis will show that divinatory texts are a fundamental expression of this vision.

Keywords: divination, extispicy, astrology, repetition, analogy, text structure