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Warka – Uruk, Tell al-Ubaid, Nuffar – Nippur and Qal’at Hajji Muhammad. 3) The first-hand analysis of the published and unpublished ceramic repertory from the site of Tepe Gawra, considered as the key-site of the northern Mesopotamian region, with the aim of investigating the characteristic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

František Válek

Title: Life, Society and Politics in Relation to Religion at Ugarit in the Late Bronze Age

University: Charles University, Prague

Supervisor: Dr Dalibor Antalík

Abstract:  Ugarit provides us with ample evidence for the reconstruction of the Late Bronze Age Levantine religion and at the same time with rich materials for reconstruction of other spheres of life. This makes Ugarit an ideal source for my dissertation project that aims to explore how religious ideas and behaviours were interwoven with the ‘practical lifes’ of individuals, society and the city as a polity.

For the sake of limiting vast resources, religion in this thesis is ‘defined’ as ‘ideas and activities related to deities’. Such an approach is of course not without difficulties and the by-product of this thesis is also a reevaluation of the concept of religion when applied to the ancient Near East. Also, a thorough investigation of the conceptions of divinity at Ugarit will be undertaken within the thesis.

Individual studies on the interweaving of religion and life will be carried mostly in the form of individual case-studies exploring different materials. The main objective is to set the explored materials into a wider context of life. These contexts include economic relations, architectural reality of the city, social stratification, international politics, internal organization of the kingdom, historical circumstances, geographical reality, and others.

The study is not aimed to provide a new and complex study of Ugaritic religion, but to study the sphere of religion as an integral part of the reality of life. As such, religion substantially influenced the social reality, and at the same time, the social reality formed the religion. This dialectical relationship is the central focus of the thesis.

Keywords: religion, Ugarit, Ugaritic literature, royal ideology, myth, cult, international relations, Late Bronze Age, deities

Raphaël Buisson-Rozensztrauch

Title: The Wise Jew and the Foreign King: Study of a Dialectic Narrative Motif in Ancient Jewish Texts

University: Université Catholique de Louvain

Supervisor: Prof. Jan Tavernier


The goal of our research project is the study and analysis of an over-looked literary motif despite its many occurrences throughout the ancient Jewish scriptures (Tanakh, Talmud and Midrash, as well as the works of Flavius Josephus): the encounter, opposition and dialogue between a figure of wisdom, incarnation of the Israelite spirituality and culture, and a royal character embodying the great civilizations culturally and geographically surrounding ancient Judah; this motif structures an antique Jewish identity and its ambivalent perspective concerning the major nations influencing and often dominating ancient Judah. Babylon, Persia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Ethiopia and others are sometimes, but not always, depicted in opposition to the core of Jewish values: ancient Judaism opposes restrain and wisdom to the appetite for worldly pleasures and military conquest shown as characteristic of those powerful civilizations. We intend to show how entangled the Jewish texts concerning the great kings, Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar and Alexander the Great in particular, are linked to each other, not only by the theme and the form of discourse itself, but also by the latter rabbinical discussions that can be found in the Mishnah, giving its structure to a fundamental principle of ancient judaism: the inherently evil nature of kings, as opposed to the purity constitutive of prophets, and more generally the superiority of spiritual authority over political power.

Keywords: Mesopotamia, Judaism, Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar II, Persia, Medes

Jinyan Wang

Title: The Rise of the Neo-Babylonian Empire (630-582 BC)

University: University of Toronto

Supervisor: Prof. Paul-Alain Beaulieu


My dissertation will present an historical account of the period 630-582 BC in Mesopotamia. This transitional period involves the struggle and decline of the mighty Neo-Assyrian Empire, and the rise of the Babylonians, who gradually expanded their territorial control and established an imperial administration over the whole Empire. Providing a clear picture of this period is crucial to understanding the later period of Mesopotamian history. I will discuss the changes in Mesopotamian society and the surrounding environment that provided the conditions that led to the collapse of the Assyrian empire and the rise of the Babylonians. The Neo-Babylonian imperial ideology and policies will receive a close examination, providing new insight into Babylonian society.

Five chapters will be included in the dissertation. The first chapter deals with the chronology and history of the late Assyrian empire (630-612 BC). The Neo-Babylonian Empire rose out of the ashes of Assyria, and therefore the fall of Assyria is quite relevant to the topic of my dissertation. The second chapter will investigate the power structure of Babylonia during the reign of Kandalanu (648-627 BC). The initiation and success of the revolt of Nabopolassar is rooted in the social circumstances of Babylonia, which was already formed during the domination of Assyria over the Babylonia. Thus, a study of the policy of Ashurbanipal over Babylonia and the political situation during the reign of Kandalanu is in need. The third chapter will describe the struggle for power in Babylonia (628-620 BC). This is the period from the breaking out of the civil war in Assyria to the final withdrawal of Assyria from Babylonia in 620 BC. The fourth chapter will focus on the elimination of Assyria (620-609 BC). It was a difficult process for the Babylonians to wipe out the power of Assyria, who sought the help of the Egyptians. Finally the fifth chapter will study the imperial construction of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty (609-582 BC). During this period, the Neo-Babylonian Empire took over most of the territory of the previous Assyrian empire, including northern Mesopotamia, Syria and the Levant, and achieved an integrated state with a central royal government.

Keywords: Babylonia, Neo-Babylonian period, power struggle, territorial expansion, royal ideology, imperial organization

Ivo Martins

Title: Tradition and Innovation. BM 38299 and Late Babylonian Literature  (ca. 539–141 BCE)

University: Leiden University

Supervisors: Prof. Caroline Waerzeggers, Dr Johannes Bach


The present dissertation explores a Late-Babylonian literary text commonly known as Verse Account or Strophengedicht (BM 38299). Written in verse, the composition draws on historical events of the reigns of Nabonidus and Cyrus II to create a work of ideological speculation on kingship. Likely produced to fulfil a persuasive function, the composition offers two examples of good and bad kingship for the benefit of any royal incumbent. Modern approaches frequently call upon this text to corroborate information from other historical sources, such as royal inscriptions, in the process of reconstructing the political history of the transitional period between the Neo-Babylonian and Teispid dynasties. By comparison, the literary aspects of BM 38299 received only a sporadic treatment.

Perceived as peculiar and unique, the composition defies classification on account of its generic hybridity and subject matter. Yet, this literary text is firmly rooted on cuneiform tradition and Late-Babylonian scholarship. The present dissertation intends to contribute to the understanding of the composition through a comprehensive study of its literary features, genre, literary environments, and position within cuneiform culture. In addition, this dissertation aims to contribute to trace the evolution of Akkadian literature in the Late-Babylonian period from the perspective of a transitional composition by surveying the archival and social contexts of production of BM 38299.

Keywords: historiography, historical-literary sources, persuasion vs. propaganda, Akkadian literature, generic hybridism, generic experimentation, royal ideology

Eleanor Bennett

Title: The ‘Queens of the Arabs’ During the Neo-Assyrian Period

University: University of Helsinki

Supervisor: Prof. Saana Svärd


During the Neo-Assyrian period (approximately 934-612 BCE, based in modern Iraq) the annals and royal inscriptions of several kings mention women with a curious title: ‘Queen of the Arabs’. These women have been included in previous discussions regarding Assyrian interaction with the ‘Arabs’, but a full investigation into their roles as rulers has been lacking. This is what this dissertation seeks to answer: what were the roles of the ‘Queens of the Arabs’ during the Neo-Assyrian period?

The reason for no prior traditional Assyriological research into these women is due to a very small number of texts. As Assyriology has traditionally been a text-based discipline, a corpus of just twenty-eight texts has not been seen as ‘worthy’ of a full investigation. This dissertation goes beyond the traditional approach, by incorporating gender theory and comparative methodology. A key heuristic tool in this dissertation is Michael Mann’s ‘IEMP’ model of power. This has identified three key areas where we can clealy see the roles of the ‘Queens of the Arabs’: military, economic, and religious roles.

The most important finding was that the process of researching about ‘Arabs’ meant contending with two layers of misinterpretation. The first of which is the misunderstandings of modern scholars allowing modern stereotypes influence how they write about ‘Arabs’. The second is that the ancient sources themselves do not seem to know who or what they refer to when they discuss the ‘Arabs’.

This has resulted in a discussion based on these women as individuals, not as a group. We do not know if they all ruled the same population group, and so they may have all been rulers of different cultures. We see Samsi, Teʾelḫunu, and Adiye in positions of military leadership, and Samsi was potentially even present on the battlefield. Zabibê, Samsi, and Tabūʾa all exhibited the ability to control either resources or access to the networks that transported these resources. And finally, Teʾelḫunu likely had a religious role of some sort as part of her leadership duties, but we do not know what that was. Each of these women are discussed in isolation.

Keywords: queens, Neo-Assyrian period, Assyria, Arabs, gender



Christopher W. Jones

Title: Power and Elite Competition in the Neo-Assyrian Empire, 745-612 BC.

University: Columbia University

Supervisor: Prof. Marc Van De Mieroop


The Neo-Assyrian Empire in the eighth century was dominated by a small clique of officials holding high offices (often called ‘magnates’) who accumulated power by controlling vast areas of land and holding multiple offices simultaneously. This situation persisted until at least the end of the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III in 727 BC.

My dissertation utilizes tools from the fields of social network analysis and organizational communication to study the changing nature of political power in the late Neo-Assyrian empire. Using an analysis of 3,858 letters which survive from this period, my dissertation argues that Sargon II initiated reforms which fundamentally changed the relationship between the king and his officials. He reduced the status of the high officials by breaking up their provinces while vastly expanding the number of provinces and provincial governors. By leveling the field of Assyrian officialdom, he reduced their status to be equivalent to other provincial governors, centralizing power in the king and royal family while dividing it into smaller pieces among everyone else.

These reforms had unintended consequences. They radically increased competition between officials, structuring the empire in such a way that hundreds of governors, palace officials, and temple officials reported directly to the king and were in competition with each other for status. This in turn created a massive information problem, as officials frequently made allegations against their rivals. The king had no way of ascertaining the truth of these allegations, and kings became increasingly isolated during the seventh century BC as they turned to other means such as court scholars to attempt to circumvent this problem. The end result was a poor information environment which made Assyrian governance less effective and rendered Assyrian kings less able to assert control over their subordinates.

Keywords: Assyria, Neo-Assyrian period, imperialism, imperial organization, organizational communication, social network analysis