Jules Jallet-Martini

Title:  Inheritance Practices and Family Strategies in Mesopotamia During the 2nd Millenium BCE

University: Université Paris-Panthéon-Assas

Supervisor: Sophie Démare-Lafont

Abstract: This PhD dissertation examines a previously unexplored legal hypothesis suggesting distinct inheritance practices between the north of Mesopotamia where testaments or wills were likely prevalent, and the south of Mesopotamia where ab intestat successions were the prevailing legal custom. 

In order to test this hypothesis, a rigorous legal analysis and systematic comparison of various types of deeds (inheritance divisions, wills, adoptions, gifts…) and documents (letters, litigations…) is carried out, focusing specifically on the question of succession and inheritance practices. These deeds are standardised documents containing clauses regulating the division of the estate, whose differences and similarities help us to better understand the overall inheritance system. Remarkably, a single deed could combine different models of succession, incorporating, for instance, the eldest son’s preferential share to immovable property and an equal division for movable property. 

Strategies adopted by the de cujus or their heirs to preserve the family’s patrimony within the lineage are studied. The inheritance issues addressed in these documents also highlight the importance of assisting elderly or surviving parents in matters of inheritance rights. 

The significance of this work lies in its exploration of the geographical distribution of customary inheritance practices throughout Mesopotamia during the 2nd millennium BCE. 

Through meticulously analysis of legal and non-legal documents spanning the entire millennium, this research aims to enhance the understanding of the intricate and evolving legal systems of these regions and offers insights into the social norms and customs that governed inheritance.

Keywords: legal history; inheritance; Old Babylonian; Emar; Nuzi; Old Assyrian

Contact: jules.jallet-martini@u-paris2.fr

Kepa Martinez Garcia 

Title:  Inter-urban Relations and Territorial Articulation of the Mesopotamian Floodplain During the Early Bronze Age (ca. 3100 – 2334 BC).

University: University of the Basque Country (UPV-EHU)

Supervisor: Josué Justel Vicente

Abstract: The purpose of this dissertation is to analyse how relations between the urban communities of Lower Mesopotamia influenced the territorial organisation during the Djemdet-Nasr and Early Dynastic periods. The hypothesis to be tested is that the holistic study of Sumerian sphragistics makes it possible to determine the identity of each urban community and to identify various types of functional relationships between them.

The topic of identity invites us to revisit the term ‘kalam’. This word could reflect a cultural unity that was not so much the achievement of a “Sumerian” identity as the result of the coexistence of several local identities, which came into conflict or complemented each other according to the social, cultural, religious or political needs of the time. Reconstructing the evolution of the identities of these urban centres and the cognitive maps they generated will allow for various historical interpretations: hierarchy of centrality, connectivity of urban centres, social relations, cultural appropriation of spaces and symbols, etc.

In order to determine the identity traits of these communities, cylinder seals from four urban centres (Uruk, Ur, Girsu and Nippur) will be thoroughly analysed. Seals will be treated as prestige items that allowed certain individuals, social groups and institutions to distinguish themselves, to show their status in public and to arrange self-representation strategies in the many relations with other communities. The social reading of indicators such as technical operational chains, function, semiotics and reception will allow a better understanding of this period and the formation of the discourse of power in early monarchies.

Keywords: Early Dynastic, Cylinder Seals, Identities, Inter-urban Relations

Contact: kmartinez010@ikasle.ehu.eus

Johannes Dams 

Title: The Ubānu Chapter of the Extispicy Series Bārûtu: Edition, Commentary, and Evaluation

University: Philipps-Universität Marburg

Supervisor: Nils P. Heeßel

Abstract: The Ancient Near East is characterized by the conviction that the world is full of signs. In the things that can be observed by humans – whether on earth or in the sky – the counsels and orders of the gods can be seen. This “bond between all things” enabled Mesopotamian scholars to fathom the will of the gods by means of divination, the art of which was given to humans by the gods at the beginning of the world, and to react to it with appropriate rituals. Already since the 3rd millennium B. C. there are the first indirect indications of divinatory practices. However, these become tangible in technical texts only from the beginning of the 2nd millennium B.C. Since this time, the art of extispicy in particular already played an important role. In the course of time, around the turn from the 2nd to the 1st millennium B. C., the standardized extispicy series bārûtu emerged, which formed a collection of extispicy omens in 10 chapters on 100 tablets. The arrangement of the chapters is based on the sequence of examination in the course of the extispicy ritual. It begins with the skeleton (chapter 1) followed by the examination of the colon (chapter 2). Chapters 3-7 deal with particular characteristics of the most important organ for extispicy: the liver. Thus, the “presence,” the “path”, the gallbladder, the “finger” and various other signs are examined. Chapter 8 then deals with the “weapon mark”, a characteristic that appears only occasionally on the liver or lungs and is treated separately here in a chapter of its own. The 9th chapter deals with the lung, and the 10th with divinatory principles of interpretation. So far, only about one third of the entire text can be reconstructed. Most of the documents come from Assurbanipal’s universal library in Nineveh. Other textual witnesses come from the Assyrian cities of Kalḫu, Dūr-Šarrukīn, and Ḫuzirīna, as well as Uruk, Borsippa, Babylon, Sippar, Nippur, and Kiš in Babylonia. So far, only chapters 3, 4, 5, and 10 have been edited. The other chapters are therefore still unpublished. This includes the 7th chapter šumma ubānu “When the finger”. The “finger” is anatomically the processus caudatus, which is formed by the lobus caudatus and forms a particularly conspicuous feature on the sheep’s liver. It has three edges, three surfaces, and tapers to a point. The ubānu chapter consists of 11 tablets, of which only the 6th is preserved complete in a copy from the Seleucid period. All other tablets are either fragmentary or not preserved at all. Of the non-preserved tablets, however, the incipits are known in some cases.
In addition to its detailed treatment in the seventh chapter of the extispicy series bārûtu, the finger is also frequently mentioned in Neo-Assyrian extispicy reports. Another text genre, the “dub ḫa.la” texts, deals with the adannu, the stipulated term of the omens. This term can range from 7 to about 100 days and was already calculated in ancient Babylonian times in Mari, although at that time the term adannu was not yet in use. The calculation of this period is also based on markings on the finger. For this purpose, the three most significant markings on the top, middle, or base of the right or left surface of the finger are evaluated: the notch (piṭru), the hole (šīlu), and the “weapon mark” (kakku). The calculation is done in two steps: first, the base of the validity period rēš adanni is calculated by multiplying the period for which the extispicy is performed by the constant coefficient uddazallû, “correction” as well as another number. In the second step, the markings on the finger are examined in more detail. From the number and position of these marks on the right or left side of the finger, another coefficient is calculated and thus the validity period of the extispicy is determined. Within this period, the prediction resulting from the extispicy is then also fulfilled. Thus, the extispicy is made only for limited periods of time. Its purpose is not to predict the future in general, but to make predictions about the outcome of current events. Whether the calculations in the “dub ḫa-la” texts were actually applied in practice, however, cannot yet be said with certainty.
Within the framework of the planned dissertation, chapter 7 ubānu of the extispicy series bārûtu is now to be edited for the first time. For this purpose, first, the already known texts will be collected, copied, transliterated, and collated where necessary and possible. Next, an attempt will be made to locate further hitherto unidentified texts and also to edit them in the manner described above. After the available text inventory has been recorded and processed, it will be edited in the form of a score, translated, and provided with a philological commentary. The completion of the text edition will be followed by the evaluation of the content. The structure of the arrangement of the omens will be examined, which principles of interpretation can be derived from the statements of the omens, and which meaning was attributed to the finger in particular. The evaluation of the content is followed by the contextualization of the text on synchronic and diachronic levels. On the synchronic level the question arises, what meaning the finger had in other text genres and what practical relevance this might have had. Concerning the practical application, the extispicy reports are of interest. In addition, the calculation of the validity period adannu in “dub ḫa.la” texts will play a special role. On the diachronic level, on the other hand, the focus will be on the genesis of the serialization of omens involving the finger against the background of the process of serialization in Mesopotamia in general. For these purposes, precursors from the second half of the 2nd century B. C. are compared in order to look for clues to the serialization process.

Keywords: divination, extispicy, ubānu, bārûtu, omina, liver

Contact: dams@students.uni-marburg.de

Letizia Savino

Title: Medicine and physicians abroad. Circulation of experts and expertise in the Second Millennium BCE in the Ancient Near East

University: Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

Supervisor: Doris Prechel


Focus of the project is the study of the mobility of foreign specialists and/or the requests for ingredients to prepare remedies among different realities of the Ancient Near East during the Second Millennium BCE. The need for physicians or incantation priests was as urgent in the past as it is now for specialists in the medical field. Numerous letters have been found from all over the Ancient Near East that testify the requests from private citizens for either specialised personnel coming from a certain area (that could be a specific city or kingdom) or for either already prepared medicaments or ingredient to make them; in some occasion, we even have the request for statues of deities related to healing practices.

Scholars have already assessed the matter of specialists travelling around the Ancient Near East, but we lack an in-depth inquiry about the mobility of medical experts in particular, and the eventual spread and acculturation of practices that might have followed them.

Research will move mainly on two parallel aspects. The first will try to answer the question: what kind of expertise was requested ‘abroad’? The second, on the other hand, will have as its key question: what kind of products were exchanged for medical purposes?

To be able to answer the first question, further subjects need to be investigated; first of all, we need to understand who were the specialists who moved abroad, and, most importantly, whence and whereto.

To address the second matter, the following questions are to be considered: from whom and to whom were these products requested? Were these products already prepared medicines and drugs, or also plants, minerals, and herbs?

Of course, the question that lies under all of these questions is: why were these experts and substances called for from another country? Was foreign medicine considered more effective and, or authoritative? Was there a specifical medical tradition that was considered somehow superior to the others, which thus influenced certain local aspects of (ritual) medicine?

Purpose of the research will, consequently, be that to try to answer all of these questions, possibly, at the same time, collecting and listing in one place all the material on the subject, in order to also be able to take stock of what is already known, but scattered in different papers and publications.

Keywords: medicine, āšipūtu, healing, second millennium BC, mobility, circulation of knowledge

Contact: lsavino@uni-mainz.de

Jessica Marchetti

Title: The god Nergal in the Sumerian-Akkadian texts (2nd-1st millennia BCE) / Le dieu Nergal dans les textes suméro-akkadiens (IIe-Ier millénaires av. J.-C.)

University: Université de Lille

Supervisor: Philippe Abrahami


The purpose of this thesis is to study the deity Nergal in all its aspects. Mainly presented as a warrior god, king of the netherworld, Nergal is also identifiable as a multifaceted deity. Thanks to the diversity of the corpus in Sumerian and Akkadian languages documenting him, such as official texts, practical texts, literary texts and scholarly texts, and thanks to iconographic sources too, it is possible to determine on the one hand his role and function in these sources, to define his personality and to distinguish the Nergal’s place face to pantheons of Ancient Near East on two millennia on the other hand. Based on archaeological data, the problematic of this research deals with different cult places too worshiped to him and the personnel dedicated to the service of this god. This work is also a mean to propose an onomastic and prosopographic study of individuals bearing a name in Nergal. It seeks to measure the popularity of the god Nergal in the individual’s names according to the treated periods and regions and to observe a possible predominance in these names in Nergal in certain socio-professional categories. The aim of this study is thus to propose a synthesis, as complete as possible, of mentions of Nergal in Sumerian-Akkadian textual and iconographic sources of the 2nd and 1st millennium B.C. The interest to study this multifaceted deity, in an expanded spatio-temporal framework is a mean to observe if there are regional and temporal contrasts on the figure of the god Nergal.

Keywords: Nergal, Erra, netherworld, cult, war, epidemic

Contact: jessica.marchetti1306@gmail.com

Evelyne Koubkova

Title: The Ritual Means of Empowerment of the Mesopotamian Exorcist

University: Yale University

Supervisor: Eckart Frahm


My dissertation examines the ways in which the Mesopotamian “exorcist” (āšipu) constructed his identity and authority in and through ritual performance. Among the various strategies, the project focuses on the āšipu’s self-purification and self-protection, his special attire and attributes, and the special nature and forms of his ritual speech. The project draws mainly on ritual texts of the āšipu from the first millennium BCE. Analyzing the construction of the image of the ideal āšipu will lead to a better understanding of his authority as a religious professional in the context of other Mesopotamian experts as well as in cross-cultural comparison.

Keywords: ritual, religion, scholarship, expert, purity, speech

Contact: evelyne.koubkova@yale.edu

Christie Carr

Title: Conceptualising the Erotic: Metaphor in the Sumerian “Love Songs”

University: University of Oxford

Supervisor: Jacob Dahl


My thesis analyses the metaphor of the Old Babylonian Sumerian “Love Songs”. Using an approach borrowed from cognitive linguistics, I will analyse the corpus using Conceptual Metaphor Theory. The theory mainly states that we understand abstract concepts through mappings from embodied experiences. The extensive metaphor in the Sumerian “Love Songs” give one of the fullest and extended representations of sexual domains of experience from the ancient Mesopotamian world, particularly desire, pleasure, and the erotic. Using modern approaches to metaphor, I hope to create a pragmatic and useful approach to the pervasive but sometimes obscure metaphor in Old Babylonian Sumerian literary texts. By analysing metaphor across the defined parameters of the erotic literary texts known as the Sumerian “Love Songs”, I will display the creativity and interaction that occurs with the creation and comprehension of certain metaphor, and also demonstrate that the analysis of figurative language can be used as tool for accessing culturally constructed domains of experience. The aim is to understand how desire, pleasure, allure, and the gendered human body were conceptualised at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC.

Keywords: Old Babylonian, Sumerian literature, metaphor

Contact: christie.carr@wolfson.ox.ac.uk

Nimrod Madrer

Title: Existential phrases in Semitic languages

University: Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Supervisors: Nathan Wasserman, Steve Fassberg

Abstract: Existential phrases constitute a broad, yet elusive, part of all Semitic languages. Linguistics point at two general functions for such phrases: 1. A copulative function, i.e., “semantically empty” verbs that mark the tense, mood and aspect of the sentence, or that carry negation or description (namely, a=b, a is part of, or can describe b). 2. A “proper” existential function – “there is” – pointing at objects or states of an actual existence and that can be further described. Such verbs often accompany locative (there is an elephant in the room) or by possessive markers (I have a book).
The literature dealing with such phrases is restricted and incomplete and many questions of this matter are left unattended. In my thesis I intend to regard existential phrases in Semitic languages (and in specific in Akkadian) with regard to three levels – morphology (collecting and describing the words, prepositions and radicals that constitute the “Proto-Semitic” existentials and the ones that are innovations of specific languages), syntax (tenses, modii and, generally, the grammar of each of existentials), and context (e.g., which existentials serve predominantly as copulae and which as “proper existential”, context dependencies of the uses of the various existentials and differences in context and uses between “Proto-Semitic” existentials to language-specific ones, inter and intra lingually). Altogether, I hope to shed light on the roles and function of existential phrases in Semitic languages and to compose a concise and comprehensible collection and description of them.

Keywords: Semitic languages, philology, grammar, existential, Akkadian

Contact: nimrod.madrer@mail.huji.ac.il

Lola Lombard

Title: Les éphémérides du Ier millénaire avant J.-C. au Proche-Orient ancien : fonction, production, transmission

University: Université Lumière Lyon 2

Supervisor: Jwana Chahoud


Cette thèse a pour objectif d’étudier les éphémérides proche-orientales durant la fin du Ier millénaire av. J.-C., période durant laquelle se maintiennent les traditions culturelles cunéiformes, mais qui voit aussi l’arrivée d’influences extérieures, avec la domination des Perses achéménides, puis celle de la dynastie hellénistique séleucide. Les éphémérides sont des textes, inscrits sur des tablettes d’argile et rédigés en akkadien au moyen de l’écriture cunéiforme, qui enregistrent la course des astres dans le ciel. Ils appartiennent au domaine de l’astronomie mathématique prédictive : à partir de l’observation cyclique des astres, les astronomes ont mis au point des modèles mathématiques afin de prédire leurs mouvements.

Le corpus connu des éphémérides comprend environ 330 tablettes et fragments provenant des sites de Babylone et d’Uruk, deux grands centres astronomiques du sud mésopotamien. Peuvent être associés 110 textes de procédure qui sont des instructions visant à calculer et à vérifier les éphémérides.

Bien que les éphémérides aient été étudiées dès la fin du XIXe siècle, il n’existe à ce jour aucune étude dédiée au cadre socio-institutionnel, ni aux principes de constitution et de transmission de ces textes. Afin de compléter nos connaissances sur les éphémérides, il sera pertinent de s’interroger sur plusieurs aspects : quelles étaient les fonctions des éphémérides ? Quel était leur rapport avec les autres types de textes astronomiques et avec l’astrologie ? Quel était le mode de constitution et de transmission de ces textes et quels étaient ses acteurs ? Quelle était leur place au sein de la discipline astronomique et, plus largement, dans le développement des sciences de cette époque ?
Pour répondre à ces questions, plusieurs axes d’analyse seront abordés. Premièrement, les chercheurs supposaient jusqu’à présent que les éphémérides étaient réalisées afin de produire des horoscopes. Néanmoins, leur relation avec les autres textes astronomiques et leurs différentes applications n’ont jamais été clairement identifiées. Cette étude permettra donc de cibler les domaines dans lesquels les éphémérides étaient requises et de cerner leurs fonctions ainsi que leur place, non seulement dans l’astronomie prédictive, mais aussi dans tout autre domaine nécessitant leur usage, comme l’astrologie.

Ensuite, une étude des colophons, qui sont des espaces occupant la fin des tablettes et comportant diverses indications (nom du copiste, date, lieu de rédaction), sera également nécessaire afin, d’une part, de retracer l’origine des éphémérides et leurs lieux de conservation ; d’autre part, d’étudier le cadre socio-institutionnel du travail des astronomes. Cela permettra de reconstituer le réseau des astronomes et plus largement celui des savants qui recopiaient, possédaient et/ou utilisaient ces éphémérides.

Enfin, il s’agira d’étudier la place de l’astronomie au sein des sciences de cette époque et ses relations avec les autres disciplines, notamment les mathématiques. Il s’agira également de tenter de retracer l’origine des éphémérides afin de déterminer si elles sont le produit d’un processus antérieur, ou bien si elles résultent d’influences extérieures dues au contexte socio-politique. 

Keywords: astronomy, astrology, Seleucid, Achaemenid, ephemeris, scribes

Contact: lola.lombard@univ-lyon2.fr

Imane Achouche

Title: The “death” of statues in the Syro-Mesopotamian area during the Bronze Age

University: Université de Liège, Belgium

Supervisor: Laurent Colonna d’Istria


Imane is studying the “death” of statues in the Syro-Mesopotamian space of the 3rd millennium BCE, through the analysis of the materiality of artifacts, iconography and textual sources. This thesis is a continuation of a master’s thesis concerning the ritual birth of statues in Mesopotamia, which led to an understanding of the cultic process governing the condition of these artefacts. In her current research, Imane wishes to answer the questions raised by the observation of a damaged statue – the accidental or intentional nature of the damage, its dating, the individual(s) responsible for the damage, what motivated the action – in order to obtain a comprehensive view of the context in which the ronde-bosse was made, displayed and ultimately removed from its society.

Keywords: Bronze age, statue, sculpture, iconoclasm, rituals, cuneiform

Contact:  imane.achouche@doct.uliege.be