Virginia Cara Girardi

Title: The Importance of Boat Transport for the Ur III Economy

University: University of Oxford

Supervisor: Professor Jacob L. Dahl

Using network analysis and similar data approaches to analyse frequency and capacity of cereal boat shipments across lower Babylonia, this study seeks to understand the importance of boat transport for the Ur III economy. This study aims at using datamining approaches to analysing the entire Ur III corpus for references to boat transports, in order to identify all products and raw materials transfers that occurred by boat throughout the Ur III state, either via the river courses or the canals. The corpus-wide analysis of records of boat-transfers will provide an opportunity to estimate the overall movement of products, and to identify the directionality of the flow of products. Due to the high volume of Ur III administrative documents concerning boat transport and a specialised and associated household, called the mar-sa in Sumerian, I am focusing my analysis on the provinces of Umma and Ĝirsu-Lagaš. Due to the importance of boat transportation for the smooth running of the complex Ur III ‘taxation’ system, the bala, I will draw heavily on texts concerning the bala, discussed extensively by T. Sharlach, and I hope to be able to contribute to the discussion of this enigmatic term and the system it describes.

My approach is complementary and I am not studying boat transportation in isolation. My study will include a section concerning watercrafts and navigation in the Ur III period, and a study of boat construction, and the materials and techniques employed to achieve the purpose. In addition, I will continue the analysis of the mar-sa begun by S. Alivernini as well as a study of the kun-zi-da, owing much to the recent studies of S. Rost. Through this approach, I will illustrate clearly the management of watercrafts and navigation in the Ur III.

Keywords: Ur III, mar-sa, administration, boat transport, bala, kun-zi-da.


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


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