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Middle Assyrian Assur: 6 (2022-01-28)

Colophon of VAT 8875



The colophon of VAT 8875 may serve as good example of the range of information that can be gained from this data. This well-preserved tablet contains the sixth part (lit. "tablet") of the lexical series Ana ittišu, a list that contains judicial terminology and may be interpreted as a kind of phrase book.

The colophon is separated by a double ruling from the main body of the text. As mentioned in an earlier post, remarks may be written over this double ruling. The first line of the colophon contains a catch line, which refers to the first line of the subsequent "tablet" in the series. Such catch lines are used for lexical series that consist of several "tablets" in the series (DUB) or for literary compositions, which are copied on several tablets (e.g., "Ninurta's Exploits" which is copied on four tablets with four sections each; see later posts).

What follows is a technical apparatus containing information on the series, the amount of lines, and the provenance. In most cases the provenance is not rather accurate. In most instances of this "library" it is either Babylon or Nippur, where the sources supposedly originate from. There is just one case in this corpus, two copies of "Nin-Isina's Journey to Nippur," which provides more accurate data on the provenance.

The third main section of the colophon contains information on the scribe and his patronym. In some cases, not in this particular instance, this section also contains information about the individual, who checked the copy (IGI.KAR2). The colophons on the tablets written by two sons of the royal scribe Ninurta-uballissu contain a formula that contains a wish against the erasure of their name on the tablet.

Finally the tablets frequently bear a date.

CDLI entry: P282494

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Middle Assyrian Assur: 4 (2022-01-27)

Two Middle Assyrian manuscripts of the lexical series Ea



The Middle Assyrian evidence for the first tablet of the lexical series Ea is quite good. The two texts presented here, VAT 10172 and BM 108862, are the main manuscripts for the reconstruction of the series. Both tablets bear colophons, although on the latter the colophon is unfortunately mostly broken off. The tablet on the left-hand side was written by a certain Sîn-šuma-iddina, son of the royal scribe Ninurta-uballissu. We will later deal in more detail with the textual heritage of this family, whose sons were responsible of copying more than 20 tablets. The colophon of this tablet states that the source for the copy was an "old" tablet. Indeed his copy makes use of archaising sign forms once in a while. This feature is missing on the second tablet, whose palaeography is clearly Middle Assyrian.

CDLI entries: P282497; P453275

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Middle Assyrian Assur: 3 (2022-01-26)

Sign Syllabary; Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin; VAT 10172.



Each entry contains a very specific set of information: (1) A vertical wedge is the general marker for lexical entries; (2) a sign reading for the subsequent logogram (often written in smaller script);
(3) a Sumerian logogram; [(4) an analytical representation of the logogram (mostly part of the 1st millennium tradition]; and (5) an Akkadian equivalent.

CDLI entry: P282497

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Middle Assyrian Assur: 2 (2022-01-25)

Sign Syllabary; Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin; VAT 10172.



Sign syllabaries represent the major source for both the sign values and the Akkadian meanings of Sumerian signs. In the later scribal tradition, there are, in particular, two sign syllabaries of great importance: (1) Ea and (2) Diri, both using a quite similar syntax in representing lexicographical data. The former list, whose first entry is e-a : A : nâqu, in general collects Sumerian logograms that are represented as single signs. Diri, on the other hand, contains logogram groups and their various readings and Akkadian equivalents.

The present tablet belongs to the lexical series Ea and is a copy of its first “tablet.” As a matter of fact, the Middle Assyrian evidence can be seen as the most important source for this series before the 1st millennium texts. This is due to its relative good preservation (together with P453275). The content and sequence of the list’s entries did not change significantly compared to the 1st millennium evidence, and thus the Middle Assyrian manuscripts form the basis for our reconstruction of Ea.

The sequence of the entries of Ea follows in some sense a pattern that presents simple or basic sign forms first and, subsequently, more and more complex sign forms. The first sign, A, is rather simple. Next are combinations of the sign A, A with inscribed characters (for instance, A×IGI [EYE within WATER]= Akkadian bakû, “to cry”), and so on.

CDLI entry: P282497

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Middle Assyrian Assur: 1 (2022-01-24)

The site of ancient Assur and a "library" text containing a bilingual literary text



The site of Assur, located on the western shore of the Tigris, yielded textual finds from many periods of Mesopotamian history. Very rich are the finds dating to the Middle Assyrian period (ca. 1400-1000 BC). The subsequent posts focus on the so-called "reconstructed library M 2," a collection of texts, whose larger part is considered to belong to an official library. However, their original setting is unknown. Some of these texts found their way to the later Neo-Assyrian capital Nineveh and were included in the "palace library."

The text depicted here is a bilingual copy of the Sumerian literary composition "Ninurta's Exploits." The bilingual sources from Middle Assyrian Assur represent the most important source for the Akkadian translation of Sumerian literature before the 1st millennium BC.

CDLI entry: P282600

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Conservation: 10 (2022-01-23)

Ashm 1924-1994



Conditions of tablets vary greatly and change over time. The example shown represents a tablet which had split into many fragments due to salt activity within the fabric. The fragments are brittle and crumble easily making it difficult to reassemble the interior. Since they cannot be reattached easily and in order to protect the remains from further deterioration during handling a removable fill was made. A thin plastic sheet was placed over the tablet before applying Polyfilla (calcium sulphate/cellofas) to the break edge. Once dry the fill and sheet were removed and the fill refined, sealed and painted before attaching it to the object. Polyfilla is lighter weight than plaster and much softer; using it to create as support fill allows the object to be held without putting pressure on the original surface which is delicate.

credit: Norris, Dana & Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum Conservation: 9 (2022-01-22)

Black splotches on cuneiform tablets



Numerous cuneiform tablets exhibit dark spots and stains on their visible surfaces. The discoloration doesn’t represent damage, but it does diminish the readability of affected texts. This phenomenon was recently studied by C. Gütschow (“Methoden zur Restaurierung von ungebrannten und gebrannten Keilschrifttafeln—Gestern und Heute,” BBVO 22 [2012] 75ff.). Analyses showed that these stains derive from manganese, that is a natural component of clay. After excavated tablets dry out, the manganese reaches the tablet surface and oxidizes.

credit: Norris, Dana & Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Conservation: 8 (2022-01-21)

A Hellenistic legal document being re-assembled; Ashmolean Museum, Ashm 1923-735.



This Hellenistic legal document is shown here being re-assembled using low tension clamps to secure the sections while the adhesive cures. The adhesive was applied in some areas as a liquid and in others as cured sheets which were reactivated with solvent.

credit: Norris, Dana & Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Conservation: 7 (2022-01-20)

Treatment of Ashm 1974-580 (II)



Here, the tablet Ashm 1974-580 is shown after the treatment. It shows several removable fills used to support fragments where the substrate has been lost. The fills have been painted to a solid colour so that they aren’t distracting to the object but also clearly distinguishable from the original. The fills have not been cast directly onto the object and can be easily removed with a small amount of solvent.

credit: Norris, Dana & Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Conservation: 6 (2022-01-19)

Treatment of Ashm 1974-580 (I)



Though appearing stable at first, the text Ashm 1974-580 suffered quite a lot. Parts of its surface were flaked off and left a greater number of fragments. To a great extent these fragments bear text and fragments of signs.

Recently most of the fragments could be rejoined to the tablet. Since the inner core is quite unstable as well, parts of the supporting material are gone. In order to re-attach some fragments, it was necessary to add a modern support.

credit: Norris, Dana & Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Conservation: 5 (2022-01-18)

Treatment of the prism Ashm 1911-405



This four-sided prism contains a frequently copied Sumerian literary composition, which is nowadays called the "Kesh Temple Hymn." Although the inner clay body appears to be in a relatively good condition, some areas on the surface became unstable. In the course of a recent treatment of the prism a loose fragment (highlighted) could be rejoined to the tablet. Since any supporting material was gone, the fragment needed to be lifted onto a modern fill.

The surface of the prism contains many smaller cracks. In order to stabilise the surface and prevent additional fragments from falling off, a thin adhesive was applied with a micropipette to consolidate the cracks.

credit: Norris, Dana & Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Conservation: 4 (2022-01-17)

Traces of previous treatment



This large four-sided prism containing several Sumerian literary compositions has received treatment some time ago. In order to stabilise the fragile body of the prism, the losses were filled with plaster. Unfortunately plaster that has been cast directly onto the tablet cannot be removed easily; making it difficult to replace with a more suitable material. A further complication is that plaster has been deposited on the surface adjacent to the fills leaving a fine layer of plaster. This layer is obscuring parts of the inscribed surface of the text.

credit: Norris, Dana & Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Conservation: 3 (2022-01-16)

A large tablet with several problems



The large tablet Ashm 1923-404 (containing an Old Babylonian version of a profession list) unfortunately represents a rather degraded clay body. It is one of those objects in the Ashmolean Museum, which is at risk of irreparable damage, if it does not receive treatment to secure the surface as far as possible.

Parts of the surface have already been lost; other areas are at risk of flaking off. Two areas are highlighted here. The red area shows a part of the surface, which is extremely worn out. Most of the inscription is gone. Both obverse and reverse have been imaged with the camera dome. Reflectance Transformation Imaging discussed in earlier posts thanks to the raking light can still help to make remains of the inscription visible.

The green area represents earlier treatment of the tablet. This kind of pattern with little round dots can be found on a greater number of tablets. These are not ancient traces, but a shadow of the surface the tablet was dried on during the desalination process. The circles are actually salt drawn to the surface where it could escape more quickly due to holes in the material they were placed on.

credit: Norris, Dana & Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Conservation: 2 (2022-01-15)

Cuneiform texts suffering from salinisation



The majority of cuneiform artefacts were discovered unfired in the soil. In cases such as Palace G in Ebla, which has been destroyed by fire, the tablets were burnt already in antiquity. Furthermore, many so-called "library" texts were fired in antiquity as well. Until quite recently it has been customary to fire tablets in museum collections in order to better preserve them. The firing of a tablet, however, changes the chemical and physical characteristics of the clay. The firing not always led to the desired result and did the artefacts more harm than good. It became necessary to modify the firing process according to the analysis of the clay fabric of each artefact.

Historically firing was followed by desalination in water to remove soluble salts. However this treatment is not always effective and the approach is debated because the salt can be a significant part of the object's structure. Controlling the environment and specifically the humidity that these objects are stored has been shown to be an effective way of preventing salt movement and therefore damage. Cases are shown here of salts remaining in the clay body even after firing and desalination. Depending on the conditions of storage these salts might reach the surface and build smaller or larger encrustations. Examples: two Old Babylonian legal texts P315345 and P315343; and an Early Old Babylonian royal inscription with a larger area covered with thick salt encrustation.

credit: Norris, Dana & Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Conservation: 1 (2022-01-14)

Various cuneiform text artefacts during treatment in the Conservation Laboratory in the Ashmolean Museum



Including the collection of cuneiform artefacts of the Bodleian library the Ashmolean Museum holds 4,515 objects, which makes this collection the second-largest in Britain after the British Museum and one of the major European collections of text artefacts from the Ancient Near East. In preparation for the digitisation of the collection by CDLI the greater part of the collection has been surveyed between June and September 2012 (undertaken by the conservator Dana Norris). In the course of the assessment the tablets have been measured in order to start preparation for re-housing each tablet individually in storage boxes.

The assessment revealed that 15 % of the collection is in a very good condition and almost two thirds of the texts are stable. 38 objects of the collection were at risk of irreparable damage, would they not receive treatment. About 140 objects (the afore-mentioned 38 including) had loose or unstable fragments. Some of the largest objects in the collection may have suffered from the firing and subsequent desalination process that took place in the late 1970s due to the physical shape and thickness of the clay.

credit: Norris, Dana & Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Processing: 11 (2022-01-13)

Using dome captures (II)



(3) In the next step Image 3 is copied onto the merged Images 1 and 2. On this image the light comes from the right side. Therefore the better lit areas are selected. After feathering this the selection, it is copied onto a new layer and the original Image 3 can be deleted.

(4) It is now necessary to do some adjustments, which involve selecting areas of transition and modifying exposure and other settings. Since captures from light sources are taken, that lie opposite of each other, the transition points between the selected areas frequently appear problematic (especially in the case of tablet with a great curvature on the reverse).

After having all that done, this representation can be included in an already existed (flat-bed scanned) fat cross, in order to increase readability.

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Processing: 10 (2022-01-12)

Using dome captures (I)



Much work is being done on developing an online RTI-viewer, which allows to adjust the light angles in a web-based environment (see, for instance, the Portable Light Dome). In the meantime captures taken by the camera dome can be used to gain a good 2D-result. It must be stressed that this process cannot be automatised. Each side need to be treated individually. The end result sometimes may seem over-edited, but it is aimed at provided the most readable result.

After processing the raw files to a PTM file, this file is opened in a locally installed RTI-viewer (see earlier posts). Depending on the curvature of the object either three or four images with different light angles need to be exported. On the left-hand side three such exported shots of Ashm 1922-176 are shown with indication of the various light sources (yellow points on green). Image 1 uses light from the upper left corner, Image 2 from the lower left corner and Image 3 from the right side.

(1) In a first step all three shots are opened in Photoshop. First, Image 2 is copied onto Image 1. Since on Image 2 the light comes from the lowerleft corner, we can select the areas of better visibility.

(2) The selection needs to be feathered in order to avoid sharp borders and have a smooth transition between the different images. That being done the selection is copied into a new layer. The original Image 2 can now be removed. In some cases one of the layers needs some adjustments.

Of course, parts of Image 3 still need to be blended over this result. This will be shown in tomorrow's post.

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Processing: 9 (2022-01-11)

Batch processing of large quantities of raw (flat-bed) images



The script and Photoshop actions discussed in the last couple of days can also be used to automatically process large quantities of raw images. In order to do that a folder containing raw files is taken. The script searches for the first file that contains "be" (standing for bottom edge) and then selects all files that start with the same element (in this case a museum number).

The remaining parts of the process are similar to those described before. The files are merged together into one document. Then the background is removed and the sides are preliminary aligned. This preliminary fat cross is then saved with the museum number as file name.

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Processing: 8 (2022-01-10)

Processing scans to CDLI-conform "fatcrosses" using a combination of script and Photoshop actions (III)



After the sides are aligned to produce a preliminary "fatcross" (see [4] on the left) each side can now be placed.

(5) Since the black background of each layer was removed in an earlier step, the sides can easily be aligned and placed quite close to either obverse or reverse. The obverse is surrounded by all four edges with the top edge above and so forth. Remains of the support (or foams) may now obstruct several sides. In a further step, a script helps reducing the manual labour in removing these problems as far as possible. Both obverse and reverse are cleaned. The remaining areas can be quickly cleaned with the eraser tool.

Last but not least, dust and little scratches need to be removed, but the pollution on scans depends on the frequency of cleaning the glass and of course on the text artefact itself, which might lose dust during the imaging process. Flat-bed scanner need to be renewed after scanning a certain amount of objects, since scratches cannot be avoided completely.

In tomorrow's post the processing of a large batch of raw files using this method will be presented.

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Processing: 7 (2022-01-09)

Processing scans to CDLI-conform "fatcrosses" using a combination of script and Photoshop actions (II)



As we have seen yesterday, the individual sides are copied into one document. The script uses the raw files. There is no need to crop the sides individually, since the subsequent step in the script deals with the background (see upper left corner).

(3) First, the levels (brightness, contrast, etc.) are adjusted. This darkens not just the individual side (making the inscription more visible), but the background as well, which now should be pitch black. Photoshop's Magic Wand selects automatically a specific point in each layer (the upper left corner at position 0,0 is chosen for this purpose). The background is deleted. Since the edges are scanned with the help of a support, remains of this support may still be visible. The remains can easily be removed with the eraser, after all edges are aligned correctly.

(4) In the next step the script preliminarily puts all sides in the right area. Since the script does use the original raw files, final adjustments need to be done manually. However, most of the bakcground is gone now and hence it is possoble to move the edges rather close to obverse and reverse without obstucting them with the respective backgrounds.

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Processing: 6 (2022-01-08)

Processing scans to CDLI-conform "fatcrosses" using a combination of script and Photoshop actions (I)



The advantages of flat-bed scans in terms of processing times and efforts have been made clear (see Digitization Guidelines). Most of the manual labour of creating "fatcrosses" can be done by using scripts and actions. On this and the pages that follow in the next couple of days, one way of processing scans is being presented.

Let us have a look on creating a fatcross for one tablet, Ashm 1922-176, a letter from the famous Šamaš-hazir correspondence discussed earlier (CDLI-entry: P450713).

(1) First the individual sides (bottom edge (be), left edge (le), obverse (o), reverse (r), right edge (re), top edge (te)) need to be selected. The script copies these files into one document and into individual layers.

(2) The interim result of this first part is a patch-work of the individual sides. The layers are renamed to fit the sides.

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Processing: 5 (2022-01-07)

Processing HDR photos (II)



Once all six sides (or even more in case of a cone or prism) are processed, they can be stitched together to a "fatcross," i.e., a representation of the text artefact making all sides visible.

Since the distance between object and camera lens differs depending on the side taken (unless the distance is adjusted using the respective focus, which is however time-consuming), the size of each side need to be adjusted individually. Furthermore, although specific settings in the afore-mentioned software Photomatix Pro help to reduce the background noise, in many cases the background need to be cleaned carefully.

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Processing: 4 (2022-01-06)

Processing HDR photos (I)



Earlier we saw that merging together photos taken with different exposure lengths and hence producing High Dynamic Range photos lead to a better output of shadows and highlights on text artefacts.

In most cases three shots suffice to get good results. Although images can processed manually to get an HDR photo, it is worthwhile to use specific software for doing so. Photomatix Pro, for instance, allows for adjusting various settings in order to gain a balanced photo.

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Processing: 3 (2022-01-05)

Processing Images from the camera-dome



The camera dome collects 76 images that are processed to a Polynomial Texture Mapping (PTM) file. These processed files are opened in a locally installed viewer (called RTIviewer). In this program the light angles can be manipulated. For gathering an interim 2D image, three or four different light positions are saved individually.

In the left upper image the light position is (as indicated within the green circle) in the left upper corner; on the right side there is an extracted image with the light position in the right lower corner.

In Adobe Photoshop, these three (or four) images are merged and areas of good exposure and detail are kept and blended in order to gain an evenly lighted 2D result that can be combined with processed images from a flatbed scanner.

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Processing: 2 (2022-01-04)

Processing and viewing RTI images



After discussing various imaging techniques that are used by CDLI, let us return to Reflectance Transformation Imaging. Whether using a camera dome or just placing a shiny ball in an object's vicinity, it is necessary to process the gathered raw images. The essential key is a file that contains the light positions (x, y, and z axis) of each LED in the camera dome (or positions of light sources that are reflected in the shiny ball).

A so-called PTM-fitter merges the raw images together and calculates the various light angles. The resulting PTM-file can be viewed in a RTIviewer. In this program the various effects of the light sources on the text artefact can be simulated.

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Processing: 1 (2022-01-03)

Processing the images from the camera dome



The camera dome at the Ashmolean Museum produces 76 images (as explained earlier each with a different light angle). The individual light positions are saved in a lp-file, which is in fact a text file containing a list of all LEDs and the corresponding x, y, and z axes (see the screenshot below on the right side).

Cultural Heritage Imaging provides a RTI-builder, which allows for easy processing the raw images from the camera dome. In doing so, they program uses the file with the light positions and calculates the different light angles. In case an object is imaged without a dome and using a glossy ball, the individual positions of the light sources need to be extrapolated in each processing by selecting the ball on the shots. The program then detects the highlighting reflections of the light on the glossy ball and thus calculates the light positions.

This program furthermore allows to crop the area. Therefore, valuable storage space is saved.

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Imaging: 6 (2022-01-02)

Imaging text artefacts using a flat-bed scanner



As mentioned in yesterday's post, a steady work-flow guarantees not just a faster imaging, but is also less prone to errors (e.g., forgotten sides). CDLI's digitization guidelines, contain instructions of how to use such a work-flow. In doing so, starting with the right side (obverse or reverse) of a tablet is less crucial and can easily be corrected in the processing afterwards. (For some periods identifying obverse or reverse may pose difficulties. Furthermore, splinters from the surface of larger tablets quite frequently cannot be identified as belonging to either obverse or reverse.)

The work-flow can be used for one tablet at a time, but also for a bunch of tablets. Smallish administrative texts dating to the Ur III period, for instance, can be scanned in groups of up to 24. For edges it is necessary to use a kind of support. CDLI uses a "tablet box," which is a kind of frame with several compartments (see the photo on yesterday's post). In these conpartments the tablets can be inserted and hold in place with foam pieces.

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Imaging: 5 (2022-01-01)

Imaging tablets using a flat-bed scanner



For larger collections of cuneiform text artefacts as the Ashmolean Museum the camera dome is used for about 20-25 % of the holdings. This technology is used, in particular, for high impact objects as well as damaged and sealed surfaces. Imaging texts with the camera dome takes a certain amount of time. The camera dome needs about 6-7 minutes per side.

All text artefacts are imaged using a conventional flat-bed scanner (here, the Canon 5600F, which proved to allow for very good results). Flat-bed scanning has several advantages. First, the whole process is faster (especially by employing a certain work-flow; see the next post) compared to other imaging techniques. Since each surface has always the same distance to the scanner, the speed of processing the raw files is significantly faster than processing images produced with other techniques (a nice side-effect is that given the resolution the size of an artefact can be calculated).

In the section "Processing" following soon, the processing techniques of scans will be presented in more detail.

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Imaging: 4 (2021-12-31)

High Dynamic Range Photography on Ashm 1928-1.



High Dynamic Range Photography (short HDR) allows for a better management of the shadowy and light spots of objects and therefore captures a greater dynamic range between the darkest and lightest spots of an image. This method is quite suitable for text artefacts. The camera is mounted on a copy-stand facing down (alternatively a tripod can be used). A light source casts light onto the object from the upper left corner. A reflector (either another light source or a piece of aluminium foil) on the opposite corner reflects the light back to the object.

The camera is set to M(anual mode). A mid-range shutter speed is chosen. Automatic Exposure (AE) bracketing allows for generating three (or up to nine) shots each with a different exposure length (short, middle, long). Single shots often can lead to a loss of detail.

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Imaging: 3 (2021-12-30)

RTI on larger objects



In case the object that needs to be imaged with Reflectance Transformation Imaging technology is oversized and does not fit into the dome (the maximum size of the object must not exceed a third of the dome's diameter), it is possible to use this imaging technique also without a dome. The great advantage of a camera dome is that it eliminates any ambient light and offers a completely darkened environment.

A hand-held flash replaces the LEDs attached to the inside of the camera dome. In order to have the light source approximately at the same distance to the object the easiest method is to use a piece of string, whose length is three times as large as the object's height.

At any point (or at several) a shiny ball (most adequate are either a red or black snooker ball) is placed that reflects the light source (from the hand-held flash) at every shot taken.

When processed the computer can calculate the location of the light source in relation to the reflection on the ball. Whereas the number of LEDs within a camera dome is fixed, so-called "Highlight RTI" allows for as many shots with different light positions as possible.

The object imaged here is a Neo-Assyrian relief from the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II.

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus & Lafont, Bertrand

Ashmolean Museum, Imaging: 2 (2021-12-29)

Inside of the camera dome and schematics



The diameter of the camera dome is approximately 1 m. The schematics on the right show demonstrate how the dome works. On the its inside 76 light sources (LEDs) are attached. One after another they cast light onto the surface of an object, which is placed in the centre. In order to gain the best results, the artefact is on level with the horizon of the hemisphere.

In a couple of days time we are going to have a look into the viewing and processing of images produced by such a camera dome. For further information on this technology and its use for the digitisation of ancient documents see the webpage of Cultural Heritage Imaging.

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum, Imaging: 1 (2021-12-28)

Imaging station with camera dome



The camera dome used by the project "Creating a Sustainable Cuneiform Digital Library" at the University of Oxford uses 76 daylight-LEDs, which are attached to the inside of the plexiglas dome. A high resolution digital camera is mounted on the top of the dome, looking straight down through a hole. The object is placed on a stage in the centre lifted up to the horizon.

This technology named Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) is used to create a Polynomial Texture Map (PTM) of any object whose surface has a texture. The 76 individual raw files each using a different light source and therefore a different light angle, are merged together. In the resulting PTM-file the various light angles can be simulated.

Tomorrow's post will show the inside of the camera dome as well as a cross section.

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 30 (2021-12-27)

Collection of incantations pertaining to a medical ritual; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1924-788+.



This tablet in the Ashmolean Museum collects incantations from a medical ritual that is known as ugu, "scull," the full title being in translation "If a man's head is feverish." This ritual series collects medical conditions and a respective treatment, which includes the preparation of potions and ointments as well as their application.

K 2354+ is a large manuscript from the library of the Neo-Assyrian king Ashurbanipal from Nineveh, which contains the first section of the ritual series. In contrast, the example in the Ashmolean Museum contains specifically incantations that belong to section I-IV of the series.

CDLI entry: P274683

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 29 (2021-12-26)

Lung omina; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1924-793.



The cuneiform culture attests to a vast corpus of omina. Divination, the observation of signs on the organs of a sheep, was one of the major tools for predicting the future and come to a decision. While liver omina are well-known from cuneiform texts, omina regarding the sheep's lungs are quite scarce.

This quite large and unfortunately fragmentary tablet in the Ashmolean Museum originates from the excavations in ancient Kish and therefore belongs to the rich finds of scholarly texts from the first millennium BC Babylonia. There are several parallels known for this text (collected by A. R. George, "Review of OECT 11," [1990], ZA 80, 159). Most notable is a fairly well preserved manuscript from Nineveh dating to the Middle Assyrian period and coming originally from Assur (K 205).

Besides liver models in clay there are also a couple of examples of model lungs. The most significant example comes from Nimrud (CTN 4, 60). It is a three-dimensional model of a sheep's lungs and other internal organs. A further example is CBS 470, whose surface is divided into fields by lines. Each field is inscribed with either the cuneiform sign for "left," "right," or both to indicate whether the omen is good ("right") or bad ("left").

Coming back to our text, the following two omens may be cited:

If the lower part of the lung is split on the right, then the totality of my army will disintegrate. My army will collapse in its main body.
If the lower part of the lung is split on the left, then the totality of the enemy army will disintegrate. The enemy army will collapse in its main body.


CDLI entry: P348953

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 28 (2021-12-25)

Legal document about the lease of the butcher's allotment dating to the Hellenistic period; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1923-68.



About 75 documents in the Ashmolean Museum date to the Hellenistic period (323-63 BC). Outstanding is a larger group of brick-shaped legal documents.

This contract (see T. Doty, Cuneiform Archives from Hellenistic Uruk [1977], 102ff.; P. Corò, Prebende Templari in Età Seleucide [2005], 307ff.) deals with the lease of a butcher's allotment (ṭābihūtu) for a period of 10 years. Compared to other prebends like brewer's prebend or the baker's prebend the individual leasing such an allotment will do the work that is connected with it and enjoys its income. Kidin-Sîn agrees to pay cuts of meat to Anu-mar-ittannu.

Furthermore the document contains clauses in order to prevent the seller (Anu-mar-ittannu) to otherwise sell the allotment, and to prevent Kidin-Sîn from subcontracting the allotment to other parties. Both parties receive a copy of the contract.

In the Hellenistic period the stamp seal came into new fashion. It is a common feature of such documents that the parties and witnesses sealed with their respective seals. The impressions are labeled.

CDLI entry: P342373

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 27 (2021-12-24)

Tabular account about digging dating to the Old Babylonian period; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1922-290.



Tabular accounts, which present information on horizontal and vertical axes are known, in particular, starting with the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900-1600 BC). This tablet in the Ashmolean Museum is such a tabular account. The information is organised and presented into columns and rows. It records the lengths, widths and depths of earth works. The table presents the volumes of canals dug and not yet dug and assigns these works to workmen or overseers. Additionally the document gives subtotals and totals of lengths and volumes at various points. The text groups the information into headed columns. Although the tablet bears no date, the names mentioned as well as the palaeography makes the area of Larsa in the time of the Babylonian kings Hammurapi or Samsu-iluna plausible.

The tabular complexity of this text is astonishing, for its organisation follows each, a horizontal and vertical axis. Furthermore, it has three levels of calculation: (1) entries marked with "that PN did" in the right-most column; (2) the descriptive phrase running the whole width of the tablet; (3) the grand total at the end. (edition: E. Robson, "Accounting for Change: The Development of Tabular Book-keeping in Early Mesopotamia," in: M. Hudson & C. Wunsch (eds) Creating Economic Order [2004], 112ff.).

CDLI entry: P347361

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 26 (2021-12-23)

Mathematical problem including procedure and diagram dating to the Old Babylonian period; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm Bod AB 216.



This tablet in the collection of cuneiform artifacts of the Bodleian library, which is now part of the Ashmolean Museum, contains a mathematical problem, whose goal is to find the length and area of a triangle (edition: E. Robson, SCIAMVS 5 [2004], 24ff., no. 14). The area is described as a furrowed field, on which "furrows descrease on furrows by 6 rods." Therefore, the text provides information on the hypotenuse of the triangular area. Furthermore, it gives us the width of the field and the amount of furrows. On top of the obverse the text gives a diagram that shows the pertinent triangle.

The first problem is to calculate the length (line 4: UŠ EN.NAM). In lines 5-13 the calculations are described step by step. Since the width was already provided, the next problem is to find out the area of the triangle. The calculation of the latter is less complicated. It is simply needed to multiply half of the width with the length.

CDLI entry: P368255

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 25 (2021-12-22)

Metrological list of weights and capacities dating to the Old Babylonian period; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1931-137.



Mathematical texts come in many guises. This large multi-column tablet in the Ashmolean Museum contains a metrological list of capacities, weights, and areas. Metrological lists, such as this example, occur early in the Old Babylonian curriculum of apprentice scribes. A good grasp of numbers and the various ways of measuring were essential for a future administrative scribe.

Metrological lists are hence quite common in our documentation. Christine Proust mentions 187 tablets that can be assigned to this type of mathematical text (see C. Proust, CDLJ 2009:1). Thanks to their organisation in various sections and a clear structure of the metrology these texts provide valuable data on the different notations and the systems behind these notations. For a similar example see HS 249+1805 in the Hilprecht collection in Jena.

CDLI entry: P368260

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 24 (2021-12-21)

Mathematical exercise with possible computation error dating to the Old Akkadian period; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1924-689.



The Ashmolean Museum houses a text dating to the Old Akkadian period (ca. 2340-2200 BC), which was interpreted as mathematical exercise text. Parallels are known. So is ZA 74, 60 a tablet in the Oriental Institute Museum in Chicago (edition: R.M. Whiting, "More Evidence for Sexagesimal Calculations in the Third Millennium B.C." ZA 74 [1984], 59ff.). Exercises such as these show that sexagesimal place notation, which is known in Old Babylonian mathematical texts and served to express fractions, was already used in the 3rd millennium. Both texts end with the Sumerian phrase ba-pa3. An even closer parallel to this small tablet in the Ashmolean Museum is ZA 74, 65. Both, this tablet and our text mention an individual named Ur-Ištaran.

CDLI entry: P215434

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 23 (2021-12-20)

Old Babylonian legal document; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1926-378.



This tablet in the Ashmolean Museum belongs to the Old Babylonian archive of Mannum-mešu-lissur in Nippur and was published by G. R. Hunter in the eighth volume of the Oxford Editions of Cuneiform Texts. Texts such as this one deal with agreements for adoption. Besides documents that deal with the adoption of children in order to fulfil the social need to provide parents to orphans or heirs for childless couples other texts attest to the economic aspects of adoption. They may declare properties to be shared by the inheritors or assignments of custodianships for specific gates and so forth.

This particular document is dated to the reign of Sin-iqišam. It contains the shares of two sons. The individual shares contain properties (houses and fields) including their various locations (in relation to adjacent plots) as well as temple offices (or prebends), which are given for specific periods.

The document ends with the phrase:

Together they have agreed to the division. In future each will not make a claim against the other. Thus have they sworn in the name of the king.

A parallel of this document is provided by OECT 8, 17.

Edition: E. C. Stone and D. I. Owen, Adoption in Old Babylonian Nippur and the Archive of Mannum-mešu-lissur (= Mesopotamian Civilizations vol. 3) no. 53.

CDLI entry: P283645

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 22 (2021-12-19)

Ur III document and its envelope; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1919-11.



This administrative document records very large amounts of reeds revceived by Shulgi-ili from three named “scribes of the brewery” and from the important imperial administrator known as the Sukkal-maḫ. The first two scribes are said to come from Drehem (ancient Puzriš-Dagan), the administrative and quite possibly redistributive center established close to Nippur by Shulgi; the third scribe is said to be from Nippur itself. The delivery from the Sukkal-maḫ is ascribed to the work of the conscripts of Girsu.

A simple search using CDLI’s new seals catalogue results in five almost identical documents recording the same transaction from the years Ibbi-Suen 1 and 2.

On the four other artifacts, the seal of Shulgi-ili is found directly on the tablet, whereas our Ashmolean tablet, itself unsealed, was placed in a sealed envelope. Shulgi-ili is otherwise mostly known in Drehem records as a deliverer of fattened animals; thus, the reeds in these accounts, whose qualification zi demonstrates that they were used as fodder, were destined for these same animals.

CDLI entry: P142785

credit: Dahl, Jacob L.

Ashmolean Museum: 21 (2021-12-18)

Neo-Babylonian lexical text containing toponyms; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1923-277.



Thanks to the excavations at the ancient site of Kish, the Ashmolean Museum houses a substantial collection of late lexical material from Mesopotamia. These texts are generally dated to the neo-Babylonian period. They reach from elementary lists of signs to complex compendia of lexical items.

This relatively well-preserved tablet appears to be as yet unpublished. It furthermore cannot be found in Oliver R. Gurney’s index of the lexical texts of the museum published in MSL SS 1. The content clearly relates this text to the geography sections of the thematic lexical series ur5-ra : hubullu (edited in MSL 11). This series in its canonical version consists of 24 “tablets” covering a wide range of topics. The geography sections are preserved on tablets 20-22 of the series. Our text is important for the reconstruction of tablets 21-22, starting with important place names like Nippur and Isin. The reverse contains, among others sections on temple names, gate names and, finally, stars.

CDLI entry: P450731

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 20 (2021-12-17)

Lexical text containing designations for rivers and canals; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1923-405.



This lexical text in the Ashmolean Museum dates to the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900-1600 BC). This period marks a time, when a new repertory of lexical texts has been compiled. Among the vast corpus of lexical texts dating already to the early second millennium, it is multi-thematic series ur5-ra : hubullu that represents a complex inventory of words.

This multi-column tablet deals with topographical terms, among others a long list of rivers and canals. The list starts with the "ditch" (Sum. e.g.2). The second entry is pa5, "small canal." The list then goes on and proceeds with a long enumeration of river names marked by the classifier ID2. All three designations are central to agriculture. Water for irrigation came from a river or major canal either to smaller canals (pa5, Akk. atappu) or ditches (e.g.2, Akk. īku).

The remaining text, as far preserved, contains other topographical designations and food stuff (e.g., designations of barley).

Quite a few designations are also attested in the later tradition of this lexical series, most notably in on the 22nd tablet (the series ur5-ra : hubullu in its canonical version frm the late 2nd and 1st millennia BC consists of 24 tablets). In tomorrow's post a much later version of this list dating to the first millennium BC will be presented.

Edition: E. Reiner (with the collaboration of M. Civil), The Series HAR-ra = hubullu, Tablets XX - XXIV (MSL XI), 1974, pp. 144ff.

CDLI entry: P452252

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 19 (2021-12-16)

Seven-sided prism containing a version of the Early Dynastic List of metals and metal objects; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1931-128.



This lexical text was compiled in the late Uruk period (ca. 3200-3000 BC). It contains a list of metals and metal objects, following a sophisticated sequence based on semantic and graphical characteristics. This word list belongs to a group of archaic thematic word lists that, at the beginning of the third millennium, spread from Uruk to other cities in the ancient Near East. The best evidence for this particular list originates from the northern Babylonian sites of Fara and Tell Abu Salabikh, both dating to the ED IIIa period (ca. 2600-2500 BC). The list even reached the Syrian site of Ebla, attested there in an almost perfectly preserved manuscript.

While some archaic word lists, at least so far as we know, cease to be transmitted after the end of the Early Dynastic period, other lists continued in use until the early 2nd millennium, alongside the emergence of many new (genres of) lexical texts in the late Early Dynastic period. Still, the evidence for these texts in the second half of the third millennium is quite scarce.

The quite well-preserved seven-sided prism in the Ashmolean museum (originally published by O. R. Gurney in 1969 Iraq 31, pp. 3ff.) contains a version of the Metals list that dates to the Old Akkadian period. An important peculiarity about this version is the addition of a semantic classifier to each of the entries. This classifier ‛uruda’ precedes designations of objects made of copper. Otherwise, the text itself does not differ substantially from the Early Dynastic versions. Besides this modification, one should note the alternation of entries with and without the sign AN in a large section of the text. This feature is already present in the archaic versions. Patterns like this one are not uncommon in the early lexical corpus. The qualifier AN has been interpreted in several ways. Besides being a divine marker, it has also been argued that it might be an early form of the Sumerian designation for tin, an-na, or, since AN is also the Sumerian designation of the heavens, for “meteoric” iron.

CDLI entry: P213492

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 18 (2021-12-15)

Expository text on the cultic calendar; Ashmolean Museum, Ashm 1924-789.



The cultic calendar was of immense importance in Mesopotamia. This tablet in the Ashmolean Museum is a type of composition that was known to the ancient scribes as kakku sakku, "sealed, stopped up". A. Livingstone describes such texts as "expository works in which events from rituals are detailed and then explained by equating them with mythological events" (Livingstone, Mystical and Mythological Explanatory Works [1986], 115). As was noted by O. R. Gurney in his edition of the text in OECT 11, the only close parallel to the text in the Ashmolean Museum is VAT 9947 (see Livingstone 1986, 126ff.).

Other compositions that loosely relate to such a text are the series Iqqur ippuš or the so-called Astrolabes (see, for instance, Astrolabe B). Most information regarding our text can be gained from the first column, which is better preserved. This column deals with days of the second month in the Babylonian calendar (iti-gu4, Ayyaru). Astrolabe B relates to the gu4-si-su festival in Nippur, which preceded the preparations of the coming plowing and sowing. That text states: "The month Ayyaru, the Pleiades, the Seven Gods. The Opening up of the ground; the oxen are yoked, the land becomes arable. The plows are washed; the month of heroic Ningirsu, the great ensi of Enlil." The tablet in the Ashmolean Museum deals with rituals performed on various days during specific months.

Edition: Gurney, O. R. 1989. Literary and miscellaneous texts in the Ashmolean Museum. OECT 11, Oxford, pp. 26ff.

CDLI entry: P348949

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 17 (2021-12-14)

Akkadian Hymn to the god Amurru; Ashmolean Museum, Ashm 1923-766.



This intriguing work of Akkadian religious poetry sings the praises of Amurru, a god of the steppe. According to one plausible interpretation, our text dates to the reign of Rim-Sin (1822-1763 BC), who ruled for sixty years over the southern Mesopotamian city of Larsa until his defeat at the hands of king Hammurabi of Babylon in 1763 (following the so-called middle chronology).

If the attribution to Rim-Sin is correct, then “Amurru and his crook” is currently one of the oldest extant works of Akkadian literature. The technical skill evinced in our poem’s carefully balanced verse, which is designed to be heard rather than read, suggests that Akkadian compositions such as these had a longer history than our limited sources allow us to see. In previous centuries, according to our evidence, Sumerian had been the literary language of choice. One of the most popular Sumerian genres was the hymn: a brief song of praise addressed to a god, at the end of which a king would request divine favor or thank the god for having granted his favor previously.

There is some evidence to suggest that under the kings of Larsa, among whom Rim-Sin was prominent, Sumerian literature in general began to decline, and that hymns in particular began to be composed in Akkadian. This development was to produce some of the early masterpieces of Akkadian literature under the dynasty of king Hammurabi of Babylon. While our text is no such masterpiece, it is nevertheless artfully composed and exhibits many phrases and grammatical features that are characteristic of high literary Akkadian. The religious outlook of “Amurru and his crook” is typically Mesopotamian: the singer praises Amurru both for his importance among the other gods of the pantheon and for the generosity and clemency he shows to mankind. The crook—the symbol of Amurru, who seems to be a pastoral god of the western steppe—has the power to “give life to the people,” as the hymn says. This may involve a pun on the word meaning “crook” (Akkadian: gamlum) and a similar-sounding word meaning “to be kind” (Akkadian: gamālum).

Edition: Gurney, O. R. 1989. Literary and miscellaneous texts in the Ashmolean Museum. OECT 11, Oxford, pp. 15-19

CDLI entry: P348900

credit: Metcalf, Christopher

Ashmolean Museum: 16 (2021-12-13)

Prism containing the Kesh Temple Hymn; Ashmolean Museum, Ashm 1911-405.



The "Kesh temple hymn" is one of the few Old Sumerian literary texts, which is preserved not just through manuscripts from the ED IIIa period (ca. 2600-2500 BC), but also through a high amount of manuscripts dating to the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900-1600 BC). This composition belonged to the corpus of ten literary texts, which were copied by apprentice scribes in the Old Babylonian "school". This collection is nowadays known as "Decad".

This manuscript in the Ashmolean Museum is one of the few copies of this composition, which were inscribed on a prism. The inner structure of the text is maintained by the repetition of a refrain that was already extant in the earliest versions from Tell Abu Salabikh dating to the ED IIIa period (ca. 2600-2500 BC). In the Old Babylonian version this refrain reads in translation as follows:

Will anyone else bring forth something as great as Keš?
Will any other mother ever give birth to someone as great as its hero Ašgi?
Who has ever seen anyone as great as its lady Nintur?


This refrain is followed by the remark e2-n-kam-ma-am3, "it is the nth house." The "Standard version" in the Old Babylonian period contains either 8 or 10 of such stanzas.

The content of this temple hymn can be summarised as follows (after C. Wilcke, "Die Hymne auf das Heiligtum Keš," Fs. Vanstiphout [2006], 201ff.):
(1) Enlil praises Kesh and the goddess Nisaba writes down the song
(2) (Enlil approaching the temple), characteristics of the temple seen from the distance
(3) Visual and acoustic impressions of the temple
(4) Dimensions, architecture, colours, and shape of the temple
(5) Purpose of the temple for the gods and humankind
(6) The temple on its inside
(7) The temple on its outside
(8) Continuation of the description of the temple
(9) Cultic personnel and ceremonies
(10) Invitation to come to Kesh and participate at the feast

CDLI entry: P452248
ETCSL translation: 4.80.2

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 15 (2021-12-12)

Prism containing literary letters and dating to the Old Babylonian period; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1922-258.



Within the Old Babylonian scribal education collections of literary letters were used to instruct apprentice scribes. Besides a collection known as Sumerian Epistolary Miscellany (SEpM), of which this prism may serve as example, the school curriculum also knew further collections as, for instance, the Correspondence of the Kings of Ur (CKU) and the Correspondence of the Kings of Larsa (CKL).

This prism in the former Weld-Blundell collection and now part of the Ashmolean Museum is associated with the Sumerian Epistolary Miscellany (SEpM; see A. Kleinerman, Education in Early 2nd Millennium BC Babylonia. The Sumerian Epistolary Miscellany, 2011).

SEpM contains eighteen literary letters and four miscellaneous compositions. These compositions are linked through their epistolary nature and their close relation to the city of Nippur. The prism in the Ashmolean Museum is just linked via SEpM 22 to the afore-mentioned collection. The remaining compositions collected on it, belong to the correspondence of the Kings of Larsa. The prism contains the following compositions:

(1) Inim-Inana to Lugal-ibila (= SEpM 22; ETCSL 3.3.12)
(2) Sin-iddinam to Utu (ETCSL 3.2.05)
(3) Ninszatapada to Rim-Sin
(4) Nanna-mansum to Ninisina
(5) Sin-iddinam to Ninisina

The first literary letter is a quite short composition. Its content is appropriate for a pupil in the Old Babylonian school, whose curriculum mainly consists of Sumerian texts. It contains some instructions for how to treat children at school. The teacher is responsible for them and must not let them go, even if the pupil says so. Intriguing is the first part:

Do not neglect Sumerian! For the second time, I am sending you a message in the proper language.

In the Old Babylonian period, Akkadian was the vernacular. The curriculum of young scribes often betrays that fact. Though pupils had to copy bilingual lists as well, the major part of the curriculum was centred around Sumerian scribal lore.

CDLI entry: P345806

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 14 (2021-12-11)

Old Akkadian incantation with a love-charm of Enki; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1930-143+175h.



Excavations in the area of ancient Kish yielded a substantial number of Old Akkadian texts. This tablet in the Ashmolean Museum was found in the eastern part of the city complex of Kish, called Tell Ingharra. Unfortunately the lack of any precise archaeological record does not allow any further judgements regarding the original location of the tablet. The tablet is written in a fine Old Akkadian ductus.

This tablet is one of the rare examples of incantations that can be dated to the Old Akkadian period (ca. 2340-2200 BC). It is certain that the contents of this tablet are to be interpreted as an incantation "designed to overcome the resistance of a recalcitrant girl against the love of a young man" (Westenholz, A. & J. G. Westenholz. 1977. “Help for rejected suitors. The Old Akkadian Love Incantation MAD V 8,” Orientalia NS 46, 198-219). The composition plays with the topos of the fertile garden, an oft-found feature of love-songs. Many of his motifs and figurative expressions occur in other, later literary compositions as well.

CDLI entry: P285640

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 13 (2021-12-10)

Old Akkadian letter; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1929-160.



The Old Akkadian period (ca. 2340-2200 BC) witnesses the first significant corpus of letters in Mesopotamia.

This letter in the Ashmolean Museum has been published by Ignace J. Gelb (MAD 5, 2; edition in B. Kienast & K. Volk, Die sumerischen und akkadischen Briefe [1995], 141f.; siglum Ki 1). It is a letter of a certain Abbaja to a person named Dudua. Many letters like this one start with the particle en-ma, "thus," a precursor of later umma. In contrast to letters of later periods, which normally start with the addressee's (and therefore are introduced by the preposition ana), Old Akkadian letters generally mention the sender first. There are no blessings involved, even not in longer examples as P213212, a letter in the British Museum.

The body of this letter starts with the intriguing sentence "Why are you not my father?" (mi-num2 u3-la a-bi2 ad-da). The reason for this enigmatic question becomes clear in what follows. It must be noted in any case that kinship terms are frequently used to indicate ranks. Hence "father" refers to an individual higher in rank. The letter-writer goes on: "You not even trust me with 3000 liter barley."

The subsequent sentence bītum eri, lit. "the house is empty," was interpreted in a sense that the letter-writer still makes reproaches: "Is the firm broke?" He assures that he will be able to pay the requested amount of silver. He finally requests a message and Dudua's son to be sent.

CDLI entry: P213213

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 12 (2021-12-09)

Old Babylonian letter sent by Šamaš-hazir to his wife Zinû; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1922-266.



This is one of the few letters addressed to Zinû, who was the wife of Šamaš-hazir. He instructs his wife not to hold back barley and dates, which are destined to be given to the hired workers by Igmil-Sîn. The matter is pressing, because - as Šamaš-hazir mentions - he wrote to Igmil-Sîn regarding the building of ships. In what follows, it seems that Šamaš-hazir entrusts to his wife the endeavor to manage the logistical tasks around the construction:

According to the salary that is given the task shall be fulfilled. Barley and dates may be given out in my absence (lit. without me). They must not be negligent at the construction of the ships. They must not be idle.

Besides Igmil-Sîn Šamaš-hazir instructed also another individual to build a ship. He orders his wife to give out a certain amount of barley and dates for the hired workers.

CDLI entry: P384859

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 11 (2021-12-08)

Old Babylonian letter sent to Šamaš-hazir by Hammurapi; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1923-006.



In this letter in the Ashmolean Museum the ruler Hammurapi of the first dynasty of Babylon (ca. 1792-1750 BC) writes to Šamaš-hāzir, the head of the cadastre office in Larsa. This high official was responsible for the distribution and administration of royal land in the hinterlands of Larsa. Letters such as this example frequently deal with problems of ownership. In this letter a shepherd brought to the king's attention that four years earlier a certain Etel-pî-Marduk took away a field from him and enjoys the outcome ever since. Despite the fact that the shepherd informed Sîn-iddinam, the highest official in the province of Yamutbal, nothing happened.

The king wants this matter investigated and settled, since the shepherd has a sealed document issued in the palace. If his claim is just, he shall be returned the respective field in addition to the amount of barley Etel-pî-Marduk took from it in the previous years. Furthermore the king wants a full report on the matter.

This letter shows quite vividly that the king was directly involved in legal matters as well. Our letter mentions a "divine weapon," which gave divine authority to the judgements the royal official carrying it made. The plots of land were comparatively small. Due to the great amount of complexity registers needed to be kept in order to indicate who had the legal right to receive the usufruct of a field. Šamaš-hāzir's task was to watch over these assignments, which were confirmed by inserting a stake into the respective plots. In order to reclaim a field, when it was unjustly took over, a tenant needed to safeguard the document that asserted his rights.


CDLI entry: P384863

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 10 (2021-12-07)

An Old Babylonian (ca. 1900-1600 BC) legal text in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK. Scanned with a conventional flatbed, the Canon 5600f, by Klaus Wagensonner.



The tablet shown here entered the collection of the Ashmolean Museum in 1926 and was published by G. R. Hunter four years later in the series Oxford Editions of Cuneiform Texts, volume 8, no. 9, republished by E. C. Stone and D. I. Owen, Adoption in Old Babylonian Nippur and the Archive of Mannum-mešu-lissur (= Mesopotamian Civilizations vol. 3) no. 41. It belongs to a group of particularly well-preserved Old Babylonian legal documents in the collection. Most of these texts had envelopes.

This text from Nippur describes the terms of an adoption. It states that Mannum-mešu-lissur purchased the guardianship (nam-en-nu-un) of a statue for 15 days annually, as well as for the same amount of time the custodianship of a gate. These two tasks used to be the prebend of a certain Sin-lidiš. As purchase price for these prebends, Mannum-mešu-lissur paid two shekels of silver “as its full purchase price” (Sumerian sa10-til-la-bi-še3).

Being a legal document, it of course also contains clauses in order to prevent that the seller or his family may lay any claims against this purchase and the prebend-ownership:

In future Sin-lidiš and his heirs, however many there are, are to raise no claim against the guardianship of the statue of the Ekur-igigal (and the custodianship of the) Asala Ubšu-ukkina gate. Thus has he sworn in the name of the king.

This royal oath formula mu lugal-bi in-pa3 is followed by a list of witnesses (including the scribe of the document). The document is dated to the 12th year of the ruler Samsu-iluna, or ca. 1740 BC. Both enclosed document and envelope are sealed. The sealing concentrates on the seal legend and not on the pictorial depiction of the seal cylinder. The text is repeated on the envelope. Following any suspicion of fraud or manipulation of the agreement between the two parties, the envelope could have been opened and the contents of the enclosed tablet inspected.

CDLI entry: P283655

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 9 (2021-12-06)

One of about two dozen texts from Babylonia inscribed with Akkadian or Sumerian texts using a local variant of the Greek alphabet; 1st century AD or possibly even later; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1937-993.



These fragmentary and poorly understood texts testify to the longevity of the cuneiform writing system, and the importance of the cuneiform culture even at a transformational time when Mesopotamia was no longer ruled by native dynasties. A majority of the so-called Greaco-Babyloniaca, but not this exemplar in the Ashmolean Museum, have an inscription in cuneiform on one side and a Greek transcription on the other, and can therefore be described as school exercises.
Ashm 1937-993 is monolingual, but perhaps a transcription of a Sumerian-Akkadian bilingual incantation (Maul 1991), although this has been contested (Geller 1997).

S. M. Maul, “Neues zu den ‛Graeco-Babyloniaca’,” ZA 81 (1991) 87-107.
M. J. Geller, “The Last Wedge,” ZA 87 (1997) 43–95.

CDLI entry: P412445

credit: Dahl, Jacob L.

Ashmolean Museum: 8 (2021-12-05)

Inscribed jar rim dating to the Uruk III period; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1928-445b.



In contrast to Egypt, labeled vessels are a rare sight in Mesopotamia. This shard in the Ashmolean Museum is the rim of a beer jug. The same as the lexical list containing pots and garments shown two days ago, it dates to the Uruk III period (ca. 3200-3000 BC) and originates from the site of Jemdet Nasr.

Interesting are the two signs to the left, one depicting a regular vessel with neck and spout, conventionally transliterated DUGa; the other one the same vessel, but with horizontal markings. Based on later sources as well as on numerous proto-cuneiform accounts documenting the use of malted grain to produce the drink found in DUG vessels, we are confident that this sign represents “beer” (Sumerian kaš). The other two preserved signs are ENa NEa. This sequence occurs several times in Late Uruk administrative documents as well. In a small economic record, for instance, a similar sequence is associated with another variant of the sign KAŠ, although this variant is interpreted by specialists to stand for a dairy product rather than a fermented drink. While not attested in the professions lists of the Uruk period, ENa NEa is most likely to be considered a title or profession.

CDLI entry: P005309

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 7 (2021-12-04)

Thematic lexical list with designations for vessels dating to the Neo-Babylonian period; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1932-518.



The early second millennium saw the emergence of a new set of thematic lists. Most notable is a large multi-thematic series, whose first entry is ur5(HAR)-ra : hubullu (short Hh or Ura). The whole series in its canonical version from the late second millennium onwards contained 24 sections, lit. "tablets."

This large fragment in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum contains the tenth "tablet" of this lexical series. The many other manuscripts known to be part of this section help to reconstruct its original content. The tablet had three columns on each side (this can also be determined from the curvature of the edges). Each column was subdivided into two sub-columns with the Sumerian version on the left and the Akkadian equivalent on the right.

The list starts with the entry DUG : karpatu. Entries 1-336 of the list deal with various designations of vessels that are categorised as DUG. As a marginal note one might add the intriguing detail that in the first column of the tablet the sign DUG appears always on the left edge and not, as expected, on the obverse. This might give clues to the nature of DUG as (mute) classifier in this text.

After a section of various different vessels the second larger part of this list in entries 388-510 contains various designations for clay (IM).

CDLI entry: P451706

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 6 (2021-12-03)

Lexical text containing designations for pots and garments dating to the Uruk III period; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1928-445b.



The lexical tradition in Mesopotamia started already in the 4th millennium. The earliest lexical texts in Mesopotamia date to the Uruk IV period and come from the site of Uruk in Southern Mesopotamia. About 15 % of the texts found at Uruk can be classified as lexical texts, i.e., texts that did not serve an administrative purpose (see a list of the lexical texts from Uruk). The larger part of these texts date to the ensuing Uruk III period (ca. 3200-3000 BC). These word lists can be considered the roots of Mesopotamian lexicography. The manuscripts spread all over Mesopotamia and as far as Syria, where we find copies of them in the ED III-period (ca. 2600-2500 BC).

This example in the Ashmolean Museum contains mainly a list of pots and garments dating to the Uruk III period. Between both section occur short groups of entries, which designate soups and sorts of cheese. It is yet not entirely clear, why the categories pots and garments were combined in one composition. Noteworthy is a long list of entries, which contain the complex graphemes composed of the frame sign DUG and inscribed with different kinds of commodities. It is important to emphasise that most of these sign combinations are not attested in contemporary administrative accounts. The purpose of the exhaustive treatment of sign combinations is, in the current state of our knowledge, to exploit the still young proto-cuneiform writing system. The tablet in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum is one of just two lexical texts found in Jemdet Nasr in Northern Babylonia. It demonstrates that in the Uruk III period at the end of the 4th millennium the lexical texts from Uruk started to spread to other places. Just a bit later versions of some of the Urukean word lists are attested in Ur (see a list of the lexical texts from Ur).

Our text is, however, not attested at Ur. We have to wait until around 2600-2500 in the ED IIIa period that a later version of this list of pots and garments reappears in the textual evidence. These later versions copy Urukean lexical texts mostly entry by entry and therefore serve as templates for the reconstruction of the archaic compositions, which are in fact rather fragmentary. It is SF 64, in particular, whose good preservations makes this text so valuable for the reconstruction of earlier versions.

The archaic list of Pots and Garments finally leaves the stage at the beginning of the second millennium. The only known manuscript so far is unfortunately rather fragmentary. But it is, nevertheless, more than just a copy of the list. It adds pronunciation glosses to the entries and therefore provides important phonetic information.

For the next text artefact to be discussed we will move on to a late stage of lexicography in Mesopotamia: the Neo-Babylonian period, and show another list of pots.

CDLI entry: P000713

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 5 (2021-12-02)

Controlling the means of production in the 4th millennium BC; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1926-583.



One of the most significant inscribed objects from ancient Mesopotamia, this text records a large tract of land divided among the important members of society, showing the emerging hierarchization of early complex society. Conventioanlly referred to as the ‘field of the EN’ account, it contains area calculations for six large fields. It has been shown that the scribes prepared this particular distribution of productive land by dividing a grand total into three equal thirds, allotting two to the EN (later Sumerian ‘lord’), and dividing the other third unevenly amongst five high officials. One of these is the EN-SAL, whom some have interpreted as ‘wife of the EN.’ The text provides evidence of the role of scribal administrators in the distribution of resources, thus providing stark textual evidence for the socio-economic stratification of society in the earliest phases of recorded history.

Edition: H. J. Nissen, P. Damerow & R. K. Englund, Archaic Bookkeeping: Writing and Techniques of Economic Administration in the Ancient Near East, Chicago 1993: University of Chicago Press, pp. 55-57.

CDLI entry: P005069

credit: Kelley, Karthryn E.

Ashmolean Museum: 4 (2021-12-01)

Wool account of Ur-E'e, ‘chief cattle administrator’ and member of the ruling family of Umma, dating to the Ur III period; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1924-666.



The economic importance of the office of ‘chief cattle administrator’ (Sumerian šuš3) is elucidated from a broken, but still powerful, series of accounts of sheep and goats and their products from the Umma province. These records include SET 130, SET 273, and the top-level account Ashm 1924-666, a wool-account concerning the governor. The third year of Amar-Suen is particularly well documented, since both SET 273 and Ashm 1924-666 covered that year. Both of these accounts dealt with wool, and both belong to the standard type having a “debits” section and a “credits” section. In both accounts, the value of the “debits” surpassed that of the “credits” resulting in a “deficit” recorded just prior to the colophon. One text (SET 273), was a wool account concerning Ur-E’e, a “chief cattle administrator” of the governor of Umma, the other (Ashm 1924-666) a wool account concerning the governor himself. The three first entries of each account (following the “remainder” [si-i3-tum]) are identical. The amount of wool recorded in the account of Ur-E’e is approximately one third of the amount recorded in the account of the governor. The account of the governor is likely to have recorded the entire production of the province, making Ur-E’e and his colleague (presumably En-KAS) responsible for the majority of the Umma wool-production.

Although a crucial section of Ashm 1924-666 is not preserved, and although we are left with only Ur-E’e’s wool-account from that year, it is clear that Ur-E’e and En-KAS shared the responsibility for the largest part of the Umma sheep and goat production.

See J. L. Dahl, The ruling family of Ur III Umma: A Prosopographical Analysis of an Elite Family in Southern Iraq 4000 Years Ago, Leiden 2007: 88-91.

CDLI entry: P142826

credit: Dahl, Jacob L.

Ashmolean Museum: 3 (2021-11-30)

Old Babylonian four-sided prism containing a forerunner to the lexical series Diri; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Ashm 1923-401.



The Ashmolean Museum houses an astonishing number of four-sided prisms, originally part of the Weld-Blundell collection. This example contains a forerunner to the lexical series Diri and is known as "Diri Oxford". Its continuation (with some parts overlapping) is written on yet another prism (Ashm 1923-400).

This lexical series, whose first entry in the late canonical version reads diri : SI.A : (w)atru, "surpassing," can be considered a complex sign vocabulary giving Sumerian readings for logogram groups. In this respect, it supplements the second major sign syllabary Ea : A : nâqu. In their canonical version the entries in both series follow the same pattern: the first column is reserved for syllabically written sign-readings for logograms (or, in the case of Diri, complex logogram groups), which are given in the second column. In late versions of both lists, a third column contains analytical explanations for the sign(s) used in the second column. A fourth column, finally, provides an Akkadian translation or equivalent. The readings in Diri cannot be directly inferred from the constituents of the logogram groups.

Both prisms in the Ashmolean Museum are "forerunners" inasmuch as, first, no sign-readings are given and, second, the later standardized version differs in respect to the number of entries and their sequence. Given the first observation, the prisms differ from other more or less contemporary sources that provide sign-readings and therefore add this important lexical layer.

CDLI entry: P447992

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ashmolean Museum: 2 (2021-11-29)

Upper half of the first tablet of the Babylonian Epic of Creation, Enuma Elish.



Enuma Elish is a mythological tale describing a power struggle amongst the gods. Often called ‘The Babylonian Creation Epic’, it relates battle and intrigue at the very beginning of the cosmos, with creation of the human world as the end result of a stable universe. The myth describes the rise of Marduk, the only god powerful enough to defeat the armies of the sea-goddess Tiamat, how, through his victory, he becomes the supreme god in the Babylonian pantheon. The bodies of the defeated gods are turned into the basic elements of the new world: underground rivers, the earth, and the sky. Marduk orders his realm by establishing the dwelling places of the gods, determining the courses of the sun and the moon, and regulating the lengths of days. Finally, he creates man: ‘He shall be charged with the service of the gods, so that they may be at ease!’
Tablet I sows the seeds of the conflict. When the god Apsu plots the murder of his rebellious children, the god Ea kills him before he can execute the plan. Marduk is born, a fully-grown and formidable warrior, and Tiamat spawns an army to avenge her dead husband.

The opening lines of the poem (from which it takes its name) are partly preserved on our Ashmolean tablet:
When on high the skies were not yet named,
When below the earth had not been named,
Apsu was supreme, their ancestor,
Tiamat was creator, the mother of all.
The Ashmolean tablet was excavated at Kish in Southern Mesopotamia in 1924 by the 1923-1933 joint expedition of the University of Oxford and the Chicago Field Museum.

Translation:
Dalley, S., Myths from Mesopotamia, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Foster, B., Before the Muses, Bethesda, Md.: CDL Press, 2005.

Primary publication of this tablet (cuneiform text):
Langdon, S., Oxford Editions of Cuneiform Texts 6, Paris : Librairie orientaliste P. Geuthner, 1927.

CDLI entry: P450752.

credit: Wisnom, L. Selena

Ashmolean Museum: 1 (2021-11-28)

The Weld-Blundell Prism/The Sumerian King List. From mythical rulers, including Gilgamesh, to historical figures, this document lists an ideologically significant series of Mesopotamian kings.



The Sumerian King List (SKL) is an important chronographic document from ancient Mesopotamia. It lists a long succession of cities in Sumer and its neighboring regions where kingship was invested, the rulers who reigned in those cities, and the length of their reigns. The list starts with the remote mythical past when kingship had descended from heaven. The rulers in the earliest dynasties are described as reigning for fantastically long periods. Some of these rulers, such as Etana, Lugalbanda and Gilgamesh, are mythical or legendary figures known also from Sumerian and Babylonian literary in their royal inscriptions, the length of their reigns becomes more realistic. The King List ends with the reign of a Mesopotamian ruler presumably contemporaneous with the author or redactor of the SKL.

Following is the passage regarding the Old Akkadian period (ca. 2340-2200 BC) (a recently published manuscript dating to the Ur III period exchanges the reigns of Rimush and Man-ishtusu):

In Agade, Sargon, whose father was a gardener, the cupbearer of Ur-Zababa, became king, the king of Agade, who built Agade: he ruled for 56 years. Rimush, the son of Sargon, ruled for 9 years. Man-ishtusu, the older brother of Rimush, the son of Sargon, ruled for 15 years. Naram-Suen, the son of Man-ishtusu, ruled for 56 years. Shar-kali-sharri, the son of Naram-Suen, ruled for 25 years. 157 are the years of the dynasty of Sargon. Then who was king? Who was not king?

See: Jacobsen, Thorkild. 1939. The Sumerian King List. AS 11. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

CDLI entry: P384786
cdli:wiki entry: Sumerian King List
ETCSL: Translation

credit: Yi Chen, Samuel

Manchester Museum: 15 (2021-11-27)

Neo-Assyrian legal text; Manchester Museum, University of Manchester; MMUM 35460.



The Neo-Assyrian period (ca. 911-612 BC) is best portrayed by the huge numbers of Assyrian reliefs depicting the kings and their deeds. Other cornerstones of our knowledge of the Neo-Assyrian period are the “State Archives” of Assyria, and, of course, the scholarly transmission of literary and lexical texts, omens, medical and magical compendia in the vast Kuyunjik collection of Nineveh, gathered by the last powerful king Ashurbanipal (and maybe his predecessor Esarhaddon).

This tablet in the Manchester University Museum is a legal document dating to this—in terms of textual and archeological data—rich period. This kind of tablet shape is well documented in the period and is also found on texts in the Kuyunjik collection (now in the British Museum). An example is K 318a, which is in fact an envelope that has been sealed—as our example—with three stamp seals. A further example is K 313. The documents start by identifying the seal—either cylinder seal, stamp seal or impressions of finger nail marks. In our case it is the seal of an individual named Ha-za-a-a-an.

Formally I’d entifying obverse and reverse of these documents can be difficult. One expects the seal impression on the reverse. The case is clear after the important date formula is identified, which normally is expected at the end of the document. Neo-Assyrian documents are dated using eponyms. On the left edge there is additionally a personal name written in Aramaic.

CDLI entry: P432454

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 14 (2021-11-26)

Fragment of a letter dating to the Old Assyrian period; Manchester Museum, University of Manchester; MMUM 35416.



The collection of the Manchester University Museum keeps a couple of texts dating to the Old Assyrian period (ca. 1950-1850 BC). Yesterday's text artefact was an envelope that probably can be dated to the same period. There are no complete Old Assyrian texts in the collection, but some fragments.

Among these fragmentary tablets is this example containing a letter. Unfortunately, just the upper half of the tablet is preserved. Old Assyrian letters use an easily recognisable tablet shape. For a complete example see a letter in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. These letters originate mainly from the merchants' settlement in Kanesh, the modern site of Kültepe in central Anatolia. There, 22,000 texts were discovered. Further texts dating to this period and showing similar physical characteristics come from smaller sites in Anatolia.

The bulk of the Old Assyrian texts from Kültepe does not originate from archaeological diggings. Therefore, they lack important stratigraphic information. Many collections bought tablets on the antiquities market, and hence Old Assyrian texts and fragments are nowadays rather dispersed. A major collection of tablets - letters in particular - are nowadays kept in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The body of the letters starts directly after the address. It does not contain any blessing so commonly known from the slightly later Old Babylonian correspondence.

CDLI entry: P431268

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 13 (2021-11-25)

Clay envelope dating to the Old Assyrian period; Manchester Museum, University of Manchester; MMUM 35427.



Business documents were frequently clad into clay envelopes in order to protect the tablet inside against any manipulation. Sometimes the content of the enclosed document is repeated (at least in abbreviated form) on the outer surface of the envelope. If there is any suspicion about the validity of the legal transaction, they envelope could be broken and the original be verified. Envelopes often bear seals.

This example in the Manchester University Museum dates to the Old Assyrian period (ca. 1950-1850 BC). The collection keeps a couple of text artefacts dating to this period. Broken envelopes as this one were often discarded after being opened. Hence the original tablet enclosed in this envelope is, so far, not known (and the text that can be seen in the positive impression on the inside of the envelope is too fragmentary for a sound identification.

Remarkable are the two preserved seal impressions, one showing a contest scene (referring back to Early Dynastic models), the other showing a couchant bull supporting an object (probably not the "winged gate" known from Old Akkadian seals, but maybe a kind of altar). Before that bull men are falling from an equid that is depicted above them. This scene is separated by a snake-like divider from another scene showing, most likely, individuals bringing offerings before a deity(?).

CDLI entry: P431279

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 12 (2021-11-24)

Old Babylonian legal text; Manchester Museum, University of Manchester.



This small document dating to the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900-1600 BC) contains a receipt for barley (edition: Szlechter, Tablettes juridiques et administratives, pp. 94f.). Two harvesters (Hurussu and Belšunu) received 270 liters of barley. In the first two lines their respective shares are noted. The verb is given in Sumerian (šu-ba-an-ti-e-meš): "they received." They testified this receipt by impressing their respective seals. Their seals are labelled on the left edge.

The text dates to the 10th year of Ammi-saduqa. Before the witnesses and the date the text ends with the legal clause u2-ul i-il-la-ku-ma / ki-ma s,i-im-da-at šar-ri, "if they don't come, (then the penalty is according) to the royal decree."

CDLI entry: P315369

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 11 (2021-11-23)

Old Babylonian sale contract; Manchester Museum, University of Manchester.



This document dating to the 21st year of the Old Babylonian king Ammi-ditana contains a sale contract (edition: Szlechter, Tablettes juridiques et administratives, pp. 48ff.). It contains two items: (1) six sheep (value: 18 2/3 shekel of silver) and (2) two oxen (value: 24 shekel of silver). These animals are the igisû-offering for the first and seventh month. They belong to the herald of Inana-of-Uruk and constitute the levy (nemettum) owed to a certain Nanaya-ibnišu.

Noteworthy is the following clause in the text: "He will give his calculation to PN, when PN inspects and buys(?) the cattle and sheep, PN2 will step up and pay the silver, his calculation, he will pay the silver for the rations of the sukkallu and the tax collector for his calculation."

CDLI entry: P315365

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 10 (2021-11-22)

Old Babylonian legal text concerning the division of inheritance; Manchester Museum, University of Manchester; MMUM 35392.



This is another example of the Old Babylonian legal texts kept in the Manchester University Museum (edition: Szlechter, Tablettes juridiques et administratives, pp. 10ff.). The text dates to the 33rd year of Ammi-ditana. The date is given on the top edge of the tablet following a long list of witnesses.

The main section of the text testifying the legal act is indented, leaving space for the impression of a cylinder seal in the left third of the obverse and the reverse. This was done in order to keep the seal legend visible and therefore authenticate the document properly. In fact, the whole surface of the tablet is sealed.

The text is about the share of inheritance. It starts with twp properties of land, one in the area of Habus. This location is known, among others, from several letters from the Kish area. A part of this corpus is in the John Rylands Library in Manchester and was edited by Kraus in AbB 10. Another, larger, lot of letters in the British Museum is currently being prepared for publication by John Nicholas Reid and Klaus Wagensonner. Besides the two properties the inheritance included two slaves and a certain amount of gold as well.

Unfortunately the middle part of the text is broken away. On the reverse it is stated that there is not to be put claim against the sister of the inheritors, who is identified as naditum-priestess of Marduk in Babylon. This mention led Szlechter to the assumption that the document might originate from Babylon. Nevertheless, regarding the clauses used for the inheritance share, he concluded that this tablet in fact originates from Kish, and this confirms the provenience of the letters mentioned above.

CDLI entry: P315372

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 9 (2021-11-21)

Old Babylonian legal text concerning the lease of land; Manchester Museum, University of Manchester; MMUM 35400.



This is another of the quite substantial number of legal and judicial documents dating to the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900-1600 BC) and kept in the Manchester University Museum. The state of preservation of this tablet is quite good. Though sometimes faint, the whole surface is sealed. As was common practice, the seal legend was featured predominantly, while its figurative scene on the seal was of less importance. The space before the date formula at the bottom of the reverse was left empty in order to carry the whole seal legend without being obstructed by text. There is no area on the tablet (not even on the left edge), where the whole seal was impressed. Even there the seal legend predominates. (For another example see P264844).

The document dates to the 31st year of the Old Babylonian king Ammi-ditana (edition: Szlechter, Tablettes juridiques et administratives, pp. 62ff.) The date formula starts at the bottom of the reverse mentioned month, day, and finally the year name, which extends towards the top edge. The document concerns tenant farming. It states that 30 acres of arable land, which are in the possession of the naditum-priestess Dan-erissa, are leased by Rish-Marduk in order to cultivate them. The rent for one year will be measured out at the gate of the gagûm.

The collection contains several of such lease documents. Another well preserved example is P315378, which dates to the 14th year of Ammi-saduqa and concerns 30 acres of land as well.

CDLI entry: P315350

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 8 (2021-11-20)

Lexical text containing designations for trees; Manchester Museum, University of Manchester.



The Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900-1600 BC) is one of the major epochs in the emergence of lexical lists in Mesopotamia. The earliest lexical tradition goes back to the end of the 4th millennium. The (mostly thematic) lists compiled in southern Uruk were to a great extent meticulously transmitted throughout the 3rd millennium and even into the 2nd. Nevertheless, in this long time span “new” lists emerged, some of them thematic, others containing entries whose arrangement followed graphical characteristics.

The major thematic series that emerged in the Old Babylonian period is a series whose first entry reads ur5-ra : ḫubullum. In its late stage, this multi-thematic series consisted of 24 tablets containing several thousand Sumerian terms together with their Akkadian equivalents.

The main evidence for the early stages of this series originates from Nippur and to a great extent from the school tradition. In fact, the huge numbers of school tablets found in several (private) houses in Nippur’s residential quarters (foremost the so-called “House F”) served to reconstruct the “Nippurean” school curriculum. Besides copying lexical texts, an apprentice’s duty also was to master his skills in copying more complex, literary texts.

This large tablet in the Manchester University Museum contains a long list of trees and wooden objects, and can be identified as a forerunner to the third tablet of ur5-ra : ḫubullum. It dates to the Old Babylonian period and seems to originate from a school milieu. The columns—sa far as the are preserved—are not spaced very carefully. There is just one column of text on the reverse. The remaining space is already divided into columns, hence prepared to be filled with further entries.

CDLI entry: P432448

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 7 (2021-11-19)

Administrative text dating to the Ur III period; Manchester Museum, University of Manchester, MMUM 35469.



This administrative account originates from the rich documentation of Umma. Thanks to its year-name, the text can be dated to the second year of the king Šu-Suen. It records a quite substantial number of boating implements. First, it accounts for 790 gešumbin ma2. The Sumerian word umbin generally means finger or toe nail, but in this context it designates a part of the boat (possible the planks). The second group of items listed is surely destined for the construction of a boat. In this instance, 59,290 wooden nails are issued. This is a number unparalleled in the corpus. Another document (MVN 16, 834) mentions 18,000 of the same sort of nails.

The early publication of this tablet completely ignored the seal impression covering most of its surface. In many text publications, even of later date, just the legend on the text was impressed, something like current letter-heads used in official correspondence. The impression on the reverse shows that it was important to Babylonian scribes that the legend remain clearly visible. This particular seal, belonging to a certain Ur-Nungal, is well-known in the Ur III period. Another and more complete impression of the same seal can be found on several texts in the John Rylands Library, also in Manchester. The example shown here to the lower right is JRL 872, a pyramidal-shaped clay label. Its “base” was sealed with the same cylinder seal. Texts like these help to reconstruct partial or partly preserved seal impressions (of this particular seal, some 171 artifact witnesses are currently known in the CDLI files).

CDLI entry: P112293

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 6 (2021-11-18)

Old Babylonian legal text concerning the exchange of houses; Manchester Museum, University of Manchester.



This legal text in the Manchester University Museum dates to the 23rd year of Samsu-iluna in the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900-1600 BC). The text records the exchange of two finished houses (e2 du3-a). The location of the first house is given by providing information about adjacent buildings. The front side lies on “broad street” (line 4: sila dagal-la). This house is exchanged for a slightly larger one belonging to the entum priestess of the god Zababa.

Intriguing is the mention that “by directive of the king” (ina qabê šarrim) three individuals (among them the mayor [Akk. rabiānum] of Kish and a certain Munawwirum, who might be identical with a well-known individual in Kishite letters) would transfer the property.

The text closes with a long list of witnesses, a common feature of such texts, and a date formula (edition: Szlechter, Tablettes juridiques et administratives, pp. 53ff.)

CDLI entry: P315377

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 5 (2021-11-17)

Middle Assyrian letter; Manchester Museum, University of Manchester; MMUM 35346.



The Manchester University Museum keeps a couple of letters that date to the Middle Assyrian period (ca. 1400-1000 BC). The full corpus of letters dating to this period is not large. In a recent survey, Jaume Llop (AuOr 30 [2012]) presents an updated list of 238 published and unpublished texts originating primarily from the political centers Assur and Kar-Tukulti-Ninurta. Others come from such provincial centers in the kingdom as Tell Sheh Hamad and Tell Chuera.

This kind of tablet shape, with its square outline and slightly rounded corners, was already known in the Old Babylonian period, where it was—though rarely—used for letters as well (see, e.g., P385540). This format differs substantially from common rectangular tablets (for an example, see yesterday’s text).

Middle Assyrian letters, however, exhibit some intriguing differences. Although the address formula follows older examples (“To so-and-so speak, thus so-and-so”), in letters of the late 2nd millennium BC the address is separated from the body of the letter by a lined ruling. This kind of text separation can be also observed in the Middle Babylonian correspondence found in Amarna in Egypt. Letters of the Middle Assyrian period, as this example in Manchester, may contain a date. Another feature found quite frequently in this corpus is the indentation of lines in the area of the lower left corner.

This well-preserved example originates from Assur (excavation no. Ass. 14410; see Llop, AuOr 30 [2012] no. 45). It belongs to the archive of Babu-aḫa-iddina mentioned in our text. The letter is addressed to two individuals named Assur-bela-šallim and [Assur]-zuquppani by a certain Nabu-belu-da’iq. The text can be classified as a letter order and belongs therefore to the larger group of official correspondence.

As the sender of letter indicates, he writes on behalf of Babu-aḫa-iddina. He requests a report about the available wax (gaba-lal3; edition: Freydank & Saporetti, Babu-aḫa-iddina. Die Texte, 74, MCS 2, 14 2). A new edition and commentary including hand-copy is forthcoming (K. Wagensonner, CDLN 2014:013).

CDLI entry: P431253

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 4 (2021-11-16)

Old Babylonian letter; Manchester Museum, University of Manchester; MMUM 35413.



The John Rylands Library houses a substantial set of Old Babylonian (ca. 1900-1600 BC) letters, but only a negligible number of Old Babylonian administrative and legal texts. The collection of the Manchester University Museum, on the other hand, has a relatively large number of administrative texts dating to the early 2nd millennium. This text is one of the few letters in the Manchester Museum dating to the Old Babylonian period.

In this letter the sender, a certain Marduk-ḫazir complains about the lack of the addressee’s support. Obviously,transfer it to other, more capable hands so that it could be properly tended (see the edition in Kraus, AbB 10, no. 52):

Regarding the management of the field and of the requirements about which my servant Apil-ilišu asked you, don’t be negligent! Cultivate the field ... and use (its harvest). Or give it over to other hands, in order that it may be cultivated!

CDLI entry: P431267

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 3 (2021-11-15)

Rectangular stone prism containing an Old Babylonian royal inscription; Manchester Museum, University of Manchester; MMUM 35447.



Among the text artifacts in the Manchester University Museum is this rectangular prism fashioned out of limestone. The inscription is nicely carved into the stone and follows the conventions of those on clay tablets. This can be seen on the left surface that imitates the direction of the script with lines turned 90 degrees.

The inscription is certainly royal. Although we know the use of archaizing sign forms from later royal inscriptions, the sign-forms in this text may favor an Old Babylonian date (ca. 1900-1600 BC). The text of the “left edge” appears to be divided into two columns. Unfortunately, the surface is quite worn out. Nevertheless, short passages can be understood. Thus, we find an interesting reference to the Old Babylonian king Abi-ešuḫ. The passage reads provisionally: “Abi-ešuḫ brought them to fall with the weapon up to three times" (left edge, i:2-5: a-bi-e-šu-uh ... / a-di ša-la-ši-šu / in ka-ak-ki-im / u2-ša-/am-qi2\-is?-su-nu-ti).

Despite a long reign of 28 years, just two inscriptions are thus far known that can be directly assigned to this king. Alternatively, and since large portions of the text are lost, the text might just refer back to his reign.

CDLI entry: P432449

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 2 (2021-11-14)

Late Babylonian šu-il2-la for Marduk; Manchester Museum, University of Manchester; MMUM 35412.



In 1952, Fish published a hand-copy of this text (see Fish, MCS 2, 61f.) as a hymn to the god Marduk. In the next issue of the Manchester Cuneiform Studies, the Sumerologist Adam Falkenstein drew attention to the duplicates already published by Weissbach in his Miscellen, plts. 13-14. In his hand-copy, Fish omitted most of the text on the reverse, remarking that the “reverse is hardly legible,” just the composition’s subscript and the colophon.

Following the CDLI’s imaging mission to the Manchester University Museum, it is now clear that the reverse is by no means in such a bad condition. The text fits well to the remaining manuscripts of this type of composition.

The text is a late bilingual Sumerian-Akkadian prayer of the šu-il2-la-type that was used in public worship (see, for a discussion and edition, Jerrold S. Cooper, “A Sumerian šu-íl-la from Nimrud with a prayer for Sin-szar-iškun,” Iraq 32 [1970] 51-67). Basically, it contains a list of cities, temples and deities, followed by a refrain. The Sumerian mostly uses the so-called Emesal-dialect attested in other prayers. Beyond our Manchester text, now to be considered one of the better preserved examplars, four further manuscripts are known, among others K 4933 in the Kuyunjik collection of the British Museum.

CDLI entry: P432447

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 1 (2021-11-13)

Six-column tablet with Sumerian liturgical text dating to the Old Babylonian period, Manchester Museum, University of Manchester; MMUM 35516.



The museum collection of the Manchester University Museum contains roughly 200 cuneiform artifacts, of which a great percentage are Old Babylonian legal and administrative documents.

Among the few literary texts in the collection, one tablet stands out. It is a unique, well-preserved tablet with six columns of text containing a Sumerian literary composition. Although the provenience of this tablet is unknown, it certainly can be dated to the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900-1600 BC), a major period for the compilation and transmission of Sumerian literature.

The composition is sub-divided into stanzas. Following Bendt Alster’s discussion of the text these coincide with the shift of speakers (for an edition and study see B. Alster, “The Manchester Tammuz,” ASJ 14 [1992] 1ff.). The main players are the goddess Inanna, her spouse Dumuzi, and their audience.

The composition can be regarded as an accumulation of songs that might originally have been independent texts. Compilation tablets (German Sammeltafeln) are quite common in the Old Babylonian period. VAT 7025 in the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin, is another example with tablet contains four Sumerian literary compositions.

CDLI entry: P355698

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Shalmaneser III: 4 (2021-11-12)

The Black Obelisk (detail 3)



In this detail from the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III we see the king, holding a bow, and facing an emblem of the sun god Shamash. The bow is symbolic of the function of the king as warrior and great hunter. Outside of this detail, on the whole image we can see his field marshal, and another official, symbolic representations of the king as great warrior and as head of government.

CDLI entry: P423554

credit: Shifflette, William

Shalmaneser III: 3 (2021-11-11)

The Black Obelisk (detail 2)



In this scene from the Black Obelisk, tribute from Patina is being brought to the great king Shalmaneser. Patina was rich in silver, gold, tin and ivory. These materials would have constituted the tribute of this ambassador.

CDLI entry: P423554

credit: Shifflette, William

Shalmaneser III: 2 (2021-11-10)

The Black Obelisk (detail 1)



This detail from the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III depicts Jehu of Omri, king of Jerusalem. Jehu was king of Israel during the 9th century BC, and is depicted kissing the feet of Shalmaneser. This is illustrative of the relationship between Israel and the Assyrian state, which shifted between a state of vassalage and an annexed territory. By kissing the king’s feet, he is showing that he is a vassal ruler of Shalamaneser, and that Israel was a vassal state at the time the Kalhu was established.

CDLI entry: P423554

credit: Shifflette, William

Shalmaneser III: 1 (2021-11-09)

The Black Obelisk (complete)



The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III was erected in 825 BC and it stood in the courtyard of one of the central buildings of Kalhu (mod. Nimrud). Its stepped top is thought to imitate the shape of a ziggurat, and though the exact purpose of the stele is not known with certainty, this visual cue may be a reference to one or more of the gods of the Neo-Assyrian pantheon. Kalhu was the center of a renewed Assyrian state, and this obelisk served as a tribute and description of the greatness, power and achievements of the king. Its four-sided layout allowed the king’s artists to highlight certain high-points of the inauguration and recent triumphal history of the king. A few of these scenes have been selected to accompany this pictorial representation of the obelisk in full form.

CDLI entry: P423554 (Oracc’s page)

credit: Shifflette, William

Monumental inscriptions: Lamassu (2021-11-08)

A human-headed winged bull used as a genie to protect the city. Found in Sargon II’s capital of Dur Sarukhin, they were spread across seven entrances of the palace.



When Sargon II founded his new capital of Dur Sarukhin, he enclosed it within a wall that had seven entrances. In front of those entrances were the lamassu. Their purpose was to both protect the city and to serve as an object that would bear the weight of the arches above. The lamassu are believed to have represented different deities. Their inclusion of a human head, a bull’s body, and wings were meant to convey the meaning of encompassing all life within them, thus their nature of protection. Furthermore, when looking at them from the front, on thinks that they are standing, but when looking at them from the side, they seem to be walking. Whatever their true purpose may have been, the lamassu still continue to amaze with their beautiful designs.

credit: Aslanyan, Rafayel

Monumental inscriptions: The Decorations on Ashurnasirpal II’s Robes (2021-11-07)

The decorations of Ashurnasirpal II’s robes depict the king in a popular ceremony of fertilization. The decoration was found on one of the reliefs in the king’s palace of Nimrud.



The scene that decorates the edges of the king’s robes, as mentioned before depicts the scene of fertilization. Having a fertile land in ancient Mesopotamia was one of the important aspects of the daily lives of the people if not the most important. The scene shows a winged creature, most likely Assur, assisting the king in dipping the pinecone, which is in the right hand (the masculine hand) into the bucket of the left hand (the feminine hand). Then sprinkling the tree in front of them in order to have fertile land. The significance of this scene is that is shows the bond between the king and the God – showing that the king is the representative of the God on Earth. Furthermore, the sheer amount of detail that went into these reliefs shows how important the palatial propaganda was to the elites and to the people.

credit: Aslanyan, Rafayel

Monumental inscriptions: The Throne Base of Shalmaneser III (2021-11-06)

The Throne Base of Shalmaneser III was discovered in Fort Shalmaneser. It depicts the king grasping the hand of Marduk-zakir-Sumi, king of Babylonia.



The scene is meant to show Shalmaneser’s support of Marduk-zakir-Sumi in his efforts against the latter’s rebellious brother Marduk-bel-usati. Shalmaneser III’s reign was one that was full of rebellions all throughout the empire. Thus, Shalmaneser III had to carefully maneuver through the political scene of the time in order to not isolate himself from the others. The scene at of the throne base is a testimony to the diplomatic relations that Shalmaneser III established in order to keep the empire in tact. While most of the Assyrian reliefs are of military might and punishment, this one is of grace and diplomacy towards a friend. So, the relief shows that the Assyrians knew that in order to keep the balance they would have to respect the local rulers as well.

credit: Aslanyan, Rafayel

Monumental inscriptions: The Black Obelisk (2021-11-05)

The Black Obelisk is a Neo-Assyrian base relief sculpture commemorating the achievements of Shalmaneser III. It was found in the city of Nimrud and is one of the few well preserved obelisks.



The Black Obelisk includes five scenes of tribute. Each one is depicted using four panels and each represents a tribute given from a different region. Also each one of the scenes has a cuneiform script that identifies the scene. The regions depicted are, Sua of Gilzanu (Northwest Iran), Jehu of Bit Omri (Ancient Israel), An Unnamed Ruler of Musri (Probably Egypt), Marduk-Apil-Usur of Suhi (Middle Euphrates, Syria and Iraq), and Qalparunda of Patin (Antakya Region of Turkey). The significance of this piece is that it shows the extent of the Assyrian Empire. The obelisk presents different people from different regions paying tribute to the all powerful king of Assyria, thus showing that by the time of Shalmaneser III, Assyria was a regional superpower and encompassed many different people.

CDLI entry: P423554

credit: Aslanyan, Rafayel

Manumental inscriptions: The Banquet Stele (2021-11-04)

The Banquet Stele was found in 1951 in the city of Nimrud near the doorway of Assurnasirpal II’s throne room. The purpose of the stele was to commemorate the inauguration of the new capital.



The inscription on the stele here (to the upper right, an Iraqi workman standing next to the artifact in situ) tells of a grand party that was attended by thousands and of the astonishing amount of food that was prepared for the guests. The stele also boasts about Assurnasirpal II’s accomplishments in the theater of war, citing his successful campaigns in the surrounding regions such as Urartu and Lebanon. Furthermore, apart from the inscription itself, the contents include various divine symbols and the king himself. Also in the description are the creation of various gardens and the reconstruction of older temples. Apart from being a commemorative piece, the purpose of the stele was to support the propaganda of the all-powerful king and to boast to the people of his accomplishments. It must be mentioned that the city of Nimrud had existed prior to Ashurnasirpal II, but the stele tells of the establishment of the city as the new capital. Thus, creating a bond between the new king and the city which would not have been the same had the capital been left in Assur.

CDLI entry: Q004484

credit: Aslanyan, Rafayel

Lachish: 5 (2021-11-03)

Detail of the relief of the siege of Lachish portraying deportees being paraded in front of Sennacherib.



On the left, deportees appear with hands upraised in positions of obeisance. Sennacherib is on the right side seated on a throne with attendants. Within the Neo-Assyrian empire, deportations were utilized for a variety of purposes. In the case of Lachish, the deportations occurred due to the prior Judean rebellion, therefore these deportations likely functioned as both punishment and as a way to exercise greater control over the empire through resettlement in foreign lands. Note the prominent position that Sennacherib has in the relief. The king is raised above the surroundings as he sits on an elevated throne. An inscription appears on either side of his head, which further portrays the importance of this figure to both illiterate and literate. The inscription in this detail states that Sennacherib is the king of the world who sits on a throne as the booty of Lachish passes before him. The king’s face was damaged in antiquity, perhaps by successive rulers or by foreign conquerors.

Image source

credit: Williams, Jeremy I.

Lachish: 4 (2021-11-02)

Two details of the relief of the siege of Lachish depicting the flaying and impaling of Judean captives.



The detail on the left shows three prisoners being impaled by Assyrian soldiers. In the relief, this image is located above captives who are walking away from the city, in front of the gate of Lachish. All three men are naked with heads sagging, suggesting that they are deceased. It is unclear as to whether this image was intended to have taken place during or after the battle. If the impaling occurred during the battle, it would certainly serve as an example of what may happen to inhabitants if they did not surrender. If the scene occurred following the siege, it may have functioned as a deterrent for future rebellion as well as a display of Assyrian power. The impaled prisoner on the far right is positioned in front of the other two and occupies the tallest stake, which is being stabilized or set in place by two soldiers. Some understand these details as suggesting that this particular captive was a prominent leader of Lachish, perhaps a governor or commander. This extreme form of humiliation and torture would also function to show the immense power of Sennacherib over the elite leader of this city. The detail on the right similarly depicts naked Judean captives, yet in this case, the prisoners are depicted as being flayed alive. With great detail, the artist shows the ribs of the Judeans, suggesting a lack of food in the city of Lachish during the siege.

Image source1, source2

credit: Williams, Jeremy I.

Lachish: 3 (2021-11-01)

Detail of neo-Assyrian slingers on the relief of the siege of Lachish.



Defensive, and offensive weapons abound in depictions found in ancient art and literature. It will not surprise anyone that the sling is one of the oldest and simplest weapons of antiquity, yet it is rarely portrayed in the Iron Age apart from Assyrian works. No less than 66 slingers are depicted in the various reliefs of Sennacherib (705-681 BC). Nevertheless, the ancient slingers only appear in such limited contexts as this scene of the siege of Lachish. Engaged soldiers are stationed behind archers at the back of the attacking neo-Assyrian troops, suggesting that the range for slingers was greater than that of archers. Lachish’s excavated flint sling stones measured approximately 5-6 cm in width, further demonstrting the presence of these skilled marksmen in battle. Seventy slingers would have sufficed to launch a crippling barrage of stones against the city’s defenders.

Image source

credit: Williams, Jeremy I.

Lachish: 2 (2021-10-31)

Detail of the scene depicting the siege of Lachish (701 BC), portraying the assault on a tower by means of a battering ram.



The Neo-Assyrians are well known for their military tactics. With great detail, the artist depicted the attack of the city of Lachish, located in the southern Levant. On the lower left, a battering ram is depicted going up the siege ramp. It is unclear whether these siege engines were built on site, but this may well be the case as the Neo-Assyrians regularly cut down trees as part of general siege tactics. The battering rams were pushed up the ramps with archers and others following for protection. In all, the relief contains five battering rams on top of the siege ramp. This may be an indication of the importance of the battle as there are rarely more than two depicted in a single siege. These machines are depicted in Neo-Assyrian reliefs as early as Ashurnasirpal. With regard to Judean defense tactics, the relief depicts a variety of ways that inhabitants of Lachish may have defended themselves. Here, archers are depicted defending a tower. Additionally, there appear to be burning torches being thrown down onto attackers. Elsewhere in the relief, four chariots or carts are portrayed as being thrown down onto the Assyrians. The vehicles appear to be on fire as they are falling down. Some understand these to represent war chariots being used as weapons as they were no longer useful in the battle.

Image source

credit: Williams, Jeremy I.

Lachish: 1 (2021-10-30)

Large view of Sennacherib’s relief of the siege of Lachish (701 BC) discovered in his palace at Nineveh, today housed in the British Museum.



The relief depicted here in laborious hand copy carries two separate scenes occurring sequentially of the siege of Lachish (located in the southern Levant) during Sennacherib's campaign against the kingdom of Judah. The left side depicts the siege of the city complete with a siege ramp and fighting while the right side portrays both the deportation of captives and the removal of spoils. The Assyrian army is stationed on the siege ramp, attacking the gatehouse while the Judeans defend themselves. Originally, the scene of the siege of the city was positioned directly opposite the entrance of the room in which it was housed. The artist depicts deportees in groups, likely family groups, carrying their possessions. The scene is set in a forested, mountainous area as shown by the scaled patterns covering the background of the relief. The mountains are depicted with a horizon line, which was a new technique in Assyrian reliefs.

CDLI entry: P466678

credit: Williams, Jeremy I.

Stone and elites: 5 (2021-10-29)

A stele, or stela is a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide erected as a monument, often for funerary or commemorative purposes.



The Victory Stele of Naram-Sin is a stele that dates to approximately 2254-2218 BC, in the time of the Akkadian Empire. The relief measures six feet in height and was carved in pink limestone. It depicts the King Naram-Sin of Akkad leading the Akkadian army to victory over the mountain people, the Lullubi.

credit: Wheeler, Gregory Michael

Stone and elites: 4 (2021-10-28)

The present form of the artifact is a reconstruction, presenting a best guess of its original appearance. It has been interpreted as a hollow wooden box. Inlaid mosaic panels cover each long side of the Standard. Each presents a series of scenes displayed in three registers, upper, middle and bottom.



The artifact was found in one of the largest royal tombs in Ur, tomb PG 779, associated with Ur-Pabilsag, a king who died around 2550 BC. Sir Leonard Woolley's excavations in Mesopotamia in 1927-28 uncovered the artifact in the corner of a chamber, lying close to the shoulder of a man who may have held it on a pole. For this reason, Woolley interpreted it as a standard, giving the object its popular name. The two mosaics have been dubbed "War" and "Peace" for their subject matter, respectively a representation of a military campaign and scenes from a banquet. The panels at each end originally showed fantastical animals but they suffered significant damage while buried, though they have since been restored.

credit: Wheeler, Gregory Michael

Stone and elites: 3 (2021-10-27)

Approximately twenty-seven statues of Gudea, a ruler (ensi) of the state of Lagash have been found in southern Mesopotamia. Gudea ruled between ca. 2144 - 2124 BC and the statues demonstrate a very sophisticated level of craftsmanship for the time.



The statues were to represent the ruler in temples, to offer a constant prayer in his stead; offerings were made to these. Most of the statues bear an inscribed dedication explaining to which god it was dedicated. Gudea is either sitting or standing. He normally wears a close fitting kaunakes, maybe made of sheep-skin, and a long tasseled dress.

credit: Wheeler, Gregory Michael

Stone and elites: 2 (2021-10-26)

The Royal Game of Ur, also known as the Game of Twenty Squares, refers to an ancient game represented by two game boards (this one is BM 120834) found in the Royal Tombs of Ur in Iraq by Sir Leonard Woolley in the 1920s.



The two boards date from the First Dynasty of Ur, before 2600 BC, thus making the Royal Game of Ur one of the oldest examples of board gaming equipment found. Discovery of a tablet partially describing the gameplay has allowed the game to be played again after over 2000 years, although reconstructions of the detailed rules have differed widely. The Royal Game of Ur was played with two sets, one black and one white, of seven markers and three tetrahedral dice.

credit: Wheeler, Gregory Michael

Stone and elites: 1 (2021-10-25)

A cylinder seal is a small round cylinder, typically about one inch in length, engraved with written characters or figurative scenes or both, used in ancient times to roll an impression onto a two-dimensional surface, generally wet clay.



Cylinder seals were invented around 3500 BC in the Near East, at the contemporary sites of Susa in south-western Iran and Uruk in southern Mesopotamia.They were used as an administrative tool, a form of signature, as well as jewelry and as magical amulets; later versions would employ notations with Mesopotamian cuneiform. In later periods, they were used to notarize or attest to multiple impressions of clay documents.

credit: Wheeler, Gregory Michael

Varia: Babylonian Royal Inscription (2021-10-24)

Black diorite tablet from around 875 - 850 BC discovered in the ancient city of Babylon, modern day southern Iraq. The image on the front shows a priest with his hand raised in front of the king. The inscriptions on the stone slab indicate that it was a royal tablet recording the actions of a king who was restoring a priest’s land by his request.



The front of the tablet shows an image of two men. On the left with his hand raised is the priest who is standing in front of his king to the right. On top of them is the shrine, which has various objects laid upon it. The objects on the shrine from the left are placed in the following order: (1) spearhead, (2) ram-headed crook, (3) two rods joined in the center, (4) two horned headdresses, (5) an eagle-headed mace, and (6) a lion-headed mace. There are a variety symbols inscribed on the top and the side of the tablet as well. The inscription tells us that King Nabu-apla-iddina restored the lands of the priest. The priest claimed that the land was property of his father Adnaya and therefore claimed it to be his own. The event is recorded to have taken place on the twentieth of Nisan, in the twentieth year of the rule of King Nabu-apla-iddina. The document goes on to claim that it received the royal seal of Babylon in front of five high Babylonian officials whose names were inscribed on the tablet as well.

Reference: BM 90922

credit: Kim, Kirk

National Museums Scotland: 17 (2021-10-23)

Old Babylonian receipt of loan of barley; National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh; NMS A.1911.203.28.



The National Museums Scotland contains an interesting group of Old Babylonian administrative texts, which date to the reign of Manana and probably originate from Kish. Many of these documents deal with the property of a certain Shumshunu-watar.

In this receipt Shumshunu-watar lends one kor of barley to a certain Ishme-Sîn, whose seal is also impressed on the surfaces of the tablet. A very similar document is the unpublished text BM 103194 (to be published by J. N. Reid and K. Wagensonner), which dates to the same month and year.

CDLI entry: P453221

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 16 (2021-10-22)

Neo-Babylonian record about a legal case; National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh; NMS A.1909.405.22.



In the Neo-Babylonian period (ca. 626-539 BC) the dowry was handed over to the groom at the time of marriage. This property rests with the husband, who was responsible for maintaining its value. If he died, it would secure the widow's future.

The well-preserved text in the National Museums Scotland the heir of the deceased husband acts in the interest of two dowries, that of his father's widow and that of his own wife. The former is the claimant of the dowry. She claims that the son and heir of her husband did not give her the dowry, which entered the property when she married his father. The heir Bel-apla-iddina states before the judge that his father never received the full amount of dowry and that he is unable to repay both dowries. As a husband he has usufruct on his wife's dowry.

The possessions of the heir's father are being re-evaluated and the court decides that both the heir's mother-in-law as well as his wife shall be fully paid for their dowries. The document contains an interesting clause, which prevents any creditors to lay claim onto the amount of money given to the two women.

CDLI entry: P453149

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 15 (2021-10-21)

Achaemenid legal text about a field; National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh; NMS A.1909.405.23.



The Neo-Babylonian period (ca. 626-539 BC) is characterised by a dense documentation, which equals in terms of concentration and amount the Ur III period (ca. 2100-2000 BC). Most of our documentation derives from institutional archives like the temple archive of the Ebabbar temple in Sippar (with approx. 35,000 texts) or the Eanna temple (with approx. 8,000 texts) in Uruk (for overviews see M. Jursa, Neo-Babylonian Legal and Administrative Documents. Typology, Contents and Archives, 2005 and Aspects of the Economic History of Babylonia in the First Millennium BC, 2010).

The largest private archive from the Neo-Babylonian and subsequent Achaemenid period (547-331 BC) is the Egibi family archive. So far approx. 1,700 texts can be assigned to this family of entrepreneurs spanning over five generations. This archive has been thoroughly studied by C. Wunsch (Das Egibi-Archiv, 2000).

This legal document in the collection of the National Museums Scotland witnesses the purchase of a plot of land. This perfectly preserved tablet is a duplicate to a tablet now in the British Museum (BM 32180+33125; published in Wunsch, op.cit., no. 199A). Since the latter has some damaged areas, the Edinburgh tablet, though with minor variations, helps to better understand the whole transaction.

This plot of land was in the possession of a certain Bēl-ēṭir of the family of Nūr-Sîn and was bought by Marduk-nāṣir-apli of the Egibi-family. The latter belongs to the fourth generation in the archive. This individual is also known as Širku in the respective texts.

As a general characteristic of such sale contracts (which is already attested in the Old Babylonian period) such documents start with a description of the plot of land. In this case we are dealing with a certain area of plantation outside of the city. The plot of land is not just a barren land, but is cultivated with date palms. It is situated opposite of the Ishtar gate in Babylon at the river arm of the old Kutha-canal. This general description of the characteristics of the plot is followed by a geographical location (lines 4-10). The sequence is always the same: (1) upper long side in the north, (2) lower long side in the south, (3) upper short side in the west, and (4) lower short side in the east.

The document was issued in Babylon on the 12th day of the first month Nisannu in the third year of Dareios (i.e., 3 March 519 BC): TIN.TIR{ki} ITI.BARA2 / UD.12.KAM MU.3.KAM {m}da-ri-ia-muš / LUGAL TIN.TIR{ki} LUGAL KUR.KUR. The date formula is followed, among others, by the remark ṣupur Bēl-ēṭir nādin eqli, "fingernail (mark) of Bēl-ēṭir, the one who gives the field." The fingernail marks are visible on the top and bottom edges of the tablet. Left and right edges bear the impression of the cylinder seal, whose label assigns this seal to the scribe Arad-Marduk. The seal shows a standing figure standing before two pedestals with divine symbols.

CDLI entry: P453151

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 14 (2021-10-20)

Clay barrel-cylinder with royal inscription by the Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II; National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh, NMS A.1909.482; John Rylands Library, Manchester, JRL 1095.



By the far the greatest amount of royal or monumental inscriptions from the Neo-Babylonian period (ca. 626-539 BC) can be assigned to the ruler Nabuchadnezzar II (605-562 BC) (see R. Da Riva, The Neo-Babylonian Royal Inscriptions. An Introduction, 2008).

This clay barrel-cylinder in the National Museums Scotland contains a royal inscription that is known from several similar examples, so, for instance, another barrel in the John Rylands Library, Manchester, which is presented on the right-hand side. Both inscriptions are, except for minor variations in orthography, identical (see the edition for the latter F.N.H. Al-Rawi, Iraq 62 [2000], No. 77; for a full translation see ibid., No. 74). The text is inscribed in two columns and commemorates the rebuilding of the Ebabbar-temple in Sippar (lines 1-10):

I, Nebuchadnezzar, (...) built anew the Ebabbar, the temple of Šamaš, in the midst of Sippar, for Šamaš, the lord who prolongs my days.

In what follows the king invokes the sun-god:

O Šamaš, my great lord, look gladly on my works with favour and grant me as a gift life unto faraway days, ripe old age, security of throne and a long reign!

The king not just prays for his own sake, but also for the sake of his children and his dynasty:

May my descendants keep multiplying in kingship, may they be secure in the land.

The inscription ends with the wish:

Just as the bricks of Ebabbar are secure for ever, let my years lengthen unto everlasting days.

The same commemorative text has also been inscribed on bricks. Such an example is in the John Rylands Library as well (JRL 1092; see the edition in Al-Rawi, op.cit., No. 74).

CDLI entry: P453135

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 13 (2021-10-19)

A large Ur III account of laborers; National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh; NMS A.1907.690.65+75



This tablet consisting of two joined pieces in the National Museums Scotland contains a large, fourteen-column administrative text from the Ur III period (ca. 2100-2000). The upper half of the obverse and the lower half of the reverse are missing. The account, like others from the same period, deals with work performed for the house of the king, Amar-Suen (e2 damar-dsuen). This third king of the Ur III dynasty succeeded his father Šulgi, ruling for nine years. Unlike the founder of the dynasty Ur-Namma who was deified following his death, or the second dynast Šulgi, deified after an important event during his reign, Amar-Suen is the first king to have the divine determinative placed before his name at the time of his ascension to the throne. After Amar-Suen, deification was apparently an accepted part of monarchic succession. Despite the bold claim of divine kingship, Amar-Suen was known in later literary compositions as a weak king. Whether he was in fact powerless, or the victim of contrasts being made to highlight the strength of Šulgi, is unknown (see P. Michalowski, “Amar-Su’ena and the Historical Tradition,” in M. de Jong Ellis, ed., Fs. Finkelstein [1977] 155-157).

This tablet, to be published by J. N. Reid, deals with a variety of workers. Like other texts, the account records workers present, missing (nu) and dead (2). Some of the workers have been dedicated to temple households (a-ru-a). The preserved part of the final column contains the following sub-total:

together: 14 male laborers (Sumerian guruš) at 1 barig (ca. 60 liters of grain) each;
together: 2 male laborers at 5 ban2 (ca. 50 liters of grain) each,
together: 24 male laborers at 4 ban2 (ca. 40 liters of grain) each,
together: 2 female laborers at 3 ban2 (ca. 30 liters of grain) each,
together: 1 child laborer at 2 ban2 (ca. 20 liters of grain),
together: 1 child laborer at 1 ban2 (ca. 10 liters of grain),
are the nudaba laborers;
together: 2 male laborers at 1 barig (ca. 60 liters of grain) each,
together: 1 male laborer at 5 ban2 (ca. 50 liters of grain),
are the dead laborers;

(they are of) the household of Amar-Suen.


A similar but larger total of a different household can be found in the second column of the reverse (e2 dnin-marki, demonstrating that the text originated in Girsu). The administrators divided the workers according to the designations nu-dab5-ba-me (ones who have not been seized) and the ba-uš2-me (in most cases to be translated as deceased workers). The best parallel to this large account found in the published Ur III corpus appears to be another joined UK artifact recently presented in cdli tablet by Oxford postdoctoral associate K. Wagensonner, the British Museum & Rylands Library account CST 881+ (app entry: 2013-06-26). Unfortunately, the date of our text would have been located in the missing half of the final column of the reverse, but it would most likely have derived from the reign of Amar-Suen. How these royal households were constituted in Girsu during the reign of individual monarchs—no small task given the conservative nature of provincial politics economies under rule from southern Ur—is a topic for future research.

CDLI entry: P453060

credit: Reid, J. Nicholas

National Museums Scotland: 12 (2021-10-18)

Old Babylonian legal text with fragments of an envelope; National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh; NMS A.1909.405.28.



This well-preserved legal text in the National Museums Scotland dates to the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900-1600 BC) probably into the reign of Sabium (the date is broken, but prosopographical data allows to narrow down a date; see S. Dalley, A catalogue of the Akkadian cuneiform tablets in the collections of the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh, with copies of the texts, 1979). It contains a record of the division of inheritance by three sons after the death of their mother.

The document itself is not sealed. It was originally enclosed within a clay envelope containing probably an abbreviated version of its content. Not much is left of this envelope, except for three small fragments. On their "inner" side they still have the positive impression of the clay tablet preserved. Thanks to this impression it is possible to re-join the fragments and locate their original place (outlined on the image next to a horizontally mirrored and sharpened image of the inner sides of the fragments).

A more complete example is a legal document in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, from the Old Babylonian archive of Mannum-mešu-liṣṣur, which attests to the guardianship of a statue. The envelope, which is in this case much better preserved, contains a copy of the text inside. If there were any suspicion of fraud or manipulation, the keeper of the tablet could break open the envelope and check the tablet inside. As a further security measurement the envelope was sealed. Different to the tablet in Edinburgh, which presents another legal case, also the enclosed tablet bears a seal impressions. It is certain that the envelope of the Edinburgh tablet was sealed as well. The fragments, however, are too small to attest to traces of a seal.

CDLI entry: P453133

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 11 (2021-10-17)

Old Babylonian letter with a reference to archiving; National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh; NMS A.1909.405.5.



Thousands of letters dating to the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900-1600 BC) are known so far. A great percentage of these letters, except for those originating from the site of Mari on the Middle Euphrates, were edited in the series Altbabylonische Briefe (AbB) initiated by F. R. Kraus.

Old Babylonian letters comprise an amazing repository of daily communications between individuals. Unfortunately, the texts just in rare cases identify the individuals involved by giving occupations or titles. This may pose great problems for a proper identification of individuals carrying rather common names as, for instance, Marduk-naṣir. In many of such cases a prosopography of further individuals attested in the respective text as well as place names may limit the possibilities. Often, individuals can be identified by studying contemporary legal and administrative documents, which frequently provide more information.

This Old Babylonian letter (edited by F. R. Kraus as AbB 10, no. 148) deals with the rights to a field. A decision was to be made and the sender of the text states that “when I went from Nippur to Babylon, I didn’t give you my definite decision, (since I thought) I would return to Nippur in the seventh month.” He urges the addressee not to become negligent regarding the irrigation of the fields, a common topic in Old Babylonian letters. He insists that there may be no waste land. The topographical designations given in this area may situate this letter in the area of Sippar.

Noteworthy is the last sentence of the letter, in which the sender where the letter should be kept. He orders: “(His) being the trustee of my (i.e., the sender’s) word and testimony of my cause, you will store this tablet with Lu-Enlila!”

CDLI entry: P453066

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 10 (2021-10-16)

Old Assyrian letter consisting of “mother and child”; National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh; NMS A.1963.243 and 244.



Many tablets survived from the communications of the Old Assyrian merchants doing business in the commercial settlement of kārum Kanesh in Central Anatolia. Their letters, sent and received to or from places within Anatolia or the capital Assur, are the first substantial Akkadian epistolary corpus in the 2nd millennium BC. The texts make use of a simplified syllabary with approximately 100 signs—much easier for a trader class to master than the 600-1000 signs required in more scholarly texts.

Letters were normally wrapped in an outer clay covering before they were sent off. These envelopes were sealed. Frequently, besides information about sender and addressee, they contain a review of the content expressed in their enclosed tablets. In contrast to other periods, Old Assyrian scribes occasionally placed two tablets in one envelope: a main tablet bearing the greater part of the text, and, where the space on the main tablet was not sufficient, a second, smaller tablet, as here in concave form with the main tablet resting against its reverse, uninscribed surface. These two artifacts may conveniently be called “mother and child.”

We unfortunately do not have the envelope of this particular text, nor is it entirely clear from the visible traces on the reverse whether the “child” tablet is really a continuation of the text of this “mother” tablet. A similar, but complete, example is CTMMA 1, 78, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In contrast to that example, the smaller tablet RSM A.1963.244 is addressed to a different individual, thus is in fact a separate document.

CDLI entries: P361615-6

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 9 (2021-10-15)

Debt-note and its sealed envelope dating to the Old Assyrian period; National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh; NMS A.1909.586.



Approximately 23,000 tablets and fragments are known from the Old Assyrian merchants' colony at the Central Anatolian site of Kanesh. Despite the distance between Kanesh and the central power in Assur, a five-weeks journey, the latter was always the authority. Letters sent from Assur indicate that something needs to be done "in accordance with the orders of the City Assembly."

Letters make up a high percentage of the available documentation. Next in line are legal documents, a group of texts that itself can be subdivided into various types of documents. In yesterday's post a verdict from the City Assembly was presented. This document in the National Museums Scotland is a debt-note. Debt-notes belong to contracts. Other types of these are service contracts with personnel, transport contracts, contracts on settling accounts, and quittances.

Nowadays we know hundreds of such debt-notes. Some of them record true loans. Nevertheless, most of them involve financial liabilities resulting from credit sale or commission. These documents are formulated from the point of view of the creditor. Therefore, they frequently use the phrase iṣṣēr PN īšû, the creditor "has a claim on the debtor (PN)." The claim of this debt-note are fifteen minas of tin (see K. R. Veenhof & J. Eidem, Mesopotamia. The Old Assyrian Period. Annäherungen 5 [2008], 51). Such debt-notes are normally dated after phases of the agricultural year or by festivals. This suggests that by that time a calendar with month-names has not been established in Anatolia yet. The festivals and moments of the agricultural year mentioned figure as due dates for the payments (see Veenhof & Eidem, op.cit., 234). Once the debt was paid, the note was either destroyed or returned to the debtor.

Legal documents were put into clay envelopes. Many complete examples survived. The content of the tablet was repeated on the surface of the envelope. Additionally the participating parties rolled their seal over the surface in order to authenticate the legal document. Our document contains the impressions and labels of three cylinder seals.

CDLI entry: P361609

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 8 (2021-10-14)

Old Assyrian verdict; National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh; NMS A.1909.585.



The houses of the merchants at the Central Anatolian site of Kanesh yielded a great number of cuneiform tablets. This phase in the early centuries of the 2nd millennium BC is called Old Assyrian period (ca. 1950-1850 BC). The traders’ houses are located in the commercial district of the lower town, which is called kârum Kanesh. The private archives of the merchants ended with the destruction of the settlement around 1835 BC. This important commercial center is now known as the administrative capital of a colonial network that consisted of some thirty settlements (see Veenhof, “The Archives of Old Assyrian Traiders: their Nature, Functions and Use,” in: Faraguna, ed., Archives and Archival Documents in Ancient Societies, Triest [2013], 27ff.). The archives in Kanesh alone yielded more than 23,000 documents, most of which were unearthed by the local villagers and sold, before official excavations had been conducted.

The available documentation can be classified in letters, legal documents and lists, such as memoranda and notes. This tablet with its envelope in the National Museums Scotland belong to the second group, which itself contains many subtypes of documents. It starts with the well-attested expression âlum dînam idînma, “the City (i.e., Assur) rendered a verdict.” Verdicts must not be issued by the central power, in this case Assur’s city assembly, which is referred to as the “City.” We have also plenty of cases, where the kârum itself rendered the verdict. In such cases the envelope carries the seal of the respective commercial settlement.

Our text continues with the statement that a certain Kukulanum is entitled to engage an attorney (râbisam ehhaz) in order to clear an individual named Aguza, who is the trading agent of his father, from claims. The kârum will be the executive arm of the attorney (emûq râbisi).
The verdict was enclosed in a clay envelope. Luckily we still have the envelope completely preserved. As indicated in the first line, it bears the seal of the waklum, the Assyrian ruler (see Eppihimer, JNES 72 [2013]). Such texts give clues about the ruler’s involvement in Anatolian matters. A common and rather convenient feature of legal documents is the fact that their contents were repeated on the envelope. Had there been any suspicion of tampering with the contents of the document, the envelope could have been opened and its contents checked.

The text on the envelope does show variants. Noteworthy is the variant in the first sentence of the verdict. Instead of the above-mentioned statement that Kukulanum is entitled to engage an attorney, the envelope states that he is entitled to “send” (išappar) him.

The seal used was the seal of the Old Assyrian ruler Sargon, not to be confused with the first ruler of the Old Akkadian period (see Eppihimer, op.cit., 37, fig. 3 and 38, fig. 5). The Old Assyrian ruler’s seal shows an introduction scene and bears a legend. This legend includes the ruler’s name, his title (iššiak Aššur) and a patronym, which links the respective ruler to his predecessor. As has been shown recently, the introduction scene and the way the inscription is presented reflect earlier models of the end of the 3rd millennium BC.

CDLI entry: P390710

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 7 (2021-10-13)

Sumerian song of praise dating to the Old Babylonian period; National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh; NMS A.1909.405.27 (+ ?) Louvre Museum, Paris, AO 3925



This composition is so far the only known text containing a song of praise for the god Šulpa’e, the spouse of the mother goddess Ninḫursag. This god is one of several deities who generally are portrayed as young heroes in Sumerian literature. The fragment in the National Museums Scotland was first published by Stephen Langdon in his Babylonian Liturgies (1913) as no. VI (“Hymn to Tammuz and Innina”). Adam Falkenstein edited the text in 1963 (“Sumerische religiöse Texte 4,” ZA 55, 11-67). Falkenstein assigns four manuscripts to this composition (A = VAT 6110; B = BM 87594; C = AO 3925; D = NMS A.1909.405.27). All known texts date to the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900-1600 BC). Manuscripts C and D are written in syllabic Sumerian, thus differ significantly in their orthography from the other two manuscripts. The divine name dšul-pa-e3, for instance, is written su-pa3-e on the Edinburgh tablet. But the syllabic versions otherwise show many variants compared to the contents of the other sources.

K. Wagensonner (Oxford) suspects that the pieces C and D belong to the same tablet. While the physical joining of the two fragments presents logistical problems—some 1300 km separate the two museum collections—, it could be verified employing images of both tablets, in particular those produced with flat-bed scans that ensure the same scale for all surfaces (see K. Wagensonner, CDLN 2014:010).

The composition has about 85 lines. In the first section, the god is addressed as “hero, who shines forth like moonlight over the upper city.” He is the “lord of the great divine powers,” the elusive me (a word that in Sumerian means something like “essence”). But Šulpa’e is not just represented as a benevolent figure. The text emphasizes his power by referring to him as storm approaching mankind. He is the “lord of orchards and gardens, plantations and green reedbeds, of the quadrupeds of the wide desert, of the animals, the living creatures of the plains” (for a full translation see ETCSL 4.31.1).

CDLI entry: P414093

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 6 (2021-10-12)

Copy of the 10th tablet of a lamentation series; National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh; NMS A.1909.405.26.



Stephen Langdon published this tablet in the National Museums Scotland in his Babylonian Liturgies (1913) as no. VIII. The colophon identifies the text as tenth tablet of a well-known balag-composition, whose first line reads uru2-am3-ma-ir-ra-bi, "this city that has been pillaged." The Sumerian word balag designate a certain kind of musical instrument as a drum or harp. This series belongs to the lamentation literature and therefore is written in the so-called Emesal dialect, which mainly differs phonetically from the Sumerian main dialect. Already in the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900-1600 BC) we find textual reference to this series. After the famous "Mari ritual" the composition is to be recited at the beginning of each month.

In its late "canonical" version, this composition is bilingual. The Akkadian translation follows directly after the Sumerian version. Such interlinear translations represent a common format for late bilingual texts. This series is already known in the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900-1600 BC), but then in the Sumerian version only (see, for instance, K. Volk, FAOS 18 [1989], 26ff.).

The physical parameters such as scribal hand and line spacing help dating this tablet in Edinburgh to the second half of the first millennium BC. This tablet in Edinburgh very much resembles MMUM 35412, a text now in the Manchester University Museum, which was posted on here earlier. That text is a bilingual Emesal-composition as well, belonging, however, to another text genre.

CDLI entry: P414095

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 5 (2021-10-11)

Old Babylonian incantation against the “Evil Eye”; National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh; NMS A.1909.405.33.



The textual sources for incantations, which are specifically destined to protect against the Evil Eye are quite rare in Mesopotamia. M. J. Geller recently collected the available sources (Fs. Wilcke [2003] pp. 115ff.; 116). This well-preserved tablet in the collection of the National Museums Scotland was discussed in its wider context by Geller. Geller interprets incantations like this one to be descriptions of patients suffering from paranoia (ibid., p. 128).

The first passage describes the symptoms and implications of the affected person. Thus the text mentions, for instance, that “the ‛dragon’-face of a man causing evil approached heaven (so that) the clouds bring no rain. He approached the earth, and the plants do not grow. He approached the ox, and its yoke does not open (...).”

The description of the symptoms has its only parallel in AO 8895 in the Louvre Museum (see the score in Geller, op.cit., 129ff. and Thomsen, JNES 51, 1992, 31ff.). Whereas the text in Edinburgh follows the usual structure of incantations by describing the "problem" and Enki's son seeking advice and finally the cure, the text in the Louvre goes on with the description of symptoms and concludes with a spell against the Evil Eye.

On the tablet in Edinburgh Enki’s son Asalluhi, who generally occurs in incantations, takes notice of the problem. As it is attested in many incantations Asalluhi approaches his father and addresses him in order to get a solution. This passage is omitted in this text; traces of which are found in Enki's last sentence: "What do I know that you do not already know?." We have seen the complete formulary of this dialogue in another Sumerian incantation in Edinburgh (P355876).

The text directly goes on with describing a cure for the disease, which includes preparing a substance and binding it on the patient’s neck. The text closes with the prayer, “May Nintinuga purify her (surgical)-reed, may Damu strike with his axe, and may Gunura erect her boat-mast.”

CDLI entry: P355875

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 4 (2021-10-10)

Sumerian literary letter dating to the Old Babylonian period; National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh; NMS A.1909.405.32.



Sumerian letters, as their Akkadian counterparts, employ a consistent, conventionalized structure. The most obvious criterion is the Sumerian verbal form u3-na-a-du11, a so-called prospective verbal form that is, in Akkadian, rendered by the imperative qibi-ma, "speak." The Sumerian form follows the addressee marked by the dative postposition. The sender of the letter is followed by the verbal formulary na-ab-be2-a, "what ... says.".

Although the corpus of Sumerian letters is relatively small compared to that of Akkadian, we have a respectable number of literary letters that may have originated in actual correspondence. Most notable among these is the so-called royal correspondence of the kings of the Third Dynasty of Ur (ca. 2100-2000) (see Piotr Michalowski, The Correspondence of the Kings of Ur, 2011). These letters formed an important part of the Old Babylonian school curriculum.

Besides these letters there is a small group of letter-prayers addressed to deities. This example in the National Museums Scotland contains such a letter, which is known from several sources (see ETCSL 3.3.01 for a translation). Manuscripts are known to come from several sites, namely Nippur, Ur, Isin, and Uruk. Although this manuscript in Edinburgh has no known provenience, it is one of the best preserved. The text is complete with just minor surface damages.

The sender of the letter is a certain Ur-saga. The letter, that uses sophisticated epithets, is addressed to a king. In contrast to the address, the actual body of the letter is rather short:

My lord has not taken care of me; I am a citizen of Urim. If my lord agrees, let no one waste my father's household, let no one take away the home of my father's estate! May my lord know this!

CDLI entry: P414092

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 3 (2021-10-09)

Old Babylonian Sumerian song of praise; National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh; NMS A.1909.405.3.



The Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900-1600 BC) is the major period for the compilation of Sumerian literature. Its transmission is owed to a great extent to the school education, where literary extracts were copied by apprentice scribes.

This nice example in the collection of the National Museums Scotland is a square tablet containing a short song of praise. The text was published by Stephen Langdon in his Babylonian Liturgies (1913) as text no. VIIIter. However, Langdon’s hand copy suggests that the beginnings of the lines are completely destroyed and that there are signs missing. In fact, most of the tablet is well preserved. The lines on the tablet are quite slanted. This is, in particular, apparent on the reverse, which contains text only in its upper third. In the blank space in the lower part of the reverse are quite a few erased signs. These two aspects suggest that the tablet’s origin can indeed be traced in the school milieu.

The text ends in the doxology “Nisaba be praised.” Langdon published this text in his Babylonian Liturgies as a hymn to the goddess Nisaba. A similar song of praise is HS 1526 in the Hilprecht collection in Jena. The goddess Nisaba frequently occurs in doxologies of Sumerian literary compositions. It appears that the text is addressed to the goddess Baba (mentioned in line 8). She is described as ga-ša-an-gu10, “my lady,” in the Emesal-dialect.

This is also substantiated by the first line, which mentions e2-gi4-a-eri[du?ki-ga], “daughter-in-law of Eridu” (the end of the line is too fragmentary to read). This epithet of the goddess Baba is already attested in the Early Dynastic period (ca. 2500-2350 BC) in an inscription of Urukagina. The second line mentions a covering (Akk. kutummu): KID-ma2-šu2-a. The first sentence with a finite verb occurs in line 4, which states: “What is made?” (a-na-am3 ib2-ak).

The remaining text contains the sequence ze2-eg3 several times, which is the Emesal-form for the Sumerian verb šum2, “to give.” The last line of the obverse and the first line of the reverse seem to be identical. All in all, this text appears to be an ad hoc compilation.


CDLI entry: P414096

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 2 (2021-10-08)

Sumerian love incantation dating to the Old Babylonian period; National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh; NMS A.1909.405.2.



Among the literary texts in the collection of the National Museums Scotland is this well-preserved tablet, which dates to the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900-1600 BC). It has recently been understood as incantation against love pain (see a new edition and discussion in Mark Geller, “Mesopotamian Love Magic,” CRAI 47/1, 129ff.). Sumerian and Akkadian compositions provide good examples of love incantations. Incantations frequently explain a condition and present a problem.

The text draws much from Inanna-Dumuzi love songs. Half of the composition describes a girl and how she arouses a man: “She strikes the lad in the chest like (with) a reed” (line 17). Then Asalluhi, having no solution, addresses his father Enki, who willingly gives him the following advice:

Butter of a pure cow, milk of a domestic cow,
butter of a cow, butter of a white cow -
when you pour it in a yellow stone-vessel,
when you apply it to the girl's breasts,
the girl must not lock him out of the open door,
nor must she comfort her crying child.
Let (the lad) speak out: “May she run after me!”
Incantation spell.


The tablet in Edinburgh has a duplicate in the Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown, Massachusetts (published by Albrecht Goetze, JCS 8 [1954] 146). Since the state of preservation of the Edinburgh text is better, it adds valuable information to the understanding of this composition.


CDLI entry: P355876

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 1 (2021-10-07)

Old Babylonian Sumerian literary composition of the Moon-God traveling to his parents; National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh; NMS A.1909.405.1.



In recent decades, the genres and style of Sumerian literature have been much discussed in the scholarly literature. One crucial topic are “divine journeys.” Texts dealing with this peculiar Sumerian topic are quite frequent (see Klaus Wagensonner, Wenn Götter reisen ... [2005; unpublished MA thesis, University of Vienna]). Nonetheless, there are major differences of the relevant compositions compared to, for instance, city laments or debate poems, whose textual witnesses exhibit a much greater consistency in vocabulary and structure.

Divine journeys may be the topic of a single composition, as this specimen from the collection of the National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh demonstrates. Frequently, the divine journey is just an episode within the greater framework of a text. The level of detail varies from composition to composition. Some, as our example in Edinburgh, provide us with information like the means of transport or stops en route from A to B, guests of a banquet and so forth. Others just mention the journey itself and occasionally give clues about the exact whereabouts.

This well-preserved tablet is but one of quite a few manuscripts belonging to a composition known nowadays as “Nanna-Suen’s Journey to Nippur” (for an edition see Ferrara, Nanna-Suen's Journey to Nippur, Rome 1973). Sumerian literary compositions frequently need to be pieced together using many - mostly fragmentary - manuscripts. This fine manuscript is one of the best preserved we have for this composition. The University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia has a cast of the Edinburgh tablet in its holdings (whose reverse replaces the image of the original on the right-hand side).

There are several independent compositions dealing with the moon-god traveling from his home-town Ur to Nippur, the city of his parents, Enlil and Ninlil. This composition of 350 lines is not just the longest of them, but can be considered a leading example for Sumerian divine journeys altogether, due to its complexity and high level of information. Thus, we learn of the preparation and construction of a processional boat for the moon-god, of rituals along his journey to Nippur, and of much more. The ultimate goal of his journey was to be granted an abundance of fauna and flora, and a long rule in the palace, as becomes clear from the following passage:

He gave to him, Enlil gave to him—and he set off for Ur. In the river he gave him the carp-flood—and he set off for Ur. In the field he gave him speckled barley—and he set off for Ur. In the pond he gave him kuda carp and suḫur carp—and he set off for Ur. In the reedbeds he gave him old reed and fresh reed—and he set off for Ur. In the forests he gave him the ibex and wild ram—and he set off for Ur. In the high plain he gave him the mašgurum tree—and he set off for Ur. In the orchards he gave him date syrup and wine—and he set off for Ur. In the palace he gave him long life—and he set off for Ur.

CDLI entry: P414091

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

The Epic of Gilgamesh: 5 (2021-10-06)

This is a restoration based on drawings of Eugene Flandin. This monument depicts a hero grasping a lion. The drawings of Eugene Flandin are dated by the Louvre to 1844 with the focus of her illustrations created early enough to sit in the Akkadian period throne room of Sargon. Exact dating is unknown.



The hero depicted in the monument is suspected by many—and hinted at by Louvre curators—to be Gilgamesh. Lion-taming spirits are often associated with the hero given his conflicts with such beasts in his namesake epic. Furthermore, the monument stands 5.52 meters in height, which various versions of the epic refer to as the height at which Gilgamesh would stand. For further information, see the following reference. Beyond the identity of the depicted hero, lion-taming spirits in general are thought to be signs of divinity and power; this gives new significance to its location at the heart of power in the Akkadian palace.

Reference: AO 19862

credit: Abdusamad, Rania M.

The Epic of Gilgamesh: 4 (2021-10-05)

This relief was excavated by Max Von Oppenheim in 1911-1913. Found in Guzana (Tell Halaf, Syria), it is suspected to be related to context of the narrative described in tablets V-VI of the Epic of Gilgamesh.



While the exact context of this relief is unknown, it is most likely a depiction of the conflict between Enkidu, Humbaba, and Gilgamesh described in the Epic of Gilgamesh. This is made most obvious by the illustration of the two allied warriors handling the beast’s horns in a manner similar to that described in the execution of Humbaba in the fifth tablet of the Epic. Carved on basalt, the relief was found ornamenting the wall of the palace of the Neo-Hittite king of Guzana, Kapara. The relief measures to be 62.6 centimeters in height, 42 centimeters in width, and 16 centimeters in thickness. It is tentatively dated to the 10th-9th century BC, which puts it between Neo-Hittite and Hurritic periods.

Reference: 21.18

credit: Abdusamad, Rania M.

The Epic of Gilgamesh: 3 (2021-10-04)

The sixth tablet in the widely known Epic of Gilgamesh. Tablet VI was uncovered in Nineveh, and is a progression of the narrative depicting Enkidu and Gilgamesh’s trials. It also marks the point in the epic where the fortunes of Enkidu and Gilgamesh take a turn for the worse.



Tablet VI is dated to Neo-Assyrian period (700 BC). The Nineveh witness displayed here measures 13 centimeters high by 14 centimeters wide, and 2.54 centimeters thick. It was excavated by Sir Austen Henry Layard in the previously mentioned site of Nineveh. Literarily, it recalls the goddess Ishtar’s marital desires for Gilgamesh, and her subsequent anger at being rebuffed. It furthermore details the series of disastrous events that follow. The most significant result of this fragment of the narrative is the heaven-determined fate of Enkidu pushed forth by these events. A complete translation of the tablet can be found at panel.

CDLI reference: P273202

credit: Abdusamad, Rania M.,

The Epic of Gilgamesh: 2 (2021-10-03)

A member of a group of just four texts collectively known as the Epic of Gilgamesh Tablet V was recently acquired by the Sulaymaniyah Museum in 2011. The addition of this tablet to the epic reveals 20 new lines of text, adding detail to the Gilgamesh narrative.



There is conflict in the dating of Tablet V of the Standard Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic. The Sulaymaniyah Museum dates it to 2000-1500 BC, but dissenting scholars put it closer to the neo-Babylonian period. Its most significant contribution is in its depiction of the events experienced by Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the Cedar Forest. These descriptions include previously unknown characterizations of Humbaba as more man than monster. Furthermore, the tablet offers a more advanced emotional depiction of all the characters involved in the conflict. It also presents a deeper moral conflict within Enkidu and Gilgamesh in their decision to execute Humbaba. A complete translation of the tablet can be found here.

Reference: T.1447

credit: Abdusamad, Rania M.,

The Epic of Gilgamesh: 1 (2021-10-02)

The eleventh tablet in a series of texts collectively known as the Epic of Gilgamesh. This tablet was recovered in 19th century excavations of Assyrian king Assurbanipal’s library in Nineveh.



The Flood Tablet, like the majority of tablets unearthed in the neo-Assyrian royal library of Assurbanipal at Nineveh, was inscribed on clay and furthermore fired, indicating a desire for preservation by the library’s archivists. It depicts the ordeal of Utnapishtim in constructing a boat to survive a great flood being induced by the gods of the time. The creation of this vessel was advised by a dissenting god, Ea, who later on intervenes once more to save Utnapishtim against the ire of the gods who had sought complete destruction. Within the tablet, the entire tale is told to Gilgamesh by Utnapishtim. A complete translation of the tablet can be found here.

CDLI Reference: P273210

credit: Abdusamad, Rania M.

Daily Life in Mesopotamia: Royalty (2021-10-01)

Rulers played an important role in the daily life of Mesopotamia. They were military leaders as well as leaders of the state, as well as in charge of law. At times, they were thought to be, and thought themselves to be, chosen by their gods, and therefore divine.



Mesopotamian rulers were assumed to be chosen by the gods to rule on earth; because of this, they actively played a part in the daily life of ancient Mesopotamia. Their main roles were to manage the state in times of war and in times of peace, writing laws, being military leaders, and being heads of the justice system. A ruler would decide when to go on campaigns of war for plunder for new resources. Shulgi’s year names often have to do with military campaigns of plunder. For example, ”24th year: Karhar was destroyed," "25th year: Simurrum was destroyed.” It was also up to the rulers to decide when and what official buildings would be constructed. For example, Ur-Namma built the Ur ziggurat, which was a huge architectural project demonstrating great wealth in the kingdom. One of the most important jobs of the ruler was to provide for social order and justice. One example of this is Hammurapi’s law code written on a monumental stele. This law code was one of the earliest known. It spelled out all of the laws of the states with punishments for those who did not follow them.

CDLI entry: Q006387

credit: Nickelson, Samantha

Daily Life in Mesopotamia: Art (2021-09-30)

Art in Mesopotamia utilized the natural resources that had to be imported, or stolen from abroad. This meant that a lot of reliefs were carved into stone or clay. Art flourished throughout ancient Mesopotamian times.



Art flourished in ancient Mesopotamia, but monumental pieces were clearly the domain of the elites—and imperishable, expensive stone their medium of choice. Through trade and plunder, they brought to the resource-poor alluvium the precious materials their artisans requested. The image to the left is known as Naramsin's “Victory Stele.” This limestone slab depicts a godlike figure standing above his own, and defeated enemy soldiers. The king is depicted much larger than the foot-soldiers, together with the divine horned cap demonstrating his superhuman nature. This work also conveys a hierarchy in which the most important figure is atop the mountain, the soldiers and the enemy below him.

CDLI entry: P215544

credit: Nickelson, Samantha

Daily Life in Mesopotamia: Religion (2021-09-29)

Mesopotamians believed in multiple gods, each of which correlated to a different aspect of life. Their religion and, in part, their lives, were devoted to keeping the gods happy because if they did not they believed the gods would punish them.



Religion for the ancient Babylonians was a part of daily life. They worshipped multiple gods and each god had a specific job to do. Each city had a god who was connected to the city in a special way. To prove their devotion to the gods, huge monumental buildings called ziggurats were constructed. The ziggurats were temples that were places of worship for the people. The temples perched atop the ziggurats held art and cultural goods used to impress the gods. When bad things happened in Mesopotamia, like famine, disease or bad crop yields, the people believed that they were being punished by the gods. To rectify this, they would go to the temples and present offerings in hopes of appeasing the gods. In the image I have provided, there is an example of one of these great edifices. Building a ziggurat shows economic prosperity as well as devotion, as it was a big job to complete. But once done, it was a place for the people to show their love for their gods.

Reference: web resource

credit: Nickelson, Samantha

Daily Life in Mesopotamia: Farming (2021-09-28)

Farming was an essential part of daily life in ancient Mesopotamia. Farmers produced large-scale crops for cities in order to feed the growing population. In addition the people would have had a small-scale garden in order to supplement their diet of grain, beer, and meat.



Once a people have settled in one area, paralleling animal domestication is farming. In ancient Mesopotamia farming was a critical part of daily life. Situated between two rivers, ancient Mesopotamians relied on the waters of the Tigris and the Euphrates to cultivate their crops. Water was always an important resource that at times had to be tamed by ditches and canals in order for farmers to water their crops. At times the rivers were unstable. They would flood which could be a blessing or a curse depending on the season. With the flooding they brought up silt that blacked canals and filled ditches. These canals and ditches had to be maintained so water could travel through them and get to the crops. The main crop for large scale Mesopotamians was grain. Wheat and barley were the most important crops due to their ability to make beer out of them, which was a staple in the Mesopotamians lives. Technological advances paralleled the beginning of farming. Mesopotamians used a seed plow with a funnel to drop seeds in. In addition to large scale crops Mesopotamians also farmed a variety of small scale crops probably used as gardens to support a single family. In the provided image there is a statue of a man using an ox or a cow to pull his plow. This shows the combination of animal domestication and the development of widespread farming. Farming was a very important part of life as the ancient Mesopotamians had a diet based heavily on grains.

Reference: web resource

credit: Nickelson, Samantha

Daily Life in Mesopotamia: Animal Domestication (2021-09-27)

Animal domestication was a crucial step in the march to high civilization in ancient Mesopotamia. Animals could provide many resources that Babylonians could not procure elsewhere.



Animal domestication meant that humans no longer needed to live a nomadic,hunter-gatherer life. People could settle in one place and grow what they needed to survive. Plant and animal domestication paved the way for civilizations to emerge, and empires to form. No longer are inhabitants constantly on the move. People are creating groups and staying in one place. Animal domestication goes back to around 8,000 BC. By this time goat and sheep had been domesticated—pigs earlier, and dogs probably much earlier. Each animal gives much needed resources to the ancient Mesopotamians. Ancient people got wool from sheep, milk and hair from goats, and meat and lard from pigs. Somewhat later, bovines were domesticated, then donkeys. All animals served multiple purposes, for instance pulling loads, providing wool or hides, dairy products or meat. Because they were used in religious or royalty sacrifice, many pictures of animals, when they are available, are used in representations of offering or gesture. Domestication of animals shows sophistication in human organization. In the iconography, there are many people using different animals in different ways. Some are using the wool from the sheep to make textiles, others are leading their animals who are carrying loads for community members. Without the domestication of animals, the Babylonians would not have had many resources to supplement their diet.

Reference: wiki entry

credit: Nickelson, Samantha

Cuneiform texts: Dedicatory tablet (2021-09-26)

Sumerian cuneiform dedicatory brick from Ekur, the temple of the god Enlil in Nippur. Dating to the Kassite period, this 16th-15th century BC black marble slab is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, New York City.



This carved stone slab in the form of a brick attests to the restoration of Ekur, the temple of Enlil in Nippur, the Holy See of ancinet Sumer. Enlil was the chief god of the Sumerian pantheon, and the main deity referenced on clay and stone tablets. Donations to the refurbishment of Ekur were very important to Mesopotamian rulers, insofar as they professed that Enlil could bring great rewards, or great hardships to a kingdom. The donor named on this tablet is a certain Hašmar-galšu. Although he is not a well known Kassite figure, this individual wrote his name with the divine determinative, a marker usually used by deities and seldom embraced by even the most elite of rulers of this period. The inscription reads: “Present of Hašmar-galšu. A stone brick for the Ekur, for Enlil, his lord.” Having been carved into black marble, the message was meant to last for eternity.

CDLI entry: P373779

credit: Deline, Julian

Cuneiform inscriptions: Nebuchadnezzar II (2021-09-25)

Clay cylinder dating from 604-562 BC (neo-Babylonian period). Purchased by the Metropolitan Museum, New York City, in 1886.



The cylinder commemorates the vast building program carried out by king Nebuchadnezzar II, ruler of Babylon from 605 to 562 B.C. Written in cuneiform, the text reads: “I built a strong wall that cannot be shaken, with bitumen and baked bricks… I laid its foundation on the great floor of the netherworld, and built its top as high as a mountain.” Through his building program, Nebuchadnezzar II transformed Babylon into an elite imperial capital. Like time capsules of the modern day, baked clay cylinders were buried within the foundations of ancient buildings as they were being built. The cylinders often record the restoration of an already ancient structure, as well as the architectural plans of a newly constructed building. This particular cylinder documents Nebuchadnezzar’s building of a new outer city wall, which he claims “no previous king had done.” Inserting cylinders into building foundations was an attempt of the current king to be honored by future kings going about the further restoration of the structure.

CDLI entry: P498321

credit: Deline, Julian

Cuneiform inscriptions: Darius II text (2021-09-24)

Late Babylonian cuneiform tablet dated to the reign of King Darius II (ca. 423-404 BC). Six sides are inscribed documenting a mortgage.



The mortgage documents an agreement by two men, Abda and Banunu, to another man, Bel-nadin-shumu, about purchasing an orchard and an uncultivated area of land for a large number of date trees. Included are the names of the scribe, Ninib-abu-user, and eleven witnesses, four of whom signed the upper, lower, and right sides with seal impressions. Also included are the thumbnail markings of the two debtors. The tablet was found along with 729 others in a room in the ruins of Nippur during an excavation carried out by the University of Pennsylvania in 1893. The room is located 20 feet below the surface of the northeastern ridge of Nippur, and was used as a business archive for wealthy firms, bankers, and brokers.

CDLI entry: P498088

credit: Deline, Julian

Cuneiform inscriptions: Archaic administration (2021-09-23)

Clay tablet from the Jemdet Nasr period (ca. 3100-2900 B.C.), likely from the southern Mesopotamian city of Uruk. The tablet was gifted to the Metropolitan Museum in New York City in 1988, following its purchase at a famous Christie’s London auction of a Swiss collection of cuneiform artifacts.



Without the discernable use of involved syntax in early texts, it is difficult to interpret tablets with any certainty. This small tablet likely reports on the grain (barley) distribution of a large temple. A cylinder seal has been rolled over the tablet, illustrating a man walking two dogs on leashes while they hunt boar. Consistent with the southern Mesopotamia region, the man appears to be active in wetlands. The Jemdet Nasr period is particularly known as one of the formative stages in the development of cuneiform. While the Uruk IV period claims the oldest clay tablets, the Jemdet Nasr period made great advancements away from a pictographic style of text.

CDLI entry: P005393

credit: Deline, Julian

Cuneiform inscriptions: Assyrian Relief (2021-09-22)

An Assyrian relief taken from the walls of the palace rooms at Nimrud. Carved from gypsum alabaster, this slap measures 92 1/4 x 92 x 4 1/2 inches. Excavated by Sir Austen Henry Layand in the 1840s, the slab was donated to the Metropolitan Museum in New York City by John D. Rockefeller in 1930.



This Assyrian relief dates between 883-859 BC of the neo-Assyrian period. The slab depicts the king Assurnasirpal II holding a bow (symbolizing his authority), and a ceremonial drinking bowl. Assurnasirpal II is facing a eunuch (identified by the lack of a beard), who is holding a fly whisk and a ladle used to refill the ceremonial bowl. The king wears the royal crown, a conical cap with a small top and a long diadem, and stands with the eunuch in an almost religious manner. The palace rooms at Nimrud were guarded at the doorway by large sculptures, and it’s walls were decorated with brightly painted walls and huge stone slabs containing carved reliefs. The noted Near Eastern archaeologist Klaudia Englund maintains a detailed online description of the palace rooms within the CDLI domain.

CDLI entry: P426821

credit: Deline, Julian

Sumerian Sculpture: Man and Wife (2021-09-21)

This statue of a couple from the Ishtar Temple in Mari demonstrates the exceptional detail of sculptures from the northern Syrian site. The two figures sit next to each other, the man embracing the woman, either to protect or to command her. Both wear similar clothing, incised for detail. The man clasps the woman’s wrist, as was a traditional depiction of couples at this time. This sculpture may represent the ruler and his wife, or two members of the court; it is unlikely this couple represents a god and goddess since they wear contemporary dress and do not display any symbols of the gods.



From the Ishtar Temple of Mari, this stone sculpture of a couple seated on a bench, wearing similar dress, dates from the Early Dynastic period of Sumer (ca. 2500 BC). One way female statues were differentiated from male statues in Sumerian sculpture was in how their hands were clasped: as shown in other images, women generally held one wrist with the opposite hand rather than clasping their hands in front of them with the fingers laced or with both hands folded. Here, the man’s hand grasps the woman’s wrist, demonstrating his dominance over her, while her hand lies limp across their laps. The man can also be differentiated from the woman in that he wears a fringed skirt rather than a dress. The two figures are turned toward each other, the woman overlapping the man, something that would not have been common in reliefs from this period. From an art historical perspective, this image reminds us of the tomb objects of the Etruscans, particularly the Sarcophagus of the Spouses, that shed light on the intimacy of the lives of couples of that early Italian civilization.

Image Credit: Jean M. Evans, The Lives of Sumerian Sculpture: An Archaeology of the Early Dynastic Temple, p. 200, fig. 71.

credit: Burton, Elizabeth M.

Sumerian Sculpture: Statue from Mari (2021-09-20)

This particularly detailed stone statue from the temple of Inanna in Mari demonstrates the stylistic choices made by artists during the Early Dynastic period (ca. 2500 BC). Sculptures from this region (Mari, modern Tell Hariri) are generally more detailed and realistic than other images found at nearby sites. Unfortunately, this site and others nearby were burned and partially destroyed. This sculpture represents a shift towards abstracted realism and new techniques to achieve this effect, including drilling (seen in the beard) that would later be used by the Romans to achieve realistic beards of rulers in busts carved from marble.



This sculpture from the Inanna temple in ancient Mari dates to the Early Dynastic period of Sumer (ca. 2500 BC), and is currently housed in the Louvre Museum (image credit). Unlike many other Sumerian sculptures of this period, this particular statue of the ruler Ebiḫ-Il is extraordinarily realistic, with more texture variation than is generally expected. The statue is bald; the figure's face is well-proportioned, with a beard carved and incised, drilled into to appear realistic and intricate. His eyebrows are bold and laid above lined and certainly originally inlaid eyes that convey expression or feeling, something previously uncommon in Sumerian sculpture. His ears are also quite realistically carved. The skirt worn by the figure features fringe along the bottom. This sculpture, though exceptionally detailed, is still idealized.

CDLI entry: P225850

credit: Burton, Elizabeth M.

Sumerian Sculpture: ED Statue (2021-09-19)

This statue of a female figure dates from the Early Dynastic period and was discovered during an archaeological dig in the Inanna Temple in Nippur. Carved from stone, the statue also features beads in the hair and along the shoulders, possibly from a necklace that has since eroded. Statues like this one were occasionally painted or “polychromed.”



This statue of a female figure found in the Inanna Temple of Nippur demonstrates the artistic style of the Early Dynastic period (ca. 2800-2350 BC). The woman’s hair is kinked, her eyes are large and inlaid with a different type of stone than that from which her body was carved, and her body is a large mass with angular arms and clasped hands. The robe or dress she wears is given dimension, and her gender is displayed, through the wrap portion that is incised down the center of the body. Her gender is also betrayed by the remnants of blue beading in her hair and on her shoulders, that may have come from a necklace or headdress she once wore. Many female figures of this time, especially within temples devoted to goddesses like Inanna, were given jewelry (earrings, bracelets, and necklaces), especially if the figures represented a queen or her court.

Image credit: Jean M. Evans, The Lives of Sumerian Sculpture: An Archaeology of the Early Dynastic Temple, p. 142, fig. 46

credit: Burton, Elizabeth M.

Sumerian Sculpture: Nude Hero (2021-09-18)

Carved from alabaster, this statue of a kneeling hero comes from the Tell Asmar sculpture and pottery hoard. This particular sculpture differs markedly from others found in the Abu Temple in that it is nude aside from a belt around its waist and that its headdress functions as a vessel.



This statue was part of the Tell Asmar hoard and echoes other figures from the Early Dynastic period in Sumer (ca. 2800-2350 BC). This image is unique, however, in that it depicts a nude hero rather than a pious ruler or other worshipper. Similar to ruler and worshipper votive statues, however, this statue has clasped hands and is in a position one might interpret as pious. The statue here is interesting because of its function: it does not merely stand as a representation of another man who wished to ensure a presence in the temple ‘solid as stone,’ but it has a utilitarian function too. The kneeling figure wears nothing but a belt and a headdress, the latter of which functions as a vessel for ritual libations. This figure, since it functions as an intermediary between man and the gods (as shown through its headdress intended for ritual use), is not human but a divine hero, a hybrid of man and god. This particular piece has been described to represent one hero in particular: he who masters and domesticates animals.

Image credit: Jean M. Evans, The Lives of Sumerian Sculpture: An Archaeology of the Early Dynastic Temple, p. 162, fig. 54

credit: Burton, Elizabeth M.

Sumerian Sculpture: Enmetena of Lagash (2021-09-17)

This diorite sculpture from Ur depicts the ruler Enmetena of Lagash (ca. 2400 BC). This statue, like many others from this period, features a dedicatory inscription that portrays Enmetena as a loyal servant of the god Enlil, who has specifically chosen the ruler to be blessed and to do the god’s bidding. Sculptures of this type were generally placed in temples to occupy the space of the ruler in his absence. This piece, dated to the Early Dynastic IIIb period, was made of diorite.



This sculpture, taken from Ur and dated to the Early Dynastic IIIb period (ca. 2500-2350 BC), was made on behalf of the ruler Enmetena, of Lagash province. Now housed in the Iraq Museum, the sculpture demonstrates contemporary dress, piety, and the tradition of image-making of this period. This particular statue represented the ruler in his absence. It is inscribed with the phrase “Enmetena whom Enlil loves” to demonstrate the ruler’s special connection as well as his dedication to the gods. Early Dynastic statues placed in temples can be dated and identified as such because of the traditional clasped hands seen in this statue, and the royal inscriptions many of them carried; because temple construction was considered an important job of rulers, ED officials placed representations of themselves within the temples to remind the gods and citizens who was responsible for the temples’ construction.

Image credit: Jean M. Evans, The Lives of Sumerian Sculpture: An Archaeology of the Early Dynastic Temple, p. 113, fig. 41

credit: Burton, Elizabeth M.

Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem: 11 (2021-09-16)

A simple receipt from 2050 BC.



Drehem, ancient Puzrish-Dagan, was the revenue accounting, and Nippur cult servicing center of the Ur III kings of the 21st century BC. This unassuming Drehem document from the collection of the Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem, records the receipt by Šulgi-irimu, a relatively high-ranking official under the third and fourth kings of the dynasty, of a cow and a lamb, slaughtered for an unnamed repast. The text, like many thousands of others, is dated exactingly, in this case to 2/18/2039 BC (middle chronology); it reads (following the text from top to bottom in the lines, and from right to left on the tablet, as did the ancient scribes)

   1 cow, seed of wild bull, 3rd year;
   1 lamb;
   slaughtered, 18th day;
   from Zubaga
   did Šulgi-irimu
   receive;
   month: “Piglet-feast,”
   year: “The lord of (the moon-god) Nanna
      installed in Karzida;”
   (total:) 1 ox, 1 sheep.


Scientific editions: Dhorme, Edouard, Revue d'Assyriologie et d'Archéologie Orientale 9 (1912) p. 51 SE 7; Ozaki, Tohru & Sigrist, Marcel, Tablets in Jerusalem: Sainte-Anne and Saint-Étienne (2010) no. 270.

CDLI entry: P127544

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem: 10 (2021-09-15)

Babylonian cylinder seal impressions.



Cylinder seals were the hallmark of Babylonian contract and administrative practice. Dating back to the mid-fourth millennium BC, such seals were rolled by their owners across clay stoppers on jars of expensive butter oil, on bullae attached to cords fastening baskets, vessels, and even doors of storage rooms—and most importantly on receipts, on royal letters, on sales contracts. Identifying and interpreting the legends of these seals as part of the written record is not always a simple task for even the best trained of specialists. They were often rolled over—or, as a kind of letterhead, under—the ravaging effects of a man and his stylus. In many cases in the Ur III period, a space was left free, on the reverse surface of a receipt, specifically for a more legible seal rolling. This impression generally focussed on the seal legend, often to the near exclusion of such iconic material as presentation scenes that flanked the legend identifying the seal owner. The legend usually included his profession and the name of his father. Incidentally, the orientation of these scenes in relationship to the cuneiform legends is one of the pieces of evidence Ur III specialists have mustered to demonstrate that texts at this time were written, and read, in lines from top to bottom and in columns from right to left.

This text is a common Ur III document from Umma recording the receipt, by one Lanimu, of 2640 bird feathers. To better read the seal legend of this text, we often follow a technique, developed by UCLA graduate student Michael Heinle, of performing a color inversion and highlighting the result. In this example from the Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem, the highlighted legend underscores another of the problems a hapless seal cutter might encounter in his young apprentice: the initial sign 'la' was cut in a mirrored version, that is, in a form that was positive rather than the negative cut that would be required to result in a positive impression on a clay surface. This particular seal is currently recorded on ten texts including this one. CDLI is working closely with imaging teams at the Universities of Oxford and Leuven to implement technologies focussing on the capture of the subtle surface impressions of seals, thus reducing our dependence on such short-cuts, or on the capabilities of early editors of administrative and legal text corpora and their occasionally less than exacting readings.

CDLI entry: P332188

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem: 9 (2021-09-14)

Berlin and Jerusalem joined.



Fragments of texts broken in antiquity or during their excavation can be separated by inventory keepers at archaeological digs, by museum curators receiving and putting to storage such pieces, or can be separated early on and be taken to separate collections altogether. Later research by experts has led to many thousands of post-accession joins, even to a sub-discipline playfully, or occasionally ironically, called “joinology” (small “j”!) by admirers and detractors of those who dedicate much of their careers to this painstaking, vitally necessary work; the vaunted Kuyunjik scholar Rykle Borger springs most to mind in identifying the dozen or so researchers who contributed so much to solving the puzzles of ancient cuneiform. Pieces of formulaic cuneiform texts such as literary or lexical compositions, often found in multiple copies and reduced to composite form by specialists, are more susceptible than unique records to this work, that can occasionally cross international borders, as in this fine example of a lexical text from the Old Babylonian period recording lists of gods. Originally from Babylon, the larger piece is in the collection of the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin, while the smaller one—the middle peak—, is housed in the Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem. Following a join made by the UC Berkeley Sumerologist Niek Veldhuis, CDLI staff at UCLA were able to digitally rejoin the fragments from Jerusalem and the German capital as part of scanning work completed in 2012 in Jerusalem by, coincidentally, Berlin/CDLI postdoctoral researcher Luděk Vacín.

CDLI entry: P347139

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem: 8 (2021-09-13)

Cuneiform on stone: Jerusalem texts.



This fine example of a royal text from the Early Old Babylonian reign of the Uruk monarch Anam, currently in the Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem, is one of only three such texts known, all done with expensive stone and all presumably from Uruk itself. Incidentally, this stone tablet was, like our two previous Jerusalem pieces, worked on during its stint in the hands of antiquities dealers to give the appearance of a complete text. One of six such composite texts known from the reign of this particular king, the full inscription reads, following the translation of Daniel Foxvog, “Anam, the elder of the army of Uruk, son of Ilān-šeme’a, restored the wall of Uruk, the ancient construction of Gilgameš; so that water can thunder roundabout, he built it of baked bricks.” Scientific edition: Frayne, Douglas R., RIME 4.4.6.4, ex. 2.

CDLI entry: P427658

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem: 7 (2021-09-12)

The plastic surgeons of cuneiform: take two.



In another example from the Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem, of post-excavation “improvements” on the appearance of ancient artifacts moving through antiquities markets, this originally large account of seed grain and seeding cost calculations from Ur III Umma (ca. 2050 BC) displays not only the handicraft of clay artisans, but also an attempt to frame the inscription on obverse and poorly preserved reverse. The fragment would appear to represent the bottom right sixth of the original 8-column account. Scientific edition: Ozaki, Tohru & Sigrist, Marcel, Tablets in Jerusalem: Sainte-Anne and Saint-Étienne (2010) no. 270.

CDLI entry: P332182

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem: 6 (2021-09-11)

The plastic surgeons of cuneiform: take one.



The graphic clarity of inscriptions of the Ur III period (ca. 2100-2000 BC) is, to many specialist eyes, surpassed only by that of the Old Akkadian period (2340-2200). This administrative account from ancient Umma, now in the collection of the Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem, documents the stock records of state-run herds of large cattle and equids, including all the strengths and foibles of Ur III accountants. Next to the erasure of a full line of glyphs to the upper right (so much easier, and so much more dangerous nowadays with electronic media), we may note the common practice of including different forms of numerical signs in the text, contrasting cuneiform wedges, for instance at the beginnig of the third to the last line of the second column, with what are known as curviliear impressions at the right of the same column, thus indicating quantities of animals that would be kept separate in succeeding totals. These curvilinear numerical signs are vestiges of earlier forms done with the rounded butt-end of a stylus, that, with its opposite sharp edge used to create wedge impressions and lines, was known as a gi-gur, "turning reed."

But there is something else going on with this text. Its tongue-like form is entirely artificial, and the creation of no ancient scribe, but of robbers and their touch-up artists who work to make a text fragment appear whole again by chipping and sanding down jagged edges to garner the favor, and the cash of unsuspecting customers. An account found in the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago demonstrates what this text might have looked like in its original state. Scientific edition: Ozaki, Tohru & Sigrist, Marcel, Tablets in Jerusalem: Sainte-Anne and Saint-Étienne (2010) no. 269.

CDLI entry: P332181

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem: 5 (2021-09-10)

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.



Often described by casual observers as “stones,” the cuneiform tablets from Near Eastern excavations are in the vast majority made of clay, mostly unfired and therefore subject to the decay of all things, as taught by Genesis 3:19 (“Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return” [King James]). This example in the collection of the Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem, serves as fair warning to the sundry curators and excavators who reserve, for future conservation and some imagined specialist treatment, the cuneiform artifacts in their collections, often withholding from digital preservation these fragile and historically unique witnesses of early human history. Once the surfaces of such clay pieces decay, the text—perhaps the transfer of a goat from one household to the next, perhaps the musing of an ancient mathematician on the circumference of a circle—is lost for all time.

CDLI entry: P431416

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem: 4 (2021-09-09)

A stone tablet in the Couvent Saint-Étienne collection.



The Ur III kings reigning in the southern capital city of Ur (“of the Chaldees,” fancifully depicted in the Bible as the birthplace of Abraham) perpetuated and built out a Babylonian bureaucracy that documented the goings-on of a far-flung empire. The nearly 100,000 known text artifacts from the 50 years of recorded history of that empire (ca. 2050-2000 BC) constitute the largest preserved historical archive prior to the Middle Ages. The text depicted here derives from the reign of the third neo-Sumerian king, Amar-Suen (“Calf-of-[the moon-god]-Sîn”), one of just seven royal text witnesses that describe the construction of a cult center dedicated to the moon god Sîn in the city of Karzida. Such tablets done in valuable stone were often placed, together with cones and statues of rulers taking part in the construction work, as foundation deposits below corners and significant entryways to monumental buildings, much like our time capsules, though in the Mesopotamian case retrieved by succeeding dynasts, and modern excavators after centuries and millennia, and not fifty years. Scientific edition: Frayne, Douglas R., RIME 3/2.1.3.17, ex. 04.

CDLI entry: P227475

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem: 3 (2021-09-08)

Gudea in a Jerusalem collection.



The Lagash II governor Gudea left a notable record of Sumerian royal inscriptions from his reign in the middle of the 22nd century BC. Best known are the monumental inscriptions on diorite statues excavated in Iraq and found today in many national museums, most notably the Louvre, and two remarkable clay cylinders that contain, in the longest Sumerian text known, an account of the rebuilding of the temple complex of Ningirsu at Girsu called é-ninnu-anzu-babbar, “House of fifty: White thunderbird.” Beyond these substantial artifacts, the corpus of royal Gudea texts include numerous examples of smaller inscriptions on clay bricks and cones, and no small number of stone tablets. The cone depicted here from the Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem, is one of currently 1503 copies (and counting) of a short text commemorating the construction work on the Eninnu. The ultimate use of these cones is unclear; some were added to foundation deposits memorializing, like time capsules with their copies of Life magazine, Kennedy 50¢ coins and photos of long-dead mayors, the construction work itself, but one might imagine that they could have been passed out as commemorative mementos to important members of the governor’s court, and to temple administrators, who supported the cult of Ningirsu and, through it, the governor himself. The form of the cone was itself reminiscent of the cuneiform sign gag, pictographically a cone or nail used in construction, and as we might expect denoting the verb “to build” or “to erect”. Daniel A. Foxvog is leading an initiative through the CDLI to edit all Mesopotamian royal inscriptions, eventually to include literary score versions of texts found or suspected in multiple copies. We depict the cone here in the orientation of the ancients, upright, with lines of cuneiform read from top to bottom, and on the cone surface from right to left.

CDLI entry: P431332

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem: 2 (2021-09-07)

Fourth millennium BC alimentation of female laborers in Iran.



Another proto-Elamite artifact in the Couvent Saint-Étienne collection records the distribution, to a number of female workers and other named individuals, of amounts of grain that probably represented their monthly rations. The proto-Elamite corpus of some 1700 text artifacts is the focus of a research effort led by Jacob Dahl of the University of Oxford, who contributed an earlier series of pages to this app, that describes many of the questions posed, some solved, by his research.

CDLI entry: P009438

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem: 1 (2021-09-06)

An ancient Iranian document in Jerusalem.



The Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem, houses a collection of some 170 cuneiform text artifacts. Under the aegis of the Dominican Order, the monastery enjoys a long history of engagement in Jerusalem and the Near East generally, with research offices associated with the École biblique et archéologique française. One of the early pieces of the Saint-Étienne collection is shown here. Most likely donated to the Order by the Dominican Father Jean-Vincent Scheil who himself served as epigrapher at the Jacques de Morgan-led campaigns in Susa, and who published many of the ancient Iranian clay tablets unearthed there, this proto-Elamite document dates to the end of the 4th millennium BC and appears to record sixteen workmen affiliated with six different institutions.

CDLI entry: P009442

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Chester Beatty Library: 5 (2021-09-05)

Offerings to deities and shrines; Neo-Babylonian period; CBL CT 127



This tablet contains two accounts for offerings to various deities and shrines. The first set of offerings is presented in tabular format and described as offerings of Sippar. Both offerings took place in the 19th year of the Neo-Babylonian king Nabopolassar.

Interesting is the last column, which gives the location where the offerings are being made. We find here various deities and temples or shrines.

The second offering, which was destined for the king himself, is less detailed and only states that seven sheep are offered.

CDLI entry: P469478

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Chester Beatty Library: 4 (2021-09-04)

Sumerian proverb collection; Old Babylonian period; CBL CT 125



Wisdom texts comprise an important part not just of Sumerian but also Akkadian literature. The Mesopotamian textual heritage attests to a plentitude of proverbs (see B. Alster, Proverbs of Ancient Sumer, 1997). This fragment in the Chester Beatty Library written in a rather minuscule script contains a collection of Sumerian proverbs which deal with a human being.

Translating proverbs and transposing their idiomatic peculiarities into a modern language poses many difficulties.

CDLI entry: P469476

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Chester Beatty Library: 3 (2021-09-03)

Dated letter regarding military operations; Old Babylonian period; CBL CT 123



Letters dating to the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900-1600 BC) comprise a dense corpus of official and private communication. The Chester Beatty Library houses three such letters. The document at hand is a letter written the Babylonian king Ammi-saduqa. It is noteworthy, because it is one of the rare instances of a dated later; the date formula containing the year name for the 15th year of king Ammi-saduqa is written on its reverse. There is comparatively good evidence for royal letters in the Old Babylonian period. The most famous case are letters in the Šamaš-hazir archive from Larsa, among which many communications from Hammurabi of Babylon can be found.

The letter deals with a rumor of a certain Etel-pî-Marduk, who mediates a story that troops venture towards Sippar-Jahrurum. Ammi-saduqa himself orders the addressees to enforce the guards on the city wall and:

The city gate must not be opened as long as the sun has not risen. When the sun “stands”, it shall be closed!

But the king is also concerned with the well-being of the people and animals outside the city walls.

CDLI entry: P469474

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Chester Beatty Library: 2 (2021-09-02)

Administrative text regarding furniture; Ur III period; CBL CT 089



This completely preserved four-column tablet kept in the Chester Beatty Library contains a long list of various kinds of furniture. The first section deals with stools (Sumerian: gešgu-za) fashioned of wood and occasionally clad with bronze. This list is followed by footrests, beds, tables and other kinds of furniture.

The tablet’s subscript describes this administrative text as the (inventory of) possessions (Sumerian nig2-gur11) of a certain Dudu. The tablet is not dated.

CDLI entry: P105800

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Chester Beatty Library: 1 (2021-09-01)

Administrative letter; Ur III period; CBL CT 082



The CDLI-database currently records 815 letters dating to the Ur III period (ca. 2100-2000 BC). The letter depicted here from the Chester Beatty Library probably originated in ancient Girsu, one of the administrative centers in the core of the Ur III state. It is addressed to a certain Dugamu. The majority of the letters known from the end of the third millennium BC are letter-orders and therefore fulfil an administrative function. In this short letter-order, the addressee is ordered to give 3,000 liters of bitumen to a certain Lugal-nirgal. On the reverse the text indicates that this bitumen will be exchanged for an ox: “Lu-dingira said to me, ‘Let me put Ea’s ox in its place for you’.”

CDLI entry: P105793

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Ur III dairies: 10 (2021-07-22)

Ur III dairies accounts reflect the administrative structure of oikos households in the 21st century BC



The level of bookkeeping represented by TCL 2, 5499, MVN 15, 108, SET 130, UET 3, 1215, and other accounts reflects professional relationships among the various actors in the provinces of the Ur III empire ruled from Ur. The cattle recorded in these texts are essentially to be considered property of the state represented in Umma, for instance, by the “governor” (Sumerian ensi2); although tended by individual herders, the “large cattle manager” (šuš3) was responsible for overseeing the books of the herds registered in the debits section of the accounts, and for collecting and transferring the dairy products or their silver or other equivalents to the household of the governor. Should the cattle manager have remitted silver or dairy products to such higher officials as Lukalla or Ur-Šulpa’e in Umma province, these transactions are nonetheless to be understood as having gone through the office of the governor, since they are then dealt with in the books of these latter officials as property of his household, of course not of the cattle manager himself. Ultimately, the possession of all such goods was ceded to the king in Ur and formed the basis for taxes imposed on the individual provinces by the royal bookkeepers.

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Ur III dairies: 9 (2021-07-21)

Four-column dairies account in the collection of Allegheny College, Meadville, Pennsylvania.



MVN 15, 108, is a large consolidated account concerning the activities of an official named Atu, supervisor (Sumerian šuš3) of cattle herders in Umma. The milk cows themselves are never mentioned in the text, but all products and the names of all persons make its identification as a major document of Umma dairy herding certain. The products called i3-nun (“butter oil”) and ga-UDgunû (“kašk cheese”) are listed in pairs, always divisible by 5 and 7.5, respectively, thus indicating the number of adult cows in the herds supervised by known cattle herders (Sumerian unu3). The text mirrors the structure known generally of Ur III accounts:

1) DEBITS = sag-nig2-gur11-ra(k)
a) si-i3-tum = la2-ia3 of the preceding accounting period, expressed in standardized values
b) (ugu2) state property given over to supervisors as “investment” converted into standardized values
2) CREDITS = ša3-bi-ta ... zi-ga-am3, delivered real products and real work and allowances converted into standardized values
3) BALANCE: debits minus credits
If debits are greater than credits, a deficit la2-ia3 will appear as si-i3-tum in the debits section of the following account, or be otherwise dispensed of
If credits are greater than debits, a surplus diri will appear as diri (nig2-ka9 aka) in the credits section of the following account, or otherwise be dispensed of
4) COLOPHON: “Account (nig2-ka9 aka) concerning ... ,” Date

The account was edited in R. Englund, “Regulating Dairy Productivity in the Ur III Period,” Orientalia 64 (1995) 403-425.

CDLI entry: P118388.

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Ur III dairies: 8 (2021-07-20)

Accounting for of the cattle manager Ur-e’e in the southern Mesopotamian city Umma (ca. 2040 BC).



As in the case of dairy cows, the nanny goats in Ur III accounts formed the basis for calculations of deliveries of butter oil and kašk cheese that were processed from their milk. Where adult cows in the books were equivalent to 5 and 7.5 liters of the two products per year, respectively, nannies should result in the delivery by herders to their owners of 0.5 and 0.75 liters per year, preserving the relationship of 2:3 between oil and cheese. The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum account RC 930 records herds of goats that contained from 6 to 73 nannies and thus herds of upwards of 100-150 animals that accompanied the much larger sheep herds as they were driven from winter (lowland) to summer (highland) pasture. See R. Englund Orientalia 64 (1995) 377-429, for a description of general dairies accounting terminology in the Ur III period (to this text, pp. 398-403):

   i3-nun = butter oil,
   ga-UDgunû = dry cheese,
   si-i3-tum = remaining [deficit of the previous accounting year],
   unu3 = large cattle herder,
   ga-gazi = sumac? cheese,
   ga še(x)-a = "yellowed milk,"
   ugu2 = “debits”,
   la2-ia3 = deficit.


CDLI entry: P129539.

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Ur III dairies: 7 (2021-07-19)

A large (427 lines) account of the cattle manager Ur-e’e in the southern Mesopotamian city Umma (ca. 2040 BC).



This 13-column tablet, recording the activities of the Umma cattle manager Ur-e’e during the years Amar-Suen 2-4, was published by the eminent University of Minnesota Sumerologist Tom Jones in 1961 (Sumerian Economic Texts no. 130) and was the subject of collations and re-editions by M. Cooper and J. Snyder (ASJ 8 [1986] 318), J. Carnahan and K. Hillard (ASJ 15 [1993] 207-210), and R. Englund (Orientalia 64 [1995] 398-403). The tablet, part of the substantial cuneiform collection of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California, describes Ur-e’e’s supervision of imposing numbers of sheep and goats and the deliveries of their products, dairy oil and dry cheese on the one hand, and wool and goat hair on the other.

CDLI entry: P129539.

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Ur III dairies: 6 (2021-07-18)

The growth of the herd described in AO 5499 over ten years, together with dairy products expected from the excess milk harvested from adult cows.



This illustration offers a glimpse into the developments within a hypothetical Drehem dairy cattle herd over a period of ten years, as recorded in the six-column account AO 5499 in the collection of the Louvre Museum. To the upper left of the full illustration are the four adult cows around which the herd was built. The herd owner requires the addition each year of one calf for each two adult cows, thus giving a total of six animals in year one. The author of this theoretical account followed the unlikely presumption that the first birth was of a bull calf, the second a heifer calf, the third a bull calf and so on throughout the text. In the succeeding year, the calves are weaned and move on to yearlings, in the 3rd year to two-year-olds and so on until, on the left, they join their mothers as adult, bearing cows, or to the right age into full plowing-strength oxen if castrated, breeding bulls if not. Further, the excess milk—milk not fed to unweaned calves—is processed to dairy oil and dry cheese (kašk) and delivered, again according to this theoretical account, at a rate of 5 and 7.5 liters per cow-year, respectively. The ratio of what was called “yellowed milk” (Sumerian ga še(x)-a) to butter oil was 20:1, so that we may assume that this “yellowed milk” had an oil content of 5% and thus was preprocessed in some way to enrich the oil from an expected average of ca. 3% for healthy cows in antiquity.

CDLI entry: P131589.

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Ur III dairies: 5 (2021-07-17)

Totals of the dairy account AO 5499 indicate the numbers of cows and bulls or oxen together with all theoretical deliveries of dairy products for Šulgi 39-49 (ca. 2050-2040 BC).



At the conclusion of the ten-year period of this theoretical account, the ideal herd that began with four adult cows and two calves had, based on the Ur III norm of adding to the managed herd one calf for each two adult cows, grown to 32 head. Any additional calves would have been ceded to the herders of this enterprise. During the ten years, these herders were, in addition to the calves added to the herd, to have delivered to the herd owner a total of 275 liters of butter oil and 412.5 liters of kašk cheese. Following the implicit exchange rate of ten liters of butter oil and 150 liters of kašk cheese per shekel of silver, our accountant further registered a silver equivalent of 27.33 and 2.75 shekels of silver, respectively, for the two products. A shekel weighed ca. 8.5 grams.

CDLI entry: P131589.

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Ur III dairies: 4 (2021-07-16)

A subsection of the dairy account AO 5499 records the herd size and required dairy product deliveries for Shulgi 45 (ca. 2045 BC).



The theoretical herd consists in Šulgi’s 45th regnal year of 20 animals, differentiated by gender and age. Delivery norms for dairy cows were based on a calculation of 5 sila3 (ca. 5 liters) of butter oil and 7.5 sila3 of kašk cheese per adult cow. The products listed at the bottom of this section were then the equivalents of 6 milk cows and not 7 as registered here; these products were therefore, naturally enough, calculated based on the count of the previous year that indeed showed 6 adult cows. Bull calves and oxen were eventually culled from dairy herds and put to the plows of the large households in which the dairy herds were situated.

CDLI entry: P131589.

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Ur III dairies: 3 (2021-07-15)

A large account from Drehem housed in the Louvre Museum.



A full photographic representation of the artifact AO 5499 was created by Klaus Wagensonner using a Reflective Transformation Imaging workstation developed by the Universities of Oxford, and Southampton, UK. To the left is the obverse surface of the account surrounded by images of the tablet’s four edges, to the right the reverse surface with concluding subsections documenting the last three years of the herd’s growth, and in the left-most column totals of cattle and dairy products.

CDLI entry: P131589.

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Ur III dairies: 2 (2021-07-14)

A large account from Drehem housed in the Louvre Museum.



This artifact with the designation AO 5499 is one of the most remarkable documents in the collection of Louvre’s Department of Near Eastern Antiquities. The six-column tablet from Drehem, the tribute and accounting center of the neo-Sumerian empire, contains a theoretical exercise documenting the potential growth and income, in dairy products, of a herd of cattle over a period of the last ten years of the Ur III king Šulgi (ca. 2050-2040 BC). The account was (re-)edited in R. Englund, “Regulating Dairy Productivity in the Ur III Period,” Orientalia 64 (1995) 377-429.

CDLI entry: P131589.

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Ur III dairies: 1 (2021-07-13)

Pre-industrial production of dairy products and the contents of raw milk



Raw milk in ancient Mesopotamia, with very limited availability of refrigeration, was processed into water-free butter oil and a fat-free cheese generally known today as “kašk” in Syria and Lebanon, “baql” in Iraq, and “ekt” on the Arabian peninsula. Both products could be stored, without fear of rancidity or mold, for much longer than modern butter or fatty cheeses. In the following days, we will be presenting a number of accounts of the Ur III period (ca. 2100-2000 BC) that helped to clarify the technology and accounting procedures employed to manage the dairy production of cows and nanny goats, but apparently not of ewes.

credit: Englund, Robert K.

The Cotsen Collection at UCLA: 10 (2021-07-12)

This tablet contains a portion of the text known as “Goose and Raven,” a Sumerian fable from UCLA Library Special Collections.



Fables are a prominent part of Sumerian and Akkadian literature, and are often included in copies of the many proverb collections available to the scribal student in the 2nd millennium BC. The fables not only imparted practical advice, they also provided a type of rhetorical training for the students copying them. The fables known to us are “The Wren and the Elephant,” the “Series of the Fox,” and “The Heron and the Turtle.” Certain other fables are embedded in literary tales, and many more are probably lost. Still, the search for the origins of the genre of fable must be extended back to Mesopotamia.

This particular fable, featuring a conversation between a goose caught in a net and a raven, for whom the net was meant, is not entirely understood since its ending is not preserved. However, the two birds seem to be arguing over who is superior, while in the background a fowler’s wife plots to ensnare them, likely for the local market. The final outcome is unknown, but other examples from this genre often applaud cleverness, and the escape of one or both of the birds is probably intended. Though not always well understood, ancient fables demonstrate a variety of views on behavior—good and bad—held by the Mesopotamians. For more on Sumerian fables, see Edmund Gordon, “Sumerian Animal Provers and Fables,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 12 (1958) 1-21 & 43-75.

CDLI entry: P388363

credit: Wolfe, Jared N.

The Cotsen Collection at UCLA: 9 (2021-07-11)

An ancient encyclopedia from Mesopotamia, Ḫar-ra = ḫubullu is a series of twenty-four “books” that record many of the elements of Mesopotamian society—agricultural, anthropological, economic, legal, and religious—in both Sumerian and Akkadian.



Mesopotamian scribes kept detailed lists of what made up their world, both physical and spiritual. These so–called lexical lists, already attested in the proto-cuneiform record from the 34th century BC, were created and maintained by the scribal schools. Young scribes would copy sections of these lists to practice their signs, as well as to familiarize themselves with various areas of technical vocabulary. The lexical lists cover such areas as deities, anatomy, omens, flora, fauna, and others of more grammatical nature.

Lexical lists such as this tablet from UCLA Library Special Collections provide invaluable lexical material to the modern researcher. They offer information not only on whole words, but also on sign readings and pronunciations. Their internal ordering by signs, spellings, categories, and hierarchies also reveal the many ways that Mesopotamians brought order to their world. The large series, called here Ḫar-ra = ḫubullu (Sumerian and Akkadian for “debt,” "interest loan”; Ḫar-ra is now commonly called Ura by specialists), is named after the first entry of this lexical series containing over 10,000 entries.

CDLI entry: P388265

credit: Wolfe, Jared N.

The Cotsen Collection at UCLA: 8 (2021-07-10)

This is a student’s doodle adorning a practice exercise for letter writing, dating from the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900-1600 BC). It is from UCLA Library Special Collections, which contains a number of scribal school exercise tablets.



The student working on this tablet apparently became tired of practicing letter writing. Instead, he drew a fish and a goat on the reverse of his tablet. Examples of doodling from a time and place as remote as ancient Mesopotamia is a poignant reminder of the similarities in students’ attention spans throughout human history. The two animals were regularly eaten by the Mesopotamians, and reflect central parts of their economy. However, here the two animals are probably randomly chosen, and do not reflect a specific story or deities. Tablets depicting student doodles are rare, and provide a unique insight into Mesopotamian daily life.

On the obverse of the tablet the student has practiced his assignment two separate times. Each attempt was written with the tablet being oriented in an opposite manner as to top and bottom. Letter-writing was a common scribal exercise practiced in the schools of the Old Babylonian period.

CDLI entry: P273831

credit: Wolfe, Jared N.

The Cotsen Collection at UCLA: 7 (2021-07-09)

This text from UCLA Library Special Collections records the first twenty lines of a Sumerian scribal composition known as Schooldays. The tale highlights the exaggerated remembrance of the trials and tribulations of higher learning in 19th century Babylonia.



This composition records the experiences of a young scribe describing to his interested father the tribulations of his day at school. In Sumer, scribes were called dub-sar, “tablet writer,” and the school was known as e2-dub-ba-a, literally “House where tablets are passed out.” The text begins with the student showing to his father his “homework,” a tablet with lines copied out, and asking to be woken early in order to avoid a caning by the headmaster for tardiness. The text then relates the failings of the young scribe, especially in scribal technique, for which he is caned several times (indeed, even this excerpt tablet appears to have found the disfavor of some stern instructor!). The scribe’s father then invites the headmaster to dinner and implores him not to give up on his son. The text ends with the young scribe rejoicing at the completion of scribal school, having become a learned man at this juncture; he thereupon praises Nidaba, the goddess of scribalism, for his success.

The composition is meant to be humorous, and clearly was created by scribes recalling the tedium and intensity of scribal training. It is of interest that Nidaba’s blessing concerns a proper stylus and “good” copying skills. This points to one of the central tasks of the scribal school, the copying and preservation of lexical lists and literary compositions. It was through this method, accompanied by oral instruction, that students learned to write both Akkadian and Sumerian texts.

This fragment contains the first twenty lines of the composition. The first six read

   ‘Schoolboy, (where did you go?)’
   ‘I went to school.’
   ‘What did you do at school?’
   ‘I read my tablet, ate my lunch.
   I made my tablet, wrote it and finished it.’


CDLI entry: P388251

credit: Wolfe, Jared N.

The Cotsen Collection at UCLA: 6 (2021-07-08)

A lexical list recording the parts of the human body with their variations and medical afflictions ordered from head to toe. This large tablet is housed in UCLA Library Special Collections



The lexical series titled “ugu-mu” (“O, hy head!”) presents in descending order from head to toe the parts of the body, including bodily afflictions and associations, in Sumerian. The entries themselves are cast from the perspective of the speaker, thus the first few lines read, “my skull …my skull-cap, my head, my forehead,” etc. In this way a scribe would learn the parts of the body, sometimes also in conjunction with the medical maladies that afflicted them.

This particular exemplar is from the Old Babylonian period, and represents a major undertaking on the part of the scribe, evidenced by the size of the tablet (8 columns total). A tablet this size would probably have been kept among instructional materials of the school masters and assigned to less-advanced students to make copies of text subsections.

CDLI entry: P462192

credit: Wolfe, Jared N.

The Cotsen Collection at UCLA: 5 (2021-07-07)

A young scribe has finished his work, and has taken the time to doodle a picture of a human face with his fingernails.



This type of rounded tablet, known as a lentil, was used by the youngest scribes to practice, initially, individual wedges and sign shapes, then complex signs, and finally, short sentences. They are a hallmark of early scribal training. The student then moved on to larger, square tablets. On these the scribe practiced legal and economic writing. Often the scribe copied out sections from the large lexical lists produced by the Mesopotamian scribes to order and enumerate their world. Finally, moving to long, rectangular tablets, the scribes would practice literary compositions, eventually creating full copies of large literary texts and perhaps even composing new pieces. Tablet from UCLA Library Special Collections.

CDLI entry: P388295

credit: Wolfe, Jared N.

The Cotsen Collection at UCLA: 4 (2021-07-06)

A tablet in UCLA Library Special Collections, that compiles and records personal names that all begin with the element UR, a Sumerian word meaning "dog; servant, obedient one."



This tablet contains a long list of personal names beginning with the Sumerian word UR, which means “dog” and, by extension, “servant, obedient one.” Most of the personal names are of the form, “servant of (divine) so-and-so.” This type of appellative was very common in Sumerian culture, and was employed in all levels of society, from kings to slaves. The founder of the Third Dynasty of Ur, Ur-Namma, is a popular example, whose name means, “Servant of Namma.”

Students practiced these types of lists during each stage of scribal school, as evidenced by the range of tablet-types upon which such exercises appear. The reason behind this type of lexical exercise, however, is subject to modern conjecture. The lists may simply have been practice in popular, conventional naming styles in order to provide extensive repetition of a commonplace activity of scribes, that is, recording names in bureaucratic, legal, and commercial contexts. However, it may also have represented an attempt at classification of name types current in society at that time, though for what purpose beyond taxonomic desire remains elusive. Still, it may simply represent a desire to record and retain Sumerian names in an almost exclusively Akkadian society. Regardless, the list provides an interesting glimpse into the variety of exercises that scribes practiced during their training.

CDLI entry: P388290

credit: Wolfe, Jared N.

The Cotsen Collection at UCLA: 3 (2021-07-05)

An Old Babylonian (ca. 1900-1600 BC) copy of the lexical list Lu-azlag, which means "fuller" in Sumerian. The list records aspects of human professions, mentalities, and states.



This exemplar from UCLA Library Special Collections represents a student’s copy of various entries from a bilingual list of human professions that was popular in the Old Babylonian scribal schools, ca. 1900-1600 BC. The list, known by its incipit as lu2-azlag2, meaning “fuller,” describes not only professions, but also lists mental qualities, often of opposite meanings (fearful and fearless, truthful and lying, etc.), bodily characteristics (states of hearing, strength, etc.), and human activities (mourning, anointing, etc.). Moreover, artisans and professionals are often described by the tools and implements used in their crafts, rather than by their profession’s name. This is an innovation in the lexical tradition of Mesopotamia, and shows an increased penchant for abstraction, notably by means of metonymy. Scholars have also noted the inclusion of elements from the scholastic literature, namely the school debates between young scribes concerning their prowess in understanding Sumerian, calligraphy, and spelling.

CDLI entry: P388342

credit: Wolfe, Jared N.

The Cotsen Collection at UCLA: 2 (2021-07-04)

A multi-columned copy of the 3rd tablet of the series known as Ḫar-ra = ḫubullu, an encyclopedic lexical list from Mesopotamia that lists trees, bushes, and wooden items of various sorts. Part of the cuneiform collection of UCLA Library Special Collections.



The Mesopotamian scribes kept detailed lists of the components that made up their world, both physical and spiritual. These so-called lexical lists, which are already attested in the proto-cuneiform record, were created and maintained by the scribal schools. Young scribes would copy sections of these lists to practice their signs as well as to familiarize themselves with various areas of technical vocabulary. The lexical lists cover such areas as deities, anatomy, omens, flora, fauna, and others of more grammatical nature.

This tablet represents a sizeable collection of terms pertaining to wooden objects, be they trees or bushes, wooden tools such as plows and their constituent parts, or wooden objects such as wheels, rafters, and containers. The Sumerian word for wood is geš, and this term precedes each entry as an (unspoken) semantic indicator of the object type. This is a practice tablet recording various entries from the larger encyclopedia of wooden objects in the lexical list Ḫar-ra = ḫubullu commonly known by current specialists as “Ura”.

CDLI entry: P388265

credit: Wolfe, Jared N.

The Cotsen Collection at UCLA: 1 (2021-07-03)

A four-sided prism containing the Kesh Temple Hymn, ca. 1800 BC. Today’s entry introduces a series of slides highlighting the Cotsen cuneiform texts in the UCLA Library Special Collections.



This four-sided prism contains the Kesh Temple Hymn, a song that reaches back to the earliest exemplars of Sumerian literature, ca. 2500 BC. The hymn progresses in eight stanzas, each praising a different part of the temple. The first stanza depicts the god Enlil, head of the Sumerian pantheon, selecting and praising Kesh among all the other lands. The temple is then described as a representation of the cosmic order of the world itself, and is praised from top to bottom. The fourth stanza describes the interior of the sanctuary and its sacrifices. The fifth praises the divinities associated with Kesh: Ninḫursag, mother Earth, Nintu, the birth goddess, Šulpa’e, Ninḫursag’s consort and god of radiant youth, and Aššir, a young hero-divinity. The sixth and seventh stanzas describe the temple as a whole and its personnel, and finally the eighth stanza exhorts the people to approach and worship the temple. Each stanza ends with the refrain, “One as great as Kesh—has any man been (this) worthy? One as great as its hero, Aššir—has any mother ever borne him? One as great as its lady, Nintu—who has ever seen him?”

A video depicting the cuneiform texts in the UCLA Library Special Collections, created by Erin Flannery, is viewable on YouTube.

CDLI entry: P388262

credit: Wolfe, Jared N.

King Shulgi of Ur: 5 (2021-07-02)

Letter to King Shulgi, Babylonia ca. 1722 BC. Shulgi, was the son of Ur-Nammu and an important king known from odes in later texts. He was the Maecenas (patron of arts) of the Sumerian language and promoted the canonization of Sumerian literature.



King Shulgi proclaimed himself a god and boasted that he was one of the few kings who went to school to become a scribe. At the schools that taught this difficult skill, students also learned how to debate in public and practiced the refined art of insulting opponents before refuting their arguments.

CDLI entry: Q000561

credit: Cartmel, Kathryn

King Shulgi of Ur: 4 (2021-07-01)

The image shows a pair of golden earrings with the shape of a half pumpkin. The overlying decorative cuneiform inscription mentions that these earrings were a gift from the king. The earrings are from Mesopotamia, neo-Sumerian period, reign of Shulgi (ca. 2080-2030 BC; Sulaimaniya Museum in Iraq).



King Sulgi of Ur was a wealthy ruler who augmented his fortune through such enactments as the taxing of temple households. Of course, the monarch did not solely focus his attention on gold jewelry; he expended the majority of the palace’s wealth on improving existing, and building new roads, on continuing his father’s policies of erecting monumental buildings, and on the maintenance of an internal policing, tax collecting, and military apparatus.

CDLI entry: P481718

credit: Cartmel, Kathryn

King Shulgi of Ur: 3 (2021-06-30)

This tablet glorifies Shulgi and his victories over the Lullubi tribes, mentioning the modern city of Erbil and the district of Sulaymaniayh; ca. 2050 BC, the Sulaymaniyah Museum, Iraq.



King Shulgi of Ur utilized any opportunity he could get to boast about his achievements. Many of these stories, most of which were certainly court propoganda, can be found on clay tablets similar to this one. Shulgi boasted about his ability to maintain high speeds while running long distances. He claimed in his 7th regal year to have run from Nippur to Ur, a distance of over 100 miles.

CDLI entry: P481723

credit: Cartmel, Kathryn

King Shulgi of Ur: 2 (2021-06-29)

Weight of ½ mina (ca. 250gr) dedicated by King Shulgi and bearing the emblem of the crescent moon: it was used in the temple of the moon-god Nanna at Ur. Ur III period.



The mina is an Ancient Near-Eastern unit of weight. Shulgi’s name was was inscribed on the weight, and also inscribed on other artifacts like building walls and clay tablets. Kings often used this as a propaganda tool and a vehicle to spread their name and image across a vast territory. Translation: For (divine) Nanna, his king, by (divine) Shulgi, the strong leader, king of Ur, king of the four corners, (this) one-half mina was verified.

CDLI entry: Q001682.

credit: Cartmel, Kathryn

King Shulgi: 1 (2021-06-28)

Foundation figure of King Shulgi of Ur carrying a basket, copper, c. 2094–2047 BC. Foundation figures were buried in the foundations of a temple and show the king carrying building materials for the temple. Building and restoring temples was a pious act expected of Mesopotamian kings of this period.



This object portrays a king carrying a basket of clay or other building material during his ritual participation in the construction of a royal building or temple, which is typical of copper and bronze “canephore” or “basket bearer” pegs. A late third millennium BC text (Cylinder A) of the ruler Gudea of Lagash provides a detailed description of his active role in the construction of the Ningirsu Temple at Girsu, during which he transported material in a sacred basket that he carried “on his head like a crown.”

Although it is not inscribed and its original context is unknown, stylistically this peg is nearly identical to others that are securely dated to the reigns of the Ur III kings Ur-Nammu (2112-2095 BC) and Shulgi (2094-2047 BC). Many of these pegs were found by archaeologists in boxes built into the mudbrick foundations of temples and palaces, often at the corners of buildings and flanking gateways. They were frequently accompanied by the remains of offerings or auspicious material such as beads, stone chips, and date pits, and some pegs were found with remnants of fabric clinging to them. Many boxes also contained remnants of what may have been wooden pegs as well as stone or metal tablets in the form of plano-convex bricks. The inscriptions on the tablets and on a number of pegs record the royal building of the relevant structure for the sake of a deity.

CDLI entry: P226509.

credit: Cartmel, Kathryn

John Rylands Library: 8 (2021-06-27)

A balbale-song to Ninurta; ; John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, UK; JRL 0925.



The John Rylands Library, though Ur III accounts form the major part, also keeps a nice bunch of Sumerian literature. Among these texts is a song to the warrior god Ninurta (bal-bal-e dnin-urta-kam). The second manuscript belonging to this short composition is housed in the Arkeoloji Müzeleri in Istanbul (P345193).

The text was published by Farouk N. H. Al-Rawi and Jeremy Black (“A balbale of Ninurta, god of fertility,” ZA 90, 2000). The composition uses in its final section (lines 24-31) a stock strophe widely employed in Sumerian literature, interpreted by Ferrara as “topos of plenitude” (A. J. Ferrara, “Topoi and stock-strophes in Sumerian literary traditions: some observations, part I,” JNES 54 [1995] 81ff.). These lines read in translation:

Through him, carp floods are made plentiful in the river.
Through him, fine grains are made to grow in the fields.
Through him, carp are maid plentiful in the lagoons.
Through him, dead and fresh reed are made to grow in the reed thickets.
Through him, fallow deer and wild sheep are made plentiful in the forests.
Through him,
mašgurum trees are made to grow in the high desert.
Through him, syrup and wine are made plentiful in the watered gardens.
Through him, long life is made to grow in the palace.


CDLI entry: P355689

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

John Rylands Library: 7 (2021-06-26)

Clay nail with early Old Babylonian inscription; John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, UK; JRL 1094.



The early Old Babylonian king commemorates on this clay nail the building of the stronghold of Isin (bad3-gal i3-si-inki-na). The text is inscribed twice: a two-column version is found on top of the nail, and it runs in one column around the nail’s shaft (see Farouk N. H. Al-Rawi, “Cuneiform Inscriptions in the Collections of the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester,” Iraq 62 [2000] 34 no. 76).

CDLI entry: P430893

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

John Rylands Library: 5 (2021-06-25)

Two parts united; large Ur III account from Girsu found in the British Museum and the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, UK(BM 13650 + JRL 881).



Not infrequently, two or more fragments join together that are kept in different collections. In this case, the upper half of a large account dating to the Ur III period (ca. 2100-2000 BC) is part of the collections of the British Museum. The lower half, on the other hand, is nowadays kept in Manchester. Both fragments were imaged separately and joined together in Photoshop.

CDLI entry: P108388

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

John Rylands Library: 4 (2021-06-24)

Large Ur III account from Umma; John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, UK; JRL 263.



This large Ur III account is almost completely preserved. The tablet was written in the 3rd year of the Ur III ruler Amar-Suen. It deals with the planning of barley rations to the working personnel at a place called Babaz (probably near Puzrish-Dagan). The text gives important information on young castrated workers (Sumerian amar-KUD) who belonged to a lower social stratum of the Ur III state (ca. 2100-2000 BC). This account has been treated by K. Maekawa ("Animal and Human Castration in Sumer. Part II: Human Castration in the Ur III Period," Zinbun 16 [1980] 37ff.).

CDLI entry: P107777

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

John Rylands Library: 6 (2021-06-23)

Cone-shaped cylinder bearing Neo-Babylonian building inscription; John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, UK; JRL 1096.



Due to the long reign of the Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 BC) we nowadays have quite a substantial amount of royal/building inscriptions at our disposal. These texts commemorate extensive building projects all over the neo-Babylonian empire, but in particular in the capital city Babylon (for general remarks on his inscriptions now R. Da Riva, The Neo-Babylonian Royal Inscriptions. An Introduction, GMTR 4 [2008] 110ff.).

The well-preserved clay barrel in the John Rylands Library contains three columns of text. The inscription deals with the restoration and rebuilding of the temple of Lugal-Marada (i.e., Ninurta) at the city of Marad. The text was recently published by Farouk N.H. al-Rawi (“Cuneiform Inscriptions in the Collections of the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester,” Iraq 62 [2000] 35-39 no. 78).

CDLI entry: P430895

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

John Rylands Library: 3 (2021-06-22)

Pyramidal-shaped sealed label from Umma; John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, UK; JRL 0872.



The John Rylands Library keeps three of these peculiar labels. 69 such labels from Ur III Umma are known so far (see R. Laurito, A. Mezzasalma and L. Verderame, "Texts and Labels: A Case Study from Neo-Sumerian Umma," SAOC 62 [2008] 99ff.). These labels form a coherent group in particular because of their standardized shape and the mentioned officials. They deal with monthly accounts of regular deliveries (sa2-du11) and are always sealed. JRL 872 is a well-preserved example of this group. Two officials sealed the surface with their seals (best seen on the uninscribed bottom side). The upper seal belongs to a certain Ur-Nungal, the seal at the bottom to Lu-kalla. Regarding the labels' purpose, it has been argued that they were attached to containers carrying accounts for either a month or a year.

CDLI entry: P108379

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

John Rylands Library: 2 (2021-06-21)

“Send him to Kish urgently”: an Old Babylonian letter from Etel-pi-Marduk to his superior



This letter, a part of the cuneiform collection of the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, UK (JRL 929), was written by a certain Etel-pi-Marduk (known as addressee and sender from numerous letters in different collections) to his superior. Letters of this period start with a stereotypical formula (“To [ADDRESSEE] speak, thus [SENDER]”). After this formula we have, in most instances, a blessing. This particular letter is noteworthy since it has a fairly long greeting that reads, in translation, as follows:

May the gods Shamash and Marduk keep you healthy for all time. May the god, your protector, provide you with good things. Regarding your well-being I have written (to you). May your well-being last before Shamash and Marduk.

The body of the letter is, in contrast, quite short. Etel-pi-Marduk asks his superior to give rations to a scribe and his colleague, and to immediately send them off to Kish.

CDLI entry: P430839

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

John Rylands Library: 1 (2021-06-20)

A well-preserved manuscript of the Sumerian tale of the hero Gilgamesh and a king of Kish named Agga, part of the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, UK



This tablet is one of the few examples of Sumerian literature in the JRL, Manchester. The manuscript originally contained the whole composition of 115 lines, which ends in the doxology “Oh Gilgamesh, lord of Kulaba, praising you is sweet.” Sumerian literature includes quite a few tales about early kings from Uruk, who occur in the ‘Sumerian King List’ as well. Besides several tales about Gilgamesh (that are quite different from the later Akkadian tradition culminating in the Standard Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic), we have several compositions dealing with Lugalbanda and Enmerkar and their deeds.

Gilgamesh and Agga” is the only example of the Old Babylonian Gilgamesh tales that draws on historical figures, for a king Agga of Kish is known from contemporary inscriptions. The composition has been cited by various specialists, most notably Thorkild Jacobsen, as evidence for the early developement of democratic institutions in Mesopotamia, even if clad in often formulaic literature. It should be noted, however, that all known manuscripts of the tale are from the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900-1600 BC) and therefore much later than the posited reign of Gilgamesh in the early 3rd millennium.

CDLI entry: P430840

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Erlenmeyer archaic: 9 (2021-06-19)

Proto-cuneiform grain management account (Uruk III period, ca. 3200-3000 BC; owner: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York)



The Uruk III period (ca. 3200-3000 BC) sealed tablet from the former Swiss Erlenmeyer collection, auctioned at Christie’s London in December 1988 for £9,500, contains two entries concerning the distribution of barley; the tablet is one of only two archaic texts from the Erlenmeyer archive with a seal impression. Note the seal’s depiction of the ruler, often called the “priest-king” of Uruk, on the hunt for wild boar with his mastiffs in the reed marshland of southern Mesopotamia, a very dangerous sport in ancient, as in modern times. Bibliography: Hans J. Nissen, Peter Damerow & Robert K. Englund, Archaic Bookkeeping (Chicago 1993) p. 17 + fig. 17; Joan Aruz, Art of the First Cities (2003) 40. The text also appeared in the 4th and final volume of the series Cuneiform Texts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art edited by Ira Spar (2014; pp. 338-339, no. 179). Photo courtesy of the MMA; seal impression rendering: J. Aruz, Curator in Charge, Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art.

CDLI entry: P005393

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Erlenmeyer archaic: 8 (2021-06-18)

Proto-cuneiform grain management account (Uruk III period, ca. 3200-3000 BC; owner: Land Berlin, Germany; on permanent loan to the Vorderasiatisches Museum)



The Uruk III period (ca. 3200-3000 BC) account from the former Swiss Erlenmeyer collection, auctioned at Christie’s London in December 1988 for £9,000, records, on its inscribed surface, two entries to the upper right concerning barley groats and malt (indeed, the latter of the two notations represents the largest amount of malt attested as yet in the archaic texts), probably for beer production, and to the upper left the total of the entries. The signs at the bottom of the text are believed to stand for the brewery official or office called "KU-ŠIM," most often associated with beer production in the Erlenmeyer texts. Bibliography: Hans J. Nissen, Peter Damerow & Robert K. Englund, Archaic Bookkeeping (Chicago 1993) pp. 39-40 + fig. 36; R. Englund in J. Bauer, R. Englund and M. Krebernik, OBO 160/1 (1998) 187 fig. 73.

CDLI entry: P005363

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Erlenmeyer archaic: 7 (2021-06-17)

Proto-cuneiform breweries management account (Uruk III period, ca. 3200-3000 BC; owner: Schøyen Collection, Norway)



The Uruk III period (ca. 3200-3000 BC) account from the former Swiss Erlenmeyer collection, auctioned at Christie’s London in December 1988 for £22,000, records only one entry with a numerical notation representing the largest amount of barley of all archaic texts in the Erlenmeyer collection; extra information is given with the entry, in particular the time notation “37 months,” the largest known month notation in the entire archaic text corpus. Bibliography: Hans J. Nissen, Peter Damerow & Robert K. Englund, Archaic Bookkeeping (Chicago 1993) pp. 36-37 + fig. 33; R. Englund in J. Bauer, R. Englund and M. Krebernik, OBO 160/1 (1998) 182 fig. 69.

CDLI entry: P005340

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Erlenmeyer archaic: 6 (2021-06-16)

Proto-cuneiform breweries management account (Uruk III period, ca. 3200-3000 BC; owner: Land Berlin, Germany; on permanent loan to the Vorderasiatisches Museum)



The Uruk III period (ca. 3200-3000 BC) account from the former Swiss Erlenmeyer collection, auctioned at Christie’s London in December 1988 for £15,000, records the distribution of larger amounts of barley to several persons with the total of the entries on the reverse; this total was combined with a further entry for a grand total associated with the office of “KU-ŠIM,” interpreted to be the major brewery of the city. Bibliography: Hans J. Nissen, Peter Damerow & Robert K. Englund, Frühe Schrift und Techniken der Wirtschaftsverwaltung im alten Vorderen Orient (Berlin 1990, 1991, 2004) no. 4.24.

CDLI entry: P005335

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Erlenmeyer archaic: 5 (2021-06-15)

Proto-cuneiform bakery account (Uruk III period, ca. 3200-3000 BC; owner: Bolaffi Collection, Turin, Italy)



The Uruk III period (ca. 3200-3000 BC) account from the former Swiss Erlenmeyer collection, auctioned at Christie’s London in December 1988 for £40,000 to M. Stansfeld, Monaco (resold by Christie’s in 2005 to Bolaffi Turin for a £160,000 hammer price, at £187,200 including premium far and away the highest sum every paid for a Babylonian clay tablet), records the distribution of various amounts of differing types of beer to several persons and for certain festivals(?); the types of beer and the barley groats and malt necessary for their production are totaled separately on the reverse. Bibliography: Hans J. Nissen, Peter Damerow & Robert K. Englund, Archaic Bookkeeping (Chicago 1993) pp. 43-46 + fig. 39; R. Englund in J. Bauer, R. Englund and M. Krebernik, OBO 160/1 (1998) 194 fig. 76.

CDLI entry: P005322

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Erlenmeyer archaic: 4 (2021-06-14)

Detail shots of a proto-cuneiform bakery account (Uruk III period, ca. 3200-3000 BC; owner: Land Berlin, Germany; on permanent loan to the Vorderasiatisches Museum)



The two cut-outs from the proto-cuneiform bakery account of the previous day contain notations that are characteristic of a large number of Babylonian administrative records from the latter third of the 4th millennium BC. To the upper right is the first case of the account with the inscription

   2N51 , 1N30c DU8c ABb EZINUd
   4N5 4N42a.


An approximate translation is: “240 flatbreads for AB-EZINU, each ‘1N30c’ in size, requiring 4N5 4N42a in flour”, that is, 240 x N30c = 24N42a = 4N5 4N42a (where we know that 1N5 = 5N42a). Simple numerical substitution results in the conclusion that 1N30c = 1/10xN42a, a relationship that was for the first time demonstrated with publication of this text. Our calculations indicate that the numerical sign 1N30c represented about half a liter of grain. To the lower left is the general qualifier of the account, namely, the sign combination of “head” + “bowl” (a representation of the common Late Uruk beveled-rim bowl) with the later Sumerian reading of gu7, “to consume.” Bibliography: Hans J. Nissen, Peter Damerow & Robert K. Englund, Frühe Schrift und Techniken der Wirtschaftsverwaltung im alten Vorderen Orient (Berlin 1990, 1991, 2004) no. 4.3; Damerow, Englund & Nissen, MDOG 121 (1989) 151.

CDLI entry: P005314

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Erlenmeyer archaic: 3 (2021-06-13)

Proto-cuneiform bakery account (Uruk III period, ca. 3200-3000 BC; owner: Land Berlin, Germany; on permanent loan to the Vorderasiatisches Museum)



The Uruk III period (ca. 3200-3000 BC) account from the former Swiss Erlenmeyer collection, auctioned at Christie’s London in December 1988 for £36,000, records the cereal required for various amounts of two grain products, probably bread loafs, with the total of the quantities on the reverse. This depiction rotates the tablet 90 degrees clockwise to represent its true orientation in ancient times (following Assyriological conventions, early texts are published and usually displayed in museums in the orientation that mimics the way tablets were written from the mid-2nd to the end of the 1st millennium BC). Bibliography: Hans J. Nissen, Peter Damerow & Robert K. Englund, Frühe Schrift und Techniken der Wirtschaftsverwaltung im alten Vorderen Orient (Berlin 1990, 1991, 2004) no. 4.3; Damerow, Englund & Nissen, MDOG 121 (1989) 151.

CDLI entry: P005314

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Erlenmeyer archaic: 2 (2021-06-12)

Proto-cuneiform model grain management account (Uruk III period, ca. 3200-3000 BC; owner: Land Berlin, Germany; on permanent loan to the Vorderasiatisches Museum)



The Uruk III period (ca. 3200-3000 BC) account from the former Swiss Erlenmeyer collection, auctioned at Christie’s London in December 1988 for £30,000, lists various amounts of differing cereal products and the results of the calculation of the cereal (barley groats and malt) required for their production. Bibliography: Hans J. Nissen, Peter Damerow & Robert K. Englund, Archaic Bookkeeping (Chicago 1993) pp. 42-43; Damerow, Englund & Nissen, Natuur & Techniek 59/9 (1991) 704; R. Englund in J. Bauer, R. Englund and M. Krebernik, OBO 160/1 (1998) 196 fig. 77.

CDLI entry: P005313

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Erlenmeyer archaic: 1 (2021-06-11)

Proto-cuneiform account from grain management (Uruk III period, ca. 3200-3000 BC; owner: Land Berlin, Germany; on permanent loan to the Vorderasiatisches Museum)



The Uruk III period (ca. 3200-3000 BC) account from the former Swiss Erlenmeyer collection, auctioned at Christie’s London in December 1988 for £18,000, records larger amounts of barley and various sorts of emmer with partial sums and a grand total on the reverse. Note the special designation of emmer “|GISZ.TE|” of unclear meaning. The late Assyriologist Johannes J. A. van Dijk reported to members of the Berlin project Archaische Texte aus Uruk that he was once shown the location of the Uruk mound where the Erlenmeyer collection was unearthed. Bibliography: Hans J. Nissen, Peter Damerow & Robert K. Englund, Frühe Schrift und Techniken der Wirtschaftsverwaltung im alten Vorderen Orient (Berlin 1990, 1991, 2004) no. 4.1, title page; Damerow, Englund & Nissen, Natuur & Techniek 59/9 (1991) 606-697.

CDLI entry: P005312

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Cuneiform building plans: 6 (2021-06-10)

Clay tablet dating to the Ur III period (ca. 2050 BC) located in the Semitic Museum, Harvard University (SM 1913.02.183). The text’s drawing and inscription appear to register the building lot of an official named Lu-mah.



A transcription of the photo on the left is offered to the right. The calculations of the two incised rectangular surfaces are straightforward. Using the values 1 ninda (ca. 6m) = 12 cubits (Sumerian kuš3) for linear measurements, and 1 ninda x 1 ninda = 1 sar (ca. 36 m2; sar is literally “garden”) = 60 shekels (Sum. gin2) for areas, the upper surface is 1 x 1 3/12 ninda = 1 15/60 sar (ca. 45 m2), and, using the standard Bablyonion surface calculation rule of multiplying the average length of opposing sides of irregular rectangles, the lower surface is 2 4/12 x (2 9/12 + 2 6/12)/2 = 6 7.5/60 sar (ca. 220.5 m2). These areas would correspond to the expected lot sizes of a substantial estate. (The numerical notations to the right may have something to do with calculations of the two surfaces divided by the interior vertical line in the lower rectangle.) Primary publication: Edzard, Dietz Otto, JCS 16 (1962) 81 HSM 7500.

CDLI entry: P111942

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Cuneiform building plans: 5 (2021-06-09)

Statue B of Gudea (ca. 2100 BC) depicts the Sumerian ruler seated on a throne, a contruction plan for his restoration work on the great city temple “House-of-Fifty: White-Thunderbird” on his lap. Excavated at Telloh, ancient Girsu, and located in the Louvre Museum, Paris (AO 2).



Gudea’s fascination with the construction of this monumental building (ca. 2100 BC) is very well documented in the excavation record, including the most extensive Sumerian inscription known to date, describing the feat (his Cylinders A-B); a series of inscribed statues such as this one with similar, though smaller inscriptions; and many thousands of clay cones and bricks with short commemorative texts that represent excerpts from the larger inscriptions. A selection of publications of Statue B: Edzard, Dietz Otto, RIME 3/1.1.7, St B (1997); Steible, Horst, FAOS 9/1 (1991) 156-179, and 9/2 (1991) 6-38; Heinrich, Ernst & Seidl, Ursula, MDOG 98 (1967) 31, no. 8. For Mesopotamian temples, see Heinrich, Ernst & Seidl, Ursula, Die Tempel und Heiligtümer im alten Mesopotamien (Berlin 1982).

CDLI entry: P232275

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Cuneiform building plans: 4 (2021-06-08)

House plan from the Ur III period (ca. 2050 BC) located in the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin, Germany (VAT 7031). The drawing represents a traditional central-court style private home.



The plans for this private home from the Ur III period (ca. 2100-2000 BC) call for one exterior door leading to an entry with rooms off to either side, and one interior door leading to the central courtyard, probably without roof to let in daylight and fresh air. From this courtyard the occupants accessed three further rooms. At 7 × 12 cubits = 21 sq m, the courtyard is the largest interior surface of the home; next largest is the room to the left of the entry, with 13 ⅓ × 5 cubits = 16 ⅔ sq m; then that at the top right corner with 13 × 5 cubits = 16 ¼ sq m; the entry with 12 × 5 cubits = 15 sq m; the upper left corner room with 10! × 5 cubits = 12 ½ sq m; the room to the right off the courtyard with 7 × 5 cubits = 8 ¾ sq m; and finally the room to the right of the entry, with 5 × 5 cubits = 6 ¼ sq m. Based on a wall thickness of 1 cubit, the house in total appears to have been drawn up for an interior area of 24 × 19 cubits = 114 sq m. Primary publication: Schneider, Nikolaus, OrSP 47-49 (1930) 504.

O by the way: Happy New Year to our community of cuneiform enthusiasts!

CDLI entry: P125392

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Cuneiform building plans: 3 (2021-06-07)

The two Ashmolean Museum fragments Ashm 1911-238 & 239 appear to be part of a larger tablet, describing a substantial building measuring some 20×25 m.



The left half of a floor plan from the Ur III period (ca. 2100-2000 BC) appears preserved on two fragments in the Ashmolean Museum (see the previous entry). Measurements of the outer walls and the inner rooms are given in “cubits” (Sumerian kuš3, ca. 50 cm) and fractions of cubits, and ninda = 12 cubits, or about 6m. It appears that the edges of both fragments, said to be from Umma, were evened out to give the appearance of complete texts and therefore add to their purchase price.

Translation:
Room 1
   1 1/2 ninda less 1 “fist” (1/3 cubit), the length;
   11 cubits, the width;

Room 2
   1 ninda 2 cubits 2 “fists”, the length;
   4 cubits 1 “open-hand” (1/2 cubit), the width;

Room 3
   1 ninda 5 cubits 1 “fist” the length;
   4 cubits 1 “open-hand”, the width;

Room 4
   11 cubits the length;
   6 cubits the width;

Room 5
   1 running ninda 2 cubits the length;
   5 cubits the width;

Room 6
   n ... the length;
   n ... the width;

Room 7
   10 cubits ... the length;
   n ... the width;

Room 8
   n ... the length;
   n ... the width;

Room 9
   n ... the length;
   3 cubits the width;

rest broken

CDLI entries: P142749

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Cuneiform building plans: 2 (2021-06-06)

The preserved upper left corner of a plan for a large building from the 21st century BC, now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK (Ashm 1911-238). The image includes shots of the artifact’s edges; since tablets were symmetrical, we estimated we are looking at a quarter of the full text.



This floor plan from the Ur III period (ca. 2100-2000 BC) was drawn in preparation of the construction of a large building. Measurements of the outer walls and the inner rooms are given in “cubits” (Sumerian kuš3, ca. 50cm) and fractions of cubits, and ninda = 12 cubits, or about 6m. Original publication: Donald, Trevor, JSS 7 (1962) 184; see further Heinrich, Ernst & Seidl, Ursula, MDOG 98 (1967) 32 no. 9, and for Mesopotamian palace architecture generally, Heinrich, Ernst, Die Paläste im alten Mesopotamien (Berlin 1984).

Translation:
Room 1 (upper left)
   1 1/2 ninda less 1 “fist” (1/3 cubit), the length;
   11 cubits, the width;

Room 2a (middle left)
   1 ninda 2 cubits 2 “fists”, the length;
   4 cubits 1 “open-hand” (1/2 cubit), the width;

Room 2b (lower left)
   ... “fist” the length;
   4 cubits 1 “open-hand” (1/2 cubit), the width;

Room 3 (middle right)
   10 cubits ...;

CDLI entry: P142749

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Cuneiform building plans: 1 (2021-06-05)

A building plan from the 21st century BC with measurements based on 3 cubit-thick outer walls and central room niche walls, otherwise 2 cubit-thick inner walls; tablet in the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, UK.



This floor plan from the Ur III period (ca. 2100-2000 BC) was drawn in preparation of the building of a traditional temple consisting of a central nave with aisles along either side. Measurements of the outer walls and the inner rooms are given in “cubits” (Sumerian kuš3, ca. 50 cm) and ninda = 12 cubits, or about 6 m. Original publication: Donald, Trevor, JSS 7 (1962) 184; see further Heinrich, Ernst & Seidl, Ursula, MDOG 98 (1967) 32 no. 9, and for Mesopotamian temples generally, Heinrich & Seidl, Die Tempel und Heiligtümer im alten Mesopotamien (Berlin 1982).

The side rooms are each 6 cubits (ca. 3m) wide, with varying lengths described in the text, while the rooms of the central nave are 10 cubits wide. To account for the width and length of the entire building, the outer and the central room niche walls must have been 3 cubits thick, while other inner walls were just 2.

CDLI entry: P112404

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Bricks: 14 (2021-06-04)

A modern brick with a stamped inscription of Saddam Hussein, in situ in Babylon.



The brick here was photographed in situ in the wall of the palace of the neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzer II in Babylon, restored on orders of the former President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, in the mid-1980s. Much in the same tenor as is seen in brick inscriptions from Ur III dynasts four millennia earlier, the inscription reads: “In the era of the victorious Saddam Hussein, President of the Republic—may God preserve him!—Great Protector of Iraq, Restorer of its Renaissance and of its Civilization, took place the third rebuilding of the city of Babel. (In) 1309 AH = 1989 AD took place the rebuilding of this palace built by King Nebuchadnezzar II in 605-630 (sic) BC” (translation courtesy of Michael Fishbein, UCLA). The site of Babylon is now being restored to its original, pre-Saddam state of preservation.

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Bricks: 13 (2021-06-03)

An Ur III period (ca. 2100-2000 BC) brick with an inscription of the king, in situ in Ur.



The brick here with a stamp inscription of the king Amar-Suen (ca. 2050 BC) rests in situ in the wall of a royal building in the neo-Sumerian capital Ur. Such bricks would have been covered over with a protective layer of plaster and consequently the inscriptions themselves hidden from public view; they were thus messages from the kings to the gods, this example to Enlil, the chief executive of the Sumerian pantheon with seat in distant Nippur.

CDLI entry: P429412

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Bricks: 12 (2021-06-02)

Kids!



Based on its form, and registration in the the collection of the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the brick here was manufactured in the mid-first millennium BC, though with the footprint of an individual who, following Giles & Vallandigham, Journal of Forensic Sciences 36 (1991) 1134-1151, may have had a height of some 50 inches and was probably a male, thus perhaps a boy 8 or 9 years old. Our unschooled guess: the son of an indulgent brickmaker.

CDLI entry: P461400

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Bricks: 11 (2021-06-01)

Dogs, take three: 19th century Eshnunna.



Always avoiding the disrespectful positioning of dog paw prints directly on the stamp inscription of the city ruler, the brick maker of this example found in the collection of the Hearst Museum of Anthropology, University of California at Berkeley, set his best friend’s well-defined paws below and to the right of the text dedicated to the Eshnunna governor Ur-Ningešzida (“Beloved of Tišpak, governor Eshnunna”). Fourteen bricks with this inscription are currently registered through the CDLI.

CDLI entry: P247874

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Bricks: 10 (2021-05-31)

Dogs, take two: Nebuchadnezzar II.



Fifteen centuries after the reign of the Ur III king Ur-Namma, brickmakers still kept their loyal charges at their sides. The brick here, kept in the collection of the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Philadelphia), was impressed with the stamp of the best known neo-Babylonian sovereign Nebukhadnezzar II (“King of Babylon, provider of Esagila, and Ezida, first seed of Nabupolassar, king of Babylon”) and bears witness to another apparent positioning of the front paws of a proud owner.

CDLI entry: P461401

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Bricks: 9 (2021-05-30)

Dogs will be dogs.



The brick here from the capital Ur and today found in the Middle Eastern collection of the British Museum (BM 137495, accessioned 1935-01-12, 116; see Douglas Frayne, RIME 3/2.1.1.2, ex. 18) was impressed with the stamp of the founder of the Ur III dynasty (text: “Ur-Namma, king of Ur, man who built the house of Nanna”) before a dog in the workplace hopped—or was stationed by his proud owner—onto the soft clay with his front paws, leaving well-defined pad and claw marks (a similar brick is known in the University of Pennsylvania collection, and an Old Babylonian Hearst brick from the Diyala region displays similar mischief—or attachment, as seems possible for the foot print of a child on UM 84-26-129, and the signed hand prints in the concrete of our back walk). At 6x7cm in size (width x height), the paw prints correspond to a dog in the middle range of ca. 15-20kg.

CDLI entry: P226876

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Bricks: 8 (2021-05-29)

An Ur III period (ca. 2100-2000 BC) brick with an inscription of the king.



The brick here from the capital Ur and today found in the Middle Eastern collection of the British Museum (BM 137419, accessioned 1979-12-18, 54), displays an example of a stamp gone bad. The stone cutter charged with preparing the stamp used on this brick apparently did not realize that the inscription on the stamp surface had to be a negative of the desired brick impression, and thus went about carving what was likely expensive stone, possibly marble, with the a positive inscription that left this negative.

CDLI entry: P226871

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Bricks: 7 (2021-05-28)

An Ur III period (ca. 2100-2000 BC) brick stamp with an inscription of dynasty’s third king.



This brick stamp from the collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale et Universitaire de Strasbourg, France (BNUS 374; see Douglas Frayne, RIME 3/2.1.3.1, ex. 61) was made of clay and contained a mirrored inscription of the king Amar-Suen; against good taste, the inscription was pressed into the clay surface rather than raised to leave the effect of actual impressed characters when stamped on brick surfaces.

CDLI entry: P227172

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Bricks: 6 (2021-05-27)

An Ur III period (ca. 2100-2000 BC) brick stamp with an inscription of the dynasty’s third king.



This brick stamp from the Norwegian Schøyen Collection (MS 2764; see Piotr Steinkeller, Cornell University Studies in Assyriology and Sumerology 16 [2011] no. 16) was made of marble, but was unfinished, perhaps after an attentive overseer noticed a mistakes in the first line’s cuneiform characters: the initial wedges of the second character (AMAR) should have mimicked those at its end, and the final character to the upper left should have been more triangular in form, and should have filled the space. What the completed inscription would have looked like can be seen by scrolling down the relevant CDLI pages.

CDLI entry: P251790

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Bricks: 5 (2021-05-26)

An Old Akkadian (ca. 2250 BC) brick stamp with an inscription of the king.



Designers of Old Akkadian stamp seals cared not just for an aesthetically pleasing mirrored inscription, but also for ease of use. The artifact pictured here, found in the Norwegian Schøyen Collection (MS 5106; see Andrew George, Cornell University Studies in Assyriology and Sumerology 17 [2011] no. 24), was fashioned with a grip to aid in what must have been a monotonous chore of applying the stamp to innumerable bricks. Like the Adab stamp of the previous day, this piece contains a negative inscription of the fourth monarch of the Akkadian empire, reading “Naram-Suen, builder of the house of Inanna,” and is one of currently 60 examples of such stamps catalogued in the CDLI.

CDLI entry: P254174

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Bricks: 4 (2021-05-25)

An Old Akkadian (ca. 2250 BC) brick stamp with an inscription of the king.



The first true “printing presses” were in fact cylinder seals, and, more aptly, stamps widely employed in 3rd millennium Mesopotamia to impress multiple copies of the same text on surfaces of bricks. The artifact pictured here, deriving from Adab and today found in the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (A 457; see Edgar Banks, Bismaya p. 342, no. 2), contains a negative inscription of the fourth monarch of the Akkadian empire, reading “Naram-Suen, builder of the house of Inanna,” and is one of currently 60 examples of such stamps catalogued in the CDLI.

CDLI entry: P333340

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Bricks: 3 (2021-05-24)

An Ur III period (ca. 2100-2000 BC) brick with an inscription of the king.



The artifact pictured here, deriving from Eridu south of the capital Ur and today found in the Middle Eastern collection of the British Museum (BM 90767, accessioned 1859-10-14, 338), contains stamp inscriptions of the Ur III king on the upper and side surfaces. Integral to the planning and construction of buildings, bricks, no less than today, had to be of normed measurements. Babylonian bricks were measured in “sar” consisting of 720 bricks, regardless of size, apparently based on an Old Akkadian square brick measuring 1x1 cubits (Sumerian kuš3, ca. 50 cm) and a thickness of 6 “fingers” (Sumerian šu-si, of which six were equal to 1/5 cubit or ca. 10 cm). Placing 12 by 12 bricks in layers five courses high resulted in a Babylonian “volume sar” of 1 ninda squared x 1 cubit (the ninda was 12 cubits or ca. 6m long, and thus a volume sar 36 x 1/2, or ca. 18 cubic meters). Ur III bricks for monumental buildings were commonly 2/3 cubit squared, with the same thickness of 6 fingers or, as here, less. This particular brick measured ca. 34 cm square (that is, 2/3 cubits) by 7 cm thickness; it may be that some 3 cm were reckoned for layers of mortar or bitumen and reed between the brick courses.

CDLI entry: P226691

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Bricks: 2 (2021-05-23)

An Ur III period (ca. 2100-2000 BC) brick with an inscription of the king.



Large buildings in southern Mesopotamia were built of bricks, often fired and weather-resistant in the lower wall courses, with plastered mud-brick above. The artifact pictured here, deriving from the neo-Sumerian capital Ur and today found in the Middle Eastern collection of the British Museum (BM 114266), contains a stamp inscription of the Ur III king, and on its bottom surface the remnants of a layer of bitumen, itself originally resting on a layer of reed matting to protect the wall from moisture that would otherwise rise up from ground level through capillary action. The text reads: “Amar-Suen, named in Nippur by Enlil, ‘headrest’ in the house of Enlil, [strong man, king of Ur, king of the four corners].”

CDLI entry: P226772

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Bricks: 1 (2021-05-22)

Bricks set out to dry in Syria.



The history of brick making tells a fascinating story of men’s intention to establish reliable separation from the elements—indeed, bricks saved the life of the third of the Three Little Pigs, after houses built of straw and wood by his brothers fell to the wolf’s mighty huffs and puffs. The production of the millions and millions of bricks that formed the foundation of Babylonian architecture was little changed in the millennia until the development of automated brick making machines in mid-19th century Britain. The images here show the production of bricks in molds by Syrian laborers preparing to build a 1982 addition to the excavation house of the German mission to Tell Bi’a near Raqqa (courtesy K. Englund).

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Beer: Medicinal Use (2021-05-21)

This Sumerian cuneiform tablet records a list of medical practices and prescriptions used during the ED IIIb period (ca. 2500-2340 BC). The obverse of the tablet is damaged, but the reverse can be deciphered and details fifteen different medical prescriptions which can be categorized into three broad groups: potion, poultice, and complex groups. Beer is used as an integral ingredient in at least two of the prescriptions, including one poultice and one potion. Tablet is from the collection at University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.



The fifteen pharmaceutical prescriptions documented on the tablet specifies the types of ingredients used and their methods of administration, but lacks context due to absence of the names of the associated diseases or the amounts of each ingredient used. The written records on the tablet indicate physicians utilized a variety faunal, botanic, and mineral materials in their treatments, including snakeskin, turtle shells, thyme, figs, fir tree, potassium nitrate (saltpeter), and sodium chloride (salt). These fundamental components were administered via mediums such as beer and river bitumen as poultices and potions (internal medicine).Below are two translations of prescriptions on the tablet involving beer:

Prescription 4: Pulverize the branches of the thorn plant and seeds of the duashbur; pour diluted beer over it, rub with vegetable oil and fasten the paste over the sick spot as a poultice.
Prescription 9: Pour strong beer over the resin of the plant; heat over a fire; put this liquid in river bitumen (oil), and let the sick person drink.

Other prescriptions utilizing beer describe washing “the diseased part,” which probably refers to a wound, with beer and hot water, and making solutions with beer and certain herbs to be used as a sedative.

Although the use of beer as a remedy has not stood the test of time and medical innovation, the tablet reveals, perhaps most significantly, that the ancient Sumerians were involved in the practice of caring for injured and ill members of the community. Moreover, the records suggest that medical practices and procedures experienced processes of standardization through documentation and distribution of prescriptions like those found on the tablet.

Reference
Teall, Emily K. “Medicine and Doctoring in Ancient Mesopotamia,” Grand Valley Journal of History 3/1 (2014) article 2

CDLI reference: P269190

credit: Quinn, Alexandra N.

Beer: Hymn to Ninkasi (2021-05-20)

The Hymn to Ninkasi was recorded in Sumerian cuneiform on a clay tablet during the Old Babylonian period around 1800 BC, but it is believed to be much older. The hymn has two parts, and is both a praise song to the goddess of beer and a recipe for brewing her special type of beer. The tablet is displayed in Louvre Museum, Paris, France.



In Sumerian mythology, Ninkasi is the daughter of Enki and Queen Ninti, and is one of eight children created in order to heal one of the eight wounds that Enki receives. Along with being considered the goddess of beer, she was made to satisfy desire and sate the heart through the beer-brewing process she performed daily. In accordance with her ties to libations, the poem states Ninkasi was born out of "fresh flowing water" (Civil 1-4). In the poem, Ninkasi is praised for doing things like putting piles of grain in order, and setting up the fermenting vat. Some of the processes and ingredients of the recipe, such as bappir, a twice-baked bread made from barley used to make beer, are included below:

Ninkasi is “the one who handles the dough, with a big shovel, mixing in a pit, the bappir with sweet aromatics… the one who bakes the bappir in the oven, puts in order the piles of hulled grains… you who water the earth-covered malt… you who soak the malt in a jar… you who spreads the cooked mash on large reed mats… you who hold with both hands the great sweetwort, brewing it with honey and wine… the sweetwort to the vessel… you place the fermenting vat, which makes a pleasant sound, appropriately on top of a large collector vat… Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat, it is like the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.” (Civil Lines 13-48)

The beer produced by the recipe in the hymn is most likely of high quality and used for religious offering or consumed by elite members of the society, as Ninkasi was the brewer for the gods.

Reference
Civil, Miguel, “A Hymn to the Beer Goddess and a Drinking Song,” Fs Oppenheim (1964) 67-89

CDLI reference: P345364

credit: Quinn, Alexandra N.

Beer: Taverns and the Law (2021-05-19)

By the time of the reign of Hammurapi, beer had become such an integral part of Mesopotamian culture that there are three laws specifically related to its production and consumption inscribed on the Code of Hammurapi. The translations of the laws are as follows:
Law 108: If a female tavern-keeper does not accept barley according to gross weight in payment of drink, but takes money, and the price of the drink is less than that of the barley, she shall be convicted and thrown into the water.
Law 109: If conspirators meet in the house of a tavern-keeper, and these conspirators are not captured and delivered to the court, the tavern-keeper shall be put to death.
Law 110: If a "sister of a god" opens a tavern, or enters a tavern to drink, then shall this woman be burned to death.



The laws also reveal the existence of 'beer taverns' in ancient Mesopotamia dating back to at least 1754 BC. The word primarily for tavern was eš2-dam in Sumerian, and aštammu in Akkadian. Beer taverns are also referred to in legal and administrative records during the Old Babylonian period by the Akkadian term bīt sibim, which literally means “house of the beer-seller.” The use of the term exclusively in legal and administrative records suggests an origin based on the familiar pattern “house of [occupation]” so frequently seen in such documents to refer to institutional production centers in Ur III and Old Babylonian Mesopotamia. The use of term bīt sibim is particularly fitting in relationship to taverns, however, especially when coupled with Law 109 in The Code of Hammurapi. From these records, the implication is that the beer-seller’s house, or at least part of it, doubled as a place where one could not only purchase beer but also congregate and consume it.
Some historians argue that Mesopotamian beer taverns represented "the social center of the estate or village . . . a place in which the inhabitants could gather for talk and recreation at the end of work” (Jacobsen and Kramer 185). Indeed, this seems like a rather obvious function for such establishments regardless of time or place. Others argue that a largely illiterate society without newspapers or other forms of mass media, taverns served a greater function and existed as essential hubs of communication that facilitated information exchange. Such news would include community events like births, marriage arrangements, and deaths, as well as business matters like peddling goods or finding employment opportunities.

From Law 108 it is clear that both silver and barley could be exchanged for beer, but such commodities seem unfeasible for small-scale economic transactions. Therefore, it is suggested that people acquired their beer on credit or through more informal bartering. Under this assumption, a person used silver or barley to pay their debt to a tavern keeper only when the size of that debt made it realistically workable to do so.

Reference
Thorkild Jacobsen and Samuel Kramer, “The Myth of Inanna and Bilulu,” JNES 12/3 (1953) 160-188

CDLI entry: Q006387

credit: Quinn, Alexandra N.

Beer: Straws (2021-05-18)

This cylinder seal from the Early Dynastic I-II period (ca. 2900-2700 BC) is made from semi-transparent green marble and imprints two rows of design. In the top row, two attendants stand behind a woman receiving a cup from a third attendant, and a man drinks through a straw from a large jug of beer. In the bottom row, attendants stand next to a table laden with food, while one of them is handing a meal to a seated man, and a third attendant is filling a cup from a large jug that is placed on a stand. The artifact is located in the British Museum, London, UK.



The illustration depicts a banquet scene in which figures are drinking beer from straws. Babylonians consumed their beer through a straw to filter out floating dregs in the drink. The brew was thick, and straws filtered out the barley husks and stalks which would float on the surface of the drink, as well as reduced the likelihood of consuming insects (Homan 86). It is believed the straw was invented by the Sumerians or the Babylonians specifically for the purpose of drinking beer. The straws were initially made from reeds; however, excavations have revealed straws were eventually made from other more durable materials. Because beer was consumed by individuals from all levels of society, poorer laborers may have continued to use reeds due to their relative abundance. Wealthier members of society had more elaborate drinking straws, made of metal or stone. Examples include a straw found in the tomb of Queen Pu-Abi, who ruled during the First Dynasty of Ur (ca. 2600 BC). Measuring over 4 feet in length, the straw consists of alternating gold and lapis lazuli cylinders enclosing a long silver tube, and had an angled silver mouthpiece to make drinking from large beer jugs more convenient. It has been largely confirmed that the jugs illustrated in seals such as this contain beer due to the presence of oxalates, found through chemical sampling, in the resins found in excavated jugs. The presence of the compound calcium oxalate, also called beer-stone, is a clear indicator of the use of the vessel for that most ancient alcoholic beverage.

Reference:
Homan, Michael. “Beer and Its Drinkers: An Ancient Near Eastern Love Story.” NEA 7:2 (2004)

CDLI entry: P475539

credit: Quinn, Alexandra N.

Beer: Means of Compensation (2021-05-17)

An administrative document written in Sumerian cuneiform from the 21st century BC (Ur III period) recording a list of rations allocated to three different messengers, including two types of beer, bread, oil, fish, onions, and alkali; tablet in the Odum Library, Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia, USA.



The tablet suggests two separate ideas about the quality and function of beer during the Ur III period. First, it reveals that beer was used as a means of compensation for work. Second, it suggests beer brewing had become diversified by that time, as the tablet details two different kinds of beer: ‘dida’ beer and ‘high-quality’ beer.

The Babylonians had multiple words for beer: Sumerian kaš, kurun, kiraši, Akkadian šikaru. In the Ur III period, beer as a means of compensation for work was issued only irregularly, and most often allocated as a form of compensation given to messengers while on special service missions. Foreign affairs and domestic policy required a smoothly operating messenger system. Such a system can be shown to have existed during the greater part of the Ur III period, beginning with king Šulgi’s 32nd regnal year. The people mentioned in the messenger text here (Agu’a, Ikalla, and Dugamu) were directly connected with governmental policy of the Ur III empire, and the amount of the food and drink rations generally corresponded to the rank that the individual occupied within the bureaucracy. Dida beer seems to have served as “a kind of pasteurized beer, indispensable for journeys of long distance in the intense heat of Mesopotamia” and as a rule was “not disbursed for journeys of short distances” (Neumann 331).

During this period, two methods were used to denote the value of a product. The first method was recording the amount of barley corresponding to a given amount of the product, which was represented by the phrase še-bi, meaning “its barley,” in front of the amount of barley representing the value. The second was to record the amount that had to be added in order to convert the given amount of the product into the amount of barley representing its value, which was represented by the phrase še bala-bi, meaning “its barley conversion" (Damerow §5.18.)

References
Damerow, Peter. Sumerian Beer: The Origins of Brewing Technology in Ancient Mesopotamia. CDLJ 2012:2
Neumann, Hans. “Beer as a Means of Compensation for Work in Mesopotamia during the Ur III Period.” Ancient Societies. History and Culture of Drinks in the Ancient Near East. Papers of a Symposium Held in Rome, May 17-19, 1990 (1994)

CDLI entry: P273413.

credit: Quinn, Alexandra N.

Varia: Assyrian Palace Artifact (2021-05-16)

Relief sculpture on gypsum wall panel from 728 BC kept in the ancient royal palace of Nimrud, modern day northern Iraq. The wall panel shows Assyrian troops attacking a city on the upper half and shows procession of soldiers carrying their gods, or statues of them in triumph.



This wall relief is divided by two upper and lower sections and has a writing inscription in the middle band, dividing the two. In the upper register there is a city that is shown by three sets of elevations of castle walls that is under attack by Assyrian soldiers. On the top part of the city the elevation has been effaced over time and now only the lower two elevations remain visible. The only female figures present in this panel are the women in the middle section of the city, ready to surrender and the lowest elevation shows archers fighting back. Below the elevations of the city are armed Assyrian soldiers next to dead enemies with a soldier chasing away an ox on the right. The plan (un-elevated part of the relief) on the right of the city shows two large-scaled Assyrian soldiers defending themselves with shields, cutting through the city defenses with their lances. The lower register shows a procession of Assyrian soldiers carrying away their gods or statues of them in triumph. The first deity on the very right has his head completely eroded but along with the second deity on the left have been idenified to be different forms of the god Ishtar and the deity on the far left to be the weather god Adad. The text on the center band suggests that this wall relief may be a depiction of the Assyrian victory over the Chaldaeans. This style of wall panel relief is unusual in Assyrian artifacts due to the complexity of mixing elevation and plan on the same scene.

Reference: BM 118934

credit: Kim, Kirk

Babylonian Slaves: 22 (2021-05-15)

Slave accounts of the Late Uruk period (ca. 3350-3000 BC)



The same phenomenon of qualifying Uruk IV period child-slaves with a numerical sign that essentially signifies fractions of whole units (these being adults) is known as well for domesticated animals. Compare the two texts here. To the right is the account from the previous day recording three adult and two infant SAL KUR, and to the left a text with the very same format, but in this instance recording sheep in the upper, and goats in the lower case. The count of six sheep is separated into 3 adult animals, and 3 lambs! Another text from Uruk qualifies calves in the same manner, subsuming a “fraction” cow, recorded in obv. column iii line 1, under a total of four animals in rev. ii 3 designated AMAR, the usual term for juvenile cattle. These accounts then, much like slave auction records throughout our own history, blur the lines between humans and animals—in the eyes of the masters.

CDLI entries: P001282, P001392

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian Slaves: 21 (2021-05-14)

Slave accounts of the Late Uruk period (ca. 3350-3000 BC)



Can we follow Babylonian slavekeeping accounts back to the beginning of writing in the ancient Near East? The answer is yes. For the tablet here can, based on sign forms and account format, be comfortably dated to the Uruk IV period, ca. 3350 BC. Excavated by German teams working in Warka in late January 1931, the artifact is now housed in Berlin’s Vorderasiatisches Museum. The document records 5 female and male slaves in the first section to the upper left, and 1 male slave to the lower left. But there is a striking difference between the count of slaves here and in later proto-cuneiform accounts. Where later texts qualified age differences with an assortment of characters including those representing year counts (nN57+U4), this account instead employs the numerical sign, signifying a count of one in the sexagesimal system, rotated 90º clockwise for children. Such a derived numerical notation is otherwise known from Late Uruk texts to signify fractions of whole units, for instance tenths of surface measures, or one half of the contents of a vessel or basket.

CDLI entry: P001392

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian Slaves: 20 (2021-05-13)

Slave accounts of the Late Uruk period (ca. 3350-3000 BC)



Another text from the Schøyen collection may point to an accounting mechanism for incoming groups of slaves. Inscribed with a beautifully clear Uruk III period hand (ca. 3200-3000 BC), the account lists in three columns of the tablet’s obverse surface, and a further two of the reverse, numbers of persons who might be male slaves associated with the name or profession of a leader of some sort, and each group of potential males is associated with a count of SAL, “female slaves.” The sign combinations in the first of these double sub-cases bear similarities with several other Schøyen texts and one from Jemdet Nasr, some of which deal with agricultural tasks. The total found at the top of the tablet’s third reverse column, however, does not record the number of persons tallied in the account; rather the number “62” corresponds with the actual line count of the text, implying that these lines might represent groups of males and females, in four cases just one or the other, who were related to one another, perhaps as family members, and the whole lot qualified as SAG, “head” groups of slaves.

CDLI entry: P006054

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian Slaves: 19 (2021-05-12)

Slave accounts of the Late Uruk period (ca. 3350-3000 BC)



The text demonstrates, moreover, a further qualification of slaves that would seem to harken back to the series of entries at the beginning of our presentation of Babylonian slavekeeping. Now rotated to the (original) tablet orientation to facilitate the identification of pictographic referents, you can identify in the two middle cases our common SAL KUR combination, but both with added pictograms. The added sign in the left case is a pictogram of the yoke and the precursor of the 3rd millenium sign erin2, ‘troop’ (of workers). To the right is a pictogram of a human head with a cord (later Sumerian peš3, [string of] figs) laid across its neck. In both cases, it is easy to conjure an association with later designations of captured individuals: with the LU2×EŠ2, the ‟roped humans” of our ED I-II account from Kish, on the one hand, and with the yoked prisoners of the Old Akkadian stelae, on the other.

CDLI entry: P005279

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian Slaves: 18 (2021-05-11)

Slave accounts of the Late Uruk period (ca. 3350-3000 BC)



Another beautifully preserved Jemdet Nasr tablet in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum retains the same text structure as the previous text, but with many more entries. Indeed, our inspection of this text demonstrated that it in fact was a larger account into which were copied, line for line, the entries of the smaller document. This unexpected early instance of account consolidation, now particularly well documented in the Ur III records of the 21st century BC (for one striking example, see CDLJ 2003/1), was illustrated in Nissen, Damerow & Englund, Archaic Bookkeeping (Chicago 1993) pp. 72-73.

CDLI entry: P005279

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian Slaves: 17 (2021-05-10)

Slave accounts of the Late Uruk period (ca. 3350-3000 BC)



Even more so than in the earlier accounts of this theme recording groups of named slaves, specialists are often reduced to fairly idle description and interpretation of visually complex documents. This piece from Jemdet Nasr in northern Babylonia contains numbers that make sense, as well as our common designations SAL KUR for female and male slaves, however without the clear relationship between single group counts and succeeding sub-cases with the non-numerical signs we expect to represent personal names.

CDLI entry: P005280

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian Slaves: 16 (2021-05-09)

Slave accounts of the Late Uruk period (ca. 3350-3000 BC)



Furthermore: an inspection of the section to the lower left of the account’s obverse exhibits the same accounting structure. The initial case describes 12 apparent ‟three-year olds” (U4×3N57 TUR), each of whom is named in twelve following subcases. We note that not one of these names can be credibly assigned Sumerian ‟readings” that comport with the millennium of traditional naming practice in that language from the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC, and therefore that, despite all considerations of a benevolent master class allowing slaves to retain their native names, the identification of Sumerian as the language of these earliest Babylonian scribes, seen in so many treatments of the period by cuneiformists, is best taken with a grain of salt. See R. K. Englund, CDLJ 2009/4.

CDLI entry: P006268

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian Slaves: 15 (2021-05-08)

Slave accounts of the Late Uruk period (ca. 3350-3000 BC)



Checking MS 3035’s cases that combine numerical notations and non-numerical qualifiers, in particular the lines in the right-hand column of the text’s reverse surface with subtotals of named individuals recorded on the obverse, demonstrates nearly exactly the same designations as those encountered in the simpler, and much smaller Uruk accounts: adult ‘hoes,’ youngsters and infants.

CDLI entry: P006268

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian Slaves: 14 (2021-05-07)

Slave accounts of the Late Uruk period (ca. 3350-3000 BC)



A much larger account in the Norwegian Schøyen collection adds, in terms of numbers, an entirely new dimension to the bookkeeping format witnessed in the previous two Uruk texts (the Schøyen text, MS 3035, derives from the antiquities market and is paralleled by only one other known text, copied by the Belgian Assyriologist Philippe Talon years ago and since gone into the Musées royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels). Here, some 32 apparent slaves with personal names are recorded in a single group of an account that totals 85 such individuals.

CDLI entry: P006268

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian Slaves: 13 (2021-05-06)

Slave accounts of the Late Uruk period (ca. 3350-3000 BC)



Our second example of named indiviuals, also from Uruk (excavation number W 23999,1) may at first glance appear to be substantially more complex, but it is not. Eight individuals are recorded in the left-most column—and here qualified by the sign combination SAL KUR, natural enough given the fact the the right-hand column consists of two ‘lines,’ the first counting 5 SAL and the second 3 KUR. We note precisely the same format consisting of an initial sub-case with numerical notation and slave qualifier, this time gender, followed by subcases that again count individuals, but break SAL and KUR into apparent age categories, in the first line 4 women and 1 infant girl (‘ŠA3 TUR,’ possibly to be translated ‟new-born”), in the second 1 man and 2 infant boys (also ‘ŠA3 TUR’). And as in our previous text, these counts and qualifiers are followed by a number of sub-cases with only non-numerical signs, as many sub-cases as the preceding number, and each of these final sub-cases therefore contains the personal names of these individuals. The sign combinations thus isolated as personal names should assume a primary role in any attempt at identifying the linguistic affiliation of our earliest scribes (cf. R. K. Englund, CDLJ 2009/4).

CDLI entry: P004735

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian Slaves: 12 (2021-05-05)

Slave accounts of the Late Uruk period (ca. 3350-3000 BC)



We may understand the structure of this Uruk text in the following way. The column to the left describes a group of (1 + 1 + 2 + 2 + 1 + 1 =) 8 counted individuals qualified by the sign conventionally read ŠAM2. A pictographic representation of grain and a grain scoop, the sign in later periods described exchanges of goods set in equivalent values, something like prices, early on using barley as a medium of agreed value, later copper and then the precious metal silver so well documented in trader accounts. We suspect a similar function is signaled by the sign in Late Uruk documents, and thus that here the eight individuals were bartered for on informal Babylonian markets.

But the really striking feature of this and a good number of related texts is what follows in the column to the right. Viewed syntactically, the column records 1-2 individuals (though not obvious with small quantities, the count was performed in the sexagesimal system) with the qualifications AL, ENa TUR, 1N57×U4 TUR, BULUG3, U2a A and ŠU. Several of these designations are terms well known to Sumerologists. TUR (a presumed pictogram of human breasts) representing young children (Sumerian dumu), 1N57×U4 representing “one year,” and AL (a picture of a type of hoe) representing “adult” (with later Sumerian reading maḫ2, this sign usually qualifies sexually mature domestic animals, but is also possibly an element of two personal names in the ED IIIa period, and is even a qualifier of the capacity unit gur [WF 76 rev. x 3]). Finally, ŠU will be associated by some with later šu(-gi4), “old one,” found in many herding accounts and laborer inventories.

Now each ‘line’ reads from left to right, and associates, with the lead cases, sets of sub-cases that always correspond in number to the numerical notation in the initiating case. If we innocently assign English interpretations to the non-numerical signs based solely on their pictographic referents, then the first ‘line’ reads ‟1 ‘hoe’ / long-young-bird”, while the third ‘line’ reads ‟2 one-year old children / big-swaddling / butteroil-6-bird-x.” Infants were designated with a complex sign consisting of the general time marker U4 (‘sun’ or ‘day[light]’) preceded by a number of strokes, representing a count of 360-day years (see. R. K. Englund, JESHO 31 [1988] 121-185). ‘Hoe’ was likely an archaic homonym—a rebus writing—for ‘adult male,’ while the following ‟words” can only have represented the given names of the numbered individuals.

CDLI entry: P003500

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian Slaves: 11 (2021-05-04)

Slave accounts of the Late Uruk period (ca. 3350-3000 BC)



Our previous text represented an account of apparent Late Uruk individuals laconically described as SAL KUR. But one of the most striking features of the earliest written documents related to slavery is highlighted in this tablet unearthed by German excavators and now in Iraq’s National Museum, Baghdad. The format of this account—how the scribe set case dividing lines and how the cases relate with one another—and particularly sets of sign combinations that our investigations have determined represent different categories of humans otherwise generally qualified as SAL KUR, demonstrate that this text records a group of eight named individuals ranging from full-grown adult to a child of one year. They were, possibly, purchased as chattel slaves by the household of an Uruk grandee.

CDLI entry: P003500

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian Slaves: 10 (2021-05-03)

Slave accounts of the Late Uruk period (ca. 3350-3000 BC)



This sign combination SAL KUR, originally representing female and male slave, respectively, in time came to designate only female slaves, Sumerian geme2. The KUR component of this sign (Sumerian: ‟mountain”) in texts dating to ca. 2600 BC occupied the triangular space bound by wedges of the sign SAL; two centuries later, KUR exploded to mark the three corners of that triangle, in subsequent periods returning to a space immediately following (or rather, in original orientation, below) the SAL sign. KUR as ‟mountain” has been taken by most specialists to refer to the homeland of the great majority of the non-native slave populations in ancient Mesopotamia, namely the Zagros range and associated highland regions of ancient Iran.

CDLI entry: P001684

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian Slaves: 9 (2021-05-02)

Slave accounts of the Late Uruk period (ca. 3350-3000 BC)



Several centuries before a ruler in Kish commissioned the production of his royal inscription on alabaster described in the first five slides of our present theme of Babylonian slavery, records from the Late Uruk IV-III periods offer still earlier evidence of slave management in cuneiform records. This clay tablet from Uruk, first published in 1936 by the German Sumerologist and Uruk excavations epigraphist Adam Falkenstein (Archaische Texte aus Uruk [1936] no. 577), records, on the poorly preserved upper surface, smaller groups of individuals. On its opposite surface is a sexagesimal notation representing a total minimum of 213 persons designated by the sign combination “SAL KUR” (female and male slave, respectively).

CDLI entry: P001684

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian Slaves: 8 (2021-05-01)

Slave depictions of the Late Uruk period (ca. 3350-3000 BC)



Strikingly similar scenes of bound prisoners, victims of Babylonian raids into the Iranian highlands and surely as well destined for slavery, stretch well into the 4th millennium BC. Hans J. Nissen has offered a succinct description of such scenes incised on the surface of ancient cylinder seals:

A good example of the variability within a single glyptic theme category is presented by the so-called prisoners scene. Three different types of figures are distinguished in this frieze. The first one is a man in a static pose. His beard and the long spear he is holding as an apparent attribution of power signify that he was an important person. He apparently had a higher social rank than all the other figures represented in the scene. The rest of the scene is filled with a confusion of naked individuals which clearly form two separate groups. The first are figures standing in upright position, holding sticks or batons in their hands, some in a position as if prepared to strike. The others are cowering and scattered over the ground, their legs bent up to their stomachs, their arms tied together behind their backs. Only in a few instances do we find a standing figure that does not seem to be holding a weapon, who thus, judging from his cowering posture and the shackles around his wrists, apparently belonged to the latter group. The context is quite clearly one of a victorious group celebrating its conquest of an enemy, the bearded figure manifestly representing the leader of the triumphant party.

(from Nissen, Damerow & Englund, Archaic Bookkeeping [Chicago 1993] pp. 15-16 & 157, with fig. 15).

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian Slaves: 7 (2021-04-30)

Slave depictions of the Old Akkadian period (ca. 2340-2200 BC)



In even starker clarity, the famous Nasiriye stele, now in the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad, depicts a column of prisoners of war being led away—bound and in long-stocks, and led by helmeted Akkadian troops. Done in the same fine alabaster as our first artifact from Kish, this stele in fact consists of at least three known fragments, two of which are in Baghdad (IM 55639 & 59205), and one in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFA 66.893, purchased by the MFA from E. Borowski; cf P. Amiet, L’art d’Agade au Musée du Louvre [Paris 1976] p. 27, fig. 19).

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian Slaves: 6 (2021-04-29)

Slave depictions of the Old Akkadian period (ca. 2340-2200 BC)



A fragment of a stele from Susa in the Louvre Museum depicts the driving of apparent prisoners of war to their ultimate destiny; stripped, with hands bound behind them, the men are pushed along by an armed soldier of the armies of Sargon. This and two other stone Louvre fragments were carried off to Susa in the 12th century BC by an Elamite king.

CDLI entry: P498292

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian Slaves: 5 (2021-04-28)

An alabaster plaque with an inscription of a ruler (ca. 2700 BC)



The provenience of this text is indicated in its final lines:

    The stone (monument) created at Kish,
   (whose) protective genius? is Zababa.


Ancient Kish, modern Tell Uhaimir in Iraq’s Babil Governorate, is a massive mound some 20 km east of Babylon; the target of excavations dating back more than a century, this city stood at the crossroads between a Sumerian south and an Akkadian north in Mesopotamia, and was, judging from later royal inscriptions, the home of a series of rulers whose power extended over much of the region. It is therefore understandable that such a commemorative royal text would have originated in that city. As Steinkeller has underscored (RA 107, 144), Zababa was the tutelary divinity of Kish and, fittingly, a god of war.

CDLI entry: Q004867

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian Slaves: 4 (2021-04-27)

An alabaster plaque with an inscription of a ruler (ca. 2700 BC)



The inscription of this piece is, as was apparently the case with all texts of the 4th and 3rd millennia BC, as well as the first half of the 2nd, written and read in cases from top to bottom, and in “lines” or columns from right to left. The 4th through 11th cases of the text’s first (topmost) column, as posted by Daniel A. Foxvog, director of CDLI’s Mesopotamian Royal Inscriptions initiative, give an idea of the formulaic structure of the prisoner inventory:

   (from) Eb: 2400 prisoners;
   (from) Mar-ašdar: 1800 prisoners;
   (from) Uḫ’a: 3000 prisoners;
   (from) Aša: 1500 prisoners;


and so on through five more columns of text. If interpreted correctly and assuming these are valid numbers, the total of counted prisoners would have exceeded 50,520 individuals and possibly reached as many as a staggering 83,000, without speculating about what stood in the missing third of this inscription.

CDLI entry: Q004867

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian Slaves: 3 (2021-04-26)

An alabaster plaque with an inscription of a ruler (ca. 2700 BC)



Even more striking than the well-modeled bas-relief of the artifact’s flat surface is the fact that it carried on its opposite, convex side an inscription that is the earliest of its kind in ancient Mesopotamia. Most of this inscription is taken up with the formulaic listing of placenames, followed by sexagesimally counted persons represented by the sign LU2 (Sumerian ‟human,” ‟man”) crossed by the sign EŠ2 (Sum. ‟rope”), credibly interpreted by Steinkeller to stand for ‟bound men,” or ‟prisoners.” This sign combination is in fact reminiscent of the designation SAG+MA that the Berlin Uruk Project participants Hans J. Nissen, Peter Damerow and Robert K. Englund understood to be ‟slaves bound by a cord.” We will visit the Late Uruk texts, in which this designation was found, in a set of slides to be presented later in our current series.

CDLI entry: Q004867

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian Slaves: 2 (2021-04-25)

An alabaster plaque with an inscription of a ruler (ca. 2700 BC)



Closer inspection of the artifact, measuring 32 × 31 cm (height × width), and with a thickness of 5.7 cm, reveals the high quality of its translucent green alabaster, and the intricate craftsmanship of the stone artist. The originally hybrid piece will have sported inlay work depicting the beards of the warriors, possibly gold or lapis lazuli. Steinkeller (Revue d’Assyriologie 107 [2013] 131) speculates that one third of the original plaque is missing.

CDLI entry: Q004867

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian Slaves: 1 (2021-04-24)

An alabaster plaque with an inscription of a ruler (ca. 2700 BC)



A spectacular new inscription edited by the Harvard Sumerologist Piotr Steinkeller (Revue d’Assyriologie 107 [2013] 131-157) appears to document an inventory of substantial numbers of humans described as “roped men” and interpreted by the author to represent prisoners of war bound for Babylonian slavery. The beautifully finished stone, part of an anonymous private collection, consists of two surfaces, the one (seen here) flat with a bas-relief depicting two apparent warriors in standard early Sumerian profile, the other a slightly convex surface with an inscription in a paleographic style that supports its ED I-II dating by the author. The artifact joins sixteen other inscriptions from the same period done on stone, and is the first in a series of cdli tablet slides dedicated to the documentation of pre-Christian slavery, or slavery-like relationships between Babylonian elites and the numerous chattel and corporate dependents they abused.

CDLI entry: Q004867

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Assyrian reliefs: 5 (2021-04-23)

This is a fragment of a stone relief panel (645-635 BC) from the North Palace at Nineveh (modern-day Iraq) showing King Ashurbanipal partaking in a lion hunt activity.



Lion hunting was a common leisurely activity for kings during ancient times. In ancient Assyria, for example, it was viewed as a masculine sport as it showed the power and virility of the king. It was also symbolic of the king's duty as the protector of his people against harm. Reliefs depicting lion hunts were made to be placed in the king's palace at Nineveh and they were made to appear very realistic and full of tension in order to warn palace guests not to cross the king. This specific relief shows the king driving a sword through the lion’s chest which will eventually kill the lion. Ashurbanipal is therefore the ultimate victor.

Reference: Columbia College page

credit: Shamlyan, Hykouhi

Assyrian reliefs: 4 (2021-04-22)

This is a fragment of a stone relief panel (645-640 BC) from King Ashurbanipal's North Palace in Nineveh (modern-day Iraq) depicting a lion and lioness.



These types of reliefs placed in the North Palace of Ashurbanipal contrast to the more common lion hunt reliefs where the king is seen participating in a leisurely sport—hunting and killing lions. In this specific relief panel, there is a lion and lioness in their natural habitat which is a relatively more calm and harmless environment. This differs from the panels that show a lot of tension and chaos as the king is in the middle of hunting. The relief also represents how lions were sometimes domesticated animals.Scenes of lions in more calm settings were indicative of the king's appreciation and love of nature. The king’s appreciation for nature is stressed through the use of cypress trees and flowers behind the lioness.

References: BM page

credit: Shamlyan, Hykouhi

Assyrian reliefs: 3 (2021-04-21)

This is a fragment of a stone relief panel (710-705 BC) found from the Palace of Sargon II in Khorsabad, Iraq. Sargon II is seen here on horseback.



Sargon II, son of Tiglath-Pileser III, was one of the most important kings of the Assyrian Empire. He usurped the Assyrian throne from his brother Shalmaneser V and adopted the name Sargon which means "true king." He was a very successful ruler as he established the Sargonid Dynasty and found the new capital city of the Assyrian Empire, Dur-Sharrukin (City of Sargon), known today as Khorsabad. He also extended Assyrian rule beyond the boundaries acquired by his predecessors. Sargon II was known for his militaristic abilities, prolific building programs and patronage of the arts and culture. This panel is part of a series of reliefs seen in one of the main courtyards of his palace that show tribute being brought to the king.

Reference: BM page

credit: Shamlyan, Hykouhi

Assyrian reliefs: 2 (2021-04-20)

This is a fragment of a stone relief panel (730-727 B.C) from the Central Palace of Tiglath-pileser III. There are two registers separated by cuneiform writing in the center.



Tiglath-pileser III is known to be one of the most powerful Assyrian rulers. During his reign he accomplished a great deal of work to strengthen the Assyrian Empire. He re-structured the military and created the first professional army known in history. With this new army he expanded his empire and eventually became king of both Assyria and Babylon. This relief panel has two registers: the bottom register shows the king riding in his chariot while the top shows a line of prisoners along with their flock being driven out of a city by the king’s soldiers. Between the two registers is a band of cuneiform that speaks about the king’s military and building campaigns and achievements.

Reference: BM page

credit: Shamlyan, Hykouhi

Assyrian reliefs: 1 (2021-04-19)

The lower frieze of this stone relief panel from the North-West Palace of Assurnasirpal II shows two winged creatures surrounding a central tree (883 to 859 BC).



This relief represents the common practice of ancient Mesopotamians using magic to protect temples, buildings, and palaces. Panels as such were situated along the walls of the official palace rooms, at the entrances or under doorways. Images of winged creatures, such as the eagle-headed creatures from this panel, were thought to have supernatural powers that warded off evil spirits and cleansed the space of demons. The winged demigods, known as Apkallu, were created by the the god Enki to establish civilization for mankind. In this panel, they are seen wearing headdresses that indicate their divinity. They both carry buckets and fir cones in each hand and sprinkle water onto the stylized tree in the center known as the Sacred Tree which symbolizes life. This is a representation of the spirits’ purification of the earth and their promotion of fertility to Assyria.

CDLI reference: P427142

credit: Shamlyan, Hykouhi

Animals in Mesopotamia: 5 (2021-04-18)

Prayer statues from the Early Dynastic III (2500 BC) period in Mari, and from the Early Dynastic II (2700-2600 BC) in Mari.



These type of prayer statues were placed in temples by local elites in order to pray to the gods all hours of the day. The left statue is of Ebiḫ-Il from ancient Mari, and the right statue is of an unknown man found in the Tell Asmar temple. Notably they are both wearing kaunakes, woolen cloaks or skirts made of sheep skin. Sheep were primarily raised for their wool and skin rather than their meat, which was only eaten occasionally. Wool and sheep skin production was an important and lucrative economy throughout ancient Mesopotamia. On average herders would have anywhere from 50-200 sheep at one time that they would herd and graze throughout the Mesopotamian countryside. The trade of wool and sheepskin was an important aspect to the ancient Mesopotamian economy, and as seen on various prayer statues this type of attire was commonly worn by the elites.

credit: Lestrud, Janna

Animals in Mesopotamia: 4 (2021-04-17)

A bowl fragment from the Late Uruk period (3200-2900 BC) located in the Metropolitan Museum, New York City (accession number 50.218). The bowl fragment shows the representation of cows during the Late Uruk Period.



As was common style during the Late Uruk period, when cities were being developed across southern Mesopotamia during the fourth millennium, the carving of the body of the cow is almost two dimensional and facing to the right while the head of the cow is three dimensional and facing straight out of the bowl. Because these types of bowls were of great significant to the Mesopotamian people, eclipsed only by the cylinder seals, by showing a procession of cows on this bowl, we can discern that the cow was of upmost importance. Cattle were prized possessions for any owner because oxen were excellent for traction such as pulling heavy carts and plowing fields, cows for dairy pruducts, and both as sources of the secondary products leather and meat. As seen in Postgate (1992), cows were so important to the family unit that they were treated somewhatlike household pets and commonly had names.

Met Museum entry: 50.218

credit: Lestrud, Janna

Animals in Mesopotamia: 3 (2021-04-16)

Bronze sculpture of chariot pulled by donkeys, Tell Agrab, modern day Iraq (2700 BC) located in the Iraq museum in Baghdad. This bronze sculpture shows the use of donkeys in ancient Mesopotamia.



This bronze statue measures 2.75 inches tall and depicts a chariot being pulled by four donkeys. This sculpture is comparable to the "war" side of the standard of Ur where chariots in war are shown being pulled by donkeys. As horses were not introduced into Mesopotamia until about a thousand years later, the donkey played an important part in both labor and war. Their function in labor was pulling carts and and plows for farmers.In war, the donkeys pulled charriots that carried warriors who would then either have spears or bows and arrows. It is also interesting to note that while Mesopotamia had no contact with Egypt, they had very similar vehicles used in war, the chariot and donkey.

Reference: IM 31389

credit: Lestrud, Janna

Animals in Mesopotamia: 2 (2021-04-15)

Depiction of sheep and cattle from the Standard of Ur, side B (2600 BC)



This wooden box that depicts both war and peace on the four sides is an important artifact found in the Royal Tomb of Ur dating to ca. 2600 BC. The hollow box is 50 cm long and 22 cm wide with a mosaic made of various stones and shells. Side B of the box depicts scenes of peaceful activity: mosaics of inhabitants drinking and gathering for a feast. The importance of the Standard of Ur rests in how it displays the stark differences between war and peace. Animal husbandry is notably seen on the side of peace as a marker for a growing economy and prosperity, based largely on cereal agriculture and animal husbandry for sustenance and thus why it is shown on the peace side of the Standard of Ur.

Reference: Penn Museum page

credit: Lestrud, Janna

Animals in Mesopotamia: 1 (2021-04-14)

Cuneiform clay tablet from ancient Girsu, southern Iraq (ca. 2400 BC) recording the inspection of goats and sheep, as well as the hides of the animals that had been slaughtered



This cuneiform clay tablet tracks the management of sheep and goats in ancient Girsu (Telloh in modern day Iraq). During this time, a farmer needed to keep track of his livestock. Many farmers were required to pay a tax to their landlords, providing them with a percentage of the cattle and ovi-caprids they raised, sold, and slaughtered. Having a detailed, written account of all transactions, and knowing specific numbers of livestock, were crucial to farmers in ancient Mesopotamia. This clay tablet recorded in detail the exact number of livestock that this particular farmer has is historically important as it allows us to know the approximate amount of animals each farmer has but also shows us the value of these animals. Agriculture and animal husbandry were the foundation of ancient Mesopotamia, tablets like these allow us to know the value of such animals as they were noted on these tablets.

CDLI entry: P220898

credit: Lestrud, Janna

Amarna Letters: Rebellious Peasantry (2021-04-13)

A letter from Rib-Hadda, the mayor of Byblos, to Amanappa, an Egyptian official.



Another portion of the corpus includes foreign correspondences to Egypt from its vassal states. These letters give an idea of the Egyptian state’s administration of its territories in the Levant. Of the 382 tablets found in the Amarna cache, 64 are thought to have been written to or by Rib-Hadda, mayor of Byblos. One of these letters, EA 77, is named “A rebellious peasantry” by William L. Moran because in it Rib-Hadda expresses his fear of his restive farmers. In his distress, he requests support from the Egyptian king.

Lines 26-37 from the tablet (translation by Bill Moran):
If this year no archers come out, then all lands will be joined to the Apiru. If the king, my lord, is negligent and there are no archers, then let a ship fetch the men of Gubla, your men, and the gods to bring them all the way to you so I can abandon Gubla. Look, I am afraid the peasantry will strike me down.

Sources:
Moran, William L. 1992. The Amarna Letters. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Rainey, Anson F, William M. Schniedewind, and Zipora Cochavi-Rainey 2014. The El-Amarna Correspondence (2 Vol. Set): A New Edition of the Cuneiform Letters from the Site of El-Amarna Based on Collations of All Extant Tablets. Leiden: Brill, 2014.

CDLI reference: P271082

credit: Hilliker, Heidi

Amarna Letters: Alliance Coming (2021-04-12)

A letter from the king of Alashiya to the king of Egypt.



Tablets EA 33-40 represent the portion of the corpus between Alashiya and Egypt. While the international correspondences of the Amarna Letters are greatly concerned with matters of diplomacy, many also reflect the importance of economic priorities. Letter EA 33 was written from the king of Alashiya to the pharaoh, most likely addressed to Akhenaten but could possibly have been sent to Smenkhkare or Tutankhamen. It highlights the importance of trade in economic alliances. This is why the scholar William L. Moran named this letter “An alliance in the making.” The Cypriot kingdom of Alashiya was a source of copper, and this letter deals with solidifying a mutually beneficial trade relationship: exchanging Egyptian grain and silver for Cypriot cooper.

Lines 9-18 from the tablet (translation by Bill Moran):
Moreover, I have heard that you are seated on the throne of your father's house. You said, “Let us have transported back and forth gifts of peace.” I have heard the greeting of my brother... You wrote, “Have transported to me 200 talents of copper,” and I herewith have transported to you ...10 talents of fine copper.

Sources:
Moran, William L. 1992. The Amarna Letters. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Rainey, Anson F, William M. Schniedewind, and Zipora Cochavi-Rainey 2014. The El-Amarna Correspondence (2 Vol. Set): A New Edition of the Cuneiform Letters from the Site of El-Amarna Based on Collations of All Extant Tablets. Leiden: Brill, 2014.

CDLI reference: P271098

credit: Hilliker, Heidi

Amarna Letters: Gold Statues Gone! (2021-04-11)

Fragment of a letter from Tušratta, the king of the land of Mittani, to Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV), the Egyptian king.



Tablets El-Amarna 17 & 19-30 trace the correspondence between Mittani and Egypt. This letter, EA 27, is from Tušratta, the king of Mittani, to the Egyptian king. William L. Moran designated this letter “The missing gold statues again” after a passage in which Tušratta bitterly complains that he had not received the statues of solid gold promised him by Amenhotep III (the father of Akhenaten = Amenhotep IV).

Lines 32-34 from the tablet (translation by Moran):
But my brother has not sent the solid (gold) statues that your father was going to send. You have sent plated ones of wood. Nor have you sent me the goods that your father was going to send me, but you have reduced (them) greatly.

Sources:
Moran, William L., The Amarna Letters, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.
Rainey, Anson F, Schniedewind, William M. & Cochavi-Rainey,Zipora, The El-Amarna Correspondence: A New Edition of the Cuneiform Letters from the Site of El-Amarna Based on Collations of All Extant Tablets, Leiden: Brill, 2014.

CDLI reference: P271181

credit: Hilliker, Heidi

Amarna Letters: Princess escort (2021-04-10)

Letter from Burnaburiash, a Babylonian king of the Kassite Dynasty, to Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV), the Egyptian King



One portion of the Amarna corpus is composed of correspondence the pharaoh received from neighboring kingdoms in the ancient Near East. Tablets EA 1-14 are letters between Babylon and Egypt. This letter, published as EA 11, is from Burnaburiash II, a Babylonian king of the Kassite Dynasty, to the Egyptian King. The Harvard Assyriologist William L. Moran named this letter “Proper escort for betrothed princesses” after the topic of the letter’s content. In this correspondence, the Babylonian king asks the Egyptian king to arrange for a suitable royal escort for the Babylonian princess betrothed to the Egyptian king. He also asks that a good amount of gold to be sent to him.

Lines 16-28 from the tablet (translation by Bill Moran):
When I presented my daughter to Haamassi, your messenger, and to Miḫuni, the interpreter, they poured oil on the head of my daughter. But as to the one taking her to you, who is going to take her to you? With Ḫaya there are 5 chariots. Are they going to take her to you in 5 chariots? Should I in these circumstances allow her to be brought to you from my house, my neighboring kings would say, “They have transported the daughter of a Great King to Egypt in 5 chariots.” When my father allowed his daughter to be brought to your father, 3000 soldiers were with him.

Sources:
Moran, William L. 1992. The Amarna Letters. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Rainey, Anson F, William M. Schniedewind, and Zipora Cochavi-Rainey 2014. The El-Amarna Correspondence (2 Vol. Set): A New Edition of the Cuneiform Letters from the Site of El-Amarna Based on Collations of All Extant Tablets. Leiden: Brill, 2014.

CDLI reference: P271037

credit: Hilliker, Heidi

Amarna Letters: Akhenaten (2021-04-09)

A letter from Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV), the king of Egypt, to Burnaburiash II, the king of Babylon.



The Amarna Letters are an archive of 382 clay tablets recovered from the 18th Dynasty site of el-Amarna, a city known in ancient times as Akhetaten. Of the 382 tablets, 349 are letters while the rest are comprised of fragments, myths and epics, educational materials, and even a few unused tablets. Written in Akkadian using the cuneiform writing system, these tablets embody the Egyptian correspondence between Anatolia, Mesopotamia and the Levant in the Late Bronze Age, during the reigns of pharaohs Amenhotep III, Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV), and Tutankhamen.

During his reign, pharaoh Amenhotep IV made many changes. He altered the state religion to Atenism, changed his name to Akhenaten, and moved the capital to Akhetaten. The Egyptian scribes at el-Amarna maintained a collection in the capital. In addition to the documents written in native hieratic on papyrus, duplicates of cuneiform letters that were written in Egypt and sent to foreign leaders were archived. One such archived letter is from Akhenaten to Burnaburiash II, the king of Babylon. The text is a long list of gifts sent from Egypt to Babylon. The hundreds of valuable items listed indicate the wealth of 18th Dynasty Egypt.

Sources:
Moran, William L. 1992. The Amarna Letters. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Rainey, Anson F, William M. Schniedewind, and Zipora Cochavi-Rainey 2014. The El-Amarna Correspondence (2 Vol. Set): A New Edition of the Cuneiform Letters from the Site of El-Amarna Based on Collations of All Extant Tablets. Leiden: Brill, 2014.

credit: Hilliker, Heidi

Varia: Tablet of Shamash (2021-04-08)

This limestone tablet is dated to ca. 860-850 BC. It was discovered in the excavations of the ancient city of Sippar, modern day southern Iraq. The Tablet of Shamash was made by a Babylonian king with the image of both the king and the sun god Shamash present on the front. The inscriptions tells us how the king restored the temple of the sun god.



The Tablet of Shamash is encased in clay that leaves the impression of the limestone on the clay while protecting it. This indicates that the tablet was an item of some importance, culturally or traditionally significant. The tablet has its edges patterned in the shape of a saw, that is the symbol of Shamash the Sun God. The Front surface of the tablet shows the Babylonian King Nabu-aplu-iddina to the far left, led by priest Nabu-nadin-shum, who is also led by the goddess Aya towards the sun god. In the center is a solar disc supported by ropes held by deities on top of the roof, and resting on top of an altar. The solar disc is supposed to have been the temporary replacement for the lost statue of the god Shamash until a replacement was made. The sun god Shamash is seated within a shrine and has a lunar disc, a solar disc and an eight-pointed star above him, respectively indications to the gods Sin, Shamash and the goddess Ishtar, also representIng the moon, the sun and the planet Venus. Shamash is seen wearing a horned headdress and carrying a rope and measuring rod in his right hand. The shrine that Shamash is positioned in is suppose to represent the sun god resting on the heavenly ocean. The inscriptions on the tablet are written in prose and poetry, in accordance of the style of Mesopotamian royal texts, and explains how the king Nabu-aplu-iddina restored and re-dedicated the temple of the sun god at Sippar. It also contains information about temple practices, priestly rules, dress codes and regulations.

CDLI reference: P472680

credit: Kim, Kirk

Varia: The Kurkh Monolith (2021-04-07)

This is a round-topped stele made from limestone that is dated to be from ca. 852 BC from the ancient city of Kurkh, modern day southern Anatolia region, Turkey. The stela gets its name from its place of burial and discovery. This monolith has a portrait of the king Shalmaneser III and the cuneiform inscription written across the front, bottom and sides of the stele describes the king’s reign.



The Kurkh Monolith, also known as the Kurkh Stele is made of inferior limestone and has unfortunately eroded much over time. However, the image of king Shalmaneser III is still clearly apparent and stands in front of and under divine emblems. The four divine emblem the king stands under are the winged disk representing the god Ashur or Shamash, the six-pointed star of the goddess Ishtar, the crown of the sky god Anu, and the disk and crescent of the god Sin. The king is also wearing four amulets that also carries religious significance. The fork represents the weather god Adad, the eight-pointed star in a disk represents the sun god Shamash, and a winged disk of the god Ashur alongside next to a segment of a circle which meaning has yet to be identified. The gesture the king Shalmaneser III is posing has been the subject of controversy as the right hand he is holding up has been placed under various interpretations. The gesture is described on the stele by the phrase 'uban damiqti tarasu' which is translated as 'to stretch out a favorable finger' and has been interpreted as a possible gesture of an act of worship, the end motion of throwing a kiss, an act of religious ritual attributed to the Assyrians by the later Greeks, or simply a secular gesture of authority. The cuneiform writing on the monolith describes the reign of the Shalmaneser III including the battle of Qarqar at the end. The writing on the monolith is significant as it mentions the king Ahab of Israel and has been the only reference of the term ìIsraelî in every Assyrian and Babylonian records that survive today. It is also one of the only four ancient inscriptions that contains the word ìIsraelî and is also the oldest artifact that mentions the Arab people.

Reference: BM 118884

credit: Kim, Kirk

Nimrud’s Northwest Palace: 16 (2021-04-06)

Fragment of the Standard Inscription of Assurnasirpal in private collection.



While small fragments of relief scenes can often be placed in their original context, the situation is usually hopeless for fragments of the standard inscriptions, especially since most of those, considered too repetitive to be of interest, were discarded by the excavators. The best that can be hoped for is to place a fragment in the correct spot within the text, as indicated here, merely as an example, with a piece in private collection and the inscription on a relief now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In fact, the sign u3 inscribed on the relief memento to the left was uncommon in neo-Assyrian royal texts, regularly replaced by the signs u and even u2. Photos of this fragment were sent to CDLI staff for identification in 2011 by a Long Island artist who had purchased it in a yard sale, and the sign identification was made by Grant Frame of the University of Pennsylvania.

CDLI entries: P423468, P416820

credit: Englund, Klaudia M.

Nimrud’s Northwest Palace: 15 (2021-04-05)

Fragment of the Standard Inscription of Assurnasirpal.



The excavators were not the only ones participating in the distribution of Assurnasirpal’s reliefs. American missionaries, working in Mosul in the 1850s, sent home numerous slabs from the palace in Nimrud, mostly to their alma maters. They also sent to their friends and families small, handy pieces of the inscriptions that had become available when the reliefs were cut down in size for easier transport.

“We knocked off a few specimens of the gypsum containing arrow-headed characters, and suppose they will be interesting to our friends in Beyroot.” (William S. Tyler, Memoir of Rev. Henry Lobdell, M.D. ... [Boston 1859: The American Tract Society] p. 197).

“... Frederic and I have been labelling the inscriptions. ... You must all put your wits together & try to read them. We have spent no little time & strength ... in having them cut into shape. ... The marble saws as easily as wood.” (Dorothea S. Franck, “Missionaries Send Bas-reliefs to the United States,” in V. Crawford, P. Harper & H. Pittman, Assyrian Reliefs and Ivories in the Metropolitan Museum of Art [New York 1980: Metropolitan Museum of Art] p. 46).

This fragment, showing parts of lines 15-17 of the inscription, is now at Tyndale House, Cambridge.

CDLI reference: P448683

credit: Englund, Klaudia M.

Nimrud’s Northwest Palace: 14 (2021-04-04)

Kalamazoo fragment and its place in the relief G-25.



The lower part of a sword sheath, adorned with two rampant lions, can be found on several reliefs of the Northwest Palace (for example on slab 13 in room G), making it possible to identify the right placement for the Kalamazoo fragment in relief G-25, but the fact that the cuneiform signs do not come from the first two lines of text indicate that the sheath should reach a little deeper into the inscription than shown in the reconstruction.

CDLI reference: P426866

credit: Englund, Klaudia M.

Nimrud’s Northwest Palace: 13 (2021-04-03)

Fragment of relief G-25 in the Kalamazoo Valley Museum in Kalamazoo, MI.



Layard and other excavators of the 19th century often gave away small pieces of the reliefs as presents. Most of these fragments may be lost or lie unrecognized in some private collection. One exception is this well documented example in the Kalamazoo Valley Museum in Kalamazoo, MI. The beginning of its journey can be found on a piece of paper pasted to the surface. The text reads: “Relic from Nineveh, viz. a fragment from a bas relief in the palace of Nimroud. See Layard’s Nineveh Vol. II pp. sv 298. Presented by Layard to Charles Allison, English Ambassador at Constantinople. By him presented to his brother Capt. K. H. Allison 90th Light Infantry. By this latter presented to me, April 1875.” [illegible signature].

The fragment shows the lower part of the sheath of a sword, with rampant lions as decoration and some cuneiform signs from the beginnings of lines 3 and 4 of the standard inscription.

CDLI reference: P426866

credit: Englund, Klaudia M.

Nimrud’s Northwest Palace: 12 (2021-04-02)

Relief from room S (S-21), also in situ, showing a winged genie with black color still covering hair and beard.



When Layard first uncovered the reliefs of the Northwest Palace, he found remnants of black, red, white and blue paint still covering certain parts of some of the images, while other parts seemed to have always been unpainted, suggesting that the colors were used to define and strengthen the outlines of each figure.

The hair and long beards of divinities and kings were black; their eyes were white with black pupils; often the armlets and bracelets retained some red color and the sandals were black, occasionally having red soles and straps. Only few reliefs still show those colors and apart from very small traces, the blue paint has now completely vanished.

CDLI reference: P427362

credit: Englund, Klaudia M.

Nimrud’s Northwest Palace: 11 (2021-04-01)

Daggers and whetstone on slab 20 in Room S (in situ, Nimrud, Iraq).



Many of the figures of the king, courtiers and genies carry a pair of daggers stuck into their belts, in some cases accompanied by a whetstone – another opportunity to illustrate the use of detail. This example is also from S-20 and shows the decorated dagger handles and the handle of the whetstone in the form of a horse’s head.

CDLI reference: P427360

credit: Englund, Klaudia M.

Nimrud’s Northwest Palace: 10 (2021-03-31)

Earring on slab 20 in Room S, which is still in situ in Nimrud, Iraq.



Remarkable attention to detail is also shown frequently in the depiction of jewelry, as in this example of an earring on relief S-20. The tiny balls running down the length of the earring certainly indicate the use of granulation – a technique that has been found on some of the jewelry from the queens’ graves excavated under the floor of room MM in the palace by the Iraqi Antiquities Service (1988/89).

CDLI reference: P427360

credit: Englund, Klaudia M.

Nimrud’s Northwest Palace: 9 (2021-03-30)

Embroidered garment on relief from room P (P-4), now in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, Denmark.



Many figures carved on the reliefs in Assurnasirpal’s Palace wear garments embroidered with figural, floral, and geometric patterns incised in the stone; motifs may also indicate metal or fabric appliqués. Some of the most elaborate embroideries can be found in rooms G, P, and S. This example from relief P-4 shows the border of a garment worn by a winged genie, with alternating rosettes and palmettes–and a deer.

CDLI reference: P427303

credit: Englund, Klaudia M.

Nimrud’s Northwest Palace: 4 (2021-03-29)

Plan of room G in Assurnasirpal’s palace in Nimrud.



This room, situated on the east side of courtyard Y, has been identified as a banquet or audience hall. It is distinguished by the exceptional quality of its reliefs, showing amazing details of embroidered robes, jewelry and other objects. The numbers in the plan indicate the individual slabs. Four of them are still in situ and 12 are in the British Museum, the rest is either lost (4) or scattered over various collections (New York; Hanover, NH; Chicago, IL; Berlin, Germany; Baltimore, MD; Kalamazoo, MI; Edinburgh, Scotland; St. Petersburg, Russia; Istanbul, Turkey)—a good example of the wide distribution of the reliefs from this palace.

credit: Englund, Klaudia M.

Nimrud’s Northwest Palace: 8 (2021-03-28)

Broken relief slab in room G (G-13) in Nimrud.



Most of the Nimrud reliefs were 2.00 to 2.20 m high, and very heavy. Those removed from the palace were hauled down to the Tigris on wagons pulled by men, placed on rafts made from inflated animal skins, and floated hundreds of miles down the river to Basra, where they were loaded on sailing ships or steamers to be taken to Europe. Some were carried on camel-back to the Mediterranean Sea and sailed from there. To reduce the weight and size of the slabs, their thickness was reduced; many were cut in pieces and, in some cases, only the heads of the figures were taken.

This relief remained in Nimrud while the heads of the king (left) and courtier (right) ended up in London (British Museum) and Chicago (Oriental Institute Museum of the University of Chicago), respectively.

CDLI reference: P426831

credit: Englund, Klaudia M.

Nimrud’s Northwest Palace: 7 (2021-03-27)

Two views of the so-called Banquet Stele of Assurnasirpal II, today in the Mosul Museum, Iraq (ND 1104).



Max Mallowan (Agatha Christie's husband) found this stele during the third season of his excavations in Nimrud (1951) in a recess of courtyard E (EA) of the palace, close to the northeast entrance of the throne room. The image shows the king, carrying a ceremonial staff and club. Symbols on both sides of his head represent the gods Sin, Ashur, Shamash, Enlil, Adad and Sibitti – the first five also appear as pendants on the king’s necklace. The text of the inscription starts with an abbreviated version of the Standard Inscription and continues with an account of the erection of the palace and various temples, including also a detailed list of the names of all the different species of trees imported and planted by Assurnasirpal. The final passage is a unique description of the menu of a lavish banquet, lasting 10 days, that celebrated the dedication of the palace, with an extensive list of all the food and drink consumed by the tens of thousands of people attending – many of them probably the workers the king had deported from the areas of his early conquests to help with construction.

CDLI reference: P450159

credit: Englund, Klaudia M.

Nimrud’s Northwest Palace: 6 (2021-03-26)

Inscription on Relief G-30 (detail), Staatliche Skulpturensammlung, Dresden, Germany.



A closer look at the inscription on relief G-30 shows that it runs across the sculptured figures—leaving some details free but covering others. The inscriptions on slabs in each room have the same length so that they match visually. The text does not continue on the next slab and begins on each slab with line one.

CDLI reference: P426882

credit: Englund, Klaudia M.

Nimrud’s Northwest Palace: 5 (2021-03-25)

Relief from room G (G-30, eunuch and genie) of the Northwest Palace, with Standard Inscription; today in the Staatliche Skulpturensammlung, Dresden, Germany.



Across each of the large relief panels that lined many walls of the Northwest Palace runs a royal text that is now called the Standard Inscription because it is repeated with only minor variants throughout the palace; its normal length is 22 lines, but in some cases the text is distributed over fewer lines or is cut off if the allotted space was too small. The inscription (seen here on slab 30 from room G, 20 lines) describes the reign of king Assurnasirpal II in his role as priest and ruler chosen by the gods, his royal lineage, his successful military campaigns, and his building activities in the city of Kalḫu, including the palace itself.

CDLI reference: P426882

credit: Englund, Klaudia M.

Nimrud’s Northwest Palace: 4 (2021-03-24)

Theocracy and cultural heritage: a bad mix



In 2015, fighters for Islamic State devastated Nimrud and other archaeological sites, using bulldozers, sledge hammers and explosives to destroy its sculptures, while filming these acts of vandalism. According to official statements by the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities, following Nimrud's liberation in November 2017, 70% of the city’s antiquities were forever lost—attempts to digitally recreate physical artifacts of the royal Assyrian residence are surely little more than a sad Ersatz.

credit: Englund, Klaudia M.

photo: Alleruzzo, Maya, AP

Nimrud’s Northwest Palace: 3 (2021-03-23)

Plan of the Assurnasirpal's Northwest Palace in Nimrud.



Plan of the central part of Assurnasirpal’s palace in Nimrud with the state rooms. The palace was at least 230 meters long and 130 meters wide. It consisted of several courtyards with rooms grouped around them. Today, a parking lot covers the area of the original northern courtyard that provided the main access to the palace. The state rooms, including the throne room (B), surround a smaller court (Y) which still retains a large number of its inscribed floor tiles. Most of these rooms were adorned with reliefs that showed the king in his various official functions, accompanied by his courtiers and protective spirits, but also scenes of war and hunting. The rooms south of yard Y were part of the more private area of the palace and included (under the floor of room MM) several rich graves of queens. We have been witnesses, in the recent past, to a sad chapter in the three millennia of existence of this once grand edifice; cultural heritage officials, and international news teams, are now reporting on the cruel damage done to Nimrud by IS extremists.

credit: Englund, Klaudia M.

Nimrud’s Northwest Palace: 2 (2021-03-22)

Aerial photo of the excavations in Nimrud.



This Google Earth photo from 2013 shows the citadel of Nimrud seen from the south. The ziqqurrat (temple mound) is in the upper left corner, below it the Northwest Palace of Assurnasirpal II. Barely visible in the bottom right corner is the temple of the god Nabu and above it the “Burnt Palace”. Henry Layard, who originally believed that he had discovered a different Assyrian capital, Nineveh, started excavating the Northwest Palace in 1845, sending most of the reliefs he found there to the British Museum, but also to other museums, friends and family. American missionaries, who worked in Mosul at the time, were responsible for many fragments and entire slabs being sent to their alma maters in the US, and other pieces found their way into museums and collections all over the world, from Europe to Mumbay, Kyoto and even Greenland.

credit: Englund, Klaudia M.

Nimrud’s Northwest Palace: 1 (2021-03-21)

Limestone reliefs from the palace of Assyrian King Assurnasirpal II in Nimrud (ancient Kalḫu) near Mosul in northern Iraq date to the beginning of the 9th century BC. Those reliefs contained images of religious and political significance as well as cuneiform inscriptions.



Room G of the Northwest Palace, like several of the other palace rooms, was lined with these reliefs containing depictions, often in stunning detail, of religiously and politically significant scenes in the rule of the Assyrian king. The image here is a detail shot of a winged genie in the act of consecrating a high Assyrian official; visible are the genie’s earring and necklace, including the characteristic rendering of hair and beard. The panel of which this is part is today found in the British Museum and contains a copy of the so-called Standard Inscription describing Assurnasirpal II’s military campaigns.

Special pages are being prepared by CDLI collaborators to illustrate the architectural context of the reliefs within the palace.

CDLI reference: P426805

credit: Englund, Klaudia M. (photo Ellen Rehm)

Horn Museum, Andrews University: 6 (2021-03-20)

An Old Babylonian list of personal names (c. 1894 - 1594 BC).



So-called round tablets of the Old Babylonian period were used in schools to instruct students in proper cuneiform writing style, and to lead them through an ever more demanding curriculum. Short passages from known scholarly compositions were often inscribed by the teacher on one surface of such tablets, and his apprentice scribe was to repeat the same inscription on the reverse surface. The text here contains four lines with names beginning with the sign “ur,” “servant” (of so-and-so).


CDLI entry: P249355

credit: Heinle, Michael

Horn Museum, Andrews University: 5 (2021-03-19)

A literary tablet from the Old Babylonian period (c. 1894 - 1594 BC).



Among the many tablets in the Horn collection one finds a small number of literary texts. This exemplar records a fragment of the epic “Lugalbanda and the Mountain Cave” (lines 384-403). This epic, written during the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1800 BC) in the Sumerian language, records the story Lugalbanda, a mythological hero who is befallen by a mysterious illness while campaigning with his brothers.


CDLI entry: P249270

credit: Heinle, Michael

Horn Museum, Andrews University: 4 (2021-03-18)

A silver loan from the second year of Nebuchadnezzer II, king of Babylon in the 6th century BC.



This tablet records a loan of 2 minas of silver from Kudurri to Saggil. The loan accrues interest at a rate of 2 shekels per month (for an effective annual rate of 20%: 2/120 x 12). The contract was witnessed by Bel-iqiša, Šamaš-uballiṭ, and the scribe Iddinunu. Completed on the 4th day of the 2nd year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzer.

CDLI entry: P249281

credit: Heinle, Michael

Horn Museum, Andrews University: 3 (2021-03-17)

Ur III period “bulla” with cylinder seal impression.



This object began its life as a simple ball of clay formed around a length of rope in order to secure or effectively “lock” another object such as a pot, basket, or door. The cylinder seal of some individual exerting ownership or administrative control over the contents would then be applied to the wet clay as seen here. Notice the impressions left by the rope fibers visible on the inside surface of the bulla.

CDLI entry: P104631

credit: Heinle, Michael

Horn Museum, Andrews University: 2 (2021-03-16)

Two administrative tablets from the Ur III period, one with its envelope.



While the transactions recorded in these tablets are unremarkable, the colors of the tablets are not. Tablets may occasionally take on colors such as reds, greens, and purples, that are the result of a combination of a number of factors that include their site of original deposition, their baking process, and the clay matrix of which the tablet is made.

CDLI entries: P103221, P104470

credit: Heinle, Michael

Horn Museum, Andrews University: 1 (2021-03-15)

This is an administrative tablet from the Ur III period dated to the fourth year of Amar-Suen, the third king of the dynasty.



The Horn Museum is part of the Institute of Archaeology at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Containing altogether 2,949 cuneiform artifacts, its holdings rank among the largest in the United States. In the next series of slides, we will have a look at a sampling of those texts.

Like the majority of Ur III accounts in the collection, this tablet comes from the the site of Drehem (ancient Puzrish-Dagan). It records some 85 sheep (line 1) and 20 “Shimashki” goats (line 2) taken by En-dingir-mu from the herds managed by Abba-saga. An abbreviated total of the animals taken is given on the left edge of the tablet.

CDLI entry: P102968

credit: Heinle, Michael

Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva: 9 (2021-03-14)

The oldest and youngest cuneiform artifacts in the museum



The tablet on the left (MAH 16070) probably comes from Šuruppak (modern Fara), a city in southern Mesopotamia so ancient that, according to the Epic of Gilgameš, it had existed before the Flood. There is no date on the legible side nor would we expect one at this early stage of writing (the other surface remains covered with baked-on soil), but the format and sign forms put it in the Early Dynastic IIIa period (ca. 2600-2500 BC). It records valuable objects together with personal names, perhaps confirming an exchange of gifts as part of a contract.

On the right is MAH 16089, a fragment from Uruk (60 km south of Šuruppak) that also seems to be a contract. On the basis of internal evidence it dates to 89 BC, the seventh year of the reign of Philip I, ruler of a Hellenistic kingdom that had not in fact controlled Babylonia for 50 years. It testifies to the continuing vitality of cuneiform writing 2500 years after the tablet on the left was inscribed. Alphabetic writing had been culturally dominant in Mesopotamia for over 400 years by the time this document was drafted—first the Aramaic of the Persian Empire from 539 BC, then Greek after the arrival of Alexander the Great in 331—but the Akkadian and Sumerian languages retained great intellectual prestige. This was particularly true in such important centers as Uruk, the city where writing first appears in the archeological record in the second half of the 4th millennium BC.

CDLI entries: P424011 & P424024

credit: Clevenstine, Emmert

Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva: 8 (2021-03-13)

An exercise in geometry



This Old Babylonian tablet (MAH 16055) demonstrates how to divide triangles into three pieces such that the uppermost (triangular) and lowest (trapezoidal) portions are equal in area. It shows ten triangles with upper and lower areas of 5 to 50 units. Regardless of the absolute dimensions of the different triangles, the desired division is obtained when the lengths of the base of a triangle and the two transverse lines dividing it are in the ratio 5:4:3. For example, the sixth triangle (upper and lower areas of 30) has a base of 2x601+46x600+40x60-1, or 166 2/3 in decimal notation. The two transversals are 2x601+13x600+20x60-1 (133 1/3) and 1x601+40x600 (100). This is the famous Pythagorean relationship c2=a2+b2 over a thousand years before Pythagoras.

Mesopotamian mathematics was based on the number 60, not the 10 that we are familiar with today. The system survives in our division of hours into minutes and seconds, and of a circle into 360 degrees. As the example above shows, 60 has the advantage of being divisible by 3 as well as 2 and 5, so some calculations that produce continuing fractions in base 10 yield round numbers in base 60. Computation was always intimately associated with practical concerns, such as dividing a field among heirs or estimating the materials and labor required for construction projects. Introductions can be found online in English at a site maintained by Duncan Melville at St. Lawrence University (Canton, NY) and in French at CultureMATH, maintained by Eric Vandendriessche of the Université Paris Diderot.

CDLI entry: P254721

credit: Clevenstine, Emmert

Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva: 7 (2021-03-12)

Skilled craftsmanship



This tiny piece of lapis lazuli (10 mm long and 5 mm in diameter) fills the viewer with admiration for the Babylonian jeweler in the first millennium BC who could incise the seven-line votive inscription that covers its surface, and then inlay the cuneiform signs with precious metal. The hole visible in the end view does not go all the way through the piece; this fact and a possible residue of bitumen in the hole suggest that the object (MAH 17877) was the head of a decorative pin.

CDLI entry: P424326

credit: Clevenstine, Emmert

Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva: 6 (2021-03-11)

A controversial object of beauty



Catalogued by the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire as a vase but considered by some scholars to be a wind chime, this 15 x 9 cm object (MAH 19359) is not part of the Boissier collection. It comes from Susa in the land of Elam, east of Mesopotamia at the foot of the Zagros mountains. Although the Elamites had a language of their own, the inscription here is in Sumerian; it commemorates the construction of a temple by one Atta-ḫušu, who lived in the 19th century BC and was a nephew of the ruler Silḫaḫa (a full catalogue of the MAH collection is available here).


CDLI entry: Q006340

credit: Clevenstine, Emmert

Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva: 4 (2021-03-10)

Looking for omens in a sacrificed animal.



In ancient Mesopotamia, as in ancient Rome, it was believed that gods would “write” clues to the future in the entrails of animals sacrificed to them. Divination was a particular interest of Alfred Boissier, whose collection forms a large part of the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire´s holdings. This tablet (MAH 16274), undated but Old Babylonian in script and style, describes the liver and lungs of a sacrificial animal, probably a sheep. To help decode the message, diviners (barû) had clay models of livers with different parts labeled, and lists of associations between anatomical features and events in the world (one example is found in the MAH collection).


CDLI entry: P424126

credit: Clevenstine, Emmert

Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva: 5 (2021-03-09)

An Assyrian trader in Anatolia hears from his long-suffering wife.



One of 52 Old Assyrian tablets in the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire collection. From around 1970 to about 1720 BC, traders from Assur on the upper Tigris maintained commercial relations with central Anatolia, 1000 kilometers from home. Some time before 1895, one Pušuken son of Sueyya began trading in Kanesh (modern Kültepe), the principal Assyrian colony. He finally settled there permanently, leaving his wife Lamassi and daughter Aḫaḫa in Assur to run the family home and provide textiles for their sons to bring by caravan to Kanesh. In this letter (MAH 16209), Lamassi reports a tax dispute with the authorities, complains of not receiving payment for goods already shipped, and exhorts Pušuken to return to Assur to dedicate their “little girl” to the service of the city´s eponymous god. Letters in other collections tell us that Aḫaḫa did eventually join a religious order, but continued to engage in trade after the deaths of her parents.

The thousands of tablets left by the Old Assyrian traders—contracts, waybills, receipts, court transcripts, and accounts of various kinds, as well as letters—give us a more detailed picture of people's lives and work than we have for many more recent periods of history. See Cécile Michel´s Correspondance des Marchands de Kanesh (Les Editions du Cerf, 2001), with a chapter devoted to the letters of Lamassi, Aḫaḫa, and other women.


CDLI entry: P390566

credit: Clevenstine, Emmert

Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva: 3 (2021-03-08)

Priests of Larsa answer to their superiors for performing an unnecessary ritual.



One day in the eighth year of the Persian king Cyrus’s rule over Babylonia (532 BC), lamentation-priests (kalû) of the Ebabbar temple in the southern city of Larsa employed an expensive and ritually potent bronze drum of their temple to ward off the anticipated evil effects of a lunar eclipse that never occurred. Their superiors at the Eanna temple in Uruk seem to have launched an investigation into this erroneous deployment of resources. The tablet shown here records the testimony of three witnesses a month after the futile ritual. The outcome of the inquiry is unknown. Our tablet was published by Boissier in 1926 (Revue d’Assyriologie et d’archéologie orientale 23, 13-17). A second deposition taken three days later wound up in the collection of Yale University and was published in 1925 as YOS 7, 71. English translations of the tablets and an analysis of the case in both cultic and astronomical terms have been published by Paul-Alain Beaulieu and John P. Britton (Journal of Cuneiform Studies 46 [1994] 73-86). Their calculations suggest that the kalû acted in good faith, but did not fully appreciate the limitations of predictions based on data accumulated in previous centuries.

CDLI entry: P423841

credit: Clevenstine, Emmert

Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva: 2 (2021-03-07)

In this fragment of a Babylonian flood myth, the hero Atra-hasis is being advised by his god, Enki, to build an ark. The back of the fragment bears the scribe's name and part of a date in the 17th century BC.



Much of the cuneiform material in the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva, was originally the personal collection of Genevan Assyriologist Alfred Boissier (1867-1945). He published the text shown here in 1931 in Revue d’Assyriologie e et d’archéologie orientale 28, 91-97. The piece was recognized as coming from the same tablet as three fragments in the British Museum; all are reunited in the CDLI record cited below. This artifact is the last of a three-tablet series that recounts the creation of human beings, the gods’ vain attempts to eliminate the rowdy species by famine, plague, and flood, and their final accommodation after being thwarted by the wise human Atra-hasis and his divine patron Enki. The surviving parts of the three tablets, together with other versions of the story, can be found in W. G. Lambert and A. R. Millard, Atra-hasis: The Babylonian Story of the Flood (Eisenbrauns 1969).

CDLI entry: P285811

credit: Clevenstine, Emmert

Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva: 1 (2021-03-06)

A brick from Babylon, bearing the stamp of King Nebuchadnezzar. Found at the presumed site of the “Tower of Babel” by Genevan polymath Adolphe Pictet in 1873, it became the first cuneiform artifact in the museum’s collection.



The hand-written labels on the front and back of this object show it to be the one mentioned by Edmond Sollberger in his 1951 article "The Cuneiform Collection in Geneva,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 5, 18-20, as the first cuneiform document registered in the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire collection, presented to what was then the Musée archéologique by Adolphe Pictet in 1874. Nebuchadnezzar (reigned 604-562 BC) is known today as the military leader who conquered Jerusalem and deported its population, but his royal inscriptions celebrate his activities as a builder or restorer of temples. Stamping bricks with votive or commemorative text was an age-old tradition by Nebuchadnezzar’s day: the MAH collection includes a brick inscribed by Gudea, who ruled the southern Mesopotamian city-state of Lagash around 2120 BC (a full catalogue of the MAH collection is available here).

CDLI entry: P424358

credit: Clevenstine, Emmert

The Emory Collection: 5 (2021-03-05)

Building cone with a dedicatory inscription from Išme-Dagan



According to the Sumerian King List, Išme-Dagan ruled for a period of twenty years in Isin during the Early Old Babylonian period (ca. 2000-1900 BC). In the preceding Ur III period, inscribed objects such as these cones were placed in dedicated buildings and structures. With the thousands of cones unearthed for these later periods, it is difficult to know whether they were placed in the structures, or whether they served some other function. The text of this artifact refers to the king claims to have canceled the service of the men of Nippur, the city loved by Enlil. It is common among early Mesopotamia kings to make the claim of releasing people from imposed duties, and other acts of justice and magnanimity. By releasing the men of Nippur, Enlil's city, from forced service, Išme-Dagan seeks to garner favor from Enlil and protection for the city of Isin.


CDLI entry: P433185.

credit: Reid, J. Nicholas

The Emory Collection: 4 (2021-03-04)

An Ur III text relating to a festival held for the coronation of Ibbi-Suen



During the final month of the reign of Šu-Suen, a number of festivals were held on the occasion of Ibbi-Suen’s ascension to the throne. This Drehem text relates to the 6th day of the 11th month of that year. The text mentions a fattened ox used as an offering when Ibbi-Suen received the crown. The date of the text reads: iti ezem-mah / mu dšu-dsuen lugal uri5ki-ma-ke4 e2 dšara2 ummaki-ka mu-du3: “The month of the high festival; the year Šu-Suen, the king of Ur, built the house of Šara in Umma” (cf. Sollberger JCS 10, 18-20, for more Emory texts dealing with the coronation of Ibbi-Suen).


CDLI entry: P111898.

credit: Reid, J. Nicholas

The Emory Collection: 3 (2021-03-03)

An Ur III account of male laborers



ASJ 9, 242 19, is an account of male workers employed in the agricultural sphere during the Third Dynasty of Ur. The tablet, housed in the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, dates to the 47th year (mu us2-sa ki-masz{ki} ba-hul, ‟year after ‟Kimaš was destroyed“ “) of Shugi, second ruler of the period. The large account deals with a total of 9,609 5/6 man-days (u4 1(disz)-sze3) with a deficit of 29 2/3 man-days.

CDLI entry: P102296

credit: Reid, J. Nicholas

The Emory Collection: 2 (2021-03-02)

A quadrilingual royal inscription from the Achaemenid period (ca. 547-331 BC)



This alabastron contains the phrase, "Artaxerxes, the king" in 4 different languages.
1. a-r-t-x-$-c,-a : x-$-a-y-t'-i-y
Artaxerxes, the king.
# Persian
2. {disz}ir#-tak-ik-ša2-iš-sza2 dišsunki
Artaxerxes, the king.
# Elamite
3. (diš)ar-ta-ak-ša2-as-su _lugal_
Artaxerxes, the king.
# Akkadian
4. 3-rw-T-xA-S-s-SA pr-aA
Artaxerxes, the king.
# Egyptian

Artaxerxes, the son of Xerxes, was king of Persia from 465-424 BC. Little archaeological remains exist for his rule, leaving scant information except from Greek authors and the Hebrew Bible. The reign of Artaxerxes, in Hebrew אַרְתַּחְשַׁסְתְּא‎, is mentioned in Ezra 7 of the Hebrew Bible. Despite the Hebrew Bible being the place from which most people know of his reign, of the four languages chosen here none of them are Hebrew. Ctesias claims that Artaxerxes ascended to the throne when Xerxes, his father, was killed by Artaban. Artaxerxes killed Darius, his older brother, when Artaban accused Darius of murdering Xerxes. Following a tip from his brother-in-law, Artaxerxes killed Artaban and all of his family.

CDLI entry: P433328.

credit: Reid, J. Nicholas

The Emory Collection: 1 (2021-03-01)

An Ur III messenger tablet that in 1989 became the oldest human-made object to travel to space



The text here, published by the University of Oklahoma cuneiformist Daniel Snell in 1987, dates to the reign of the Ur III king Amar-Suen (ca. 2046-2038 BC). It records provisions, including beer, onions, oil, and bread, given to named individuals. While the tablet does not specifically record the tasks assigned to these persons, it falls into the category of similar administrative documents called messenger texts. Some 4,000 years after its composition, this unassuming clay tablet made history by becoming the oldest human artifact to travel to space when in 1989 Emory alumnus Manley L. (“Sonny”) Carter, Jr., as mission specialist of the STS-33 crew, selected the tablet from the Carlos collection to board the space shuttle Discovery in connection with NASA’s Object in Space Program.

CDLI entry: P102288.

credit: Reid, J. Nicholas

Drafting Administrative Documents: 4 (2021-02-28)

Comparison of two records



The only difference between the two texts is that SACT 2, 73, does not have a date, and does not include any information about the purpose of the enumerated workers. The absence of this information makes it very difficult to imagine any immediate administrative or archival purpose of the tablet. What would be the point of keeping a record of an undated list of workers to be used for an unstated purpose? How would such a record help the scribe drafting the annual account at the end of the year?

The most reasonable interpretation of SACT 2, 73, is to see it as a rare, but important, piece of evidence for the use of temporary clay tablets providing only the necessary details of a transaction drawn up by a scribe so that he would be able to get the numbers and names right when he, at some later stage, was expected to create the proper and dated document.

CDLI entry: P388399 & P129030

credit: Widell, Magnus

Drafting Administrative Documents: 3 (2021-02-27)

record



If we accept Steinkeller’s proposition that many of these records were prepared post factum in different locations and settings than those of the transactions they actually document, we also have to consider the question of how the relevant information of the transactions and observations was collected and stored until it could be permanently transfered to the written records. How were the Ur III scribes able to remember the complicated and detailed information of every-day transactions during the period between the transactions and the preparation of the texts recording them?

One possibility would be that the scribes produced temporary clay drafts in the field with the relevant details, and later used these abridged memoranda when they drew up the permanent administrative records, similar to how they would rely on those records when they prepared the annual accounts at the end of the year.

More than forty years ago, Shin T. Kang published an unassuming text from Umma that may represent the original clay draft used to prepare our list of foremen and workers. Although the order of some of the entries differs in the texts, the detail information (i.e., the names of the different foremen and their associated numbers of unskilled workers) is identical.

CDLI entry: P129030

credit: Widell, Magnus

Drafting Administrative Documents: 2 (2021-02-26)

Annual account



It is sometimes possible to cross-reference the information in these short records produced during the year with their summarized entries in the annual accounts drawn up at the end of any given administrative period (month, some months, or one or more years). In 2003, Robert K. Englund published the large annual account Erlenmeyer 152 from Umma, and managed to cross reference entries in the account to no less than fourteen different individual records (CDLJ 2003:1).

Although tens of thousands of such daily Ur III records that formed the basis for the annual accounts have been published to date, the administrative context in which they were created remains unclear. In an article on administrative practices in the Ur III period, Piotr Steinkeller argued that a large proportion of the Ur III records were, in fact, not prepared in the field, but rather drawn up later—often significantly later—in locations and settings that were different from those where the events and transactions in question had occurred (see his “The Function of Written Documentation in the Administrative Praxis of Early Babylonia,” in M. Hudson & C. Wunsch, eds., Creating Economic Order: Recordkeeping, Standardization, and the Development of Accounting in the Ancient Near East [Bethesda, MD: 2004] pp. 65-88).

CDLI entry: P109319

credit: Widell, Magnus

Drafting Administrative Documents: 1 (2021-02-25)

Umma's annual obligation to the royal economy; Ur III period



A few years ago I published a small administrative tablet from Umma in CDLJ 2009:6 dated to the reign of Amar-Suen, the third ruler in the Ur III Dynasty (ca. 2100-2000 BC). The text records the number of unskilled workers provided by seven different foremen as a small part of Umma’s annual obligation/contribution to the royal economy of the Ur III state, described by the Sumerian term “bala.” Each of the seven foremen would have received a sealed receipt of these labor expenditures along the pattern: x workers for y days, stationed (to serve) within the bala obligation, foreman: PN1, seal (= received): PN2, date. At the end of the fiscal year, the sum of all labor expenditures listed in this type of records drawn up during the year, together with all work actually carried out during the year, would be deducted from the expected performances of the different foremen and their workers, which depended on the amount of labor they were assigned in the first place.

CDLI entry: P388399

credit: Widell, Magnus

Proto-Elamite: 10 (2021-02-24)

Two of the first proto-Elamite tablets found at Susa by Jacques de Morgan in 1899 or 1900.



When the French epigraphist at Susa, Vincent Scheil, compared the newly discovered texts to the other early examples of writing then known, a seal with Indus signs, also found at Susa, and an early Sumerian cuneiform text from southern Iraq, he concluded that the oldest one was the seal with the Indus signs, believing the signs were truly hieroglyphic and therefore very ancient; second place went to the early Sumerian tablet, since it was considered only partially hieroglyphic; and third place to the proto-Elamite tablets that were, he said, already cuneiform-shaped and thus more abstract. We know today that the Indus seal is, by far, the youngest of the three objects Scheil compared, and the Sumerian text may well be younger than the proto-Elamite tablets, although this particular one is difficult to date.

CDLI entries: P008179 & P008184

credit: Dahl, Jacob L.

Proto-Elamite: 9 (2021-02-23)

Top-level account of the yield from five fields. The tablet is sealed with the same seal as “Proto-Elamite: 1,” the so-called ruler’s seal; it is here shown in the original orientation of writing.



This tablet was featured in a BBC article that became one of the most read educational contributions to the national broadcaster’s website in 2012, attesting to the fascination the public has for the study of ancient texts.

The repetitive nature of the text led one young commenter and his father from central California to correctly suggest that the text deals with the harvesting of cereals.

All proto-Elamite texts appear to have fulfilled administrative needs, with no reflection of the Babylonian penchant for lexical lists and related scholarly tradition; they can be divided into texts concerning agriculture, agricultural products, herded animals and dairy and wool production, rations for laborers, and grain salaries for high-ranking members of society. The only exceptions are two possible metrological-mathematical texts.

CDLI entry: P008020

credit: Dahl, Jacob L.

Proto-Elamite: 8 (2021-02-22)

The proto-Elamite sign repertoire has long puzzled researchers. A large number of the proto-Elamite signs are abstract, while some signs with clear pictorial referents are never used for counted objects.



Only about half of the signs that appear to depict animals were in fact used to represent the same animals in the accounts; the other signs, such as M461 and M332d, were never used in this way. Rather, they were used to designate households or owners. In the case of the ‘hanging’ animal (M461), the sign is interpreted as representing a household through a one-to-one depiction of a physical emblem, for example a totem-animal; in the case of the animal head (M332d), the encoding takes a very different form. That sign belongs to a subgroup of the sign repertoire used only to designate owners or households, and usually in groups of 2-4 signs. In contrast, the most important signs for animals, counted in the accounts, are all entirely abstract, and share their basic graphical constituents with signs for the same animals in Mesopotamian texts (see “Proto-Elamite: 2”).

CDLI entry: P008188

credit: Dahl, Jacob L.

Proto-Elamite: 7 (2021-02-21)

A very large proto-Elamite tablet in the Louvre Museum joined from five fragments. The text lists hundreds of small work-teams and their rations



This tablet, one of the longest archaic texts produced, was joined based on an understanding of its content rather than on the shape and color of the different fragments. A map of the joins is shown on the right.

CDLI entry: P008105

credit: Dahl, Jacob L.

Proto-Elamite: 6 (2021-02-20)

Sealed receipts of the proto-Elamite phase of early Iran



More than a dozen texts with similar shape, dimensions and content are known from the proto-Elamite corpus (ca. 3100-2900 BC), all apparently dealing with monthly rations for small teams of (field ?) workers. The tablets are sealed with one of the two seals shown. The seal at the top (found on MDP 6, 223, that is also depicted to the left) shows an animal seated in a reed boat, whereas the one at the bottom (on MDP 26S, 4802) displays a parade of mythical animals. All of the texts have a sub-script, and a top-edge inscription, the meaning of which remains unknown, but may represent time notations.

CDLI entries: P008022, P009237

credit: Dahl, Jacob L.

Proto-Elamite: 5 (2021-02-19)

To the left a Proto-Elamite tablet from the Susa excavations of either Morgan or de Mecquenem (MDP 17, 153), to its right a tablet excavated by LeBrun’s team in the 1960s. Both tablets are signed with the same scribal design, shown in red to the right.



Little is know about the find location of MDP 17, 153, although some early publications speak about clusters of tablets. The tablets found during the later, controlled and stratified excavations, on the other hand, were never found in groups of more than three. It therefore remains difficult to say whether the tablets were originally kept in archives, or whether they were discarded or disbursed shortly after being written.


CDLI entries: P008351, P009411

credit: Dahl, Jacob L.

Proto-Elamite: 4 (2021-02-18)

Proto-Elamite tablet joined from two fragments in the Louvre Museum. This tablet dates to the last phase of the proto-Elamite writing system. It has on the reverse, instead of a seal impression, a scribal design. Identical designs are found on a few other texts with similar content proving that these did, in fact, function as seals.



This text details the rations for ten, perhaps eleven, high-level officials. The first ten officials are each identified with a variant of a sign otherwise used to represent 100 in the decimal numerical sign system used to count, among other things, workers. Each official receives amounts of various cereals and cereal products.

The image is created by overlaying and blending, in Photoshop, several exports from Reflectance Transformation Imaging files created of the tablet in Paris by Klaus Wagensonner. The RTI exports were lit from different angles.

CDLI entry: P008279

credit: Dahl, Jacob L.

Proto-Elamite: 3 (2021-02-17)

Account of the production from the same herds as in “Proto-Elamite: 2”



MDP 17, 85, lists production from animals of the same herds found in “Proto-Elamite: 2” (MDP 17, 96+). Each herd is identified by a sign either following, or inscribed within the sign for nanny goat. Following a count of nannies, a standardized list of what appears to be eight different products obtained from sheep and goat herding is found. Based on a comparison with similar herding accounts from Uruk, the first of these have been identified as refined dairy products with a the standardized relationship between the amounts of some products and numbers of adult female animals. Bibliography: Jacob L. Dahl, “Animal Husbandry in Susa During the Proto-Elamite Period,” SMEA 47 (2005) 81-134.

CDLI entry: P008283

credit: Dahl, Jacob L.

Proto-Elamite: 2 (2021-02-16)

MDP 17, 96+325+380, lists animals belonging to some fifteen different herds. In 2004, the three fragments were joined by Jacob Dahl, working in the Louvre Museum collections of proto-Elamite tablets. The account is a key-text for the decipherment of sheep and goat terminology in proto-Elamite texts (ca. 3100-2900 BC).



MDP 17, 96+325+380, originally recorded about fifteen herds of sheep and goats belonging to different institutions or individuals. Each of the owners of the animals is described with one or at most two signs that can, space permitting, be inscribed within the first object designator (signs that here represented the herded animals). Adult animals of both species and both genders are listed before juveniles. The signs for juvenile animals are formed by hatching signs for adults. Perhaps not surprisingly, goats are listed before sheep, since goats produce more milk and have more offspring, and may therefore have been more important for the administration than sheep whose wool-bearing had yet to reach later levels. We may note that as in the contemporary and later Babylonian records, ewe milk was not registered in pro to-Elamite accounts.

Translation of the obverse:
belonging to X1:
3 nanny goats
2 billy goats
4 female sheep
1 female kid
1 female lamb
belonging to X2:
6 nanny goats
4 billy goats
1 female sheep
23 female kids
7 male kids
10 female lambs
3 male lambs


and so on in the same accounting format. Bibliography: Jacob L. Dahl, “Animal Husbandry in Susa During the Proto-Elamite Period,” SMEA 47 (2005) 81-134.

CDLI entry: P008294

credit: Dahl, Jacob L.

Proto-Elamite: 1 (2021-02-15)

An almost completely preserved clay-tablet in proto-Elamite from ancient Susa inscribed with a complicated account. On the reverse is a seal of a high-ranking official, probably the ruler.



With 119 entries in 21 columns, this large clay tablet is the longest complex administrative account of the archaic period that is mostly preserved. Recovered from early excavations at Susa, it is written in the so-called proto-Elamite (ca. 3100-2900 BC) script and records a large amount of grain divided unequally among approximately 100 entries, some of which may represent the names or titles of high officials. The seal image of lions and bulls in human poses on the reverse, including a proto-Elamite “hairy triangle” sign also found in the text itself, suggests the account belonged to a powerful Susian household.

CDLI entry: P272825

credit: Kelley, Karthryn E.

WMD: Metrology modern and ancient (2021-02-14)

This year’s World Metrology Day is a reminder of the important role of the standardization of weights and measures in today’s world, as it was in the development of administrative control and science in Babylonia.



In ancient Mesopotamia, as today, metrology marks the nexus between science and the real world. This year’s World Metrology Day celebrates significant advances in the standardization of metrological calculations, the most striking of which is the abandonment of adherence to the cylindrical platinum-iridium kilogram artifact, that is safeguarded in a vault of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures near Paris, in favor of a kilogram based on the Planck constant.

Weights and measures offer many fascinating points of contact between the modern and ancient worlds, none perhaps so obvious as instruments developed to record lengths, and derivatively surface areas. Surveyors in near modern times carried a tool known as a Gunter chain, named after the 17th century polymath Edmund Gunter (1581-1626 AD), that, extended, was 66 feet long. Ten ‘chains’ are a furlong, and, transferred to surface measurements, a field of one chain by one furlong was an acre (or ten square chains). Similarly, the standard Babylonian length measure known in Sumerian as a ninda, ca. six meters, served as the basis for field surveying, and the surveyor himself was known in Sumerian as the “rope man,” whereby the rope, Sumerian éš, consisted of ten ninda. A surface of ten × ten ninda was called an iku, and with 3,600 square meters this basis of Babylonian field measurements was in size comparable to our acre. Together with a measuring rod of one half ninda (3 meters), known as a (Sumerian) gi, “reed,” the surveyor’s rope, further, was one of two instruments that symbolized legitimate rule, and these were commonly presented to kings by the Mesopotamian god of justice, for instance in the neo-Sumerian Ur-Namma stele (ca. 2100 BC, with braided end of rope!), in the relief of the Old Babylonian Hammurapi stele (ca. 1750) kept in the Louvre, or on the remarkable early neo-Babylonian Sun God Tablet (ca. 850) in the British Museum.

CDLI entries: P249253 & P472680

credit: Englund, Robert K.

YBC: Highlights 134 (2021-02-13)

Digitizing Tablets



Modern imaging techniques and the means to share image files with scholars worldwide allow for a much more comprehensive recording of an artifact. While for many objects conventional or high dynamic range photography suffices, others require the use of so-called reflectance transformation imaging, which allows the manipulation of the light angle cast on an object on the computer screen. By using a camera dome, several images (in this case, seventy-six) are taken while changing the light angle between each shot. These raw images are then merged into a dynamic file that allows the user to directly engage with the object (for example, zoom in on certain details or change the light angle).

CDLI entry: P293710 & P217645

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 133 (2021-02-12)

Digitizing Tablets (YPM BC 004875, NBC 1902; Old Assyrian period (about 2000–1700 BC); Kültepe (ancient Kanesh); 52 x 52 x 28 mm; clay)



This artifact is a sealed envelope from central Anatolia. Clay envelopes were used to either conceal information (in the case of letters) or protect against any manipulation of the information contained in the enclosed tablet. In the latter case, the content of the tablet was usually duplicated on the outer surface of the envelope, which in this case was sealed multiple times. The present tablet and its envelope are inscribed with a legal text about the invalidity of outstanding debts. On taking a loan a debtor received a debt note, which he would keep until the debt was paid off, with or without interest. This debt note would then be rendered void. The present document ascertains that the debt the named individual owed to the colony of Nahria is void: “The tablet (that is, debt note), wherever it appears, is false” (lines 12–13). There are seal impressions on all sides of the envelope. During the Old Assyrian period, cylinder seals were usually impressed fully onto the clay, which allows for a proper study of their iconography. The envelope also names the seal owners, who are the main debtor and three witnesses. Publications of cuneiform artifacts bearing seal impressions frequently ignore the sealings altogether or record only the seal legends. The images impressed onto the clay are left to be studied by art historians. This tablet is no exception. Although Albert T. Clay published a partial photograph of the sealed envelope (BIN 4, pl. LXXXIII, marked a), its sealings were only properly published decades later by Briggs Buchanan (1981). However, this approach, which separates the text from the actual artifact, creates issues. Research questions related to sealing practices and their economic or social implications cannot be properly addressed under such circumstances.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P293710

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 132 (2021-02-11)

Digitizing Seals



For diachronic studies, digital rollouts help, moreover, to visualize the different preferences for certain materials, such as lapis lazuli in the mid third millennium BC. Traditional catalogues and publications of cylinder seals often neglect or undervalue certain physical features of the seals in putting the focus on the iconography and its development over time. Modern technology can overcome such limitations. Tagging iconographical details, capturing the materiality of the seal, registering any other features such as the presence, absence, and characteristics of drill holes open up new avenues of research into these small artifacts.


credit: Lassen, Agnete; Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 131 (2021-02-10)

Digitizing Seals (YPM BC 006144, NBC 3171; Late Old Babylonian period (about 1700–1600 BC) to Kassite period (1595–1155 BC); 33 x 19 mm; jasper or aventurine)



This colorful seal shows a seated male deity with a beard and a horned headdress facing left and holding out his right hand. He wears a long robe and sits on an unadorned stool. He is surrounded by two suppliant goddesses in long flounced dresses and horned headdresses holding up both hands. There is a so-called Kassite cross in front of the seated deity and six encased lines of inscription behind the suppliant goddesses.

Although not apparent at first glance, the seal is a reused late Old Babylonian seal with two suppliant goddesses facing an inscription. It was recarved in Kassite times. There are faint traces of vertical and horizontal lines, as well as wedge heads under the cross, by the outstretched hand of the seated deity, and by the stool. The cross, inscription, and seated deity are carved in a different style than the two suppliant goddesses and in markedly lower relief, indicating that the cross and the seated deity occupy the space of a previous, now erased inscription. No traces of older carvings are visible in the inscription field, and it is likely that this part of the cylinder was blank in the seal’s original Old Babylonian manifestation.

Traditionally, cylinder seals have been published as black and white photographs of modern impressions. A carefully produced impression on clay or a polymer like Sculpey smoothed with non-shimmering talcum powder (for example, Caldesene) allows a more detailed and complete view of the iconography of a seal. Multicolored stones, such as the one used here, obscure the carvings on the seal cylinder. However, photographed under raking light, the modern impression revealed the faint traces of the earlier carvings, which are close to invisible on the mottled surface of the seal. Modern and ancient impressions of cylinder seals can also be captured using a photographic method known as Reflectance Transformation Imaging.

Photographic techniques and digital enhancement can aid the examination and interpretation of ancient artifacts. The seal imaged here was captured using High Dynamic Range photography, which is also a valuable tool for the capture of cuneiform tablets. By merging different exposures this method enhances the carvings as well as the texture and coloration of the stone. Each seal is placed in the center of a turntable with a stationary camera. The camera captures sixty angles around the circumference of the seal for each full rotation. These images are then stitched together to create a flattened, two-dimensional digital roll-out. With some stone types, such as hematite, the carvings are easily legible on the seal stone, whereas other materials, such as the stone of this seal, generally obscure the carvings on the seal stone. This is also the case with the digital roll-outs, which cannot stand alone without an impression in clay or polymer. But the digital rollout can emphasize differences in carving depth, such as in the seal here, between the two Old Babylonian suppliant goddesses and the Kassite seated deity. In addition to being an aid in uncovering the carving histories of seals, the digital roll-out provides insights into how the seal carver used colorations and patterning in the stone to emphasize or embellish specific iconographic elements, using the interplay between stone and carving to create and emphasize layers of meaning in the iconography, visible only on the seal stone, but not on an impression (Pitard 2014).


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Lassen, Agnete; Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 130 (2021-02-09)

Current Research – Cuneiform Commentaries Project (YPM BC 010830, NBC 7843; probably Persian period (539–331 BC); Nippur and Uruk; 88 x 61 x 22 mm; clay)



This is one of the tablets studied by the Yale-based Cuneiform Commentaries Project (CCP), funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, which seeks to make the large corpus of Babylonian and Assyrian text commentaries available to the scholarly community and a wider audience. Cuneiform commentaries represent the world’s oldest cohesive group of hermeneutic treatises. The CCP, which is co-directed by Eckart Frahm and Enrique Jiménez and collaborates with many scholars and institutions all over the world, was initiated in the work rooms of the Yale Babylonian Collection in 2013. The tablet chosen here as a typical example deals with lunar omens from the astrological series Enūma Anu Enlil. As the following translations of lines 7, 11, and 12 show, many entries of the commentary seek to explain obscure statements about lunar horns through references to planetary phenomena or eclipses that can actually be observed:

“[If (the moon)] is white and lets its horns hang” (means that) on the first day (of the month), Jupiter will approach it (the moon).

“[If] its horns are bent” (refers to) a (lunar) eclipse, or, alternatively, (the horns) will not be visible. “Dense (horns)” refers to an eclipse, “scattered (horns)” refers to an eclipse, “down-trodden (horns)” refers to an eclipse, and “bright (horns)” (refers to) an eclipse, or (indicates that) Venus will approach it (the moon).

“If its horns are full of blood” refers to a red eclipse. The tablet was owned (and possibly copied) by “Zer-kitti-lišir,
nêšakku-priest of Enlil, son of Aplaya, descendant of Gimil-Sin.”

Like the tablet about fumigations (No. 145, which seems to have been copied by Zer-kitti-lišir’s son), it was probably written in Nippur, but later brought to Uruk, where it was most likely found. The tablet ends with a short prayer to Nabu, god of the scribes, but especially in Late Babylonian times also a deity of great political power. The prayer calls him “the one who commands the whole (world) and whose orders the gods of heaven and the netherworld honor.”

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CCP entry: CCP 3.1.5.E
CDLI entry: P299300

credit: Frahm, Eckart
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 129 (2021-02-08)

A Modern “Clay” Tablet (YPM BC 030150, YBC 16938; 16 June 1911; New Haven, Connecticut, USA; 66 x 43 x 17 mm; clay)



This tablet was written in the summer of 1911 by Albert T. Clay, founder of the Babylonian Collection, and is addressed to his friend and Yale colleague, Charles Torrey, an eminent expert in Semitic languages. It is written in the Babylonian language and script, showing that cuneiform can be used even in modern times to communicate all kinds of messages. The text reads in translation:

To Charles (mḫa-ar-li-is), “descendant (literally, son)” of Torrey (mtu-ur2-ri-ya), the exalted teacher of the languages of the West(ern parts of Asia), whose name is firmly established (everywhere) from the rising of the sun to the setting of the sun, and to Miriam (fmi-ir-ya-am), “descendant (literally, daughter)” of Richards (mri-iḫ-ar-di-is), his chosen (wife). Thus speak (literally, spoke) Albert (mal-be-er4-ti), “descendant (literally, son)” of Clay (mka-la-ya), and Elizabeth (fe-li-iz-za-be-et), his beloved wife: Peace be upon you. May Yahweh (dya-a-ma), the lord of heaven and earth, bless you very, very much in these days. May he give to you, as a present, well-being of the flesh, happiness of the heart, and long-lasting days—these are (our) wishes. New Haven (ālne-ew-ha-we-en), 6th month, 16th day, (in the) 3rd “eponymate” (i.e., year in office) of (President William Howard) Taft (mta-ap-ti), (that is) the year 1911. (The senders’) fingernails (have been impressed on the tablet) instead of their seal.

The letter contains a few errors, including Marian Richards Torrey mistakenly addressed as “Miriam.” The remark about the fingernails is written next to several fingernail marks that served, in line with Babylonian practice, as “signatures.” Clay had begun to write clay tablets on his own as a student in Philadelphia, inspired by his teacher, Hermann Hilprecht, who in turn had assumed this habit in his student days at the University of Leipzig in Germany. Several other tablets written by Hilprecht, Clay, and some of their colleagues have survived as well. In one of them, Clay identifies himself as a “son” of Hilprecht, following the German practice of the dissertation advisor serving as a “Doktorvater” (Frahm 2017a, 70-71).

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Frahm, Eckart
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 128 (2021-02-07)

Draft of a Letter from Albert T. Clay to J. Pierpont Morgan (Yale Babylonian Collection Archives; 5 October 1912; New Haven, Connecticut, USA; 216 x 280 mm; paper)



This is a handwritten draft of a letter written by Albert T. Clay to J. Pierpont Morgan in the fall of 1912. As holder of the Laffan professorship endowed by Morgan only a few years earlier, Clay wanted to update his benefactor on his progress:

In the Spring I finished two works, begun several years ago for the University of Pennsylvania. To-day I sent off the final proof of a book which will form volume one of the Yale Oriental Series. The subject of the work is “Personal Names from Cuneiform Inscriptions of the Cassite Period,” upon which I have worked during the past 3 years. The fund which you so magnanimously founded in connection with the Laffan professorship has enabled me to purchase many originals, and casts of important objects which are found in the British Museum, Louvre, etc. The authorities have offered me nice temporary quarters for an exhibition of the material, and I am planning to make a showing during this year in this matter. I might add that the Authorities seem to manifest considerable interest in the development of the Department.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Lassen, Agnete
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 127 (2021-02-06)

The Yale Babylonian Collection



The Yale Babylonian Collection houses more than 40,000 cuneiform texts, seals, terracottas, and other artifacts. The Collection’s holdings of tablets and other inscribed objects are among the most significant in the world. Among its highlights are an early manuscript of the Gilgamesh Epic, the world’s oldest cookbooks, and exquisitely carved seals. From its founding in 1911, the Yale Babylonian Collection has been a center of research for students and faculty at Yale University, and for scholars from all over the world. It aims to preserve, study, and make available for everyone the artifacts it houses.

credit: Frahm, Eckart
image credit: Kaufman, Carl

YBC: Highlights 126 (2021-02-05)

Incantations against the Tooth Worm and Scorpion Bites (YPM BC 018658, YBC 4593; Old Babylonian period (about 1900–1600 BC); 87 x 54 x 28 mm; clay)



This tablet contains at least three incantations and prescriptions, separated from each other by double rulings. The first rather short incantation is written in what seems to be Elamite (see Van Dijk 1982, 101). Spells in foreign languages such as Elamite or Subarian, even nonsensical texts (so-called abracadabra spells), are a common feature of Mesopotamian magic and medicine (compare No. 99). The spell is followed by the subscript “incantation against a worm.” As was still believed in the Middle Ages, toothache was considered to be caused by worms. The prescription that follows involves catching, dissecting, and cooking a frog. To heal the patient, the cooked frog is to be placed onto the affected tooth while the aforementioned spell is recited (Stol 2018). Two additional incantations on the tablet, less well preserved, deal with scorpion bites. The first is likewise accompanied by a ritual. The spell ends with the imprecation: “Go away! Let the youth be cured and let the scorpion die!” (lines 17–18).

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P274695

credit: Chirmanova, Irene; Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 125 (2021-02-04)

A Medical Catalogue Re-Joined (YPM BC 021187, YPM BC 021190, YPM BC 021203, YPM BC 021210, OIM A 7821 (Oriental Institute Museum); YBC 7123 (+) 7126 (+) 7139 (+) 7146 (+) OIM A 7821; Neo-Assyrian period, eighth or seventh century BC; Assur; reconstructed dimensions of the tablet about 235 x 105 x 25 mm; clay)



This important tablet, only recently fully edited for the first time, is composed of five fragments, four housed in the Yale Babylonian Collection and one in the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. The tablet comes from Assur and was copied from another manuscript by a “junior-physician” whose father served as high priest of the goddess Gula, the divine patroness of medicine. The original composition date of the text, and the identity of its author, remain unknown. The tablet is inscribed with a catalogue representing one of the earliest attempts to systematically classify medical knowledge. It provides the “titles” (more specifically, the opening words) of a substantial number of therapeutic texts (“tablets,” Akkadian ṭuppu) organized in sub-series (Akkadian sadīru), which, in turn, were divided into two main compendia. The first compendium, arranged from head to toe, included sections on the cranium, the eyes, ears, neck, bronchia, kidney, hamstrings, and other body parts. Many of the texts listed are known from the so-called Nineveh Medical Compendium from Assurbanipal’s library at Nineveh. The second compendium covered afflictions not related to specific body parts. It dealt, among other things, with skin diseases and wounds, mental illness, sexual dysfunction, gynecology, obstetrics, and, finally, veterinary care. The following two excerpts, on the bronchia and obstetrics, respectively, are taken from the first and the second part of the catalogue (lines 24-28, 115-120):

“If a man’s breathing becomes difficult”;
“If a man’s chest is sick”;
“If a man’s chest, epigastrium, or shoulders hurt him”;
“If a man has fever and coughs”;
“If a man is sick with
suālu-cough”;
“If a man is sick with
suālu-cough, ḫaḫḫu-cough, or constriction (of the lungs)”:
a total of 6 tablets (from the section) “If a man’s breathing becomes difficult,” including (prescriptions) for the case that a man’s bronchial tube (is sick), for
šīqu-illness, and for an infant suffering from suālu-cough.

“If a pregnant woman is suffering severely during her delivery, in order to calm (her) down”;
“Incantation: ‘From the fluids of intercourse, the bone was created’”;
“If a woman suffers severely during delivery”;
“If a woman delivers and then a smell ... in her throat”;
“If a fertile woman delivers and …”;
“If a woman’s menstrual discharge is bright-red”;
“If a semen-like discharge flows from a woman’s vagina”;
“... the belly of a woman …”:
a total of 8 tablets (from the section) concerning pregnant women and women in childbirth.


Despite some overlap, the text seems to represent the “medical” counterpart to the so-called Manual of the Exorcist, a first millennium BC catalogue of text series and other lore focused on “magical” practices (Frahm 2018b; Steinert 2018c).

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entries (all joined ohne Anschluß): P308112(+)

credit: Frahm, Eckart
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 124 (2021-02-03)

Fumigations against Epilepsy (YPM BC 001861, MLC 1863; Persian period (539–331 BC); Nippur or Uruk; 86 x 135 x 29 mm; clay)



This tablet is one of the most elaborate medical commentaries from ancient Mesopotamia. It was copied by a scribe whose own name is lost, but who was the son of one Zer-kitti-lishir of the Gimil-Sin family and a priest of Enlil, the chief deity of Nippur (Frahm 2011a, 234–236). Even though apparently written in Nippur, the tablet was probably found in Uruk, which makes it a prominent example of the intense intellectual exchange that took place between these two (and other) cities in Late Babylonian times. The tablet explains individual sections of a medical compendium about “fumigations” (Akkadian qutāru) used against epilepsy—Babylonian physicians believed that inhaling the vapor produced by burning certain medicinal plants had curative powers. The comments focus, on one hand, on the meanings of the designations of the various forms of epilepsy mentioned in the text and, on the other, on the nature of the plants and other substances used in the course of the treatment. Several entries include quotations from the Mesopotamian botanical handbooks Uruanna and Šammu šikinšu. The following two excerpts reproduce typical passages of the text (lines 1–2, 11–12): “Epilepsy” means that the patient feels constantly choked and expectorates all the time…. The (affliction caused by) the “Lord-of-the-roof” means that his right eye or his left eye squints…. The (affliction caused by) the “hand-of-the-god” means that (the patient) curses the gods, talks nonsense, and smashes whatever he sees…. The (affliction caused by) the “hand-of-the-goddess” means that (the patient) has constant stomach pains and forgets his words all the time…. The (affliction caused by) the “hand-of-the-ghost” means that his ears ring constantly … and he cannot bring his teeth near food. “Amīlānu-plant” is like the seed of “raven droppings” (a cover name for an unknown plant). “Single plant” is like the seed of “dove droppings” (a cover name for false carob). “Male nikiptu- plant” is like tamarisk bark, (insofar as it is) solid and red. “Female nikiptu- plant” is (also) like tamarisk bark, (but) very thin and yellow-green. “Ruttītu- sulphur” is yellow-green sulphur; “agargarītu-sulphur” is black sulphur.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P296515
Edition on CCP: CCP 4.2.M.a

credit: Frahm, Eckart
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 123 (2021-02-02)

Auspicious Months (YPM BC 002575, MLC 2627; Late Babylonian period (second half of the first millennium BC); Uruk?; 77 x 104 x 32 mm; clay)



This three-column tablet is a short version of a series called Iqqur īpuš, plus some commentary (Frahm 2011a, 216). Iqqur īpuš (“He tore down, he built”) is the title of a Mesopotamian composition, never fully “canonized,” that explores the auspicious or inauspicious character that certain months had for certain types of activities. Its origins lie in the second half of the second millennium bc (Labat 1965). Notably, the tablet is in the form of an amulet and probably had an apotropaic function. Each individual section of the obverse of the tablet begins with a statement about some specific activity (building a house, tearing it down, and so on), followed by a list of months that favor its pursuit, plus some more specific predictions. The commentarial remarks are attached to the initial statements and often seek to establish a concrete background for descriptions that seem imprecise or unclear. For example, the entry “If (a man) enters his house” is explained as “(This refers to someone) covered with leprosy who becomes clean again and (re-)enters his house” (obverse, column ii 26’–27’). Such elaborations may reflect a widespread tradition of specifying omens that were so vague that they were hardly applicable without some far-reaching exegesis. The “(re-)entering of the house” was auspicious in the months of Nisannu (I), when “the man’s depressed state will depart from his body,” in Ayyaru (II), when “he will find favor wherever he goes,” in Simanu (III), when “that house will bring prosperity to its master,” in Tashritu (VII), when “there will be happiness,” and in two additional months not preserved on the tablet. Because the tablet’s subscript and colophon are lost, we do not know its scribe or owner, nor its exact date.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P297024

credit: Frahm, Eckart
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 122 (2021-02-01)

Liver Model Mentioning King Sin-iddinam of Larsa (YPM BC 023830, YBC 9832; Old Babylonian period (about 1900–1600 BC); Larsa?; 74 x 69 x 27 mm; clay)



The liver was the organ to which Mesopotamian diviners paid more attention than to any other when inspecting a sacrificial lamb to make predictions about the future (Meyer 1987). This liver model, possibly from Old Babylonian Larsa, is inscribed with a short historical account related to King Sin-iddinam of Larsa (reigned 1849-1843 BC) and an event thought to have been predicted by the specific configuration represented by the model. Some earlier translators assumed that the omen was about Sin-iddinam’s death resulting from a staircase having fallen on him in the temple of Shamash (for example, Goetze 1947a, 265), but the actual meaning of the omen may be more prosaic (Winitzer 2017, 46-47):

This (exact appearance of the) liver “fell” to king Sin-iddinam when he (literally, who) offered a sacrifice in the Shamash temple during (the month of) Elul. (As for) the sheep’s owner, he will throw back the enemy and control what is not his.

Mesopotamian liver divination probably influenced similar practices among the Etruscans, later taken over by the Romans. A bronze liver model from about 100 BC was found in 1877 near Piacenza in Italy (Maul 2013, 288-289).


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P293785

credit: Frahm, Eckart
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 121 (2021-01-31)

Drawing of the Entrails (YPM BC 016795, YBC 2167; probably Old Babylonian or Middle Babylonian period (second millennium BC); 94 x 106 x 28 mm; clay)



For pedagogical purposes, Mesopotamian diviners used clay models and drawings of the organs of the sacrificial lamb when teaching apprentices how to derive predictions from them. Most of the models represent a liver or a lung, but there are also models, and especially drawings, of the spiral coils of the colon. One of them is found on this square clay tablet. Uninscribed and of uncertain origin, the tablet provides a sketch of many such coils located next to one another, a configuration unlikely to actually occur in nature and therefore apparently a “theoretical construct” created by the diviner. About a dozen similar drawings, five of them inscribed, are known from late Kassite Babylon and seem to have belonged to the library of a family of diviners (Pedersén 2005, 78-82; Böck and Márquez Rowe, forthcoming). Whether this tablet comes from the same find spot remains uncertain; it might be older and originate from southern Mesopotamian.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Frahm, Eckart
image credit: Kaufman, Carl

YBC: Highlights 120 (2021-01-30)

Extispicy Omens (YPM BC 001872, MLC 1874; Late Babylonian period, 4 May 213 BC; Uruk; 165 x 109 x 19 mm; clay)



This perfectly preserved tablet from Seleucid Uruk is inscribed with the third subsection of the second chapter of Bārûtu, a one-hundred-tablet-long series of predictions derived by professional diviners from the inspection of body parts and organs of the sacrificial lamb. The diviners were charged with answering specific questions for their clients (for example, whether a business venture or a military campaign would succeed) by adding up the positive and negative features they believed the gods had left in the slaughtered animal. The second chapter of Bārûtu deals with spiral coils (Akkadian tīrānu) of the colon of the sacrificial lamb (Temple 1982; Maul 2013, 61-63). The diviner would take the entrails of the lamb out in the early stages of his inspection, place them in a bowl, and examine the coils of the colon once the fat surrounding them had somewhat subsided. Of particular importance was how many coils there were (lambs usually had ten or twelve, while older sheep could have more). In the text presented here, however, the focus is not on the number of coils but rather on their overall shape, as described in the following examples (lines 3, 6-7, 33, 65):

If the coils (of the colon) are like the crescent of the moon, the army of the ruler will have no rival. If the coils (of the colon) are on the(ir) right (side) like a bow, the forces of the ruler will rebel against him and overthrow him. If the coils (of the colon) are on the(ir) left (side) like a bow, the forces of the enemy will rebel against him and overthrow him. If the coils (of the colon) are like an eagle, it is an omen of Etana, the king who went up to heaven. If the coils (of the colon) are like the face of the god Humhum (var.: the face of Humbaba), it is an omen of a usurper who ruled (or: will rule) the entire land.

The outcome of the first two omens is based on the fact that in Mesopotamian divination, the right side represented the king (or the person for whom the inspection of the entrails was conducted) and the left side represented the enemy. The comparison of the coils of the colon with the face of Humbaba, the guardian of the Cedar Forest and opponent of Gilgamesh in the Epic of Gilgamesh, is also found elsewhere. According to the tablet’s subscript, it was owned by Nidinti-Anu, a son of Anu-belshunu of the Ekur-zakir family and a ritual healer and priest of the god Anu. The tablet was written by Anu-ahu-ushabshi, another member of the family.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P296524

credit: Frahm, Eckart
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: 119 (2021-01-29)

Predicting the Future



The people of ancient Mesopotamia believed that the movements of celestial bodies, the grooves and lesions found on the liver and other organs of the sacrificial lamb, the wrinkles on a man’s forehead, the behavior of wild and domestic animals, the growth of plants, and many other observable phenomena could all be interpreted as signs sent by the gods to help people cope with the future (Maul 2013). They collected pertinent omens in large compendia and illustrated ominous features with the help of drawings and clay models. There was also a widespread belief that certain days and months were particularly suited or unsuited for specific activities.

image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: 118 (2021-01-28)

Bezel and Dome Seals with Signs of the Zodiac (YPM BC 038127, YPM BC 038128, YPM BC 038129, YPM BC 032210, YPM BC 032221; NBC 12392, NCBS 1070, NCBS 1071, RBC 1917, RBC 1928; Hellenistic to Sasanian periods (330 BC–AD 600); 13 x 11 x 3 (smallest) to 24 x 17 x 19 mm (largest); carnelian, agate)



These small, semi-precious gemstones are carved with the symbols of the zodiac: a scorpion for Scorpio, a hybrid goat-fish for Capricorn, a set of scales for Libra, a lion for Leo, and a bull for Taurus. They each would have been used as a stamp-seal. The two larger, amber-colored stones are free-standing dome seals, while the smaller gems would have been mounted into rings. Clay tablets from the Seleucid period often have impressions made by similar seals, identifying the parties who witnessed, authorized, ortook part in the writing of a document (Wallenfels 1994, 4). The Babylonians were the first civilization to identify the zodiac, a band of constellations in the night sky that traces the path of the sun and moon. By the fifth century BC they had divided the band into twelve equal segments, or “signs,” each corresponding to a constellation and a sign of the zodiac as we know them today (Rochberg 1998, 29–30; Steele 2016, 54). This system allowed people to measure the location of celestial bodies based on their position along the band. The signs of the zodiac also played an important role in the earliest horoscopes, allowing scribes trained in astronomy to predict the future from the particular alignment of planets at the moment of a person’s birth (Rochberg 1998, 5; Hunger and Pingree 1999, 26). Although it is tempting to imagine that the stamp seals reflected their owners’ astrological signs, there is no evidence to prove this (Wallenfels 1994, 157).

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Werwie, Katherine; Beltz, Jon
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: 117 (2021-01-27)

Astral Deities (YPM BC 038114, NBC 12330; Neo-Assyrian period (934–612 BC); 27 x 12 mm; chalcedony)



The upper field in this seal shows three of the most common astral symbols in Mesopotamian art: the crescent, the star, and the seven dots or stars. The crescent occurs abundantly in every period of Mesopotamian history and represents the moon and the moon god Sin. The rayed star, a popular motif especially in the first millennium bc, may represent Venus and the goddess Ishtar. Disregarding possible antecedents in prehistoric times, the “seven dots” are first attested in Syrian-style seals of the Old Assyrian period. They represent the star cluster of the Pleiades, located in the constellation of Taurus and closely linked in Mesopotamia to the Sebettu, a group of seven warrior gods. Two human worshippers flank the seven dots, with a kneeling sheep or goat between them. Another human worshipper faces a statue placed on a low pedestal. The statue, which represents the god Ninurta, has hands holding thunderbolts and a headdress topped by a disk. The heads of a gazelle and a bull are on either side of the statue, apparently representing offerings. Finally, the tasseled spade of the god Marduk, positioned on a stand, and the stylus of the god Nabu, are also on the seal. Altogether, more than a handful of gods are evoked on the seal by symbols and the depiction of a statue. Notably, none is directly represented.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Lassen, Agnete
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: 116 (2021-01-26)

Velocity of the Moon (YPM BC 001878, MLC 1880; Seleucid period (312 BC–AD 63); Babylon or Uruk?; 133 x 102 x 26 mm; clay)



This tablet gives daily records of the velocity of the moon over 248 days. This is measured in degrees per day, relative to the earth and sun—essentially, the tablet tracks how far the moon has moved across the sky from a given time one day to the same time the following day. Because the cultic calendar was based on months beginning with a new moon, and the moon was sometimes hidden by clouds, astronomers needed to be able to calculate lunar positions and movements precisely. Lunar velocity increases and decreases cyclically, and the Mesopotamians had two different systems of approximating these cycles. This tablet uses System B, which approximates lunar velocity as a “linear zigzag.” In this model, the moon’s velocity has defined upper and lower bounds: a minimum below which it never falls and a maximum that it never exceeds. Each day, its velocity increases by a constant amount d until it hits the maximum, then begins to decrease by the same amount d until it hits the minimum, and so on. If the lunar velocity does not hit the bound exactly, the difference between the most recent daily velocity and the bound is subtracted from d, and that number is added to or subtracted from the bound. This can be illustrated by an example from the tablet, where d = 0,18,0 and the minimum velocity is 11,6,35. The tablet uses sexagesimal numbers (for instance, 0,0,60 = 0.1). Column ii, line 8 reads “11,16.” The next entry is reached by subtracting (minimum velocity) 11,6,35 from (previous entry) 11,16, giving 0,9,25; 0,9,25 is then subtracted from d to give 0,8,35. Finally, 0,8,35 is added to the minimum velocity 11,6,35, resulting in a final value for the next entry of 0,15,10. Indeed, line 9 contains 0,15,10. Throughout the tablet, a single ruling indicates that the lunar velocity reached a minimum, and a double ruling that it reached a maximum. There is a diagonal wedge in each line after single rulings, which may have been a checkmark to confirm the calculations were error free.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P363208

credit: Scruton, Benjamin
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: 115 (2021-01-25)

List of Months with Ritual Instructions (YPM BC 023831, YBC 9833; Late Babylonian period (second half of the first millennium BC); 57 x 75 x 16 mm; clay)



This well-preserved and surprisingly thin tablet in landscape format dates to the Achaemenid or Seleucid period. It includes a list of the twelve months of the year, each linked to a plant wrapped in a certain kind of animal hide meant to be hung around a patient’s neck. Once the patient had, in addition, received an ointment, he was supposed to recover. The text’s first entry reads:

(In) the month of Nisannu, you (that is, the healer) shall place cypress wood (in a bag made of) cat skin on his (the patient’s) neck, you shall anoint him with oil, and he will get well again.

The text does not specify which kinds of illnesses the treatments were meant to cure, but two other treatises housed in the British Museum (BM 47755, BM 56605; Heeßel 2000, 112–124; Geller 2014, 85–87) do provide such information. Both texts offer exact parallels to the list of plants and animal hides in the Yale text, but indicate, in addition, which specific body parts were to profit from the application of the bags. Moreover, instead of linking the treatments to a month, the texts provide information on the celestial bodies and constellations that were deemed responsible for the respective afflictions. The first entry of one of these texts (BM 56605), for example, is modified in the following way:

If … the “Great Star” (Aquarius) touches the patient and his pelvis/ upper thigh hurts him on the right side, you shall place cypress wood (in a bag made of) cat skin on his (the patient’s) neck, you shall anoint him with oil, and he will get well again.

The assumption that stellar constellations influenced the well-being of the human body and soul, later developed by the Greeks of the Hellenistic age into the concept of “melothesia,” is also behind the zodiacal references found in the list of rituals in a previously presented tablet.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P310382

credit: Frahm, Eckart; Koubkova, Evelyne
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 114 (2021-01-24)

A Normal Star Almanac (YPM BC 001883, MLC 1885; Hellenistic period, 179 BC (Seleucid Era 133); Uruk; 68 x 88 x 20 mm; clay)



In the first millennium BC, Mesopotamian watchers of the sky began to search for ways to predict the periodic motions of heavenly bodies (Hunger and Pingree 1999, 139-141). This resulted in regular observations of the night sky lasting more than seven hundred years, producing the texts we call the “astronomical diaries.” Several other types of texts grew out of this early long-term research project, including those known as “almanacs” and “normal star almanacs.” These texts contain predictions of the motions of the planets, eclipses, and lunar phenomena over the course of a year (Hunger 2014, xi-xii). Normal star almanacs are so named because they include notes on the times when a planet should pass by certain stars used as reference points, called “normal stars.” This particular text contains predictions for the year 179 BC. While most texts related to astronomical observation in this period come from Babylon (Hunger and Pingree 1999, 141–142), this one is from the city of Uruk (Sachs 1948, 281; Hunger 2014, xv–xvi). The preserved portions of the text cover months iii-x and include, among other things, data on the motions of Venus, Mercury, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter. The text also predicts a lunar eclipse in the fourth month.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P507391

credit: Beltz, Jonathan
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 113 (2021-01-23)

Horoscope of Aristocrates (YPM BC 002136, MLC 2190; 235 BC or later; Uruk; 64 x 44 x 18 mm; clay)



Although astronomy and astrology played a pivotal role in ancient Mesopotamia, especially in the first millennium BC, only thirty-two Babylonian horoscope tablets are known so far (Rochberg 1998). They are all comparatively late, with the earliest dating to the late fifth, and the latest to the mid first century BC, but Mesopotamian horoscope writing still precedes by a few centuries the earliest horoscopes from anywhere else in the world. The emergence of horoscopes in Achaemenid Babylonia signaled a new focus on the individual and was part of a larger set of innovations in the celestial sciences during this time, among them, most importantly, the introduction of the zodiac. Each Babylonian horoscope tablet describes the positions that the sun, the moon, and the planets had held at the moment of the birth of a particular individual, sometimes specifying their auspicious or inauspicious implications. The tablet presented here records the horoscope of a certain Aristocrates (ma-ri-is-tu-ug?-gi-ra-te-e), a man with a Greek name but probably not of Greek ethnicity. In Seleucid Uruk, members of the local elite often added Greek personal names to their Babylonian birth names, an act of Hellenization that facilitated their interactions with the Greek kings, and their Greek entourage, who ruled Mesopotamia during this time. If the Aristocrates of this horoscope is identical with an individual by that name who is mentioned in the quitclaim BiMes 24, 47 (Corò 2005, 218), which concerns the prebend of a lamentation priest, he was the son of a Babylonian called Nanaya-iddin. The first lines of the horoscope tablet indicate that Aristocrates was born on 2 or 3 June 235 BC, but the tablet was probably written somewhat later. A partial translation of the text reads:

Year 77 (of the Seleucid Era), month of Simanu, fourth day, in the morning(?) of the fifth(?), Aristocrates was born. That day, the moon was in Leo, the sun was in 12;30° Gemini … Venus was in 4° Taurus. The place of Venus (means): he will find favor wherever he goes; he will have sons and daughters. Mercury was in Gemini, with the sun. The place of Mercury (means): the brave one will be first in rank; he will be more important than his brothers; he will take over his father’s house.

Notable is how similar the predictions provided here are to those known from traditional Mesopotamian omen texts. The exact spot where the horoscope was found is unknown, but a duplicate of it (now in the Iraq Museum in Baghdad [W 20030/143]) was excavated in the area of the Bit-resh temple in Uruk (Rochberg 1998, 86).


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P507395

credit: Frahm, Eckart
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 112 (2021-01-22)

A Date List with Year Names (YPM BC 016768, YBC 2140; Old Babylonian period, 1742 BC or later; Babylonia; 60 x 42 x 20 mm; clay)



Over the long period of their history, the people of Mesopotamia used various dating systems. One was simply to count the years of a ruler’s reign, a practice already known from the mid third millennium BC that resurfaced in mid second millennium Babylonia. Another system, used in Assyria and Anatolia, was based on so-called eponyms, officials whose names designated specific years. During the Ur III and Old Babylonian periods, Babylonians used yet another method: they labeled years with so-called year names, which featured a central event that had happened in the preceding year, such as a military campaign or the consecration of a temple. Both eponyms and year names required documentation to keep track of, and it is therefore not surprising that many lists of them have been found. This tablet contains the last fourteen year names of the reign of Hammurapi (reigned 1792-1750 BC), followed by the first seven years of his successor Samsu-iluna (reigned 1749-1712 BC). Each name is introduced by the Sumerian word for year (mu) and followed by an abbreviated version of the year name. Entry ten, for instance, reads “Year: all the enemies.” A large four-sided prism in the Louvre, often referred to as the “Larsa Dynastic List,” is dated to the same year, but provides a much more elaborate version of its name: “The year when Hammurapi, through the mighty power given to him by An and Enlil, slaughtered all the enemies of the Subartu mountains.” This particular year corresponds to year thirty-nine in the reign of Hammurapi (Horsnell 1999, 159-162). Administrative documents hardly ever use the long version of a year name. A small administrative document dealing with a delivery of onions (YPM BC 018434, YBC 4369), for example, refers to Hammurapi 39 as “year, through the mighty power given to him by Enlil.” Lists of year names, in contrast, often provide full versions of the names. This is illustrated by a tablet in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford that also starts with Hammurapi’s thirtieth year, but provides full year names extending up to fifteen lines (OECT 2, pl. 5–6, Ashm 1923-373).

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P409476

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 111 (2021-01-21)

Heaven and Earth (YPM BC 001882, MLC 1884; Seleucid or early Parthian period, about 300 BC–AD 100; Uruk; 88 x 63 x 24 mm; clay)



This fragment, written in an unusually slanted and clearly late hand, is another manuscript of the composition on the constellations. Its reverse(?) provides descriptions of the “Old Man” constellation (Perseus) and the “Stars” (the Pleiades). What makes the piece particularly interesting is that its obverse(?) is inscribed with a different text: a description of the cultic topography and the hydraulic landscape of Late Babylonian Uruk. Apparently, the author sought to juxtapose these terrestrial features with the celestial sphere explored on the other side of the tablet. After notes on the dimensions of several temples in Uruk and a reference to the “Exalted River” and smaller canals deriving from it, the text continues: The area from the terrain of the atappu-canal up to the Bit-resh temple (of Anu), its name is “atappu-canal.” (The area that) approaches the Eanna temple (of Ishtar), its name is “palgu- canal.” (The area that) reaches the kerhu-enclosure wall, its name is “ikuditch (or: dyke).” (The area that) […] the river, its name is kisurrû-territory.” (The area where the canal (?)) exits from […] …, its name is “urashu-plot.” This description confirms what is also suggested by archaeological research: that the city of Uruk was crisscrossed in antiquity by several watercourses, like an Amsterdam of southern Mesopotamia.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P506977

credit: Frahm, Eckart
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 110 (2021-01-20)

Drawing the Constellations (YPM BC 001864, MLC 1866; 4 January 214 BC; Uruk; 113 x 177 x 33 mm; clay)



This large fragment of a three-column tablet from Seleucid period Uruk includes a long description of celestial constellations. The name of its scribe and owner is lost, but it is clear that he was a son of Anu-ahu-ushabshi of the prominent Ekurzakir family, and a high priest of the celestial god Anu in the newly restored and expanded Bit-resh temple. The people of Mesopotamia believed from early on that the gods had organized the fixed stars in such a way that they became part of celestial constellations representing deities, human beings, animals, vehicles, and other objects. Because of the major influence Babylonian astronomy and astrology had on the celestial sciences in ancient Greece, many of these constellations—such as Cancer, Leo, Taurus, Gemini, and Scorpio— are still recognized by us today. This tablet is one in a group of five cuneiform manuscripts from first millennium bc Assyria and Babylonia that explain how the body parts, clothes, paraphernalia, and other elements of the constellations were “drawn.” A typical section, on Orion (called by the Babylonians “The True Shepherd of Anu” and one of the most conspicuous constellations in the sky) and Gemini, is given here in translation; it includes some theological comments (column ii 10–17):

The True Shepherd of Anu (i.e., Orion)—(can be identified with) Papsukkal, the vizier of Anu and (his wife) Antu (a theological elaboration). He is a human figure, clothed, bearded, supplied with a kurkurru- container(?), grasping a lock and key. The Twins (i.e., Gemini), who stand in front of the True Shepherd of Anu, (can be identified with) Lulal and Latarak (two demonic demigods) of the gates. (They are) two human figures, clothed. The front figure is bearded, the back figure has the face of Latarak; they carry a large jug in their right hands. The celestial body that stands below the True Shepherd of Anu is the Rooster (Lepus). The tablet also explains, through speculative philology, how the constellation originally known as the “Hired Man” eventually morphed into a ram (Aries).

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P296517

credit: Frahm, Eckart
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 109 (2021-01-19)

A Sealed Mathematical Text (YPM BC 018767, YBC 4702; Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900–1600 BC); 86 x 53 x 30 mm; clay)



Bearing the impression of a cylinder seal in the lower part of the reverse and along the edges, YBC 4702, is the hitherto only example of a sealed mathematical tablet. The text itself belongs to the category of multiplication tables, in this case using the principal number 50 (Nemet-Nejat and Wallenfels, N.A.B.U. 1994/91). According to the tablet's subscript it is an im-gid2-da-tablet. The seal, whose legend is recognizable in the various instances of its impression, belonged to a different individual. Did the tablet's scribe, an apprentice, practice how to impress seals on tablets? In what relation does the seal owner stand to the apprentice?

CDLI entry: P255012

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 108 (2021-01-18)

Approximation of a Non-right Triangle’s Area (YPM BC 022691, YBC 8633; Old Babylonian period (about 1900–1600 BC); 94 x 63 x 28 mm; clay)



This tablet describes a method for approximating the area of a non-right isosceles triangle. The procedure is illustrated with a drawing of the triangle that has two equal sides of length 1,40 and a base of 2,20. The procedure begins by “tearing out” a small triangle with a base of 0,20 from the middle of the original triangle’s base. This breaks the original triangle into three smaller triangles: one has a base of 0,20, and the others have a base of 1 and a diagonal of 1,40 (equivalent to the original triangle’s sides). The two outer triangles then approximate right triangles with short sides of 1 and hypotenuses of 1,40. Knowing about right triangles with side length ratios of 3:4:5, the Babylonian mathematician established that the third side had to be approximately 1,20. Once these triangles were separated, their areas could be calculated and added together. According to the tablet, the total area comes to 1,33,20. However, modern mathematics calculates the original isosceles triangle’s true area as 1,23,19. There are two ways of understanding this discrepancy: Høyrup (2002) believes that the entire calculation is simply an approximation method that does not give an exact area, only an estimate; Neugebauer and Sachs (1945), on the other hand, assume that the calculation is supposed to be exact, but that the figure was not described with full clarity at the beginning of the problem. According to their view, the 2,20-length base of the original figure is actually bent slightly, meaning that the whole figure is not a triangle at all, but the two outer triangles are proper right triangles. The last lines of the text mention “trapezoid[s] of the diagonal” of the triangle; this apparently refers to a figure auxiliary to the original one, but no parallels are known, and the precise nature of these trapezoids eludes a full understanding.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P255067

credit: Tang, Sergio; Scruton, Benjamin
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 107 (2021-01-17)

Finding the Area of a Circle (YPM BC 021367, YBC 7302; Old Babylonian period (about 1900–1600 BC); possibly Larsa; 83 x 83 x 28 mm; clay)



This tablet contains a student exercise for finding the area of a circle. The reverse has an unlabeled drawing of a circle, while the obverse contains another circle labeled with three numbers. The 3 above the circle represents the known circumference of the circle, and the goal is to find its area. The procedure used by the Babylonians for finding the area of a circle differed from ours. Instead of seeing the circle in terms of how wide it is—that is, calculating its area by its radius or diameter— they expressed the size through the length of its circumference (Robson 2008a, 65–66). To calculate the area of a circle, the circumference was squared, then multiplied by the rough coefficient of 0;05 (A = πr2 = C2/4π ≈ C2/12). So, in this exercise, the circumference is first squared, and the result, 9, is written to the right of the circle. Next, 9 is multiplied by the coefficient, yielding 0;45, and, to be sure, this answer is written in the center of the circle. Despite being a little inaccurate, this method of using the coefficient of 0;05 for finding the area of a circle was favored in Old Babylonian mathematical problems probably because of its computational ease (Robson 1999, 34–38).

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P255051

credit: Tang, Sergio; Scruton, Benjamin
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 106 (2021-01-16)

Area of a Trapezoid (YPM BC 021355, YBC 7290; Old Babylonian period (1900– 1600 BC); 72 x 78 x 27 mm; clay)



This mathematical tablet contains a calculation for the area of a trapezoid. The reverse (bottom) shows a small unlabeled drawing of a trapezoid, while the obverse (top) contains a trapezoid with three of the sides labeled with numbers, and the area of the trapezoid written in the middle. The left and upper sides are labeled “2,20,” and the shorter right side is labeled “2.” The area of a trapezoid is calculated by adding the two bases together, multiplying by the height, and dividing by two. This means that although the labels on the left and right refer to side lengths, the label on the upper side must be understood to refer to the height of the entire figure, rather than the length of that side. So to calculate the area, 2 + 2,20 is multiplied by 2,20, then divided by two. This multiplies out to five and one-eighteenth, or 5,03,20 in sexagesimal notation, which is the number written inside the trapezoid.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P255049

credit: Tang, Sergio; Scruton, Benjamin
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 105 (2021-01-15)

Area inside Concentric Squares (YPM BC 021424, YBC 7359; Old Babylonian period (about 1900– 1600 BC); 72 x 78 x 27 mm; clay)



This mathematical tablet shows on both the obverse and the reverse drawings of a small square within a larger square, along with several numerical labels. The numbers and labels relate to the calculation of the area between the two squares, for which two different methods can be used. The first is simply to subtract the area of the small square from the large square. The area of the small square is nine, indicated with a label inside that square. The area of the large square is one hundred, which is shown at the top (and can also be calculated by squaring the side length, ten, labeled on the far left). Subtracting nine from one hundred gives ninety-one, which is the number given in the area between the two squares, referring to the area of this space. The second method cuts the area between the two squares into four equivalent rectangles. The area of each of these rectangles can be calculated by multiplying their lengths by their widths, which comes out to twenty-two and three-fourths. This is the number found to the right of the entire figure. Because there are four such rectangles, the total area can be calculated by multiplying twenty-two and three-fourths by four, which again equals ninety-one. Friberg (2007a, 2007b) suggests that the problem may have provided the student with the area in between the two squares (91) and the distance between them (3,30), then asked the student to compute the side lengths of the two squares. He also compares this problem with various other figure-within-figure tablets known from Babylonian mathematics. These tablets illustrate rectangle-within-rectangle, circle-within-circle, equilateral-triangle-within-equilateral-triangle, and even “concave square within a rectangle” problems (Friberg and Al-Rawi 2016, 393-394).

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P308302

credit: Tang, Sergio; Scruton, Benjamin
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 104 (2021-01-14)

Finding the Diagonal of a Square (YPM BC 021354, YBC 7289; Old Babylonian period (about 1900– 1600 BC); possibly Larsa; 72 x 72 x 28 mm; clay)



This is one of the most famous of cuneiform tablets and features prominently in most discussions of Babylonian mathematics. It is a student exercise for finding the diagonal of a square and shows a simple diagram of a square with its two diagonals. The length of a side is indicated as 30’ and one of the diagonals is inscribed with the numbers 1° 24’ 51”10’” and 42’ 25” 35’”. The former is a very precise sexagesimal approximation of the square root of 2 (1.41421296 compared with 1.41421356), and the value can be found in a coefficient list for the computation of the diagonal of a square (Neugebauer and Sachs 1945, 136). The student would have multiplied the side length by this coefficient to find the diagonal, which in our case is 42’ 25” 35’”. Because the side length is 30’, he could also have taken half of the coefficient and more easily arrived at the same answer. Although the tablet is usually presented as a precursor to the Pythagorean theorem, the student’s method of calculation rather relies on a predetermined constant and is restricted to a special right triangle with a side lengths ratio of 1:1:√2, corresponding to the diagonals of a square.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P255048

credit: Tang, Sergio; Scruton, Benjamin
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 103 (2021-01-13)

Measuring Space, Tracking Time



Scribal education in ancient Mesopotamia was not only centered on lexical lists and literary works, but also included the study of mathematics, metrology, and geometry. This is evidenced through a large corpus of mathematical problem texts and geometric drawings, especially from the Old Babylonian period. One mathematical tablet is among the most famous artifacts housed in the Yale Babylonian Collection, reproduced in countless books on mathematics and the history of science. It is an exercise for finding the diagonal of a square and illustrates how Babylonian mathematicians contemplated the relationship between the sides and the hypotenuse of a right triangle. It also demonstrates an approximation of the square root of 2, an irrational number, accurate to six decimals.

In the first millennium BC, Babylonian mathematics and astronomy reached new levels of sophistication. The Late Babylonian astronomical texts reveal a preoccupation with both the observation and calculation of celestial phenomena. The so-called Astronomical Diaries and related texts, composed between the eighth and first centuries BC, record the movements of the heavenly bodies in the night sky, while other texts engage in computational astronomy. Important innovations of the Achaemenid period were the zodiac and personal horoscopes, both still in use today. “Scientific” astronomy in ancient Mesopotamia cannot be separated from the deep-seated belief among the people that understanding the appearances, movements, and disappearances of the celestial bodies allowed the prediction of future events. From early on, tracking time with the help of a lunisolar calendar played a crucial role in ancient Mesopotamia.

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 102 (2021-01-12)

A Father and His Mischievous Son (YPM BC 018281, YBC 4216; Old Babylonian period (about 1900–1600 BC); possibly Larsa; 105 x 59 x 25 mm; clay)



Scribal education in the first half of the second millennium BC was heavily based on Sumerian. The many literary compositions young apprentices had to write out from memory in the course of their studies conveyed an idealized view of a Sumerian-centered civilization, even though Sumerian as a spoken language had already been dead by that time. Among the Sumerian texts studied were compositions dealing with school life and the education of young scribes. Some of these texts contain insults and rude language and therefore vocabulary that might seem to us not to be proper for the education of young students. One of the texts in question is a dialogue between a father and his son, who is supposed to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a scribe in his own right. But the father is concerned that his son is not living up to his expectations. Early on already, the father, who is well aware of the distractions of urban life, warns him: “Do not stand around on the market square. Do not roam around in the streets. Do not glimpse into the small alleys while passing by!” (lines 29–31). The tablet presented here contains lines 43–90 of this composition, roughly a quarter of its altogether 183 lines. The tablet’s unnamed scribe probably also wrote a tablet containing the preceding section and possibly two additional ones covering the rest of the text. The passage found on the Yale tablet contains, among other things, the father’s appeal to his son that he should better be content with learning the scribal arts, as he could also be employed elsewhere: “To follow behind my oxen, I never have given you as duty. To harvest my field, I never have given you as duty. To work my field with the hoe, I never have given you as duty” (lines 78–80). The manuscript differs substantially from the roughly sixty other known exemplars of the composition, most of which originate from Nippur, the most prominent center of scholarship in this period, while a few also come from Ur. Almost every line in the Yale text has significant variants.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P305515

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 101 (2021-01-11)

A Late School Tablet with a Dedication to the God of Writing (YPM BC 002842, EAH 197; Late Babylonian period (second half of the first millennium BC); Babylon or Borsippa; 105 x 98 x 23 mm; clay)



A typical feature of school exercises of the late first millennium BC involves rows of single wedges that frame and sometimes also divide the writing space. The present tablet is a so-called Type 1 tablet (Gesche 2001, 43-57) that contains several elementary exercises on its obverse and a long dedication to Nabu, patron deity of scribes, on its reverse. Young scribes deposited such tablets in temples of this god. The mention of Nabu’s temple Ezida in the colophon on the reverse suggests that the tablet originates from Borsippa, although a shrine for Nabu named Ezida also existed at Babylon (Maul 1998, xv, n. 50). The writing space on the obverse is divided into eight fields. The upper register is separated from the lower by a row of wedge impressions. These decorative impressions also frame the text toward the top, the bottom, and the left-hand side. The first two exercises on the left are about practicing the different types of wedges (vertical, horizontal, slanted, and “broken vertical”). The next four exercises in the middle of the tablet contain short extracts from two syllable lists, which would introduce the young apprentice to a variety of signs. The final two exercises toward the right-hand side of the tablet are extracts from thematic texts: on top the first lines from a contemporary god list and below the first lines from the word-list Ura in both Sumerian and Akkadian. This well-attested list comprised thousands of entries spread over twenty-four tablets. The reverse contains a long colophon with a dedication to the god Nabu, framed by a decorative row of single wedges on top and on the left-hand side. The colophon is far more sophisticated than the exercises on the obverse. After a hymnic address to Nabu, it names the scribe of the tablet, Bel-eriba, and lists several blessings on his behalf: “To make sure that his (that is, Bel-eriba’s) life be lasting, his days be long (…), for his mental and physical well-being, and to prevent him from having an illness (…), he pinched off a lump of clay at a peaceful place, a pure place, wrote the tablet, and deposited it firmly (…) in Ezida, the temple of Nabu and Nanaya (…)” (rev. 11-18).


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P430952

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 100 (2021-01-10)

A Word List in Pocket Size (YPM BC 013875, NBC 10915; Middle Babylonian period (about 1400–1100 BC); Babylonia; 68 x 48 x 18 mm; clay)



Memorizing and copying word lists was a major element of ancient Near Eastern scribal education. Apprentices had to learn hundreds, if not thousands, of entries and write them out on tablets. Exercises started with a few entries before scribes had to copy longer and longer excerpts and finally full texts. Such full copies were either written on large tablets containing several columns per side or on four-sided prisms. This tablet is a particularly small example of such tiny script and contains in six columns more than two hundred words for trees and wooden objects. The signs are only one and a half millimeters high on average. The tablet was undoubtedly written by an accomplished scribe and not by an apprentice. The text itself does not stand in the tradition of the first half of the second millennium bc anymore, but dates a few hundred years later. It is a copy of the sixth section (literally, “tablet”) of a series known as Ura, according to its very first entry. For the rest of Mesopotamian history, the text was transmitted largely unchanged. Each of its entries starts with the sign for wood, followed by a Sumerian term. Slightly later manuscripts (starting with some from Assyria) would add Akkadian equivalents in a separate column.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P250365

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 99 (2021-01-09)

Recording Oxen of Various Ages (YPM BC 021351 and YPM BC 016363, YBC 7286 and YBC 1622; Old Babylonian period (about 1900–1600 BC) and Ur III period, third year of Shu-Suen (about 2033 BC); 63 x 67 x 17 and 57 x 41 x 22 mm; clay)



A typical tablet type found in the context of scribal education comes in the shape of round tablets that fit easily into the palm of the hand. Assyriologists call these Type IV tablets or school lentils. Lenticular tablets such as these were usually inscribed by the instructor on the obverse with a short model text that the student had to copy onto the reverse. One of the tablets presented here is such a Type IV exercise. It contains three entries, taken from a large compendium, dealing with cattle: “three-year old ox, two-year old ox, one-year old ox.” Knowing these terms was important for scribes who would enter a career in the administration and needed to become familiar with the vocabulary that played a role in economic transactions: commodities, metrology, and so forth. The little rectangular tablet is a typical administrative text using the very terminology for cattle that is found on the lenticular school tablet. The text dates to the slightly earlier Ur III period, an era that has produced a large body of such documents.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P308247, P144571

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 98 (2021-01-08)

Writing Syllables: TU-TA-TI Lists (YPM BC 012526, NBC 9560; Old Babylonian period (about 1900–1600 BC); 53 x 37 x 21 mm; clay)



This exercise tablet belongs to a group of texts known from Nippur duplicates as a more or less standardized list of approximately 120 entries. The list contains sequences of three signs, each denoting syllables with alternating vowels (u–a–i), and is named after its first three signs as “TU-TA-TI.” In most manuscripts each triplet is followed by a summary entry: the entries TU, TA, and TI are followed by a separate entry TU-TA–TI, and so forth (Veldhuis 2014, 147–148). The one-column tablet presented here, however, contains four triplets without summaries. It most certainly does not originate from Nippur. The signs are written in a beginner’s hand. The TU-TA-TI lists were an important exercise in writing syllables during the elementary stages of a scribe’s education. They covered a wide range of syllabic values and organized them in a meaningful sequence. The scribes would need the values in particular to write Akkadian texts. Other syllabaries put more weight on the shape of signs and arranged their entries accordingly.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P300677

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 97 (2021-01-07)

The First Wedge (YPM BC 018959, YBC 4895; Old Babylonian period (about 1900–1600 BC) (?); 45 x 42 x 13 mm; clay)



Crude, poorly shaped, and not very appealing—these are adjectives that would describe this small, round tablet quite aptly. It is certainly a school exercise, illustrating a pupil’s first meager attempts to use a reed stylus on clay. Young scribes had to familiarize themselves with the mechanics of writing, because cuneiform characters often consisted of a dozen or more individual impressions. The signs on this tablet might represent numerals, but whether they were really supposed to be meaningful is not clear.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P306040

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 96 (2021-01-06)

Two Seals Showing Banquet Scenes (YPM BC 023974 and YPM BC 008968, YBC 9991 and NBC 5987; Early Dynastic III period (about 2600–2350 BC); 25 x 19 and 50 x 26 mm; rock crystal and green calcite)



Feasting and drinking are popular themes on Early Dynastic cylinder seals. As on these two seals, the scenes often show seated men and women holding up cups or drinking from straws from globular vessels. Standing servants attend to the seated drinkers. Feasting was an important social and economic event in Early Dynastic society, an occasion for the elites to redistribute economic surplus to all members of society. As evidenced by the scenes on the seals—in which only some get to enjoy the drink, whereas others only get to stand and watch—feasting, and depicting it in art, was also a way for the upper echelons of society to communicate their elevated status to themselves and to others. Banquet scenes involving two or more people found their apex in Early Dynastic art, whereas on later images, holding a cup became a prerogative of the gods or the deified king. It may be that feasting played a less important role after the Early Dynastic period, but it seems more likely that the change reflects a political shift, away from groups of people being in charge to one individual wielding power at the highest level.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Lassen, Agnete
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 95 (2021-01-05)

A Babylonian Cookbook (YPM BC 018709, YBC 4644; Old Babylonian period (about 1900-1600 BC); Larsa (?); 164 x 118 x 33 mm; clay)



The meaning of the name of this dish is unclear. Bottéro (1995) suggests it signifies red beet. A similar stew is made to this day in Baghdad using white turnip instead of red beet. The Jews of Baghdad before their expulsion used red beet. It is tempting to link the recipe to the continental European borscht with its close ties to the Ashkenazi community. We have cooked the stew many times with students, and the recipe works well for large groups by scaling the ingredients. Students brewed a beer using barley and left it to ferment for a few days. The result was a light drink with some acidity and only trace amounts of alcohol. The closest modern substitute in terms of taste is perhaps a mix of sour beer and German Weißbier. Bitter India Pale Ales will not work. The garnish is raw and crunchy and adds peppery zest, and the coriander seed releases a perfumed flowery taste when crushed.

Our recipe includes the following ingredients:
1 pound of diced leg of mutton
1/2 cup of rendered sheep fat
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of beer
1/2 cup of water
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup of chopped arugula
1 cup of chopped Persian shallot
1/2 cup of chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon of cumin
1 pound of fresh red beets, peeled and diced
1/2 cup of chopped leek
2 cloves of garlic

For the garnish:
2 teaspoons of dry coriander seeds
1/2 cup of finely chopped cilantro
1/2 cup of finely chopped kurrat

The instructions are: Heat the fat in a pot wide enough for the diced lamb to spread in one layer. Add lamb and sear on high heat until all moisture evaporates. Fold in the onion, and keep cooking until it is almost transparent. Fold in red beet, arugula, cilantro, Persian shallot, and cumin. Keep on folding until the moisture evaporates and ingredients emit a pleasant aroma. Pour in the beer. Add water. Give the pot a light stir. Bring the pot to a boil. Reduce heat and add leek and garlic that you crush in a mortar. Let the stew simmer until the sauce thickens after about an hour. Chop kurrat and fresh cilantro and pound them into a paste using a mortar. Ladle the stew into plates and sprinkle with dried and coarsely crushed coriander seeds and the finely chopped kurrat and cilantro. The dish can be served with steamed bulgur, boiled chickpeas, and naan bread.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P291955

credit: Barjamovic, Gojko; Gonzalez, Patricia Jurado; Graham, Chelsea A.; Lassen, Agnete W.; Nasrallah, N.; Sörensen, Pia M.
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus; OPAC

YBC: Highlights 94 (2021-01-04)

A Babylonian Cookbook (YPM BC 018709, YBC 4644; Old Babylonian period (about 1900-1600 BC); Larsa (?); 164 x 118 x 33 mm; clay)



Blood is not a common ingredient in modern Western cooking and can be hard to find. It is prohibited in Jewish and Islamic tradition and is not found in Iraq today. We could only get pig’s blood, but the blood of sheep would be better. The mixture of sour milk and blood may sound odd, but the combination produces a rich soup with a slight tartness. The reason we include it here is mainly for its foreign origin—Elam in modern- day Iran—and its use of dill (Akkadian šibittu), which otherwise is not among the ingredients on any of the tablets. Archaeological traces of dill are known from Bronze Age Anatolia (Fairbairn et al. 2018).


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P291955

credit: Barjamovic, Gojko; Gonzalez, Patricia Jurado; Graham, Chelsea A.; Lassen, Agnete W.; Nasrallah, N.; Sörensen, Pia M.
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 93 (2021-01-03)

A Babylonian Cookbook (YPM BC 018709, YBC 4644; Old Babylonian period (about 1900-1600 BC); Larsa (?); 164 x 118 x 33 mm; clay)



This is also a simple recipe. The cut of meat is not specified. We chose shanks. For risnātu, we used parboiled barley mixed with emmer flour and fat and toasted into small hard cakes that were later crumbled into the dish. The meat is sautéed in sheep’s fat, and then the barley and vegetables are added. Finally, full (whole) milk is poured in, and the cakes are crumbled into the stew. As the pot is left to simmer for a couple of hours, the milk curdles, and the meat and grain soften. The resulting dish is delicious when served with the peppery garnish of crushed leek and garlic. The plural noun risnātu is derived from the verb rasānu (“to soak, to steep”) and clearly refers to a function in the dish—“soakies” or the like. We could have used wine, water, milk, or beer to soak the grain and join it through pressure to produce the risnātu. We know from other texts that the cakes could be spicy and variously scented, but because nothing is specified by the recipe, we chose a neutral option to intrude the least on the overall taste of the dish. We broke up and crumbled the cakes to incorporate them in the broth and allowed a few to dissolve in the dish on their own for texture.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P291955

credit: Barjamovic, Gojko; Gonzalez, Patricia Jurado; Graham, Chelsea A.; Lassen, Agnete W.; Nasrallah, N.; Sörensen, Pia M.
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 92 (2021-01-02)

A Babylonian Cookbook (YPM BC 018709, YBC 4644; Old Babylonian period (about 1900-1600 BC); Larsa (?); 164 x 118 x 33 mm; clay)



This is a simple recipe and one of just four largely vegetarian dishes on the tablet. The first phrase of each recipe denotes the name of the dish. In this case, pašrūtum, which we take as a derivation of the verb pašāru (“to loosen, untie,” and such). The vegetables are lightly sautéed in the sheep’s fat, and the liquid is added. The vegetables are boiled until tender. The dry sourdough (Sumerian b a p p i r , Akkadian bappiru) is used as a main ingredient for brewing beer. It is very common in Mesopotamian texts. It was sold by volume, often in jars or sacks. We made and dried our own sourdough and ground it not too finely in a mortar. We agree with Bottéro (1995, 222) to take ṭābātum as an unusual plural of “salt,” which is usually a plurale tantum in Akkadian (as in English). So perhaps it is to be understood here in the sense of “grains of salt” rather than the homonymous vinegar (ṭābātu). The following recipe calls for “finegrained ṭābātum,” which cannot possibly refer to vinegar. We take šuhutinnū to be kurrat or “spring leek,” which is one of the most commonly grown members of the Allium family in Iraq and is omnipresent in medieval Iraqi recipes. The vegetable looks like non-bulbous leek with thin and tender stalks. It tastes much like leek but is milder and with a tinge of garlic. It is often eaten raw. A similar leek known as garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) is used in East Asian cooking and can be found in many specialty shops. Before serving, some dried sourdough is crushed and added to the dish for richness and flavor. The recipe comes out fairly bland, but with a pleasant mild taste of cilantro and onion. It looks to be a kind of “comfort dish” known also from later medieval tradition. Perhaps this explains the name of the stew, or perhaps the “unwinding” refers to what happens when the dried sourdough is added to the soup before serving. One can experiment with the proportions of the ingredients, but lots of leek and cilantro works well.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P291955

credit: Barjamovic, Gojko; Gonzalez, Patricia Jurado; Graham, Chelsea A.; Lassen, Agnete W.; Nasrallah, N.; Sörensen, Pia M.
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus; OPAC

New Year’s Day: 2021 (2021-01-01)

Happy New Year!



The Sumerian New Year was known as za3-mu, “edge of the year,” and, celebrated with the Babylonian Akitu festival, fell on the day of the spring equinox. The term is best known from Ur III period references to a special ration of barley dispensed to dependent laborers. Nonetheless, we offer an example of accounting done in the provincial capital city of Umma five months after the celebration on 1 January 2021 BC—or thereabouts. Most likely, the receipt represents late clean-up of long open accounts.

CDLI entry: P116964

credit: Englund, Robert K.

YBC: Highlights 91 (2020-12-31)

A Babylonian Cookbook (YPM BC 018709, YBC 4644; Old Babylonian period (about 1900-1600 BC); Larsa (?); 164 x 118 x 33 mm; clay)



This tablet is one of three Old Babylonian manuscripts housed in the Yale Babylonian Collection that are inscribed with the world’s earliest cooking recipes. The tablet presented here includes twenty-five recipes for stews or broths, each very short. The stews are based on water and fat, sometimes enriched with beer, milk, or blood for thickening and taste. In most cases, meat is added, as well as vegetables—onion, garlic, and leek—and condiments such as cumin, coriander, and (in the case of an “Elamite” stew) dill. The stews were simmered for an extended time before they were served. Here is the translation of one of the recipes:

Wild-pigeon broth: You split up the wild pigeon; (other) meat is (also) used. You prepare water. You add fat. Fine-grained salt, dried barley cakes, onion, Persian shallot, leek, and garlic: you soak (these) herbs of yours in milk, and (the dish) is ready to serve.

The tablet ends with a subscript summarizing the dishes previously described as “twenty-one meat stews and four vegetable-based (dishes).”

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P291955

credit: Frahm, Eckart
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 90 (2020-12-30)

Cooking in Mesopotamia



Cooking, eating, and drinking are fundamental activities in every society. Mesopotamia has given us the world’s earliest cookbooks and many depictions of banquets, during which the joint consumption of food and drink enhanced social cohesion.

YBC: Highlights 89 (2020-12-29)

A Group of Duck Weights (YPM BC 037779, YPM BC 032059, YPM BC 038125, YPM BC 023972, YPM BC 038126, YPM BC 012512, YPM BC 009015, YPM BC 016883, YPM BC 016815; NCBS 882, RBC 1766, “Ott 24”, YBC 9983, “Ott 39”, NBC 9519, NBC 6034, YBC 2262, YBC 2187; Late third to late first millennium BC; from 2 g to 5371 g)



In Mesopotamia, stones and scales were used to measure weight. Often, the stone weights would be cylindrical, resembling dates or olives, or shaped like animals (Hafford 2005, 35). One of the most common animal shapes was that of a bird resembling a duck or a goose resting in a sleeping position with its neck turned (Kisch 1965, 116). This collection shows the wide variety of sizes and materials characteristic of ancient Mesopotamian duck weights. Some have decorative duck feet carved into the underside (Kisch 1965, 80). The underside of another small weight, made from bluish chalcedony, is particularly noteworthy. It bears an intricately carved scene of an antelope with its calf sucking milk among plants and astral symbols. Larger examples frequently carry inscriptions indicating their weight. The large limestone weight, for instance, which weighs a little more than five kilograms, bears a label specifying its weight as “ten minas.”

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Moreno, Rachel
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 88 (2020-12-28)

Hedgehog Figurine (YPM BC 038116, YBC 10072; Date and provenience unclear; 72 x 42 x 32 mm; clay)



This mold-made figurine shows a crouching hedgehog (here with another [YPM BC 038199, YBC 10074] in the background). Hedgehogs are commonly depicted as “filling motifs” on Old Babylonian cylinder seals, and there are a few examples of stone and terracotta hedgehogs from Bronze Age contexts from greater Mesopotamia. The most famous, a small stone hedgehog standing on a carriage now at the Louvre, was excavated in the temple of Inshushinak in Susa (Harper, Aruz, and Tallon 1992, 155-156, no. 102). It was found in a cache along with other animal figurines on carriages, prayer figurines, and gaming boards, which has raised the question of whether they were votive offerings or toys.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Lassen, Agnete
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 87 (2020-12-27)

Terracotta Head of a Bull (YPM BC 038115, YBC 10090; Hellenistic period or later; provenience unknown; 52 x 88 x 112 mm; clay)



This terracotta figurine in the shape of a bull’s (or cow’s) head was either hand modeled or made with the help of a mold and subsequently embellished with wavy lines incised by the artist around the eyes and the muzzle, as well as shorter lines incised on top of the head. The figurine is hollow, with a hole on the bottom, and has two fastening holes on the back, by which the head was once attached to another object. On the left side, under the eye, a Greek inscription is incised, which reads EΡEBOΣ. In ancient Greece, Erebos was both the designation for some of the darkest quarters of the netherworld and the name of a deity closely associated with those infernal regions and with chaos. In 1961, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Yale Babylonian Collection, the figurine was displayed in an exhibition of ancient Near Eastern art in Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library (Buchanan 1962). Although the unique iconography of the piece and its Greek inscription leave some doubt as to whether the head really comes from the Near East, such a provenience is not inconceivable. Notably, in Mesopotamian lexical texts and commentaries the Akkadian word for “spirit of the dead,” etemmu, was occasionally equated with the word alpu or written with the Sumerogram GUD, both of which mean “bull” (Frahm 2011a, 233). Even though much uncertainty remains, this might explain why the Greek inscription on the bull’s head refers to the netherworld. If this explanation is correct, the piece would represent an interesting example of Greco-Mesopotamian cultural blending during the Hellenistic period.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Frahm, Eckart
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 86 (2020-12-26)

A Monkey with Two Flutes (YPM BC 016854, YBC 2231; Hellenistic or Late Babylon period [?]; 97 x 28 x 28 mm; clay)



The monkey is shown grasping two flutes with its paws while standing with a slight bent in the knees on top of a pedestal. Similar figurines were made in Mesopotamia from the Chalcolithic period onward, becoming particularly popular during the middle of the first millennium BC. Because pre-Hellenistic figurines of monkeys playing musical instruments are typically shown sitting, this exemplar was possibly made during the Hellenistic period, if not later (Karvonen-Kannas 1995, 107). It may come from Babylon, where figurines of monkeys making music were especially popular. Different theories have been put forward to explain what these figurines were meant to illustrate. Going back to the Sumerian period, flutes were associated with lower-class musicians or shepherds who would play them. Thus, one theory posits that representations of monkeys playing flutes may have been intended to mock such musicians (Spycket 1998, 5-10). Because they were both similar to humans and distinct from them, monkeys, however, could also have represented the ambiguous and, more specifically, the liminal realm of the goddess Ishtar, a deity who combined female and male features (Pruzsinszky 2016, 30).

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Lassen, Agnete
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Christmas Day: 2020 (2020-12-25)

Merry Christmas to our cdli tablet friends!



To all those who have contributed to, or just enjoyed our little app in the past year, our warmest wishes on this Christmas Day—less than a month, and we have survived the stain of a diseased grifter in the White House.

original icon by http://dryicons.com

YBC: Highlights 85 (2020-12-24)

Feeding Cats (YPM BC 025161, YBC 11367; Neo-Babylonian period, mid sixth century BC; Uruk; 30 x 50 x 18 mm; clay)



This short letter order from the archive of the Eanna temple in Uruk, apparently addressed to one of its administrators, reads in translation: “May my lord provide the rations for Tab-shar-Ishtar and the wild cats, as well as the rations for the feeder of the wild cats. May my lord bring them all here.” Tab-shar-Ishtar is known from other texts as a fowler working on behalf of the Eanna temple in the vicinity of Uruk during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar II, Amel-Marduk, and Nabonidus. That not only the fowler but also “wild cats” (Akkadian muraššû) and their feeder received rations seems, at first glance, baffling. The explanation could be that the cats were tamed caracals used by Mesopotamian fowlers as hunting companions on expeditions to catch birds. Caracals are medium-sized felines capable of jumping more than three meters high and therefore well suited to grab startled birds rising into the air. They are known to have accompanied Mughal kings on their hunts (Kleber 2018). Cats, both domestic and wild, are otherwise not particularly well attested in the Mesopotamian textual record, very much in contrast to ancient Egypt. There are, however, a few Babylonian omen texts that analyze the behavior of cats. Typical entries include: “If a cat cries in a man’s house, that house will experience grief”; “If a cat vomits in the window of a man’s house, losses will be in store for that house”; or “If a cat discharges its urine onto a man, he will become rich” (Freedman 2017, 41-49). Another tablet interprets the howling of wild cats in a man’s house as a bad sign.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P311542

credit: Frahm, Eckart
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 84 (2020-12-23)

Animals in Magic Spells (YPM BC 018681, YBC 4616; Old Babylonian period (about 1900– 1600 BC); Babylonia; 83 x 76 x 23 mm; clay)



Animals, in particular small ones like snakes, scorpions, and worms, were often thought to cause harm or carry illnesses. It is therefore not surprising that spotting such an animal in one’s house was considered an evil portent that needed to be countered with rituals. Such rituals often involved the recitation of incantations. The text presented here is a short collection of incantations or spells that focus on domestic issues and mention animals. They are different in style and form. The incantations were probably collected because of their focus on childbirth and young children. Spells number 1 and 2, in Akkadian, target a baby’s illness that was caused by a worm and possibly also a fly. The mythological introduction in the first spell is of particular interest, because it is a so-called chain incantation (Veldhuis 1993), in which the creation of the worm is ultimately linked to the divine world and the beginnings of the cosmos: “The sky-god begat the sky, the sky bore the earth, the earth bore the stench, the stench bore the mud, the mud bore the fly, the fly bore the worm” (lines 1–3). Spells 3 and 4 are written in a language other than Akkadian or Sumerian. They are the most enigmatic among the incantations on this tablet. Portions of them are unintelligible sounds and syllables, often referred to as “abracadabra” (nonsense sounds with magical power; Prechel and Richter 2001). Other portions are short phrases and grammatical elements in the Elamite language (Van Dijk 1982, 100; Stolper 2004, 62), which may have given the spells an exotic quality. Spell number 4 is very similar in wording to an Elamite spell attested on another tablet (YOS 11, 18) with the subscript “Incantation for a woman giving birth” (Van Dijk 1982, 100). Spell number 5 is Sumerian and is intended to work against snakes and scorpions encountered in a house. The final very short spell seems to be incomplete or abbreviated. A parallel is attested on a tablet in a private collection that provides a fuller version (MS 3061, lines 2–4; see George 2016, 116-118). It seems likewise concerned with infants: “Take your children home, over the threshold. (…) Asalluhi is entering (the house to bathe).”


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P274696

credit: Beltz, Jonathan; Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 83 (2020-12-22)

Terracotta Plaque Showing a Snarling Dog (YPM BC 038113, NBC 12112; Neo-Assyrian period (934–612 BC); 117 x 65 x 18 mm; clay)



The dog was man’s best friend throughout Mesopotamian history, a faithful companion, guardian, and hunter. The healing goddess Gula was typically represented with a dog in Mesopotamian art, and small dog figurines were dedicated to her as votive gifts in Babylonian temples in the Old Babylonian period. The saliva of dogs was considered to possess medical properties—a belief that has been proved correct by modern science—and used in healing. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the goddess Ishtar traveled with seven hunting dogs. The snarling mastiff on this terracotta plaque is wearing a collar, marking it, despite its fierce look, as someone’s pet. Most Mesopotamian dogs are shown wearing a collar made of thick bands of leather and usually ornamented in some way. The leather band protected the dog’s throat against bites from wild animals, but it also served as a tie for a leash to control the dog. At least two breeds have been identified, the mastiff and the greyhound, both large and very strong, good for protecting herds or guarding property (Von Soden 1994, 91).


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Lassen, Agnete
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 82 (2020-12-21)

Ill-omened Animals in the House (YPM BC 023872, YBC 9873; Late Babylonian period (second half of the first millennium BC); Babylonia; 69 x 95 x 26 mm; clay)



This tablet represents a new manuscript of a ritual for averting evil portents. Rites with this purpose were called namburbi, literally “its loosening,” a reference to their alleged ability to loosen the grip of the evil forces whose arrival had been announced by signs observed in a person’s immediate surroundings (Maul 1994). The individual signs and their interpretations were collected in several extended omen compendia. Whereas most namburbi-rituals address specific portents, the text presented here belongs to the so-called universal namburbi used against all sorts of bad omens. The five other hitherto known sources of this composition (“Universalnamburbi 4”) come from Babylon, Uruk, Assur, and Nineveh (Maul 1994, 498-502). The unprovenienced new source is written in a neat Late Babylonian hand and certainly originates from somewhere in Babylonia. The colophon is damaged and does not provide information on the specific place of origin or the name of the scribe.

The text starts by introducing a range of evil signs that might occur in a man’s house. They include the growing of fungi and weeds, and strange noises such as the wheezing of the roof beams and the creaking of the door, but also the appearance of certain animals (lines 1-9):

If … the hallulāyu-insect constantly appears in the house of a man, red ants run across the house …, a francolin enters …, wild cats howl in the house, snakes appear in the house, … or either an ox, a male sheep, or a donkey roam around in the courtyard of the house of a man … .

This catalogue is followed by five ritual procedures meant to counter the signs. In the first, the exorcist mixes water with magical substances, and the affected man washes himself with it over a mortar, a symbol of destruction (Maul 1994, 97). After these ablutions, the man’s body is anointed and a censer with aromatics is placed in the entrance of his house. In this way, all evil brought about by the evil portents will be removed from both the man’s body and his home. Other ritual procedures include the creation of an amulet placed around the afflicted person’s neck and the rubbing of the body with grains of stone and iron. Finally, the person’s house is ritually purified. The priest scatters a mixture of various ingredients in the building, which are then cleaned away, and the sweepings, together with the associated evil, are thrown into a river, sometimes after having first been burned in a ritual performed at midnight.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P310408

credit: Koubkova, Evelyne; Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 81 (2020-12-20)

Game Boards (YPM BC 038112, YPM BC 017030, YPM BC 038044; YBC 2396, YBC 2439, YBC 10089; Old Babylonian period (about 1900– 1600 BC)?)



These three game boards represent three different games that were played through two thousand five hundred years of Mesopotamian history and eventually made their way as far as Iran and Crete. On the left is a later version of the famous Royal Game of Ur, or the Game of Twenty Squares. This game may have been the most popular board game in the ancient Near East and the Mediterranean world. The earliest examples come from the Royal Cemetery of Ur and date to the mid third millennium BC, but more than one hundred boards have been found from Iran to the Levant and Crete to Egypt (Finkel 2007, 17). In the game, two players start by rolling two dice to put their game pieces on the board. Then, they would roll dice to try to move all their pieces off the end of the twelve-space lane without being attacked by their opponent’s pieces and sent off the board to start again. The spaces marked by an X denote free spaces that prevented pieces from being attacked (Finkel 2007, 17-27). The rules for this game survived on two late tablets of the Seleucid era (for a new interpretation, see Wee 2018).

At the center is a fragment of a board for the Game of Fifty-Eight Holes, another popular game in the ancient world. The sides of the board are decorated with recessed niches and male and female figures. Boards for this game have been found in Iran, Mesopotamia, Turkey, the Levant, and Egypt—where it was probably invented around 2100 BC (Hoerth 2007, 64-66). Like the Game of Twenty Squares, it was a race game, whose objective was to move pegs from the starting hole out and around the board to the end hole. Dice were used to determine the number of holes to be advanced, and landing on marked holes either gave players an extra turn or sent the pegs forward or backward (Hoerth 2007, 66-68).

On the right is yet another game board (no. 96), but the rules of this game are as yet unclear. The board has forty-one holes, and the three lanes of thirteen holes each also suggest a racing game of some sort.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Tang, Sergio
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 80 (2020-12-19)

The Strings of the Lyre and the Gods (YPM BC 025175, YBC 11381; Late Babylonian period (second half of the first millennium BC); Nippur or Uruk (?); 58 x 89 x 25 mm; clay)



This tablet lists the opening words of several prayers, each related to a string of the lyre. The strings are numbered from one to nine, contrary to the more common system of numbering, where the strings following the middle one were counted from the end (“fourth from the end,” and so on; see Kilmer and Duchesne- Guillemin 1965, 264–265). The lyre was one of the most popular musical instruments in ancient Mesopotamia, and the word used for its strings extended to descriptions of musical modes and tuning (Kilmer 1980, 575–576). Several of the deities addressed in the prayers have connections with the netherworld, among them Enmesharra, who is mentioned in lines 15–16: String Nine: May Enmesharra crush the forces of those who wrong you and of your enemies. May he scatter the weapon(s) of your adversaries. Based on a parallel Neo-Assyrian text in the British Museum, the prayers can be tentatively identified as benedictions (Akkadian ikribu) chanted by a singer (Akkadian nāru) for the king, although the occasion of this performance remains unknown (Payne 2010, 297). Also unclear is why particular prayers are linked to particular strings. The tablet has a landscape format and is written in Neo-Babylonian or Late Babylonian script. No other indications as to its dating exist, but based on formal parallels with other tablets, it may come from either Nippur or Uruk.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P505984

credit: Koubkova, Evelyne
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 79 (2020-12-18)

Figurines of Musicians (YPM BC 016826, YPM BC 016852, YPM BC 023976 YPM BC 016862; YBC 2198, YBC 2229, YBC 10001, YBC 2239; Old Babylonian period (about 1900–1600 BC) and Seleucid or Parthian period (about 300 BC–AD 200); clay



These four figurines represent musicians playing a variety of instruments. The female figurine on the left is standing in contrapposto pose and wearing a peplos. She stands ready to play the harp that she holds against her left shoulder. Her dress and hairstyle is Greek, and she wears a diadem (Van Buren 1930, 236). The two figurines on the right are nude and hold tambourines at their chests with both hands. The first, damaged above the knees, has prominent facial features and large hair that frames both sides of the figurine’s face (Van Buren 1930, 90). The other is broken below the knees and the facial features have eroded away, but the headband the figurine wears is still visible. The fourth figurine is free-standing as well and is holding an instrument over the right shoulder, with a hand resting on the instrument. This figure’s legs are bowed, perhaps to indicate dancing. Although the exact purpose of the figurines is unknown, the depiction of musicians is a common motif throughout the history of Mesopotamia. They can be represented as molded figurines or on plaques, and different styles seem to denote different classes of performers, from high society palace musicians to performers entertaining the working class (Caubet 2016).


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Moreno, Rachel
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 78 (2020-12-17)

Pie Crust Rattle (YPM BC 023979, YBC 10043; Third or early second millennium BC; 91 x 55 mm; clay)



Rattles such as this were found at many sites throughout Mesopotamia, most notably at Ur (see, for instance, UE 7, pl. 92, from Diqdiqqah outside the city of Ur), but also at faraway places like Mari (see MAM 2/3, 77, fig. 60) and in Iran (see Tamm 2013). In Mesopotamia proper, three types of rattles were in use: zoomorphic ones, spherical ones that have several holes and a handle to hold them, and socalled pie crust or shell rattles (Shehata and Bobokhyan 2009, 138–139), like the example presented here. Known specimens of this type have a rather uniform design and size (see Rashid 1984, 101, figs. 102–104). In profile they look like flattened spheres. A typical feature are the jagged borders (single or double, as here) that run around them and inspire their modern description. The poles of the sphere are usually punctured. Another common feature, crossing lines, divide each hemisphere into four quarters. The jagged rims certainly helped the performer to better handle the instrument, while they might also have helped, along with the hole in the center, to fasten the rattle with strings to a stick or a garment. Rattles were often manufactured by gluing their two hemispheres together with a strip of clay after small clay or stone pieces had been inserted into the hollow sphere to produce the typical sound. X-ray analysis of this rattle shows three pellets inside that can still be heard when the rattle is shaken. Rattles of this type are attested as early as the mid third millennium bc, but became more common in the early second millennium. Many excavated rattles are from private contexts, where they might have been used in domestic rituals or to ward off evil spirits, but could of course also have been used simply as toys (Tamm 2013, 140–143).


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus; Stegmaier, Eric

YBC: Highlights 77 (2020-12-16)

Sharing the Inheritance (YPM BC 008321, NBC 5341; Old Babylonian period, about 1816-1794 BC; Isin (?); 148 x 73 x 31 mm; clay)



Inheritance was rigidly regulated in ancient Mesopotamia (Kalla 1998; Westbrook 2003, 395-399; Stol 2004b, 707-708). In most cases, the property that had to be shared was the father’s. Because there are no property inventories attested for the early second millennium BC, only tablets documenting inheritance shares (Sumerian ha-la) illustrate how much property Mesopotamian citizens of this period would, as a rule, own. In Babylonia, there are two types of legal documents that deal with inheritance: (1) partial contracts, which list the share of only one family member; and (2) full inheritance contracts (of which each heir would receive a duplicate), which specify all shares. This four-column tablet from the reign of the last king of Isin, Damiq-ilishu (reigned 1816–1794 BC), belongs to the latter category. The date appears at the end. It is preceded by the names of several witnesses and standard legal clauses that prohibit any disputes regarding the inheritance agreement. The main part of the text describes the particular shares of each family member, with the first share going to the eldest brother (lines 1-23). Individual shares usually included real estate (Sumerian e2- du3-a, “built house”) and fields (Sumerian a-ša3). These estates are identified by naming adjacent property owners or topographical features. Inheritance shares also contain items such as furniture—in this case certain types of doors—and their value in silver. Frequently, shares name slaves who would be inherited as well. Property could not always be divided into equal shares. In such cases, the parties could agree on compensation to balance the shares. The present text attests to several such payments (Sumerian in-na-an-bur2). To avoid any future claims and problems with sharing the inheritance, the shares were divided by casting lots (Sumerian ĝeššub-ba-ta in-ba-eš). It remains unclear how this procedure worked in practice (Kalla 1998, 38). Both the blank space before the date as well as several edges of the tablet bear impressions of the seals of the heirs. Only the seal legends with their names were impressed; there are no traces of any pictorial scenes, if there were any.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P292808

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 76 (2020-12-15)

Divorce Statement (YPM BC 036445, NCBT 1900; Old Babylonian period, probably eighteenth century BC; perhaps Larsa; 78 x 48 x 24 mm; clay)



“If a man marries a wife but does not draw up a formal contract for her, that woman is not a wife”—this is how the laws of King Hammurapi (§128) describe one of the most important requirements for establishing the union between a husband and a wife (Greengus 1969; Roth 1997, 105; Westbrook 2003, 388). Marriage agreements are indeed fairly well attested in the Mesopotamian textual record. Documents related to the dissolution of such agreements, in contrast, are much rarer. This tablet is one of them. According to the document, the husband, who is not named, cut the fringe of his wife’s garment in front of several witnesses, a ritual act effecting his separation from her (Podany & Pomona 2010, 49-50). The fringe of garments had an important legal significance in Mesopotamia. Among other things, the hem was frequently impressed on tablets as a sign of authentication in case there was no cylinder seal at the disposal of the signing party. A more explicit document from Sippar (CT 45, 86) contains a rather emotional deposition by both divorcing parties. After being asked whether he still wants to stay married to his wife, the husband declares: “Hang me on a peg! Dismember me: I will not stay married (to her)!” (Veenhof 1976, 153-154, lines 20-22). The present tablet does not stipulate any terms or conditions. As such, it is simply an official statement of divorce. We can only speculate about the husband’s reasons to go forward with it. To leave no legal loopholes, the document ends with several witnesses who had also been present when the marriage took place. The tablet is not dated, and it is not completely clear where it was found. Orthographic and museological criteria suggest, however, that it may have come from Larsa.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P303939

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 75 (2020-12-14)

Riddle about an Adulterer (YPM BC 019893, YBC 5828; Old Babylonian period (about 1900– 1600 BC); 71 x 49 x 29 mm; clay)



Sumerian wisdom literature includes a wide range of genres, from proverbs to tales, fables, and instructions. Proverbs, in particular, often contain pithy and folksy aphorisms counseling good conduct and providing general advice for living life. Short sayings were among the texts copied by students in the elementary stages of their education (see Chapter 11, “Becoming a Scribe”). This tablet, one of the few surviving riddles from Mesopotamia, records a moralizing Sumerian riddle cautioning against adultery. As do other such riddles, it offers a solution at the end. The text reads as follows:

The one towards whom no one walks, even though paths may lead to him,
Whose life, like himself, is passed over;
Worthless to the righteous man, he is not given life,
He is thrown away as something impure, no one inquires of him,
He is covered up as with a garment.
Who is he? A man who lies with another man’s wife.



See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P459186

credit: Tang, Sergio
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 74 (2020-12-13)

Terracotta Plaque Showing Embracing Couple (YPM BC 038111, YBC 10025; Old Babylonian period (about 1900– 1600 BC); 78 x 46 x 17 mm; clay)



This small terracotta plaque was made with a mold pressed into a lump of clay, creating the imagery in raised relief on the surface of the clay. Terracotta plaques and figurines were common throughout Mesopotamian history and often relate to the beliefs and religious practices of ordinary people. A favored motif was the nude female shown in different styles and manifestations from prehistoric times until the end of the Sasanian period. Hips and breasts were often emphasized, connotating fertility. Another motif, introduced in the Old Babylonian period, shows a naked woman with a man in explicitly erotic, but not very tender, scenes. The woman is often bending over a pot of beer, drinking from it with a straw, while the man is positioned behind her. This plaque shows a female in flounced dress on the left embracing with her right arm a bearded male in flounced dress and wearing a brimmed cap. The modeling of the figures is without much corporeality, and the proportions are not entirely accurate. But in spite of the simple execution, there is a tenderness in the embrace of the two facing figures that suggests a deep intimacy. The plaque seems to be concerned with love, rather than fertility or sex. Except for depictions of acts of violence, physical contact is not very common in Mesopotamian art, which makes the scene unusual. Similarly, while the gaze was of great importance in Mesopotamian art, it is rare to see it exchanged between two equals facing each other directly.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Lassen, Agnete
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 73 (2020-12-12)

Letter from Lamassi to Her Husband Pushu-ken (YPM BC 006791, NBC 3816; Old Assyrian period (about 2000– 1700 BC); written in Assur, Iraq, found at Kültepe (ancient Kanesh), central Anatolia; 46 x 37 x 16 mm; clay)



The tablet to the upper left is a letter written by a woman named Lamassi to her husband, Pushu-ken. Lamassi and Pushu-ken lived in different cities more than one thousand kilometers apart, and ran a business in which Lamassi sent textiles woven by the women in her household (consisting of herself, her daughters, and her female servants) to be sold by her husband abroad (Veenhof 1972, 111-118). Pushu-ken then sent the earnings from these sales back to his wife at home. In the letter, Lamassi complains that she has not yet received payment for her last shipment: “I gave one heavy textile to Assur-malik at the time of his previous caravan trip, but he has not yet brought me its proceeds in silver.” She then asks her husband to send wool along with the payment because the price of wool is high in Assur. Other letters exchanged between the couple (see figure 8.1) show that, in addition to managing her lucrative textile-weaving operation, Lamassi sometimes profited from high market prices to sell wool locally (Veenhof 1972, 116). As a group, the letters paint an image of Lamassi as an astute businesswoman, and provide an example of the role assumed by the wives of Assyrian merchants during the Old Assyrian period (Larsen 2015, 210-211). Lamassi serves as her husband’s representative in legal and business matters, and makes independent financial decisions, but her property is part of her husband’s estate (Veenhof 1972, 113, 123). The correspondence also reveals something of the couple’s respective personalities. We hear Lamassi’s tone grow increasingly exasperated over the course of her letters, as her husband repeatedly changes his mind about the types and quality of cloth that he wants Lamassi to produce (Veenhof 1972, 112).


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P289568

credit: Werwie, Katherine
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 72 (2020-12-11)

A Marriage Agreement (YPM BC 017797, YBC 3732; Neo-Babylonian period, 542 BC; written in Alu-sha-lane, possibly found in Uruk; 70 x 42 x 21 mm; clay)



This small tablet records a marriage agreement between a groom, Nabu-ahu-usur, and the mother and brother of the bride, Tala-Uruk. The bride’s father was apparently dead by the time the agreement was set up; otherwise, it would have been up to him to consent to the marriage of his daughter. The tablet stipulates that in the event of Nabu-ahu-usur releasing Tala-Uruk or making another woman his senior(?) wife, Tala-Uruk would receive six pounds of silver, a very substantial sum, and be allowed to enter the house of a(nother) free citizen. A list of witnesses concludes the text. Of particular interest is a clause related to possible acts of adultery on the part of the bride: “Should Tala-Uruk be found(?) with (another) man, she will die by the dagger”—a statement also attested in several other neo-Babylonian marriage agreements (Roth 1988; Wunsch 2003, 6-7). Even though there are alternative interpretations, the stipulation could mean that the husband was allowed to kill his wife “on the spot” should he find her in flagrante delicto. A slightly different scenario is outlined in an Old Babylonian “model contract” used for didactic purposes. Here, a husband, on finding his wife with another man, “tied (her) to the man’s body upon the bed, and carried (the bed) to the assembly (of judges).” The judges, convinced by the evidence, decided that the woman should be physically mutilated as a punishment for her crime (Roth 1988, 196). As is explicitly stated in the text, the tablet was written in an otherwise unattested location by the name of Alu-sha-lane, probably a small village in the vicinity of Uruk. The document includes several scribal errors, suggesting that no experienced scribe was available when the text was drafted.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P305090

credit: Frahm, Eckart; Machado, Diana
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 71 (2020-12-10)

An Apt Sentiment for Summer (YPM BC 008325, NBC 5345; Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900-1600 BC); possibly Nippur; 69 x 49 x 29 mm; clay)



Letters are rarely as poetical as the one presented here. In this letter, whose blessing suggests a provenience in Nippur, a woman called Akatiya writes to her “brother” Sin-ni. She states that “for three years, the field has not been ‘hungry’,” and that she was in good health. Obviously Sin-ni was supportive. She continuous with the unparalleled sentiment

You truly are the sun, so let me warm myself in your heat. You truly are a cedar tree, so let the heat not burn me in your shadow.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P292812

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 70 (2020-12-09)

A Letter to Mom (YPM BC 008268, NBC 5289; Old Babylonian period (about 1900– 1600 BC); provenience unknown (Larsa?); 88 x 50 x 24 mm; clay)



Thousands of letters have survived from the Old Babylonian period, providing intimate glimpses into the affairs of rulers and officials, but also of everyday people. This tablet is a letter from a son to his mother reassuring her that a man named Sin-gamil, probably a relative, is well taken care of. The letter reads in translation

Speak to my mother as follows, thus (says) Shamash-bani, your son: May the gods Ilabrat and Lugal-namtara keep you healthy for 3,600 years. Regarding Sin-gamil, about whom you wrote—since the day you wrote, he has been too far away to think of you. He lives in a house of relaxation. The headdress and clothing have been returned to him. He is attended to as if he were living in his own house. When he leaves, you can ask him. So as not to worry you, I will attend to him until the man comes and makes him leave. Am I remiss with what you write?


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P292759

credit: Tang, Sergio
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 69 (2020-12-08)

Adoption Contract (YPM BC 004244, NBC 1272; Old Babylonian period, about 1743 BC; probably Ur; 87 x 49 x 22 mm; clay)



When people in Mesopotamia grew old, their children had the duty to support them. But married couples might remain without children, and certain women who held high positions in the temple cult were not allowed to bear children. In such cases, children could be adopted. Whereas the laws of Hammurapi provide only limited information on the implications of adoptions (Roth 1997, 119–120, §§185–191), contemporaneous legal documents are more explicit (Stol 1998, 61). This tablet, probably found at Ur (Charpin 1980, 59), dates to the reign of Hammurapi’s successor Samsu-iluna and deals with a case where a free person named Sin-ishmeanni agrees to be adopted by a married couple. Because the adoptee is not a dependent, the contract needs to define explicitly his obligations toward his new parents. The annual allowance for them is 360 liters of barley, six minas of wool, and six liters of oil. A survey of attested allowances shows that this amount is slightly lower than average (Stol 1998, 64–66). In return for his services, Sin-ishmeanni is appointed as heir of his new parents. The contract concludes with two clauses: “If Sin-ishmeanni says to Ahum, his father, and Muhadditum, his mother, ‘(You are) not my father, (you are) not my mother,’ he will forfeit the house, the garden, and the prebend (that would otherwise be his). Furthermore, if Ahum, his father, and Muhadditum, his mother, say to Sin-ishmeanni, their son, ‘(You are) not my son,’ they will pay half a mina of silver to Sin-ishmeanni” (lines 20–31). For children adopted at an earlier stage in their lives, the laws of Hammurapi recommend a harsher punishment should they not meet their obligations toward their adoptive parents (§192): “If the child (…) should say to the father who raised him or to the mother who raised him, ‘You are not my father,’ or ‘You are not my mother,’ they shall cut out his tongue” (Roth 1997, 120). The contract ends with a list of witnesses and a date. The document is sealed by the adoptive father and two additional witnesses.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P297175

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 68 (2020-12-07)

Ritual to Quiet a Child (YPM BC 009132, NBC 6151; Late Babylonian period (second half of the first millennium BC); possibly Nippur; 65 x 70 x 20 mm; clay)



This Late Babylonian tablet is inscribed with a short collection of incantations used to calm down crying babies. Farber (1989b, 148–149) argued that these “lullabies” originated in oral folk poetry. Eventually, however, they were included in the professional lore of Babylonian and Assyrian ritual healers, perhaps because crying was considered a disruption of the divinely sanctioned order (van der Toorn 1999, 139-140). Incantations to calm small children share a common set of motifs and images (Farber 1989b, 148-160). They mostly open by describing the problem: the child used to be silent in its mother’s womb, but now it is crying. It is disturbing its parents and, more seriously, the god and the goddess of the house (the bull-man or the “hairy one”), and sometimes even the high deities in heaven. Entreaties that the child fall asleep follow. They use a wide range of metaphors: the baby should be calm like water in a well, it should sleep like a gazelle’s kid or like a shepherd who falls asleep in the middle of his watch. Accompanying ritual instructions often involve rubbing the child with magical substances, such as dust from specific places, including the threshold, the street, and even a grave. The corpus of baby incantations, reaching as far back as the Old Babylonian period, is relatively small and mostly represented by individual incantations, sometimes accompanied by brief ritual instructions (Farber 1989b). Despite their common designation as “(rituals) to calm down a child,” there is no evidence for a firmly established text series. Only two collections of these incantations are known: one from Nineveh, preserved in three fragmentary manuscripts, and this fairly well preserved Late Babylonian tablet. Among the six incantations it includes, two are also attested in the Nineveh recension (Farber 1989b, 42-47, §3-4). A well preserved incantation on the tablet reads as follows (lines 9-11):

Incantation: The baby that disturbed its father and brought tears to its mother’s eyes, upon whose noise—the noise of its crying—the Kusarikku (a bison-shaped house god) absconded and the god Ea woke up … without falling asleep again, while the goddess Ishtar too was unable to catch sleep—may it be given sleep like a sleepy (young) gazelle buck!

The colophon of the tablet names both its owner, Nur-“Ut’ulu” (that is, Nur-Ninurta?), and its scribe, Na’id-Ninurta. Neither of them is attested elsewhere (Farber 1989b, 15, n. 12), but the fact that their names include the name of the god Ninurta might indicate that they resided in Nippur, where Ninurta, along with his father Enlil, played a central role in the cult.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P293070

credit: Frahm, Eckart; Koubkova, Evelyne
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 67 (2020-12-06)

Mother and Child Clay Figurines (YPM BC 038110, YPM BC 016846, and YPM BC 007427; YBC 10059, YBC 2223, and NBC 4451; Neo-Babylonian period (626–539 BC) and Seleucid or Parthian period (about 300 BC–AD 200); 140 x 46 x 41, 63 x 32 x 25, and 108 x 53 x 36 mm; clay)



These three figurines illustrate a popular iconographic motif: a woman nurturing a child. Each portrays this theme differently. Although the example in the center is broken at the waist and damaged around the woman’s face, the figurine clearly represents a nude woman cradling a child at her chest (compare Moorey 2005, 141). Earlier than the two other figurines, it was cast with a single mold. From about 700 bc onward, it became more common to cast such figurines in double molds (Van Buren 1930, xliii), resulting in hollow casts like the figurine at right. This better preserved example represents a woman who is seated and clothed in a draped dress. She is wearing a veil over her hair, with a naked child at her breast and a second, older child at her side. On the left is another well-preserved example, which depicts a woman standing on a low pedestal and holding a large child on her left arm, her right hand cupping her left breast. The woman’s head and body are covered by heavy drapery. Clay figurines such as these were common throughout Mesopotamian history. They were accessible to people of all social strata (Van Buren 1930, xxxviii) and were probably used as votive offerings and amulets, or for personal shrines and rituals.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Moreno, Rachel
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 66 (2020-12-05)

Mold and Plaque with Erotic Scenes (YPM BC 007452 and YPM BC 016962, NBC 4476 and YBC 2367; Old Babylonian period (about 1900– 1600 BC); 78 x 53 x 13 and 90 x 90 x 15 mm; clay)



Terracotta plaques showing scenes of lovemaking were mass-produced during the Old Babylonian period. An artisan would have used a mold to create large numbers of plaques. In this much-reproduced scene, a woman is shown bent at the waist, sipping beer through a drinking tube from a jug on the ground. The men in both vignettes sport beards. On the mold, the male figure dons a cap and the woman wears jewelry around her neck and wrists. The particular imagery found on these artifacts might refer to one of the forms that Inanna, the goddess of sexual love and warfare, assumed on earth in the Mesopotamian imagination: a single woman at the tavern in search of a lover. Early scholarship posited that these objects served as fertility amulets. It may be more likely, however, that they had the same purpose as other types of plaques that hung on the walls of private homes: to assure general success and well-being. The fact that Inanna’s power is often expressed in sexual terms might explain the choice of subject matter. These plaques may have been primarily aimed at demons whose attacks were described in a language of sexual advance (Assante 2002).


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Werwie, Katherine
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 65 (2020-12-04)

Love Is in the Stars (YPM BC 001857, MLC 1859; Late Babylonian period, late fourth century BC; Uruk; 168 x 78 x 25 mm; clay)



This well-preserved tablet lists the titles of rituals and incantations and explains, by referring to zodiac signs, when in astronomical terms their use would be most promising. Many of the rituals belong to the realm of “black magic.” The text ends with a commentary section that explains some of the terms used to designate the rituals. The rituals listed are aimed, among other things, at “changing someone’s mind,” “overturning a judgment,” and “returning a runaway (slave).” Of particular interest are several entries related to lovemaking (lines 5–8, 17, 21, 32): (Rituals and spells for) a man in love with a woman: region of Libra, (rituals and spells for) a woman in love with a man: region of Pisces, (rituals and spells for) a man in love with a man: region of Scorpio, (rituals and spells for making) a woman come (to have sex): region of Aries, (rituals and spells to) “make a woman speak”: region of Scorpio, (rituals and spells to) prevent a man’s wife from turning her eyes or face towards another man: region of Gemini, (rituals and spells for making) a woman come (to have sex)—to perform them without incurring recriminations: region of [Libra]. Noteworthy here is a ritual to help a man win the love of another man, whereas apparently no such ritual existed for a woman in love with another woman. The sexual connotations of the entry about “making a woman speak” are made explicit in the commentary: “‘To make a woman speak’ (means) to control a woman ... : she will come close to you (and do) whatever you ask of her.” According to the colophon at the end of the text, the tablet was owned by Iqishaya, son of Ishtar-shumu-irish and descendant of Ekurzakir, a well known ritual healer, teacher, priest, and owner of a brewer’s prebend. He was active in Uruk during the early Hellenistic period, shortly after Alexander the Great’s conquest of Babylon in 331 BC. An earlier, seventh century BC version of the text from Assyria relates the magical rituals to specific days of the lunar year rather than zodiac signs, which were only introduced during the Persian period. Late Babylonian astral magic and medicine strongly influenced Greek magical practices of the Hellenistic age. The association of love charms with Aries, for example, is also found in a Greek magical papyrus (Geller 2014, 69).


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P296512

credit: Frahm, Eckart
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 64 (2020-12-03)

Standing Genie Facing Right Toward a “Sacred Tree” (Yale University Art Gallery, YUAG 1854.3; Neo-Assyrian period, reign of Assurnasirpal II (883–859 BC); Nimrud; 1091 x 770 mm; alabaster)



The lower register, which is slightly taller than the upper one, shows a standing genie who has the head of an eagle and wings cascading behind him. He wears a tunic and a long, fringed robe, and walks barefoot. Like other reliefs that depict genies with the sacred tree, the eagle-headed figure carries a cone in his uplifted hand and a bucket in his other hand, implements used for purification rituals. Complete versions of the reliefs in Room I are found, among other places, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P427121

credit: Moreno, Rachel; Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Yale University Art Gallery; Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 63 (2020-12-02)

Kneeling Genie Facing Right Toward a “Sacred Tree” (Yale University Art Gallery, YUAG 1854.4+1854.5; Neo-Assyrian period, reign of Assurnasirpal II (883–859 BC); Nimrud; 798 x 1200 mm; alabaster)



The upper register shows, multiple times, a genie with a bearded human head and wings, facing toward the right. He wears a short tunic and a fur cloak, and is adorned with earrings, bracelets, a necklace, and a horned cap that indicates his divine nature. He is shown barefoot and rests his right knee on the floor line. The genie faces the “sacred tree” with outstretched arms, in an act either of worship or of care (Harrelson 2006, 36). In contrast to the figure on the lower registers, he does not carry a cone and a bucket. Originally, there was an identical genie facing left on the other side of the tree.

The reliefs in Assurnasirpal’s North-West Palace were painted. Technical analyses help to identify some of the pigments. This color reconstruction of the relief slab is based on previous research, but as analytical approaches become more sophisticated, such reconstructions will certainly need to be re-evaluated.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P427121

credit: Moreno, Rachel; Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Yale University Art Gallery; Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 62 (2020-12-01)

Kneeling Genie Facing Right Toward a “Sacred Tree” (Yale University Art Gallery, YUAG 1854.4+1854.5; Neo-Assyrian period, reign of Assurnasirpal II (883–859 BC); Nimrud; 798 x 1200 mm; alabaster)



This and another relief fragment in the Yale University Art Gallery come from one of the slabs that adorned the walls of Room I in the northeastern corner of the inner rooms of Assurnasirpal’s North- West Palace (Englund 2003, 106–120). Although without direct access, this L-shaped room was adjacent to the throne room, whose wall slabs, many now in the British Museum, depict historical scenes. In 1852, after Layard had ended his excavations, permission to remove reliefs from the site was granted more freely by the Ottoman authorities. Hormuzd Rassam, who continued the British excavations at Nimrud, wrote in despair from Mosul to his friend Layard: “The American missionaries and the French have now permission to take some [reliefs], and I believe in the end there will be none left” (letter quoted from Russell 1997, 94).

Because some of the stone slabs covering the floor of Room I had drains, this room was originally identified as a “bathroom.” Both the drains and the iconography of its decoration suggest that the room, as well as others in the palace’s east wing, were used for cleansing and purification rituals. The thirty-three slabs adorning the walls of Room I were divided into two registers. The upper register (corresponding to the present fragment) was separated from the lower one (corresponding to YUAG 1854.3) by a band bearing Assurnasirpal’s so-called Standard Inscription. Many of these heavy stone slabs were cut into pieces to ease shipment, often without the inscription, which is repeated (with minor variants) on each relief slab in the palace. The inscription can still be seen on the slabs that are on display in the Yale University Art Gallery and depict figures in full height. The motifs on the slabs are repeated around Room I like an infinite band. The upper register shows, multiple times, a genie with a bearded human head and wings, facing toward the right. He wears a short tunic and a fur cloak, and is adorned with earrings, bracelets, a necklace, and a horned cap that indicates his divine nature. He is shown barefoot and rests his right knee on the floor line. The genie faces the “sacred tree” with outstretched arms, in an act either of worship or of care (Harrelson 2006, 36). In contrast to the figure on the lower registers, he does not carry a cone and a bucket. Originally there was an identical genie facing left on the other side of the tree.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P427121

credit: Moreno, Rachel; Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Yale University Art Gallery

YBC: Highlights 61 (2020-11-30)

Protective Spirits on an Assyrian Relief



After moving the Assyrian capital from Assur to Nimrud, ancient Kalhu, the Assyrian king Assurnasirpal II (reigned 883–859 BC) built a grand new residence, the so-called North-West Palace. The mudbrick walls of this palace were lined with hundreds of alabaster slabs, which protected the walls from erosion but also opened a venue for the king to portray himself in victorious battle and rituals. The carved reliefs adorning the walls in the wings of the palace would have been painted with bright colors, almost all of which have vanished, either worn away over time or through interventions by overzealous museum staff (Harrelson 2006, 29). In the mid nineteenth century AD, the British archaeologist Austen Henry Layard (see Nos. 21, 22) conducted extensive excavations in the area of the palace and unearthed much of its monumental sculpture. Many of the reliefs remained in Nimrud, but Layard selected representative examples for transport to the British Museum. Other reliefs from his excavations were acquired by or bequeathed to museum collections worldwide (Englund 2003). Encouraged by an increasing “Assyromania” in Europe and the United States, travelers visiting the ruins of Nimrud in the second half of the nineteenth century also removed pieces of the slabs. The reliefs kept at the Yale University Art Gallery were purchased by Yale through Reverend W. F. Williams, an American missionary stationed at Mosul, shortly after Layard had finished his excavations.

The present two relief segments depict divine spirits whom the people of Mesopotamia deemed capable of warding off evil. Depictions of such spirits are found in various areas of ancient Near Eastern art, from reliefs to cylinder seals to clay figurines and plaques (see, for example, No. 56). Their prominent presence on the reliefs in Assurnasirpal’s North-West Palace suggests that they were protecting the king and the kingdom. Although the figures take different forms, merging human and animal elements, they are all characteristically shown as participating in a ritual involving a sacred tree.

YBC: Highlights 60 (2020-11-29)

Ornamental Footrest for a Deity (YPM BC 016999, YBC 2407; late third millennium BC; possibly eastern Iran; 455 x 190 x 75 mm; chlorite and chalk (?))



This object is an ornamental footrest made out of chlorite or a similar stone to hold the statue of a deity. The front of the footrest is decorated with four niche inlay panels and twelve incised vertical bands. The rear long side of the footrest contains similarly decorated panels but without the white inlays. These panels evoke architectural imagery and look like the façade of a monumental structure. Because of the traces of coiffures or headdresses and of garments still visible, we can infer that the niches originally showed female figures, suggesting that the object was linked to the cult of a female deity. The top of the artifact has the shapes of two feet, or rather, sandals, incised, presumably marking the spot where the divine statue would have been placed. Even without such a statue, the footrest would have been a powerful invocation of divine presence. The shapes are each drawn with two diagonal lines and four well-hewn eyelets, perhaps outlining a sandal which would have been fastened with strings no longer extant and not depicted. It is also possible that the four eyelet marks on each foot were used to attach the statue to the footrest. Based on the size of the sandal shapes, we can estimate the statue to be not much larger than fifty centimeters in height (Foster 2012, 159–161).


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Chirmanova, Irene
image credit: Kaufman, Carl

YBC: Highlights 59 (2020-11-28)

A Temple Picked Clean (YPM BC 009599, NBC 6615; Old Assyrian period (about 2000– 1700 BC); Kültepe (ancient Kanesh), central Anatolia; 50 x 42 x 14 mm; clay)



Tens of thousands of cuneiform documents have come to light at Kültepe, the site of the Assyrian merchant colony of Kanesh in central Anatolia. Many are letters exchanged between the settlers in Kanesh and their business partners, relatives, and wives in the capital Assur and a variety of other Assyrian trade settlements. This letter was sent to the Assyrian authorities at Kanesh by Assyrians from the merchant colony at Urshu, who are deeply distressed. Their temple had been plundered, and all the precious paraphernalia of the god Assur had disappeared. The letter reads:

What never happened before (has happened now): Thieves have entered the temple of Assur, [stealing] the golden sun (disk) on Assur’s breast and Assur’s dagger. (…) (All) has been taken away. The temple has been picked clean. They left nothing. We searched for the thieves but cannot find them.

The letter provides us with important insights into how richly divine statues were decorated during the Old Assyrian period. More striking, however, is that Urshu is thus far the only place outside the city of Assur that is known to have had its own cult statue and temple of Assur. As outrageous as the crime described here seems, temples and divine statues were of course vulnerable to theft and sacrilege. Other texts show as well that divine statues in the ancient Near East were heavily adorned with golden ornaments and other precious materials, and that temples stored many valuable items, which proved tempting for lowlifes. A legal document from Achaemenid Uruk records a case in which two men, Itti-Shamash-balatu and Shamshaya, were accused of stealing from a local temple. They were caught by a temple administrator with silver they had taken from the institution’s offering stores. After unsuccessfully trying to buy his silence with some of their loot, the two were forced to return the stolen silver to the chest (Joannès 2000a, 215, no. 156). The Assur letter ends in a plea:

Our dear fathers and lords, take care of the matter there (that is, at Kanesh)!

It seems unlikely, however, that the officials at Kanesh were able to do much to help their compatriots in Urshu.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P286279

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus; Werwie, Kate
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 58 (2020-11-27)

Terracotta Plaque with Temple Façade and Seated Deity (YPM BC 038109 and YPM BC 016771; YBC 10035 and YBC 2143; Old Babylonian period (about 1900– 1600 BC); 94 x 72 x 15 and 63 × 53 × 11; clay)



These two terracotta plaques are roughly rectangular with rounded corners, containing similar motifs in low relief. They both show architectural features of a temple façade in the center, flanked by a narrow column on each side, with an attendant on the far side of the column standing at attention, with arms reaching out to touch the column. Above the façade is the horned crescent of the moon. The first plaque features a seated deity inside the temple and includes three stages of architecture with a decorative right angle cut away at each of the top corners. The second shows an empty façade with no deity inside and a simpler, two-stage design with no decorative cutaway corners. Deities in Mesopotamia, it seems, could be conceived of as visible or invisible. Barrelet (1968) suggests that a contemporary Mesopotamian viewer of the plaques would have been able to identify which particular sanctuary of his or her city was depicted, based on the architectural features included. Terracotta plaques were particularly popular during the Old Babylonian period (Opificius 1961).

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Scruton, Benjamin
image credit: Kaufman, Carl

YBC: Highlights 57 (2020-11-26)

Amulets against Lamashtu (YBC 2193; NBC 2529; YBC 13600; YBC 10196; NBC 8151; late second and early first millennia BC)



This group of stone amulets served as protection against the malevolent demoness Lamashtu, feared especially as a baby snatcher who would strangle infants with her claws or, acting as a midwife, nurse them with her venom. But she also threatened pregnant women, old people, and domestic animals (Wiggermann 2000, 231; Farber 2014, 3). Amulets against Lamashtu (also known under the Sumerian name Kamadme; see George 2018) were popular throughout much of Mesopotamian history, but especially from the late second millennium bc onward. Over time, an elaborate imagery connected to her developed, often reflecting motifs known from incantations used against her. Lamashtu was depicted as a hybrid creature with human as well as leonine, canine, and bird-like features (Götting, forthcoming). Many images emphasize her claws, ready to strangle her baby victims. Her body is almost human, in later imagery often with pronounced breasts. Her head is that of a lion or a dog, usually with a wide snout and, in later imagery, with the long ears of a donkey. A puppy and a piglet are often depicted next to her, either just sitting there or being nursed from her breasts. They were probably considered substitutes for children. Lamashtu can also hold poisonous snakes in her hands. Other motifs depicted close to Lamashtu include a spindle and a comb, which represent, on one hand, the female sphere in which Lamashtu liked to operate, while serving, on the other, as symbols of the order that had to be maintained or regained against Lamashtu’s destructive impulses. Other objects depicted next to her are provisions given to her when she was driven away. For the long journey on which she was sent, she was equipped with a donkey, which was sometimes placed in a boat so that Lamashtu would not lack the necessary means of transportation. The amulets presented here are made from different kinds of stones. Depending on the material, the execution of the images varies. Some amulets show rather crude carvings; others, deeper ones; and some are in high relief. If not fragmentary, all amulets display a protrusion on their upper part, which is pierced for hanging the amulet on a thread. The imagery on the front is often complemented by an inscription on the back. It can be a genuine text, often a shortened version of some incantation against Lamashtu or against evil forces that is attested more fully on cuneiform tablets (Finkel 1976; Farber 2014). In other cases, the signs on the back are more or less successful attempts by an illiterate person to imitate such incantations in pseudoscript. Only one amulet from the Yale group is anepigraphic.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Koubkova, Evelyne
image credit: Kaufman, Carl

YBC: Highlights 56 (2020-11-25)

An Old Assyrian Incantation against Lamashtu (YPM BC 006647, NBC 3672; Old Assyrian period (about 2000– 1700 BC); Anatolia; 34 x 37 x 14 mm; clay)



The demoness Lamashtu was one of the most terrifying evil beings to populate the imagination of the Mesopotamian people. She was primarily thought to stalk and kill infants, although she could prey on adults as well. She is often depicted as a human-animal hybrid, with the head of a lion or eagle and long claws (Wiggermann 2000, 232; Nos. 62-66). As demons go, she had a long history in Mesopotamia, and was probably one of the models, along with the lilītu demoness, of Lilith, a dangerous female figure in early Jewish folklore (Wiggermann 2000, 227-228). This short incantation focuses on the power of Lamashtu, and on her origins. The demoness is not named in the incantation but is called a daughter of the sky god Anu, an affiliation often claimed for Lamashtu in the later incantation series devoted to her removal (tablet I, lines 100, 110-113; see Farber 2014, 154–155). The Yale incantation tells us, among other things, that Anu had cast her out of heaven because of her dangerous nature (lines 1-13, translation by Farber):

There is a certain female one … She is a parching force, a female utukku demon. She is evil, (although) of divine descent, the daughter of Anu. For her malicious ideas, her chaotic spirit, her father Anu threw her out of heaven, (threw her down) to earth.

The text, written in the Old Assyrian language and script, shares many formal features with the business documents from the archives of Assyrian merchant families who were active in Anatolia during the first centuries of the second millennium BC. A few comparable tablets, including another Lamashtu text and some birth incantations, were actually found among the archival documents from the Assyrian merchant colony in Kültepe (ancient Kanesh). It seems likely that these texts had an everyday, domestic use in the family lives of the Assyrian traders. They could have functioned as scripts for remembering the incantations, as educational tools to help train young family members in cuneiform, or as protective amulets. This last idea is strengthened by the fact that one of the birth incantations from Kültepe is shaped like an amulet (Barjamovic 2015, 54, 71-72).

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P293870

credit: Beltz, Jon; Frahm, Eckart
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 55 (2020-11-24)

Cylinder Seal Showing Battles between Humans and Demons (YPM BC 037054, NCBS 157; Old Babylonian period (about 1900–1600 BC); 21 x 11 mm; hematite)



This seal features two scenes of conflict between demons and humans, the demon prevailing in one of them and the human in the other. The first scene shows an anthropomorphic figure holding a weapon in both hands and throttling his opponent, who is bent over with his hands tied on his back. The victim is wearing a divine garb and has a long tail. Above him floats a mythical goat-fish creature, representing the god Ea (Sumerian Enki). The aggressor in the other conflict scene is a demon made up of both human and animal elements. He has the head of a lion, the body of a human, the talons of a bird, and a short animal tail and is wearing a short, belted kilt. This lion-demon is opening his mouth in a roar while holding a naked human victim upside down. A god in a long open robe and a horned headdress, holding a long staff and a scimitar, is observing the demon and his victim. He is to be identified with Nergal, god of the Underworld. The scene is possibly a visualization of a seizure by disease caused by demonic interference (Black and Green 1992, 67).

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Lassen, Agnete
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 54 (2020-11-23)

Monsters Fighting (YPM BC 023720, YBC 9668; Neo-Babylonian period (626–539 BC); 25 x 11 mm; carnelian)



This intricately cut seal depicts a typical late contest scene. A centaur wearing a horned cap is hunting a rampant lion-griffin, whose head is turned back toward the centaur. The centaur’s body is that of a winged horse. Above the horse’s tail is a curled scorpion’s tail. The centaur is charging with its forelegs lifted while attempting to catch the lion-griffin. Beneath the centaur’s body is a striding lion moving in the same direction. The lion-griffin spreads its wings with his jaw opened wide. Several “filling motifs,” such as a slightly damaged crescent moon and a spade-like symbol, take up the remaining space. Among the parallels to this scene, one is found on a seal in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York (Morgan Seal 749; see also Porada 1947, 153, pl. V, fig. 14). Similar combat scenes frequently depict a bearded god standing on a scorpion-tailed lion aiming an arrow at a lion-griffin (compare objects in the British Museum [BM 119426, WAS V, 232; BM 129560, WAS V, 292]). In these depictions, the charging god is usually identified with the warrior god Ninurta (Moortgat-Correns 1988).


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 53 (2020-11-22)

Cylinder Seal Showing Pazuzu, Lulal, and Ugallu (YPM BC 026360, YBC 12601; Neo-Babylonian period (626–539 BC); 26 x 13 mm (with convex ends); blue chalcedony)



This remarkable seal shows a combination of two distinct scenes. The first is a contest scene of a fight between a hero and a rampant bull. An ostrich is below them. The bearded hero is holding a scimitar and the ear(s) of the bull. His left foot is placed on the bull’s rump. The second scene depicts the demon Pazuzu adjacent to Lulal and the lion-headed Ugallu, as well as the crescent moon and the eight-pointed star, with an outlined globe in the middle above Pazuzu. Despite its minute size—the Lulal and Ugallu pair is eight millimeters (a third of an inch) in height—the seal image is carved in an elaborately modeled style with anatomical details, with the surface patterning formed mainly with a combination of cutting wheel and drills. The magical scene with the demonic and divine figures is what makes this seal unique. There are representations of Pazuzu on a variety of artifacts, such as Lamashtu plaques, statuettes, fibulas, and so on, as well as handles on seals terminating in a Pazuzu head (Heeßel 2002, 131, nos. 36, 213; and 130, nos. 33, 212). As for depictions of Pazuzu carved on seals, however, merely one on a cylinder seal and two on stamp seals have been identified so far (Delaporte 1923, 168, no. A.701; Gabbay 2001, 151–152, no. 13, fig. 5; Niederreiter 2017, 128–129, fig. 6). Lulal and Ugallu are attested on only a couple of stamp seals and scaraboids (Delaporte 1923, 168, no. A.705; Von der Osten 1934, no. 527; Von der Osten 1936, 19–20, no. 139; Gordon 1939, 33, no. 119). This seal provides the first depiction of Lulal and Ugallu shown together with Pazuzu in glyptic art.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Niederreiter, Zoltán
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 52 (2020-11-21)

Head of the Demon Pazuzu (YPM BC 016825, YBC 2197; probably Late Babylonian period (second half of the first millennium BC); Nippur; 91 x 42 x 30 mm; clay)



This head of the demon Pazuzu was made from clay using a mold. Three Pazuzu heads from Babylon and another one from the vicinity of Ur derive from the same mold, indicating that such heads (or the molds) were occasionally brought from one Mesopotamian city to another (Heeßel 2002, 44–46). The piece displays the demon’s distinct iconography, which combines human and animal elements. A leonine face with very prominent big round eyes has at its center an open mouth showing the demon’s teeth and his tongue between them. Two horns are placed on the top of the head in the form of protrusions, starting above the forehead and running toward the back of the head. Under the demon’s chin, a beard covers parts of his wrinkled neck. As is typical for Pazuzu heads that were molded, the back of the head is neither inscribed nor worked in any specific way. For much of the first millennium bc, Pazuzu was a popular demonic figure whose fame spread across the broader Near East. Identified with a dangerous wind, he was one of the scariest superhuman creatures populating the Mesopotamian imagination, but the Babylonians and Assyrians made good use of his terrifying qualities. They used Pazuzu heads, figurines, and amulets apotropaically, to chase away other demons, especially the baby-snatching demoness Lamashtu (for which see Wiggermann 2000; Farber 2014; Nos. 61–66). Smaller Pazuzu heads of different materials were worn as amulets on clothes or around the neck, and larger representations, showing the body of the winged demon in its entirety, were displayed in houses for protection. This object is a little too big to be worn regularly by an individual, but it is pierced in its upper part for a string and might have been hung around a person’s neck temporarily. This would be in line with descriptions of the use of Pazuzu heads and figurines found in ritual texts (Heeßel 2002, 52). It is also possible that the head was hung above a bed or somewhere else in someone’s room. Pazuzu has come to play an important role in modern popular culture, among other things as the main antagonist in William P. Blatty’s horror novel The Exorcist and the film series based on it.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Koubkova, Evelyne
image credit: Kaufman, Carl

YBC: Highlights 51 (2020-11-20)

Terracotta Plaque with a “Fish-apkallu” (YPM BC 038026, YBC 10168; Neo-Assyrian period (934–612 BC); 119 x 53 x 20 mm; clay)



This plaque (shown here with similar plaques [YPM BC 038080, NBC 12099; YPM BC 038074, NBC 12097]) depicts the so-called fish-apkallu (Klengel-Brandt 1968, 35; Rittig 1977, 80–93; Wiggermann 1992, 76–79). With the appearance of a man covered with a fish-skin, this figure used to be considered a representation of a priest donned in his ceremonial garment (Rittig 1977, 90–92). However, the depiction is not a realistic representation of a man in a costume; the fish-apkallu rather seems to be a supernatural creature closely associated with Ea, the god of wisdom and purification. In this depiction, he stands in profile and has a long beard. The fish skin covers his head with a fish head, while a tail reaches along his back down to his feet. It is not possible to discern a pair of horns, which usually sit on top of the fish head and mark the being as divine. The apkallu holds a bucket in his left hand and a “bundle of rays” in his raised right hand (for parallels see IM 3320 and B 1702 in Rittig 1977, 85–86). As on other examples of this type, there is a perforation above his right hand, which could once have held something, perhaps some implement for purification. The plaque does not bear any inscription. It can be tentatively dated to the Neo-Assyrian period.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Koubkova, Evelyne
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 50 (2020-11-19)

Terracotta Plaque with a Hero (YPM BC 038025, YBC 10086; Middle or Neo-Assyrian period (about
1400–612 bc); Assur (?); 129 x 62 x 20 mm; reddish clay)



This terracotta plaque represents a mythological creature belonging to a specific repertoire of apotropaic figures that were popular during the Middle and Neo-Assyrian periods. Depicted on plaques or represented by figurines in the round, they were buried under the floors of private houses and public buildings. There they were often found in groups of symbolic numbers, contained in special brick containers, covered by a stone slab, or in pottery jars (Moorey 2005, 131). These archaeological finds can be related to ritual texts that describe the creation of such figurines and plaques, as well as their use for the protection of houses against evil influences and for inviting health and well-being for the inhabitants (Green 1983; Wiggermann 1992; Feldt 2015). This plaque (shown here with similar plaques [YPM BC 013052, NBC 10085; YPM BC 013063, NBC 10096]) depicts the so-called hero with six curls (Klengel-Brandt 1968, 19–20; Rittig 1977, 51–58), displaying his standard iconography: his upper body is shown frontally; his lower body is shown striding with one foot forward in profile; he wears a knee-long kilt with a belt from which two tassels hang down between his bare legs; he is bearded and his hair is formed into six tufted curls (which gives him his modern name); with both hands, he is holding a staff, sometimes replaced by a spade; and each of his arms bears a cuneiform inscription. The left one says “Go away, guardian of evil!” and the right one “Come in, guardian of well-being!” The placement of these inscriptions is deliberate, because in ancient Mesopotamia the left-hand side was considered negative, the right one positive. Ritual texts include detailed instructions for well-educated ritual specialists (āšipu) to create such figurines (Moorey 2005, 131), and it therefore comes as no surprise that the cuneiform inscriptions preserved on them are as standardized as their iconographic features, at least on the finds from Assur. With the exception of Ur at the time of Assyrian dominion, apotropaic plaques have so far been recovered only from Assyria and their use is not known before the Middle Assyrian period. Most likely, the plaque comes from Assur, the only site where figurines of heroes with six curls and inscriptions on their arms have been found. Based on the iconography of this and similar plaques, it might well be Middle Assyrian rather than Neo-Assyrian (Rittig 1977, 58).


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Koubkova, Evelyne
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 49 (2020-11-18)

Incantations against Evil Demons (YPM BC 004279, NBC 1307; Late Babylonian period (second half of the first millennium BC); 190 x 170 x 45 mm; clay)



This tablet belongs to a series of mostly bilingual Sumero-Akkadian incantations aimed at warding off several evil demons. The whole series, known in Sumerian as Udug-hul and in Akkadian as Utukkū lemnūtu, encompassed sixteen tablets in total (Geller 2016, 3). Most manuscripts date to the first millennium BC, but Sumerian precursors reach as far back as the third millennium BC (Geller 1985).

The main purpose of the series was to treat a patient who was in physical or psychological distress. Demons were considered one of the main causes of illness, which is why Udug-hul enjoyed great popularity. The ritual healer responsible for reciting the incantations had to make sure that the evil demons would abandon not only the patient’s body but also his house and its wider environment (Geller 2016, 4). In contrast to other incantation series, there is no separate tablet known that would have been devoted to accompanying ritual instructions, although hints about the performance of ritual acts are included in the wording of the incantations themselves.

This tablet represents the twelfth section of the series, which includes a good deal of information on such ritual matters. The text starts with a recurring theme, a conversation between Ea, the god of wisdom, and his son Marduk, who is eventually sent by his father to help the patient. Ea’s speech alludes to many of the ritual acts the healer was supposed to perform. After an offering and an invocation of the patient’s personal deity and the sun god Shamash, the healer apparently had to make use of a scapegoat, described as a black goat, a knobbly horned sheep, or a mountain goat with a multicolored face. The scapegoat was supposed to absorb everything evil from the patient’s body so that the purified patient could regain the protection of his personal deity. The goat
was tied to the sickbed, eventually sacrificed, and its dead body laid on top of the patient. This rather drastic procedure was combined with more common practices such as fumigations, the sounding of a copper bell to frighten off the demons, the tying of colorful cords to the patient’s bed, and the encircling of the sickbed, which was made of pure reeds, with a magical, impenetrable circle of flour and other substances. The patient’s body was massaged with ghee and milk, substances considered pure and protective. In addition, seven figurines were formed, given names, and positioned at the patient’s head to guard him, while another two figurines were placed on the threshold of his house. In the end, it was hoped, all the demons would have been forced to head back to the netherworld, and the patient would have emerged from the ritual purified and protected.

The wide applicability of many of the magical incantations used in Mesopotamia against demons and other evil creatures explains the significant overlap of parts of Udug-hul with other ritual texts. Tablet 12, for example, shares material with the Bīt mēseri ritual series (Wiggermann 1992, 113–114).

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P297207

credit: Koubkova, Evelyne
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 48 (2020-11-17)

Thousands of Gods (YPM BC 016994, YBC 2401; Middle Assyrian period, late thirteenth century BC; Assur; 305 x 395 x 46 mm; clay)



Lists of deities were first compiled in the mid third millennium BC, at sites such as Shuruppak (Fara) and Abu Salabikh. Like lists of names and other lexical texts, they played an important role in early Mesopotamian scholarship. Over time, some god lists grew into large compendia and were eventually standardized in tablet series.

This tablet was written in late thirteenth century BC Assur. At this time the Assyrian capital, situated on the western bank of the Tigris, was a bustling political, religious, and cultural center, where not only Assyrians but also scribes and scholars from Babylonia were active, copying scholarly and literary texts for their own or official manuscript collections (see Wiggermann 2008; Wagensonner 2011). Some of the Babylonian tablets found at Assur might have been brought there by Assyrian troops as part of the booty they had taken when conquering Babylonia and its capital Babylon under Tukulti-Ninurta I (reigned 1233–1197 BC).

The Yale god list was copied from “old tablets” that may have come from Babylonia as well. Its scribe, a certain Kidin-Sin, is also known from a famous copy of a bilingual creation myth found at Assur (KAR 4). More notably still, a duplicate of the Yale god list found among the tablets of Assurbanipal’s library at Nineveh likewise mentions Kidin-Sin in its colophon. Apparently, though, this tablet, now in the British Museum, is a much later copy prepared by one of Assurbanipal’s scholars, with the name of the earlier scribe copied as well (Beaulieu 1992, 72, n. 19). Whoever exactly was responsible for it copied it from “a big tablet” (dubgallu), quite possibly the very tablet presented here.

The text is a long inventory of more than two thousand deities, their consorts, and divine personnel. It starts with the sky god An and is divided into various sections (so-called tablets) forming a series. Kidin-Sin included summaries between the sections that numbered them and specified the number of entries for each. The left column often contains a Sumerian divine name, and the right column may provide the corresponding Akkadian name or specify the particular function of the god in question. The way the list organizes the divine realm mirrors closely the structures of large households and royal bureaucracies in ancient Mesopotamia.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P507554

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 47 (2020-11-16)

Divine Ishtar (YPM BC 038108, NBC 12332; Neo-Assyrian period (934–612 BC); 34 x 15 mm; chalcedony)



This seal depicts a goddess with an uplifted hand and a headdress, encircled by a nimbus of rays representing her melammu, or awesome radiance. A bearded worshipper faces the goddess, wearing a simple long tunic and presenting an offering, a fish, on a table. Above the male figure’s raised hand is a star, a symbol of Ishtar, and behind it are the “seven dots” representing the Pleiades. Behind the male figure, the symbols of Nabu, a wedge or stylus, and of Sin, a tasseled crescent, are on a raised podium. Behind the goddess are two rhombs. Although the exact significance of this symbol is uncertain, its appearance in art is often associated with Ishtar; but the rhomb seems also to have served as a marker that a deity depicted on a seal was the seal owner’s personal god or goddess (Black and Green 1992, 153; Seidl 2006–2008).


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Machado, Rachel
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 46 (2020-11-15)

Warrior Ishtar and the Sun God (YPM BC 037115, NCBS 218; Old Babylonian period (about 1900–1600 BC); 31 x 17 mm; hematite)



Four figures are pictured on this seal, one of whom is the goddess Ishtar. She stands at the far right of the scene (remembering that the impression on clay mirrors the depicted seal surface here) wearing a horned cap and a long, open skirt, with quivers strapped to her back. She is pictured with a lion, her animal, on which she rests her foot. She holds a double-headed mace in her right hand and a sword in the other. She is the only one of the four figures depicted facing forward, gazing out at the viewer. Approaching her is a second figure, a king who wears a rounded cap and short tunic and holds a mace across his waist. On the other side of the king, the ascending sun god Shamash is approached by a minor goddess. To the side of the figures is a three-line inscription, following the common composition of seals that place worshippers or deities next to a seal legend. The inscription includes the name of the seal owner, his patronym, and the god of whom he was a “servant.” The deities on the seal, Ishtar and Shamash, are the two most commonly depicted great gods in Old Babylonian glyptic.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Machado, Rachel
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 45 (2020-11-14)

A Love Song from Inanna for Dumuzi (YPM BC 013883, NBC 10923; Old Babylonian period (about 1900–1600 BC); 110 x 69 x 31 mm; clay)



Love poetry is a well attested and particularly lively genre within Sumerian literature. Much of it has the form of dialogues between the divine couple Inana, the goddess of love and war, and Dumuzi, the youthful shepherd who was her lover. Elaborate metaphors and flowery language abound in these texts. Some of the poems may even have been performed, with the king taking the place of Dumuzi and some priestess that of Inanna. Parts of the compositions are written in a dialect or sociolect of Sumerian primarily used by women.

The tablet presented here contains two so-called balbale-songs in which Inanna praises her fiancé Dumuzi. This song type is closely associated with love lyrics (Shehata 2009, 293–297). The first song, which covers most of the tablet’s obverse, is also known from other Nippur and Ur sources. The song starts off with a group of women comparing “[their] brother” to several authority figures, such as the “captain of a barge,” “the commander of a chariot,” and “our city’s elder and judge.” He is a beloved “son-in-law” who is favored by their fathers and mothers. Eventually, the speech switches to Inanna, who celebrates the impending arrival of Dumuzi to her house and bed: “Your coming hither is life. Your entering the house is abundance” (lines 13–14). As suggested by the number of speakers, the song was probably meant to be performed by several singers. The second song deals with Dumuzi encountering Inanna. A third party asks her: “What did the brother say to you, and speak to you? He of the loving heart and most sweet charms offered you a gift, my holy Inanna. As I looked in that direction, my beloved man met you, he fell in love with you, and he delighted in you alone. The brother brought you into his house and had you lie down on a bed dripping with honey” (lines 4–11). The text then describes the lovemaking between the divine couple.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P286260

credit: Tang, Sergio; Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 44 (2020-11-13)

Inana and the First Author (YPM BC 018721, YPM BC 021234, and YPM BC 021231; YBC 4656, YBC 7169, and YBC 7167; Old Babylonian period (about 1900–1600 BC); probably Larsa; 95 x 53 x 25, 98 x 57 x 29, and 98 x 54 x 28 mm; clay)



The first recorded author in world history was a woman by the name of Enḫedu'ana. She was the daughter of Sargon of Akkad (about 2334–2279 BC), a king who unified large parts of western Asia under one rule after defeating several other polities. Sargon installed Enḫedu'ana as en-priestess of the moon god Nanna in Ur, where she apparently composed a significant number of religious texts. The later scribal tradition considers her the author of a collection of hymns addressed to various temples as well as several works praising the goddess of love and war, Inanna. One of these praise songs is inscribed on the three tablets presented here, which were written roughly half a millennium after Enḫedu'ana’s lifetime. Read in sequence, the tablets contain the entire text of a composition today known as the Exaltation of Inanna or Inanna B. Ancient literati, however, referred to it by its incipit as nin-me-šár-ra, “Lady of all divine powers.” Manuscripts of this composition, which was quite popular in the first half of the second millennium BC, originate mainly, but not exclusively, from Nippur, Ur, and Kish. The text refers to Sargon’s daughter several times, highlighting her devotion to the goddess: “Let me, Enḫedu'ana, recite a prayer for you. Let me give to you, holy Inanna, free vent to my tears like sweet beer!” (lines 81–83). Although tablets inscribed with extracts from literary compositions were usually the work of apprentice scribes who had to write down short passages from memory, the three Yale tablets were certainly written by a more advanced scribe. The first tablet contains lines 1–51 of the composition; the second, lines 52–102; and the third, lines 102–122. At the end, the scribe was running out of space and needed to squeeze in the final lines on the left edge. Unfortunately, this scribe did not leave a name on any of the tablets. Tablet “series” such as this are quite rare in the textual record of early Mesopotamia, and are hardly ever in such a pristine state of preservation. Modern editions of ancient literary works often have to rely on many different and fragmentary sources from different places and dating to different periods.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entries: P305859, P308150 & P308149

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 43 (2020-11-12)

Mace Head Dedicated to Gilgamesh (YPM BC 016772, YBC 2144; Early Dynastic IIIb period (about 2540–2350 BC); possibly Girsu; 50 x 80 mm; limestone)



Carved from limestone, this votive stone mace head contains one of the earliest references to the legendary king and hero Gilgamesh. The short inscription reads: Nimgir-eshatum dedicated (this object) to Gilgamesh. Judging from the style of the cuneiform script and the name of the benefactor, the mace head can be roughly dated to the mid third millennium BC, probably ED IIIb (Edzard 1959, 24). As indicated by his presence in the ED IIIa god list from Fara (ca. 2600 BC), Gilgamesh was deified quite early (Krebernik 1986, 182). He was soon widely venerated, and there are several other surviving examples of mace heads from the Early Dynastic period dedicated to the divine monarch (Braun-Holzinger 1991, K 16 and K 18; Krebernik 1994). During the ED IIIb period, there is also evidence for a cult of Gilgamesh situated in Lagash. Offerings were made to him at a place called the “Riverbank of Gilgamesh” during a festival for the goddess Baba (Cohen 1993a, 54–55). The festival involved offerings to the deceased rulers and notables of Lagash before a statue of Gilgamesh. The worship of Gilgamesh in this context was probably related to his role in allowing the dead to partake in the offerings, and his association with the proper rites for the deceased (George 2003, 124).


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P304563

credit: Tang, Sergio
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 42 (2020-11-11)

Two Humbaba Masks (YPM BC 038065 and YPM BC 007441, YBC 10066 and NBC 4465; Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900–1600 BC); 91 x 79 and 100 x 78 mm; clay)



These terracotta masks represent the giant Humbaba (or Huwawa). In Mesopotamian mythology, Humbaba was the guardian of the sacred Cedar Forest. He is commonly depicted with a monstrous face with wide, staring eyes, a toothy grimace, and a bushy moustache. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the story’s two main characters, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, embark on a quest for glory and fame. Their journey brings them to the Cedar Forest where they fight and ultimately kill Humbaba. When the triumphant duo finally return home, they place Humbaba’s decapitated head at the entrance to the city’s temple as a guardian against evil. Humbaba masks such as these were probably hung on the walls of homes and temples to serve a similar protective function (Moorey 2005, 95). The holes on either side of one of the masks show how the plaque could be suspended by a string. Humbaba was also associated with extispicy, a form of divination that involved reading the future in the internal organs of sacrificed animals. Some of the masks feature inscriptions that associate Humbaba’s terrifying facial features with intestines and other entrails (Moorey 2005, 94).

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Werwie, Katherine
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 41 (2020-11-10)

Gilgamesh and the Cedar Forest (YPM BC 016806, YBC 2178; Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900–1600 BC); Larsa (?); 226 x 170 x 37 mm; clay)



Stories about Gilgamesh were first composed in the Sumerian language and copied by scribal trainees in the schools of the Old Babylonian period. The earliest Gilgamesh narratives in Akkadian are likewise from this time. The tablet presented here is one of them. Its story line runs parallel with tablets II and III of the much later Standard Babylonian epic, which is known from more than a hundred sources from first millennium BC Babylonia and Assyria. The Yale tablet was part of a literary composition referred to as “Surpassing All Kings.” It is preceded by a tablet now in Philadelphia that deals with Gilgamesh’s dreams, their interpretation, and the upbringing of Enkidu, who was to become, first, Gilgamesh’s rival, and then his friend. Both tablets have little clay lumps attached to their edges, a unique feature whose purpose is still debated. The Yale tablet describes how Gilgamesh and his companion Enkidu prepared for a campaign to the Cedar Forest, that was guarded by a monster called Huwawa (later Humbaba). The text has great poetic power, not least because of its use of many daring metaphors. An example is how it characterizes Huwawa’s terrifying appearance, in lines 110–112: “His voice is the deluge, his speech is fire, and his breath is death.”

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P273176

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 40 (2020-11-09)

The Ideal King (YPM BC 038107, YBC 8418; Persian period (539–331 BC); 25 x 11 mm; chalcedony)



This cylinder seal belonged to a royal official whose name is given in the Aramaic inscription on the artifact. It is one of several seals owned by officials that feature the king in combat with human or animal adversaries (Garrison & Root 2001, no. 22; WAS VI, no. 46). The pose featured on this one, where the king grips wild animals and renders them helpless, is known as that of the “master of beasts” or “master of animals” (for other examples, see WAS VI, nos. 17, 25, 26, 30, 40 & 52). It had a long prehistory before the Persian kings used it. Use of this and similar seals by royal officials would convey the king’s authority and power over the natural world in every document on which they were impressed. The inscription in Aramaic on the seal follows a common formula: “Seal of” plus personal name, but the name is difficult to decipher. The Aramaic signs can be understood as ˀDD, ˀDR, ˀRD, or ˀRR, but none of these readings yields a name known from contemporary Aramaic onomastics. The element ˀDR, which means “mighty, great, powerful” (Hoftijzer & Jongeling 1995, 17-19), appears in several Phoenician names (Benz 1972, 59-60), and the name ˀDR appears in an inscription on the lid of an urn from Sousse (ancient Hadrumetum) in Tunisia (Chabot 1914, no. 595), but that does not settle the matter. It is also possible that the name is Persian, as are many of the names attested on these types of seals. In that case, the name might be derived from the Iranian term r.da- (“prosperity”) or adri- (“rock”), but these are otherwise unattested as names in a form matching this text (Tavernier 2007, 562, 547). A similar writing, ˀRDY, appears on a Persian period signet ring and has been tentatively interpreted as the name “Aridai” (Bordreuil 1986, no. 35), but this remains uncertain as well. Aramaic was used by the royal bureaucracy across the vast Persian empire. It is clear from the uniform grammar and script of texts from various locations that a standard dialect and standardized sign forms had been created for this purpose (Stolper 2005, 21).


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Beltz, Jonathan; Chirmanova, Irene
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 39 (2020-11-08)

A Case of lèse-majesté (YPM BC 018015, YBC 3950; Persian period, April 526 BC; Uruk; 59 x 89 x 24 mm; clay)



Records of legal proceedings provide glimpses into the lives of a class of people not ordinarily recorded in Mesopotamian texts. This particular clay tablet documents a case in which a group of four men incarcerated in the prison of the Eanna temple in Uruk report a fellow prisoner named Dummuqu for “pronouncing treasonous words against the king (the Persian ruler Cambyses) inside the prison.” The tablet records the names of all of the men involved and specifies that they were temple slaves. One of them served as a laundryman. The text also provides short descriptions, not all preserved, of the crimes for which they were imprisoned— two of the men had been arrested during an attempted escape, while the laundryman had been taken into custody two years after he had fled from his post. In addition to recording widespread dissatisfaction among the lowest strata of Mesopotamian society during the early Persian period, the tablet also helps us understand some aspects of the structure of the legal system in place at this time. After listing the prisoners’ identities and the crimes of which they were accused, the tablet calls for all five prisoners to be delivered in chains to the capital in Babylon, where their case would be heard by the governor. We see here a distinction between types of crimes. Cases involving domestic infractions, labor disputes, and escaped slaves were considered minor enough to be handled locally. Treason, in contrast, was a serious enough offense that it needed to be handled by the central government. Indeed, by this period, offenses against the king were some of the few crimes that were punished physically rather than through the payment of fines (Joannès 2000b, 31). It is interesting to note that Dummuqu’s words were considered to be so threatening that the writer of the tablet chose not to record them.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P305262

credit: Werwie, Katherine
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 38 (2020-11-07)

Treason and Revolt in a Letter to Esarhaddon (YPM BC 025176, YBC 11382; Neo-Assyrian period, reign of Esarhaddon, probably 671 BC; Nineveh (?); 77 x 39 x 18 mm; clay)



Yesterday's inscription of King Esarhaddon claims that his rule was universally accepted after he had defeated his faithless brothers in 680 BC. In truth, opposition against the king continued. Letters from the Assyrian “state archives” in Nineveh indicate that several high officials in Nineveh and Harran, major Assyrian cities, were involved in acts of high treason against Esarhaddon. They received ideological support from diviners and female prophets who criticized the regime. This cuneiform letter, written to the king by an internal informer named Nabu-ushallim, talks about yet another conspiracy against Esarhaddon, instigated by Abda, the overseer of the city of Assur, and initially supported by 120 elite soldiers with whom the disloyal official had made a secret pact. This time, the justification for the insurrection came from a dream in which Abda had seen a young child rising from a tomb and handing him a staff, apparently a symbol of power. Nabu-ushallim’s letter begins with remarks identifying him as an “eye and ear” of the king (lines 1-2, 4-9 & 10-12): “To the king my lord, your servant Nabu-ushallim. May (the gods) Assur and Shamash give long days to the king my lord. … (People) are trying to kill me without the king (knowing about it). Because of what I see and hear and betray to the king my lord, because of this, many people hate me and are plotting to kill me. … And now, they have (even) seized me without (the knowledge) of the king my lord. … They have made the whole palace angry with me, saying, ‘No one must receive a letter from him and give it to the king; no one must listen to his words’.” Abda’s attempts to prevent Nabu-ushallim from reporting his treacherous activities to the king failed, however. The conspiracies in Assur, Nineveh, and Harran were smashed, and, according to the Babylonian Chronicle, Esarhaddon had many untrustworthy officials executed early in 670 BC in a massive purge.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P311556

credit: Frahm, Eckart
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 37 (2020-11-06)

Esarhaddon the Conqueror (YPM BC 029482, YBC 16224; Neo-Assyrian period, reign of Esarhaddon (673–672 BC); Nineveh; 92 x 66 x 32 mm; clay)



This fragment of a hexagonal clay prism, inscribed in the name of the Assyrian king Esarhaddon (reigned 680-669 BC), is known from several fully preserved duplicates (Leichty 2011, 9-10). The text describes the king’s military campaigns and building activities, but is most famous for an unusual account of his rise to power. In it, Esarhaddon reports that his father Sennacherib had nominated him crown prince even though he was a younger son, whereupon some of his elder brothers conspired against him, in a way reminiscent of the biblical Joseph story, and drove him into exile in an undisclosed location in the West. After the brothers had done “evil things”—a veiled allusion to the fact that they had murdered Sennacherib—Esarhaddon returned with a small army to the Assyrian capital Nineveh, defeated the regicides, and ascended to the throne with the support of the gods and the Assyrian people, to rule uncontested forever after. The fragment presented here covers Esarhaddon’s attempts to pacify the Arabs (who had become major political actors with the domestication of the camel around 1000 BC) and the Medes (who would later play an instrumental role in the collapse of the Assyrian empire). It also includes portions of the king’s account of his work on a new palace and arsenal on the mound of Nebi Yunus in Nineveh. (After the liberation of Mosul from the Islamic State group in 2017, archaeologists have begun to explore the site of this palace.)


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P450394

credit: Frahm, Eckart
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 36 (2020-11-05)

Door sockets in ancient Mesopotamia



CDLI records nearly 250 stone door sockets inscribed with royal inscriptions that might range from ten to as many as fifty lines. Like this artifact of the Old Akkadian king Naramsin, the inscriptions as a rule praised the king and his military and construction achievements, and concluded with a curse of any subsequent ruler who dares to undo or merely damage the monumental building commemorated in the text.




CDLI entry: P505975

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 35 (2020-11-04)

Nebuchadnezzar the Builder (YPM BC 016866, YBC 2243; Neo-Babylonian period, reign of Nebuchadnezzar II (605–562 BC); probably Marad (modern Tell Wannat as-Sadun); 223 x 112-116 mm; clay)



This hollow clay object has a long inscription by the Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II. The object is usually classified as a cylinder, even though its diameter decreases toward the right-hand side. It has been suggested that clay cylinders like this may have been intended to stand on their right sides, which would mean that their inscriptions would have been read vertically. This direction of reading was not uncommon for earlier royal inscriptions and might reflect the archaizing tendencies of the period (see Studevent-Hickman 2007, 500). Although this cylinder is unprovenienced, duplicates found in their original place of deposition suggest that it was buried within a wall or as part of a foundation deposit in the temple of the god Lugal-Marada in Marad. The inscription covers three columns and follows the standard four- part structure of Neo-Babylonian royal inscriptions. The first section identifies and glorifies the king, along with titles, epithets, and the name of his father. The second part provides some background information for the subsequent, main section of the text, which details (as do most Neo-Babylonian royal inscriptions) an extensive building project undertaken by the king, in this case the construction of the Lugal-Marada temple. The report includes an interesting note on the king’s successful search for the temple’s earlier foundations:

As for Lugal-Marada, my lord, whose temple is in Marad and whose ancient foundation platform no former king had seen since the days of old, at that time I looked for and found its ancient foundation platform, and upon the platform of King Naram-Sin, my ancient ancestor, I fixed its (new) foundations. I created an inscription written in my name and put it therein.

It is not impossible that Nebuchadnezzar (or rather his workmen) had encountered in the course of the temple reconstruction a round door socket now in the Yale Babylonian Collection that bears an inscription of Naram-Sin (reigned 2211–2175 BC). Left there some sixteen hundred years earlier, it describes the building of the temple of Lugal-Marada by Naram-Sin’s son Lipit-ili, who was then governor of Marad. The inscription concludes with a blessing, as well as an appeal that the god Lugal-Marada destroy the enemies of the king.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P505975

credit: Scruton, Benjamin; Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 34 (2020-11-03)

Letter from Nebuchadnezzar II concerning Work Done by the Temple (YPM BC 021530, YBC 7464; Neo-Babylonian period, reign of Nebuchadnezzar II (605–562 BC); Uruk; 55 x 30 x 16 mm; clay)



This tablet contains a brief message sent by the Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II to three administrators of the Eanna temple in Uruk, Ninurta-sharru-usur, Nadin, and Marduk-etir. The first twelve lines of the twenty-one line letter are formulaic greetings: the letter assures the recipients that the king and his troops are doing well, conveys to them the blessings of the main gods of Babylon, Marduk and Nabu, and states that the recipients’ hearts should be happy. The main message of the letter, echoed in a few other Nebuchadnezzar missives, is that the addressees are not to neglect their work. The Akkadian word dullu used to designate “work” refers both to religious rituals and to the manifold economic activities undertaken by Babylonian temples. The king concludes his letter by requesting that the addressees not keep him uninformed but write to him “whatever concerns and ideas you might have.” Nebuchadnezzar II is one of the most famous of Mesopotamian kings, not least because he conquered Jerusalem and was responsible for the “Babylonian exile” of the Judeans, events prominently featured in the Hebrew Bible.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P308408

credit: Scruton, Benjamin
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 33 (2020-11-02)

Cylinder Seal with Audience Scene (YPM BC 006261, NBC 3288; Old Babylonian period (about 1900–1600 BC); 22 x 12 mm; lapis lazuli)



This minute cylinder seal shows the seal owner in a long robe, with shaved head and hands clasped in front of him. He is accompanied by a goddess in flounced garb and with horned headdress, which shows her to be divine. The seal owner, Azia, whose name is written in front of him in cuneiform, is in audience with a seated king who holds a cup in his hand. Behind the king, a lion and bull-man are wrestling in a contest scene.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Lassen, Agnete
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 32 (2020-11-01)

Letter from King Hammurabi concerning a Land Dispute (YPM BC 023958, YBC 9959; Old Babylonian period, reign of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC); Larsa; 85 x 51 x 27 mm; clay)



Although cuneiform letters from the third millennium BC do exist, the first known letter corpora that are really substantial date to the early second millennium. They originate both from Mesopotamia proper and from Anatolia. The tablet here is one of many letters written by the famous lawgiver Hammurapi (1792–1750 BC according to the conventional Middle Chronology), or rather one of his secretaries. Hammurapi letters came onto the antiquities market in the early twentieth century AD and were dispersed to various museum collections, with the two largest groups eventually ending up at the Louvre in Paris and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford (Kraus 1968). Hammurapi’s letters deal with both matters of state and personal affairs, and show him to be a ruler who was deeply involved in daily business. One very substantial dossier within Hammurapi’s letter corpus concerns an official named Shamash-hazir and the land surrounding Larsa that he was charged with administering, an important region in the south conquered by the king in 1763 BC. Many of the letters Hammurapi sent to Shamash-hazir deal with matters of land ownership and agricultural work (Fiette 2018). In this letter the king writes to his official (lines 4-10):

The shepherd Issinabu, a man from Mashkan-shapir, informed me as follows, saying: ‘a field of 18 hectar ... Shamash-hazir, son of Kimannum, gave to the city governor Adi-anniam.’ Thus he informed me. The field of the shepherd, the one who pays the tax, was taken away and given to the city governor. Is what you have done (really) appropriate? Now I have sent said Issinabu to you. Decide his case. Return his field to him. No obligation beyond his tax should arise.

Hammurapi, so well-known for his laws, in this letter lives up to his image as the “just king.” He emphasizes how poorly the humble shepherd had been treated and requests his official to render the case in his favor.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P293786

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 31 (2020-10-31)

Letter from Ramesses II to the Hittite King Hattushili III (YPM BC 006909, NBC 3934; Mid-thirteenth century BC; Hattusha; 141 x 63 x 32 mm; clay)



This diplomatic letter was sent by the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II to the Hittite king Hattushili III (about 1267-1237 BC). It belongs to an important body of royal correspondence between Egypt and the land of Hatti, which was uncovered in the Hittite capital Hattusha in central Anatolia. The correspondence is composed in the Babylonian dialect of Akkadian, the diplomatic lingua franca of the ancient Near East during this period. Only the right half of the tablet is preserved, but many portions of the text can be fully restored thanks to the repetitive phraseology of the genre. The letter was written a few years after Egypt and Hatti had concluded a peace treaty, the first international treaty of its kind (Klengel 2002, 75-93).

The path toward this treaty was thorny. The two great empires’ conflicting ambitions to control the Levant had eventually led, in 1274 BC, to the famous battle of Qadesh, which ended for the Egyptians with a stalemate at best. In the aftermath of the battle, Ramesses II was obliged to acknowledge his Hittite colleague as an equal. For Hattushili, who had made his way to the throne by removing his own nephew Urhi-Teshub from that position, the treaty meant an acknowledgment of his legitimacy as king (Klengel 2002, 55-74). It is in this historical framework that we must understand the rhetoric of brotherhood regularly found in the correspondence between Ramesses and Hattushili (Goetze 1947b, 250-251). Although the two probably never met in person, they kept exchanging flattering words, precious gifts, and (even though the Egyptians were more reluctant in this regard) women of royal blood. When Ramesses II, one of the longest reigning pharaohs in Egyptian history, was in his fifties, he actually married one of Hattushili’s daughters (Klengel 2002, 104-107, 121-143). The letter at hand provides, among other things, evidence for the great interest the Hittite kings showed for Egyptian physicians and their healing practices (Edel 1976, 31-53; Klengel 2002, 143-144). Whereas Egyptian medicine reached back as far as the third millennium BC and was renowned far and wide, there is no evidence for a longstanding medical tradition among the Hittites (Edel 1976, 38-41). Hattushili III requested medical help from Egypt on multiple occasions, both for others and to cure his own illness, which had been, according to our letter, caused by a demon. The illness might have been an affliction of the eyes we know Hattushili suffered from (Edel 1976, 44-45). After he had left three previous missives unanswered, Ramesses finally sent a positive response and announced that he had dispatched, along with medicinal plants, a physician, and a second person by the name of Leya, who might have been an incantation priest charged with performing magical rituals to dispel the demon thought to be the cause of the illness (Edel 1976, 46).

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P293778

credit: Koubkova, Evelyne
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 30 (2020-10-30)

An Old Assyrian Smuggler (YPM BC 004658, NBC 1685; Old Assyrian period, first half of the nineteenth century BC; probably Kültepe; 66 x 53 x 20 mm; clay)



If taxes seem inevitable, so do ways of getting around them. Tax evasion and smuggling are nothing new. In the early second millennium BC, merchants from the city of Assur maintained an elaborate trade network in which they brought tin and textiles to the central regions of modern day Turkey in exchange for gold and silver. They signed trade agreements with local Anatolian rulers in which these rulers collected import taxes and maintained toll roads.

Assyrian traders found two ways around these taxes to maximize their profits: they either bypassed toll routes by taking less traveled (and more dangerous) paths (Barjamovic 2011a, 169-180), or smuggled goods into a city without declaring them at the palace when they entered, so that the ruler would not seize a certain portion of them (Veenhof 1972, 305-306, 309). This text is a letter from a merchant named Buzazu to his associates in another city. He informs them of a lucrative market for tin in the town where he is staying and urges that they quickly send as much tin as they can. The main road between the city where he is staying and their city passes one major town. To cut down on the overhead, he tells them to bypass that town by an obscure route if it is safe or else smuggle the tin through the town. Either they can hire locals to help, or the merchants themselves can hide smaller bundles of tin in their undergarments. In either case, to minimize losses if a shipment is seized en route, they should smuggle no more than one talent of tin (about thirty kilograms) at a time. At the end of the day, however, Buzazu got cold feet. Another letter by him, now in the British Museum (CCT 6, 22a), calls the whole operation off (French translation in Michel 2001, no. 177).

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P290540

credit: Beltz, Jon
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 29 (2020-10-29)

A Prison Break (YPM BC 021009, YBC 6943; Persian period, January 529 BC; Uruk; 61 x 86 x 25 mm; clay)



Mesopotamian prisons, although not exactly like their modern counterparts, shared some important features with them (Reid 2016). They served, on the one hand, as places where suspects and convicted criminals were detained, but they were also considered manifestations of the womb of the goddess Nungal, from which prisoners, having completed their sentences, were expected to emerge corrected and “reborn.”

The actual conditions in Mesopotamian prisons, however, were often grimmer than such lofty theological justifications implied. The tablet presented here, from early Persian Uruk, records a failed prison break, undertaken by a certain Nargiya and his companion Shamash-bel-kullati, a temple servant who had been incarcerated for spending most of his time in local bars and failing to show up for work. According to the tablet, the two had incapacitated a prison guard by nearly strangling him to death, and had then tried to escape from their prison cell, located in the Eanna temple, by cutting a hole into the wall with an iron chisel smuggled into the prison by a female servant of Shamash-bel-kullati’s father. Before managing to escape they were both apprehended. The tablet points out that the chisel, brought to the legal assembly in a sealed package, was used by the judges in charge of the case as evidence. A verdict is not recorded.

The tablet is not the only record of a failed prison break from Late Babylonian Uruk. Another document describes a case in which a man, who had been incarcerated in the Eanna temple for stealing a sacred duck from a meal prepared for the goddess Ishtar, had killed the prison warden and tried to flee by jumping from the roof of the temple. Unfortunately for him, he broke his hip and was caught (Kleber & Frahm 2006).

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P307957

credit: Frahm, Eckart
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 28 (2020-10-28)

Cylinder Seal Showing the Sun God (YPM BC 037969, NBC 12229; Old Akkadian period (about 2350–2150 BC); 30 x 16 mm; clay)



This Old Akkadian cylinder seal represents the sun god Shamash (Sumerian Utu), who is easily recognizable by the rays of light emanating from his shoulders. As the sun illuminates and shines on everything on earth, Shamash was considered the all-seeing god of justice, able to deliver fair verdicts. For that reason, he is depicted opposite the king on the famous Hammurapi law stela. The people of ancient Mesopotamia believed that the sun god passed through the underworld in his boat every night, carrying a mace and a jagged saw to cut his way through the mountains at the eastern horizon. This seal depicts the sun god already ascending with one foot on a hill and entering the gate of dawn. There are two female attendants opening the gate for him. Both the sun god and the attendants have bovine horns on their headdresses, a typical way of marking them as divine. Significant changes in politics and society during the Old Akkadian period also had an influence on art, triggering, among other things, changes in the style and thematic repertoire of cylinder seals. Seals were now carved in deeper relief, with a better sense of balance and dynamics and an emphasis on detail. Different stones were used, but serpentine was the most common. The detailed depiction of deities was another innovation of the Akkad period (Collon 2005, 32–35). Representations of the sun god rising from the netherworld belong to the most popular motifs on cylinder seals from this time.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

credit: Koubkova, Evelyne
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 27 (2020-10-27)

Fragments of Hittite Laws (YPM BC 014649 and YPM BC 014662, NBC 11803 and NBC 11816; Hittite, New Kingdom period (about 1430–1180 bc); probably Hattusha (Boghazköy); 6 x 6 x 2 and 7 x 8 x 2 mm; clay)



The two small fragments presented here are manuscripts of a collection of Hittite laws. The Hittites were a people speaking an Indo-European language that settled in Anatolia in the first half of the second millennium BC. Their laws were most probably based on precedents, eventually collected and systematically organized. The collection was then divided into two series named by their first words, “If a man” and “If a vine.” The laws are phrased in the third person singular, as so-called case laws (“If a person/someone …”). The earliest known version of the Hittite laws (which refers occasionally to even older legal practices) comes from the Old Hittite period (about 1650–1500 BC).

The laws continued to be copied throughout Hittite history, usually without major changes except for attempts to modernize their language. One of the later manuscripts, however, revises the laws more substantially, with a tendency toward less severe punishments (Roth 1997, 214–216). The two fragments from the Yale Babylonian Collection date to the Hittite New Kingdom period (ca. 1430–1180 BC). Although only parts of a few lines (six and five, respectively) are preserved on each fragment, it is possible to identify the laws recorded. The first fragment contains portions of paragraphs 145 and 146, which concern wages and sales, the second portions of paragraphs 163 and 164, which deal with the improper disposal of ritual materials and the unintentional breaking of sacred objects (Roth 1997, 232–233).

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entries: P286151 & P286163

credit: Beltz, Jon; Frahm, Eckart; Koubkova, Evelyne
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 26 (2020-10-26)

Assyrian Palace Edicts concerning Royal Women (YPM BC 021212, YBC 7148; Middle Assyrian period, reign of Tiglath-pileser I (1114–1076 BC); Assur; 92 x 85 x 10 mm; clay)



This fragment of a collection of edicts is one of nine such documents known today. These nine documents are extraordinary, as they provide a rare glimpse into the lives and treatment of Mesopotamian royal women or, more specifically, the royal concubines who lived in the palace of the Assyrian king in Assur during the Middle Assyrian period. The edicts, issued by various Assyrian rulers, betray a preoccupation with maintaining the strict inviolability of these women and the “Inner Quarters” where they resided. For example, one regulation requires male palace personnel to maintain a specific distance when in the presence of the women, or they could risk harsh corporal punishment, including the amputation of limbs. The fragment at hand includes stipulations prohibiting palace women from giving gold, silver, or precious stones to palace slaves and regulating the lives of palace personnel and royal women when the king was travelling (Roth 1997, 198–200).


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P308137

credit: Chirmanova, Irene
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 25 (2020-10-25)

A Tablet Inscribed with Hammurabi's Laws (YPM BC 020582, YBC 6516; Old Babylonian period (about 1900–1600 BC); 85 x 50 x 21 mm; clay)



On this tablet portions of three columns of writing are preserved. They contain various stipulations related to marriage and inheritance from the famous laws of Hammurabi. The law included in the middle column of the fragment, for instance, illuminates the legal status of children female slaves had with their masters (Roth 1997, 113–114, §170): If a man’s first-ranking wife bears him children and his slave woman bears him children, and the father during his lifetime then declares to (or: concerning) the children whom the slave woman bore to him, “(They are) my children,” and he reckons them with the children of the first-ranking wife—after the father goes to his fate (that is, dies), the children of the first-ranking wife and the children of the slave woman shall equally divide the property of the paternal estate; the preferred heir, though, is a son of the first-ranking wife; he shall select and take a share first. Hammurabi (reigned 1792–1750 BC) was the sixth king of the so-called First Dynasty of Babylon. While also a successful politician and military commander, who conquered large portions of Mesopotamia and brought them under the rule of Babylon, he is best known for his efforts to establish a new law collection, which was written on stone stelae as well as clay tablets. The laws provide important insights not only into Mesopotamian ideas of justice, but also into the economic and social life of the people of the Old Babylonian period. Hammurabi’s laws eventually became a “cultural text” that was widely studied throughout Mesopotamian history, both in Assyria and Babylonia. Students would often reproduce sections of the laws as they worked on their writing; the tablet here is an example of this practice. Initially, the fragment would have been larger. It was at some point cut down by a dealer to a smaller but more regular size, to make it look more complete and thus receive a better price.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P291573

credit: Frahm, Eckart; Moreno, Rachel
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 24 (2020-10-24)

Sumerian Laws (YPM BC 016805, YBC 2177; Old Babylonian period (about 1900–1600 BC); 182 x 134 x 34 mm; clay)



At first thought to be part of an official law code of an unknown ruler of the early second millennium bc, this collection of laws written in the Sumerian language is now believed to be a product of scribal training. According to the colophon at the very end of the tablet, which invokes Nisaba, the goddess of writing, and her consort Haya, the tablet was written by an individual named Belshunu. The substantial number of mistakes in the text suggests a rather inexperienced scribe. The writing space is divided into three columns per side. Beneath each column the scribe specified the respective number of lines. Unfortunately, the obverse of the tablet is very poorly preserved. The extant laws deal with cases of bodily injury resulting in miscarriage, loss of a rented boat, repudiation of adoption, rape, and injury to rented oxen. A few of the laws have actual practical application in contemporary legal documents. An Old Babylonian adoption contract, for example (see No. 80), draws on the following stipulation (Roth 1997, 44, §4'): If he (that is, the adopted son) declares to his father and mother, “You are not my father,” or “You are not my mother,” he shall forfeit house, field, orchard, slaves, and possessions, and they shall sell him for silver (into slavery) for his full value.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P467305

credit: De Macedo, Diana; Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 23 (2020-10-23)

Letters Exchanged between King Shu-Suen and Sharrum-bani (YPM BC 021213, YBC 7149; Old Babylonian period (about 1900–1600 BC); 142 x 123 x 28 mm; clay)



Some twenty-four letters from the correspondence of the rulers of the Ur III dynasty (about 2100–2003 BC) are known from copies studied in the Babylonian schools of the early second millennium bc. The tablet presented here contains two examples from this corpus: a letter from a royal official by the name of Sharrum- bani addressed to King Shu-Suen and the king’s reply. In contrast to tablets that include only extracts from the correspondence (see, for instance, the second half of the Sharrum-bani letter [YPM BC 018737, YBC 4672]), the letters here are complete. In the first, Sharrum-bani, the official, begins by repeating the orders the king had given him earlier (Michalowski 2011, 399, lines 3–7): You commissioned me to carry out construction on the great wall (called) “It Keeps the Tidnum-people at a Distance” and presented your views to me as follows: “The Amorites have repeatedly raided the frontier territory.” You commanded me to rebuild the fortifications, to cut off their access, and thus to prevent them from repeatedly overwhelming the fields through a breach (in the defenses) between the Tigris and the Euphrates. Sharrum-bani then asks the king for more manpower, revealing that the Amorites, with support from the east- ern state of Simurrum, have raided his construction workers. He is in dire need of men, both to fight the attackers and continue building. In response, Shu-Suen rebukes his official and announces that he has sent to him the governor of Zimudar with a group of soldiers, and that the high commissioner Babati is to continue working on the wall, while Sharrum-bani is supposed to dig a moat. Worried by the developments, the king asks Sharrum-bani to keep sending him regular updates. As the letters are only known from copies several hundred years after the Ur III dynasty, it is debated how much of the correspondence is genuine and how much is historical fiction (Michalowski 2011, 216–224). Some letters are probably pseudepigraphic, but others may have derived from real letters or, at the very least, contain kernels of historical truth. The letters preserved on this tablet belong in the latter category.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P357304

credit: Frahm, Eckart; Tang, Sergio
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 22 (2020-10-22)

Tag with Shu-Suen Year Name Related to the Tidnum Wall (YPM BC 002256, MLC 2309; Ur III period, about 2031 BC; Umma; 62 x 54 mm; clay)



Tags were used throughout Mesopotamian history as administrative tools to mark items being transported or stored. This pyramidal clay tag was probably attached to a cord that was tied to a bag holding a group of related administrative tablets. These tablets would have been documents recording the expenditures of an account over a period of a month or so. The inscription on this tag lists the amounts of beer, bread, onions, oil, and vegetables to be distributed as provisions to messengers in Umma. Tags such as this summarized the contents of the grouped tablets, and the figures would have been totals for the amounts on the individual texts. Two officials, Lu-kalla and Ur-Nungal, rolled their cylinder seals over the tag, thus indicating that they were responsible for the transactions. The date of the text written at the end reads: “Month ‘Brick Placed in the Mold,’ 29th day, Year after Shu-Suen, King of Ur, Built the Amorite Wall (Called) ‘It Keeps the Tidnum-people at a Distance’.“ In the Ur III state, the names of the months differed according to local city calendars, but years were everywhere given the same names, which were chosen in reference to an important political or cultic event that had happened in the previous year.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P296868

credit: Tang, Sergio
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 21 (2020-10-21)

Door Socket with Inscription Mentioning the Tidnum Wall (YPM BC 016763, YBC 2130; Ur III period, reign of Shu-Suen (2035–2027 BC); Umma; 260 x 610 x 195 mm; diorite)



This stone door socket was used to support the pole of a monumental door in a temple in Umma. According to its inscription, it was set up by the Ur III king Shu-Suen in the E-shage-pada temple, which was dedicated to Shara, Umma’s patron god. In the text, the king emphasizes his connections to the divine: he claims to be the son of Shara, calls himself a priest, and states that his kingship was divinely chosen. He also proudly records his construction of a wall called “It keeps the Tidnum-people at a distance,” which was built to keep the semi-nomadic Amorites, to whom the Tidnum belonged, out of Babylonia. The inscription is found on the side of the door socket, and it may not have been readily visible to those entering through the doorway. Perhaps, the words were meant for a divine audience or for later generations, rather than for the eyes of Shu-Suen’s contemporaries. The door socket is made out of a piece of hard black stone (possibly diorite). The Yale Babylonian Collection holds yet another door socket from the reign of Shu-Suen, inscribed with the same inscription. In southern Mesopotamia, door sockets were frequently the only parts of a building that were made of stone, and they were often reused several times.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P226897

credit: Tang, Sergio
image credit: Kaufman, Carl

YBC: Highlights 20 (2020-10-20)

Two City States Fight over Land (YPM BC 005474, NBC 2501; Early Dynastic IIIb period, Enmetena of Lagash (about 2403–2375 BC); Girsu (modern Tello) or its vicinity; 220 x 152 mm; clay)



The text on the vase reads in translation as follows:

Enlil, king of the lands, father of the gods, by his authoritative command, demarcated the border between the gods Ningirsu and Shara. Mesilim, king of Kish, at the command of the god Ishtaran stretched the measuring rope on the field and erected a monument there. Ush, ruler of Gisha, acted arrogantly. He ripped out that monument and marched on the Eden district of Lagash. Ningirsu, warrior of Enlil, at his just command, did battle with Gisha. At Enlil’s command, he cast the great battle-net upon it, and set up its burial tumuli in the Eden (district).

E’anatum, ruler of Lagash, uncle of Enmetena, ruler of Lagash, demarcated the border with Enakale, ruler of Gisha. He led off the (boundary) channel from the Nun-canal to the Gu’edena district, leaving a 215 nindan (i.e., 1,290 m) (strip) of Ningirsu’s land under the control of Gisha and establishing a no-man’s land there. He inscribed (and erected) monuments at that (boundary) dike and restored the monument of Mesilim, but did not cross into the Eden (district) of Gisha. On the boundary-levee of the god Ningirsu (called) Namnunkigara, he built a chapel of Enlil, a chapel of goddess Ninhursag, a chapel of Ningirsu, and a chapel of Utu. The leader of Gisha could exploit 1 gur (i.e., 5,184 hl.) of the barley of goddess Nanshe and the barley of god Ningirsu as an (interest-)bearing loan. It bore interest, and 8,640,000 guru (i.e., 44,789,760,000 hl.) accrued.
Since he was unable to repay that barley, Urlumma, ruler of Gisha, diverted water from the boundary dike of Ningirsu and the boundary dike of Nanshe. He set fire to their monuments and ripped them out and destroyed the dedicated chapels of the gods that were built on the (boundary levee called) Namnundakigara. He hired the (people) of the foreign lands (as mercenaries) and transgressed the boundary dike of Ningirsu from above (i.e., from the north).

Enanatum, ruler of Lagash, fought with him in the Ugiga-field, the field of Ningirsu.
Enmetena, beloved son of Enanatum, defeated him. Urlumma escaped, but was killed in Gisha itself. His asses – there were sixty teams(?) of them – he abandoned on the bank of the Lummagirnunta-canal, and left the bones of their personnel strewn over the Edin district.
He heaped up there tumuli (honouring his own casualities) in five places. At that time, Il, who was the temple-estate administrator at Zabalam, marched in retreat from Girsu to Gisha. He took the rulership of Gisha for himself. He diverted water from the boundary dike of Ningirsu and the boundary dike of Nanshe at the boundary levee of Ningirsu in the direction of the bank of the Tigris in the region of Girsu, the Namnunda-kigara of Enlil, Enki, and Ninhursag. He repaid (only) 3,600 guru of Lagash’s barley.

When, because of those (boundary) channels, Enmetena, ruler of Lagash, sent envoys to Il, ruler of Gisha, Il, ruler of Gisha, the field thief, speaking hostilely, said: “The boundary dike of Ningirsu and the boundary dike of Nanshe are mine!” “I will dry them up from (the town of) Antasura (as far as) the temple of Dimgalabzu,” he said. But Enlil and Ninhursag did not allow him (to do) this.

Enmetena, ruler of Lagash, nominee of Ningirsu, at the just command of Enlil, at the just command of Ningirsu, and at the just command of Nanshe, constructed that (boundary) dike from the Tigris River to the Nun-canal. He built the foundations of the Namnundakigara for him out of stone, restoring it for the master who loves him, Ningirsu, and for the mistress who loves him, Nanshe. Enmetena, ruler of Lagash, granted the sceptre by the Enlil, granted wisdom by Enki, chief ruler for Ningirsu, who realizes the commands of the gods – may his personal god, Shulutul, forever stand (interceding) before Ningirsu and Nanshe for the life of Enmetena!

If the leader of Gisha crosses over the boundary dike of Ningirsu and the boundary dike of Nanshe, to take away fields by force, – whether he be the leader of Gisha or any other leader – may Enlil destroy him! May Ningirsu, after casting his great battle-net upon him, bring down upon him his giant hands and feet! May the people of his own city, after rising up against him, kill him there with his (own) city!





CDLI entry: P222533

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 19 (2020-10-19)

Two City States Fight over Land (YPM BC 005474, NBC 2501; Early Dynastic IIIb period, Enmetena of Lagash (about 2403–2375 BC); Girsu (modern Tello) or its vicinity; 220 x 152 mm; clay)



The inscription on this artifact, probably a clay jar with a net design on its lower end, is currently known from five different sources. In 1897, the French Assyriologist François Thureau-Dangin published an inscribed cone, now at the Louvre, which is the only other complete manuscript besides the present exemplar. Both the cone and the jar probably come from the vicinity of Tello (ancient Girsu in the state of Lagash). The three other versions, all damaged, are, like the Yale piece, inscribed on jar fragments. That the artifact is a jar and not, as sometimes assumed, a mace head is suggested by several parallels, even though the matter remains debated. The inscription (almost 220 lines in six columns) deals with the jagged history of the fragile relationship between the neighboring city states of Lagash and Umma. Written in the name of the Lagash ruler Enmetena and carefully impressed onto the outer surface of the jar, the text starts with mythological beginnings: in days of yore the god Enlil, the highest deity in the Sumerian pantheon, drew a boundary and divided the lands on both sides between the patron gods of Lagash and Umma, Ningirsu and Shara. But Umma’s rulers kept violating the boundary, encroaching on a fertile strip of land called “Border of the Steppe” (Gu’edena), which was the source of Lagash’s agricultural richness. According to the text, the god Ningirsu eventually defeated the enemy by casting his great battle net on him. The same net is depicted on the jar’s lower end. The conflicts between the two city states did not cease, however, and later rulers of Lagash needed to reestablish the boundaries. One of the episodes recounted in the inscription is that the Lagash ruler Eanatum had once left a strip of his land for Umma to cultivate. The text reads: “The ruler of Umma could exploit 1 kor (that is, 518,400 l) of the barley of the goddess Nanshe and the barley of the god Ningirsu as a loan. It bore interest, and 8.64 million kor accrued” (column ii, lines 19–26). Eventually, Eanatum’s successor Enmetena demanded that Umma pay back this barley for the whole time up to his reign, including accumulated interest. This meant that Umma had to pay an unaffordable bill: four and a half trillion liters of grain. What led to these unimaginable numbers was that Umma’s debt grew exponentially through time. The inscription thus provides the earliest evidence for compound interest.

See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P222533

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Kaufman, Carl

YBC: Highlights 18 (2020-10-18)

Alabaster Vase with Inscription in Five Different Scripts (YPM BC 016756, YBC 2123; Achaemenid period, reign of Xerxes (485–464 BC); 220 mm (height), 89 mm (diameter at lip); alabaster)



This tapered alabaster vase dates to the reign of the Achaemenid king Xerxes and probably originates from Egypt, where vases in this style, and the use of alabaster or calcite, were common. The dark residue on the interior of the vase suggests that it held a substance such as perfume. One can entertain the possibility that vases like these were gifts the Persian king presented to deserving officials or subjects. Slightly larger around the bottom, the vase narrows toward the top where the lip of the vase is minimally chipped. Starting directly below the lip of the vase is an inscription featuring five scripts. The first three lines are written in Old Persian, Elamite, and Akkadian cuneiform, respectively (the Old Persian script had been invented under Xerxes’ predecessor Darius). Beneath them is an inscription in Egyptian hieroglyphs, with the king’s name in a cartouche. Each version translates to “Xerxes, the Great King.” A fifth inscription in Demotic, a script developed for practical purposes around 650 BC in Egypt, is located to the left of the hieroglyphs and describes the capacity of the vase. Xerxes (reigned 486–465 BC) was the fourth king of the Persian Empire, which stretched from central Asia to Egypt and as far as Greece. This vast territory engulfed many peoples, who spoke many languages and used many scripts. Especially during the early Persian period, trilingual inscriptions in Old Persian, Elamite, and Akkadian were common. The inclusion of Egyptian hieroglyphs and Demotic on the vase is notable and points again to its origin in Egypt. The production of multilingual texts enabled the Persian kings to showcase the vast range and multicultural nature of their domain. In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries ad, comparing the Babylonian, Elamite, and Old Persian versions of such texts played a vital role in the attempts to decipher the different cuneiform scripts.


See it in the exhibition “Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks ... Highlights from the Yale Babylonian Collection” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, 6 April 2019 – 30 June 2020

CDLI entry: P505970

credit: Moreno, Rachel; Beltz, Jon
image credit: Kaufman, Carl

YBC: Highlights 17 (2020-10-17)