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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)

A Cuneiform "Abecedary" (YPM BC 018580, YBC 4615; Old Babylonian period (about 1900–1600 BC); 119 x 66 x 20 mm; clay)



The first exercise in school was impressing single wedges into the clay. Cuneiform signs, however, usually consist of more than one wedge. Horizontal, vertical, and slanted wedges are clustered to form meaningful signs, some fairly simple, others composed of many wedges. Years and years of training were required to teach a student the “art of writing” and eventually enable the writing of complex literary compositions. The number of individual cuneiform signs used varied in Mesopotamia, depending on language, genre, period, and writing conventions. Whereas logographic writings played a major role in Sumerian, the syllabic spellings preferred in Akkadian texts allowed a more economical use of the writing system. The unpublished tablet presented here dates to a period when scholarship was heavily influenced by Sumerian. With comparatively few exceptions, lexical and literary texts written in Sumerian dominated the scribal education of the time. The unknown scribe who wrote this tablet created a so far unique sign inventory accounting for all cuneiform signs known. Almost 470 individual signs written in a meticulous hand are preserved on the tablet. This number corresponds more or less to the number of signs attested in the contemporary sign syllabary Ea, but our scribe arranged the signs in a completely different order. Whereas Ea, which has come down to us in hundreds of copies, starts with rather simple signs, the beginning of the sign inventory at hand contains more complex characters, each starting with a cluster of slanted wedges. In fact, the scholar responsible for the text attempted to encode the complex writing of the goddess of the scribal art, Nisaba, in the first lines, starting off with the initial parts of the sign combination that was used to write her name. A unique feature of the text is its layout. Sign lists usually work like tables, listing each sign in separate lines, but here the signs are presented continuously, which gives the text, at first glance, the appearance of a literary composition. In their arrangement, the scholar mainly followed graphic considerations, for which another line in the text may serve as example. The line starts with simple sign forms, each consisting of only two wedge impressions (numbers 1–5). The last sign in this subgroup initiates a sequence of much more complex signs incorporating it (numbers 6 and 7). Thereafter, the final sign part is disassembled, and a new group of signs begins (numbers 8–10). We can assume that the “author” of this remarkable text was highly trained and knew the scholarly literature of the time. Even complex sign forms are written in a meticulous, almost paradigmatic hand.

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: P305842

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 16 (2020-10-16)

Prisms Small and Large (YPM BC 014052 and YPM BC 016757, NBC 11202 and YBC 2124; Probably Ur III period (about 2100–2000 BC); Nippur (NBC 11202); 22 x 22 mm and 181 x 59 mm; clay)



Despite the great difference in their size, these two prisms contain nearly identical lists of personal names. Writing personal names was one of the basic steps for apprentice scribes to familiarize themselves with the cuneiform writing system. By the early second millennium BC, lists of names were standardized and copied out in part or in full on tablets and prisms (Peterson 2011). We find in them common personal names, that is, names one would also encounter in contemporary archival documents. The two examples here, however, predate any such lists. They were probably written in the early Ur III period and record personal names that would have been out of use by the time the prisms were inscribed. The template for these names came from the Fara period, some five hundred years earlier. Although largely randomized, some of the names are grouped by shared elements, such as water, or by graphically similar signs. The smaller piece is noteworthy because of its micrographic script. Each sign is just one millimeter in height (in contrast to four millimeters on the large prism). Being able to write in such a small scribal hand indicates a great deal of sophistication, which can only be found with a very advanced apprentice or a professional scribe already established in his trade.

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: P248574 & P248573

credit: Chirmanova, Irene; Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 15 (2020-10-15)

Cylinder Seal with a Prayer to Marduk (YPM BC 006190, NBC 3217; Kassite period (about 1400–1100 BC); 40 x 17 mm; milky agate)



A defining feature of seals in the Kassite period was the prominence and diversity of their inscriptions. Whereas seal legends in earlier periods focused on the seal owner and his or her identity, Kassite seals frequently contain prayers, whose many lines may take up most of the available space, leaving little room for seal imagery. An example is the cylinder seal here, which dates to the earlier Kassite period. Its imagery depicts a single bearded figure, clad in a long garment and facing left with his right arm raised in a greeting gesture. The figure wears a round cap with narrow rim. The space before his face is filled with two astral symbols, a star over a crescent moon. The Sumerian inscription of seven lines invokes Marduk, patron god of Babylon, who is praised as “the great lord, the great prince of heaven and earth.” Marduk’s epithets are followed by the seal owner’s name, Sin-sheme. The inscription ends with the seal owner’s wish: “Grant to me, your reverent servant, …, life and happiness.”

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: P504762

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus
image credit: Kaufman, Carl; Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 14 (2020-10-14)

Eyestone Dedicated to Ninlil (YPM BC 016969, YBC 2374; Old Babylonian period, reign of Lipit-Eshtar (about 1870–1860 BC); 28 x 24 x 9 mm; agate)



Agate stones like this one, with its dark center and light edges, were prized by Mesopotamians for their resemblance to eyes. This example features a minutely carved inscription that runs across the entire surface of the concave side. The inscription identifies the patron as King Lipit-Eshtar and dedicates the stone to the goddess Ninlil. The king acknowledges the goddess’s associations with life and fertility as “queen of the gods, goddess who created me (and) mother who gave birth to me,” and asks for a long and prosperous life in exchange for his gift. The hole drilled through the eyestone indicates that it might have been set into a necklace presented to a cult statue of the goddess.


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: P289683

credit: Werwie, Katherine
image credit: Kaufman, Carl

YBC: Highlights 13 (2020-10-13)

Brick Stamp (YPM BC 016914, YBC 2310; Old Akkadian period, reign of Shar-kali-sharri (about 2217–2192 BC); 92 x 68 x 20 mm; clay)



Similar to objects in foundation deposits, mud bricks frequently bore short inscriptions commemorating the accomplishments of a king and identifying the building for which the brick was used. Inscribed bricks were often placed inside walls, where future generations would find them and learn who had built the structure, thus securing an earlier ruler’s legacy. Frequently, inscriptions on mud bricks were not applied by hand but with a stamp. Given the enormous number of bricks required in Mesopotamian building projects, this saved considerable time and effort. The artifact presented here is a brick stamp that was used for this very purpose. It bears, in mirror script, the name of the Old Akkadian king Shar-kali-sharri (reigned 2217– 2192 BC) and his principal title, “king of Agade,” but does not refer to any specific building. One of the most notable achievements of Shar-kali-sharri’s reign was the construction of a temple in Nippur dedicated to the god Enlil, yet neither Nippur nor any other Mesopotamian site has so far produced bricks on which the inscription found on the stamp is impressed. Instead of stamps containing an inscription in its entirety, Mesopotamian scribes would later, in fourteenth century Assyria, also use stamps with only one cuneiform sign when producing brick inscriptions—the earliest example of moveable type in history.

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: P217646

credit: Chirmanova, Irene; Frahm, Eckart
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 12 (2020-10-12)

Foundation Figurine Dedicated to Ninmarki (YPM BC 016871, YBC 2248; Lagash II period (about 2200–2100 BC); probably from Lagash; 233 x 89 x 53 mm; cast bronze)



This foundation peg is both figural sculpture and building material. Its bottom half has the form of a nail or peg, while the top is sculpted into the shape of the upper body of a male figure. This figure, identified by an inscription as King Ur-Ningirsu I, has deep-set, bulging eyes and full lips. The king uses his two hands to balance a round basket filled with mud (which served as building material) atop his head. Despite the peg’s bold artistic merits, it was never meant to be seen (Bahrani 2014, 89–93). Bronze pegs like this one were buried under the foundations of temples as they were being constructed, where they may have functioned to symbolically secure the temple to its site or to appeal to Enki, the god of the sweet underworld waters, for the temple’s protection (Bahrani 2014, 104–108; Asher-Greve, forthcoming). The inscription carved around the peg’s middle served to commemorate Ur-Ningirsu in the event that the figure was uncovered—as, indeed, it was (Ellis 1968, 166–167; Asher-Greve, forthcoming). The text’s primary function, however, was to dedicate the temple to the goddess Ninmarki, whose all-seeing gaze would be able to read the inscription even after the foundation figure’s burial (Asher-Greve, forthcoming). The representation of Ur-Ningirsu hauling mud emphasizes his role in the creation of the temple. The image corresponds to a Mesopotamian tradition in which kings ceremonially shaped a brick to inaugurate the construction of a new temple (Bahrani 2014, 100–104). It also highlighted the king’s humility in the face of the gods by showing him undertaking the lowliest of tasks.

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: P231800

credit: Werwie, Katherine
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 11 (2020-10-11)

Gold and Silver Foundation Tablets of Assurnasirpal II (YPM BC 016991 and YPM BC 016992, YBC 2398 and YBC 2399; Neo-Assyrian period, 883–859 BC; probably Apqu (Tell Abu Marya); 41 x 21 and 57 x 38 mm; gold and silver)



These two tablets, one made of gold and the other of silver, contain inscriptions of the Assyrian king Assurnasirpal II (reigned 883–859 BC). The inscriptions provide the name of the king and the names of his father and grandfather, plus some royal epithets; they also contain a curse formula directed at a future prince who might remove the tablets or modify their inscriptions. The purpose of the tablets, to be part of a foundation deposit, is explicitly described in the text: “I laid (the palace’s) foundations with tablets of silver and gold.” Besides the materials from which they were made, there are a few additional differences between the two tablets. The silver tablet is somewhat larger and less well preserved than the gold one, with several sizable indentations on the reverse. Though very similar, the inscriptions are also not entirely identical: the silver tablet leaves out one of the king’s epithets in the first line, uses one different (but synonymous) word in line 8, and elsewhere spells a few words using different signs. In one case, this spelling difference results in a grammatical error. Foundation tablets of precious metal were probably fairly common in the Middle and early Neo-Assyrian periods, yet few have been found. Most were probably melted down and re-used in antiquity. The tablets presented here were not uncovered in the course of documented excavations, but the inscriptions identify the city of Apqu (modern Tell Abu Marya in northern Mesopotamia) as the place where they were most likely found. Apparently, they were deposited in the foundations of a palace built at the site by Assurnasirpal II. Earlier Assyrian palaces at Apqu are attested from the reigns of Assur-resh-ishi I (reigned 1132–1115 BC) and Assur-bel-kala (reigned 1073–1056 BC). The tablets may have been buried inside a stone box engraved with another inscription of Assurnasirpal II.

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: P289807 & P289808

credit: Scruton, Benjamin
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 10 (2020-10-10)

Stone Foundation Tablet of Ur-Namma (YPM BC 002577, MLC 2629; Ur III period, reign of Ur-Namma (about 2110–2093 BC); 115 x 58 x 22 mm; steatite)



This tablet, made of dark, polished stone, contains ten lines of a Sumerian inscription describing how the Ur III king Ur-Namma (reigned 2110–2093 BC) restored the Eanna temple in Uruk and dedicated it to its patron goddess, Inanna. Although the tablet is unprovenienced, it was probably buried in the foundations of the Eanna. Comparison with similar examples suggests that the artifact was enclosed in a small brick capsule. An excavated example (see UVB 5, pl. 17a-c, with a duplicate inscription) is three bricks long and two and a half wide, with a bitumen-coated cavity in the middle, that was covered with a layer of two bricks and sealed by a third covering the seam. A peg figurine with a matching inscription accompanied the tablet in the cavity, and some of the bricks forming the enclosure may have borne the same inscription. Later rulers attempting to restore buildings often tried to discover the original ground plan. As they excavated previous layers, they would find earlier foundation deposits and learn from the inscriptions they contained about the building work of their predecessors. The neo-Babylonian ruler Nabonidus (reigned 556–539 BC) is particularly known for his “archaeological” digs.

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: P226887

credit: Scruton, Benjamin
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 9 (2020-10-09)

Late Accounts of Small Cattle (including YPM BC 18036, YBC 3971; Persian period, 13 January 526 BC; Uruk; 80 x 51 x 20 mm; clay)



Written by a scribe of the temple of the goddess Ishtar of Uruk some two thousand five hundred years after yesterday’s text, and likewise dealing with small cattle, the tablet in the middle of this group of related texts illustrates the remarkable continuity that characterizes the administrative and economic structures of Mesopotamian temple cities. The tablet, in ledger format, records for each day of the month of Tebētu (10th month of the Achaemenid calendar), 526 BC, the disbursements of sheep for the regular offerings. On most of the twenty-nine days of the month, nine sheep were sacrificed, the minimum requirement of the gods (in practical terms, the temple household managers), but on others, slightly higher numbers are mentioned, and on the first day, the gods received sixteen sheep. Occasional notes recorded in the right-side column refer to special deliveries to the temple of the sun god in the nearby city of Larsa and mention exceptional sacrifices of young goats. The texts here belong to a group of more than forty consistently formatted tablets, dating from 551 to 523 BC, that, unlike other offering lists from Uruk, do not specify the deities who were the recipients of the sacrifices.


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: P305283

credit: Frahm, Eckart
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Columbus Day: 2016 (2020-10-08)

Columbus’ marginalia to the Travels of Marco Polo



Columbus Day as a celebration of the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the American continent on October 12, 1492, has been a federal holiday in the US since 1937, and since 1970 has been fixed to the 2nd Monday in October. Observation of the holiday is, understandably, mixed. Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon, and South Dakota do not recognize it at all; to protest the 1992 ‘Quincentennial Jubilee’ planned by the US Congress for the SF Bay Area, Berkeley, later joined by Seattle, Denver, and other cities, replaced it with “Indigenous People’s Day.” As a slightly different take on the person of Columbus, the image here offers two pages of his personal Latin edition of Marco Polo’s Le Livre des Merveilles, with margin notes and sketches.

credit: Englund, Robert K.

YBC: Highlights 8 (2020-10-07)

Early Account of Small Cattle (YPM BC 021120, YBC 7056; Uruk III period (about 3100 BC); 38 x 37 x 28 mm; clay)



Like yesterday’s text artifact, the tablet here was written during the Uruk III period, some one hundred years after the invention of writing. Texts from this period display more complexity than those of the preceding Uruk IV period and contain more detailed information on the recorded transactions. Moreover, many signs become less pictographic and begin to resemble their later forms. On the obverse, this account records the transfer of twenty-five nanny goats and five billy goats from an official, most probably the chief administrator of the city Tiwa (Steinkeller 1999, 116). As with other Uruk III texts, the reverse contains a total of the items recorded on the obverse—in this case, “30 small cattle”—for accounting purposes.


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: P005463

credit: Tang, Sergio
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 7 (2020-10-06)

Early Accounting: Slaves (YPM BC 008902, NBC 5921; Uruk III period (about 3100 BC); 74 x 44 x 15 mm; clay)



This tablet describes the transfer of several individuals who have been credibly identified as slaves. On the obverse, in columns divided by a double ruling, the scribe listed a total of twelve slaves, split into two groups of six each. The first “cell” on the tablet contains a sign whose successor in later, third millennium economic texts means “purchase,” indicating that the slaves were apparently sold. The text also seems to provide the names of the slaves, even though the identification of personal names in this early period remains difficult. At the bottom of the two columns, two individuals involved in the transfer are named, one of them apparently a pig herder in the city of Adab. Perhaps they were the owners of the slaves being transferred, or otherwise responsible for them. These two parties are mentioned again on the tablet’s reverse. The left-hand side of the reverse contains a grand total of the number of slaves, plus one or two names or titles, perhaps of the individuals who received them. Both the proto-cuneiform script and the abridged nature of the texts using it continue to pose significant challenges for modern scholars seeking to decode 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: P005460

credit: Tang, Sergio
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 6 (2020-10-05)

Cylinder Seal Fragment (YPM BC 036919, NCBS 22; Uruk IV period (about 3300–3100 BC); 62 x 47 mm; marble)



Although less than half of it is preserved, this cylinder seal is one of the largest of its kind, with an estimated original diameter of about five centimeters (about two inches). The inside of the central drill hole is discolored, perhaps from a corroding, now lost metal insert, similar to other closely related Uruk seals. The preserved seal imagery shows an altar or stylized temple façade atop a striding bull. Ring reed bundles with streamers are placed on top of the altar and behind the bull. As an attribute of the goddess Inanna, the reed bundles became the basis for writing her name in the cuneiform script. A similar altar is shown on the Warka vase.

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 5 (2020-10-04)

Cylinder Seal Showing Women Engaged in Pottery-making (YPM BC 036926, NCBS 29; Jemdet Nasr period (about 3100 BC); 25 x 33/26 mm; red marble)



This crudely cut seal displays five women seated on benches with pots in front of them. It probably captures the act of producing pottery, one of the daily activities commonly depicted on seals in this period and style. The seal is made of red marble, and exhibits proportions very unusual for cylinder seals in general. Low in height, but massive in diameter, it is highly concave, which makes one doubt its usefulness in producing seal impressions. In fact, no impressions made with seals of this type have been discovered on tablets, bullae, or other clay artifacts.

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 4 (2020-10-03)

Rock Crystal Cylinder Seal with Vessels (YPM BC 038016, NBC 12141; Jemdet Nasr period (about 3100 BC); 20 x 13.5 mm; rock crystal)



This rock crystal cylinder seal is decorated with a schematic design of several identical vessels. Vessels of the type depicted are also attested in the archaeological record.

Seals of this style typically show repetitive patterns including simple motifs, such as spiders or other kinds of insects, consisting of crudely modified drillings. This is despite the considerable effort that must have been expended to cut the seal from the hard material, rock crystal. Hard stones are well attested for Jemdet Nasr seals, in contrast to the contemporaneous Uruk III seals that were carved in a different style.

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 3 (2020-10-02)

Piedmont Style Cylinder Seal (YPM BC 038015, NBC 12151; Jemdet Nasr period (about 3100 BC); 37.5 x 9 mm; lapis lazuli)



This very thin, anepigraphic cylinder seal bears a geometric pattern typical for the late Jemdet Nasr period “Piedmont style,” best attested in the hilly areas of Susiana and northern Mesopotamia. During the subsequent Early Dynastic period, this style spread along international trade routes throughout the Middle East, reaching from southwestern Iran in the East, across the Diyala region in Upper Mesopotamia, and as far west as Syria. The seal is made of lapis lazuli, a highly valued dark blue stone that was imported all the way from an area in modern Afghanistan.


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 2 (2020-10-01)

Cylinder Seal with Priest-King Feeding Herd (YPM BC 005552, NBC 2579; Uruk IV period (ca. 3300–3100 BC); 65 (with handle) x 38 mm; marble)



This marble cylinder seal depicts two figures feeding a herd of cattle. One of the figures is partially damaged but seems to be an attendant. He wears a smooth kilt and carries a bundle of branches in his arms. The other figure offers the animals a branch in each hand. He wears a brimmed hat and a long, netted skirt, and is distinguished not only by his clothing but also by his prominent nose and full beard. This figure is known from other Uruk IV cylinder seals and the famous Warka vase, excavated at Uruk. He is portrayed as a dominant figure in battle scenes, as a successful hunter, and as the leading worshipper in ritual scenes, often associated with the goddess Inanna. On this basis, he has been called the “Priest King.” On the Warka vase, he is associated with a motif that resembles the cuneiform sign EN (“lord”), indicating again his role as ruler and leader of the Inanna cult in 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

credit: Moreno, Rachel
image credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

YBC: Highlights 1 (2020-09-30)

Stamp Seal in the Form of a Lion Head (YPM BC 036918, NCBS 21; Uruk period (ca. 4000–2900 BC); possibly from Susa; 64 x 50 x 19 mm; limestone)



As much an amulet as a seal, this object is shaped like the head of a lion. The face is shown in profile and the mane is formed as a half ovoid sphere. Details such as the eye lids and brows, nose rim, and whiskers are outlined with incised lines. Gouged into the reverse of the seal is a monkey or bear with an upturned tail and ears or horns extending down the back and holding an oblong object in the outstretched arm. The carving is crude and simple compared with the delicate shape of the lion’s head. The seal is perforated vertically from top to bottom.

In use before and around the time of the invention of writing, these lion head seals form part of a group of zoomorphic objects with gouged and drilled seal imagery on the back, which probably served a dual purpose as amulet and seal. Seal imagery of this type has yet to be found impressed on tablets or bullae.

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

Babylonian field management: 32 (2020-09-29)

Ur III field plans XV



A final example closes our theme of early Babylonian field management with a highly complex field register, again following the standard practice of grand temen and surrounding smaller fields. Kept in a private collection in New Jersey, the tablet was imaged by Laura Johnson-Kelly for the Cornell Sumerologist David I. Owen, now emeritus, using an ammonium chloride misting procedure described in connection with his ongoing, vital work on a very substantial tablet collection once a part of the Jonathan and Jeannette Rosen Ancient Near Eastern Studies Seminar at Cornell (now scheduled for repatriation to Iraq). The text, recently edited by Hagan Brunke (Fs Attinger [2012] 39-63), employs technical terminology to qualify eleven different categories of fields, above all describing the soil and topography qualities of the agricultural area assigned to the household of the governor of Adab by a royal surveyor named Ur-nigar.

CDLI entry: P432384

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 31 (2020-09-28)

Ur III field plans XIV



As we see in the current entry, Ur III field plans can appear quite involved, yet always follow the basic principal of constructing a central and regular temen surface, then calculating and subtracting from, or adding to the total area the often irregular smaller fields within and outside of the border of this temen—indeed, these small fields themselves usually formed the borders of the large temen. This complicated survey register of a large field measuring approximately 5 × 4 km was drawn by the Heidelberg Assyriologist Stefan Maul when he was active at the Free University of Berlin, where the artifact itself is housed in the Altorientalisches Seminar; and was cited, without a full edition, in Nissen, Damerow & Englund, Frühe Schrift pp. 106-110 = Archaic Bookkeeping (Chicago 1993) pp. 66-69. Quoting from Archaic Bookkeeping p. 69:

The procedure of calculating the surface of such complicated temens is somewhat odd. ... The various sections of the temen were calculated as if the opposite sides were of identical length. The calculation was carried out twice, the first time with the measurements of one side, the second time with the measurements of the other side. In this manner, two values relating to each section of the temen were obtained. Both were entered into the field plan next to their respective field segments, the second value always upside down relative to the first value. The calculation circled—so to speak—around the field, yielding values for each field section. The final step was then to calculate their mean values!

CDLI entry: P124822

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 30 (2020-09-27)

Ur III field plans XIII



Looking at this text, an unexpected observation may be made about the process of entering the various field measurements in Ur III surveying accounts. Based alone on the orientation of the inscriptions, the author of this text began writing from the upper right, going counterclockwise until case 12, then again from the upper right reading clockwise to case 22. This strange structural format should be considered in future work on similar texts.

CDLI entry: P131748

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 29 (2020-09-26)

Ur III field plans XII



   1 bur3 1 eše3 surface, small fields (= 24 iku),
   4 bur3 1 eše3 2 1/4 iku surface “outside” (= 80 1/4 iku)
   11 bur3 3 iku surface, within the temen (= 201 iku);
   total: 17 bur3 less 3/4 iku surface (= 305 1/4 iku).


As seems clear from the addition of all fields qualified as “ki” (Sumerian “area” and presumably short for ki zi, “area to be ‘torn’ [from the temen]”) and those called “bar” (for ki bar, “area outside” [of the temen]), the first line of the reverse describes the “small” fields drawn within the confines of the text’s regular, large quadrilateral (surface measures adding up to 23 3/4 iku), and the second those drawn outside of the temen (surface measures adding up to 81 iku). The calculation of the temen itself, however, is unclear; it must be composed of the result of the multiplication of the width and length of the large rectangle, less the small “ki” surfaces that it enclosed, thus (W × L [ninda]) - 2400 = 20100 sar. The length measures along the top/bottom and left edges, however, appear to combine to 160 & 155 on the one hand, 155 on the other, where the inscription itself seems to read 160 for the upper edge (10 + 30 + 20 + 30 + 55 + 15) and 130 for the left (apparently from 40 + 40 + 30 + 10, disregarding the final field; the right-edge numbers are very difficult to interpret). A provisional scale drawing of the smaller fields within and outside of the document’s temen is offered here. We welcome corrections to the calculations offered at the CDLI page linked below!

CDLI entry: P131748

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 28 (2020-09-25)

Ur III field plans XI



We conclude our survey of early Babylonian management of agricultural fields with several days dedicated to more complex Ur III surveying on clay. The tablet depicted here, again from the Louvre collection, records the measurement results of work done on the Umma field Udu-lu-saga, including on its reverse surface the following lines:

   1 bur3 1 eše3 surface, small fields,
   4 bur3 1 eše3 2 1/4 iku surface “outside,”
   11 bur3 3 iku surface, within the temen;
   total: 17 bur3 less 3/4 iku surface.


We must therefore expect to find, in the notations of the tablet surface depicted here, the given constituent surfaces of the surveyed fields: small fields, outside fields, and a large temen field.

CDLI entry: P131748

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 27 (2020-09-24)

Ur III field plans X



The Louvre text artifact to the left was edited by the Berlin Uruk project colleagues Nissen, Damerow and Englund in 1990 (Frühe Schrift 106-110; English translation in Archaic Bookkeeping [Chicago 1993] pp, 65-69), and in 1996 by the Italian scholar Mario Liverani (JESHO 39, 9). Quoting from Archaic Bookkeeping p. 68:

[the text] gives the measures of the “field of the cattle herdsman of (the deity) Ninara.” The left side of the field, which was probably the side along the main irrigation canal, formed the base line of the surveying procedure. For each segment of the field, the length of the section on the base line, the distance to the outer border line and the calculated area were recorded. In addition, the total length of the base line is given, although this length (260 ninda, approx. 1.5 km) had no relevance for the area calculations. Furthermore, the name of the field as well as the total of its calculated areas rendered in rounded iku are registered in the plan.

The particular areas are only given with an exactness of half an iku. Peculiar is the incorrect calculation of the fifth section from the top, an error for which there are, however, numerous parallels in other field plans. Instead of recording the correct and round figure of 11 iku (= 1 eše3 5 iku) the scribe arrived at a value of ten and one half iku. Such irregularities are probably the result of the fact that before the invention of the sexagesimal place value system ... no simple method to perform multiplications was known. The reverse of the tablet bears a preliminary sketch of another field, in which, however, a series of entries was erased.


CDLI entry: P131774

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 26 (2020-09-23)

Ur III field plans IX



The topography of some of our Ur III period fields can be difficult to explain. This text from Umma province displays a series of inner-temen triangular surfaces that form jagged steps up one side; done to scale as in the sketch to the right of the tablet, however, we might more generously forgive the work of a surveyor confronted with a strong meandering canal, snaking along and around the irregular surface features of the larger field’s western border. Thirty ninda, after all, represent a stretch of some 180 meters. [Attentive cdli tableteers will notice that one of the surface measures in the sketch was furtively corrected to better fit the ninda measurements—and, we suspect, the intentions of the ancient bookkeeper.]

CDLI entry: P125397

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 25 (2020-09-22)

Ur III field plans VIII



Still another field plan from Berlin’s Vorderasiatisches Museum displays an ever more detailed description of a central temen, and surrounding “outside” fields. This particular agricultural corridor, called in Sumerian Nin-nudu, is documented in seventy further Umma accounts, covering irrigation, harrowing, sowing, grain harvest, the cutting and bundling of reed, and a number of related activities; they document, moreover, fields associated with Nin-nudu, including three with Šulpae’s “stockyard” field from our previous entry.

CDLI entry: P125396

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 24 (2020-09-21)

Ur III field plans VII



Another example of a field plan from Berlin’s Vorderasiatisches Museum, also originating in Umma province, describes the agricultural foundation of the “stockyard” of (the god) Šulpae. A drawing of the fields registered here, drawn to scale, effectively stretches the tablet’s field plan horizontally by a factor of 2 (A. Hanson, a Manchester, UK, research student at the College of Technology, now the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, published a number of short editions of these texts in the series Manchester Cuneiform Studies, this text in volume 2 [1952] p. 1).

CDLI entry: P125395

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 23 (2020-09-20)

Ur III field plans VI



A scale drawing based on the actual numbers of the text displays the relative accuracy of the basic temen rectangle, less visual accuracy of its adjoining quadrilateral, and greater differences between the ancient surveyor’s rendition of the ‘outside’ surfaces and those based, here, on his actual length measures. The correct rendering of the smaller field surfaces, moreover, indicates that their outer border was in all likelihood a gently curving waterway!

CDLI entry: P111941

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 22 (2020-09-19)

Ur III field plans V



The second line of this text’s reverse summation reads 1(eše3) 4(iku) 1/4(iku) GAN2 bar, “1 eše3 4 1/4 iku field ‘outside’.” While this notation bears a striking resemblance to the calculated area of the irregular quadriliteral that was part of the temen, the two are quite distinct, for the accountant has instead totaled the various small surfaces surrounding the rectangular temen field, consisting of a series of quadrilaterals and triangles. As an example of how the small surfaces were recorded, we can look at the first to the lower right: 20 × ((13 1/2 + 8 1/2) ÷ 2) = 220 (sar), written sexagesimally 3.40. Triangles are recorded unremarkably as rectangles cut in half. By one tally, the total is very close to the expected 1025 sar (disregarding the inner-temen triangle of the lower left corner):

   220 (20 × (13 1/2 + 8 1/2) ÷ 2))
   120 (20 × (8 1/2 + 3 1/2) ÷ 2))
   21 7/8 (12 1/2 × 3 1/2 ÷ 2)

      partial total 360 sar (?; expect 361 7/8)
   84 1/2 (13 × 13 ÷ 2)
   200 - 20/60 (?; (15 × (13 + 13 1/2) ÷ 2)) = 198 3/4)
   390 (30 × 13)

      partial total 672 1/2 sar (?; expect 674 1/2 - x)
   GRAND TOTAL: 360 + 672 1/2 = 1032.5

CDLI entry: P111941

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 21 (2020-09-18)

Ur III field plans IV



Our temen is not a perfect rectangle, but a composition of rectangle and an additional quadrilateral. Its surface area was computed in the following way: first multiply the rectangle measuring 65 × 70 ninda (that is, a surface of ca. 390 × 420 meters), you get 4550 sar, or 45.5 iku ≈ 2 bur3 1 eše3 3 1/2 iku (1 bur3 = 3 eše3, 1 eše3 = 6 iku). Add to that the irregular surface to its right, measuring 65 × ((30 + 2) ÷ 2 =) 16, you get 1040 sar, or 10 4/10 iku ≈ 1 eše3 4 1/2 iku; then add the two to equal 3 bur3 2 iku of the first line of the reverse. We will in the next slide examine the second and third lines of the reverse summations, and will in a third slide offer a drawing of what this field might actually have looked like.

CDLI entry: P111941

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 20 (2020-09-17)

Ur III field plans III



This Girsu record retains a relatively uncomplicated drawing of a modest field, but introduces the concept of the Babylonian temen. A temen is, in normal Sumerian architectural terminology, the regular platform on which a building is constructed; transferred to field management, it refers to an often artificially regular rectangle drawn to encompass the greater surface area of an irregularly shaped field. The first line of the reverse surface of this tablet from Girsu, now found in the cuneiform collection of Harvard's Semitic Museum, states that the field sketch of the obverse surface recorded a total of 3(bur3) 2(iku) GAN2 ša3 temen, “3 bur3 2 iku field within the temen.” The term ša3 temen is, in CDLI records, known almost exclusively in the context of such drawings.

CDLI entry: P111941

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 19 (2020-09-16)

Ur III field plans II



The numbers qualifying side lengths in the field sketch are relatively clear, but the results of their use in surface calculations less so. The bottom side is, in sexagesimally oriented notation, 1.25, or 85 (ninda), its opposing top side is 1.40 + 20 (the width of the box to the upper left) = 120, while the opposing left and right sides are (25 + 1.40) and 3.00, or 125 and 180 ninda, respectively. Thus the favored calculation of irregular quadrilaterals gives ((85 + 120) ÷ 2) × ((180 + 125) ÷ 2) = 15,631.25 sar (remembering that 1 sar = 1 ninda2), or 156.3125 iku (1 iku = 10 × 10 ninda = 100 sar). Subtracting from this calculated surface measure the area of the rectangle to the upper left (20 × 25 = 500 sar = 5 iku) gives 151.3125 iku, or 8 bur3 7.3125 iku, a not entirely satisfactory approximation of the given 8 bur3 4 3/4 iku (note that the surveyor correctly calculated a rectangle of 1 bur3 2 iku = 20 iku in the left-hand surface described by the length of 100 ninda and a width of 20 [that of the upper-left rectangle]). We might suspect that this discrepancy is related to the highly irregular shape of the field, given here in a more credible depiction. The Australian mathematician Daniel F. Mansfield offers at the bottom of a file linked to CDLI’s page dedicated to this artifact an elegant reconstruction of such an irregular field (in an e-mail posted to R. Englund on 24 March 2018, Mansfield wrote the “key assumption is that the surveyor measured the length DG. Note this is 98 exactly.”).

CDLI entry entry: P125393

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 18 (2020-09-15)

Ur III field plans I



Ur III period (ca. 2100-2000 BC) surveyors were known as “rope-men.” In an earlier series of cdli tablet, we have seen the records of urban architects, using brick metrology and a measuring rod (Sumerian ‘gi’) to lay out plans for large estates and monumental buildings. Fields, on the other hand, were measured with ropes, and indeed the Sumerian word for rope, ‘eš2’, is the same as that for a length measure of 10 ninda, or ca. 60 meters. The two together, early identified incorrectly as rod-and-ring, formed the classical Mesopotamain symbol of royalty: the king was a shepard of his people, but was, more than that, the guarantor of straight measurements in the management of fields, and the construction of important buildings. We might postulate that our surveyors worked with a rope knotted every ninda, and employed native geometrical principals in laying out 90° angles to achieve exact surface measure calculations (simply stake out four equal lengths of rope in a parallelogram, then pull and release to set equal diagonals, and you have a very close approximation of √2 for field use; where these failed, multiply the arithmetical means of opposite sides of quadrilaterals, resulting in relatively close approximations). The example of such a field record depicted here, part of the collection of Berlin’s Vorderasiatisches Museum, is from southern Umma province.

CDLI entry: P125393

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 17 (2020-09-14)

Old Akkadian cartography



Whoever has left Baghdad in an old Rover with concrete suspension, in search of a southern Iraqi excavation site, manned only with a sketched map done on an envelope the night before, will marvel at the comparable attention to geographic details found on many ancient Babylonian documents. The Louvre owns a number of such clay records from Telloh, ancient Girsu, that date to the Old Akkadian period (ca. 2340-2200 BC). Now combining both textual description of fields with waterways, these accounts lend a new dimension to the dry calculations of earlier periods. We will see that the Ur III period a century later witnessed the innovation of including drawings of fields in its surveying accounts.

CDLI entry: P128413, P216929

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 16 (2020-09-13)

Playing with field calculations 4



In 2007, the Swedish historian of science Jöran Friberg published an edition of this text as an appendix to his masterful treatment of the mathematical cuneiform texts in the Norwegian Schøyen Collection (MSCT 1, App. 7, CUNES 50-08-001). The line art copy here derives from that publication. As Friberg explained, the tablet contains a fairly common table of progressively larger length and corresponding surface measures. In this case, the first four lines at the upper right of the tablet, reading lines top to bottom and columns from right to left, are to be understood as: 1 nindanindax(DU) sa2 / 1 sar / 2 sa2 / 4 sar, “1 ninda squared: 1 sar; 2 (ninda squared): 4 sar.” The text continues on through ever larger length measures (note that in absolute values, 1 ninda ≈ 6 meters, thus 1 sar ≈ 36 m2 and so on) until, in the fifth column, the surface reaches a sexagesimally oriented notation of 3.20.00.00 (decimally 720,000) bur3, or a field of ca. 4,432,320 Ha—the size of Denmark.

CDLI entry: P274845

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 15 (2020-09-12)

Playing with field calculations 3



Though less subtle than exercises with unexpected calculations of artificially large fields, many Babylonian texts still make a strong impression on the reader with their almost manic attention to detail. This mathematical table of field measures from the Early Dynastic IIIb period (ca. 2400 BC) is among the many thousands of cuneiform tablets in the cuneiform collection of the Department of Near Eastern Studies, Cornell University, now being readied for repatriation to Iraq.

CDLI entry: P274845

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 14 (2020-09-11)

Playing with field calculations 2



Peter Damerow and Bob Englund drove from Berlin to Heidelberg in the spring of 1985 to collate Uruk texts in preparation of the publication of their chapter on proto-cuneiform number sign systems that appeared in Nissen & Green, Archaische Texte aus Uruk 2. Surely the most memorable moment of that trip was Peter’s discovery of the text in the figure here. The room grew quiet when he was calculating, and in this case it was no different. As he explained after some time, the text from the earliest stage of writing contained several varied multiplicands representing field lengths and widths, leading in exercises on obverse and reverse to the same result of an irregularly large, but very rounded surface measure notation of 10 šar2, or ca. 40 km2. This earliest known school text in mathematics demonstrated the playful arrangement scribes of the 34th century BC had indeed made with their medium of expression.

CDLI entry: P003118

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 13 (2020-09-10)

Playing with field calculations 1



Of course the inherent mathematical beauty in field calculation was not lost on ancient Babylonians. Already in the first phase of writing development, the Uruk IV period dating to ca. 3350 BC—perhaps some two centuries before the first fields described in this series were mapped out in Jemdet Nasr—apparent masters of the scribal art began in their spare time to play with the numbers of their day jobs. It is not always easy to catch them out in this fine game: we must pay attention to even the most damaged of ancient clay documents, such as this examplar from Uruk (excavation number W 19408,76+) now on permanent loan from the German Arcaheological Institute (Berlin) to Heidelberg University.

CDLI entry: P003118

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 12 (2020-09-09)

Fields in Fara III



A second account from the Fara collection of the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin, deals similarly with allotment fields and their required seed grain. Of particular interest in this text is the fact that it records three seed grain deliveries from two different storage facilities, their sum corresponding exactly to the amount of seed grain registered in the text considered in our previous two days’ slides. At 37 1/2 bur3, the size of the fields calculated for this seed grain very closely corresponds to that totaled in the previous text as well. We may therefore propose that this text records the seed grain for fields registered in detail in our previous Fara account.

CDLI entry: P011012

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 11 (2020-09-08)

Fields in Fara II



VAT 12656 registers altogether 104 allotment fields distributed among active members of the Fara elite community, including merchants, boatmen, smiths, carpenters, brewers, fisheries managers and other professions. The individual fields ranged in size from 2.5 to 10 iku, and, as we have seen in earlier examples, the fields were totaled on the tablet reverse, recording: 3 bur’u 7 bur3 1 eše3 GAN2, that is, 672 iku or about 220 hectare; and 21 “gur-maḫ” of seed grain, where each ED IIIa gur-maḫ contained 480 sila3, or perhaps 500 liters of grain. The seeding rate of 15 sila3 per iku corresponds to 270 sila3 per bur3, fully consistent with rates known from later periods, and with rates suspected in a previous entry to this series for the Late Uruk era.

CDLI entry: P011010

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 10 (2020-09-07)

Fields in Fara I



The Early Dynastic IIIa period (ca. 2600 BC) is best known through the clear graphic style of the scribes from Fara, ancient Šuruppak—and as a paleographic transition stage between the pictography of the archaic eras, and the increasing sign abstraction of the latter half of the 3rd millennium. German and the bedeviling contemporaneous irregular excavations at the site in the early years of the 19-naughts resulted in some 800 cuneiform artifacts moving into a variety of collections, most significant among them those of the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin, and the Arkeoloji Müzeleri, Istanbul. The image here is a cut-away from the beautifully preserved Berlin piece VAT 12656 published in 1924 by Anton Deimel (Wirtschaftstexte aus Fara no. 53), with short comment in Nissen, Damerow and Englund, Archaic Bookkeeping pp. 58-64. This account dealt with seed grain reserved for fields surrounding Šuruppak.

CDLI entry: P011010

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 9 (2020-09-06)

Calculating Jemdet Nasr barley harvests II



2N45 5N14 in seed grain recorded on the one surface of this tablet, a notation also qualified with the ideogram for barley, corresponds to 150 basic units of grain, or 15 such units per bur3 of field. Damerow and Englund have made a credible case for the absolute size of ca. 25 liters per basic unit (N1, equal to 30 day rations of ca. 0.8 liters each) of grain in the Late Uruk capacity system. The resulting 15x25 = 325 liters per bur3 compares well with standard sowing rates from 3rd millennium accounts of between 240 and 360 liters of seed grain per bur3.

CDLI entry: P005077

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 8 (2020-09-05)

Calculating Jemdet Nasr barley harvests



The issue of ancient bookkeepers making seeding and harvest predictions was not idle speculation. The present text, part of the collection of the Oriental Insitute of the University of Chicago, appears to register on the one surface a rounded field measurement of 10 bur3, while the opposite surface records a grain measure of a size that suggests it is in fact a model seeding account.

CDLI entry: P005077

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 7 (2020-09-04)

An Uruk III period (ca. 3200-3000 BC) field document from Jemdet Nasr V



Given the number and measures treated in the previous four entries, we can speculate about the form of these various fields, viewed from above. The fields of the five named Jemdet Nasr officials are sketched below an idealized main canal in our map, each receiving irrigation water from feeder canals diverting flow from the main canal, and each of these certainly further characterized by a network of smaller canals and ditches that watered the crops. We expect that the larger feeder canals led to a second main canal that carried excess water on to the next set of irrigated fields. The relative size of the area controlled by the “priest-king” of Jemdet Nasr is indicated above the central canal. That high priest of Jemdet Nasr had the use of fields corresponding to 155 bur3, or, as we think, sufficient crop land to support some 4,000 individuals, disregarding for now the income the ruler would have enjoyed from household herds of cattle, and sheep and goats, from his pig and carp farms, and his various imposts, customs and tithes.

CDLI entry: P005069

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 6 (2020-09-03)

An Uruk III period (ca. 3200-3000 BC) field document from Jemdet Nasr IV



The rule of archaic accountants was, eventual summations were reserved for the opposite surface of the clay tablets whose obverse surface carried individual transaction numbers. So also here, as we might already deduct from the structure of the numerical notations themselves. While the largest area notation on the obverse of this text was 1x10 plus some number of bur3, the three larger notations found at the top and right of this reverse surface all contain larger measures, including multiples of the 10-bur3 sign as well as, with notations always structured to indicate the largest units at the top of an associated group of signs, large circular impressions without centered smaller impressions. These latter signs are known to represent six of the 10-bur3 signs, or 60 bur3.

The case to the lower left contains the apparent total of all small field units qualified on the tablet’s obverse as “BAR”, here further qualified with the KI and a third sign that means wood. Later field accounts demonstrate that these were the smaller border areas of grain fields that were either unusable, or were apparently planted in trees, for instance the widely forested poplar, that would at once act as sources for construction wood, as well as a wind-break for the fields themselves. bar in Sumerian texts means outside. The middle of the three lower cases, on the other hand, contains the apparent total of all five calculated areas of the obverse text, less their outside surfaces. These KI surfaces are qualified with the snake pictogram that, again in later tradition and apparently already here, meant “to measure.” But now something unexpected happens. The lower right case contains exactly 2x the “measured” fields of the five Jemdet Nasr officials, itself qualifed with GAN2, and the famous “priest-king” sign EN known, among other media, from the offerings brought into a temple household on the Uruk Vase. Thus the priest-king of Jemdet Nasr maintained fields equaling an area, and therefore an income, twice that of his five leading officials combined.

CDLI entry: P005069

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 5 (2020-09-02)

An Uruk III period (ca. 3200-3000 BC) field document from Jemdet Nasr III



Let’s have a look at the first two of these calculated fields. In the first column (we are reading the text as its ancient scribe would have written it, namely, in lines or columns from top to bottom, and columns right to left), we note, first, four impressions of the butt end of a large round stylus held obliquely to the surface of the clay tablet, followed by five small circular impressions made by a smaller round stylus held upright. These are known to be members of the ancient sexagesimally structured numerical sign system, standing for 60 and 10, respectively. Similarly, the second case contains one obliquely impressed large sign, and four smaller circular impressions. Assuming these represent the length and width of the measured field, we may treat the two as multiplicands: 290 x 100 = 29,000 “square ninda”, later Sumerian “sar” = “garden”, or, converted to the surface area notational system that would remain largely unchanged for 3000 years, 290 iku, = 16 bur3 2 iku. We can see a large circular impression, its center further impressed with a smaller circle, followed by 6 such smaller circular impressions—thus representing our 16 bur3—and the whole is qualified with our field sign GAN2. The smaller notation at the end, however, would appear to represent not 2 iku, but rather 2 x 6 = 12.

The second column, in like fashion, contains notations—and the first cases always referenced the apparent lords of these fields, officials otherwise well-attested in the Jemdet Nasr accounts—representing the presumed mulitplicands 312 and 90, resulting in 28,080 sar, or 15 bur3 10.8 iku. We believe the last units at the very bottom of this column, actually the basic “one iku” units rotated 90° to the right, represented 1/10th of one iku, but then why not here eight rather that seven of them? This, and the previous seeming error, are but two of several small infidelities in such calculations that keep the proto-cuneiformist from being all too self-satisfied—and, we may note, the ultimate techniques used by archaic bookkeepers to calculate surface from linear measures are not clear to us.

Now—try your hand at solving the calculations of the remaining three fields.

CDLI entry: P005069

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 4 (2020-09-01)

An Uruk III period (ca. 3200-3000 BC) field document from Jemdet Nasr II



Indeed, after Langdon’s 1928 publication of the tablet in volume 7 of the series Oxford Editions of Cuneiform Texts—the clumsiest edition of cuneiform documents on record, made worse by the horrendous excavation records kept by the Oxford professor—, the Frenchman Allotte de la Fuÿe offered an improved edition in 1930 (RA 27, pp. 65-71); the Russian Vaiman made further improvements in 1966 (Peredn. sbornik, pp. 13-15); and more recently the text has been re-edited by a group of Berlin specialists (Nissen, Englund & Damerow, Frühe Schrift [1990] pp. 96-99, with English translation in their Archaic Bookkeeping [Chicago 1993] pp. 55-57), by the Swedish mathematician Friberg in 1997/98 (AfO 44/45, 19ff.) and most recently again by Englund in 1998 (OBO 160/1, 206-207 + fig. 83).

All of these specialists were struck by the evidence this and several more related texts from Jemdet Nasr offered for mathematical techniques employed by our most ancient bookkeepers to calculate surfaces based on linear measurements of their respective sides. In this record, the lengths of agricultural fields surrounding Jemdet Nasr are qualified with an upright wedge, while the field widths are indicated with horizontal wedges. To these ideographic signs are added sexagesimal notations representing counted length units, known to correspond to a (Sumerian) “ninda(n)” of ca. 6 meters. Thus purely on visual grounds, the upper surface of this tablet could be divided into five columns, each representing apparent fields, and within each column in successive cases the length, width, and corresponding field surface measures—such measures were, after all, critical to archaic farmers since they formed the basis for subsequent calculations of the seed grain needed to sow the fields, as well as of the expected harvest. This third case, counting from the top of each column, contained circular impressions known from later Babylonian records to represent surface measures.

CDLI entry: P005069

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 3 (2020-08-31)

An Uruk III period (ca. 3200-3000 BC) field document from Jemdet Nasr I



Ernest Mackay, a student of Sir Flinders Petrie, is best known for his excavations of the great Indus civilization at Mohenjo-Daro, but he is most dear to cuneiformists for his 1920s work at the massive mound of Kish in the “waist” of ancient Mesopotamia. The Kish excavators were, in 1925, made aware of random finds of decidedly archaic cuneiform tablets at the nearby mound know as Jemdet Nasr (‘hillock of [Sheikh] Nāṣr’; its ancient name is unknown), so that Mackay helped to organize a 1926 campaign to Jemdet Nasr, led by the Oxford Assyriologist Stephen Langdon. Among the most significant of the discoveries from the work at the small settlement is the text pictured here. With its striking and uniformly deep, round and conical impressions, the text was early on recognized as an account containing calculations of fields. To the upper left of the tablet’s reverse surface (pictured at the bottom), you will find the same GAN2 sign of our previous text, and below that register, to the lower left, two cases with the same KI. But the number signs are the text’s most captivating elements ...

CDLI entry: P005069

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 2 (2020-08-30)

An ED I-II (ca. 2900-2700 BC) field document on stone II



We warn our students to avoid speculative identifications of the most ancient forms of cuneiform signs based solely on pictographic similarities. However, the two signs highlighted here enjoyed an unbroken history of use in Babylonian documents, remaining essentially unchanged both in their graphic form, as well as in their context within cuneiform texts. Both also, though seemingly abstract, have concrete pictographic referents. The sign to the left, read in Sumerian “ki” and meaning “place or “settlement,” will have been a representation of meandering waterways that fed southern Mesopotamia’s life-sustaining canals. We may imagine that this in turn represented the first, unstructured stage of settlement in the riverine south. The second sign, read in Sumerian “GAN2” or perhaps “aša5,” represented straight feeder, and secondary canals prepared and maintained to support the irrigation agriculture that formed the basis for Babylonian economic, political and military strength in the millennia of the pre-Christian age in the Middle East. This sign GAN2 is qualified in the case indicated with a numerical notation that represented some 162 hectares of arable land.

CDLI entry: P427655

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Babylonian field management: 1 (2020-08-29)

An ED I-II (ca. 2900-2700 BC) field document on stone I



We have in an earlier series described some of the textual evidence documenting building construction in Mesopotamia. The current slide initiates a number of entries dedicated to the bookkeeping involved in the management of the agricultural fields whose harvests fed the city craftsmen and laborers and therefore ultimately made the construction and maintenance of such buildings possible. This first text is found on a cylindrical stone in the Swiss Bodmer Museum, representing the type of document called kudurrus in later Babylonian tradition. Most of these texts were edited in a two-volume work by the University of Chicago Orientalists Ignace Gelb, Piotr Steinkeller and Robert Whiting (=Oriental Institute Publications vol. 104). Steinkeller particularly has identified a sign combination |SILA3axDUGa| found on this text as characteristic of early field sale contracts.

CDLI entry: P427655

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Montserrat Museum: 20 (2020-08-28)

Various fragments and new joins; Montserrat Museum.



Collections of the size as that of the Museum of the Abbey of Montserrat often include a good number of fragmentary text artifacts. During CDLI’s imaging mission in Montserrat, several of the approximately 90 fragments could be joined. It is likely that further fragments (those are shown with reduced opacity) will result in joins in the future. Since the texts in the collection have been imaged and made accessible online, a preliminary (digital) joining can be achieved from any workstation worldwide.

CDLI entry: Fragments

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus & Lafont, Bertrand

Montserrat Museum: 19 (2020-08-27)

Possible Fake; Montserrat Museum, MM unn. 11.



The collection of Montserrat Museum contains several cuneiform forgeries. These include seven clay tablets, five clay barrels, two stone bowls, and a figurine (I. M. Rowe & M. Molina, “Cuneiform forgeries in the Museu Bíblic of Montserrat (Barcelona),” Fs. Sanmartín [2006] pp. 289ff.). Some of these forgeries seem to imitate cuneiform characters quite accurately. MM 441, clearly a forgery, appears not just to draw from neo-Babylonian sign forms, but also from contemporary royal inscriptions.

An intriguing object is a figurine in the collection. This possible fake resembling an amulet is quite unique. At the feet of the figure, a slab is depicted with nine lines of inscription. The sign forms resemble the monumental script of the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900-1600 BC). Nevertheless, the text itself makes no sense. It is difficult to date such an object. The female figurine wears clothes that seem to date to Late Antiquity. This “fake” could therefore in fact be a work done in Late Antiquity. There are cases when inscriptions, already ancient back then, have been found and re-used. A very good example is MS 2400, a building inscription dating to the Lagash II period (2200-2100 BC), which was evidently re-used as an amulet in early Islamic times; its “excavator” added an Arabic inscription without erasing the original cuneiform text. The figurine in Montserrat, however, represents a different case. It is conceivable that an ancient inscription was found and used as model for the slab at the feet of the figurine.

CDLI entry: P432947

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus & Lafont, Bertrand

Montserrat Museum: 18 (2020-08-26)

Early Old Babylonian royal inscriptions by Sîn-kāšid; Montserrat Museum.



Montserrat Museum holds a larger collection of royal inscriptions that commemorate building projects by the ruler Sinkashid. These texts date to the Early Old Babylonian period (ca. 2000-1900 BC).

These short inscriptions are attested in two shapes. A group uses a tablet-shape, another one little cones. Building inscriptions as these were usually deposited in the foundations of temples, but the high amount of manuscripts suggests that these small objects were possibly distributed in order to commemorate Sîn-kāšid's temple building.

CDLI entries: List of tablets
List of cones

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus & Lafont, Bertrand

Montserrat Museum: 17 (2020-08-25)

Early Old Babylonian royal inscription by Sîn-kāšid; Montserrat Museum, MM 710-8.



This cone dating to the Early Old Babylonian period (ca. 2000-1900 BC) commemorates the building of a temple for god Lugalbanda and his spouse Ninsun by Sîn-kāšid, king of Uruk and king of Amnanum.

The inscription contains an interesting reference to the silver equivalencies at that time:

In his period of kingship, according to the market value of his land, 3 kor of barley, 12 minas of wool, 10 minas of copper, 3 ban of vegetable oil cost one shekel of silver.

CDLI entry: P432704
CDLI composite text: P448524

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus & Lafont, Bertrand

Montserrat Museum: 16 (2020-08-24)

Middle Hittite fragments; Montserrat Museum, MM 1501 and MM 1502.



The collection of the Montserrat Museum holds several fragments containing Middle Hittite texts. MM 1501 on the left-hand side joins to Bo. 363 (Istanbul Museum) and contains a text known as the "Great Feast of Arinna" (CTH 634). This composition is well attested in the Hittite documentation (see the list of available manuscript in the Konkordanz der hethitischen Texte).

The second fragment was classified as fragment describing rituals for cultic feasts (CTH 670) (see the list of available manuscript in the Konkordanz der hethitischen Texte).



CDLI entry: MM 1501 and MM 1502

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus & Lafont, Bertrand

Montserrat Museum: 15 (2020-08-23)

List of body-parts; Montserrat Museum, MM 502.



Scribes of the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1900-1600 BC) composed a scholarly list of human body-parts beginning with Sumerian ugu-mu, “my skull.” The entries of this lexical text follow down systematically from the head to the feet. Most of its witness manuscripts contain only the Sumerian designations of these body parts. Nevertheless, there are already in the Old Babylonian period bilingual versions of the composition providing their Akkadian translations. This fragment in the Montserrat Museum is such an examplar.

CDLI entry: P283788

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus & Lafont, Bertrand

Montserrat Museum: 14 (2020-08-22)

List of plants and drugs for treatment of illnesses; Montserrat Museum, MM 501.



The fragment originates from Babylon and originally belonged most likely to a private "library" in a Neo-Babylonian house (see O. Pedersén, ADOG 25 [2005], 279ff.). This private house was in a well-located area of Babylon, not far off of the famous ziqqurat of Marduk, the Etemenanki. The approximately sixty tablets that can be assigned to this house date to the second half of the first millennium BC and mainly to the Achaemenid and Hellenistic periods.

The tablet had two columns on both obverse and reverse. The text contains a list of plants and drugs that were used as sole cure for ailments. Each entry provides (1) the name of the plant or drug categorised with the Sumerian classifier u2, "plant," (2) the name of the illness and (3) the way of applying the plant for treatment. Such lists are organised either by the plants or by the illnesses. MM 501 follows the latter case.

The tablets BAM 4, 380 and STT 1, 92 are duplicates, which provide the information in three columns instead of two as on MM 501.

Such lists differ from more complex recipes that includes different kinds of plants and ingredients for the treatment of illnesses.

Edition: B. Böck, "Die medizinischen Texte der Tontafelsammlung des Klostermuseums Montserrat," Fs Tragan (2011), 22ff.

CDLI entry: P285452

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus & Lafont, Bertrand

Montserrat Museum: 13 (2020-08-21)

Medical recipe; Montserrat Museum, MM 479.



This small tablet in the Montserrat Museum dates to the Neo-Babylonian period (ca. 626-539 BC). It was published by F. Köcher in the fourth volume of Die babylonisch-assyrische Medizin und Untersuchungen as BAM IV, 392. It is the only example of an incomplete recipe containing various designations for drugs. Texts as this example omit the description of the symptoms of an illness.

Edition: B. Böck, "Die medizinischen Texte der Tontafelsammlung des Klostermuseums Montserrat," Fs Tragan (2011), 30ff.

CDLI entry: P285463

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus & Lafont, Bertrand

Montserrat Museum: 12 (2020-08-20)

Achaemenid letter; Montserrat Museum, MM 504.



The institutional archive of the Eanna temple in Uruk consists of approximately 8,000 texts (see the remarks in Jursa, Neo-Babylonian Legal and Administrative Documents, 2005, 138f.). The texts predominately date to the early reign of the Neo-Babylonian king Nabopolassar. The latest texts date to the 29th year of Darius. There is a break in the archive in the second year of Darius, which might be connected to investigations regarding the corrupt official Gimillu. Although many texts belonging to the Eanna archive have been found by the German excavators, many texts came via illicit excavations onto the antiquities market and found their way into major US and European museum collections.

This letter from the Eanna archive in the Museum of the Abbey of Montserrat dates to a time of great tension. The administration of the Eanna temple underwent a major re-arrangement after the Persian conquest of Babylonia. As the text also mentions, we are in the term of the satrap Gobryas (line 11: gu-bar-ru). The letter writer Innin-ahhe-iddin writes to his superior Nadin as follows (edition: Stolper, Achaemenid History 13, 265ff.):

There is no-one who has exact information about my rations except for you. (You,) my lord, should consult your list, whether old or current, (and) [(you,) my lord should] send me my rations. I have seen the document that you sent me. It is satisfactory to me. Until Gobryas has had assignments made(?) for temple-slaves of Bel, Nabû, or Nergal, their rations are paid according to the list from (the time of) Nebuchadnezzar.

CDLI entry: P432824

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus & Lafont, Bertrand

Montserrat Museum: 11 (2020-08-19)

Neo-Babylonian text with land register from Uruk; Montserrat Museum, MM 220b.



Among the neo-Babylonian texts and fragments kept in the Museum of the Abbey of Montserrat is this well-preserved fragment of a text dealing with land registers (edition: C. Wunsch, AuOr 15, 141ff.). Although not fully preserved, the tablet can be dated to the 13th year of the neo-Babylonian king Nabonidus (543 BC).

The text represents an inventory of various fields and gardens in and around the city of Uruk. For neo-Babylonian Uruk, we have the large institutional archive of the Eanna-temple, to which currently about 9,000 texts can be assigned. The plots mentioned in this text are related to the temple, and in at least two cases private land was transferred to the temple estates.

Another aspect of this text is noteworthy. It provides information about the location and size of temple estates in that area and furthermore allows insights into the administrative procedures related to these lands. The areas mentioned in this text do not seem be adjacent to each other. One plot had already been registered in a previous inventory. It adds the remark akî lē'i labīri šaṭir, “as is written on the old tablet.”

CDLI entry: P432815

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus & Lafont, Bertrand

Montserrat Museum: 10 (2020-08-18)

Legal document dating to the Old Babylonian period; Montserrat Museum, MM 830.



Old Babylonian legal texts are easy to recognise. They carry many physical features, which make them stand out compared to legal and administrative texts of the Ur III or early Old Babylonian period.

This small document in the collection of the Montserrat Museum (edition: J. A. Belmonte Marín, "Old Babylonian Administrative and Legal Texts from the Montserrat Museum," AuOr 15 [1997], no. 12) is a typical loan of silver, whose content starts with the amount of silver. It states that an individual, whose name is just partially preserved, received silver in order to buy barley. As frequently attested this document contains the following clause:

On the day of [the harvest time] he shall measure out barley (at the current) [mar]ket [rate in effect] to the bearer of [his] do[cument].

This clause is followed by several witnesses and a date, which allows us for dating this document into the 18th year of the Babylonian ruler Samsu-ditana.

The cross-hatching on the reverse is not modern damage. The texts represents a cancelled tablet, which was invalidated by striking text and seal impression on the reverse.

CDLI entry: P432857

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus & Lafont, Bertrand

Montserrat Museum: 9 (2020-08-17)

Court decision following the contestation of a slave purchase; Montserrat Museum, MM 495.



This tablet in the collection of Montserrat Museum (published as MVN 18, 321) dates to the Ur III period (ca. 2100-2000 BC) and records a court decision following the contestation, by an officer, of a slave purchase by one of his men. The oath taken by the slave himself established the legal rights of the buyer.

Translation:
Aḫīma bought (the slave) Šu-Erra,
son of Ur-Bilgames, for 10 shekels of silver;
Pussunum, his officer-of-sixty, said:
"He did not buy him;"
Šu-Erra, Šukubum (and) Azuli appeared as witnesses;
among them, Šu-Erra was delivered to take the oath;
after Šu-Erra had sworn, Aḫīma took over the slave.
(Act established) in the presence of Lu-amana;
year: “The king Amar-Suen destroyed Urbilum”
(= 2nd year of the reign of Amar-Suen, ca. 2045 BC).

CDLI entry: P101616

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus & Lafont, Bertrand

Montserrat Museum: 8 (2020-08-16)

Round clay label (bulla) with text and seal impression; Montserrat Museum, MM 221.



The Ur III period was witness to many different forms of text artifacts. A rather important, but small group are clay labels. The collection of the Museum of the Abbey of Montserrat includes this round label (a kind of document that archaeologists call bullae). To produce such a label, a lump of clay enclosed either a cord or textile to protect against manipulation of some group of texts, or related commodities.

The outer surface of this label was sealed and inscribed. The economic account written on it deals with four oxen and thirty-two sheep and goats that were slaughtered for sacrifice (ba-uš2). They were the property of a certain Tahiš-atal, an individual frequently mentioned in Ur III documents.

Our document dates to the 6th year in the reign of Amar-Suen. After the date follows a term that is attested several times on such bullae: e2-tum for Akkadian bītum, “house” (see the discussion by Wolfgang Heimpel, JAOS 114 [1996] 280, with earlier literature). Following UTI 3, 2105, in the Arkeoloji Müzeleri in Istanbul, which separates im e2-tum and im didli, “ ‘house’ tablets” and “single tablets,” it seems that e2-tum designates a kind of container within a tablet box (Sumerian pisan-dub-ba) that was closed and provided with a sealed label.

The technical term e2-tum is found on JRL 331 as well. Its seal is also the same, although on the example in Montserrat the impression is poorly preserved. The text in the John Rylands Library dates to the accession year of Amar-Suen and concerns 48 oxen and cows, and 775 sheep and goats, evidently offerings for the table of the 1% of the 21st century—BC. It is likely that the container or bag for which such a label was intended contained records of the named month(s). Therefore, the label in Montserrat records documents for the period from the 18th day of the 5th month through the completed 12th month of Amar-Suen 6.

CDLI entries: P107846 & P101388

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus & Lafont, Bertrand

Montserrat Museum: 6 (2020-08-15)

Lexical text with geographical section; Montserrat Museum, MM 859 + MM 860



The collection of the Museum of the Abbey of Montserrat keeps a small selection of lexical texts from Mesopotamia, most notably a copy of tablet XXI of the multi-thematic series ur5-ra : hubullu (edited in MSL 11). This section of the series contains geographical names.

M. Molina published lexical and other school texts in the Montserrat collection (Molina, Fs Cagni, 751ff.; 753 no. 6). In doing so, he could join the small fragment MM 860, which adds important information to the first column and hence to the first entries of the list, whose reconstruction is still rather tentative due to its absence among the texts of the Kuyuncik collection.

Another text dealing with toponyms and also dating to the Neo-Babylonian period is Ashm 1923-277.

CDLI entry: P283789

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus & Lafont, Bertrand

Montserrat Museum: 5 (2020-08-14)

Neo-Babylonian manuscript of a ritual regarding the well; Montserrat Museum, MM 889.



In 1971, Richard Caplice published texts in the Kuyunjik collection of the British Museum that are classified as belonging to the genre of nam-bur2-bi, or “its resolution” (OrNS 40, 133ff.). In no. 49, he collected manuscripts belonging to tablet 17 of the terrestrial omens, whose first entry is šumma ālu ina mēlê šakin, “When a city is placed on high.” This large series originally contained 120 tablets. Each entry, as is common for omens, starts with a protasis introducing a condition, while a following apodosis provides a result.

Two years later, Caplice published the present neo-Babylonian tablet kept in the collection of the Museum of the Abbey of Montserrat with a hand-copy by Miguel Civil (OrNS 40, 511ff.). The colophon, though preserved, unfortunately does not name the responsible scribe.

Each entry is introduced by the number sign DIŠ, rendered with šumma in Akkadian (meaning “if”). Except for a couple of syllabically written words, most of the text employs Sumerian logograms, as is quite common in late scholarly compositions. Let us give a couple of lines in translation, which are preserved in the Montserrat manuscript:

If a man digs a well in the courtyard of his house, he will have trouble; (variant:) he will grow rich.
If he digs a well in the cattle yard, he will have good luck.
If he digs a well in the back of the house, he will grow poor.
If he digs a well in the woods, he will grow rich.
If he digs a well in garden plots, he will eat thick bread.
If he digs a well at the side of his house, income will flow in for him.
(rule)
If a man, when he digs a well, sees a silvery substance, that house will grow poor.
If he sees a golden substance, that man will live to an old age.
If he sees a tinny substance, his fame will be fair.


The text continues with a rather long list of metals, going on to stones, ants and other appearances. As this passage shows, the compilers tried to exploit as many possibilities as occurred to them. This is a feature well known from the Mesopotamian lexical tradition.

The reverse contains in its lower part (directly above the colophon) a namburbi ritual “for a new well, an old well, the repair of a well or washing place of a man's house.” It gives detailed instructions for someone who wishes to dig a well. These include purification rituals and the recitation of certain incantations (in this case the incantation "The well of Gilgameš").

CDLI entry: P432877

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus & Lafont, Bertrand

Montserrat Museum: 4 (2020-08-13)

Manuscript of the Akkadian poem "Išum and Erra"; Montserrat Museum, MM 837.



The Akkadian poem known as "Išum and Erra" is, as Andrew George put it, "a portrayal of violence (...), how it needs to be recognized and feared as potentially the most powerful of forces. Violence can eliminate even the order ordained by the gods and sweep away in its frenzy all the hopes and accomplishments of civilization" (A. R. George, Before the Muses [2005], 880).

This literary text is one of a few compositions that name its author:

How it came to pass that Erra grew angry and set out to lay waste the lands and destroy their peoples,
But Ishum his counsellor calmed him and left a remnant,
The composer of its text was Kabti-ilani-Marduk, of the family of Dabibi.
He revealed it at night (...),
Nor one line did he add.


MM 837 is one of two manuscripts of this literary text in the collection of Montserrat Museum. The other fragment, MM 841, originally contained a complete copy of Tablet V of the poem.

CDLI entry: P432861

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus & Lafont, Bertrand

Montserrat Museum: 3 (2020-08-12)

Late Babylonian manuscript of the first tablet of the “Atra-hasis Epic”; Montserrat Museum, MM 818.



The collection of the Museum of the Abbey of Montserrat contains a small number of Akkadian literary fragments. Among these is a fragmentary copy of the first tablet of the famous “Atrahasis Epic,” that is, the Old Babylonian precursor of the flood story related in the 11th tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic. This artifact constitutes the lower fifth of a one-column tablet, whose obverse and reverse surfaces originally contained about 50 lines each, physical characteristics otherwise known in contemporary manuscripts from the “Sippar library” (A. R. George and F. N. H. Al-Rawi, Iraq 58 [1996] 147-190). Since it was acquired in the antiquities markets, just where the Montserrat fragment was unearthed in modern times is unknown. However, the Catalan monk P. Ubach acquired several text artifacts in the 1920s directly from Babylon that were transferred to the Montserrat collection, and this fragment may have come from there.

The surviving text on MM 818 belongs to the opening episodes of the epic, but shows intriguing variations to the manuscripts of the 1st millennium BC. This fragment preserves lines 38-61 of the composition, a crucial passage in the text according to which the Igigi gods, created to undertake hard labor, begin to complain about their fate.

CDLI entry: P432850

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus & Lafont, Bertrand

Montserrat Museum: 2 (2020-08-11)

Fragment of the “Instructions of Ur-Ninurta” dating to the Middle Babylonian period; Montserrat Museum, MM 487b



This fragment in Montserrat Museum is a splinter of the obverse of a tablet dating to the Middle Babylonian period (ca. 1400-1100 BC). It is now assumed that this fragment originally belonged to a six- or eight-column tablet with a total of approximately 320 lines. This tablet would have contained several compositions (for the latest edition see I. Rowe, “The Montserrat Fragment of the Instructions of Ur-Ninurta,” ZA 102 [2012], 179ff.). This is based on the Old Babylonian tablet VS 10, 204. That tablet contained a still unknown composition (A) followed by the Disputation of the Bird and the Fish (B). The third composition or group of compositions is known as Instructions of Ur-Ninurta (C). These precede a fourth group known as Counsels of Wisdom. Some of the latter two compositions might have been independent texts originally.

The Montserrat fragment adds important bilingual information to this Sumerian composition. The text contains several Akkadian glosses, which are written in smaller script slightly above the lines. The Middle Babylonian period represents a transitional phase. Various Sumerian literary compositions were transmitted together with their Akkadian interlinear translations. On this fragment however (partial) translations are still presented as glosses.

Edition: B. Alster, Wisdom of Ancient Sumer, 2005, 221ff.

CDLI entry: P432823

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus & Lafont, Bertrand

Montserrat Museum: 1 (2020-08-10)

Sumerian fragment of the “Instructions of Šuruppag” dating to the Old Babylonian period; Montserrat Museum, MM 477+MM 864



The Sumerian literary composition known nowadays as “Instructions of Šuruppag” is one of the few literary texts, whose ancestors can be traced back into the Early Dynastic period. Of these, the version from Tell Abu Salabikh (ca. 2600-2500 BC; OIP 99, 323+) is the most complete. Another, quite fragmentary version comes from Adab.

However, the best documentation dates to the Old Babylonian period with a large amount of Sumerian versions. Among one of those manuscripts is also this tablet in the Montserrat Museum. It contains an extract of the Sumerian text. Its provenience is unfortunately not certain.

The “Instructions of Šuruppag” belong to a sub-genre of Mesopotamian Wisdom Literature. It contains instructions addressed to a son by his father, namely the ruler of the antediluvian city of Šuruppag. Although one expects that the instructions shall prepare his son to the role as ruler, the text is not explicit in that regard. The advices mainly feature proverbial sayings, so, for instance:

At the time of the harvest, at the most precious time,
glean like a slave girl, eat like a queen,
my son, glean like a slave girl, but eat like a queen, that is how it should be indeed!

Edition: B. Alster, Wisdom of Ancient Sumer, 2005, 46ff.

CDLI entry: P432820

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus & Lafont, Bertrand

Varia: The Adda Seal (2020-08-09)

Imprint from a Greenstone cylinder seal from ca. 2300 BC from the ancient city of Sippar, modern day southern Iraq. Such cylinder seals were used to mark ownership on rooms and the Adda seal has various God and Goddesses depicted on it.



The Adda seal contains various Gods and Goddesses including a unidentified hunting god on the far left holding a bow and arrow next to the goddess Ishtar who is winged and armed with an axe and mace rising over her shoulders while holding a bush that is presumably a group of dates. Ishtar is standing above the sun God Shamashís head who has rays coming out of him and is holding onto a blade while emerging between two square-shaped mountains. To the right of the sun god is the water god Ea (Enki) who has one foot on a mountain and one arm reaching out to a eagle that is presumed to be the Zu bird who stole the tablets of dynasty. The God Ea (Enki) is usually depicted with water and fish flowing from his body. On the far right is Eaís vizier, a two-faced follower called Usimu on his right with his hand raised towards Ea. It could be noted that all male figures in the Adda seal have growing beards while the females do not. Also everyone in the Adda seal is wearing the multiple-horned head dresses which symbolizes their presence as Gods or deities. These seals were used to mark ownership in various places such as storerooms where the seal would be imprinted on the door or part of the room. The seal is only about 3.9cm in height and were often carried around.

Reference: BM 89115

credit: Kim, Kirk

ED IIIb Administrative Titles: 5 (2020-08-08)

A small ED IIIb text dating to the 1st year of Lugalanda, describing Baranamtara overseeing trade with Elam.



Interestingly, this text presents an instance of long-distance trade that was conducted through the e2-munus, or the ‘household of women’ (= divine Baba). The text mentions 270 še gur saggal in measures equivalent to the value of another measure of wool that is to be sent to Elam. This grain is given to Enudana, merchant (Sumerian dam-gar3) of the e2-munus, by Uremuš, the chief merchant under Lugalanda, the governor of Lagash province and husband of Baranamtara. The importance of this text suggests that each household had its own merchants in order to conduct long-distance trade on behalf of the highest administrative officials.

CDLI entry: P221854

credit: Guerra, Dylan M.

ED IIIb Administrative Titles: 4 (2020-08-07)

An ED IIIb text dating to the 3rd year of Lugalanda, which describes an exchange of gifts between the wives of governors.



The wife of the governor partook in the administrative structure by presiding over the ‟household of the woman” (=divine Baba). However, she also conducted her own personal exchanges with members of other ruling families. In this text, Baranamtara (literally “dais-of-fate”), wife of Lugalanda, exchanges amounts of tin and bronze in return for dolls made of boxwood (Sumerian geštaškarin) and ivory (zu2 am-si) delivered by servants of Ningeškimti, wife of the governor of Adab. Their messengers, Malga and Anedanumea, also receive considerable compensation for their services in the form of exquisite garments (tug2) and scented oil (i3-ir-a).

CDLI entry: P221416

credit: Guerra, Dylan M.

ED IIIb Administrative Titles: 3 (2020-08-06)

An Old Sumerian administrative text concerning the delivery of fish, dated to the ED IIIb period (2500-2340 BC), 3rd year of ruler Urukagina.



As mentioned in the previous entry, the nu-banda3 engaged in a wide variety of activities in serving the temple. Interestingly, Eniggal was also involved in securing supplies for cooks (Sumerian muḫaldim). In this text, a total of 1200 fish are delivered to Eniggal by three overseers of fishermen, and then given to Amar-giri, the cook, who will use the fish for fermentation. Other texts describe Amar-giri as a brewer (Sumerian lu2 lungax) associated with the house of the cook (e2-muḫaldim). It has been suggested the house of the cook is responsible for allocating food to various organizations associated with the temple and aristocracy (see Lance Allred, Cooks and Kitchens: Centralized Food Production in Late Third Millennium Mesopotamia [unpubl. Johns Hopkins dissertation 2007] for further discussions of cooks and their provisional services). This connection between the house of the cook and temple household further accentuates the network of communication and the extent of the administrative structure during the ED IIIb period.

CDLI entry: P220954

credit: Guerra, Dylan M.

ED IIIb Administrative Titles: 2 (2020-08-05)

An Old Sumerian administrative text detailing the distribution of rations to dependent workers and regular offerings to the temple by Eniggal, the majordomo; it was found in ancient Girsu and is dated to the ED IIIb period (2500-2340 BC) during the reign of Lugalanda.



The text describes the allocation of barley rations to the female slaves and children (geme2, dumu-dumu-ne), the ‘blind’ workers (igi-nu-du8), and the oxen and sheep (gu4, udu) during the month of the malt-eating festival of Nanše. The basis for amounts distributed depends on the accumulated amount of work-time, age, sex, and worker status (specialized vs. unskilled labor). In this text, these designated workers form the lower tier of ration distribution for the unskilled labor they invested into the temple household.

Monthly quotas were set by the temple administration and communicated to the lesser officials who organized the workforce. Most often, deficits were incurred because monthly quotas were not fulfilled. This meant that the expected input did not meet the actual output of the workers, resulting in the owed amount being transferred to the next quota. Nonetheless, large amounts of barley and emmer were set aside for worker rations, especially during the reign of Lugalanda where the expanding household accommodated more workers in addition to temple personnel.

With regards to distribution, the majordomo or nu-banda3 was responsible for allocating goods to serve various purposes in the temple-related activities. For instance, Eniggal, a well-known nu-banda3, was not only responsible for supervising barley distribution to dependent laborers, but also responsible for surveying land with the head plowers, clearing trees from orchards to gather wood, or digging canals.

It should be noted that while the nu-banda3 is more closely associated with supervising agricultural or temple-related activities in the ED IIIb period, this title later became a military rank under Shulgi in Ur III period when he reorganized the administrative structure and included a standing army.

CDLI entry: P020116

credit: Guerra, Dylan M.

ED IIIb Administrative Titles: 1 (2020-08-04)

An Old Sumerian administrative text detailing the sum of various goods entered by different administrative officials and concluding with Dudu, temple administrator; it was found in ancient Girsu and is dated to the ED IIIb period (2500-2340 BC) in the 7th year of Lugalanda.



The text describes the amount of flour, per ban (~6 liters), baked into various types of bread for sacrificial offerings, in addition to various commodities for the temple, including beers, butter oils, dates, apples (or apricots), birds, fish and fish eggs, garlic, roasted barely, and turnips (or crushed grapes). As temple administrator (Sumerian sanga), Dudu is responsible for tracking these goods and, at various points in time, entering this information from smaller records to be collated into larger accounts, such as this tablet. The sum of all goods is usually indicated by the phrase šu-nigin2, which occurs after a series of listed inventories. These lists are then followed by the name of the official who entered this information and the manner in which he entered it.

In this case, Dudu finalizes the various sets of goods added to the temple’s inventory by different officials which indicated by the verbal chain mu-na-kux(DU) (“he entered for him”). The purpose behind these minutiae is to determine goods that are missing or added to the record. Therefore, the role of the temple administrator is both the integration of cult and economic duties that are inherent to maintaining the trajectory of goods necessary for administrative, state, and societal obligations.

By the time this tablet was written, Dudu is already an experienced and honored temple administrator, stemming from the early reigns of Enmetena. This shows that, despite the transition of governors, Dudu remained temple administrator under the rulership of Urukagina. Despite the certainty of his position as temple administrator, it is uncertain as to which household he served after the reign of Enmetena. Several royal inscriptions from Enmetena's reign attest to his role both as the temple administrator and senior temple administrator (sanga-maḫ) of Ningirsu, the household of the governor. Consideration should also be given to the possibility that this may have been a completely different Dudu from Enmetena's reign. In addition, the lack of records from both Enannatum II's and Enentarzi's reigns further complicate issues in Dudu's continuity as a temple administrator.

CDLI entry: P220690

credit: Guerra, Dylan M.

Whats in the box?: 5 (2020-08-03)

This is a typical example of a “pisan-dub-ba” from the Ur III period (2100-2000 BC). When compared to its ED IIIb and Old Akkadian predecessors, we note a number of developments in the form.



Basket labels of the Ur III period show a number of developments that hint at a shift in how they were attached, if at all, to baskets containing groups of administrative texts. This newer form shows two string-holes on its upper edge, suggesting that it may have been formed around a knot instead of having a rope pass completely through its vertical axis. Note the absence of the woven impression on the reverse of the tag, suggesting that labels of this period were no longer pressed onto their baskets. In fact, basing ourselves on the archaeological context of tags and administrative tablets, we are not entirely certain that they hung from their respective baskets and associated texts at all, but this seems the most logical reconstruction of ancient bookkeeping records.

CDLI entry: P330514

credit: Heinle, Michael


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Whats in the box?: 4 (2020-08-02)

This "pisan-dub" tag comes from the Old Akkadian period. Originating from the ancient city of Adab, it is currently housed at the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago. Tags of this type are rare in the Old Akkadian period, furthermore, the majority are in very poor condition.



Despite their rarity and issues of preservation, the Old Akkadian "pisan-dub" tags represent an evolution in form while preserving the function of the preceding period. The spherical shape of the ED IIIb has given way to a rectangular or "tablet" shape, consistent with "pisan-dub-ba" tags of the Ur III period. Other Old Akkadian examples indicate that the method by which the tags were attached to their baskets had also changed. This is hinted at by the disappearance of the woven patterns and a change in the way that the string was incorporated within the tag.

CDLI entry: P217567

credit: Heinle, Michael


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What’s in the box?: 3 (2020-08-01)

The term “pisan-dub-ba” (“basket of tablets”) has come to designate administrative tags that, as the moniker states, identified accounting texts gathered within reed or wooden baskets. This exemplar comes from the Early Dynastic IIIb period (2500-2340 BC).



Tags of this type originate in the Early Dynastic IIIb period and continue to be used through the end of the Ur III period. Basket labels of this period may be identified by their initial text line (pisan-dub), single string-hole running through the vertical axis, and the impression of a reed matting pattern on the tag’s reverse. Tags were formed by placing clay around a piece of rope attached to the lid of the basket. The clay was then pressed onto the lid, shaped into a dome, and inscribed.

This particular basket label identifies the contents of its basket as documents recording the regular offerings of various officials, in the form of emmer flour, beer, and bread, during the festival of the goddess Baba. Furthermore, it identifies the temple household of Baba as the administrative unit to which the accounts belong. Finally, the tag is dated to the first year of the Lagash ruler Lugalanda (ca 2380 BC).

CDLI entry: P020202

credit: Heinle, Michael


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What’s in the box?: 2 (2020-07-31)

An administrative tag from the Uruk IV period (ca. 3350-3200 BC). This tag was excavated at Uruk (modern Warka) in southern Mesopotamia, and is now in the collection of the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin.



This proto-cuneiform text artifact is a possible precursor of the well known tablet cataloging system best exemplified by the late 3rd millennium BC “pisan-dub-ba” basket tags widely employed by Ur III period accountants. Like the later tags, it has a well-formed, rectangular shape, and it would have been formed around a piece of twine and hung, presumably from a shelf or basket. The placement of the hole, here running through the longer surface so that, hanging like a pendant, the artifact would have presented its inscription in its natural writing and reading orientation, is like that of later exemplars; Uruk IV tags, though, had just the one hole through, while Ur III “pisan-dub-ba” had two entry holes, with the twine tied to a knot and encased within the tag—but also so that, hanging, the inscription was read in lines from top to bottom. The interpretation and order of reading of the three signs present on the tag are as yet unclear. Pictographically, the sign GIR3 represents the head of a bovine; the sign SANGA, a title designating a temple administrator, is thought to pictographically represent a talleying board with attached token box; and the sign DUB, a Sumerian reading designating a clay tablet in later times, may have represented a type of woven basket. Let us then attempt a translation of this text dating to ca. 3300 BC: “Basket of accountant Bull.”

CDLI entry: P002207

credit: Heinle, Michael


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What’s in the box?: 1 (2020-07-30)

The following series presents a short overview of cuneiform documents, often in the form of tags, that were developed by ancient scribes in order to keep track of other cuneiform documents.



How did ancient scribes keep track of the often overwhelming number of administrative documents created by a large and very complex bureaucracy? How did scribal schoolmasters and temple personnel take inventory of the literary and hymnal compositions stored in their archives? The simple answer is they created labels and catalogues. The central image, a “pisan-dub-ba” or basket tag from the Ur III period, would have hung from a basket containing a number of administrative receipts that were grouped based upon varying criteria. Text type, “owner,” and accounting period of the receipts would be noted on the tag, allowing easy identification of the contents when a later review or collation of the account was to be performed. The image on the right is an earlier version of the “pisan-dub-ba,” here originating in the Early Dynastic IIIb period. While it is nearly identical in content, its form may be seen to be quite different. The image on the left is a literary catalog of the Old Babylonian period. Though its archival function is similar to the two administrative texts pictured here, its method of storage and its original archival environment are yet unclear.

CDLI entries: P105394, P222044, P346208

credit: Heinle, Michael


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Mace heads: 10 (2020-07-29)

A dedicatory stone mace head dated to the Lagash II period (ca. 2200-2100 BC) during the reign of the governor Lugalirida. This mace head is dedicated to the god Šulšaga by Ḫala-Baba, on behalf of her husband, the governor.



Notwithstanding any difference from the previous entries, this mace head presents the standard structure of “a ru” dedicatory inscriptions first seen in the ED IIIb period. First, it begins with the invocation of a specific deity or deities for which the object is dedicated. Immediately following, the person performing the dedication is named, occasionally indicated by the ergative marker, e. Next, the formula includes single or multiple individuals who receive the good will of the deity on behalf of the dedicator. This is usually indicated by the nominal phrase nam-ti-la-ni, meaning “his/her life,” and the terminative post-position marker, še3, meaning in a non-dimensional sense "to." Finally, the inscription concludes with the verbal phrase a ru, meaning "to dedicate," which at times may or may not include some of the common grammatical prefixes before the verbal root ru.

CDLI entry: P222297

credit: Guerra, Dylan M.

Mace heads: 9 (2020-07-28)

A stone mace head from Nimrud, dated to the neo-Assyrian period (911-612 BC) from the reign of Assurnasirpal II.



Among the many temples that Assurnasirpal II built at Nimrud, the one mentioned on this mace head is Kidmuru, a temple devoted to Ishtar, the queen and great mistress (Akkadian bēlet rabīti). Assurnasirpal II dedicated this mace head to Ishtar for the longevity of his life and the well-being of his people and land. In contrast to dedicatory formulae written in the Early Dynastic III and Old Akkadian periods, the reconstruction of this inscription replaces the standard verbal phrase a mu-ru with ba, rendered as aqīš in Akkadian, meaning “I gave."

CDLI entry: P464619

credit: Guerra, Dylan M.

Mace heads: 8 (2020-07-27)

A stone mace head from Old Akkadian (2340-2200 BC) Kish dedicated to Ea.



As mentioned in the previous entry, Semitic syncretism not only occurred on a theological level, but also changed the written language and the way in which texts were recited. In this period, tablets were written in either Akkadian and Sumerian, or both. If written mostly in Akkadian, this meant that divine names, in addition to logographic readings of signs, would have been spoken in their Akkadian renderings rather than their Sumerian counterparts. In this mace head’s text, however, the verbal phrase a mu-ru, placed at the end of the inscription, may have been spoken in a sort of liturgical Sumerian. Akkadian personal names, such as Iṣlum and Ilī-šāliq in the inscription, also became more prominent in the written record, especially tablets deriving from northern Mesopotamian sites such as Kish.

CDLI entry: P212432

credit: Guerra, Dylan M.

Mace heads: 7 (2020-07-26)

A marble mace head from Sippar dated to the reign of Manishtusu of the Old Akkadian period (2340-2200 BC).



Manishtusu is the third king of the Old Akkadian period, well known for his diorite obelisk found at Susa. The inscription on this mace head describes Manishtusu as the dedicator to the god Aya, who is equivalent to the Sumerian god Sherida, wife of the sun god Utu (Akkadian Shamash). The inclusion of the Semitic goddess in dedicatory formulae attests to the religious syncretism of the Sumerian and Akkadian pantheon that occurred during this period. As a solar deity, she was worshipped alongside Shamash in the E-babbar (“White House”) temples of Sippar and Larsa (see the Oracc entry in their treatment of ancient Mesopotamian gods and goddesses for more information).

CDLI entry: P216553

credit: Guerra, Dylan M.

Mace heads: 6 (2020-07-25)

An Old Akkadian (2340-2200 BC) mace head from Ur with a dedicatory inscription; said to be made of aragonite.



This damaged mace head's inscription has been partially reconstructed from an Old Babylonian copy of Sargon’s royal inscription containing his epithet. Therefore, despite the lack of preservation, the title, “conqueror of Uruk and Ur,” can be attributed to Sargon as the dedicator. Most conspicuously, the use of the Akkadian conjunction u3, suggests that this mace head is from the Old Akkadian period when certain Semitic influences became more prominent in the writing system. Sargon’s title emphasizes his decisive military expedition against Lugalzagesi in his capital, Uruk. His proclamation as conqueror of the southernmost Mesopotamian city-states, therefore, epitomizes his take-over of Sumer from the former ruler.

CDLI entry: P217324

credit: Guerra, Dylan M.

Mace heads: 5 (2020-07-24)

A stone mace head from the Early Babylonian period (2000-1800 BC), after the collapse of the Ur III dynasty in southern Mesopotamia.



This mace head is possibly from Larsa, a city that shared political relations with Isin and competed for territory before the consolidation of power in Mesopotamia by Hammurapi in Babylon. It is dedicated to the Lord of the Netherworld, Nergal, on behalf of Abi-sare, the Amorite king, and Arad-Utu, the mace head’s engraver. According to the inscription, Abi-sare ruled as “King of Ur and Larsa,” a title preserved from the previous king, Gungunum. Interestingly, Ur is the first city named, despite the king being enthroned in Larsa, suggesting that Ur’s political status from the Ur III period still maintained its significance as the center of southern Mesopotamia.

CDLI entry: P431605

credit: Guerra, Dylan M.

Mace heads: 4 (2020-07-23)

A stone mace head from the Old Akkadian period (2340-2200 BC), during the reign of Naram-Sin, king of Akkad.



This fragmented mace head only preserves part of the original inscription; however, it can be reconstructed based on other mace heads that preserve the text. It is dedicated to the god Ilaba and proclaims Naram-Sin as king, and his servant, Karshum, as governor of Niqqum. Naram-Sin’s name is preceded by the divine determinative “dingir” normally reserved for the names of deities. This self-deification followed numerous successful military campaigns that expanded the Akkadian Empire to its greatest size. He conquered Amarnum to the far northwest, Ebla to the west, and Elam to the east, taking the title “king of the four quarters of the world.” His military success and deification are further exemplified in his famous Victory Stele, which portrays his aggressive campaigns against the Lullubi in the mountains to the northeast.

Considering the vast extent of his empire, Naram-Sin needed to facilitate control over his conquered territories. He did this by installing ensis (governors) in conquered cities. Unlike the ensis of the Early Dynastic IIIb period, these officials were subservient to the king in Agade. Their main roles related to administrative activities, producing frequent reports to Naram-Sin. In this case, the inscription names Karshum as an ensi who controls the messengers in Niqqum, a city presumed to be in northern Mesopotamia. After Naram-Sin’s death, subsequent kings were unable to maintain control over conquered areas and failed to neutralize Gutian attacks, and the Akkadian Empire fell into disarray.

CDLI entry: P216600

credit: Guerra, Dylan M.

Mace heads: 3 (2020-07-22)

A calcite mace head found in the Ur excavations and dated to the Old Akkadian period (2340-2200 BC), during the reign of Rimush.



This mace head is dedicated to the moon god, Sîn, and proclaims Rimush “King of Kish.” This title was once held by Mebaragesi and Mesilim in the Early Dynastic period, and was later revived by Sargon to display his rightful rule over the southern Mesopotamian city-states. Rimush inherited this title, including the expanse of the Akkadian Empire from his successful father, therefore making him the second king to rule. However, the areas that Sargon had conquered regained their autonomy upon Rimush’s ascension to the throne. Within the nine years of his reign, he reconquered southern Mesopotamia and Elam. The inscription suggests that the stone employed in the creation of this mace head derived from the booty extracted from Elam and Parahshum (modern Fars).

In honor of his fundamental contributions to the field of cuneiform studies, I am delighted to dedicate this cdli tablet entry to the Japanese scholar Tohru Ozaki, who today celebrates his 75th birthday.

CDLI entry: P217325

credit: Guerra, Dylan M.

Mace heads: 2 (2020-07-21)

A stone mace head from the ED IIIb period (ca. 2500-2350 BC,) dated to the reign of Lugalzagesi.



This mace head’s inscription describes Enlil, chief executive of the Sumerian pantheon and “king of all lands,” bestowing earthly rule to Lugalzegesi, king of the third dynasty of Uruk. Lugalzegesi was governor of Umma province; however, he rose to power when he overthrew the king of Kish, Ur-Zababa, and subsequently conquered the major Sumerian city-states of southern Mesopotamia. According to the Sumerian King List, he ruled for 25 years before Sargon usurped the throne, thus beginning the Dynasty of Akkad.

CDLI entry: P263413

credit: Guerra, Dylan M.

Mace heads: 1 (2020-07-20)

An Early Dynastic IIIb (ca. 2500-2340 BC) mace head with a dedication to a god on behalf of a governor of Lagash.



This stone mace head, possibly from Girsu, is decorated with a lion-headed eagle known as the Imdugud or Anzu bird, shown clenching a pair of lions in its talons. Situated at the top of the mace head is an inscription by a high official dedicating it—the mace head—to Ningirsu, the chief god of the Lagash province and its capital Girsu, on behalf of Enannatum, the governor of Lagash.

As sukkal, Bara-ki-sumum was an official of the royal court, closely involved in economic and administrative affairs. He served under the governor Enannatum, who held great political and military jurisdiction during the ED IIIb period. Enannatum's political and military successes are mentioned on a series of clay cones dated to the period of Enmetena—the son of Enannatum and future governor of Lagash—describing a battle with Urlumma, governor of Umma. He successfully defeated the Ummaite to resolve the border dispute between the two city-states and restore crucial water rights.

CDLI entry: P222490

credit: Guerra, Dylan M.

Middle Assyrian Assur: 11 (2020-07-19)

A bilingual phrase book (III)



VAT 9552 is a well-preserved fragment of the third tablet of the series Ana ittišu. In contrast to tablet VI we have a better preserved manuscript in Kuyuncik collection from Nineveh: P382244. The list starts with terminology regarding the harvest. Noteworthy are expressions regarding adoption.

CDLI entry: P282495

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Middle Assyrian Assur: 10 (2020-07-18)

A bilingual phrase book (II)



This detail of VAT 8875 deals with lexical entries regarding the seal (Akkadian kunukku). Sealing practices varied from period to period. The lexical list Ana ittišu to some extent shows features of grammatical texts. In this case some of the entries are repeated with alternating possessive suffixes.

CDLI entry: P282494

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Middle Assyrian Assur: 9 (2020-07-17)

A bilingual phrase book (I)



So far, seven “tablets” are known, which belong to a lexical series which “gives a hodge-podge of words and phrases relevant to business documents mixed with laws” (N. Veldhuis, "The Cuneiform Tablet as an Educational Tool," Dutch Studies on Near Ea­stern Languages and Cultures 2 [1996] 11-26). This series is called after its first entry ana ittišu (Sum. ki-ulutin-bi-še3), “upon pertinent notice given.”

This text artifact in the Vorderasiatische Museum, Berlin, is a copy of the sixth tablet of this series. There is so far just one other manuscript (K 4317+), dating to the neo-Assyrian period and belonging to Assurbanipal’s royal library in Nineveh. This manuscript has just a small fraction of the list preserved. The Middle Assyrian manuscript, on the other hand, preserves almost the entire text.

As we have seen in earlier posts, the lexical texts from Assur are already bilingual. Each column of this four-column tablet has two sub-columns with a Sumerian version on the left and its Akkadian equivalent on the right. This column-based format of bilingual texts was mainly used for lexical texts. We will come across a different format when discussing copies of literary compositions.

In ana ittišu, each phrase is separated by a ruling from the subsequent one. The tablet’s colophon states that it’s source is Nippur. Forerunners of this lexical list are in fact known from Old Babylonian Nippur (ca. 1900-1600 BC).

CDLI entry: P282494

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Middle Assyrian Assur: 8 (2020-07-16)

A list of wooden objects; Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin; VAT 8876



Studying the extant colophons in the so-called "reconstructed Iibrary" M2 allows us to a certain extent to reconstruct the scribal sphere of a particular period in Assur's history. It is not known, whether the scribes attested in the colophons worked together or were educated at the same place. Little to nothing is known about these aspects of Middle Assyrian administration. The texts copied by the two brothers Marduk-balassu-eresh and Bel-aha-iddina offer a rather vivid picture. They checked each others copy in several instances. That may suggest that both were educated at the same time. However, we do not look at a full record.

This quite well-preserved tablet contains six columns of text. This list of objects made of wood is part of a large multi-thematic series, known by its first entry as ur5-ra : hubullu, whose forerunners are known from the Old Babylonian period. By the Middle Assyrian period we already have a more or less standardised text.

As a general feature of lexical texts of this period, this list offers Akkadian equivalents to Sumerian terms. Each column contains two sub-columns with the Sumerian version on the left and the Akkadian on the right. Additionally, each Sumerian term is written with the classifier GIŠ to mark wood and wooden objects.

CDLI entry: P282430

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Middle Assyrian Assur: 7 (2020-07-15)

The textual witnesses of Ninurta-uballissu's sons



It is unfortunate that hardly anything is known about the royal scribe Ninurta-uballissu and his sons. There are no letters, no administrative or legal documents, that may give us any hints about this family. The only testimony thus far are (currently) 23 texts, which can be assigned to one of the three sons of Ninurta-uballissu. There might be even more in the corpus (for an overview see K. Wagensonner, WOO 6 [2011]). Connecting lines in the diagram mark those tablets, where Marduk-balassu-eresh checked the copies of Bel-aha-iddina and vice versa.

(1) Marduk-balassu-eresh
(1.A.) Lexical texts
- Ea, tablet II
- Aa, tablet III/1 (= 16)
- Ura, tablet V
- Ana ittishu, tablet VI
- Ana ittishu, tablet VII
- Kagal, tablet B
- Nabnitu, tablet IV
(1.B.) Literary texts
- Lugal-e I-IV
- Lugal-e IX-XII
- Lugal-e XIII-XVI
- An-gim
- Nin-Isina's Journey to Nippur
(1.C.) Varia
- Astrolabe B

(2) Bel-aha-iddina
(2.A.) Lexical texts
- Ura, tablet III
- Diri, tablet II
- Ana ittishu, tablet III
- Kagal, tablet A
- Kagal, tablet II
[- Diri, tablet III]
(2.B.) Literary texts
- Nin-Isina's Journey to Nippur

(3) Sin-shuma-iddina
(3.A.) Lexical texts
- Ea, tablet I
- Izi, tablet XII
(3.B.) Literary text
- Unidentified

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Middle Assyrian Assur: 6 (2020-07-14)

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 (2020-07-13)

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 (2020-07-12)

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 (2020-07-11)

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 (2020-07-10)

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 (2020-07-09)

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 (2020-07-08)

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 (2020-07-07)

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 (2020-07-06)

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 (2020-07-05)

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 (2020-07-04)

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 (2020-07-03)

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 (2020-07-02)

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 (2020-07-01)

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 (2020-06-30)

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 (2020-06-29)

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 (2020-06-28)

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 (2020-06-27)

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 (2020-06-26)

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 (2020-06-25)

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 (2020-06-24)

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 (2020-06-23)

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 (2020-06-22)

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 (2020-06-21)

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 (2020-06-20)

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 (2020-06-19)

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 (2020-06-18)

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 (2020-06-17)

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 (2020-06-16)

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 (2020-06-15)

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 (2020-06-14)

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 (2020-06-13)

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 (2020-06-12)

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 (2020-06-11)

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 (2020-06-10)

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 (2020-06-09)

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 (2020-06-08)

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 (2020-06-07)

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 (2020-06-06)

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 (2020-06-05)

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 (2020-06-04)

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 (2020-06-03)

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 (2020-06-02)

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 (2020-06-01)

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 (2020-05-31)

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 (2020-05-30)

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 (2020-05-29)

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 (2020-05-28)

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 (2020-05-27)

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 (2020-05-26)

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 (2020-05-25)

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 (2020-05-24)

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 (2020-05-23)

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 (2020-05-22)

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 (2020-05-21)

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 (2020-05-20)

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 (2020-05-19)

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 (2020-05-18)

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 (2020-05-17)

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 (2020-05-16)

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 (2020-05-15)

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 (2020-05-14)

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