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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


current

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


current

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


current

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


current

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


current

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

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

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

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

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

credit: Yi Chen, Samuel

Manchester Museum: 15 (2020-05-13)

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



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

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

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

CDLI entry: P432454

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 14 (2020-05-12)

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



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

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

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

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

CDLI entry: P431268

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 13 (2020-05-11)

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



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

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

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

CDLI entry: P431279

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 12 (2020-05-10)

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



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

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

CDLI entry: P315369

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 11 (2020-05-09)

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



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

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

CDLI entry: P315365

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 10 (2020-05-08)

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



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

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

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

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

CDLI entry: P315372

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 9 (2020-05-07)

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



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

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

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

CDLI entry: P315350

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 8 (2020-05-06)

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



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

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

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

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

CDLI entry: P432448

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 7 (2020-05-05)

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



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

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

CDLI entry: P112293

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 6 (2020-05-04)

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



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

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

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

CDLI entry: P315377

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 5 (2020-05-03)

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



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

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

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

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

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

CDLI entry: P431253

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 4 (2020-05-02)

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



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

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

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

CDLI entry: P431267

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 3 (2020-05-01)

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



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

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

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

CDLI entry: P432449

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 2 (2020-04-30)

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



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

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

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

CDLI entry: P432447

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Manchester Museum: 1 (2020-04-29)

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



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

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

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

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

CDLI entry: P355698

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Shalmaneser III: 4 (2020-04-28)

The Black Obelisk (detail 3)



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

CDLI entry: P423554

credit: Shifflette, William

Shalmaneser III: 3 (2020-04-27)

The Black Obelisk (detail 2)



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

CDLI entry: P423554

credit: Shifflette, William

Shalmaneser III: 2 (2020-04-26)

The Black Obelisk (detail 1)



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

CDLI entry: P423554

credit: Shifflette, William

Shalmaneser III: 1 (2020-04-25)

The Black Obelisk (complete)



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

CDLI entry: P423554 (Oracc’s page)

credit: Shifflette, William

Monumental inscriptions: Lamassu (2020-04-24)

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



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

credit: Aslanyan, Rafayel

Monumental inscriptions: The Decorations on Ashurnasirpal II’s Robes (2020-04-23)

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



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

credit: Aslanyan, Rafayel

Earth Day: The sound of Greenland (2020-04-22)

We can marvel at the mathematical skills of Babylonian scribes, but the pre-scientific populations of ancient Mesopotamia had little basis to understand the causes of the natural phenomena they encountered, in high contrast to the level of knowledge tought in modern public schools, including advances in climatology.



Cuneiform texts speak, in understated tones, of ecological destruction brought upon the earth and its inhabitants by pre-scientific populations in a region itself only some millennia removed from the end of the last ice age and the natural flooding of the part of the Mesopotamian foreland basin that is now the Persian Gulf. We pause for a moment on this Earth Day to reflect on the Anthropocene then, and with climatology, science, and truth itself under increasingly specious assault by elected Republican officials in Washington, now.

The insult to our sensibilities from this “pre-scientificism” can be felt in an unending litany of suffering, ranging from the droughts and fire storms of the American Southwest, to the collapse of ice shelves at both poles. One such tale, from the AP reporter C. J. Hanley:

For a village society whose dogsledding ice hunters long supplied it with seal and walrus meat and fish in winter, the “dark months” are now a time of enforced idleness, limited travel and emptier larders. On land, the thawing permafrost underfoot is leaving houses askew and broken. Climate change touches the animals, too: Greenlanders find lean polar bears, unable to stalk seals on sea ice, invading their settlements for food.

And the very sound of Greenland is changing. Where villages once echoed to the howl of huskies, that old call of the wild has been muted. Dispirited hunters up and down the west Greenland coast, unable to feed winter game to their sled dogs, have been shooting them.


Image of ice streams draining the ice sheet of Greenland’s southwestern coast, acquired by Landsat-8 satellite’s Operational Land Imager on 12 June 2013 [USGS/ESA]; story: C. J. Hanley, AP, 4 September 2011


credit: Englund, Robert K.

Monumental inscriptions: The Throne Base of Shalmaneser III (2020-04-21)

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



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

credit: Aslanyan, Rafayel

Monumental inscriptions: The Black Obelisk (2020-04-20)

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



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

CDLI entry: P423554

credit: Aslanyan, Rafayel

Manumental inscriptions: The Banquet Stele (2020-04-19)

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



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

CDLI entry: Q004484

credit: Aslanyan, Rafayel

Lachish: 5 (2020-04-18)

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



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

Image source

credit: Williams, Jeremy I.

Lachish: 4 (2020-04-17)

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



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

Image source1, source2

credit: Williams, Jeremy I.

Lachish: 3 (2020-04-16)

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



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

Image source

credit: Williams, Jeremy I.

Lachish: 2 (2020-04-15)

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



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

Image source

credit: Williams, Jeremy I.

Lachish: 1 (2020-04-14)

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



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

CDLI entry: P466678

credit: Williams, Jeremy I.

Stone and elites: 5 (2020-04-13)

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



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

credit: Wheeler, Gregory Michael

Stone and elites: 4 (2020-04-12)

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



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

credit: Wheeler, Gregory Michael

Stone and elites: 3 (2020-04-11)

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



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

credit: Wheeler, Gregory Michael

Stone and elites: 2 (2020-04-10)

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



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

credit: Wheeler, Gregory Michael

Stone and elites: 1 (2020-04-09)

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



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

credit: Wheeler, Gregory Michael

Varia: Babylonian Royal Inscription (2020-04-08)

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



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

Reference: BM 90922

credit: Kim, Kirk

National Museums Scotland: 17 (2020-04-07)

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



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

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

CDLI entry: P453221

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 16 (2020-04-06)

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



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

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

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

CDLI entry: P453149

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 15 (2020-04-05)

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

CDLI entry: P453151

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 14 (2020-04-04)

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



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

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

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

In what follows the king invokes the sun-god:

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

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

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

The inscription ends with the wish:

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

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

CDLI entry: P453135

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 13 (2020-04-03)

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



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

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

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

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


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

CDLI entry: P453060

credit: Reid, J. Nicholas

National Museums Scotland: 12 (2020-04-02)

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



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

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

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

CDLI entry: P453133

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 11 (2020-04-01)

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



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

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

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

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

CDLI entry: P453066

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 10 (2020-03-31)

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



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

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

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

CDLI entries: P361615-6

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 9 (2020-03-30)

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



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

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

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

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

CDLI entry: P361609

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 8 (2020-03-29)

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



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

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

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

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

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

CDLI entry: P390710

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 7 (2020-03-28)

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



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

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

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

CDLI entry: P414093

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 6 (2020-03-27)

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



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

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

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

CDLI entry: P414095

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 5 (2020-03-26)

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



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

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

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

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

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

CDLI entry: P355875

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 4 (2020-03-25)

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



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

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

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

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

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

CDLI entry: P414092

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 3 (2020-03-24)

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



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

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

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

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

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


CDLI entry: P414096

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 2 (2020-03-23)

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



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

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

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


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


CDLI entry: P355876

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

National Museums Scotland: 1 (2020-03-22)

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



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

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

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

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

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

CDLI entry: P414091

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

The Epic of Gilgamesh: 5 (2020-03-21)

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



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

Reference: AO 19862

credit: Abdusamad, Rania M.

The Epic of Gilgamesh: 4 (2020-03-20)

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



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

Reference: 21.18

credit: Abdusamad, Rania M.

The Epic of Gilgamesh: 3 (2020-03-19)

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



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

CDLI reference: P273202

credit: Abdusamad, Rania M.,

The Epic of Gilgamesh: 2 (2020-03-18)

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



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

Reference: T.1447

credit: Abdusamad, Rania M.,

The Epic of Gilgamesh: 1 (2020-03-17)

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



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

CDLI Reference: P273210

credit: Abdusamad, Rania M.

Daily Life in Mesopotamia: Royalty (2020-03-16)

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



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

CDLI entry: Q006387

credit: Nickelson, Samantha

Daily Life in Mesopotamia: Art (2020-03-15)

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



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

CDLI entry: P215544

credit: Nickelson, Samantha

Daily Life in Mesopotamia: Religion (2020-03-14)

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



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

Reference: web resource

credit: Nickelson, Samantha

Daily Life in Mesopotamia: Farming (2020-03-13)

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



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

Reference: web resource

credit: Nickelson, Samantha

Daily Life in Mesopotamia: Animal Domestication (2020-03-12)

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



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

Reference: wiki entry

credit: Nickelson, Samantha

Cuneiform texts: Dedicatory tablet (2020-03-11)

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



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

CDLI entry: P373779

credit: Deline, Julian

Cuneiform inscriptions: Nebuchadnezzar II (2020-03-10)

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



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

CDLI entry: P498321

credit: Deline, Julian

Cuneiform inscriptions: Darius II text (2020-03-09)

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



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

CDLI entry: P498088

credit: Deline, Julian

Cuneiform inscriptions: Archaic administration (2020-03-08)

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



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

CDLI entry: P005393

credit: Deline, Julian

Cuneiform inscriptions: Assyrian Relief (2020-03-07)

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



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

CDLI entry: P426821

credit: Deline, Julian

Sumerian Sculpture: Man and Wife (2020-03-06)

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



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

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

credit: Burton, Elizabeth M.

Sumerian Sculpture: Statue from Mari (2020-03-05)

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



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

CDLI entry: P225850

credit: Burton, Elizabeth M.

Sumerian Sculpture: ED Statue (2020-03-04)

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



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

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

credit: Burton, Elizabeth M.

Sumerian Sculpture: Nude Hero (2020-03-03)

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



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

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

credit: Burton, Elizabeth M.

Sumerian Sculpture: Enmetena of Lagash (2020-03-02)

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



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

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

credit: Burton, Elizabeth M.

Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem: 11 (2020-03-01)

A simple receipt from 2050 BC.



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

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


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

CDLI entry: P127544

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem: 10 (2020-02-29)

Babylonian cylinder seal impressions.



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

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

CDLI entry: P332188

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem: 9 (2020-02-28)

Berlin and Jerusalem joined.



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

CDLI entry: P347139

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem: 8 (2020-02-27)

Cuneiform on stone: Jerusalem texts.



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

CDLI entry: P427658

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem: 7 (2020-02-26)

The plastic surgeons of cuneiform: take two.



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

CDLI entry: P332182

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem: 6 (2020-02-25)

The plastic surgeons of cuneiform: take one.



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

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

CDLI entry: P332181

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem: 5 (2020-02-24)

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.



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

CDLI entry: P431416

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem: 4 (2020-02-23)

A stone tablet in the Couvent Saint-Étienne collection.



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

CDLI entry: P227475

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem: 3 (2020-02-22)

Gudea in a Jerusalem collection.



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

CDLI entry: P431332

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem: 2 (2020-02-21)

Fourth millennium BC alimentation of female laborers in Iran.



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

CDLI entry: P009438

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Couvent Saint-Étienne, Jerusalem: 1 (2020-02-20)

An ancient Iranian document in Jerusalem.



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

CDLI entry: P009442

credit: Englund, Robert K.

Chester Beatty Library: 5 (2020-02-19)

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



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

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

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

CDLI entry: P469478

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Chester Beatty Library: 4 (2020-02-18)

Sumerian proverb collection; Old Babylonian period; CBL CT 125



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

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

CDLI entry: P469476

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Chester Beatty Library: 3 (2020-02-17)

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



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

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

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

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

CDLI entry: P469474

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Chester Beatty Library: 2 (2020-02-16)

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



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

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

CDLI entry: P105800

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus

Chester Beatty Library: 1 (2020-02-15)

Administrative letter; Ur III period; CBL CT 082



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

CDLI entry: P105793

credit: Wagensonner, Klaus