Browse Collection
The Cuneiform Texts of the 4th and 3rd Millennium in the Hermitage Collection (St. Petersburg)

The Hermitage Collection contains about 2000 cuneiform texts of the 4th and 3rd millennium B.C. These are mainly administrative and legal documents from various archives, but including some royal/dedicatory inscriptions. The latter will be outside the scope of this presentation, so we are left with 1942 administrative texts; the majority of these (1571) are, as usual, Ur III documents, the rest include 2 proto-cuneiform tablets, 351 pre-Sargonic Lagash/ED IIIb texts, 18 Old Akkadian documents from different sites and 3 Lagash II tablets.

All the texts found their way into the museum through the antiquities market, or were assumed from private collections. The first cuneiform tablets were purchased by the Royal Hermitage Museum at the end of the 19th century from a well-known French antiquities dealer, M. Sivadzhan. The next acquisitions were made by the State Hermitage Museum after the October revolution of 1917. Some tablets were purchased, others simply confiscated from private collectors.

The Likhachev collection
The basis of the Hermitage cuneiform collection derives from one of the most famous Russian private collections, that of N. Likhachev. Likhachev was a prominent Russian historian interested in a variety of objects, from Russian icons to ancient manuscripts, Egyptian papyri and Babylonian clay tablets. It is in most cases nearly impossible to follow either the path of tablets to Likhachev’s collection, or their fate after 1917. According to Likhachev’s private correspondence, he purchased cuneiform texts from Sivadzhan and Elias Géjou in Paris at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Another source was Naaman in London. The tablets are from illicit excavations of Drehem, Djokha and Tello, Drehem especially frequently since 1904.

We do not know exactly what happened to Likhachev’s cuneiform collection after the revolution. In 1918 the main part of his collection was transferred to the State Museum of Paleography, and after this museum was closed in 1938 the objects were moved to the Hermitage Museum. But before the move of the private collection into the state museum, Likhachev sold some cuneiform tablets to the Soviet government. As a result, more than 1300 tablets were moved to Moscow at the end of 1917 and later became part of the collection of the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum. Interestingly enough, most of the texts edited by M. Nikolski in 1915 (Old Akkadian and Ur III documents) were among those moved to Moscow. The reason was probably the better state of preservation of these texts in comparison to those left in Petrograd. You will now find only one Ur III tablet, one Old Akkadian document (only obverse is published by Nikolski) and two Ur III clay tags from the Nikolski edition (DV 5 = Nik 2) in the Hermitage collection.

The Hermitage collection of early cuneiform
Two proto-cuneiform texts of unknown provenience in the Hermitage collection were published first by V. Shilejko in 1914 and then by I. Diakonoff in 1940 in Trudy Otdela Vostoka 3, 27ff. The first one is a (stone?) tag (s. now MSVO 4, 76) with a hole bored through its long axis, and with four signs on one side; it seems to belong to a well-known group of Uruk IV-period tags (ca. 3300 B.C.).

In 1908 M. Nikolski edited 319 administrative documents from pre-Sargonic Lagash/ED IIIb (Nik 1; ca. 2400-2350 BC); most of these tablets are now in the Hermitage collection and were republished in 1989 by G. Selz (FAOS 15/1), with the addition of three texts edited first by A. Riftin in 1929. G. Selz also republished two “Nikolski tablets” in ASJ 16, 207ff. The collection contains 28 unpublished ED IIIb documents. Of the four legal documents of this period in the Hermitage collection (all edited by D. Edzard in SRU), the most interesting are two “House sale contracts” (SRU 33-34) written on hollow clay nails. Unfortunately, both texts are damaged. The Hermitage possesses two of six known ED IIIb letters (s. B. Kienast - K. Volk, SAB asGir2 and asGir3). Worth mentioning are a wide variety of tags and labels in our collection, including so called “pisan-dub-ba”-labels (7) and “Tonoliven” of Urukagina (4).

Most of the Old Akkadian tablets in the Hermitage collection were published by Ekaterina Markina, Nadezhda Roudik & Walter Sommerfeld in BuB 2, 185-232 . We have 21 text artifacts of this period: seven probably from Umma, four probably from Girsu, the rest of unknown provenience. One tablet of unknown provenience—a letter written in Sumerian—is edited by N. Koslova in Fs Kienast (2003), 239ff. One more letter of the same period in our collection—probably from Girsu but written in Akkadian—remains unpublished. A very interesting text dated to the Old Akkadian period deserves mention here; it is a hexahedral prism with the name of Lugalušumgal, ruler of Lagash, on one face, the other five being inscribed with the first 38 lines of the Standard Profession List (Lú A). This object was published by V. Shilejko in 1915 in his book Votive Inscriptions of Sumerian Rulers because he believed it to be an inscription of Lugalušumgal. In the full edition of “Lú = ša” (MSL 12), our prism is mentioned as source S from Lagash/Girsu: the first side contains lines 1-19 of the list, the sides 2, 3, 4 and 5 are completely identical with lines 20-38, side 6 contains the colophon: “Nisaba! Lugalušumgal, scribe, ruler (ensi2) of Lagash.”

The Ur III part of the Hermitage collection contains 1008 texts from Umma, 406 from Drehem, 84 from Girsu, just six from Nippur and none from Ur. The provenience of sixty-odd Ur III text artifacts remains uncertain. The modest number of Girsu texts may be due to the way the Likhachev collection was divided after 1917. The Pushkin Museum possesses several hundred Ur III documents from Girsu; why they were selectively moved to Moscow is unknown. As for different Drehem archives, we have about 25 texts from the archive of Šulgi-simtī and two from the Treasury archive, the rest coming from the main royal archive.

Publications of the Ur III texts
1) Occasional publications of some texts by Nikolsky, Shilejko, Struve, Shakhov (all included in new editions).

2) Since 1991, the project of publishing the entire Ur III collection in 4 volumes:
1. F. D’Agostino. MVN 20 (1997): 215 texts from various sites.
2. N. Koslova. MVN 21 (2000). 412 texts from Umma.
3. N. Koslova. SANTAG 6 (2000). 385 texts from Umma.
4. N. Koslova. The last volume (566 texts) is now being prepared for publication; it will contain Drehem, Girsu and Nippur documents, also texts of unknown provenience, some Umma texts as an addendum to the second and third volumes, and lastly all tags, including, for example, Ur III pisan-dub-ba’s from different administrative centers, and bullae with three or four sides sealed by Lukalla from Umma.

3) There are, finally, four Ur III letters in the Hermitage collection, edited elsewhere (N. Koslova, Fs Kienast [2003] 239ff.) together with one Old Akkadian letter mentioned above.

State of digitization
Due to the cooperation of the Hermitage Museum with the CDLI, and in particular with its German partners at the Max-Plank Institute for the History of Science, all cuneiform tablets of the 3rd and 4th millennium in the Hermitage collection were scanned in 2000 (M. Schnöpf and N. Koslova).

The collection, its digital library website, and its integration into the general dataset of the CDLI, was presented on 30 October 2003 by Natalya Koslova and Peter Damerow at the Proceedings of the 5th Russian Conference on Digital Libraries in St. Petersburg (a copy of the contribution is available for download here).

Natalya Koslova