Browse Collection


The Cuneiform Texts in the Museo di Antichità in Turin


The Turin collection of cuneiform texts, the largest in Italy, consists of approximately 800 tablets. They were acquired in 1921 on the Paris antiquities market together with some 40 cylinder seals. Most of the documents (723) belong to the neo-Sumerian period, from the towns of Drehem and Umma. The collection also includes 14 Old Akkadian tablets from Umma and Girsu, as well as 36 Old-Babylonian texts from southern Mesopotamia (Larsa, southern Jaḥrurum).

The accession was promoted by Rector Giustino Boson (1883-1954), a priest who was also Professor in Assyiology at the Turin and Milan Universities. He was a friend and consultant of Ernesto Schiaparelli (1856-1928), Egyptologist and Director of the Turin “Museo di Antichità ed Egizio.” The antiquities dealer was probably a certain Mr. Skender, “a physician from Baghdad,” whose collection originally included at least three cylinder seals published by V. Scheil (RA 13, 1916) before reaching Turin in 1921.

The Mesopotamian collection

The collection started in 1847 with great distinction: two splendid slab fragments from Khorsabad (the heads of King Sargon and of a dignitary) were given by Paolo Emilio Botta as a gift to the home town of his birth in 1802. For a period of time Turin could, a few years after opening the first Egyptian Museum on earth, admire some remains of Assyria, too. They were among the first known monuments of a “new” civilization just revealed by the French-Piedmontese researcher.

Later on, the collection was augmented by several private gifts, for instance fragments of sculptured slabs from the Nineveh palaces of Sennacherib and Assurbanipal, and Sargon’s inscriptions from Khorsabad. At the end of 19th century, Schiaparelli could also acquire the Oriental collection formerly in the Museo Kircheriano in Rome; it included the sculptured head of a bearded soldier from Khorsabad, several baked bricks bearing the stamps of Ur-Nammu, Sennacherib and Nebuchanezzar, and two cylinder seals.

After the important accessions in 1921, and following Schiaparelli’s death, the growth of the Near Eastern collection he had planned for years concluded. Additionally, in 1939 the Museums “di Antichità ed Egizio” were separated in regard to both management and premises. The Mesopotamian antiquities were transferred to the Museo Egizio, thus remaining hidden in storage from that time on.appeared to prevail over the Tigris and Euphrates.

Since 2004, the Museo Egizio became a private Foundation. Detailed marketing strategies continued to emphasize the mono-cultural trends of the new Museum planning. In order to display conveniently the Mesopotamian antiquities, a new residence had to be found. For this reason, the whole collection returned to the “Museo di Antichità” in 2010/2011. There, the Assyrian antiquities first—sculptures and inscribed bricks—could be put on permanent display.

Studies and publications

The texts were first published by Boson himself in a series of articles in the journal Aegyptus (1927-1942) but mainly in the volume Tavolette cuneiformi sumere degli archivi di Drehem e di Djoha, dell’ultima dinastia di Ur (Milan 1936); the latter includes 299 tablets from the Turin collection plus 73 texts that Boson donated to the Milan Catholic University. Some neo-Sumerian and old-Babylonian texts were also presented by him to the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Ursus in Aosta, where he had been Prior for many years.

All the Turin texts have been recently published as part of the official Catalogue of the Museo Egizio. Three volumes were edited respectively by A. Archi e F. Pomponio (Testi cuneiformi da Drehem nn. 1-412, Milan 1990), by A. Archi, F. Pomponio, and G. Bergamini (Testi cuneiformi da Umma, nn. 413-723, Turin 1995), and by A. Archi, F. Pomponio, and M. Stol (Testi cuneiformi di vario contenuto, nn. 724-793, Turin 1999). The latter volume also includes the Old-Babylonian texts from Aosta. The cylinder seals were published by G. Bergamini (Sigilli a cilindro mesopotamici nn. 70001-70044, Milan 1987), the Assyrian reliefs by G. Furlani and E. Weidner (“Die Reliefs der Assyrische Könige, III – Die Assyrischen Reliefs in Italien,” AfO 11 [1936] 132-138; id., AfO Beiheft 4 [1939] 56-62). To the Assyrian collection, see also G. Bergamini, QSAP 2011, 119-130.

The collection life

The display of the Mesopotamian antiquities is enjoying increasing interest among the Museum visitors. Fully integrated in the Museum display programs, the Assyrian collection is also being promoted through thematic visits, events and lectures. The Museum’s main task concerns an extensive exhibit of the Mesopotamian antiquities, including the seals and a large selection of texts. It is planned that this will develop through thematic sections, each pointing to the specific aspects of Mesopotamian civilization that can be elucidated using texts and related objects. The new permanent exhibition is to be properly set in a gallery of the first floor of a Museum wing.

Giovanni Bergamini
Consulente scientifico del Museo
Già Direttore archeologo presso la Soprintendenza ai
Beni Archeologici del Piemonte e del Museo Egizio