Geography of Knowledge in Assyria and Babylonia

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Project Staff

  • Marie-Françoise Besnier, full-time researcher
  • Philippe Clancier, full-time researcher
  • Graham Cunningham, part-time senior researcher
  • Ruth Horry, website consultant
  • Frances Reynolds, part-time researcher
  • Eleanor Robson, co-director
  • Kathryn Stevens, research assistant
  • Steve Tinney, co-director
  • Greta Van Buylaere, full-time researcher


From the project website (accessed 2020-08-04):

The Geography of Knowledge in Assyria and Babylonia research project, which ran from 2007 to 2012, studied the scholarship of Assyria and Babylonia by editing the contents of four ancient "libraries" for the Corpus of Ancient Mesopotamian Scholarship (CAMS), and by analysing their changing socio-political contexts.

A diachronic analysis of four scholarly libraries

While many hundreds of individual scholarly works have been edited and published from cuneiform libraries, there have been almost no in-depth studies of the libraries in their entirety. Previous analyses have often decontextualised and fragmented Assyro-Babylonian scholarship into modern disciplinary categories such as 'science', 'magic', and 'religion'. This project aims to restore context and coherence to that scholarship by studying it holistically.

To that end we undertook a comparative study of four scholarly libraries for which adequate archaeological data exist:

  • the Neo-Assyrian temple library of Nabû in the royal city of Nimrud/Kalhu in northern Iraq (Wiseman and Black, Cuneiform Texts from Nimrud, 4 [1996])
  • the library found outside a priestly family house in Sultantepe/Huzirina near Harran, in a western province of the Neo-Assyrian empire (Gurney and Finkelstein, Gurney and Hulin, Sultantepe Tablets, 1-2 [1957, 1964]), destroyed, like the temple library, in c.612 BCE
  • the library from a private house from area Ue 18 in Uruk, owned by two separate families of āšipu scholars, c.450-300 BCE (Hunger, von Weiher, Spätbabylonische Texte aus Uruk, 1-5 [1976-1998])
  • the library of Rēš, temple of the great sky god Anu-Zeus in Uruk, c.200 BCE (van Dijk and Mayer, Baghdader Mitteilungen, Beiheft 10 [1983] and related, informally excavated tablets).

Later in the project, we made quantitative analyses of the manuscripts' linguistic and orthographic features to look for small-scale and large-scale geographical and diachronic change. We used methodology from the history of science to explain those continuities, changes, and idiosyncracies in relation to the social, intellectual, and political contexts in which the scholars were working.

The Corpus of Ancient Mesopotamian Scholarship

The project uses open, standards-based encoding to create the Corpus of Ancient Mesopotamian Scholarship (CAMS), following Oracc and Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative specifications. This freely available, online corpus of material from the four libraries is critically edited according to Assyriological best practice, based on collation of the original tablets wherever possible. It contains searchable transliterations of both manuscripts (tablets) and compositions (composite texts) as well as English translations and full bibliographies.