nl en

Archives and Libraries in Achaemenid Babylonia


Admission requirements

Open for students of (res)MA CAC, (res)MA History, and (res)MA Archaeology


When Cyrus the Great added Babylonia to his realm in 539 BCE, he became ruler of a society that was, by ancient-world standards, highly literate. Cuneiform writing had been in use in Mesopotamia for over two millennia, and at least in the upper segments of Babylonian society, the conventions of literate discourse shaped people’s lives in every facet, from religion and administration, to family law and commerce. In this seminar, we will examine the archival landscape of Achaemenid Babylonia. Which social and cultural conventions shaped this landscape and how was it affected by the incorporation of Babylonia into the Persian Empire? How can Babylonian archival sources be used to write a history of the Persian Empire and how do these sources relate to other types of materials available from elsewhere in and outside the empire? Key topics to be addressed in the seminar are the relationship between cuneiform and Aramaic literacy, the spread of literacy in society, record-production and archive-keeping practices, prosopography and diplomatics.

Course objectives

Students who attend this seminar will:

  • acquire expert knowledge of Babylonian archival culture under Persian rule;

  • be able to identify and reflect on developments in archival history;

  • situate the production of texts in their social, political and cultural contexts;

  • reflect on the relationship between knowledge, power, and identity;

  • critically engage with scholarship on the history of the Persian Empire;

  • practice their ability to process, discuss and evaluate primary and secondary evidence;

  • use methodologies of archival research, including diplomatics and prosopography;

  • be trained to participate in discussions on complex topics;

  • be trained to conduct original research and to report results clearly, in oral and written form.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Assessment method

Assessment and weighing

  • Research paper (60% of the final grade). The requirements for MA and ResMA students are differentiated: ResMA students are expected to write an original research paper; MA students may write an overview of the history and state of scholarship on a given question.

  • Oral presentation (20%). This will be a presentation of the student’s proposed paper topic for development with the group.

  • Participation in and preparation for seminar meetings (20%).


If the overall mark is unsatisfactory, the paper can be repeated after consultation with the lecturer. The marks for the oral presentation and the class participation will still count in such a case.

Inspection and feedback

Students will receive individual feedback on their presentations and research papers. There will be the possibility to hand in a draft of the paper before its final submission. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

  • Jursa, M. 2005. Neo-Babylonian Legal and Administrative Documents: Typology, Contents and Archives. Guides to the Mesopotamian Textual Record 1. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag.

  • Kuhrt, A. 2007. The Persian Empire. A Corpus of Sources from the Achaemenid Period. London: Routledge.

  • Ryholt, K. and Barjamovic, G. 2019. Libraries before Alexandria: Ancient Near Eastern Traditions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte.
Registration Contractonderwijs.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Arsenaal


Not applicable.