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Enslaved in Babylonia: silences, voices


Admission requirements

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


In this class, we will look for archival traces of the many enslaved men, women and children who lived in Babylonia during the Neo-Babylonian and Persian periods (c. 620–330 BCE). Many archives of affluent citizens, most of them slave-owners, survive from this time. So far, these archives have mostly been mined for information on the lives of the Babylonian citizens. In this class, we will adopt a different perspective by assessing these sources against the interests of the slave-owners. We will discover that, by reading these sources carefully, we can hear the voices of enslaved persons surprisingly often, e.g. in testimonies that they delivered during court proceedings, in legal contracts recording their oaths, or in actions of resistance against their condition (e.g. escape). We will ask how such testimonies came about, how they were constructed in texts, whose agency they reflect, and for what purposes these records were stored in archives. We will confront those instances of voiced presence with the many instances when enslaved persons appear as silent objects in these archives. With this archival approach we hope to counterbalance the legal-historical tradition of the field of Assyriology that has approached the topic of slavery mostly as a problem of legal status and ownership. We will engage with post-colonial practices of reading the archives against (and along) the grain, in order to assess the representation of slavery in the sources that have come down to us.

Course objectives

Students who attend this seminar will

  • critically engage with inherited practices in Assyriology that evaluate slavery primarily as a problem of legal status and ownership;

  • acquire reading skills that allow them to read Babylonian archival sources against and along the grain;

  • be able to situate these reading strategies in post-colonial theory and the archival turn;

  • acquire expert knowledge of Babylonian archival culture and its treatment of slavery;

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

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

  • use methodologies of archival research, including 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


  • 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 a critical literature review.

  • 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%).


  • Research paper: 60%

  • Oral presentation: 20%

  • 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

An extensive reading list of scholarly articles and an overview of primary sources will be compiled by students participating in this course, in consultation with the teacher. Some key monographs that will be used are:

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

  • Dandamaev, M. 1986. Slavery in Babylonia: From Nabopolassar to Alexander the Great (626–331 BCE). DeKalb: Northern Illinois Press.


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


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

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Student administration Arsenaal


Not applicable.