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Scholarly Networks of First Millennium BCE Assyria and Babylonia


Admission requirements

This class can be taken in fulfilment of the requirements of both the MA and the Research MA program in Classics and Ancient Civilizations (track Assyriology), with differential requirements.

Required knowledge to take this course: Akkadian.
Students without knowledge of Akkadian and cuneiform who are interested in the class should contact the instructor for possible enrollment options.

Admission requirements for other students: a BA degree in Assyriology/Ancient Near Eastern Studies obtained from a university in the Netherlands, or a comparable qualification obtained from a university outside the Netherlands. Moreover, students with an international degree have to contact the coordinator of studies to check admissibility.


In this seminar we will focus on studying scholarly networks in first millennium BCE Mesopotamia and explore their value for ancient and modern culture and science.

The scribal system was the primary vehicle for transmitting and preserving knowledge in Mesopotamia. Writing and copying literary and scientific compositions was part of education in Mesopotamian schools. The entire career of a scholar, from his apprenticeship to becoming an “experienced scribe, who neglects nothing”, can be traced thanks to the colophons that he appended at the bottom of his works throughout his lifetime. Although they called themselves “scribes”, they were in fact scholars and scientists, the keepers of scribal lore, tradition and historical records. Many were affiliated to temples and royal courts, but others practised privately.

Based on a number of selected examples such as the so called “library of the exorcist” in Assur and the tablet collections of the Urukean astronomers, mathematicians and lamentations priests, we will explore the transition, transformation, and dissemination of knowledge in first millennium BCE Assyria and Babylonia. We will look into the interaction between various scribal schools located in different centres and learn to juxtapose the information contained by scholarly texts with that of the economical and historical documents. This will enable us to reconstruct the social history of ancient Mesopotamian scholarship and its relations to power.

Course objectives

Students who attend this seminar will:

  • gain a profound knowledge of scholarly networks of the 1st millennium BCE;

  • get acquainted with the Assyrian and Babylonian systems of primary and advanced education;

  • learn about Assyrian and Babylonian libraries;

  • get to know the nature, purpose and context of paratexts and metatexts (colophons and others);

  • be trained in juxtaposing the information of paratexts and metatexts with that of the economic and historical documents;

  • be informed of the methodologies used in modern scholarship to reconstruct the history and the geography of knowledge in Mesopotamia (for instance Social Network Analysis);

  • reflect on the relationship between scholarship and power;

  • gain insight on the significance of Mesopotamian scholarly networks for the history of science and for modern knowledge;

Furthermore, students will acquire or expand general skills such as:

  • the critical reading and evaluation of primary and secondary sources;

  • the participation in oral discussions, through critical remarks and questions (including responses to their fellow-students’ presentations);

  • the critical and constructive approach to specific research matters;

  • preparing and presenting a scholarly talk, including proper selection of the information to be put on a slide show (the presentation);

  • the conduct of original research (research paper);

  • full scale use of the most modern Assyriological websites.

This research seminar contributes to the achievement of learning outcomes 4a and 4c (to give and write a clear and well-argued oral and written presentation on a research topic in accordance with academic standards) of the study programme Classics and Ancient Civilizations.


The timetable is available on the MA Classics and Ancient Civilizations website and the Research MA Classics and Ancient Civilizations website.

Mode of instruction


Course load

The course load of 280 hours (= 10 EC) is put together as follows:

  • attendance of weekly seminar (26 hours = 2 x 13)

  • class preparation: reading primary and secondary literature (78 hours, = 6 x 13)

  • presentation of 20 min (66 hours)

  • write research paper of 5000-6000 words (110 hours)

Assessment method

The grade consists of:

  • 20% active participation in the class, incl. preparation and responding to the presentations of the fellow-students

  • 30% oral presentation

  • 50% research paper (5,000–max. 6,000 words)

The requirements for MA and ResMA students are differentiated: the task of the ResMA is to find a topic with a research perspective and a relevant literature, although they may consult the lecturer; MA students may expect more help in choosing their topic and their papers may consist of an assessment of the status quaestionis on a given question.


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

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • assesments for each seminar, presentations and papers;

  • uploading powerpoints, handouts, and papers.

Reading list

A detailed reading list will be supplied on Blackboard.
Secondary literature will be available via the NINO and University Library.

The main editions of primary sources:
1. H. Hunger, Babylonische und assyrische Kolophone (= AOAT 2, Kavelaer, 1968).


  • Of Assyria: The Prosopography of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, Volume 1, Part I: A, Helsinki, 1998-2011.

  • Of Babylonia: Prosopography of Babylonia from 620-330 BCE (the URL of the Prosobab site to be added)


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website.


Dr. N. (Natalie) May