S04 – Cultural Transfer: Material Culture


  1. Jan Tavernier (Université catholique de Louvain)
  2. Elisabeth Monamy (Archeomuse)
  3. Shiyanthi Thavapalan (Brown University)
  4. Sean Manning (Universität Innsbruck)
  5. Natalie Naomi May (Independent)
  6. Madeleine Mumcuoglu (Hebrew University Jerusalem)
  7. Hilmar Klinkott (Christian-Albrechts-Universität Kiel)
  8. Ignacio Prieto Vilas (Universidad Complutense Madrid)

Paper Titles and Abstracts

To view the abstracts, please click on the titles:

Gastronomical Heritage: Greek and Roman authors on Mesopotamian Beverages
Jan Tavernier (Université catholique de Louvain)

This paper discusses the various Greek and Roman accounts on Mesopotamian beer and wine. Greek and Roman historians, physicians and geographers have left us descriptions on both wine and a drink they call zythos in Greek and zythum in Latin (also attested in Egypt) and which is generally considered to be beer. The paper will present the various accounts and will arrange them in categories such as reports on drunkenness, reports on medical aspects of both Mesopotamian drinks or basic descriptions of beer and/or wine. It will also discuss how Greek and Roman concepts may have influenced the reports on Mesopotamian alcoholic beverages.

The Elixir of Life. An intellectual Heritage?
Elisabeth Monamy (Archeomuse)

When talking about the ancient Near East or Mesopotamia, archaeologists and assyriologists focus on the newest discoveries in cuneiform writings, or on architectural remains from different times and their modern destructions, small finds as jewelry, but also pottery or weapons and latest discoveries where excavations are possible. The daily life of ancient times is quite well known and can be reconstructing in the meantime. And still some aspects of the daily life are less studied or have been studied by scattered scholars. These works got very few response and hearing in the scientific community. One of these topics is nourishment. Food as sacrifice is known from texts or even from images. Food as burial gift was found during excavations. Food as nutrition is either found in shape of remains in pottery or listed in ration lists. One could think that food did not have a prevailing role as it has had in later times or even today. Showing its power through serving up doesn’t seem to be of a concern in Mesopotamia. Or at least it was not considered as important to be mentioned in texts, letters and other written documents. Rare are the mentions what was made from the grain, barley and wheat rations. Our knowledge about daily food is very narrow. What could we answer to the question of lay persons about typical Mesopotamian food? Is there anything like “typical” Mesopotamian food we could compare to for example typical Austrian food? Did Babylonians or Assyrian feel this need to distinguish themselves form “others” by their cookery, as we know it from later times and even nowadays? In this talk, food as part of the ancient Near East culture will be presented under the aspect of identity.

Keeping Alive Dead Knowledge: The Case of the Akkadian Glass-Making Recipes
Shiyanthi Thavapalan (Brown University)

Cuneiform texts generally begin as part of living scholarly tradition, composed by and for an audience interested in setting down the knowledge they contain in writing and in reading them. In their afterlives, texts may be copied at a time when the knowledge is obsolete or even by people who could no longer understand them. The scribes who copied Early Dynastic lexical lists in Old Babylonian Nippur preserved orthographies that had gone out of use. But by modifying the layout to fit Old Babylonian standards and by adding glosses—in other words, by interpreting these old word lists—they kept them alive. We encounter something else with the divination compendia: in this case, knowledge acquired through the practice of extispicy, which had been taking place long before diviners began to explain in writing the meaning of signs on sacrificial animals and in the environment around them, was organized into systems. Such a format enabled the production of knowledge within this field to extend beyond the constraints of empiricism. The divination compendia were not produced to keep the practice of divination alive but were written, copied and read by those who were interested in establishing the prestige of this knowledge.
My presentation concerns the inception and purpose(s) of the Akkadian glass recipes, most of which are only known to us in their afterlife. I will show that like the Middle Babylonian and Middle Assyrian glass “ingredient lists” (maškantu texts), the 7th-century procedural texts from Ashurbanipal’s library report on older, Bronze Age glass-making practices. The terminology used in the texts, the glass-making techniques described and recent chemical analysis of ancient glass support this view. I will also discuss the form and function of the glass-making recipes in light of other instructive and prescriptive ‘procedure texts,’ such as the Goal-Year texts and tērsītu tables used in mathematical astronomy in the first millennium BC.

Modern Stereotypes about the Orient and Perceptions of Achaemenid Swords
Sean Manning (Universität Innsbruck)

Readers of the Landmark Arrian, Daniela Agre’s study of a very interesting grave from Thrace, or Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones’ sourcebook on the king and court in Achaemenid Persia would be entitled to believe that Achaemenid soldiers used curved swords or scimitars, and that these swords looked foreign to Greek eyes. However, the philological, archaeological, and artistic evidence provides many arguments against these propositions. This paper will examine that evidence, and ask whether stereotypes that orientals wield curved blades still shape modern perceptions of the ancient Near East.
Most references to ancient scimitars or =Krummsäbel= are based on Greek texts using the words =akinakes= or =kopis=, and on depictions of easterners in Attic Red Figure vase painting. While Late Babylonian texts describe all swords and daggers with generic terms such as =patru= (GIR2 AN.BAR), the classical sources can be combined with the sculptures at from Persepolis and western Anatolia and archaeological finds from sites such as Deve Hüyük, Kalapodi, and various kurgans on the steppes. In monumental art, forms of weapons were part of the language which distinguished the 'Elamite' or 'royal' costume with its flowing robes and the 'Median' or 'cavalry ' outfit with its trousers and hood, and assigned figures to specific subject nations. Moreover, the Greek terms can be examined within the broader context of Greek vocabulary, and modern translations or definitions can be compared to usage by ancient writers. The Iranian loanword =akinakes=, for example, can be identified with a very specific form of weapon, and seems to be used consistently by Greek writers.
Translations and generalizations exist in a context, and part of that context is a thousand-year tradition that the non-Christian, non-European Other uses curved single-edged swords. This stereotype emerged during the middle ages amongst changes in theology and encounters with the steppes, and intensified in the early modern period when European merchants and soldiers encountered warriors in distant parts of Eurasia and curved swords were fashionable in the Islamic world. Some translations are easier to understand as examples of this tradition than as deductions from ancient sources. The choice to quote an old translation or trust the interpretations in an old handbook comes with a risk of promulgating the assumptions and stereotypes which lie behind such works.

An Ideal City in the Ancient Near East: from the Earliest Time to Late Antiquity
Natalie Naomi May (Independent)

The paper treats the concepts of an ideal city from their emergence in Mesopotamia and Syria through to Late Antiquity. I will scrutinize the notion of the ideal city analysing and comparing both written and archaeological sources. The use of mathematics for city construction as well as its esoteric numerological application will be discussed. Possible channels for transcultural conveyance of architectural ideas and skills will be suggested.

Recessed Opening: The Reception History of a Sacred Architectural Symbol from the Prehistoric Near East until Today
Madeleine Mumcuoglu (Hebrew University Jerusalem)

Recessed openings received scant attention in studies of ancient Near Eastern architecture and iconographic representations. The earliest examples of recessed openings were uncovered in Late Prehistoric sites, dated to fifth and fourth millennia BCE Mesopotamia. The motif was likewise overlooked in research into later Greek, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Gothic architecture. The spread of recessed opening to Classical, Hellenistic Greece and Roman architecture is a significant development, as recessed openings entered into the Classical world from the civilizations of the ancient Near East. The motif was then adopted into Christian architecture in Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic churches during the fourth to the 13th centuries CE and appeared in Islamic art. The impetus for our own investigation into this feature arose during excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, a 10th century BCE Iron Age site in Israel, when a stone building model was uncovered with three recessed doorframes around a central door. We soon realized that the phenomenon was surprisingly pervasive. Our study documents the surprising history of recessed openings from their emergence in the ancient Near East to their representation in contemporary architecture. Second, we seek to offer explanations for the cultural continuity of this phenomenon for some 6,500 years. Although the economy, technology, demography, social organization, settlement patterns, religion, burial customs, iconographic styles etc. underwent immense changes during this time, the concept of recessed openings remained intact and was never abandoned. What is the secret of the remarkable durability and vitality of recessed openings? We integrate cognitive and semiotic studies to explore how this phenomenon fulfilled very basic needs in cultic architecture and perceptions of the sacred.
Nonetheless, despite the immense changes that occurred during those 6,500 years in the economy, technology, demography, social organization, settlement patterns, religion, burial customs, and iconography etc., the concept of recessed openings was never forgotten or abandoned.

The Siege of Cities: Transfer of poliorketics from Mesopotamia to Greece?
Hilmar Klinkott (Christian-Albrechts-Universität Kiel)

In a recent article Norbert Kramer (Kramer 2017, 84-88) states the fact, that the siege of cities seemed to be a part of royal representation and ideology in Achaemenid time comparable to other major projects. The capacity and competence of the Great King to organize and manage these kinds of projects obviously follows a quite older, Assyrian and Babylonian tradition to demonstrate the royal legitimacy. In that respect it becomes evident that the siege of cities or: the illustration of the besieging is missing in classical Greek texts and pictures. The aspect of military technics, so to say the poliorketic in military practice as well as in a scientific sense seem to lack in classical Greece, but is a prominent theme in Hellenistic time. Between Homer’s siege of Troy and Alexander’s siege of Tyrus a poliorketic development achieved in Greece and Macedonia which seem to be supported by Achaemenid influences. Pictorial representations from Achaemenid Asia Minor, for example from Mysia and Lycia, may confirm this theory. If the assumption is correct that poliorketic knowledge swept from older Babylonian traditions to Greece operated by the Achaemenid empire we have to ask in consequence: In which time, by whom and in which situation this mediation particularly took place? And what does it mean for the character of city fortification and Greek besieging technics?
The goal of my paper is to illustrate the transfer of polioketic knowledge from Mesopotamia to Greece in detail, to define the historical context of its enforcement and to explain its consequences for a new, Greek military approach.

“Pozo Moro” (Spain): The Orientalizing monumental complex and the Ancient Near Eastern cultural influence in the Mediterranean ‘far West’ (Iberian Peninsula)
Ignacio Prieto Vilas (Universidad Complutense Madrid)

1971, the finding during farming works of some ashlar blocks carved with bas relief scenes led to archaeological field work in an Iberian necropolis in the province of Albacete (Spain). A monumental complex was exhumated and identified as the first use of that location.
It consisted in a temenos made of an adobe wall of uncertain height, acting as a peribolos, surrounding a pavement of small white pebbles forming the shape of an ox-hyde. At the center of that temenos there was this building, a cuadrangular ashlar blocks’ monument that included a cremation grave. The peribolos had only one entrance so it also was the exit once the visitor had finished the walk around the building. A huge amount of limestone blocks laid on the ground evidencing their original position according to the height of the building when it was erected.
The study of the pseudoisodomy of the stone blocks and other architectonic characteristics and elements helped to reconstruct it at the National Archaeological Museum (1980) as a five meters high building with two architectonic bodies. Three steps were the base of this tower that had four lion-shaped sculptures acting as the architectonic corners of the monument. Many blocks were also carved with bas-relief scenes, acting as an iconographic frieze, that showed a mythological narration along the four sides of the building following, as we propose, a right-to-left sequence. A cavetto cornice above torus separated the first body of the building from the second, that started with other four lion-shaped sculptures as its corners.
Some blocks carved with high relief scenes, very badly preserved, belonged to this second body that ended with another caveto cornice above torus and some stepped ashlars. As a working hypothesis the top of the monument was firstly supposed as a pyramidion but our latest research lead us to think that the top of the building had a rounded finish.
The stylistic realization of the whole iconographic program soon was identified as deeply influenced by neohittite or siriohittite art and we defend an interpretation of the narrative sequence of the iconographic program identifying the scenes as singular episodes from different but intimately linked mythological cycles from Ancient Near Eastern religions. The selection of this episodes (mythemes), seen as a whole sequence, show a narration of heroization and divinization to honor the deceased person for whom the monumental complex was built. Its message is related to the legitimation of divine kingship of the deceased person and his lineage.
In our opinion, the narration follows an order where we find at first the representation of the Goddess in her holy garden, then the feat of the Hero, the episode of his death, his descent to the Netherworld, the fight against the monster after his “renaissance” and, finally, the Sacred Marriage with the Goddess.
Some of the scenes have been studied by distinguished scholars such as Kempinski, Rundin or Kennedy but, from our point of view, with no definitive conclusions.
Our latest researches, included in our Ph.D. Thesis, shed new light on the metrology, modulation and other architectural aspects of this Mediterranean spread type of monuments, including the work of masons and artisans that link it to the phoenician presence in the Iberian Peninsula since the 9th. Century BP. We also offered a new reconstruction proposal that served as the model for the new re-erection of the orientalizing building that nowadays can be seen at the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid. Also, the iconographic program represented in the monument has to be seen as a mythological narration of deep Near Eastern roots, through the phoenician sieve, that arrived to the Iberian Peninsula with the phoenician and canaanite colonization and that served to the particular interests of the orientalizing iberian elites with their own interpretations and influence in the religious beliefs.

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