S19 – Babylonia


  1. Odette Boivin (University of Toronto)
  2. Peerapat Ouysook (University of Cambridge)
  3. Julia Giessler (Universiteit Leiden)

Paper Titles with Abstracts

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To Seal or not to Seal, or making sure there is nothing rotten in the Palace of the Sealand
Odette Boivin (University of Toronto)

The sealing of administrative texts has a long history in Mesopotamia, dating as far back as the period of emergence of such texts. The practice evolves more or less in parallel for legal, administrative, and epistolary purposes, not unlike the use of a signature. Most traces left by the administrative use of seals in institutions were ephemeral and are lost to us, in particular door and container sealings, which were probably quickly recycled. But several large groups of sealed tablets have been preserved, often a subset of larger institutional archives in which other tablets are not sealed.
The patterns of sealing habits, even in institutional administrative archives that present a high degree of standardisation, do not always appear to be fully regular. Also, they have been less studied than other aspects of these sources, perhaps because the study of such habits falls between diplomatics and sigillography.
A palatial archive dating from the reign of two kings from the first dynasty of the Sealand in mid-2nd millennium Babylonia (published in CUSAS 9) presents an interesting case study for sealing patterns. Indeed, texts dealing with various resources were retrieved, probably issued from a number of internal services, of which roughly a quarter are sealed. In this paper, I will examine the sealing habits of the administrators involved in conjunction with other recording operations, such as copying the text or adding the name of officers, and endeavour to identify elements that guided the administrative decision to seal a document. Parallels with other archives will also be brawn in order to position the Sealand I palatial sealing practice within a larger tradition.

Ideology and Administration in Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon
Peerapat Ouysook (University of Cambridge)

The sizable corpus of inscriptions composed in the name of Nebuchadnezzar II (NBK), King of the Neo-Babylonian Empire (605–563 BCE) offers rich opportunities for studying the socio-cultural dynamics during his reign. Following the recent achievements in interpreting the Neo-Babylonian primary sources by Rocio Da Riva and Michael Jursa’s team in Vienna, my paper investigates the workings of the political and religious ideologies within the world he once lived, on the strength of NBK’s inscriptions.
A starting point is establishing a chronological sequence for NBK inscriptions, a classic issue in the studies of the NBK corpus because of the historical ambiguity imposed by the lack of a written dating as well as the archaeological context. So far, the only attempt was made by Stephen Langdon in 1912, but his theory has long been disproved. My suggested sequence is created by integrating multiple ‘external sources’, i.e. archaeological data and the textual sources belonging to the corpus of the administrative texts in temple archives. For the archaeology I rely on Olof Pedersén's review of Koldewey’s excavation report. Combining this with the texts from the Eanna Temple archive, we can generate chronological anchor points. For instance, when both data sets are combined, we obtain a relatively concrete historical reference for the construction of the North Palace: at least between NBK’s 19th to 29th regnal year.
This chronological sequence introduces a new dimension into the analysis of the inscriptions, making it possible to look into the historical development of the corpus, especially with the inscriptions from Babylon. This yields insights into the intellectual and political history of NBK’s reign.

A New Case of Cattle Theft from the Eanna Archive
Julia Giessler (Universiteit Leiden)

Huge flocks of livestock from various temples pastured in the hinterland of Mesopotamian cities, where not only beasts of prey, but also human predators posed a threat to their survival. Although a thirtyfold penalty for theft of “divine property” (makkūr ilī) could be invoked, Late-Babylonian records from the Eanna archive prove that hunger, poverty and greed were sometimes strong enough for people to risk an attempt. Those who tried to get their hands on a piece of Ištar’s and Nanāya’s flocks were especially challenged by the star-shaped brand (kakkabtu), which marked these deities’ ownership and counted as valid proof in court. Except for the unblemished sacrificial animals that remained out of reach, namely in the safety of a fattening stable, only meager newborn ones could be found unmarked, whereas the precious adults used for breeding or ploughing were marked permanently with the star-symbol that put casual observers on the alert all too easily: Even the temple’s own shepherds were detained, when trying to leave the city with animals wearing the star-mark. One thief however used a hitherto unknown method to avoid the inevitable accuse of temple theft for a while. His allegedly pioneering idea, attested on an unpublished tablet from the British museum, may in fact have been a common way to obliterate the impact of the temples’ ownership-marks in cases of legal purchase.

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