W06 – Methodological Developments in Prosopographical Studies

Organizer: Émilie Pagé-Perron (University of Toronto)


  1. Émilie Pagé-Perron (University of Toronto)
  2. Lorenzo Verderame (Sapienza Università di Roma)
  3. Lance Allred (Museum of the Bible, Washington DC)
  4. Zsombor Földi (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)
  5. Véronique Pataï (Musée du Louvre)
  6. Heather D. Baker (University of Toronto)
  7. Melanie Groß and Caroline Waerzeggers (Universiteit Leiden)
  8. Vitali Bartash (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)

General Abstract

As larger digitized cuneiform datasets become available, Assyriologists explore new methods of inquiry which results in a transformation of the research landscape. Scholars now supplement traditional approaches with quantitative methods and social sciences theory to analyze information extracted from cuneiform sources. This workshop aims to overview currently employed and future methods for Assyriological prosopographical studies and their associated theoretical frameworks. What are the current and future trends in prosopographical research in the field of Assyriology? What are the particular challenges related to our primary sources and how can we mitigate them? What can we learn from sister fields such as Near Eastern studies, Medieval studies and Classics in this avenue of research? How can we fruitfully reemploy the quantitative analysis apparatus from the hard sciences? And finally, how can we foster the interoperability of our research results in the field?

Participants will present ongoing or recently completed research, clearly outlining their method while highlighting the strengths, weaknesses and challenges of such method. The papers will be grounded in their context by presenting aims, research questions and results or expected results, and by using compelling examples from the sources.

Possible topics comprise: Homonymy and disambiguation, onomastics and naming practices, incomplete archives and sample validity, information extraction, large datasets, statistics and social network analysis. Related topics are welcome.

General Contact: epageperron@gmail.com

Paper Titles with Abstracts

To view the abstracts, please click on the titles: 

The Scribes of Adab
Émilie Pagé-Perron (University of Toronto)

Old Akkadian society has been studied extensively from multiple angles. However, with the significant recent increment in published administrative texts of the period, and with the development of Social Network Analysis techniques geared to addressing Assyriological questions, the social network of Mesopotamian cities should be fully re-examined wherever possible in order to expand our understanding of social history and local management models of this period, especially taking into account whole corpora and in a comparative perspective between the different provinces.
To address one facet of this challenge, my paper explores the implications of the multiple roles held by scribes in the city of Adab, and the extent of their social influence. Specifically, through applying traditional and Social Network Analysis techniques to the Adab social network, I study the circles in which the dub-sar of Adab operated (under their various titles), and their reach within the city’s network. Even though these men played a role both in the the ensi’s affairs and in the temple spheres, this talk focuses on their relationship with the temple. To support this investigation, I employ graph theory to analyze the network’s sub-structures and examine at centrality measures. The use of computational methods makes it possible to understand the scribes’ respective ego networks in their wider context, it offers statistical results for scrutiny, and it fosters research reproducibility and data reuse.

One Name, many Identities: Perspectives and Approaches in the Study of Prosopography in Neo-Sumerian Sources
Lorenzo Verderame (Sapienza Università di Roma)

Prosopography has been and is still today a key strategy to analyze Neo-Sumerian documents. The creation of large online databases such as BDTNS and CDLI, has favored the management of large amounts of data and indeed have stimulated the study of Neo-Sumerian history and economy. Although both databases and computer analysis software have enormously increased the potentiality of quantitative analysis of documents, prosopography still remains a crucial problem in Neo-Sumerian studies.
In this paper I deal with some theoretical aspects of the question. I discuss classical topics of the prosopographical study of Neo-Sumerian corpora as well as new ones derived from a better understanding of administrative practices and from social sciences. On the one hand, I explore writing variants and abbreviations of names (hypocoristics) or when, how, and why the patronymic and/or the title is added to identify a person. On the other, I deal with some theoretical questions raised by anthropological studies, such as the use of kinship terms for hierarchical relationship outside the family (fictive or pseudo-kinship), that may open new interpretative perspectives.

Royal Veneration Names in Late Third and Early Second Millennium Mesopotamia
Lance Allred (Museum of the Bible, Washington DC)

The onomasticon of the Ur III and Old Babylonian periods includes a number of theophoric names that serve to venerate the deified king. In some cases—particularly with the Ur III kings Amar-Sin and Šu-Sin—the name are unusual and do not conform to normal naming patterns of the period. Several factors make it clear that people who bore such names changed them to venerate the king when he ascended to the throne. Thanks to digital databases such as the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI), the Late Old Babylonian Personal Names Index (LOB-PNI), and the Database of Neo-Sumerian Texts (BDTNS), among others, it is now possible—at least in some instances—to track some individuals who made these name changes.
This paper will highlight some of these people and speculate on some of their motivations for doing so. In particular, I will argue that in many cases, people taking on royal veneration names were foreigners in the court, such as messengers and diplomats. I will also look at broader examples of name changes in the ancient Near East among those in the royal court to further shed light on this phenomenon.

Prosopography of Old Babylonian Documents: The View from Larsa
Zsombor Földi (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)

Prosopographical research on Old Babylonian documents is not as far advanced as comparable studies on Neo-Assyrian sources are. There are a number of factors that account for this difference: the lack of collated text editions, the poor publication rate of Old Babylonian archival texts in general and the wide geographical and chronological range of the Old Babylonian documents are only some of them.
The paper presents some methodological questions and observations that result from prosopographical studies on the archival sources from Larsa and its neighbourhood. In contrast to the contemporary material from Northern Babylonia (especially Sippar), the study of these documents offers a series of particular difficulties, especially by lacking secure identification – such as the individuals’ paternal names – far too often. For this reason, the importance of seal impressions, the proper reconstruction family trees based on inheritance division contracts and other legal documents will be emphasized. Some particular phenomena such as the problem of the so-called ‘double filiation’, the potential influence of political events to name-giving practices and the role of the king’s name in onomastics will also be discussed.

The professional Practice of the Scribes of Nuzi, a prosopographical Investigation
Véronique Pataï (Musée du Louvre)

Approximately 6 000 tablets were discovered in Nuzi and nearly 300 scribes produced this documentation. In order to tame this large corpus, I created a methodology for the prosopographical investigation of the scribes of Nuzi through the study of 12 scribes who worked for a woman, Tulpun-naya. Thanks to several criteria such as the contacts of the scribes (employers, witnesses, judges), the cities where they are active, their writing styles or even their seals and, in some cases their handwriting, it was possible to reach a more precise understanding of their professional practices. The scribes in question wrote only a small number of tablets for Tulpun-naya, 37 tablets, but they were employed by other persons and thus, the corpus analyzed comprises 460 tablets in total.
The prosopographical study of these scribes highlighted the presence of many homonymous scribes. The creation of a database including the corpus of each scribe allowed to compare the scribes and to solve most of the cases of homonymy. Furthermore, by comparing the above criteria in the database it was possible to bring to light the delivery of scribal instruction between scribes of a same family through several generations. Once the corpus of each scribe was defined, it was possible to identify the period during which they practiced their professions. In the absence of any dating information, the presence of members of wealthy Nuzian families in the documents written by the scribes allowed to place the texts in a relative chronology.
Research entailing social network analysis methods applied to the information collected in this Nuzi database are envisaged. A collaboration with James Hearne, a professor at the Computer sciences department of the Western University is in progress and could certainly help define more precisely the chronology of the individual corpora of each scribe.
Overall, this paper both highlights the findings resulting from the analysis of the corpus of the scribes employed by Tulpun-naya as well as the important challenges brought by homonymy and the lack of dating information.

Neo-Assyrian Personal Names in Context: Onomastic Research Using the PNA Dataset
Heather D. Baker (University of Toronto)

Personal names have long been cited as evidence in studies of Neo-Assyrian society and culture. For example, several studies by Ran Zadok use the linguistic derivation of personal names as a proxy for the ethnic background of the name-bearers (e.g. Zadok 1997). Also, Simo Parpola has studied Aramaic and Akkadian name-giving in the family context as a means of investigating the Assyrian ruling class (Parpola 2007). The Prosopography of the Neo-Assyrian Empire includes some 7,369 lemmas (personal names), comprising a very rich resource for onomastic research—all the more so, since it provides the possibility of researching personal names in combination with other information about the named individuals, such as profession, status, place of origin, and textually attested context(s), to name but a few. The names reflect a variety of linguistic backgrounds (Akkadian, Aramaic, Phoenician, Moabite, Hebrew, Arabic, Egyptian, Greek, Iranian, Hurrian, Urarṭian, Anatolian, and Elamite) and these, too, can be factored into research involving the onomasticon. With the ongoing compilation of the PNA database, research into naming practices is greatly facilitated since it becomes possible to retrieve information using multiple variables, including non-onomastic criteria such as the data fields that relate to biographical information and/or to the written sources in which those individuals are attested. This paper presents some preliminary results of this ongoing work as a way of demonstrating the usefulness of the PNA dataset for integrating onomastic research into the study of Neo-Assyrian society.

Zadok, R. 1997. The Ethnolinguistic Composition of Assyria Proper in 9th - 7th Centuries BC. In Assyrien im Wandel der Zeiten. XXXIXe Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale. Heidelberg 6.-10. Juli 1992. Heidelberger Studien zum Alten Orient 6, edited by H. Waetzoldt and H. Hauptmann. Heidelberg, pp. 209–216.
Parpola, S. 2007. The Neo-Assyrian ruling class. In Studien zu Ritual und Sozialgeschichte im Alten Orient / Studies on Ritual and Society in the Ancient Near East. Tartuer Symposien 1998–2004, edited by T. R. Kämmerer. Berlin & New York: Walter de Gruyter, pp. 257–274.

The “Prosopography of Babylonia” Open Access Database
Melanie Groß, Maarja Seire and Caroline Waerzeggers (Universiteit Leiden)

The database “Prosopography of Babylonia: 620–330 BCE” is currently being developed at Leiden University within the framework of the ERC project “Persia and Babylonia: Creating a New Context for Understanding the Emergence of the First World Empire”.
Thousands of cuneiform texts have survived in archives of Babylonian families and temples (c. 620–330 BCE). These sources offer valuable data for socio-historical research but their potential is difficult to exploit so far. The Leiden project wants to contribute to their accessibility by creating an online prosopography, designed to provide information about attested individuals in Babylonia during the Neo-Babylonian and Persian periods based on a questionnaire. As an open access database it will (along with other online databases) be an effective research tool for specialists and also contribute to a better insight into the cuneiform material for non-specialists. Moreover, it provides the flexibility and durability required by the ever on-going publication of the corpus.
While parts of the database are still under construction, data entry has begun in February 2018. This lecture discusses the structure of the database, the range of data systemized in the database and its envisaged contribution to the field of “new digital prosopography”.

Animalized Children: Minors (amar-gaba) in the Ekur Temple in Nippur ca. 2250 BC
Vitali Bartash (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)

A group of published and unpublished “ration lists” record the remuneration of children in the Ekur temple household in Nippur. They are dated to the reign of king Naram-Suen. The minors appear as (amar-gaba) “breast-calves” in these documents.
This paper pursues two related aims. The first is to clarify the socioeconomic context of the remuneration of these minors in the Ekur. The second objective is to clarify why the scribes implemented the terminology of animals to record these minors.
Relying on related designations of minors in 4th-3rd millennia BC archival records from southern Mesopotamia, the author explains the phenomenon of “animalizing” of children as an attempt by the emerging state to supplement the traditional kinship terminology with a new means to describe its human resources: the age grades.

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