W11 – Kassite Administration: Texts, Seals and Sealing Practices

Organizers: Elena Devecchi (Università degli Studi di Torino) — Susanne Paulus (University of Chicago)


  1. Tim Clayden (University of Oxford)
  2. Elena Devecchi (Università degli Studi di Torino)
  3. Susanne Paulus (University of Chicago)
  4. Ami Huang (University of Chicago)
  5. Nobuaki Murai (Universiteit Leiden)
  6. Lynn-Salammbô Zimmermann (University of Oxford)
  7. Jonathan Taylor (British Museum)
  8. Agnete Wisti Lassen (Yale University)
  9. Leonhard Sassmannshausen (Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen)

General Abstract

Despite the wealth of cuneiform administrative sources which survive from Kassite Babylonia, this area remains a largely neglected field of investigation in Ancient Near Eastern studies.The aim of the proposed workshop is to investigate the peculiarities of the two basic tools of Mesopotamian administration – texts and seals – and the interaction between them – sealing practices – in the Kassite period. The chosen subject allows the participation of philologists, archaeologists and art historians, whose papers will shed light on the topic from different, but at the same time deeply complementary perspectives.
By organizing this workshop at the forthcoming Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, we would like to encourage the dialogue among scholars who are currently working on different aspects of Kassite administration and give fresh impetus to this field, and furthermore create an opportunity for sharing and discussing their research with an international audience of colleagues engaged in the study of similar matters in other periods and areas with the goal of embedding research on the Kassite period deeper within Ancient Near Eastern studies.

General Contacts: paulus@uchicago.edu; elena.devecchi@unito.it

Paper Titles with Abstracts

To view the abstracts, please click on the titles:

The archaeology of Kassite Period texts
Tim Clayden (University of Oxford)

The paper presents a comprehensive review of the sites from which Kassite Period texts have been excavating noting the different contexts, contents, date ranges and geographical distribution plotted against date with a short commentary on each issue. Also presented is a similar comprehensive review of the sites from which stamped bricks of the Kassite Period have been found and contrasting the two data sets noting the occasional mismatch between the appearance of stamped bricks and texts of the Kassite Period at given sites. The paper will also discuss one odd feature of the archaeology of  Kassite period texts - that of only two data sets having appeared on the antiquities market in contrast to the numbers of tablets from almost every other period of Mesopotamian history that have been illegally excavated and why this might be.

Towards a diplomatics of Middle Babylonian archival documents
Elena Devecchi (Università degli Studi di Torino)

In recent years, increased attention has been devoted to cuneiform diplomatics, understood as the study of the relationship between the tablets’ extrinsic, physical features and their intrinsic, intellectual ones. A more intense application of this discipline to the ancient Near Eastern documentation had been repeatedly encouraged by scholars in the field, but only recently has diplomatics come to be generally recognized as an indispensable tool for understanding archival practices, since the choice of recording certain sets of information according to certain conventions can be directly linked to the interests and intentions of the texts’ users.  
This paper will address such issues by providing a taxonomy of the Middle Babylonian documents from the Rosen collection kept at Cornell University, based on a combined analysis of the tablets’ aspect, content and archival function. By identifying the peculiar features of these sources, this study will not only reveal how data were handled and stored by the local administration which produced them, but will also set the necessary premises for an effective comparison with the textual tools used by the scribes working at Nippur, the major administrative centre of the area.

Palace or Temple? – Origin and purpose of the “granary archive” in Kassite Nippur
Susanne Paulus (University of Chicago)

The “granary archive” from Nippur (approximately 1334–1245 BCE) is likely the largest known Kassite archive. Therefore, it is surprising that there is no consensus on the institution behind those texts. The earliest studies characterized it as a temple archive, while more recent ones link the texts with the household of the šandabakku, the governor of Nippur. The institutional origin of those texts has important consequences for our understanding of the social and economic processes documented in hundreds of tablets. Furthermore, it is relevant for comparative studies of Mesopotamian archives, where usually a distinction is made between the categories of “temple” or “palace”. In this paper I will approach the origin and purpose of the “granary archive” using economic and legal texts, but also letters. Methodologically I will explore comparative economic transactions in different text types to build information on officials active in the household, in combination with traditional approaches like prosopography, diplomatics, and sigillography.

Much cattle, much care: Middle Babylonian herding contracts from Nippur
Ami Huang (University of Chicago)

Herding contracts are well-attested throughout Mesopotamian written history. Drawn up between livestock owners and the individuals to whom the animals were entrusted, these contracts were legally binding documents, sealed by the liable party as acknowledgement of their acceptance of the contract terms. As such, these documents can furnish us with important information about not only livestock management but also the relationship between the two parties.
In this paper, I will discuss the known Middle Babylonian herding contracts from Nippur and their institutional nature, thereby situating them within a wider administrative framework. These texts have received relatively little treatment in the field, despite the prevalence of livestock in the Kassite economy. I will highlight and analyze significant differences between these herding contracts and those attested from other periods. The discussion will touch upon the contracts’ formal aspects, their legal stipulations, and the parties represented in the text and sealings.

Studies in the aklu documents of the Middle Babylonian period
Nobuaki Murai (Universiteit Leiden)

This research deals with the Middle Babylonian aklu texts. In these documents several expenditures of agricultural products are labeled as aklu. The products issued were intended for several purposes like banquets, offerings, fodder for animals, provisions for caravans, etc. The aklu activities are attested for at least 135 years (1350 BCE, Burna-Buriyaš year 10, to 1216 BCE, Adad-šuma-uṣur year 1). The aklu documents are known from at least four areas in Babylonia: Nippur and its environs, Das Archiv des Speichers (South), Ur (South) and Dur-Kurigalzu (North).
In most cases the content of an aklu text is relatively simple so it is difficult to figure out exactly what a document means. The photos of the aklu texts and the seal impressions on them can be consulted at the website of the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative.
The aklu documents are studied using the seal impressions found on them. By comparing the seal impressions on one group of texts with other groups, we can understand the aklu expenditures from a different point of view. In addition, we can deepen our knowledge employing a prosopographical study of the documents from Dur-Enlilē. The aklu documents are furthermore investigated according to several categories like seal references, year, month, day, key persons, professions, commodities, place names, and other notes found on the texts.
In the aklu documents we find artisans like brewers, millers, oil-pressers, and shepherds who prepared the commodities. However, the persons supervising these artisans do not seem to have sealed the documents. Instead, certain administrative officials sealed the documents, meaning that the aklu activities reflect administrative affairs. The royal family was involved in the aklu activities because some commodities (for example beer or flour) were issued for the coming and going of the king (elē šarri and arād šarri). Also, the offerings often attested in the aklu documents imply that the temples were somehow concerned with the aklu expenditures. Some persons who sealed the aklu documents belonged to prominent Akkadian families, like the family of Enlil-kidinnī and the family of Enlil-nīšu. Therefore, the aklu activities seem to have been administered by these prominent Akkadian families, whereas Babylonia was ruled by Kassite kings in the Middle Babylonian period.

Imaging Kassite Seals
Lynn-Salammbô Zimmermann (University of Oxford)

In this talk I will first present current work on imaging and cataloguing Kassite seals and seal impressions that I have undertaken within the frame work of the SIANE (“Seals and their Impressions in the Ancient Near East”) project, a subproject of the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI), then I will briefly discuss the importance of seals and seal impressions for the study of Kassite officials.
The SIANE project, led by Jacob L. Dahl, Oxford, aims to improve the ways cylinder seals are captured, and to catalogue all seals and seal impressions for the free online dissemination through the webpages of the CDLI. Together with collaborators at the University of Southampton the project has build and tested an innovative kit for capturing cylinder seals and I have assisted with imaging the collections of seals in Oxford and the Bibliotheque nationale de France (BnF), in Paris. Our aim is to capture data that is useful both for traditional art-historically driven studies and for IT driven research. We use three different techniques when imaging cylinder seals: a structured light approach producing a very fast but high definition topographical map of the surface of the seal; traditional photography producing flattened views of the entire surface of the seal, and a portable light microscope to document the carving technique of the seals.
At least 400 physical seals from the Kassite period have survived to our time. In comparison, more than 12000 tablets exist from the same period, with 90% of the textual documents coming from Nippur. Out of this number of tablets ca. 700 Kassite period letters survive. It has long been realised that the identity of the letter writers is difficult to establish, similarly, few of the persons mentioned in the seal impressions can be identified beyond doubt in the textual record. In the second part of this talk I will discuss attempt to link both types of sources, to show how cylinder seals may help us improve our knowledge about Kassite officials.

Seal Inscriptions of the Kassite period
Jonathan Taylor (British Museum)

The inscriptions on Kassite period cylinder seals are unusually interesting. While earlier seal inscriptions are typically short, naming the owner and giving limited information about them, Kassite examples often don’t identify the owner, instead taking the form of prayers. They can be difficult to read because of their individuality, the carving of the cuneiform signs, and especially the learned way in which they exploit the sophistication of the writing system. This presentation offers an overview of the corpus, highlighting scribal conventions and the nature of the objects. It also introduces a new collaborative website providing access to all published Kassite seal inscriptions, the Corpus of Seal Inscriptions of the Kassite period.

Sealing Practices in the Kassite and Middle Assyrian periods
Agnete Wisti Lassen (Yale University) 

Clear differences are discernable between Old Assyrian and Old Babylonian sealing practices and, albeit with some exceptions, these continue into the Kassite and Middle Assyrian periods. While there is some use of Babylonian practices in Old and Middle Assyrian documents, it is still possible to define, in general terms, an Assyrian practice and a Babylonian practice. As has been successfully argued for the late Old Babylonian period, use practices can directly influence glyptic design: in the Old Babylonian period the practice of only stamping the seal legend into the tablet or envelope led to a simplification of the design and a heavy emphasis on the inscription. This presentation will explore Kassite and Middle Assyrian sealing practices and if the practice of rolling seals parallel with the inscription, as was the Assyrian practice, was connected to the 90 degree rotation of the seal legend observed in some Middle Assyrian and Kassite seals.

Kassitische Siegelungspraxis aus dem Blickwinkel von Babylon
Leonhard Sassmannshausen (Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen)

Die kassitische Siegelungspraxis unterscheidet sich deutlich von der spaetaltbabylonischen. Innerhalb der Kassitenzeit sind ebenfalls Entwicklungen festzustellen. Am Beispiel der unpublizierten Tontafeln aus Babylon wird im Vergleich mit anderen Fundorten gezeigt, welche Tafeln gesiegelt wurden und welche nicht, sowie wie und von wem gesiegelt wurde.

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