13. Methodological Developments in Prosopographical Studies

Organizer: Émilie Pagé-Perron (University of Toronto)


Melanie Groß and Caroline Waerzeggers (Leiden University) — Heather D. Baker (University of Toronto) — Véronique Pataï (Département des antiquités, Musée du Louvre, Paris) — Émilie Pagé-Perron (University of Toronto) — Shai Gordin (Tel Aviv University) — Massimo Maiocchi (Ca’ Foscari University, Venice) Lorenzo Verderame ("Sapienza" Università di Roma) — Thomas E. Balke (University of Heidelberg) — Lance Allred (Museum of the Bible, Washington DC)

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

Workshop Participants and Paper Titles with Abstracts

The “Prosopography of Babylonia” Open Access Database
Melanie Groß and Caroline Waerzeggers (Leiden University)

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”.

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.

References cited
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 professional practice of the scribes of Nuzi, a prosopographical investigation
Véronique Pataï (Département des antiquités, Musée du Louvre, Paris)

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.

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.

A Preliminary Survey of Social Networks among the Uruk Clergy (620–484 BCE) and their Analysis using Graph Algorithms
Shai Gordin (Tel Aviv University)

The objective of this study is to sketch some aspects of the social cliques and main areas of interaction identifiable for the Urukean priesthood in the Long Sixth Century (620-484 BCE) using a novel approach – application of graph algorithms on social matrices used in Social Network Analysis (henceforth SNA). The first part of my talk presents our extensive database of three-tier names from Uruk priestly clans, and the organization of this onomatisc data according to established prosopographic criteria, like genealogical affiliations and theophoric name elements. In the second part of this talk I will discuss some principles of SNA, the application of which in cuneiform studies has recently been spearheaded by Wagner and the CTIJ team as well as Waerzeggers. Yet, it is only presented as prelude to the novel application on cuneiform material of two forms of graph algorithmic analyses: (1) connected components analysis and (2) normalized spectral clustering. If SNA is used to produce the graphic visualization of social networks based on social matrices mined from textual material, graph algorithms are used to produce clearer understandings of the mathematical complexities within matrices and between disparate graph elements.

The Early Anthroponomy of the Syro-Mesopotamian Area: a Digital Perspective
Massimo Maiocchi (Ca’ Foscari University, Venice)

Presently, the Ebla Digital Archives project hosts transliterations of most published texts from Tell Mardikh. This large data set includes almost 25.000 instances of personal names, whose importance for the study of anthroponomy and social interactions in the early Syro-Mesopotamian area can hardly be underrated. The available data however offer serious challenges to a modern historian: on the one hand, manually tracking thousands of intricate relations is not hardly feasible by humans; on the other, well-known issues of variations in spellings, homonymy, and incoherence in modern transliterations make such task all the more difficult. The paper provide a critical discussion on how to tackles these issues through the use of ad-hoc digital humanities tools, tweaking existing algorithms, developing scripts from scratch, and populating network matrices in a semi-automated way. The benefits and drawbacks of such experimental approach are evaluated against what is currently known, and what is still to be achieved in the difficult field of third millennium BCE onomastic studies.

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.

Old Sumerian onomastics: the current state of knowledge according to the textual sources from Presargonic Lagas and beyond
Thomas E. Balke (Universität Heidelberg)

The paper primarily aims at presenting the basic findings of a successfully finalized research project on the Old Sumerian onomasticon, that is to say the Old Sumerian inventory of anthroponyms, as it is intimately linked with the personnel’s prosopography of the economic archive of the é-mí/é-dba-Ú “house(hold) of the (ruler’s) wife”/ “house of the (goddess) Ba’U” from Presargonic Ĝirsu/Lagas having yielded about 1800 cuneiform records datable to the reigns of the Third-Millennium rulers Enentarzid, LugalANda, and IriKAgina. Apart from a general quantitative analysis of the comprehensive onomastic catalogue it will give an outline of the most-frequent name-patterns attested in Lagas, focusing on the continuation or discontinuation in their use through the Third-Millennium BC and will deal with personal names exclusively verified in sources from Lagas according to the present state of knowledge. Furthermore, the paper attempts to illuminate the quite intricate issue of reference and connotation within the corpus of Sumerian personal names and which elements are possible indicators, e.g. -/ĝu10/ as a marker of familiarity. This summarizing part will conclude with foregrounding some challenges and tasks of Ancient Near Eastern onomastic and prosopographic research in the future, for example, the involvement of Sumerian anthroponyms attested in the massively increased Third-Millennium sources from Adab and Umma or the crucial matter of the reasonable identification of underlying full name forms. Finally, the paper will pose the question, if there are Old Sumerian name patterns or name categories that can also be traced long after the end of cuneiform cultures even until Islamic or Medieval periods, e.g. the quite popular name type of subservient (theophoric) anthroponyms with initial elements such as amar(-), gan/géme(-), ur(-) or šubur(-).

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.