Assyriology (from Greek Ἀσσυρίᾱ, Assyriā; and -λογία, -logia), also known as Cuneiform studies or Ancient Near East studies, is the archaeological, anthropological, historical, and linguistic study of the cultures that used cuneiform writing. The field covers Pre Dynastic Mesopotamia, Sumer, the early Sumero-Akkadian city-states, the Akkadian Empire, Ebla, the Akkadian and Imperial Aramaic speaking states of Assyria, Babylonia and the Sealand Dynasty, the migrant foreign dynasties of southern Mesopotamia, including the Gutians, Amorites, Kassites, Arameans, Suteans and Chaldeans. Assyriology can be included to cover Neolithic pre Dynastic cultures dating to as far back as 8000 BC through to the Islamic Conquest of the 7th century AD. The topic is significantly wider than that implied by the root "Assyria" within the name.
The large number of cuneiform clay tablets preserved by these Sumero-Akkadian and Assyro-Babylonian cultures provide an extremely large resource for the study of the period. The region's (and indeed the world's) first cities and city-states like Ur are archaeologically invaluable for studying the growth of urbanization.
Scholars of Assyriology develop proficiency in the two main languages of Mesopotamia: Akkadian (including its major dialects) and Sumerian. Further, familiarity with such neighbouring languages as Biblical Hebrew, Hittite, Elamite, Hurrian, Indo-Anatolian (also called Indo-Hittite), Imperial Aramaic, Eastern Aramaic dialects, Old Persian, and Canaanite are useful for comparative purposes, and the knowledge of writing systems that use several hundred core signs. There now exist many important grammatical studies and lexical aids. Although scholars can draw from a large corpus of literature, some tablets are broken, or in the case of literary texts where there may be many copies the language and grammar are often arcane. Moreover, scholars must be able to read and understand modern English, French, and German, as important references, dictionaries, and journals are published in those languages.
The term was first used by Ernest Renan in 1859 as a parallel to the term Egyptology, in a discussion of the translation of Assyrian terms from other cuneiform languages. By 1897 Fritz Hommel described the term as misleading, and today the International Association for Assyriology itself calls the term "old-fashioned".
The term is widely considered ambiguous, being defined in different ways by different scholars in the field. Today, alternate terms such as "cuneiform studies" or "study of the Ancient Near East" are also used.
Originally Assyriology referred primarily to the study of the texts in the Assyrian language discovered in quantity in the north of modern-day Iraq, ancient Assyria, following their initial discovery at Khorsabad in 1843. Although the decipherment of Old Persian cuneiform had taken place prior, much of the subsequent decipherment of cuneiform was carried out using the multilingual Achaemenid royal inscriptions, comparing the previously deciphered Persian with the Assyrian cuneiform where used in parallel scripts. Usage of the term began to expand after it was noticed that, in addition to Old Persian and Assyrian, the cuneiform script had been used for a sister language, Babylonian (Babylonian and Assyrian had diverged around 2000 BCE from their ancestor, an older Semitic language that their speakers referred to as "Akkadian"). From 1877, excavations at Girsu showed that before Akkadian, cuneiform had been used to write a completely different language, Sumerian. "Sumerology" therefore gradually became a branch of Assyriology. Subsequent research showed that during the 2nd millennium BC, cuneiform writing had also been used for other languages such as Ugaritic, Hurrian, Hittite or Elamite, which became subsumed under the increasingly ambiguous term Assyriology. Today the term designates the study of texts written in cuneiform script, irrespective of whether the script is from Egypt, Sumer, or Assyria.
From classical antiquity to modern excavation
For many centuries, European knowledge of Mesopotamia was largely confined to often dubious classical sources, as well as biblical writings. From the Middle Ages onward, there were scattered reports of ancient Mesopotamian ruins. As early as the 12th century, the ruins of Nineveh were correctly identified by Benjamin of Tudela (also known as Benjamin Son of Jonah), a rabbi from Navarre, who visited the Jews of Mosul and the ruins of Assyria during his travels throughout the Middle East. The identification of the city of Babylon was made in 1616 by Pietro Della Valle. Not only did Pietro give "remarkable descriptions" of the site, but he also brought back to Europe inscribed bricks that he had found at Nineveh and Ur.
18th century and birth
Between 1761 and 1767, Carsten Niebuhr, a Danish mathematician, made copies of cuneiform inscriptions at Persepolis in Persia as well as sketches and drawing of Nineveh, and was shortly followed by André Michaux, a French botanist and explorer, who sold the French Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris an inscribed boundary stone found near Baghdad. The first known archeological excavation in Mesopotamia was led by Abbé Beauchamp, papal vicar general at Baghdad, excavating the sculpture now generally known as the "Lion of Babylon." Abbé Beauchamp's memoirs of his travels, published in 1790, sparked a sensation in the scholarly world, generating a number of archeological and academic expeditions to the Middle East. In 1811, Claudius James Rich, an Englishman and a resident for the East India Company in Baghdad, began examining and mapping the ruins of Babylon and Nineveh, and collecting numerous inscribed bricks, tablets, boundary stones, and cylinders, including the famous Nebuchadnezzar Cylinder and Sennacherib Cylinder, a collection which formed the nucleus of the Mesopotamian antiquities collection at the British Museum. Before his untimely death at the age of 34, he wrote two memoirs on the ruins of Babylon and the inscriptions found therein, two works which may be said to "mark the birth of Assyriology and the related cuneiform studies."
Decipherment of cuneiform
One of the largest obstacles scholars had to overcome during the early days of Assyriology was the decipherment of curious triangular markings on many of the artifacts and ruins found at Mesopotamian sites. These markings, which were termed "cuneiform" by Thomas Hyde in 1700, were long considered to be merely decorations and ornaments. It was not until late in the 18th century that they came to be considered some sort of writing.
In 1778 Carsten Niebuhr, the Danish mathematician, published accurate copies of three trilingual inscriptions from the ruins at Persepolis. Niebuhr showed that the inscriptions were written from left to right, and that each of the three inscriptions contained three different types of cuneiform writing, which he labelled Class I, Class II, and Class III (now known to be Old Persian, Akkadian, and Elamite).
Class I was determined to be alphabetic and consisting of 44 characters, and was written in Old Persian. It was first deciphered by Georg Friedrich Grotefend (based on work of Friedrich Munter) and Henry Creswicke Rawlinson between 1802 and 1848.
Class II, proved more difficult to translate. In 1850, Edward Hincks published a paper showing that the Class II was not alphabetical, but was in fact both syllabic and ideographic, which led to its translation between 1850 and 1859. The language was at first called Babylonian and/or Assyrian, but has now come to be known as Akkadian.
From 1850 onwards, there was a growing suspicion that the Semite inhabitants of Babylon and Assyria were not the inventors of cuneiform system of writing, and that they had instead borrowed it from some other language and culture. In 1850, Edward Hincks published a paper suggesting that cuneiform was instead invented by some non-Semitic people who had preceded the Semites in Babylon. In 1853, Rawlinson came to similar conclusions, texts written in this more ancient language were identified. At first, this language was called "Akkadian" or "Scythian" but it is now known to be Sumerian. This was the first indication to modern scholarship that this older culture and people, the Sumerians, existed at all.
Systematic excavation of Mesopotamian antiquities was begun in earnest in 1842, with Paul-Émile Botta, the French consul at Mosul. The excavations of P.E. Botta at Khorsabad and Austen H. Layard (from 1845) at Nimrud and Nineveh, as well as the successful decipherment of the cuneiform system of writing opened up a new world. Layard's discovery of the library of Ashurbanipal put the materials for reconstructing the ancient life and history of Assyria and Babylonia into the hands of scholars. He also was the first to excavate in Babylonia, where C.J. Rich had already done useful topographical work. Layard's excavations in this latter country were continued by W.K. Loftus, who also opened trenches at Susa, as well as by Julius Oppert on behalf of the French government. But it was only in the last quarter of the 19th century that anything like systematic exploration was attempted.
After the death of George Smith at Aleppo in 1876, an expedition was sent by the British Museum (1877–1879), under the conduct of Hormuzd Rassam, to continue his work at Nineveh and its neighbourhood. Excavations in the mounds of Balaw~t, called Imgur-Bel by the Assyrians, 15 miles east of Mosul, resulted in the discovery of a small temple dedicated to the god of dreams by Ashurnasirpal II (883 BC), containing a stone coffer or ark in which were two inscribed tables of alabaster of rectangular shape, as well as of a palace which had been destroyed by the Babylonians but restored by Shalmaneser III (858 BC). From the latter came the bronze gates with hammered reliefs, which are now in the British Museum.
The remains of a palace of Ashurbanipal at Nimrud (Calah) were also excavated, and hundreds of enamelled tiles were disinterred. Two years later (1880–1881) Rassam was sent to Babylonia, where he discovered the site of the temple of the sun-god of Sippara at Abu-Habba, and so fixed the position of the two Sipparas or Sepharvaim. Abu-Habba lies south-west of Baghdad, midway between the Euphrates and Tigris, on the south side of a canal, which may once have represented the main stream of the Euphrates, Sippara of the goddess Anunit, now Dir, being on its opposite bank.
Meanwhile, (1877–1881) the French consul Ernest de Sarzec had been excavating at Telloh, ancient Girsu, and bringing to light monuments of the pre-Semitic age; these included the diorite statues of Gudea now in the Louvre, the stone of which (according to the inscriptions upon them) had been brought from Magan in the Sinai peninsula. The subsequent excavations of de Sarzec in Telloh and its neighbourhood carried the history of the city back to at least 4000 BC, and a collection. of more than 30,000 tablets has been found, which were arranged on shelves in the time of Gudea (c. 2100 BC).
In 1886–1887 a German expedition under Robert Koldewey explored the cemetery of El Hiba (immediately to the south of Telloh), and for the first time made us acquainted with the burial customs of ancient Babylonia. Another German expedition, on a large scale, was despatched by the Orientgesellschaft in 1899 with the object of exploring the ruins of Babylon; the palace of Nebuchadrezzar and the great processional road were laid bare, and W. Andrae subsequently conducted excavations at Qal'at Sherqat, the site of Assur.
Even the Turkish government has not held aloof from the work of exploration, and the Museum at Istanbul is filled with the tablets discovered by V. Scheil in 1897 on the site of Sippara. Jacques de Morgan's exceptionally important work at Susa lies outside the limits of Babylonia; not so, however, the American excavations (1903–1904) under EJ Banks at Bismaya (Ijdab), and those of the University of Pennsylvania at Nippur between 1889 and 1900, where Mr JH Haynes has systematically and patiently uncovered the remains of the great temple of El-lil, removing layer after layer of debris and cutting sections in the ruins down to the virgin soil. Midway in the mound is a platform of large bricks stamped with the names of Sargon of Akkad and his son, Naram-Sin (2300 BC); as the debris above them is 34 feet thick, the topmost stratum being not later than the Parthian era (HV Hilprecht, The Babylonian Expedition, p. 23), it is calculated that the debris underneath the pavement, 30 feet thick, must represent a period of about 3000 years, more especially as older constructions had to be leveled before the pavement was laid. In the deepest part of the excavations, however, inscribed clay tablets and fragments of stone vases are still found, though the cuneiform characters upon them are of a very archaic type, and sometimes even retain their primitive pictorial forms.
also known as Digital Ancient Near Eastern Studies (DANES). Analogous to the development of the digital humanities and accompanying the digitization of the subject, computer-based methods are being developed jointly with computer science, the roots of which can be found in the late 1960s in the work of Gerhard Sperl.
- List of Assyriologists
- Ancient Near East
- Chronology of the ancient Near East
- Akkadian Empire
- Iranian studies
- Mesopotamia in Classical literature
- Daneshmand, Parsa (2020-07-31). "Chapter 14 Assyriology in Iran?". Perspectives on the History of Ancient Near Eastern Studies. Penn State University Press. p. 266. doi:10.1515/9781646020898-015. ISBN 9781646020898. S2CID 236813488.
The term "Assyriology" is itself problematic because it covers a broad range of topics. Assyriology literally means the study of Assyria, yet the field is by no means restricted to Assyria… What Assyriology actually means, though, is the archaeological, historical, and linguistic study of ancient Mesopotamia (Iraq) and related cultures that also used cuneiform, like northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey, and western Iran. In other words, Assyriology is not merely one discipline, but a group of disciplines related to cuneiform that make frequent references to one another. An Assyriologist might be a specialist in the language, or archaeology, or history of the cuneiform world, but by no means is everyone who has worked on cuneiform materials an Assyriologist. Sir Max Mallowan might be better known as an archaeologist of ancient Near Eastern civilizations than an Assyriologist, to give one example. A hallmark that distinguishes Assyriologists from other related specialists is training in ancient Mesopotamian languages, mainly Sumerian and Akkadian. Apart from Sumerology, Assyriology also embraces disciplines including Elamitology, Hittitology, Ugaritic, Urartian, and old Persian studies. However, experts in these fields are not always comfortable being known as Assyriologists. In the preface of A Manual of Ugaritic, André Caquot asserts that "Ugaritology deserves to be considered an independent historical discipline, one to be mastered by itself and for itself, as distinct a field as Assyriology or Egyptology, even if it appears easier because of the profound affinities shown by Ugaritic with other long known Semitic languages." This might well also be acknowledged by specialists in Elamite, Hittite, and Urartian studies, unsettled by the obsessive attention given to Assyriology. For the purposes of this paper, however, I subsume all the aforementioned disciplines and sub-disciplines within the category of Assyriology, or rather "cuneiform studies," with more focus on philological studies in Akkadian, Sumerian, and Elamite.
- Renger, Johannes [in German] (2006-10-01). "Ancient Near Eastern philology and history (Assyriology)". In Cancik, Hubert; Schneider, Helmuth (eds.). Brill's New Pauly, Antiquity volumes. p. 126. doi:10.1163/1574-9347_bnp_e1301250. ISBN 9789004122598. Retrieved 2023-03-26.
The term 'ancient Near Eastern', in the context of Western European and American scholarship, refers to the geographical area of the Near East and its pre-Christian or pre-Islamic civilizations in the territory of present-day Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Iraq, the Arabian peninsula and Iran. As understood by Eastern European scholars, the term ancient Near Eastern includes all ancient advanced civilizations between the Mediterranean and the China Sea. Originally, and to some degree even today, the discipline has borne the traditional name Assyriology, since it was inscriptions from ancient Assyria that marked the beginning of research on the culture of ancient Mesopotamia. In comparison with that term the designation Ancient Near Eastern Studies proved to be increasingly appropriate the more ancient Near Eastern civilizations became known. The enormous increase in inscriptions and archaeological material over the years led to the development of two sub-disciplines: Ancient Near Eastern Philology and Near Eastern archaeology, which, however, remain linked by a shared goal – which is to reconstruct an ancient advanced civilization on the basis of written and material evidence.
- Renan, Ernest (1859). "Expédition Scientifique en Mésopotamie, par M. Oppert. Tome II, contenant les principes de l'interprétation de l'écriture cunéiforme assyrienne.". Journal des savants (in French). Librairie Klincksieck.
- Charpin, Dominique (2013-01-01). "Renan, un sémitisant au berceau de l'assyriologie". Ernest Renan.
Il faut pourtant d'emblée soulignerun fait qui semble ignoré : c'est Renan qui a donné aux spécialistes desécritures cunéiformes le nom d'assyriologues, qu'ils portent toujours. Dans le Journal des savants de 1859, il se réfère à «MM. les assyriologues» etajoute en note: "Je demande la permission d'employer ce mot, nécessaire pour éviterde longues périphrases et que l'analogie du mot égyptologue semble autoriser." Le terme fut ensuite employé communément, sans que personne apparemment se souvienne de son origine, tant cette désignation semblait logique. Cependant, Renan ne fut pas réellement une bonne fée au ber-ceau de l'assyriologie… C'est que les données exhumées de plus en plusabondamment du sol de la Mésopotamie à partir de 1843 ne s'accordaient guère avec le système qu'il avait mis au point dans sa jeunesse et auquelil est peu ou prou resté fidèle toute sa vie.
- Hommel, Fritz (1897). The Ancient Hebrew Tradition as Illustrated by the Monuments. Society for promoting christian knowledge. pp. 29–31.
It is necessary here to remark, that the application of the term "Assyriology," as it is now generally used, to the study of the cuneiform inscriptions, is not quite correct; indeed it is actually misleading. It is true that the study of these inscriptions first began in connection with the Assyrian royal inscriptions, which for some ten years monopolized the public interest… But when the celebrated Clay Tablets of Assurbanipal's (or Sardanapalus') library were discovered and closely examined, it became more and more clear that the literary treasures it contained belonged to an epoch far earlier than that of the Assyrian monarchy, namely, to that which is now known as the early Babylonian period… Babylonia is the cradle of the earliest civilization, and could look back to a history covering several thousands of years at a time (about 1900 B.C.) when the history of Assyria was in its infancy; it is for this reason that the Assyrian civilization (its language, script, and religion) is, in the main, merely an offshoot of the Babylonian. It is absurd, therefore, to speak of an independent Assyrian literature; unless, of course, we are prepared to regard the inscriptions of the Assyrian kings as a separate school of literature by itself. The material which Sardanapalus placed in his library consisted, however, with unimportant exceptions, of mere copies of earlier Babylonian texts. As I have already pointed out, the study of the cuneiform inscriptions first began with the investigation of Assyrian monuments, and for this reason received the not altogether appropriate name of Assyriology. If, however, we go back to the first beginnings of the deciphering, we find ourselves again face to face with Babylonia, though, it is true, at a very late stage of its development; for it was a Babylonian translation of the early Persian Achaemenid texts—the inscriptions of Cyrus, Darius, and Xerxes—which first led to the unravelling of the tangled web of Semitic cuneiform writing.
- "The International Association for Assyriology – Welcome to the IAA website". The International Association for Assyriology. 2023-03-26. Retrieved 2023-03-26.
In our association, the old-fashioned term "Assyriology" covers all scholarly fields related to the study of the ancient Near East in the time of the cuneiform cultures, from the fourth millennium BCE to the first century CE in the historical regions of Mesopotamia, Syria, and the Levant, Iran, and Anatolia, including periods and regions of influence and contact.
- Meade, Carroll Wade (1974). Road to Babylon: Development of U.S. Assyriology. Brill. pp. 1–2. ISBN 978-90-04-03858-5.
The term Assyriology is derived from these people, but it is very misleading. In fact the Assyrians make up only a part of the science of Assyriology... Ask ten Assyriologists to define Assyriology and, in all probability, you will get ten different answers… A philologist maintains it is the decipherment of the cuneiform tablets. To the historian the science deals with the history of Mesopotamia and Persia. The archeologist is quick to say that it is the archeology of these areas. Each is right, but only partially… The first cuneiform tablets discovered in any quantity were in Assyria. Later discoveries revealed that the people referred to their language as Akkadian. The northern dialect came to be known as Assyrian, and the southern one as Babylonian. In scholarly circles Akkadian has replaced the term Assyrian when speaking of the language, but the science remains Assyriology… Gradually Assyriology began to embrace the study of the majority of the peoples of the ancient Near East who wrote in cuneiform. This included the Hittites until recently. Today most authorities tend to regard Hittitology as a separate field, now that more is known about them. One wonders if Sumerology will break away (some schools have chairs of Sumerology), but this is doubtful, as the Sumerians furnished the foundation for the culture of the Assyrians, Akkadians, and Babylonians. Persian studies may make the break when the knowledge of the field is enriched enough to do so. For the purpose of this essay Assyriology is defined as the study of the history, literature, and antiquities of ancient Mesopotamia, Persia, and the littoral regions. This includes all facets of their civilization from philology to architecture. Major groups of peoples coming under study are the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Kassites, Elamites, and Persians.
- Erwin, Robert (1966). "Cities Without Vistas: A Reconnoitering of Akkadian Civilization". The Virginia Quarterly Review. University of Virginia. 42 (1): 43–57. ISSN 0042-675X. JSTOR 26442914. Retrieved 2023-03-25.
Through the accident of the better preservation of the Persian ruins, visited by Europeans as early as the seventeenth century, the first Akkadian texts studied in the West came from this source. With little understanding of the Persians as supplanters, no knowledge yet of the Sumerians as predecessors, and mostly half-believed stories from the Old Testament and Herodotus to indicate that Babylon had existed, Westerners coined the term "Assyriology," still to be found in university catalogues. Before Assyriology could go beyond its first misstep in the nineteenth century, however, some tangible remains of Akkadia were needed.
- Charpin, Dominique (2018-11-06). "Comment peut-on être assyriologue ?". OpenEdition Books.
Au contraire de l'égyptologue, l'assyriologue n'était donc pas, ipso facto, un archéologue. L'assyriologue s'occupait de déchiffrer les textes en langue assyrienne découverts en quantité dans le nord de l'Irak actuel, l'ancienne Assyrie, à partir de 1843. On s'aperçut peu après que, outre l'assyrien, l'écriture cunéiforme avait servi pour une langue-sœur, le babylonien : babylonien et assyrien avaient divergé vers 2000 avant notre ère à partir de leur ancêtre, une langue sémitique que leurs locuteurs eux-mêmes désignaient comme « akkadien ». Par ailleurs, à partir de 1877, les fouilles de Tello montrèrent que, avant l'akkadien, le cunéiforme avait servi à écrire une langue complètement différente, le sumérien. La sumérologie devint donc peu à peu une branche particulière de l'assyriologie au sens large. Et la suite des recherches montra qu'au cours du Il millénaire avant notre ere, l'écriture cunéiforme avait aussi été employée pour noter d'autres langues, comme le hourrite, le hittite ou l'élamite. Dès lors, le terme assyriologue est devenu ambigu : dans son acception large, il désigne toute personne qui étudie des textes notés dans l'écriture cunéiforme. Mais ces textes, écrits dans des langues très différentes, relèvent de civilisations distinctes, même si elles ont été en contact suffisamment étroit pour partager une même écriture.
- Gelb, Ignace J. (2006) . "introduction". The Assyrian Dictionary. Chicago: University of Chicago. Oriental Institute. p. vii. ISBN 0-918986-05-2. OCLC 12555337.
A few words are necessary to justify the use of the term "Assyrian" in the title of the project and of the published Dictionary. In the early years of Assyriology the term "Assyrian" was commonly used for the main Semitic language of Mesopotamia, for the well-known reason that most of the cuneiform documents then available had been recovered from sites situated in what was once ancient Assyria. With the recovery of Babylonian sites in the following years, many more tablets came to light, showing not only that the two dialects used in Assyria and Babylonia, respectively, were closely related, but also that their users called their language neither "Assyrian" nor "Babylonian," but "Akkadian," after the Akkadians who had established the first great Semitic empire in the middle of the third millennium B.C. under their renowned leader, Sargon of Akkad. As some of these facts became known, the term "Akkadian" ("Accadian") began to crowd out the term "Assyrian" in good Assyriological usage. However, the term "Assyrian" for the Assyro-Babylonian language continues to be used —though on a much more limited and mainly popular basis—in parallel to such firmly established terms as "Assyriology" and "Assyriologist." The aversion toward the term "Akkadian" ("Accadian") in the popular American circles may be partially conditioned by the existence of the name "Acadian" ("Cajun") for the French Canadians of Nova Scotia (and later, Louisiana).
- The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character, by Samule Noah Kramer, University of Chicago Press, 1963, p 7
- The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character, by Samuel Noah Kramer, University of Chicago Press, 1963 p. 7
- The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character, by Samuel Noah Kramer, University of Chicago Press, 1963, p. 7
- The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character, by Samuel Noah Kramer, University of Chicago Press, 1963. p 8
- "The British Museum". Archived from the original on 2015-10-17. Retrieved 2016-07-22.
- The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character, by Samuel Noah Kramer, University of Chicago Press, 1963 p. 8
- The Sumerians: Their History, Culture and Character, by Samuel Noah Kramer, University of Chicago Press, 1963, p.8
- The Sumerians: Their History, Culture and Character, by Samuel Noah Kramer, University of Chicago Press, 1963, p. 11
- The Sumerians: Their History, Culture and Character, by Samuel Noah Kramer, University of Chicago Press, 1963, p. 13–15
- Bogacz, Bartosz; Mara, Hubert (2022), "Digital Assyriology — Advances in Visual Cuneiform Analysis", Journal on Computing and Cultural Heritage, Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 1–22, doi:10.1145/3491239, S2CID 248843112