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Assyriology is the archaeological, historical, and linguistic study of ancient Mesopotamia (ancient Iraq) and the related cultures that used cuneiform writing. The field covers the Akkadian sister-cultures of Assyria and Babylonia, together with their cultural predecessor; Sumer. The large number of cuneiform clay tablets preserved by these cultures provides an enormous resource for the study of the period. The region's (and the world's) first cities such as Ur are archaeologically invaluable for studying the growth of urbanization.

History of the Assyriology field

Assyriology presents itself as one of the most demanding fields in the humanities. Scholars need a good knowledge of several languages: Akkadian and its major dialects and Sumerian, aided by such languages as Biblical Hebrew, Hittite, Elamite and Aramaic for comparative purposes, and the capacity to absorb the complexities of writing systems with several hundred core signs. While there now exist many important grammatical studies and lexical aids, many texts remain difficult to interpret accurately.

However,there are important international projects online which are publishing photos, sign-copies and various editions of text, such as:

  • Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative
  • Digital Corpus of Cuneiform Lexical Texts
  • Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature
  • Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary

History of the Assyriology field Contains


Modern Excavation

For many centuries knowledge of Babylonia and Assyria was largely confined to often dubious classical sources. From the middle Ages onward, there were scattered reports of ancient Mesopotamian ruins.

As early as the twelfth century, the ruins of Nineveh were correctly identified by Benjamin of Tudela, a rabbi from Navarre, who visited the Jews of Mosul and their ruins 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.

Birth of Assyriology

Between 1761 and 1767, Carsten Niebuhr, a Danish mathematician, made copies of cuneiform inscriptions at Persepolis as well as sketches and drawing of Nineveh, and was shortly followed by Andr Michaux, a French botanist and explorer, who sold the French Biblioteque Nationale de Paris an inscribed boundary stone found near Baghdad. The first known archeological excavation in Mesopotamia was led by Abbe Beauchamp, papal vicar general at Baghdad, excavating the sculpture now generally known as the "Lion of Babylon."

Decipherment of Cuneiform

One of the largest obstacles scholars had to overcome 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, when in 1778 Carsten Niebuhr, the Danish Mathematician, published accurate copies of three trilingual inscriptions from the ruins at Persepolis.

Systematic Excavation

Systematic excavation of Mesopotamian antiquities was begun in earnest in 1842, with Paul-Emile 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 Assur-bani-pal 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.

DID YOU KNOW Fact About Assyriology :

The people who lived in the land "ancient Mesopotamia" did not call themselves Mesopotamians nor the area is called Mesopotamia, We get the name from the ancient Greeks who explored the region around 600 BC.

"The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold, and his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold; and the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea, when the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee". Different assyriologists may explain the term differently. A philologist may term it as the study of Cuneiform tablets. A historian phrases it as the history of Mesopotamia and Persia. To broaden the definition it can be expressed as "The study of the literature and antiquities of the Babylonians and the Assyrians". The major groups of people coming under the study of Assyriology are the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Kassites, Elamites and Persians.

The archaeological study of the History and civilization of the Babylonians and Assyrians can be phrased as Assyriology. The study of this discipline includes the Old Akkadian (the extinct semantic language spoken in ancient Mesopotamia), Old Babylonian letters, documents and inscriptions, Standard Babylonian literary and religious texts, Assyrian dialects and other cuneiform related cultures.

Sir Austen Henry Layard was the first person to excavate Babylonia. Layard discovered the Royal library of Ashurbanipal (the last king of the Neo Assyrian Empire). The library was excavated at the site of Kouyunjik (then ancient city of Ninevah (capital of Assyria). The library consisted more than 10,000 tablets with all kinds of text written in various excavations which started around the mud brick cities and temples were masked by the settling water and sand over the centuries which now appear to be little mounds called tells.

Euphrates is the sacred temple complex of the god Marduk (the "Esagila") including the ziggurat, a stepped tower, which probably gave rise to the famed Biblical account of the Tower of Babel. Beyond the Esagila lies the rest of the eastern section of Babylon and its defensive walls. Beyond the walls are the open cultivated fields of the Mesopotamian plains. The city of Babylon around 600 BC was considered a marvel of the ancient world, with a population of 200,000, and a system of defensive walls that ringed the city for ten miles.

Universities that offer study of Assiriology :

United States these include Brandeis University, Brown University, Hebrew Union College, Cornell University, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania (which also includes a large Mesopotamian, Middle and Near Eastern collection in the University's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology), and Yale University.

In Canada, the University of Toronto

Books on the Assyriology:
Orientalism, Assyriology
Orientalism, Assyriology and the Bible

'Orientalism' refers both to the academic study of the Orient and to Western scholarship that clings to stock images of the timeless East and oriental despotism. This landmark collection of essays, the first in its field, is written by seasoned art historians, Assyriologists and biblical specialists; it is organized under four rubrics: 1. Intellectual and Disciplinary Histories identifies waymarks in the rise of Assyriology in America, shifting images of ancient Assyria in their cultural context, Smithsonian Institution exhibits of 'biblical antiquities' at the world's fairs of 1893 and 1895, the rise of Egyptology in the nineteenth century, Mari scholarship and its impact on biblical studies, and the ancient Near Eastern text anthology as genre.

Other Resource about Assyriology:

Assyriology in Wiki

Assyriology is the archaeological, historical, and linguistic study of ancient Mesopotamia (ancient Iraq) ....


Assyriology students will take at least one course in Akkadian each semester. Through these courses and independent study, all students should cover Old ...

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