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Legal texts in 1st millennium BCE Assyria and Babylonia


Admission requirements

This class can be taken in fulfilment of the requirements of both the MA and the Research MA program in Classics and Ancient Civilizations in the track of Assyriology.

Profound knowledge of the cuneiform script and the Akkadian language is required.
If you are interested in taking this course but are not sure whether you fulfill the entry requirements, please, contact the instructor.


In this seminar we will study the text genre of legal documents dating to first millennium BCE Mesopotamia in comparative perspective. The seminar is conceived as a reading class along with discussions about archival background as well as historical embedding of the texts and their significance for socio-economic research.

We will read from cuneiform legal records selected from the Neo-Assyrian text corpus (from Nineveh, Assur, Dur-Katlimmu, …) and the Neo- and Late Babylonian text corpus (from Babylon, Sippar, Uruk, …). The selection of texts aims at providing an overview of the type of legal transactions (real estate sales, silver loans, leases, …) recorded on clay tablets in Assyria and Babylonia. Participants will be made familiar with the external and internal features of the texts, including formulary and keywords, of legal records. The legal records under study will also be discussed in view of their handling, use and purpose in antiquity and their informative value for modern research. By studying Neo-Assyrian records, on the one hand, and Neo- and Late Babylonian records, on the other, we will also reflect on the differences in documentation and to which extent these might be due to differences in society and economy.

Course objectives

Students who attend this seminar will:

  • gain a profound knowledge of cuneiform legal records and their contents in the 1st millennium BCE;

  • get acquainted with Akkadian legal phraseology and terminology;

  • learn about the geographical and institutional distribution of the legal documentation in 1st millennium BCE Assyria and Babylonia;

  • reflect on the “Sitz im Leben” of legal documentation in Assyria and Babylonia;

  • reflect on the similarities and differences between the Assyrian and the Babylonian legal documentation;

  • become aware of the usefulness of cuneiform legal documentation for modern research;

  • learn to develop and answer questions related to the socio-economic reality of the past on the basis of legal documentation.

Furthermore, students will acquire or expand general skills such as:

  • the reading and understanding of primary cuneiform sources;

  • the critical engagement with secondary literature;

  • the comparative approach to specific research matters;

  • the conduct of original research (research paper).

This research seminar contributes to the achievement of learning outcomes 4a and 4c (to give and write a clear and well-argued oral and written presentation on a research topic in accordance with academic standards) of the study programme Classics and Ancient Civilizations.


The timetable is available on the MA Classics and Ancient Civilizations website and the Research MA Classics and Ancient Civilizations website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

The course load of 280 hours (= 10 EC) is put together as follows:

  • weekly seminar (26 hours = 2 x 13)

  • class preparation: reading primary and secondary literature (104 hours, = 8 x 13)

  • preparation of oral presentation (40 hours)

  • research paper (110 hours)

Assessment method


  • 45% class participation, incl. preparation

  • 15% oral presentation

  • 40% research paper

The requirements for MA and ResMA students are differentiated: ResMA students are expected to identify their own research topic; MA students may expect more help in choosing their topic.


If the overall mark is unsatisfactory, the paper can be repeated after consultation with the teacher. The marks for the oral presentation and the class participation will still count in such a case.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used:

  • to upload the syllabus, powerpoints, handouts and papers

  • secondary literature will be available via the NINO and University Library

Reading list

A reading list will be provided at the beginning of the seminar.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website


Dr. Melanie Groß