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Advanced Cuneiform Epigraphy


Admission requirements

Participants should have a good knowledge of cuneiform writing (be able to decipher an Old Babylonian document) and of Akkadian, as well as of Mesopotamian notation of years and months, and of metrology.
For students with a BA degree from Leiden University: the BA course ‘Epigrafie van het spijkerschrift’ is prerequisite.


The aim of this course is to introduce students to the techniques and practices of reading, editing, reproducing and handling original cuneiform inscriptions.

The cuneiform script was in use during more than three thousand years in the Ancient Near East. First developed by the Sumerians in the fourth millennium BC, the script was later adapted to render other languages spoken in the region, such as Akkadian, Hittite, Hurrian and many others. Moreover, whereas the first cuneiform signs were impressed on clay tablets, scribes soon began to experiment with other media such as stone and metal. In the course of these processes, the cuneiform script underwent significant change, from sign shape (paleography) to spelling conventions and material aspects of writing. This course is designed to introduce students to this rich history and to equip them with the practical skills necessary to read, edit, reproduce and handle cuneiform inscriptions. In addition, the course will address archival practices and record management in the Ancient Near East.

In this course, we will work with original clay tablets and other artifacts kept in the Böhl collection at Leiden (NINO, The Netherlands Institute for the Near East) and we will apply both traditional and digital techniques to the study of these objects.

The course consists of two parts. In part one, the student is introduced to the history of cuneiform paleography and the script’s most important epigraphic genres. Moreover, students will learn techniques of editing, reproducing and handling cuneiform texts from specialists (hand-drawing, photography, 3D imaging, digital text markup, restoration and preservation).

The second part consists of an individual project designed by the student in which editions are made under expert supervision of two chronologically distinct groups of tablets in the Böhl collection. Students will give a short oral presentation about the text edition they are working on (twice).

The course will bring together a diverse group of people, including (Research) MA students, PhD students, staff, and invited guests affiliated to museums and other universities in the Netherlands and abroad. The group will cooperate closely with NINO at Leiden.

Course objectives

Course objectives of part 1:

  • to gain insight into the materiality of writing, archival practices and record management in the Ancient Near East;

  • to master techniques of editing, reproducing and handling cuneiform texts;

  • to understand the paleographic developments of the cuneiform script over several millennia and regions.

Course objectives of part 2:

  • to design and carry out two individual projects involving a particular group of original cuneiform tablets or other types of cuneiform inscriptions;

  • to make a complete edition of unpublished or semi-published texts;

  • to present one’s epigraphic work to peers.

The requirements for MA and Research MA students are differentiated: Research MA students are expected to come up with their own original research topic, find literature, and write a scholarly report; MA students may expect more help in choosing their topic and their papers may consist of an assessment of the status quaestionis on a given question.

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 timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Assessment method

  • participation: 10%;

  • oral presentations: 20% (10 each);

  • individual project (two text editions): 70%.

If the overall mark is unsatisfactory, only the paper of the individual project may be re-written. The mark for the oral presentations and participation will still count in such a case.


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


Paper, preparing a scholarly edition of a selected group of texts, 100%.

Inspection and feedback

Students will be invited to discuss their paper and their results for this seminar (assignments, paper) individually with the teacher, as soon as the results have been published.

Reading list

To be announced.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Arsenaal


This course is part of the OIKOS program. If you want to take this course as part of OIKOS but are not a student at Leiden University, please contact for more information on how to enroll.