nl en

Babylonian Medicine and Pharmacology


Admission requirements

Limited to students enrolled in MA CAC track Assyriology, although students without cuneiform who are interested in the class should contact the instructor for possible enrollment options


The course will survey Babylonian medicine and pharmacology, focusing on the lengthy tradition of cuneiform medicine and, in particular, on the history of Babylonian medicine as a largely pharmaceutical discipline in competition with other healing practices such as exorcism. We will look at the emergence of vernacular technical literature in general as well as the place of Babylonian medicine within that tradition, and investigate how technical compendia anchored specific disciplines and indoctrinated its would-be practitioners, how distinct types of incantations were used to encode disciplinary identity and etiological theories, and how new models of pharmacological effectiveness based on astronomical correlations (including the Dodekatemoria and Kalendertext schemata) came to the fore in later periods. Class time will be evenly split between lectures and readings of primary sources in Akkadian, including therapeutic recipes, medical incantations, drug lists and other materials.

Course objectives

Students will develop:

(General learning objectives)

  • The ability to identify, select and evaluate groups of sources relevant to a particular historical problem;

  • The ability to contextualize primary sources in both their historical and archaeological context as well as to evalute the relevance of primary sources for particular research topics;

  • The ability to read both primary and secondary sources critically, and to recognize different methodologies applied in the secondary literature;

  • The ability to formulate a clear and compelling research question, taking into consideration both discipline-specific questions and broader theoretical issues;

  • The ability to give a clear and well-researched oral and written report on research results in correct English;

  • The ability to provide constructive feedback and formulate criticism on the work of others and the ability to accept, graciously, and evaluate criticism of one's own work;

(Discipline-specific learning objectives)

  • The ability correctly identify all cuneiform signs in the assigned materials;

  • The ability to correctly transliterate, transcribe and translate the Akkadian in the assigned materials;

  • The ability to evaluate variants and solecisms in terms of Classical textual criticism, fluid traditions and the specific generic features of Mesopotamian technical compendia and incantations;

  • The ability to identify relevant primary sources in the cuneiform textual record and use these sources to critique existing historical reconstructions;

  • A thorough knowledge of the major phases and textual sources for Babylonian medicine;

  • A thorough knowledge of the position of Babylonian medicine within the intellectual history of Mesopotamia and the history of science more generally.


Please consult the Classics and Ancient Civilizations website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

The course is 10 EC 280 hours.

  • The class meetings amount to 26 hours

  • The final exam 2 hours

  • 252 hours over 13 weeks for class preparation, preparation for the exam and the term paper.

  • Students are expected to devote 100 hours, over the course of the semester, to writing the term paper, which must make use of primary sources

  • The remaining ca. 150 hours (ca. 10 hours per week) should be used for reading and preparing the assigned primary sources in Akkadian, the secondary literature and preparing for the final exam.

  • Generally speaking, students will be expected to prepare ca. 20 lines of Akkadian and to read ca. 50 pages of secondary literature per week.

Assessment method

The grade in the course will be determinated as follows: 20% class participation (including readings of primary sources in class and other classroom discussion), 40% final exam and 40% term paper. The final exam will consist of both primary sources in cuneiform (to be transcribed, analyzed and translated), and open questions covering the secondary literature and discussions in class. The term paper should be at least 5000 words (including bibliography) and investigate a particular aspect of Babylonian medicine or pharmacology; the paper must make use of primary sources in a substantial way.

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.

The last class before the final exam will be a review session and students can discuss the exam results in office hours after the end of the term.

Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the student needs to retake the written exam and/or revise the paper after consultation with the instructor.


Blackboard will be used for distributing all primary sources for the course.

Reading list

A few preliminary readings (additional materials will be assigned for each week and a complete bibliography will be made available through Blackboard):

Böck, B. 2011. Sourcing, Organising, and Administering Medicinal Substances. In: K. Radner and E. Robson, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture. Oxford, 690-705.
Farber, W. 2004. How to Marry a Disease: Epidemics, Contagion, and a Magic Ritual against the ‘Hand of the Ghost’. In: H.F.J. Horstmanshoff and M. Stop, eds., Magic and Rationality in Ancient Near Eastern and Graeco-Roman Medicine (SAM 27). Leiden/Boston, 117-132.
Finkel, I.L. 2000. On Late Babylonian Medical Training. In: George and Finkel, eds., Wisdom, Gods and Literature: Studies in Assyriology in Honour of W.G. Lambert. Winona Lake, 137-223.
Geller, Markham J. 2010. Ancient Babylonian Medicine in Theory and Practice. Wiley.
Heeßel, N.P. 2000. Babylonisch-assyrische Diagnostik. AOAT 43. Münster.
Heeßel, N.P. 2005. Stein, Pflanze und Holz: Ein neuer Text zur medizinischen Astrologie. Or NS 74: 1-22.
Scurlock, J. 1999. Physician, Exorcist, Conjurer, Magician: A Tale of Two Healing Professionals. In: T. Abusch and K. Van der Toorn, eds., Mesopotamian Magic. Textual, Historical, and Interpretative Perspectives (AMD 1). Groningen.
Stol, M. 1991/92. Diagnosis and Therapy in Babylonian Medicine. JEOL 32: 42-65.
Stol, M. 2000. Birth in Babylonia and the Bible: Its Mediterranean Setting. CM 14. Groningen.
Stol, M. 2007. Fevers in Babylonia. In: I.L. Finkel and M. J. Geller, eds., Disease in Babylonia (CM 36). Leiden/Boston, 1-39.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in [English]) and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration (Contractonderwijs](


Dhr. dr. J.C. Johnson