Current Project: The King’s City: A Comparative Study of Royal Patronage in Assur, Nineveh, and Babylon in the First Millennium BCE

Project Supervisor: Michael Jursa

Photo by: Joseph Krpelan (

Photo credits: Universität Wien/, Photographer: Joseph Krpelan

This project is funded by the European Commission, click here for more information.

Cities first developed in the fourth millennium BCE in Mesopotamia and quickly became the centers of civilization. Despite extensive work on urban landscapes from an archaeological perspective, these ancient cities remain poorly understood. Even less studied are royal capitals, the seats of kingship when empires emerged in the first millennium BCE. This project explores capitals from the two main, competing empires—Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian—to address key questions: what constitutes a royal capital and what distinguishes it from other important cities? How are capitals conceptualized by the kings who inhabit, establish, and renovate them? What are the effects of the kings’ presence in and patronage of the capital cities on the urban fabric and the social and economic structure of the urban population? By juxtaposing the Assyrian capitals in Assur and Nineveh with the Babylonian capital of Babylon as case studies, this research uses a novel comparative approach based on a methodology that combines philology, religious studies, and social and political history to answer these questions. Uniting materials from the highest levels of state such as royal inscriptions, decrees, and letters with administrative, economic, and private archives, and joining these textual records with archaeological evidence through the lens of royal patronage, this project employs an innovative holistic and interdisciplinary framework to reveal how the kings’ ideological and official relationships to their capitals affects the social and bureaucratic structures of these cities.

Ongoing Project: City of Festivals: Arbela in the Neo-Assyrian Empire Arbela

Project Supervisor: Martti Nissinen

The aim of this project is to examine the complex relationship between the divine world and urban landscape through the case study of one of the main religious centers in the ancient Near East during the 1st millennium BCE: Arbela (modern-day Erbil, Iraq). Specifically, I am interested in the following questions: how is a religious center defined, and how does it relate to other cities, particularly political capitals and cities with prominent temples? How do the political spaces of the palaces and the religious spaces of temples interact with one another? How does the status of a religious center affect royal investment, the movement of resources, and the urban topography and demographics? How are religious centers affected by socio-cultural and political changes, or how do they affect them in return? In answering these questions, this study provides a biography of Arbela’s importance and roles in the Neo-Assyrian Empire as well as its connection with the other major urban and religious centers in Assyria including Assur, Kurbail, and Nineveh.

Completed Project: Official Religion in the Neo-Assyrian Royal Inscriptions

Project Supervisor: Eckart Frahm

This study untangles the threads of political power, religious ideology, and cultural change in the Assyrian Empire from c. 1000-600 BCE. Official religion comprises a state-sponsored pantheon and religious practices and policies meant for the Assyrian heartland, and can be distinguished from other, parallel forms of religion such as personal or imperial. Characterized by complex and shifting hierarchies of gods, Assyria’s official religion was subject to changing political tides, the personal interests of kings, and theological innovations. While the uses of divine names in texts commissioned by the king may initially appear to be unsystematic expressions of personal piety, this study shows that the choice of specific gods reflects political motives, power relations, geographical and intercultural concerns, and socio-cultural developments.

YBC 7058 08

“Die” of Iaḫalu (YBC  7058), courtesy of the Yale Babylonian Collection

The goals of this project are to: 1. identify and catalogue the invocations of gods in the official text corpus, 2. understand the characteristics of the gods through their epithets and roles in the texts, and 3. to address larger historical, social, and religious questions pertaining to the nature and role of Neo-Assyrian official religion. Which gods constitute the Neo-Assyrian official pantheon and how do the hierarchies evolve during Assyria’s imperial phase? To what extent are the differences diachronic, geographical, or cultural? In what ways does state policy affect official religion, and what are the implications of political-religious shifts? In what cases are “foreign” gods (i.e. non-Assyrian gods) appropriated into or rejected from the Assyrian pantheon and why? Overall, the approach of this project is two-fold. First, by collecting data from a variety of texts that include the names of gods or lists of gods, this study serves as a reference work for scholars of Assyrian religion in the Neo-Assyrian period. Second, this project provides an overarching historical analysis of the development of the Neo-Assyrian pantheon and official religion that deepens the modern understanding of connections between major facets of Neo-Assyrian culture and society, including intellectual traditions, imperial policy and diplomacy, and cult and ritual.