State Archives of Assyria Online, part I:

Mechanisms of communication in an ancient empire

The correspondence between the king of Assyria and his magnates

in the 8th century BC


Four-year research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (United Kingdom) from October 2008 to September 2012.

Project team at University College London: Dr Karen Radner (principal investigator), Dr Mikko Luukko (PostDoc researcher) and Silvie Zamazalova (PhD student).

Project partners: Professor Simo Parpola (University of Helsinki) and Professor Steve Tinney (University of Pennsylvania).

How did ancient empires cohere? What roles did long-distance communication play in that coherence? How did long-distance communication work, structurally and socially? The aim of the project is to address these questions for the Assyrian Empire in the period between 721 and 705 BC, the reign of Sargon II, when Assyria became the first large empire to exercise hegemony over the Old World core system. In the royal archives of Nineveh and Nimrud, now in northern Iraq, primary documentation has survived to an unparalleled extent, allowing us to tackle these questions for this particular period with the help of the c. 1200 surviving letters and letter fragments of the correspondence of the king with his governors and magnates. Instead of attempting a generalised diachronic survey we deliberately focus on this king’s reign and concentrate on enhancing our understanding of fifteen years of Near Eastern history, allowing for the fact that the setup of Assyrian government and administration was not a system set in stone but was modified to fit changing circumstances and needs (for further information see

Moreover, by adapting a text database created by Professor Simo Parpola of the University of Helsinki and merging it with commentaries and introductory materials (see the website “Assyrian Empire Builders: Governors, diplomats and soldiers in the service of Sargon II, king of Assyria”:, we are – in cooperation with Professor Steve Tinney of the University of Pennsylvania – currently creating an open-access web resource that aims to make the Sargon letters more widely accessible as part of a wider initiative to make the State Archives of Assyria materials available online, “SAA Online. The transliterations and translations are those of the standard editions in the series “State Archives of Assyria”:

        S. Parpola, The Correspondence of Sargon II, Part I (State Archives of Assyria 1), Helsinki 1987;

        G. B. Lanfranchi and S. Parpola, The Correspondence of Sargon II, Part II (State Archives of Assyria 5), Helsinki 1990;

        A. Fuchs and S. Parpola, The Correspondence of Sargon II, Part III (State Archives of Assyria 15), Helsinki 2001;

        M. Dietrich, The Neo-Babylonian Correspondence of Sargon and Sennacherib (State Archives of Assyria 17), Helsinki 2003.

The Sargon correspondence is the first chunk of the State Archives of Assyria materials to be “lemmatised”, providing interactive translation facilities which allow the user to check and question the translations in detail and make the corpus fully searchable, in order to facilitate and encourage an active understanding of the primary sources (see Other parts of the State Archives of Assyria materials will be made available in the same manner by teams headed by Dr Heather Baker (University of Vienna), Professor Michael Jursa (University of Vienna) and Dr Eleanor Robson (University of Cambridge).

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