Call for papers

69th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale
Papers and posters

Submission for papers and posters is now closed.

Those who submitted paper or poster abstracts will be notified of acceptance or rejection by 15 March 2024.

Themed workshops

Questions of social identity and identity formation have sparked intense scholarly interest in the study of the ancient world in recent years. Research has especially focused on the topics of gender and ethnic identity. With the ever-increasing source material and recent advances in the methodological tools used by Near Eastern historians, the study of ancient identities is at an apt moment for examining the clarity and coherence of concepts, terms, and approaches. Given the complexity of the issues, this task requires a theory-driven and interdisciplinary conversation. The organizers invite papers reflecting on particular aspects of social identity in the ancient world (Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Anatolia, the Levant, ancient Israel, and others) that take into account their specificities, ambiguities, and interrelations. We especially encourage papers exploring identity based on habitus-formation, local and regional identities, gender, and the stratification of ancient societies, i.e., questions of class and socio-economic status, and/or how such specific aspects of identity relate to other elements of identity, e.g.,:  

  • Habitus Formation. Even without an explicit concept of identity, patterns of association and belonging are played out in the daily lives of individuals. These patterns in turn shape the available options for others in the society. How can archaeology or texts allow us to reconstruct ways in which empires perpetuated or altered the habitus in their empires, and what effects for group associations can we see? 
  • Local and Regional Identities. People both interacted on a very local scale while some traveled remarkable distances. How do patterns of mobility, settlement, trade, or landscape shape the ways groups and group-identity formed or altered? 
  • Gender. A key element of lived experience was of course gender, but the ways in which it shaped group identity formations remain opaque. Family, tribe, and patronage relations could depend on gender roles, in turn determining social group membership.  
  • Social Stratification. It is certain the ancient world was structured via social dependencies, but at what level were identities shaped by these chains? If we cannot find class consciousness, can we define patterns of belonging based on socio-economic status? 

We particularly seek contributions that illuminate the shifting of these types of social identities under 1st millennium BCE ancient empires.

Despite decades of gender studies, motherhood remains a marginal subject, even in feminist studies. Little is said about women as mothers, their role, their status and their work, and even less about the psychological and emotional aspects and the gaps between the normative representation and the actual practice of motherhood, the difference between biological mothers and feelings of attachment to nannies and other mother figures.

This workshop aims to analyse motherhood in Ancient Western Asia from different perspectives in order to rethink relationship with maternity and break free from a stereotypical view of motherhood. Motherhood was a compulsory state for almost every woman in the ancient world, which is also the most feared, death during or after childbirth being the greatest cause of female mortality. We would like to explore a broad definition of Motherhood: as a biological state, but also a psychological, symbolic, social, or legal issue, as a source of vulnerability and/or empowerment. The subject could be approached from the divine, mythological, historical, human and non-human spheres, or at the intersections between these realities.

We welcome contributions from textual, archaeological and iconographic sources, with no restrictions in terms of chronology or geography.

The Third Millennium is arguably the most formative period in Mesopotamian History. Its historical and cultural processes lay the groundwork for the development of later Ancient Near Eastern civilizations. While Third Millennium text corpora may be broad and diverse, they often present similar problems that call for shared solutions. Unfortunately, the complex and fragmentary nature of the documentation is also known to attract less attention compared to later periods, leaving space for a new impulse in the field.

On these grounds, this workshop aims to keep alive the tradition of Third Millennium studies by bringing together a number of scholars currently working on several aspects of the earliest Mesopotamian documentation – i.e. those texts dating to the Archaic, Early Dynastic (I-II, IIIa, IIIb), Sargonic, Gutian, and Neosumerian periods. The geographical scope of the contributions includes both southern and northern Mesopotamia, expanding the definition of Third Millennium Mesopotamia to encompass Ebla and its royal archives.

This workshop will ideally cover as many topics as possible in the realm of philology and history, including, among others, administration, historical geography, grammar, linguistics, lexical and literary texts, and socio-politics. New and old texts and materials will be presented combining the most traditional approaches with state-of-the-art methods in digital humanities, toward a better understanding of the earliest phases of the Mesopotamian world.

The workshop accepts papers that address any topic related to the use of digital methods in ancient Near Eastern studies. This year, we particularly welcome presentations on open data and open publishing. Access to the newest research results and datasets is a prerequisite for cutting-edge research, and the recent advances in digital humanities have emphasized the need for large, good-quality, and open datasets. Assyriology has a long tradition of making digital research data openly available, but given the vast cuneiform corpus, much work remains to be done. At the same time, the open availability of research publications in ancient Near Eastern studies is limited. There are some open access journals in the field, but the great majority of new books and articles remain behind the paywall. We invite scholars working on open data and open publishing to present their current work, discuss best practices, and explore ways forward to make knowledge of the ancient Near East more accessible.

One of the great remaining mysteries in the study of the Sumerian language is the nature and origin of its only known variety, Emesal, which made a somewhat counterintuitive appearance in ancient Mesopotamian texts only after the extinction of Sumerian as a vernacular around 2000 BCE. Although it is well known that Emesal words mostly occur in liturgical texts and the context of “love and death”, it is not yet fully understood how Emesal was transmitted and recorded and how the tradition of writing Emesal was established in the early second millennium.

In this workshop, the focus is set on the earliest known Emesal texts, like city laments, lamentations, and myths from the early second millennium. We also welcome contributions on third-millennium texts that were sometimes considered candidates for early attestations of Emesal, like the Curse of Agade, or an investigation of syllabic writings that could potentially bear evidence of Emesal.

The goal of the workshop is to improve our understanding of the origins of Emesal compositions, the language variant itself, and how and why the scribes began to use Emesal in texts. To reach this aim we suggest focusing on one specific early Emesal-composition, to analyze the Emesal-vocabulary, the frequency of Emesal-words, different writings of Emesal words, the context of the Emesal passages and Emesal-Emegir variants in different manuscripts. We encourage the participants to check the dating and localization of important manuscripts to improve our understanding of the development of early Emesal writing.

One of the most notable features of the Ancient Near Eastern sciences is the syntagmatic grouping of signs into ordered systems. While this is traditionally linked to lists and omens, the paradigm also extends to other text types, as well as the broader question of how epistemic orders are created, preserved, and abandoned. It is also generally accepted that these orders are culturally embedded and that they mirror, reinforce, or even generate any number of hierarchies drawn from all aspects of life. Most overviews point to some basic motivating principles, including paradigmatic, homonymic, or binary associations. Though ordering is thus at the heart of the Ancient Near Eastern sciences, it has remained notably difficult to trace the underlying principles beyond individual lines or segments. More recent work has also called into question the basic assumption of an inherent hierarchical ranking present in horizontal or vertical orders, while pointing to heterarchic arrangements in which multiple principles intersect and serve as affordances to the re-incorporation of material in different contexts. The proposed workshop is thus meant to address one of the key themes of the Helsinki RAI through a diachronic and comparative examination of the relationship between epistemic organization and its social setting. The sessions explicitly welcome papers on various texts and corpora which incorporate diverse approaches, including investigations of material features of form and format.

This closed workshop will discuss Assyriological research carried out at the University of Helsinki in past decades. The focus will be on two major initiatives in Helsinki, the “State Archives of Assyria” and “Ancient Near Eastern Empires.”

Known to many as “State Archives of Assyria”-project, the project is more correctly titled “The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project.” It started in 1986 and one of its major contributions to the field is the State Archives of Assyria publication series. However, the project has two other publication series (State archives of Assyria Studies, State Archives of Assyria Cuneiform Texts) and it has influenced the field of Assyriology in many other ways as well. In this workshop, we discuss the impact and legacy of the project.

The aims of the Centre of Excellence in Ancient Near Eastern Empires (funded by the Academy of Finland 2018-2025) relate to its main research question: How do changing imperial dynamics impact social group identities and lifeways over a long period of time? The chronological focus starts from Neo-Assyrian period continuing up to the start of the Common Era. Interdisciplinary and collaborative work among its circa 40 researchers as well and developing new methodologies are important for ANEE. This workshop will outline how ANEE relates to the Assyriological tradition in Helsinki and outlines in broad terms some of its potential impact. The workshop will conclude with a round table discussion on the general topic of Assyriology and interdisciplinarity – how, why, where and when?

The workshop will deal with a central methodological problem in the study of mythology, i.e., how narrative material (Erzählstoff), the myths, can be extracted from different sources, and of how such material may be analyzed. As an answer to this problem the workshop will focus on a new method developed in the study of mythology: Hylistics.

The employment of hylistic analysis enables the extraction and reconstruction of narrative materials, including myths, that are otherwise hidden in their medial concretization (e.g. texts, pictures etc.). Furthermore, this approach allows for a systematic comparison of narrative materials regardless of their medium, language, time, place, or even culture. Hylistics has therefore been demonstrated to be an important prerequisite for reconstructing narrative materials in general and especially for understanding the meaning and historical development of ancient myths.

The workshop will present case studies that feature the full range of developed Hylistics analytical tools along with the analyses of concrete texts. The presentation of these studies will present new insights into well-known texts and the myths they contain as well as material that has not been in the core of mythological research until now (e.g., ritual texts).

The workshop is a joint venture between the mythological research group STRATA, University of Göttingen, and the Independent Junior Research Group Mythical Literary Works as Epistemic Artefacts, Freie Universität Berlin.

Encouraged by the contributions and discussions during the session on intertextuality at the RAI 68 in Leiden which showed a growing interest in the subject, especially among young scholars, another workshop on the same topic is planned for the RAI 69 in Helsinki (8-12 July 2024).

Intertextuality provides a meaningful tool for understanding cuneiform literary traditions, as it is directly related to questions of poetics, text transmission, scribal education, cultural identity, literary history, trans-generic influences, and cross-cultural interactions. Our long-term objective is to promote appreciation of literary studies and literary theory within Assyriology by establishing intertextuality studies as a distinct yet integratory field of research.  As such, we aim both at enhancing communication processes amongst scholars of cuneiform literature, and at long-term establishments of inter- and transdisciplinary engagements with other fields of Ancient literary cultures including Anatolia, the Levante, Egypt, (Pre-)Classical Greece, and further. The considerable uptick of studies devoted to intertextuality and literature in recent years shows a demand for concerted efforts to study poetics in Assyriology, and this workshop will contribute to that endeavour.

Intertextual research includes a considerable comparative component. By thoroughly researching and discussing the literature of the cuneiform world, we not only aim at opening up the sometimes quite hermetic corpus of Sumerian and Akkadian literature to colleagues not directly working with literary texts and students but also at preparing gateways into the literary world of Ancient Mesopotamian for disciples of other fields of literary studies. One of the main goals of this workshop is to advance our understanding of ancient Mesopotamian poetics in their diachronic context. In a world where no Aristotle existed to write down a treatise on the laws of poetry, an intertextual-structural approach to poetics and literary history is the tool of choice. Furthermore, intertextuality provides a proper deep-reading strategy that has great potential to advance our knowledge of the texts’ meanings, and thus generate a better understanding of the literary world of Mesopotamia.

Aiming to trace intertextual poetics both across the times and cultures of the Ancient Near East, in this year’s workshop contributions will range from the 3rd to the late 1st millennium, and discuss predominantly Sumerian and Akkadian Literature, including some forays into the field of intermedial studies as well. These talks will provide ample opportunity to discuss the poetics of writing cultures that had left no meta-accounts on their literary customs and traditions, and thus contribute to our enhanced understanding of Mesopotamian poetry and literary artisanry.

A key element for the success of political entities are the means and strategies employed by the leaders to maintain good relations with ‘the elites.’ These include local, regional, and imperial elites, members of the royal family, the non-royal court, the military, the clergy, and the administration, official and unofficial contacts to the king, queen and other members of the royal family, men, women, and persons of non-binary gender. Equally, the mechanisms employed for keeping the persons and institutions in power are diverse, depending on the general and specific socio-cultural, socio-economic, and socio-political context.

The workshop focuses on the empires that ruled vast areas of ancient West Asia and Egypt in the 1st millennium BCE. Comparative papers from other time periods and areas are also welcome, if the transfer potential is made obvious.

Key questions to be explored are: 1) Who are the key persons and groups that maintained king-/queenship – locally, regionally, and on an imperial level? Especially: Is their power institutionalized or based on an ‘invisible hierarchy’; how did they gain, maintain, and lose their position of power; who was instrumental in setting up and maintaining the mechanism of interaction and support, and who benefited how? 2) Which strategies and mechanisms were employed by the royals and the ‘elites’? Especially: How generic or specific were the royal and group strategies; how was this interaction regulated and exploited? 3) Can one see distinct qualitative differences in the workings of more local vs. imperial entities and what is at the roots of these differences? 4) How can we elicit this information from the available sources?

Based on the preliminary call for papers, we will have at least a methodologically (SNA, patronage), a geographically (Mesopotamia, Levant, Egypt), a typologically/topically (means of interaction), and an iconographically/representationally focused section.

The workshop draws on papers that take a case-study based comparative approach: e.g., on the power base and the means of interacting with them for the king vs the queen, between different towns, between different kinds of power bases, or between different empires.

This workshop seeks to reframe how we perceive migrant and mobile elements of society to emphasize their deep connection to more sedentary populations. In premodern societies, multiple land use practices were employed based on regional and local landscape. For the ancient regions of the Eastern Mediterranean and Southwest Asia especially, various migration practices were enmeshed with sedentarism. Agropastoralism, transhumance, and nomadic populations maintained long-established traditions of operating outside the governance of city-based administrations without cutting ties entirely. Both the city and the migrant relied upon the other through contractual obligations, kinship ties, etc. Additionally, administrations routinely employed settler colonialism, colonization, and deportation schemes to manage the lands under their patronage. Our continued focus on the settled and settlements to the exclusion of migration practices only provides a limited view of the lived experience and lifeways of the ancient peoples. 

Although scholarship on nonsedentary elements is easily found for prehistoric through the Early Bronze Age, it is difficult to find for the age of empires during the first millennium BCE. Early anthropological theories about the evolutionary development of civilization and complex societies (e.g., Childe, etc.) still undergird scholars’ presentations of the ancient Near East on a broad level. When addressed at all, migration practices are treated as marginal lifeways rather than the long established and regularly utilized land management techniques they were. 

To challenge this state of research, this workshop seeks to examine four main migration practices through various case studies from Eastern Mediterranean, Egyptian, and Southwest Asian regions from roughly 1200 – 0 BCE—from the early Iron Age through the early Roman Empire. The four main migration practices to be addressed include: short-range (agropastoralism, transhumance, labor, trade, etc), long-range (pastoral nomadism, labor, trade, etc.), (settler) colonialism/colonization, and imperially coerced migration. However, if we should have proposals regarding other related forms of migration these will also be incorporated.

Scholarly or technical texts from the ancient Near East—including incantations, ritual instructions, medical texts, and omen literature—have generally been regarded as purely functional texts, the opposite in both form and function to ’narrative literature’ in the narrowest sense. In recent years, however, the literary value of scholarly texts, especially incantations, has increasingly been recognized. Recent workshops and publications have examined incantations and technical texts, such as omen texts and lexical lists, from a literary perspective, with a focus on style, form, and rhetorical effects.

Language and style are one important aspect that differentiates literature from more mundane textual production, but this workshop will focus on another: narrative or, in simpler terms, the telling of a story. The role of narrative has received attention in the context of narrative literature, but the importance of narrative in more technical texts is usually overlooked, even though the power of storytelling is important for conveying information regardless of text type.

Studies have confirmed the effectiveness of narrative communication in the presentation of science, especially to non-specialist audiences. This can be useful even within a community of specialists: we often employ narrative techniques along with literary effects in our scientific writing and pedagogical practice, in order to facilitate communication and engagement with our audience, and there is no reason to think that this wouldn’t also have been the case in the ancient world.

Narrative techniques can be used to convey information to an audience, especially when we want to have a particular effect (persuasion, change of perception, etc.), or to transmit knowledge in a more memorable form. This workshop invites participants to identify and analyse examples of the use of narrative in scholarly texts, including for example:

  • How rituals generate stories to have an effect on real-world outcomes
  • How medical texts use narrative to explain anatomical processes and convey specialist information to the patient
  • How omen texts create both macro- and micro-narratives about the relationship between signs and predictions
  • How narrative can be used to persuade audiences of certain viewpoints when there are competing possibilities for the interpretation of knowledge.

Contributions might also engage with what this approach can tell us about the production and use of these texts. Also welcome are contributions examining the ways in which narrative literature can incorporate aspects of technical knowledge, when the transmission of this knowledge is not the primary aim of the composition.

The important role of seals and their impressions on the study of ancient Near Eastern documentation emerged fully in the late 1970s. From then on, it was no longer possible to deal with seals as objects separate from their impressions on tablets and other carriers. Rather, they obtained the role of tools and symbols of ancient Near Eastern societies in many respects: legal, cultural, social, and historical. Additionally, the seals and their impressions became subjects of study of primary importance, not only for the reconstruction of ancient Near Eastern societies and cultures, but also for the understanding of their ways of thought and their conceptual universe.

This notwithstanding, the function, use, and nature of seals still deserve further examination. Both seals and sealings represent, in fact, highly charged categories within Ancient Near Eastern material culture, whose analysis requires a multi-layered approach. Several aspects of seals – understood as artefacts closely connected with the society that produced them – have not yet been fully investigated. On the one hand, there are the variability of forms (cylinders, rings, stamps), traditions, and ways of organising image and text on the seal’s surface, which undoubtedly respond to choices, conscious or otherwise, of their owners or patrons. And, on the other, there are iconographic themes and scenes on seals, which are valuable evidence for exploring different aspects of the society to which they belong and/or the profile of the seal owner, such as her/his social class, profession, religious belief, and taste.

Based on these considerations, this workshop aims to discuss the new stimuli that have emerged in recent years in the field of sphragistics. Papers may cover, though not exclusively, one or more of the following topics:

  • seals as objects of the material world, deeply linked to their owner, their taste, their milieu, and/or their system of thought.
  • seals and amulets, and seals as amulets.
  • seals as instruments to identify people (of personal recognition).
  • relationships between seals’ function (e.g., personal seals, official seals, royal or dynastic seals) and seals’ design and iconography.
  • relationships between seals’ iconography (themes, symbolism, and ‘layout’) and seals’ owners (status, profession, beliefs, etc.).
  • relationships between seals’ iconography and seals’ inscription.
  • relationships between the gender and/or the provenance of the seal owner and the iconography of the seal, etc.

Textile craftsmanship is as old as the art of basketry, and textiles are essential objects in everyday life which is why they are present in all types of cuneiform texts. Over the last decades, a number of international research projects have been developed around ancient textiles, bringing together specialists from different disciplines. This workshop is organised within the frame of the international research program EuroWeb: Europe through textiles. Network for an integrated and interdisciplinary Humanities. This program aims to investigate the cultural and socio-economic impact of textile production, its role in craft organisation, in trade and communication, and in the construction of individual and collective identities. The project is focused on Europe, however it also includes neighbouring areas. In the context of this project, the workshop intends to re-examine what the cuneiform texts can contribute to this field of research, by focusing on the specific nature of the sources available, on the terminology used by the scribes and on what these texts tell us about textile techniques and their development.

                Textiles are mentioned in a number of texts, in particular the long lists and inventories including a wide variety of textiles and reflecting the way in which scribes used writing to manage these crafts. In these documents, how textiles were classified? Was it according to their value, their recipients, their uses, or other criteria? What was the purpose of these inventories and economic records?

                These records are using a wide range of terms for textiles. Textile terminology has been the subject of two published international conferences (Michel and Nosch 2010; Gaspa et al. 2017), however many words are still to be understood. These may be linked to the fibres used, to the shape and usage of textiles, to their geographical origin, etc. The aim is to explore ways of better understanding this technical vocabulary.

            Besides recording the different types of textiles, the cuneiform texts focus on the materials used, the organisation of the work in the textile manufactures, and the workers. However, we often lack precise descriptions of the techniques used in the production of textiles, from spinning to weaving and from dyeing to finishing. What do the texts tell us about the techniques involved in textile production? Can we discern any changes in textile techniques over the three millennia documented by the cuneiform texts? These are some of the many questions that this workshop aims to answer.

The powers imbued in ancient Western Asian imagery inversely meant that iconoclasm was a real threat. Just as the creation of images was a powerful act, so was their careful manipulation and destruction by contemporary and later peoples. When faced with a damaged artefact, there are a number of questions to ask: whether the damage was accidental or intentional, how it was caused, who caused it, and what motivated it (damnatio memoriae, deactivation, looting, etc.). However, the answers require a substantial and multidisciplinary approach, which is sometimes overlooked in current discussions of iconoclasm. The rationalisation behind iconoclasm as a hypothesis has sometimes been made by default. Sometimes this is due to a lack of access to key data, or because there was no precise protocol for analysing the traces, or simply because iconoclastic practice has an alluring quality as a conclusion.

This workshop will provide a valuable interdisciplinary space for discussion regarding iconoclasm. Assyriologists, archaeologists, museum curators, and art historians all have their own ways of interpreting acts of iconoclasm, according to the specificities of their disciplines. By providing a space for these researchers to discuss methodological issues, we will be able to propose ways research into iconoclasm can go beyond its current limitations.

We particularly welcome papers tackling the following questions:

  • The motivations and objectives of those performing iconoclasm.
  • The overall context of iconoclastic acts – where they tied to particular conflicts, or were the objects considered representative of specific cultural phenomena?
  • The implementation of iconoclasm and practicalities of the action.
  • Relation of iconoclasm to other practices, such as deportation or burial.
  • Constraints of current methods and suggestions of how to go beyond them.

In addition to the wide methodological scope, we also recognise that objects manipulated by iconoclastic acts can have very long object biographies that can span millennia (as has been seen by the destruction carried out by terrorist groups in recent years). To that end, we do not limit the workshop to discussions only of ancient acts of iconoclasm. We welcome papers regarding any iconoclasm on ancient Western Asian objects, from the ancient world through the medieval period and up to the modern era.

The workshop will result in a valuable conference proceedings volume that will be a reference point for methodological discussions of how to interrogate ancient acts of iconoclasm.

The purpose of this workshop is to explore how knowledge was circulated, adapted, and adopted in the ancient Near East. We are interested in all forms of technologies, skills, and ideas and in both synchronic and diachronic perspectives. Our aim is to better elucidate the media and means by which knowledge was transmitted and received intra- or intergenerationally, how it was shaped by social and political factors, and to what extent it was propelled by top-down versus bottom-up initiatives. Possible topics include whether and how innovations were “anchored” to existing traditions, the role of competition in technological development, and how and why some knowledge was discontinued, resisted, or revived. We welcome paper proposals on these or any other topics that address the workshop theme.