Ancient Digital Humanities Workshop (Helsinki, 6 March 2018)

In recent years, a growing number of scholars of ancient history have started to explore the possibilities offered by digital humanities. The workshop “Ancient Digital Humanities” aims to accelerate these developments and enter into the conversation already in progress in the larger field of history. The session brings together leading scholars who apply computational methods to the study of ancient history, culture, and literature.

Venue: University of Helsinki, Porthania building, room P673 (Yliopistonkatu 3, Helsinki)

9:00 Tero Alstola, University of Helsinki: Welcome

9:10 Melanie Groß, Leiden University: An Open Access Database: the “Prosopography of Babylonia”

9:50 Tuukka Kauhanen, University of Helsinki: Editing the Septuagint with Digital Tools

10:30 Coffee

11:00 Paulina Pikulska, University of Warsaw: The Dossier of Aquba’ - Local Businesswomen in the Neo-Babylonian Sippar

11:40 Johannes Bach, University of Helsinki: Narrativity, Structuralism and Digitalization

12:20 Lunch (on your own)

14:00 Marja Vierros, University of Helsinki: Greek Documentary Papyri, Linguistics, and Digital Methods

14:40 Rodrigo Hernáiz, Philipps-Universität Marburg: Applications of Text Corpora for the Study of Ancient Languages: Akkadian Sociolinguistics

15:20 Coffee

15:50 Tero Alstola, Heidi Jauhiainen, and Aleksi Sahala, University of Helsinki: Semantic Domains in Akkadian Texts

16:30 Tero Alstola, University of Helsinki: Conclusion

Participation is free for all and no registration is required. You are very welcome to join us!

For more information, please contact Tero Alstola (

The workshop is organised in conjunction with the Digital Humanities in the Nordic Countries 2018 conference by three research teams from the University of Helsinki: the Semantic Domains in Akkadian Texts Project and the Centre of Excellence in Ancient Near Eastern Empires (both funded by the Academy of Finland) and the Deep Learning and Semantic Domains in Akkadian Texts Project (funded by the University of Helsinki).

If you are interested in joining other programme units of the Digital Humanities in the Nordic Countries 2018 conference, please see the programme and register at



An Open Access Database: the “Prosopography of Babylonia”

Melanie Groß, Leiden University

In this paper I will present the online “Prosopography of Babylonia: 620-330 BCE” which is currently being developed at Leiden University within the framework of the ERC project “Persia and Babylonia” (PI C. Waerzeggers).

Thousands of cuneiform texts have survived in archives of Babylonian families and temples (c. 620-330 BCE). These sources offer valuable data for socio-historical research but their potential is difficult to exploit so far. The Leiden project wants to contribute to their accessibility by creating an online prosopography, designed to provide information about attested individuals in Babylonia during the Neo-Babylonian and Persian periods. As an open access database it will (along with other online databases) be an effective research tool for specialists and hopefully also contribute to a better insight into the cuneiform material for non-specialists.

While parts of the database are still under construction, data entry has begun in February 2018. This lecture discusses the structure of the database, the range of data systemized in the database and its envisaged contribution to the field of “new digital prosopography”.


Editing the Septuagint with Digital Tools

Tuukka Kauhanen, University of Helsinki

I am editing the Ancient Greek translation (“Septuagint”) of 2 Samuel for the Göttingen Academy of Sciences. My team and I use a custom-made database and web application in handling the textual data of the ca. 60 manuscripts. The data input system is designed to minimize the errors and the relationship database format includes several benefits: 1. The printout algorithm takes care of all the apparatus-technical details reducing mechanical work. 2. Database queries provide raw material for text-historical studies. 3. The database and user interface can be converted into an Open Access electronic edition.


The Dossier of Aquba’ - Local Businesswomen in the Neo-Babylonian Sippar

Paulina Pikulska, University of Warsaw

Recent decades brought to the Assyriology several new methodologies, like database research or Social Network Analysis. This made it possible to investigate ancient archives from different angles and opened doors for more detailed case-studies of chosen families (Murashu, 75 texts, Wagner A., Levavi Y., Kedar S., et al., 2013), and individual people (Marduk-remanni, 187 texts, Waerzeggers C., 2014). With the new digital tools it became easier to browse through vast Neo-Babylonian cuneiform corpora and to analyze gathered data. Most work so far has been done on rather large - from Assyriological perspective - corpora, but I would like to present research based on a much smaller group of texts.

The dossier of Aquba’, daughter of Ardia, has comprised only 10 cuneiform texts which were written down in Sippar during the reign of Darius I. Aquba’ was lending small amounts of silver, barley and dates to the local inhabitants of the city, probably without father’s or husband’s supervision. Among borrowers were not only men but also other women. Albeit Aquba’ was not an exception, Mesopotamian women could run their own business during Neo-Babylonian times, in the world of men she belonged to a minority.

Although the current trend in research is to focus on big data, the quite small dossier of Aquba’ with SNA help, can allow us a rare glimpse of everyday life of people who were not part of the elite of the ancient Mesopotamian society. This presentation gives voice to them, to the local community, from the Neo-Babylonian city about which we still do not know much.


Narrativity, Structuralism and Digitalization

Johannes Bach, University of Helsinki

The talk addresses three key issues regarding the digitalized research into processes of identity building in Ancient Assyria: Firstly, I will discuss the immense significance of narrativity for human societies in general. Narrativity is the major driving force of cultural existence - every part of an individual human lifespan is defined by the set of stories adopted in order of creating a coherent frame of values and behavioural guidelines. Furthermore, the textualization of narrativity allows for stabilizing the remembrance of the past, and therefore enables the creation of a historical discourse that shapes a society.

Secondly, I will demonstrate how a structuralist approach to the literary history of textualized narrative genres is the most efficient way of grasping the many facets of their developments. Based on the theories of Gérard Genette, textualized narrative genres can be viewed as multi-complex, transtextual discourses that can be understood best by meticulous registration of the historical developments of its constituting parts (form, mode, content).

Thirdly, I will address the potential offered by digitalization for the organization, representation and accessibility of the vast amounts of data stemming from such structuralist analyses. For this, I will outline my plan for creating a database containing every single content element encountered in Assyrian royal narrative texts. These will be organized in broad semantic categories that branch out into smaller and smaller subunits. Furthermore, every entry will be annotated with the corresponding literary historical background. Additionally, the transtextual history and significance of each entry will be elucidated on.


Greek Documentary Papyri, Linguistics, and Digital Methods

Marja Vierros, University of Helsinki

Greek and Latin documentary papyri form an important source material for the historical development and linguistic variation present in postclassical Greek and Latin used in Egypt, respectively. The texts are often preserved in fragmentary condition, which is why the texts have been difficult to analyse or annotate with digital corpus linguistic tools. Within papyrological research, different electronic and digital resources have been prepared and used for a long time, though. In this paper, I will explore many of these digital methods applied to papyrological (and more widely, classical Greek and Latin) data. I will focus on linguistic annotation and especially the aims of our project – which is just beginning – on digital grammar of Greek documentary papyri.


Applications of Text Corpora for the Study of Ancient Languages: Akkadian Sociolinguistics

Rodrigo Hernáiz, Philipps-Universität Marburg

The advantages of applying digital tools and techniques to data recovered from past societies has become a corner-stone for new approaches to the so-called social sciences. In the field of linguistics for example, the creation and analysis of text corpora has shed light on processes of language variation and change as they interrelate with diastratic and diatopic variables (see e.g. Nevalainen 2003). Nevertheless, could we stretch the scope of such techniques to endeavour into the study of ancient languages without losing fundamental robustness?

In this contribution, I will present first some of the methodological issues of the study of lectal variation in the Annotated Corpus of Correspondence in Old Babylonian (ACCOB) and the pitfalls of textual and extra-linguistic sources. Secondly, I will present an overview of the potentially relevant outcomes of the corpus-based analysis of the data: from dialectometrical nuances between orthographic and linguistic variables, to evidence of the progression of language change in the oldest stages of the Babylonian language.


Semantic Domains in Akkadian Texts

Tero Alstola, Heidi Jauhiainen and Aleksi Sahala, University of Helsinki

The “Semantic Domains in Akkadian Texts” project (funded by the Academy of Finland in 2016–2020) aims at enhancing the understanding of the Akkadian language by generating contextual semantic domains for Akkadian lexemes. Quantitative methods from language technology, especially word sense induction, are used to analyze an electronic corpus of Akkadian texts. The text corpus used in the project is primarily derived from Oracc (the Open Richly Annotated Cuneiform Corpus), the number of available texts being roughly 17,000. The project also aims to develop language technological methods and software tools which can be employed to other extinct languages or small and fragmented text corpora. The methods and software tools developed in the project will be made available online.

The project has started its work by analyzing the text corpus and testing several language technological methods on the data. Early outcomes of this work are forthcoming articles on Neo-Assyrian gods and on the semantic fields of the Akkadian lexemes “horse”, “to speak” and “power”. In these articles, Oracc data is analyzed by using two existing language technological methods, Pointwise mutual information (PMI) and Word2vec.