Aššur the outsider?

Six ANEE Team 1 researchers have co-authored the article "Aššur and His Friends: A Statistical Analysis of Neo-Assyrian Texts” published in the Journal of Cuneiform Studies. The article showcases the benefits of using digital language technology methods on cuneiform data.

Aššur was undoubtedly the most important god to the Assyrian kings. He nominated the kings, protected them in their political and military affairs, and ensured the king’s long and successful reign. However, Aššur was a newcomer to the Mesopotamian divine networks, as he transformed from a local Assyrian deity to a god of regional importance only after the expansion of the Assyrian Empire in the first millennium BCE. Did he ever become a truly central deity in the Mesopotamian divine networks, being similar to gods like Sîn and Šamaš? A team of ANEE researchers implemented a number of digital methods to a large dataset to answer this question.

Our dataset of 1,500 Neo-Assyrian texts was downloaded from Oracc, the Open Richly Annotated Cuneiform Corpus. In order to see which deities were most important in the texts, we created a network showing the connections between divine actors. According to our method, two deities are connected if they appear in a text close to each other, no more than eight words in between them. The network showing these co-occurrences was studied using tools from social network analysis and language technology.

Our research shows that Aššur remained an outsider in the Mesopotamian divine networks and he never became a truly central deity. Old gods and goddesses retained their importance. In the future, this divine network could be studied further, looking at chronological and spatial changes. On a more general level, we may conclude that the methods we implemented have a great potential and can be efficiently used to have an aggregate view of large datasets.

You can read more about our research in the following article: Alstola, T., Zaia, S., Sahala, A., Jauhiainen, H., Svärd, S. & Linden, K., “Aššur and His Friends: A Statistical Analysis of Neo-Assyrian Texts”. Pages 159–180 in Journal of Cuneiform Studies 71 (2019). It is available online at the University of Helsinki research repository Helda.