Confusion of languages? Written sources in late 1st millennium BCE

New Publication: Studia Orientalia Electronica Special Issue: Mesopotamian Identities in the Last Centuries of Cuneiform Writing

The overarching research question of ANEE is: How do changing imperial dynamics impact social group identities and lifeways over a millennium? On the brink of the Covid-pandemic (March 12-13 2020) a group of scholars assembled in Helsinki (or took part over Zoom) to discuss this question regarding the second part of the first millennium. While the first half of the first millennium is predominantly documented in cuneiform sources, the situation is quite different for the second half. Other scripts (especially Aramaic and Greek) became increasingly important in everyday life, and furthermore we lack royal archives for this period. The reason for this is that the royal centers (for example, the center of the Achaemenid Empire) were outside Mesopotamia, or simply that the texts stored in these archives were written on perishable materials. This means that in order to study this period, we need to look beyond cuneiform texts, although they still represent the majority of the surviving textual material. 

The idea of the conference was to investigate identities in Mesopotamia from as many perspectives as possible. The topics of the multidisciplinary team of participants ranged from Aramaic inscriptions to Queen Semiramis and are now published completely open access in Studia Orientalia Electronica: 

Fink, Sebastian & Saana Svärd (eds.) 2023: Special issue of Studia Orientalia Electronica 11(2): Mesopotamian Identities in the Last Centuries of Cuneiform Writing. Helsinki: Finnish Oriental Society. 

After an introduction by the editors (Sebastian Fink and Saana Svärd) the first, multi-authored (Alstola, Corò, Da Riva, Fink, Jursa, Kottsieper, Lang, Monroe, Pearce, Pirngruber, Ruffing, and Svärd) article "Sources at the end of the cuneiform are" gives an overview of important source groups with references to the relevant literature. 

The second article of the volume, “Scribal Identities, Renaissances, and Dead Languages: From Barber Sumerian to Kitchen Latin” by Delila Jordan and Sebastian Fink is an investigation of the role of the knowledge of dead languages, namely Latin and Sumerian, for scribal or scholarly identities. 

The third article, “Ezekiel, Ethnicity, and Identity” by Martti Nissinen discusses the book of Ezekiel in the Hebrew Bible from the perspective of identity and ethnicity, as this book makes visible the imagined or real identity strategies of the Judeans in Babylonia. 

In the fourth article, “Constructing Identities: Greek names as a marker of Hellenizing identity” Paola Corò and Laurie E. Pearce discuss the way Hellenizing identities were constructed in Mesopotamia when Babylonia came under foreign rule. 

The fifth article “Greek Inscriptions in Mesopotamia (and Babylonia)” by Kai Ruffing provides a short overview of the few Greek inscriptions from Mesopotamia dating between the third century BCE and the first century CE. 

The sixth article of the special issue, “Changing Identities at the Turn of the Common Era: The Case of Semiramis” by Kerstin Droß-Krüpe explores the portrayal of the Babylonian queen Semiramis in Greek and Roman sources, demonstrating how ancient Near Eastern identities were constructed from the external perspective of Mediterranean cultures. 

The seventh and final article of the volume, “Construction of Identities and Late Mesopotamian Archives as Found in the Fragments of the ‘Graeco-Babyloniaca’” by Martin Lang focuses on the social reality behind the so-called Graeco-Babyloniaca. The Graeco-Babyloniaca consist of less than two dozen fragments of clay tablets, mainly inscribed with cuneiform signs on the obverse and with alphabetic Greek signs on the reverse.