I began writing this book on a hot day in July 2019. I was in New York City at the start of a sabbatical, and I had settled at the end of a long table in a reading room of NYU’s Bobst Library, seated next to big windows looking out on Washington Square. I was utterly content. The books stacked in front of me were full of recently published documents peopled with ancient individuals, along with studies of ancient lives. Pieces of what was to become Chapter 8 began to emerge that very day. I finished writing the book on an equally hot day, two years later almost to the day, in a house in Houston where I was staying with my daughter’s family, waiting for the imminent arrival of her baby twins. Those two years witnessed quite a journey, both personally for me as I wrote, and for us all as we experienced the turmoil of the global pandemic.

Throughout the writing of this book I have been keenly aware of the sufferings of people in many regions in the Middle East in recent years, people whose lives have been turned upside down by invasion, civil war, and terrorism. In the face of incredible danger, the bravery and determination of so many to not only defend themselves and to save the lives of others, but also to protect and save the cultural heritage of their lands, is truly inspiring. Their ancestors gave the world justice, diplomacy, writing, and so many other extraordinary gifts; theirs is a civilization of deep and enduring power.

The completion of this book would not have been possible without the help of a great many people. I am grateful for my sabbatical leave, which was awarded by my university, Cal Poly Pomona, as a result of the kind support of Eileen Wallis, my department chair, Iris Levine, my dean, the professional leave committee, and Sylvia Alva, the provost. I also deeply appreciate the support of my wonderful colleagues in the history department.

Daniel Fleming at NYU generously sponsored my position as a visiting scholar at NYU, Alexander Jones allowed me to use the resources at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, and David Ratzen and Gabriel McKee made me feel very welcome at the ISAW library, where I did most of my research in 2019. The library was an extraordinary resource. While in New York I appreciated the community of scholars, including Joan Aruz, Anastasia Amrhein, Lorenzo d’Alfonso, Dan Fleming, Aure Ben-Zvi Goldblum, Elizabeth Knott, Liat Naeh, Beate Pongratz-Leisten, Marc Van De Mieroop, and many others with whom I had fascinating conversations that stimulated my thinking about this book.

Soon after I arrived back in Los Angeles, the pandemic shut everything down and I wondered how I would be able to proceed with my research, having no access to a physical library. At that point, my days in the library at ISAW seemed worlds away. But the librarians at Cal Poly Pomona and at libraries connected through Document Delivery provided online access and digital files of various materials and images I needed, as did many generous colleagues, including Yigal Bloch, Yoram Cohen, Janine Pibal, Samantha Rainford, Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin, Giorgio Buccellati, Sebastian Hageneuer, Luma Juda, Jean-Michel Margot, Paolo Matthiae, and Davide Nadali. Jack M. Sasson is a hero for his constant and generous efforts to keep the Assyriological community in touch with recent developments in the field through his Agade mailing list. The cuneiform databases, Oracc, CDLI, Archibab, and ETCSL, have completely transformed how one can do research in this field, and I know that each one is a labor of love for its administrators.

I am particularly grateful to Eleanor Robson, Steven Garfinkle, Seth Richardson, and Sidney Babcock who read and critiqued some chapters of the book, and to the anonymous external reviewers of the book proposal and the completed manuscript for their helpful suggestions. Huge thanks also to my editor Stefan Vranka at OUP for his support throughout this process. Please be assured, though, that if you find mistakes, they are all my own.

Students in my upper division classes on the ancient Near East were terrifically helpful as they read and commented on drafts of some of the chapters, first History 3310 in spring 2020 and then History 3312 in spring 2022. I promised them I would thank them in print—so thank you, all! History 3310 was the last class I taught in a classroom in March 2020 before everything went online. I missed my students’ friendly banter when we switched to virtual learning—encumbered as it was by “mute” buttons and screens full of squares—though the students have continued to inspire me.

In writing this book I have drawn on the research and insights of a great many scholars, to whom I am indebted, and of whom I am in awe. They are listed in the notes and bibliography, and I encourage you to read their work.

My fellow members of the Oracc advisory board and members of the Oracc steering committee helped keep me sane during the pandemic, as our monthly conference calls—while still Assyriological at heart—transformed into a friendly support group. Many thanks, Steve Tinney, Eleanor Robson, Niek Veldhuis, Jamie Novotny, Matthew Rutz, Enrique Jiménez, and Miller Prosser. Other, non-Assyriological, friends—especially Vicki Peterson, Rachel Van, Georgia Mickey, and Jill Watts—made my pandemic-isolated writing process less lonely and they kept me laughing, as we got together frequently by phone and on videocalls.

My family has been extraordinary. I love them all and am so grateful to them. My son Nick was home for several months of the pandemic, and, as I wrote, he kept me supplied with lattes from the local coffee shop, along with moral support. (He also roped me into being a voiceover actor in his one-man YouTube series, but that’s a different story.) My daughter Emily and son-in-law Nate had their first child right before I started writing this book, and their twins were born days after I finished it. Through all that time (as Emily was also completing her medical residency, no less), she and I talked daily. My husband Jerry listened to every chapter (several of them multiple times) as I read them aloud to catch mistakes that I could no longer see on my computer screen. He was a source of great advice, and he produced bottles of champagne at various big moments in the book’s progress. He also drafted the plans of buildings in Babylon, Mari, Sippar, Kanesh, and Nippur that I have used as illustrations (though I should note that the drawing of the clay feet is mine). I could not have written this book without him.

Finally, my mother, Margaret Hills, at 93 years of age, read the entire manuscript twice through, with the eagle eye of a copy-editor. Her marked-up hard copy is next to me here as I write. After an early career with the Royal Ballet School, she taught ballet until she was 90 years old, and, in her well-earned retirement, she continues to be a joy to all her friends and family. She phoned whenever she read a section that she particularly enjoyed, just to let me know. I’m dedicating the book to her with my heartfelt love and thanks; she has been a fabulous partner on this journey, as has my whole family.



Registration numbers for texts found at Mari


Altbabylonische Briefe in Umschrift und Übersetzung (Leiden, 1964 ff.)


Acta Sumerologica


Archiv für Orientforschung


Edel, E. Die ägyptisch-hethitische Korrespondenz aus Boghazköi in babylonischer und hethitischer Sprache (Opladen, 1994)


American Journal of Archaeology


Wiseman, D. J. The Alalakh Tablets (London, 1953)


Analecta Orientalia (Rome 1931 ff.)


Museum numbers for antiquités orientales at the Louvre


Alter Orient und Altes Testament (Kevelaer/Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1969 ff.)


Archives babyloniennes (XXe–XVIIe siècles av. J.-C.):


Archivi Reali di Ebla, Testi (Rome, 1985 ff.)


Fronzaroli, Pelio. Testi rituali della regalità (ARET XI), 1993


Archi, A. Administrative Texts: Allotments of Clothing for the Palace Personnel (Archive L. 2769). With the Collaboration of Gabriella Spada. (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2018).


Archives royales de Mari


Aula Orientalis (Barcelona, 1983 ff.)


Ausgrabungen in Uruk-Warka. Endberichte (Mainz, 1987 ff.)


Museum numbers for the Penn Museum


Babyloniaca: Études de philologie assyrobabylonienne (Paris, 1906–1937)


Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research


Watson, Philip J. Catalogue of Cuneiform Tablets in Birmingham City Museum, 2 vols. (Warminster: Aris and Phillips 1986, 1993)


The Babylonian Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1893 ff.)


Museum numbers for the British Museum, London


Bibliotheca Mesopotamica (Malibu)


Lambert, W. G. Babylonian Oracle Questions. Mesopotamian Civilizations 13 (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2007)


Biblioteca del Proximo Oriente Antiguo (Madrid, 2006ff.)


The Assyrian Dictionary of the University of Chicago (Chicago, 1956 ff.)


Strassmaier, J. N. Inschriften von Cambyses, König von Babylon (1890)


Sasson, Jack M. (ed.) Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, 4 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1995)


Cuneiform Texts from Cappadocian Tablets in the British Museum (London, 1921–1975)


Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative:


Laws of Hammurabi


Compte rendu de la Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale


Laroche, L. Catalogue des textes hittites (Paris, 1966; repr. 1971)


Corpus of Cuneiform Texts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art


Cornell University Near Eastern Studies


Cornell University Studies in Assyriology and Sumerology (Bethesda, MD, 2007ff.)


Strassmaier, J. N. Inschriften von Cyrus, König von Babylon, 1890


Allotte de la Fuÿe, M. F. Documents présargoniques (Paris, 1908–1920)


Knudtzon, J. A. Die El-Amarna-Tafeln (Leipzig, 1915)


König, F. W. Die elamischen Königsinschriften, AfO 16 (Graz, 1965).


Arnaud, D. Recherches au pays d’Astata: Emar 6/1-4, Textes sumeriens et accadiens (Paris, 1986).


The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature:


Freiburger Altorientalische Studien (Freiburg, 1975 ff.)


Florilegium Marianum


Hirayama Collection Cuneiform Texts (Japan)


Beckman, Gary M. Hittite Diplomatic Texts, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999)


International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East


Museum numbers of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad


Inventaire des tablettes de Tello


Journal of Ancient Near Eastern History


Journal of the American Oriental Society


Journal of Cuneiform Studies


Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient


Journal of Near Eastern Studies


Keilschrifttexte aus Boghazköi (Bd. 1–22 in WVDOG, Leipzig/Berlin, 1916 ff.)


Keilschrifturkunden aus Boghazköi (Berlin, 1921 ff.)


Littératures anciennes du Proche-Orient


Podany, Amanda H. Land of Hana: Kings, Chronology, and Scribal Tradition (2002).


Registration number of texts found at Mari


Materiali epigrafici di Ebla (Naples, 1979 ff.)


Mesopotamian History and Environment, Memoirs


Morgan Library Collection, tablet numbers of the Yale Babylonian Collection, New Haven


Materialien zum sumerischen Lexikon/Materials for the Sumerian Lexicon (Rom 1937 ff.); SS = Supplementary Series (1, 1986)


Materialien zu den frühen Schriftzeugnissen des Vorderen Orients (Berlin, 1991 ff.)


Nouvelles assyriologiques brèves et utilitaires (Paris, 1987 ff.)


Strassmaier, J. N. Inschriften von Nabonidus, König von Babylon (Leipzig, 1889)


Near Eastern Archaeology


Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten


Meyers, Eric M., ed. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, 5 vols. (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997)


Oxford Editions of Cuneiform Texts (Oxford, 1923 ff.)


Oriental Institute Museum Publications


Frahm, Eckart. “Reading the Tablet, the Exta, and the Body: The Hermeneutics of Cuneiform Signs in Babylonian and Assyrian Text Commentaries and Divinatory Texts.” In Divination and Interpretation of Signs in the Ancient World, Oriental Institute Studies 6, edited by Amar Annus, 93–141 (Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 2010)


Orientalia Lovaniensia analecta (Leuven, 1975 ff.)


Open richly annotated cuneiform corpus:


University of Pennsylvania, Publications of the Babylonian Section (Philadelphia, 1911 ff.)


Excavation number for graves at Ur


Revue d’assyriologie et d’archeologie orientale


Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale


The Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia, Assyrian Periods (Toronto, 1987 ff.)


The Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia, Babylonian Periods


The Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia, Early Periods (Toronto, 1990 ff.)


The Royal Inscriptions of the Neo-Assyrian Period


Reallexikon der Assyriologie und vorderasiatischen Archäologie (Berlin: de Gruyter)


Museum numbers of the Louvre and Damascus (Ras Shamra)


Thureau-Dangin, F. Recueil des tablettes chaldéennes (Paris, 1903)


State Archives of Assyria (Helsinki, 1987 ff.)


Parpola, S. The Correspondence of Sargon II. Part I: Letters from Assyria and the West. State Archives of Assyria 1. (Helsinki, 1987)


Parpola, S., and K. Watanabe, Neo-Assyrian Treaties and Loyalty Oaths. State Archives of Assyria 2. (Helsinki, 1988)


Starr, I. Queries to the Sungod: Divination and Politics in Sargonid Assyria. State Archives of Assyria 4. (Helsinki, 1990)


Kwasman, T., and S. Parpola. Legal Transactions of the Royal Court of Nineveh. Part I: Tiglath-Pileser III through Esarhaddon. State Archives of Assyria 6. (Helsinki, 1991)


Hunger, H. Astrological Reports to Assyrian Kings. State Archives of Assyria 8. (Helsinki, 1992)

SAA 10

Parpola, S. Letters from Assyrian and Babylonian Scholars. State Archives of Assyria 10. (Helsinki, 1993)

SAA 11

Fales, F. M., and J. N. Postgate. Imperial Administrative Records. Part II: Provincial and Military Administration. State Archives of Assyria 11. (Helsinki, 1995)

SAA 13

Cole, S., and P. Machinist. Letters from Priests to Kings Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal. State Archives of Assyria 13. (Helsinki, 1999)

SAA 14

Mattila, R. Legal Transactions of the Royal Court of Nineveh. Part II: Assurbanipal through Sin-šarru-iškun. State Archives of Assyria 14. (Helsinki, 2002)

SAA 15

Fuchs, A., and S. Parpola. The Correspondence of Sargon II. Part III: Letters from Babylonia and the Eastern Provinces. State Archives of Assyria 15. (Helsinki, 2001)

SAA 16

Luukko, M., and G. Van Buylaere, The Political Correspondence of Esarhaddon. State Archives of Assyria 16. (Helsinki, 2002)

SAA 18

Reynolds, F. The Babylonian Correspondence of Esarhaddon. State Archives of Assyria 18. (Helsinki, 2003)


State Archives of Assyria. Bulletin (Padua, 1987 ff.)


State Archives of Assyria Studies


Studies in Ancient Near Eastern Records (De Gruyter 2012 ff.)


Sumerian and Akkadian Royal Inscriptions, I (= American Oriental Society. Translation Series, I): J. Cooper, Presargonic Inscriptions (New Haven, 1986)


Studies on the Civilization and Culture of Nuzi and the Hurrians (Winona Lake, IN, 1981ff.)


Studi Micenei ed Egeo-Anatolici (Rome, 1966 ff.)

SpTU 5

von Weiher, E. Spätbabylonische Texte aus Uruk, V: (= AUWE 13, 1998)


Tablet numbers from Tell Taban


Contenau, G. Tablettes Cappadociennes (Paris, 1920) = TCL 4


Textes cunéiformes, Musée du Louvre (Paris, 1910 ff.)


Tablet numbers from Terqa Final Reports (Malibu)


Object numbers from Tell Mardikh/Ebla


Texte und Materialien der Frau Professor Hilprecht Collection, Neue Folge (Leipzig, 1937; Berlin, 1961 ff.)


Museum numbers of the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin (Vorderasiatische Abteilung. Tontafeln)


Vorderasiatische Schriftdenkmäler der (Königlichen) Museen zu Berlin (Berlin, 1907 ff.)


Tablet numbers from the Yale Babylonian Collection (New Haven)


Tablet numbers from the Yale Peabody Museum, Babylonian Collection (New Haven)


Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und vorderasiatische Archäologie

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