Technical terms

These are the technical terms that appear in the book Ancient Knowledge Networks, and in the translations of the cuneiform texts related to it.


Ritual purification by washing (page 101).
Abu (month)
The fifth month of the Assyrian and Babylonian year, equivalent to July-August in the modern calendar, and therefore typically very hot.
A Persian dynasty named after its founding ancestor, Achaemenes (r.705–675 BC). At its greatest extent the Achaemenid empire ruled a vast expanse from the Indus Valley to western Turkey, including Babylonia (from 539 BC). It fell to Alexander the Great in 300 BC.
Archaeological term for a fortified upper town, in Assyria the location of royal palaces, temples, and elite residences, surrounded by a city wall (page 59). Another word for citadel TT .
Actor Network Theory
Not to be confused with Social Network Analysis (SNA), ANT was developed by anthropologist of science Bruno Latour as a model to explain how and where science happens. Most controversially, for Latour people are not the only actors in a scientific network: objects and texts are too. This book also treats divine beings as actors in ancient knowledge networks (pages 38–40).
Adapa and Enmerkar
An Akkadian literary work, which survives only in fragments, in which the sage Adapa and Enmerkar, king of Uruk, together open the grave of someone long dead (page 186). Read a translation of one manuscript from Uruk, SpTU 1: 4 [].
In Assyria, the week-long annual celebration of the relationship between the god Nabu and his wife Tašmetu, held in the akītu-suite TT  of Nabu's temple(s) (pages 71–77).
Akītu Chronicle
A year-by-year account of the times in which the Babylonian akītu-festival TT  did not take place in the 7th century BC (page 167). Read a translation on the Livius [] website.
In Babylonia, the major annual celebration of the new-year spring equinox, involving the king, Marduk, Nabu and many other gods over half a month.
The cluster of rooms, including bedroom and throneroom, in Nabu's Assyrian temples, dedicated to the performance of the annual akītu-ceremony TT .
Language of the ancient Middle East, conventionally divided into two dialects: Assyrian from the north and Babylonian from the south. It was usually written in the cuneiform script. The vast majority of the historical sources for this book were written in Akkadian. Read more about the Akkadian language [] on the Cuneiform Revealed website.
In Assyrian and Babylonian thought, many diseases were caused by demons sent from teh underworld by malevolent gods. The alû-demon was one such (page 78).
An object thought to have healing powers, often with an image or inscription on it, and usually worn round the neck or attached to a person's clothes (page 110).
An = Anu
An ancient scholarly composition listing the names and family relationships of many Babylonian gods, in 7 chapters, which became the theological basis for the Reš temple in Uruk in the late fourth century BC (page 188). Read translations of three three partial manuscripts from Uruk, SpTU 1: 126; 4: 182 and 183 [,P348775,P348776].
The kings of Assyria typically commissioned year-by-year accounts of their reigns, now known as annals. These were inscribed into artefacts buried in the foundations of buildings and carved onto palace walls. After the rediscovery of Assyria in the 19th century AD, annals became essential tools for reconstructing Assyrian chronology though we now understand how editorial processes shaped and reshaped kings' self-presentations of their reigns. Read many translations of annals on the RIAO [] and RINAP websites. []
Dating to, or referring to, a time before the legendary flood TT .
Antiochus Cylinder
A cuneiform inscription written on a barrel-shaped cylinder of clay on behalf of king Antiochus I in 268, commemorating his patronage of building work on Nabu's temple in Borsippa; the latest known royal inscription from Babylonia (pages 177–9 and 262). Read a translation of Antiochus I 01 [] on the RIBO website.
Human figure dressed in a cloak of fish-skin, representating the sages who saved wisdom from the flood for humankind; the image was particularly popular in 9th-century Kalhu (pages 56–57, 70, 76–77, 186 and 259).
Preventative, designed to ward off unfavourable events foretold by omens or prophecies.
In ancient Assyria and Babylonia, many young artisans and professionals were legally apprenticed to their masters for training and service over a fixed period of years. Although no apprentice contracts survive for any of the scholarly professions, young men entering these disciplines seem to have followed an apprentice-like training with one master at a time.
Language related to Akkadian, spoken originally in ancient Syria but which spread all over the ancient Middle East as it was written in a convenient alphabetic script. Read more about Aramaic and Hebrew in alphabetic scripts [] on the Nimrud project website.
Ashur Charter
Cuneiform inscription from Nineveh recording the first two years of Sargon II's reign (page 68). Translation to be published soon on the RINAP [] website.
Technical term used in archaeology to denote all the artefacts found together in a particular excavation context, such as a room or a floor.
Assyrian Eponym List
An ancient list of all the eponyms of the Assyrian empire, from 910 to 649 BC (page ). Read a translation of the Assyrian Eponym List [] on the SAAo website.
Assyrian King List
Ancient list of Assyrian kings and their regnal years, from the late third millennium to 722 BC, probably based on the Assyrian Eponym List TT  (page 73). Read a translation of the Assyrian King List [] on the Livius website.
Assyrian Temple List
An ancient scholarly composition listing the names and divine inhabitations of the temples of Assyria (page 84).
The modern academic discipline that studies ancient cuneiform culture; so-called because the first such language and culture to be rediscovered in the 19th century was Assyria.
A rather anachronistic term sometimes used to denote an Assyrian or Babylonian scholar responsible for reading and interpreting omens from the positions of the stars, planets , and other heavenly bodies, as well as the weather; literally, "Scribe of Enuma Anu Enlil", the standard series of celestial omens. Read more about celestial and terrestrial divination [] in the Assyrian royal court on the KNPP website.
In Assyrian times, scholars divined the gods' intentions for the future of the state through observing the movements of the heavenly bodies and reading celestial omens from them. From the late fifth century BC some Babylonian scholars began to cast personal horoscopes on the basis of a client's birth date.
Used in this book to denote ancient descriptions of the night sky and heavenly bodies, and the mathematical calculation and prediction of their movements.
A scholarly profession dedicated bodily healing and alleviating the symptoms of illness, who often worked closely with the āšipu; disappears from the historical record by the sixth century BC. Read more about medicine and healing [] in the Assyrian royal court on the KNPP website.
The body of ancient scholarly writings most closely associated with the profession of asû TT .
A diviner who reads omens from the flights of birds in the sky; best attested in eighth-century Assyria and Hellenistic Uruk.
Carrying a good omen.
The second month of the year in Assyria and Babylonia, rouhgly April-May in the modern calendar.


āšip šarri
Literally "āšipu TT  of the king", a scholarly professional designation attested only in the Assyrian court. Some members of the Gabbu-ilani-ereš family held this title.
Perhaps the most important and intellectually wide-ranging of the Assyrian and Babylonian scholarly professions, often inappopriately translated "exorcist". Read more about medicine and healing [] and lamentation and ritual [] in the Assyrian royal court on the KNPP website.
The body of ancient scholarly writings most closely associated with the profession of āšipu TT . Read translations of The āšipus' Almanac [,P363411,P296512] and The āšipu's Handbook [].


A Greek-language history of Babylonia by the Babylonian scholar Berossus, written in about 300 BC; only fragments now survive (pages 178–179).
Banquet Stela
A cuneiform inscription of Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II, erected in the Northwest Palace at Kalhu, which commemorates a huge feast to consecrate its opening. Read a translation of the stela text, also known as Ashurnasirpal II 30 [].
bāri šarri
Royal diviner, literally, "bārû TT  of the king", a scholarly title attested only at the Assyrian court.
Literally "seer", a scholar who divined the gods' intentions by examining the entrails of sacrificed sheep or rams; often translated "diviner"; sometimes also "extispicer" or "haruspex". The profession disappears from the historical record in the sixth century BC. Read about sacrifical divination at the Assyrian royal court [] on the KNPP website.
The body of scholarly writings associated with the profession of bārû TT , some of which continued to circulate in cuneiform culture for centuries after the profession itself is no longer attested.
Flat stone panel carved to make the images on it stand slightly proud of their background. The ceremonial spaces of Assyrian palaces were lined with bas-reliefs depicting scenes of military victory, kingly piety, and divine protection. read about some of the bas-reliefs from Kalhu that are now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge [], on the Nimrud Project website.
In the Assyrian royal court, beards were worn by uncastrated male courtiers and members of the royal family; priests and eunuchs were beardless (page 108 and SAA 17: 105 []). Babylonian priests were also shaved (page 206).
A gemstone forming hexagonal crystals that may be transparent, blue, or green (emerald) in colour; like many stones it was considered to have healing powers (page 108 and SAA 10: 323 []).
bēt akiāte
Literally "akītu-house". In Assyria, see akītu-suite TT ; in Babylonia (and briefly also Assyria), the name of a temple outside the city walls used expressly for the akītu-festival TT  at the srping equinox.
bēt ūmē sebitti
Literally, "seven-day room", the bedroom of an Assyrian akītu-suite TT  in Nabu's temple(s).
Bīt Rimki
Literally "Bath house", an Assyrian royal ablution ritual; carried out by the king during an eclipse, while a substitute king reigned in his place. Read more about lamentation and ritual [] in the Assyrian royal court on the KNPP website.
Brewing is one of the best attested prebendary professions of later Babylonia. Brewers were contracted to provide the gods (and therefore the temple staff) with beer; scholars from families of prebendary brewers are attested from the cities of Sippar, Nippur, Borsippa and Uruk (pages 206, 211, 219–20, 223, 228, and 234).
British Museum
The British Museum [] in London was one of the first sites of Assyriological TT  artefact collection knowledge production in the mid-nineteenth century and it remains an important site of study today.
British School of Archaeology in Iraq
BSAI was founded in 1932 to conduct archaeological research in newly independent Iraq. It was responsible for excavations at Nimrud, 1949–1962. Since 2007 it has been called the British Institute for the Study of Iraq [].


The main collections of omens, such as Enuma Anu Enlil, Šumma izbu, and Šumma alu, were organised into very long canonical (standardised) series, but scholars could also draw on non-canonical omens or omens that did not occur in those series, or on interpretations that came "from the mouths of scholars"; that is, from oral tradition.
Cedar trees are native to the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea, especially the area of the Lebanon mountain range; while the strong yet flexible wood was sought after for building work, cedar resin was commonly used in Assyria and Babylonia as an aromatic component of incense for rituals.
celestial omen series
Omens of the skies or heavens, including (for the Assyrians) the weather.
The main shrine of a temple, where the statue of the god stood.
Semi-precious stone composed of different types quartz crystals, resulting in a wide range of colours, especially greys and browns. Agate (dark brown and white bands) and carnelian (a solid red) are both varieties of chalcedony. All were favoured materials for seals in Assyrian times.
The senior official who ran the domestic aspects of the Assyrian royal palace, literally "head of household"; in the late 7th century an eponym official.
By the 8th century BC, the chariotry had been long replaced by the cavalry as the key component of the Assyrian combat forces but it nevertheless retained its role as the highest-status part of the army, usually accompanying the king who also went to battle in a chariot. A chariot team consisted of three persons: the "master of the chariot" who used the chariot as a mobile launching platform for his spears or bow and arrows.
Chief Cook
A high-ranking priestly functionary in charge of the temple personnel who prepared the meals offered to the gods.
Chief Cupbearer
A very senior official (magnate) in the king's personal retinue; the title is archaic and does not reflect the role's powerful administrative and military functions. There was an Assyrian province under the command of the Chief Cupbearer, northeast of Nineveh. See King's advisors on KNPP.
Chief Eunuch
A very senior official (magnate) in the king's personal retinue, with wide-ranging administrative and especially military functions.
Chief Fuller
A member of the Assyrian royal court, in charge of cleaning royal clothing.
Archaeological term for a fortified upper town, in Assyria the location of royal palaces, temples, and elite residences, surrounded by a city wall (pages 53, 67, 68, 70, 81, 91, 113, and 119). Another word for acropolis TT .
Note at the end of a scholarly work, giving information such as the scribe and/or owner of the tablet, the date and place of writing or copying, and/or the reason it was made.
A very senior official (magnate) in the king's personal retinue; the title is archaic (literally meaning "second in rank") and does not reflect the duties of this official, who had high military and administrative functions. There was an Assyrian province under the command of the Commander-in-Chief. See King's advisors.
composite text
In modern editorial practice, a text reconstructed from two or more ancient manuscripts to show how the complete work may have looked originally.
When two or more heavenly bodies (stars, planets, the sun, the moon) appear to be in the same place in the sky, from the observer's perspective. A conjunction of the sun and moon is an eclipse; the opposite of conjunction is opposition
Rituals and incantations performed to undo the effects of witchcraft.
crown prince
The prince nominated by the reigning king to succeed him, not necessarily his eldest son (or indeed any son). At least in the seventh century BC, the Assyrian crown prince fulfilled key administrative and representative functions and had a residence at Tarbiṣu, close to Nineveh. See The Royal Family.
A complex system of writing made of wedge-shaped impressions, usually made by a stylus in the surface of a clay tablet or a waxed writing-board. Cuneiform had many hundreds of different signs, which could take on different meanings depending on their context. See Cuneiform script
cylinder seal
Tablets, writing-boards, papyri and other objects could be sealed with clay, either to prevent unauthorised access or to mark them with the symbol of the official or individual responsible for them. The sealing official either impressed the clay with a stamp seal, or rolled out the inscribed or decorated surface of a cylinder seal, and left it to dry before releasing the object.


Demons were considered to be the agents of death and illness. They were not fully under the control of the gods, and could move easily between the divine and human worlds. Many were visualised as composite beings, composed of body parts from a variety of creatures. See also genie
A scholar who reads the gods' intentions from omens; see also astrologer, augur, and bārû.


The Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates converge to the north and east of Mesopotamia, resulting in occasional minor earthquakes in the Taurus and Zagros mountains.
East India Company
British trading company, founded in 1600, with a royally-granted monopoly on commerce with the Indian subcontinent. It eventually became so thoroughly embroiled in local governance and politics that it was in practice a branch of the British goverment. It had a Resident in Basra from 1763 and one in Baghdad from 1798, to secure overland communication routes and protect against the French. EIC officials such as Claudius James Rich and Henry Creswicke Rawlinson also became involved in the rediscovery of Assyria. The EIC was effectively nationalised and dissolved after the so-called Indian Mutiny of 1857.
Every five or six months, the earth comes between the sun and the full moon, preventing the moon from reflecting the sun's rays back to earth. Two weeks before or after a lunar eclipse, the moon may come between the earth and the sun, preventing its rays from shining on the earth. (Thus a solar eclipse is a type of occultation). Depending on the observer's position on the earth's surface, an eclipse may appear as full or partial, or not visible at all. In Assyrian times astrologers could predict the possibility of an eclipse quite well but did not know for certain whether or not it would be visible from Assyria. Both lunar and solar eclipses had powerful ominous meanings, depending on their position, timing and duration.
Some cultic personnel received messages from the gods not through the observation or induction of omen but through direct communication while in a trance-like state. Ecstatic trances could be induced (for instance by drugs or ritual actions) but could also overwhelm any individual unexpectedly.
The internal organs of a sacrificed animal, analysed by a haruspex for their ominous significance in the following order - liver, lungs, breast-bone, heart, coils of the colon, and vertebrae
Enūma Anu Ellil
The standard series of celestial omen, named after its first line literally "When the gods Anu, Enlil (and Ea established in council the plans of the sky and earth)". Sometimes it was simply called "the Series". Tablets 1-14 – the moongod Sin in its first crescent; Tablets 15-22 – the moongod in middle of the month, lunar eclipses; Tablets 23-36 – the sungod Šamaš: haloes, parhelia (bright spots appearing either side of the sun), solar eclipses; Tablets 37-49/50 – the weather god Adad: lightning, thunder, rainbows, clouds, earthquakes, winds; Tablets 50/51-70 – planetary signs: their positions with respect to other stars or planets, first and last morning visibilities; evening risings; luminosity, colour; fixed stars. The portents are almost all matters of institutional concern – the king and his army; the country and its enemies; floods, crop failure, pestilence, and disease.
Enūma Eliš
Literally, "When, above", the opening words of a Babylonian composition now sometimes called The Epic of Creation. It existed in two forms. The Babylonian version describes how the heroic god Marduk defeated the monstrous sea Tiamat and her evil army in a cosmic battle, created the world from her body, and thereby became head of the gods. The Assyrian version replaces Marduk with Aššur. It was performed on the fourth day of the akītu festival.
Epic of Anzu
Ancient Babylonian myth about how the Anzu-demon, half lion and half eagle, stole the Tablet of Destinies but was defeated by the god Ninurta. See the page on Anzu for more details.
Epic of Creation
See Enūma Eliš
Epic of Gilgamesh
Legend of a heroic king of Uruk who befriended the wild man Enkidu and killed Humbaba, guardian of the mythical Cedar Forest; when Enkidu is in turned killed by the gods, Gilgamesh goes in search of immortality.
Adjective or phrase which describes a person or event, usually in a positive or negative light.
eponym, eponymy
In the Assyrian empire, years were not counted but named after the king, high officials and provincial governors, until the late 8th century BC in a standard order. Scribes maintained standard reference lists of eponyms, which are now invaluable resources for understanding Assyrian chronology.
Twice a year, daytime and nighttime are of equal length. In the modern dating system the spring and autumn equinoxes fall on or near to 20 March and 23 September. In Assyrian times the first Appearance of the moon after the spring equinox signalled the new year (see akitu).
A type of cultic lament, usually in Sumerian, and/or its associated ritual; sometimes translated as penitential psalm.
A feast day for the gods Nabu and Tašmetu.
A castrated man, usually a palace courtier; see The Assyrian Royal Family.
Divination through the observation of anomalies and fortuitous markings in the entrails of a sacrificed sheep or ram. See Sacrificial Divination
extraneous omen
When scholars quoted omens that were not listed in the standardised (canonical) series, they were always careful to describe them as "external" or "outside".


Omens were considered either favourable or unfavourable; never both and never neutral.
A restraining handcuff or shackle worn by prisoners around the ankles to stop them from escaping.
Many rituals involved the manufacture of small models, or figurines, of supernatural beings — either apotropaic genies to ward off evil, or the demon or witch thought to be the cause of the misfortune. Apotropaic figurines were preserved and ritually buried; maleficent figurines were ritually destroyed, sometimes by throwing them into a river
Assyrian and Babylonian scholars divided past time into a mythical, primeval era and more recent human history, demarcated by a great flood. As well as the family of Atrahasis, rescued by the great god Ea, seven sages — half-human, half-fish — survived to bring the ancient arts of civilisation to contemporary humanity.


The Sumerian term for a kalû-lameneter.
A very soft stone, made of calcium sulphate, found widely in the Middle East and beyond, and which the Assyrians used to make plaster and as a cheap building material.


Literally "house of the women": a part of the royal palace containing the living quarters of the female members of the court headed by the queen, managed by a female administrator and guarded by a eunuch.
harem manageress
The female head of the women's quarters of the palace.
Either the representative of a city (or a city quarter, as in Assur) or a temple (like the temple of Nabu in Kalhu); chosen by the king from among the local population.
An ominous calendar which specifies favourable and unfavourable days for particular activities, as well as evil days on which as little as possible should be carried out;
Many key astrological observations were made on the western horizon at sunset or the eastern horizon at sunrise - for instance the first Appearance of the new moon, the planets, and the constellations at sunset, and their final Disappearance at sunrise.
A song of praise to a god, temple or king. Unlike a prayer hymns do not ask for anything from the object of their devotions.


A form of taxation through manual labour that every subject of the Assyrian or Babylonian king who owned land (or a stand-in) had to perform for a fixed number of days each year; this could be military service or other labour for the public welfare, such as construction work or the maintainance of the irrigation canals.
Illustrated London News
Pioneering illustrated news magazine, which was founded in 1842 and folded in 2003, after decades of declining circulation. Throughout its history the ILN took a strong interest in British excavations and discoveries at Assyrian and Babylonian archaeological sites, and the arrival of finds at the British Museum.
Words spoken or chanted in ritual context to communicate with a deity, demon, or genie.
incantation priest
An alternative translation of āšipu.
The teeth or tusks of elephants or Egyptian hippopotami. Elaborately carved and inlaid ivory objects, from tiny boxes to thrones and bedsteads, were highly prized by the Assyrians. Large quantities of decorated ivory have been found by archaeologists in Assyrian palaces, much of which seems to have been plundered as booty from other cities.


Scholar [1] People who ruled Babylonia in the second half of the second millennium BC, and who founded Dur-Kurigalzu; [2] in the first millennium BC a population group in the Zagros mountains.
The ancient body of scholarly writings most closely association witht the profession of kalû.
Relating to: [1] the dynasty which ruled Babylonia in the second half of the second millennium BC; [2] in the first millennium BC a population group in the Zagros mountains.
kalûs used enormous hemispherical drums in their ritual performances to appease divine anger. The drums, made of oxhide and bronze, were themselves ritually constructed.


See kalû.
lapis lazuli
An intensely blue semi-precious stone from Afghanistan that was highly valued in Assyria. Sparkling yellow flecks on the stone's surface were thought to resemble the twinkling stars in the night sky.
As their earthly representative, the king was entitled to the "leftovers" of the meals served to the gods in their temples, and as these were thought to absorb the essence of the food without actually consuming it, the "leftovers" constituted for all practical purposes the divine meal in its entirety. While the king did make use of his privilege on certain occasions, sharing the meal with his retinue, more often the food was distributed among the temple personnel. The tradition was especially important in the Assyrian king's dealings with the Babylonian temples whose clergy sought to demonstrate their loyalty and their acceptance of the Assyrian king as their overlord by sending him the "leftovers" - presumably only some choice dishes - that were his due.
lexical list
Scribal training invariably included the copying and memorisation of long, standardised lists of cuneiform signs, words and phrases, usually with both Sumerian and Akkadian spellings.
The haruspex's main focus of an extispicy; special attention was paid to the parts called the Station, Path, Crucible, Strength, Gate of the Palace, Well-being, gall bladder, Pouch, Path on the left of the gall bladder, Base of the Throne, Finger, Increment, and Yoke. See Sacrificial Divination.
lunar eclipse
See eclipse.
lunar halo
When light, high clouds refract the light of the sun or moon they create a dark band around it, surrounded by a much narrower ring of light.
The second organ to be examined in an extispicy, after the liver; special attention was paid to the parts known as the Middle Finger, Cap, Cavity, Back, and Head Lift. Most of these zones have not yet been identified.


Literally "Great One". A designation for one of the Assyrian king's senior political or military advisors. See Chief Cupbearer, Commander-in-Chief.
See scholar; and ummânu.
Middle Assyrian
Period of Assyria's first major empire, in the late second millennium BC, c.1392-1056 BC; also the dialect of Akkadian and form of cuneiform script written at that time.
Literally, "Plough star", a canonical series of observations, calculation rules, and omens about the celestial bodies in two standard tablets


See amulet.
Period of Assyria's greatest empire, c.883–612 BC; also the dialect of Akkadian and form of cuneiform script written at that time.
Period of Babylonian imperial rule, c.623–539 BC; more generally the dialect of Akkadian and form of cuneiform script written in Babylonia in the first half of the first millennium BC.
new moon
Assyrian months began with the first appearance of the new moon at sunset and were thus either 29 days or 30 days long.
new year
Religious festival performed over several days at the spring equinox, and featuring the gods' renewal of the king's right to rule; See akītu
Nimrud Wine Lists
About 30 ration lists of bread and wine found in Fort Shalmaneser, dating from the reigns of Adad-nerari III and Tiglath-pileser III. These texts may represent regular allocations to court personnel and visiting dignitaries, or extra distributions on special occasions.
The first month of the Assyrian year, which began at the first appearance of the new moon after the spring equinox. Its first ten days comprised the akitu festival. Approximately March-April.


Old Assyrian
Period of Assur's greatest influence as a city state, c.1910–1740 BC; also the dialect of Akkadian and form of cuneiform script written at that time.
Plural sometimes "omina"; adjective "ominous". Assyrian omens take the form, "If X is observed, then Y will happen", where X is any event or phenomenon in the sky, on earth, or on a person's body. The outcome Y (which could be favourable or unfavourable) was not inevitable but could be averted by rituals performed by expert lamenters. Specialist diviners such as astrologers, augurs, exorcists, and haruspices were responsible for reading and interpreting ominous signs by means of standardised collections of omens.
When two celestial bodies are in opposite parts of the night sky as viewed from the earth; the opposite of conjunction. The Assyrian scholars used this term especially of the sun and moon (at full moon) but also of planets
Message from the gods, usually sent to a prophet(ess) through a dream or trance; but it can also mean the divine answer to an extispicy query.
Ottoman empire
Empire based in modern-day Turkey that ruled the Middle East from the mid-fifteenth century to the eve of the First World War; also a form of Turkish spoken and written in Arabic script.


Palace Herald
A very senior official (magnate) in the king's personal retinue, who held high administrative functions within the Assyrian Empire and commanded a border province of key strategic importance.
Palace Supervisor
Literally "the one in front of the palace" (ša pan ekalli): a high-ranking official in charge of the palace administration.
An early form of paper, made from the pith of the papyrus reed that grows in the Nile valley, and imported into Assyria from Egypt. The subjects of extispicy queries were written on papyrus, or on oblong clay tablets, and placed before the sungod Šamaš as part of the extispicy ritual.
In modern terms, any of the large celestial bodies that revolve around the sun; for Assyrian scholars, the five celestial bodies, visible to the naked eye, that moved against the background of the stars. The inner planets, Venus and Mercury, appear in the sky only in the evening after sunset or in the morning before sunrise; the outer planets, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, may be visible throughout the night but appear to retrograde at certain moments of their journey across the sky.
Another word for omen.
Also sherd; a broken fragment of pottery.
A right to a share in a temple's income, whether from offerings or from its estate.
Individual who receives messages from the gods through oracles. They can be attached to a temple.
Purity is not just about physical cleanliness, but has religious, mental, moral, and social implications too. For the Assyrians, ritual purification was an important means of destroying or preventing evil and/or gaining the favour and support of the gods. Conversely, impurity or uncleanliness was considered contagious and could potentially jeopardise ritual actions. Thus haruspices asked the gods to disregard accidental impurity during extispicies, exorcists performed rituals to purify their client's houses as well as their bodies (see Excluding Evil from a Person's Home), and the king underwent the Bit rimki ritual to wash away the impurity portended by a solar eclipse. See Medicine and healing and Lamentation and ritual


A sacred enclosure by the river in which royal rituals were performed
queen mother
[1] The widow of the preceding king; [2] the ruling king's mother.
[Ch 4]In extispicy, a written question posed to the sungod Šamaš, to which he was expected to send a yes/no answer through the configuration of exta in a sacrificed sheep or ram; see also Report.


rab asî
Literally, chief asû; see asû.
rab āšipī
Literally, chief āšipu; see āšipu.
rab bārê
Literally, chief bārû; see bārû.
rab ṭupšarrī
Literally, chief scribe; see scribe.
Literally, "shouter"; see prophet.
An uncastrated male sheep, the preferred offering in royal extispicy rituals
See leftovers.
In extispicy, a written description of the configuration of the exta in a sacrificed sheep or ram, with the question to which it pertains and the sungod's answer (favourable or unfavourable); see also Query.
In extispicy, a scholar accompanying the haruspex who writes down the extispicy report
At its simplest, a ritual is a socially agreed set of symbolic actions and/or utterances, performed in a stylised way. Rituals may be performed at set times or as the need arises. In Assyria rituals could have any combination of religous, magical, political, social, or healing significance; they could be perfomed by scholars or priests on behalf of a client (such as the king). The word "rite" is usually reserved to describe predominantly religious rituals.
Royal Asiatic Society
London-based learned society founded in 1823 to study the history, languages, cultures and religions of Asia, from the Middle East to the Far East and still in existence today.


sacred marriage
Ritual in which two deities, or a goddess and a king, were symbolically united. At Kalhu, the akītu ritual featured an annual marriage between the gods Nabu and Tašmetu.
The ritual offering of food or drink (see libation) to the gods, often accompanied by prayers, which Assyrians understood the gods to consume though their sense of smell.
A wise person; in Assyria, one of the seven semi-divine scholars from before the great flood, who brought wisdom and learning to humankind; see also Adapa, apkallu, and Oannes.
See planets
The Assyrian court employed a variety of learned, literate men to advise the king on his relationship with the gods. The scholars included astrologers, augurs, exorcists, haruspices, lamenters, and scribes. Such roles, and the specialist education they entailed, were often handed down within families.
A professionally literate person, who may have been as lowly as a secretary or as eminent and powerful as the king's senior scholar. Scribes might write on papyrus or writing-boards as well as, or instead of, clay tablets. Astrologers were called "Scribes of Enuma Anu Enlil".
A collection of scholarly works into a canonical sequence of chapter-like tablets. See especially Enuma Anu Enlil.
seven-day room
See bēt ūmê sebitti.
In Assyrian times, most silver came from mines around the area of Que in the northwest of the empire.
Society for Biblical Archaeology
British society of Egyptologists and Assyriologists, founded in London in 1870 to discuss, publish, and promote research (not just archaeology) on the ancient Middle East (not just the Biblical lands). In the early 20th century its membership declined dramatically as these subjects became increasingly embedded in British universities and it was eventually wound up.>
solar eclipse
See eclipse.
Standard Babylonian
Literary dialect of Akkadian in the first millennium BC, used in Assyria as well as Babylonia.
stela, stele
Plural, "stelae". Large, standing stone monument, carved with inscriptions and/or images.
While the Assyrian term lahhinnu is a loan from a Hurrian word of unknown meaning, it is clear that it designates a high-ranking administrative temple official.
Many semi-precious stones, gems, and minerals were considered to have healing properties or other special powers. Scholars copied and compiled listed of special types of stone for use in cultic and healing rituals.
A pointed writing implement, the size and shape of a pen, used to impress cuneiform signs on the surface of a tablet or a writing-board
Substitute King Ritual
A noble or commoner, often a criminal, who was ritually installed as king to rule for the duration of an unfavourable solar eclipse. He was put to death at the end of the stipulated term, usually of 100 days, and the real king, who had meanwhile taken on the identity of a farmer, was returned to the throne.
In the Assyrian context, ensuring that the ruling king's nominated successor, his crown prince, becomes king in his turn.


A standardised chapter in a canonical literary work.
Most simply, a document made of clay, on which cuneiform writing was impressed with a stylus; see also Tablet.
Tablet of Destinies
Magnificent lapis lazuli tablet owned by the gods, on which they inscribed the fate of humankind. It was stolen by the evil Anzu and reclaimed by the god Ninurta. Likewise, the Seal of Destinies was used by the gods to sign particularly important documents such as Esarhaddon's succession treaties.
The seventh month of the Assyrian year, approximately September-October.

The tenth month of the Babylonian year; aproximately December-January. In Assyrian the month is called Kanunu.


Ura = hubullu
A lexical list in twenty-four tablets, which lists Sumerian and Akkadian names for a large variety of objects, grouped according to their material of manufacture, and also different sorts of place names.


See planets.


writing board
Scribes often wrote on wooden boards which were covered in a thin layer of wax. The wax could be warmed to smooth the surface and erase the writing on it. Writing-boards had the advantage of being more portable than tablets and could be hinged together to form polyptychs. Fortunately for modern scholarship, in Assyrian times the perishable writing-board never completely replaced the relatively indestructible tablet—or we would have almost no surviving written evidence to work with.


In Assyria, the cultic year comprised 354 days of 12 lunar months. It was thus necessary to intercalate an extra lunar month every three years or so to keep the lunar year in step with the solar year of 365 1/4 days.

Content last modified on 27 Dec 2019.

Eleanor Robson

Eleanor Robson, 'Technical terms', Ancient Knowledge Networks online, Eleanor Robson, 2019 []

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Released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license, Eleanor Robson, 2018.
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