Other epigraphic finds in Seleucid Uruk

The city of Uruk, a brief presentation

The ancient site of Uruk has had the same name since Antiquity. Today, it is Warka, it was Erech in the Bible and Orchoi for the Greeks. It extends 3km from north to south and 2.4 km from east to west. The city, which was on the right bank of an arm of the river Euphrates, is today nearly 20 km away from it. It was surrounded by a double city wall, which is partially still visible. The enclosed area was about 5 km² inside a wall 9.7 km long. The central part of the city is under three different tells: Buwerije, Wuswas and Ba'as, respectively covering Eanna, Ištar's temple; Rēš, Anu's temple; and Irigal, Ištar's new temple of Late Achaemenid and Hellenistic times.

The site of Uruk was continuously occupied from the Ubaid period until the end of Antiquity. During Neo Babylonian times, until the reign of Xerxes, the town was essentially on the central and south-west area of the site. During Late Babylonian times, when Uruk was still the main city of south Mesopotamia, it extended across all the surface of the Sumerian city of the third millennium B.C. After the Parthian conquest of 141 B.C., the size of Uruk decreased and, in spite of the good exploitation of the Mesopotamian plain under Sassanian rule, it lost its importance as the main town of the south, maybe because the river moved away.

The excavations

The city of Uruk was excavated for a very long time, from the middle of the 19th century, when W. Loftus identified it and carried out the first three weeks of archaeological works, until the 1980s. The excavations of the last century were undertaken by the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft. In 1902-1903, part of R. Koldewey's Babylon team made some surveys on the site, led by W. Andrae. After these first works, J. Jordan became the head of the Uruk archaeological team. He led excavations in 1912-1913, followed by eleven seasons from 1928 to 1939. The archaeologists concentrated on the sacred area of the site, finding the Rēš temple at Wuswas. After the Second World War, the DOG continued their work at Uruk. Archaeological excavations ceased just before the first Gulf war but in 2001 a team returned to Uruk to begin mapping the site. The finds are published in UVB (Uruk vorläufiger Bericht), ADFU (Ausgrabungen der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft in Uruk-Warka) and AUWE (Ausgrabungen in Uruk-Warka Endbericht). This long period of work has provided extensive epigraphic material from all periods.

Concerning the Late Babylonian period (mid 5th century B.C. onwards) and its libraries, Uruk is the only site where libraries have been discovered in clear archaeological contexts. But the history of discoveries does not end with these corpuses. If German archaeologists excavated the sacred area of Uruk from the beginning of the 20th century, illegal diggers did so also. Both groups found many epigraphic documents. Today, it seems acceptable to propose that the majority of cuneiform tablets from Seleucid Uruk, for which there is no archaeological context, come from the Reš temple.

The epigraphic finds

According to J. Oelsner, around 1400 Late Babylonian tablets have been unearthed from Uruk. There are two main groups of texts: administrative and legal texts and scholarly tablets.

Administrative and legal texts

The main part of this corpus comprises contracts which deal with prebendary properties and incomes of the Rēš temple. Individuals and families appearing in the scholarly tablets are the same as those who make agreements in these texts. Many tablets were discovered by illegal diggers but others by German archaeologists in rooms 29c and 29d of the temple. Some of the tablets from illegal diggings may have also been unearthed in dwelling areas. Indeed, there are duplicates of contracts and some of then may have been stored in private houses, as is the case for the šangi-Ninurta family and Ekur-zakir family of the āšipus' house(s).

Scholarly tablets

Around 700 Late Babylonian scholarly tablets were found at Uruk. Most of them come from the āšipus' house(s) and the kalûs' library of the Rēš temple but others were unearthed by illegal diggers, probably in the same wing as the kalûs' library, in the south-east part of the building.

The tablets today

Archaeological excavations

Illegal diggings


The scholarly tablets are published in several volumes, including:

Philippe Clancier

Philippe Clancier, 'Other epigraphic finds in Seleucid Uruk', The Geography of Knowledge, The GKAB Project, 2019 [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/cams/gkab/contexts/seleuciduruk/]

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