Mesopotamia at Cambridge
Studying Mesopotamia at Cambridge
Cambridge offers an outstanding environment for undergraduate study of the languages and archaeology of Mesopotamia. For students excited by ancient languages, we offer both a specialised course in Assyriology and the challenging combination of Assyriology and Egyptology. Students may also focus on Mesopotamian archaeology without the languages within our Archaeology BA.
From its inception until 2008, Assyriology (the study of Mesopotamia) at the University of Cambridge was housed within the former Faculty of Oriental Studies (now Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies). In 2008, Assyriology (and Egyptology) moved to the Faculty of Archaeology & Anthropology and the Department of Archaeology. In 2012, Archaeology and Anthropology became part of the new Faculty of Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS). This restructuring allows wider choice for undergraduate students and greater integration of graduate student and staff research with related projects across the university.
The Assyriology B.A. at Cambridge is a three-year course within HSPS, with a choice of options in Part I (1st year) and specialist options at Parts IIA and IIB (2nd and 3rd years). The course allows students to acquire an in-depth knowledge of the languages, literature, history and archaeology of ancient Mesopotamia. It is also possible to combine the study of Assyriology with Egyptology as a joint course at both Parts I and II.
Full details of the options and courses are found on the Faculty of Human, Social and Political Sciences website (Part I) and the Division of Archaeology website (Parts IIA and IIB); a brief description of these options is given below.
Applications for undergraduate study are made directly to colleges through the UCAS system; for details, please visit the Undergraduate Admissions webpage. Applicants for Assyriology should apply for the Human, Political and Social Sciences (HSPS) course, specifying the Assyriology/ Mesopotamia option in your application to assist colleges in identifying an appropriate subject interviewer. All the colleges except Peterhouse accept applicants for the HSPS course. A list of colleges and their staff interests can be found here. Teaching staff in Assyriology and Egyptology are fellows of Newnham and St John's Colleges.
Part I (First Year)
From 2013, in Part I, students take four papers out of a choice of eleven, including three in Egypt or Mesopotamia. ARC3 is an introductory survey of Mesopotamian and ancient Egyptian history, culture and archaeology and provides a background for the more detailed Part II syllabus. ARC3 is taken by most students wishing to specialise in Assyriology and/or Egyptology and is also an option for students not taking ancient languages. ARC4 is elementary Akkadian; during this first year of language study, students learn the grammar of the standard literary Babylonian dialect and both Babylonian and Assyrian forms of the cuneiform script. Texts read include excerpts from the annals of Assyrian kings and the Laws of Hammurapi.
Most Assyriology students will combine papers ARC3 and ARC4 with two further papers chosen from Egyptian language (ARC5), Archaeology (ARC1 and/or ARC2), Biological Anthropology (BAN1) or Social Anthropology (SAN1). Papers in Politics, Sociology and Psychology are also available.
Part II (Second and Third Years)
Assyriology is a specialist option within the Part II Archaeology course. Advanced Akkadian language papers at Part IIA and IIB extend the range of texts and dialects studied, including royal and private correspondence and legal documents of the Old Babylonian (c 1800 BC) and Neo-Assyrian (c 700 BC) Periods, and a variety of literary and religious compositions. (Students may also begin Akkadian language from scratch in Part IIA).
As well as Akkadian language, there are three further papers to take in Part IIA; Assyriology students have a choice from: Mesopotamian archaeology, Mesopotamian culture, Mesopotamian history, archaeological theory or practice, or any one of a range of regional options (Egyptian archaeology or Indus archaeology being perhaps the most appropriate). The archaeology, history and culture (literature, religion and science) papers each run on a two-year cycle, and students in Assyriology normally will take the alternate half of any of these papers in the final (Part IIB) year. At Part IIB students also take advanced language and may add elementary Sumerian and/or write an independent research dissertation.
The Mesopotamian archaeology and culture papers are also available to students following the regular Archaeology B.A. course, as one of their regional options, in both second and third years; they also may be taken by students specialising in other subjects of HSPS (e.g., Politics). There is a requirement for 6-weeks of practical experience during the Assyriology course, to be acquired over the summer or Easter holidays. There are opportunities to participate in archaeological fieldwork or museum research projects. Some funding is available towards your costs of fieldwork and projects.
Suggested Reading List for Prospective Undergraduates:
Archaeology and Art:
- Collon, D. 1995. Ancient Near Eastern Art. University of California Press.
- Crawford, H. 2004 rev ed. Sumer and the Sumerians. Cambridge University Press.
- Oates, J. 1986. Babylon. Thames & Hudson.
- Pollock, S. 1999. Ancient Mesopotamia. Cambridge University Press.
- Roaf, M. 1990. Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia.
History and Social History:
- Kuhrt, A. 1995. The Ancient Near East, c 3000-330 BC. Routledge.
- Postgate, J.N. 1992. Early Mesopotamia, Society and Economy at the Dawn of History. Routledge.
- Snell, D. 1997. Life in the Ancient Near East. Yale University Press.
- van de Mieroop, M. 2003. A History of the Ancient Near East, c 3000-323 BC. Blackwell.
- George, A.R. Babylonian and Assyrian. In J.N. Postgate, ed., Languages of Iraq Ancient and Modern. BISI.
- Finkel, I. L. and Taylor, J. 2015. Cuneiform. British Museum.
- Charpin, D. Reading and Writing in Babylon. 2010. Harvard University Press
- Dalley, S. 2000 rev. ed. Myths from Mesopotamia. Oxford University Press.
- Foster, B. 2005 (3rd ed.). Before the Muses: Anthology of Akkadian Literature. CDL Press.
- George, A. 1999. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Penguin.
- You can listen to recordings of modern scholars reading Akkadian at www.speechisfire.com