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MPhil in Assyriology


MPhil in Assyriology

The Cambridge MPhil in Assyriology is unique in the UK in our combination of the ancient languages, history, archaeology and culture of Mesopotamia. MPhil Assyriology students will join a lively community of Near Eastern scholars, including students on the MPhil in Mesopotamian Archaeology, PhD students, McDonald Institute post-doctoral scholars, and permanent members of teaching and research staff.

The Assyriology MPhil is designed to be flexible in response to the needs of students with different academic backgrounds and interests. We aim to provide the student with a good knowledge of one or both of the principal languages of ancient Mesopotamia (Akkadian and Sumerian), combined with a detailed study of aspects of Mesopotamian archaeology and culture, from the later prehistoric periods (from 6000 BC) through the earliest literate and urban societies of the Near East to the Assyrian and Babylonian empires.

The Assyriology MPhil may act as a self-contained course providing a good general introduction to Mesopotamia, or it may be a conversion course for those who plan to use Mesopotamian textual sources to undertake doctoral research. It is appropriate both for students with no previous knowledge of Mesopotamian languages or archaeology and for students with some knowledge of Mesopotamia and its languages who wish to build further upon this. Language study is an essential component of the Assyriology MPhil; applicants who wish to study ancient Mesopotamia without the language should choose the MPhil in Archaeology, Mesopotamian archaeology option.

Programme content

This is a full-time, 11-month programme (October – August), combining three taught modules with an independent research dissertation of 15,000 words.

Available modules vary from year to year.  They usually include:

  • G29: Akkadian language and texts
  • G33: Intermediate Akkadian language and texts
  • G34: Advanced Akkadian language and texts
  • G35: Sumerian language and texts
  • G7: Archaeology of Mesopotamia 1: Prehistory to Early States [offered in alternate years with G8]
  • G8: Archaeology of Mesopotamia 2: Territorial States through Empires [offered in alternate years with G7]
  • G31: Mesopotamian culture 1: Literature [offered in alternate years with G32]
  • G32: Mesopotamian culture 2: Religion and scholarship [offered in alternate years with G31]
  • Topics in Mesopotamian history and archaeology (This module is built around directed reading on a theme or topic decided in conjunction with the supervisor and any other students interested.  Small group seminars or discussions are held three or four times per term.)

It is also possible to choose one module from another MPhil programme in the Division of Archaeology, providing the opportunity to compare the specific Mesopotamian case study with, e.g., ancient Egypt, or to explore methodological and theoretical issues in the study of early societies.


The course structure comprises:

1. One module chosen from:

  • G29 Akkadian language and texts
  • G33 Intermediate Akkadian language and texts
  • G34 Advanced Akkadian language and texts
  • G35 Sumerian language and texts

2. A second module chosen from:

  • G35 Sumerian language and texts
  • G31/32 Mesopotamian Culture
  • G7/8 Archaeology of Mesopotamia
  • Topics in Mesopotamian History and Archaeology

3. A third module chosen from the list in (2) above, or a module from any other taught MPhil course offered in the Division of Archaeology, subject to the consent of the instructor and the Assyriology MPhil co-ordinator.

4. Research Skills module

5. An independent research dissertation of not more than 15,000 words.

The modules may be assessed by written exams, essays (usually 3000-4000 words) or a combination of both. Many of the modules also include non-assessed presentations.

Module details

G29 Akkadian language and texts: this module is for students with little or no previous knowledge of Akkadian. Students learn the essential grammar and vocabulary of the language, both in its classic Old Babylonian form (as used in the lawcode of Hammurapi) and in the later literary language, "Standard Babylonian" (as used in the Epic of Gilgamesh). The grammar is covered in the first six weeks, after which teaching takes the form of text-reading classes. See here for set texts from previous years.

G35 Intermediate Akkadian language and texts: this module is for students who have done at least a year of Akkadian, and takes the form of text-reading classes. It is possible for students to have some say in the choice of set texts, which usually consist in works in Old and Standard Babylonian. In addition to a language exam, candidates for this module a philological note.

G34 Advanced Akkadian language and texts: this module is for students who have a good working knowledge of Akkadian, and takes the form of text-reading classes. It is possible for students to have some say in the choice of set texts, which in the past have ranged across different genres, including letters, legal documents, divination and magical texts, and texts in Assyrian. See here for set texts from previous years.  In addition to a language exam, candidates for this module produce a hand-copy (scale drawing) of a specified cuneiform tablet, and a philological note.

G35 Sumerian language and texts: this module is normally only available to students who already have a good knowledge of Akkadian.  The module provides an introduction to the grammar and vocabulary of the language through reading selected texts of the late 3rd and early 2nd millennia BC. See here for set texts from previous years.

Mesopotamian culture (G31 and G32): These modules introduce the student to Mesopotamian literature, scholarship and thought. To make the course accessible to those starting the languages, it is built around translated texts and is concerned with their literary history, purpose and social context.

G31 Mesopotamian Literature: concentrates on genres of texts traditionally recognized as "literary", including myths and epics, lamentations and wisdom literature. This includes major Akkadian compositions such as Gilgamesh and the so-called Epic of Creation, but also a variety of Sumerian compositions.

G32 Mesopotamian Religion and Scholarship: covers Mesopotamian thought in the broadest sense, including astronomy and astrology, divination, medicine and magic.

Mesopotamian archaeology (G7 and 8): These modules provide a diachronic survey of Mesopotamian archaeology, with emphasis on themes and problems.

G7 Archaeology of Mesopotamia I: Prehistory through early states focuses on the late Neolithic through the end of the 3rd millennium BC and addresses issues of urbanism and early states, development of religious institutions and economic bureaucracies, trade and the creation of value, funerary rituals, and the effect of climate change on settlement pattern.

G8 Archaeology of Mesopotamia II: Territorial states through empires follows developments of the 2nd and 1st millennia BC, including growth of empires, elaboration of technology, diplomatic exchange and hybridization in art styles.

Topics in Mesopotamian history and archaeology: this module is designed to give students who are already familiar with Mesopotamian archaeology the opportunity for more in-depth study in current debates. The course is taught through seminars and directed reading, on subjects selected according to the students' knowledge and interests.

The dissertation

Students write a 15,000 word dissertation on a topic in Assyriology. The dissertation is an independent research project; the topic is decided in consultation with teaching staff and should be selected to match your own interests, abilities and previous experience.

Applicants for the Assyriology MPhil will normally have undergraduate experience in archaeology, anthropology, classics, or ancient history, but other options are possible and specific knowledge of the ancient Near East is not a prerequisite.


Teaching is through a combination of lectures, seminars, small-group sessions and museum-based practicals. The languages are taught at introductory and advanced levels, with initial instruction in grammar followed by reading classes for which you prepare ‘set texts’. Set texts may include extracts from the Gilgameš Flood story, Ištar’s Descent, and the inscriptions of Sennacherib. Seminars allow you to engage intensively with academic staff across a wide range of subjects. 

We also hold classes in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the Fitzwilliam Museum, to give you experience in handling Mesopotamian artefacts, and of reading original inscriptions. Our Assyriology Teaching Collection includes high-fidelity replicas of some of the prescribed texts.

What are we looking for?

In addition to evidence of academic ability we are looking for evidence of motivation and intellectual curiosity and an aptitude for the study of ancient languages. Reading knowledge of French and/or German is advantageous, but is not essential. Please provide a (non-binding) idea of what topic you would like to pursue in the dissertation.

After the MPhil

By the end of the programme, you should be ready to pursue independent research in the languages, archaeology and culture of Mesopotamia at doctoral level and beyond. Graduates of the MPhil in Assyriology have gone on to a wide range of careers, including research, finance, the arts, and museums.

Further information

The official description in the University's course directory is available here.

See also the graduate study funding page and the pages on Mesopotamia at Cambridge.

We are always happy to hear from prospective applicants.  For further information, contact , co-ordinator for this option.