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Research project

Persia and Babylonia: Creating a New Context for Understanding the Emergence of the First World Empire

The Persian Empire (539-330 BCE) was the first world empire in history. At its height, it united a territory stretching from present-day India to Libya - and it would take 2,000 years before significantly larger empires emerged in early modern Eurasia. What explains its success? How did the Persians manage to keep their empire together, while earlier states had collapsed? The PERSIA AND BABYLONIA project will introduce a vast new data set and a novel approach in order to answer these questions.

2017  -   2022
Caroline Waerzeggers
ERC Consolidator Grant ERC Consolidator Grant

For two thousand years, empires in the Near East achieved only limited territorial control until Persia established a super-size empire. How the Persians achieved this still eludes scholarship. Many of the most-used sources on Persian history were produced by ancient “outsiders” about the Empire, e.g. in Greece, Judea, and Rome. While this literature tells us about perceptions of the Empire, often long after its existence, it cannot be used to reconstruct internal historical processes. Moreover, the approach to the Persian Empire to date has been mainly one-dimensional and state-centred - an approach at odds with recent insights from historical sociology.

In order to tackle these problems, the PERSIA AND BABYLONIA project will provide a new data set as well as a new approach. For the very first time, thousands of cuneiform texts will be brought together and incorporated in an online database. The texts, covering a period from the 7th to the 4th centuries BC, stem from Persia’s most important periphery - Babylonia. Both the great density of information and the long temporal sweep will allow for an informed evaluation of Persia’s achievements within the long history of the region. On top of that, the project will expand its historical view to other provinces of the empire, such as Egypt, and incorporate recent insights from historical sociology: it will approach empire as a complex process of negotiation involving a wide field of actors - local as well as central. With an interdisciplinary team of ancient historians and Assyriologists, the PERSIA AND BABYLONIA project will make a significant step towards understanding the emergence of Ancient Persia, as well as develop a much-needed research tool for historians of empire and society in the ancient world.


2 PhD positions in Assyriology at Leiden University
Apply until 15 August 2017

Events in Leiden

14 June 2017 | Small Souls: Family Fortunes in Old Babylonian Nippur
Anne Goddeeris (Ghent University)
16:00 - 17:00 hrs.
Matthias de Vrieshof 4, 004a

10 May 2017 | Lunch Talk: Biographical Databases
Maxim Romanov, Javier Cha, Caroline Waerzeggers
11.00 - 13.00 hrs.
P.N. van Eyckhof 1, 003C

9 May 2017 | Spijkerschrift en wereldgeschiedenis: een nieuw onderzoeksproject over het ontstaan van het Perzische rijk
Caroline Waerzeggers

4 May 2017 | From Prosopography to Politics: the late Old Babylonian case
Seth Richardson (Chicago)

The analysis of archives has been the cornerstone of economic, political, and social studies of ancient Babylonia for the past fifty years.  But what do you do when archives don't tell you enough?  This discussion of an allied prosopographic approach to documentary evidence illustrates what is possible when we shift the focus away from the few figures who dominate the record and onto --- well, everyone.  The results of this project gives us a sociological picture of official classes in fin de siècle Babylon I, and what that tells us about the collapse of the dynasty across the 17th c. BC.

Events elsewhere

9 August 2017  | The King and his Treasurer in the 1st Millennium BCE
Melanie Gross
SBL International Meeting, Berlin (7-11 August 2017)

9 August 2017 | Between Language and Script: The Choices Involved in the Demotic-Aramaic Combination of Papyrus Amherst 63
Uzume Wijnsma
SBL International Meeting, Berlin (7-11 August 2017)

8 August 2017 | Cuneiform literacy and control in the first Persian Empire
Caroline Waerzeggers
SBL International Meeting, Berlin (7-11 August 2017)

6 August 2017 | A window on the exile? Colony, state, and writing in the Yahudu archive
Caroline Waerzeggers
17th World Congress of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem

24 July 2017 | The King and his Officials – Power Structures of the First Millennium BCE in a Diachronic Perspective
Melanie Gross

63rd RAI Conference: Dealing with Antiquity: Past, Present & Future
University of Marburg (
24-28 July 2017)

29 May 2017 | Political Legitimacy in the Persian Empire: the case of Egypt and Babylonia
Uzume Wijnsma
Neo-Babylonian Network annual meeting, VU University Amsterdam

12 April 2017 | Writing and Control in the Exilic Community of Yahudu
Caroline Waerzeggers
Masterclass, Yale University

11 April 2017 | Keeping track of what happened? A new look at the Babylonian chronicles
Caroline Waerzeggers
Rosenthal lecture, Yale University