Mechanisms of communication in an ancient empire: The correspondence between the king of Assyria and his magnates in the 8th century BC

Project start date: 2008-03 Project end date: 2012-09
The correspondence between Sargon II, king of Assyria (721-705 BC), and his governors and magnates is the largest text corpus of this kind known from antiquity and provides insight into the mechanisms of communication between the top levels of authority in an ancient empire. This website presents these letters together with resources and materials for their study and on their historical and cultural context. The research questions are: How did ancient empires cohere? What roles did long-distance communication play in that coherence? How did long-distance communication work, structurally and socially? In the royal archives of Nineveh and Nimrud, now in northern Iraq, primary documentation has survived to an unparalleled extent, allowing us to tackle these questions for this particular period. Our research will be based on a thorough analysis of c. 1200 surviving letters and letter fragments of the correspondence of the king with his governors and magnates in order to establish the governing mechanisms of communication.
Methods usedCategory
2d scanning and photographyData capture
Accessibility analysisStrategy and project management
Cataloguing and indexingData structuring and enhancement
Collaborative publishingData publishing and dissemination
CollatingData analysis
Content analysisData analysis
DocumentationStrategy and project management
General project managementStrategy and project management
General website developmentData publishing and dissemination
IndexingData analysis
LemmatisationData structuring and enhancement
ParsingData analysis
Resource sharingCommunication and collaboration
Resource sharingData publishing and dissemination
Searching and queryingData analysis
Text encoding - descriptiveData structuring and enhancement
Text encoding - presentationalData structuring and enhancement
Text encoding - referentialData structuring and enhancement
Textual interaction (asynchronous)Communication and collaboration
Textual interaction (synchronous)Communication and collaboration
Use of existing digital dataData capture
Version controlStrategy and project management
Web browser scriptingData publishing and dissemination
Funding sources: 
Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Software tools used: 
  • Extensible Markup Language (XML)
  • Filemaker Pro
Source material used:  
About 1200 clay tablets from Nineveh and Kalhu (Nimrud) in northern Iraq, inscribed in the Neo- Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian dialects of the Akkadian language and in the cuneiform script. These are the surviving letters of the state correspondence of Sargon II, king of Assyria (r. 721-705 BC). Most of these texts are kept in the British Museum. Professor Simo Parpola of the Helsinki Corpus of Neo-Assyrian Texts project provided a legacy database consisting of documented ASCII files of the transliterations and English translations, as published in the text editions of the series State Archives of Assyria.
Digital resource created:  
[1] A freely available, online corpus containing searchable transliterations and English translations of the c. 1200 letters exchanged between Sargon II, king of Assyria (721-705 BC), and his governors and magnates, with bibliographies, metadata and two fully lemmatised glossaries of Akkadian words and proper nouns. The project uses open, standards-based encoding to create the text corpus as part of the Open, Richly Annotated Cuneiform Corpus (Oracc). Oracc comprises a workspace and toolkit for the development of a complete corpus of cuneiform whose rich annotation and open licensing support the next generation of scholarly research. [2] A richly illustrated dissemination website called "Assyrian empire builders: governors, diplomats and soldiers in the service of Sargon II, king of Assyria" that provides the historical and cultural contexts of the letters.
Access to digital resource:  
Open Access

Institutions affiliated with this project: 

UK HE institutions involved:
University College London
Other institutions involved:
University of Pennsylvania

Project staff and expertise: 

Principal staff member:Dr Karen Radner
Other staff:PhD student(s), Postdoctoral researcher(s) / Research assistant(s)
External expertise:[1] Project partner Professor Steve Tinney from the University of Pennsylvania supplies the technical expertise needed for the corpus creation. [2] An advisory board comprising six experts from UCL, Cambridge University and the universities of Munich and Helsinki to ensure quality control.

Metadata on this record
Author(s) of recordKaren Radner
TitleMechanisms of communication in an ancient empire: The correspondence between the king of Assyria and his magnates in the 8th century BC
Record created2010-04-27
Record updated2010-06-29 09:51
URL of record
Citation of recordKaren Radner: Mechanisms of communication in an ancient empire: The correspondence between the king of Assyria and his magnates in the 8th century BC. <> created: 2010-04-27, last updated 2010-06-29 09:51
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