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Topoi Research Project B-2-2 - “Monumentality as Policy? The Organisation and Function of Oversized Building Projects in the Ancient Near East” within the Group B-2 “XXL-Projects”

01.11.2012 — 31.10.2017

Members: H. Brunke, E. Cancik-Kirschbaum, O. Pedersén


This project investigates the function(s) of oversized building projects in the Ancient Near East. Research will be conducted into the logistical and economical  aspects involved in implementing large-scale building projects and will reference the cuneiform archives of the 3rd millennium BC and the monumental expansion of the city of Babylon that took place under the reign of king Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BC). The emergence of a wealth of relevant cuneiform texts enables the group to conduct a case-by-case analysis, with the following priorities:

 (1)  The organization of workflow and responsibilities, and the interplay between different sectors of civil administration, and hence the logistical and business-management knowledge implicit to the Mesopotamian economy regarding space and resource management.

(2)  Mathematical and meteorological texts from the Old and Neo-Babylonian Periods contain numerous technical constants and explicit accounting guidelines that include sample calculations which seem to be practically oriented, e.g. for excavating trenches, raising ramps and erecting walls.

(3)  The examination of a specific large-scale construction project, namely the renovation and monumental expansion of the city of Babylon over a 43-year period by Nebuchadnezzar II in the 6th c. BC.

The research tasks have been distributed between two intertwining subprojects. Subproject 1, “Management and logistics in the Neo-Sumerian Period”, begins by investigating the administrative text corpus of the Ur III Period (around 90,000 published texts). This exceedingly copious documentation will be evaluated on the basis of a case study in building economy in the late 3rd millennium. Subproject 2, “Building site Babylon” bears on a concrete building project: the expansion of the city of Babylon under king Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562). It analyzes logistical and economic questions, using the example of Neo-Babylonian managerial texts on “large-scale building site Babylon”. As examples of systemized knowledge, the analysis will include mathematical and meteorological texts that were of relevance to the building project, and, as a part of the monumental master plan, monumental inscriptions that were disseminated throughout the city. Alongside the textual documents, a major role will be played by Babylonian archaeological findings as represented in O. Pedersén’s digital model of Babylon. Here, it will be possible to double-check the calculations contained in ancient texts and to integrate relevant data into the modeling process.