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This course offers an introduction to the study of the political, social and cultural history of the ancient Near East, from prehistory to the end of the Iron age (ca. 330 BC). Both literary sources and archaeological evidence are examined as relevant. Near East is understood here in its widest geographic extent, including primarily the Mesopotamian lowlands, Iranian and Syro-Anatolian highlands, as well as the Levantine coast. The course not only offers a foundational survey of the historical developments in the region, but also addresses the broader methodological and historiographic problems involved in Near Eastern studies. State formation and the development of complex societies, cult practices and cuneiform literary traditions, art, architecture and material culture, issues of landscape and settlement systems, agricultural production, regional and interregional trade, and craft production will constitute the central issues in the course.
On a week-by-week basis, the course will explore the cultural and political developments in the Near Eastern world, from the first hunter-gatherer societies of the region to the end of the Persian Empire. In this way students will gain a general understanding of the long-term historical developments, while also studying particular episodes of history in greater focus, reading archaeological scholarship, studying historical and literary texts in translation, exploring the material culture of various cultural groups, and surveying selected examples of architectural monuments and archaeological sites. Students will also get a good understanding of the variety of textual soruces available from the region, inclusing monumental display inscriptions, annalistic historical texts, literary compositions, letters, ritual texts, economic documents and the like in a variety of languages including Sumerian, Akkadian, Hittite, Luwian, Aramaic and others. Reading the scholarly literature on various topics, students will also get a substantial understanding of the historigraphic and methodological issues in the disciplinary field.