UCL Hebrew & Jewish Studies


From Property to Belonging and Beyond: Mesopotamian Body Marks Revised

04 May 2022, 4:00 pm–5:00 pm

putple square with 'sacred ink: body marking through the ages' writton on it

Sacred Ink: Body marking through the ages online lecture by Julia Giessler (University of Helsinki)

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to

All | UCL staff | UCL students | UCL alumni






Casey MacKenzie Johnson

Body modification in the Ancient Near East is mainly known as a gruesome means to support slavery. Besides depictions of captives bound, pierced and shaven, also textual evidence for unfree individuals with ownership marks tattooed or brand marked on their hands can give us the impression that the modified body counted as a sign of humiliation and misery in Mesopotamia and neighbouring regions. Yet, in fact, cuneiform sources present a more complex picture, according to which ownership marks on human bodies can indicate devotion towards higher authorities. From pious tattoos to body modification in higher social classes, this paper walks you through outstanding cuneiform sources towards a new perspective on body modification in the Ancient Near East.

Sacred Ink: Body marking through the ages programme (PDF)

The Department of Hebrew & Jewish Studies is hosting the Sacred Ink eLecture series, which focuses on body marking for ritualistic, aesthetic, and other benign purposes throughout the ages, from Ancient Egypt up to the present day. The eLectures take place each Wednesday from 27 April until 1 June 2022 from 16:00 until 17:00BST via Zoom. We are delighted to invite you to this free online event and we look forward to seeing you in one of the meetings.

Please note the lectures will not be recorded.

About the Speaker

Julia Giessler

Associate Research Member at University of Helsinki

Dr. Julia Giessler is an Assyriologist specialising in Neo- and Late-Babylonian sources. She studied at Philipps-Universität Marburg with a broad perspective on philology and comparative linguistics. Her M.A. thesis there and her subsequent PhD at Freie Universität Berlin changed the emphasis on socio-cultural aspects of Ancient Near Eastern life by investigating tattoos, brandings and other forms of body marks on humans and animals. This project largely concerned unfree individuals like chattel slaves and temple servants, who bore the same types of ownership marks as cattle, equids and small livestock. During her recent work for the prosographical online database Prosobab, Julia developed a keen interest in Babylonian onomastics, on which her current research is based. 

More about Julia Giessler