Technical terms

These are the technical terms used in the translations of the royal correspondence.

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The fifth month TT  of the Assyrian year TT , equivalent to July-August in the modern calendar.
Ablution ritual
See Bit rimki TT .
The twelfth month TT  of the Assyrian year TT , equivalent to February-March in the modern calendar; it could be intercalated TT .
[1] The New Year festival, performed over 11 days at the spring equinox TT  and featuring the gods' renewal of the king's right to rule. [2] Also the name of a temple outside the walls of a city, in which part of the akitu festival was performed.
The contemporary term used for the Babylonian PGP  language and culture, after the ancient place-name Akkad PGP  denoting the region around modern Baghdad.
The West Semitic language and the alphabetic script in which it was recorded. By the 8th century BC, both were widely used in Assyria PGP  and Babylonia PGP .
Sometimes also "assembly of the people": a traditional civic institution of the Babylonian PGP  cities where public meetings took place and communal decisions were taken. Members were part of the city's elite, the so-called Noblemen TT .
A scholar TT  responsible for reading and interpreting omens TT  from the positions of the stars, planets and other heavenly bodies, as well as the weather.
Astrologers TT  divined the gods' intentions for the future of the state through observing the movements of the heavenly bodies and reading omens TT  from them; they did not cast personal horoscopes on the basis of a client's birth date.
A personal meeting with the king, governed by ceremonial protocol and often including an exchange of gifts.
A diviner TT  who read omens TT  from the flight of birds in the sky.


Fine-grained volcanic rock of grey to black colour; in Assyria PGP  popular as a building material and for fashioning monumental statues and steles. See also Wiping stone TT .
Bearded courtier
Literally "he of the beard": a member of the royal court who was not a eunuch TT .
Bit rimki
Literally "bath house": a royal purification TT  ritual TT .
The heavier fractions of crude oil, which in Assyrian times were collected from springs, for instance at Itu'u PGP  on the Euphrates PGP , and used for waterproofing, adhesive, medical and ritual TT  purposes.
A unit of measure based on the length of the humerus bone; about 32 cm.
A metal vessel for burning fuel for heating or incense TT  offerings.
Bull colossus
A monumental statue of a composite creature with a bull's body (sometimes with fish elements), a human head and eagle's wings, pairs of which guarded the gates of Assyrian palaces, temples and cities. See lamassu-spirit TT .
Linen of the best quality.


Usually referring to the dromedary, the one-humped camel native to Arabia which was used by the Arabian caravans traversing the Arabian peninsula as well as by the Arab troops.
When on campaign, the Assyrian army built temporary fortified camps where the soldiers - accommodated in tents - and their animals could safely spend the night in foreign territory. Camps pitched near an anticipated battleground served as a base for reconnaissance missions, as command headquarters during battle and as a safe haven for wounded and recovering troops. In depictions in Assyrian art, camps can have a round or oval layout or a square ground plan, with two roads dividing the camp into four equal parts.
By the first millennium BC, works of literature and learning, such as the main collections of omens TT  or the animal fables of the Series of the Fox TT , were organised into canonical (standardised) series, which formed fixed compositions that were transmitted without changes.
A roofed textile structure, erected on land or on a boat to provide shade and shelter for an individual of high status or for a divine statue.
A reddish-brown semi-precious stone, much prized by the Assyrians for jewellery.
Troops fighting on horseback. By the 8th century BC, the cavalry had replaced the chariotry TT  as the key component of the Assyrian combat forces. See the essay on the Assyrian army.
Cedar trees are native to the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea, especially the area of the Lebanon mountain range. The strong yet flexible wood was sought after for building work, particularly as roof beams, while cedar resin was commonly used in Assyrian times as an aromatic component of incense TT  for rituals TT .
Chariot driver
Literally "holder of the reigns": a member of a chariot team. See Chariotry TT .
Troops fighting from battle chariots. By the 8th century BC, the chariotry had been long replaced by the cavalry TT  as the key component of the Assyrian combat forces but it nevertheless retained its role as the highest-status part of the army, usually accompanying the king who also went to battle in a chariot. A chariot team consisted of three persons: the "master of the chariot" who used the chariot as a mobile launching platform for his spears or bow and arrows, the chariot driver TT  and the "Third Man" TT  who protected the other two with his shield.
A protective deity with both human and non-human features; Akkadian kuribu, from which the English word "cherub" derives.
Chief Confectioner
A high-ranking priestly functionary in charge of the temple personnel who prepared the sweets offered to the gods.
Chief Cook
A high-ranking priestly functionary in charge of the temple personnel who prepared the meals offered to the gods.
Chief Cupbearer
A very senior official (magnate TT ) in the king's personal retinue; the title was archaic and did not reflect the role's powerful administrative and military functions. There was an Assyrian province under the command of the Chief Cupbearer.
Chief Eunuch
A very senior official (magnate TT ) in the king's personal retinue, with wide-ranging administrative and especially military functions.
Chief Merchant
The highest-ranking of the royal trade agents who procured essential goods such as horses and metals on behalf of the Assyrian king, usually working together with the military.
Chief of Granaries
An administrative official in charge of the state grain depots.
Chief of Public Works
An administrative official in charge of organising public building projects. See Corvée TT .
Chief of Trade
A high-ranking state official in charge of the organisation of foreign trade.
Chief Scout
A military officer in charge of a team of scouts; part of the army's intelligence service.
Chief Scribe
The highest-ranking scribe and scholar in the Assyrian Empire; one of the king's most important advisors on all aspects of running the state.
Chief Tailor
A member of the royal court, in charge of the king's wardrobe.
Chief Victualler
A state or temple official in charge of food provisions.
See Commander-of-Thousand TT .
City overseer
In the 8th century BC, the highest municipal official, personally appointed by the king from among the city's notables.
City ruler
Literally "master of the city": title used by the Assyrians for a local ruler in charge of a city and its hinterland. Most frequently attested in the Zagros PGP  region but occasionally also elsewhere.
Literally a "knot" (kiṣru) of soldiers. The Assyrian term does not indicate the size of the unit, but if we are correct in assuming that its commander outranked another military official, the Commander-of-Fifty TT , then it should be a multiple of fifty.
Cohort commander
A military officer in charge of a unit called a "knot" (kiṣru); see Cohort TT .
Outside Nineveh PGP  , astrologers TT  worked in groups of ten, led by a Commander-of-Ten TT  who communicated with the royal court.
See Bull colossus TT .
Column, column-base
In Assyrian palace and temple architecture, wooden columns resting on elaborate animal-shaped stone or metal bases were used to structure and decorate monumental entrances. Such columns were an integral part of the façade of a building type of north Syrian origin called hilanu which in the 8th century BC became a popular feature in Assyrian palace architecture.
A Babylonian PGP  title (šikin ṭēmi) for the administrative official in charge of running an entire city.
A very senior official (magnate TT ) in the king's personal retinue; the title turtānu was archaic (derived from the Hurrian language and literally meaning "second in rank") and did not reflect the duties of this official, who had high military and administrative functions. From the late 9th century BC, there was an Assyrian province under the command of the Commander-in-Chief and in 708 BC, Sargon II PGP  established a second such province in the territory of the former vassal state Kummuhi (Commagene) PGP  under the command of the "Commander-in-Chief of the Left".
A military officer in charge of a unit of fifty men.
Commander of outriders
A military officer in charge of a team of outriders; part of the army's intelligence service.
The leader of a collegium TT  of ten astrologers TT  working in a provincial city of the Assyrian Empire.
A high-ranking military commander in charge of 1,000 troops. This was not an Assyrian army rank but is attested in the Babylonian PGP -Elamite PGP  border region; the title may be the translation of an Elamite term.
Conscription, conscripts
As part of their tax obligation to the king, Assyrians who held landed property were required to supply troops for the army for a certain period of time. As non-professional soldiers, these conscripts normally formed part of the infantry troops. See also Corvée TT .
The main currency of the Assyrian Empire prior to the conquest of Carchemish PGP  in 717 BC under Sargon II PGP .
A form of taxation through manual labour that every subject of the Assyrian king who owned land (or a stand-in) had to perform for a fixed number of days each year; it included military service and public construction work. See also Conscription TT  and ilku-duty TT .
A herbal plant (sahlû) which, together with bread and oil, constituted the regular food provisions given out to Assyrian soldiers.
Crown prince
The prince nominated by the reigning king to succeed him, not necessarily his eldest son (or indeed any son). The Assyrian crown prince fulfilled key administrative and representative functions.
A unit of measure based on the forearm; about 50-55 cm.
A complex system of writing consisting of wedge-shaped impressions, usually made by a stylus TT  in the surface of a clay tablet TT  or a waxed writing-board TT . Cuneiform had many hundreds of different signs, which could take on different meanings depending on their context.
A tall and elegant evergreen conifer tree which grows natively across much of the northern Middle East, including Assyria. Its wood was used as a building material, while its aromatic resin was a popular ingredient of incense TT .


A raised platform which serves as a base for a throne, altar, or statue.
Date palm
Date palms were commonly cultivated in Assyria PGP  and Babylonia PGP , both for their very sweet fruit (the syrup of which was used as a sweetener instead of the much rarer honey TT ) and for their fronds, fibres and trunks which all had practical uses. Because the trees were hand-pollinated they became a symbol of fertility.
Debt remission
Cancellation of all debts by royal decree; a strategy used by the Assyrian kings to gain popular support in Babylonian PGP  cities.
Deportation, deportees
The enforced relocation of a populace, normally recently defeated in battle, to another part of the state; a standard practice of population management in the Assyrian Empire.
All high administrative officials of the Assyrian Empire had a second-in-command who could take over their duties when needed; like the primary office-holder, the deputy was chosen and appointed by the king.
See Outrider TT .
A scholar TT  who read the gods' intentions from omens TT ; see also Astrologer TT , Augur TT , Exorcist TT  and Haruspex TT .
An Assyriological abbreviation for "unknown divine name".
Seen as an unclean and ingratiating animal, the term is frequently used in a derogatory fashion. Some of the king's Babylonian PGP  correspondents apply the term to themselves with the intention of stressing both their loyalty and their deference to the king.
A measurement of time (about 2 modern hours) and therefore the distance walkable in 2 hours on earth (c. 11 km).


Participating in temple rituals TT  attested for the Aššur PGP  temple at Assur PGP  and the Marduk PGP  temple at Babylon PGP , the exact role of these men, literally "he of the ear" (ša-uzni), remains to be determined.
The Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates converge to the north and east of Mesopotamia, resulting in occasional minor earthquakes in the Taurus PGP  and Zagros PGP  mountains.
The most senior and distinguished members of a community. In certain Assyrian PGP  and Babylonian PGP  cities such as Assur PGP , Babylon PGP , Uruk PGP  and Nemed-Lagudu PGP , the Elders constituted a recognised civic institution.
The sixth month TT  of the Assyrian year TT , which could be intercalated TT ; roughly August-September.
Assyria exchanged diplomats with its allies and vassal states who represented their rulers at the foreign court and were able to act as their representatives in oath-taking ceremonies. They also accompanied the annual tribute due to the Assyrian king. The Assyrian term, ṣīru, literally means "Excellency", reflecting the emissaries' elevated status.
Specialised stonemason who was responsible for carving inscriptions and pictorial decorations, including the extremely detailed narrative scenes of the palace reliefs, into stone monuments.
See Plague TT .
In the Assyrian Empire, years TT  were not counted but named after the king, high officials and provincial governors TT , until the late 8th century BC in standard order. Scribes TT  maintained standard reference lists of eponyms, which are now invaluable resources for understanding Assyrian chronology.
Twice a year TT , daytime and nighttime are of equal length. In the modern dating system the spring and autumn equinoxes fall on or near to 20 March and 23 September. In Assyrian times, the first appearance of the moon after the spring equinox signalled the new year (see akitu TT ).
A castrated man, usually a palace courtier.
An individual, a property or an entire city exempt from tax-duty, usually as the result of a royal decree.
A traditional translation of a type of scholar TT , called āšipu in Assyrian,who was primarily concerned with the ritual restoration of the natural balance of people and things.
Express service
See Mule express TT . See the essay on the King's Road.
Divination through the observation of anomalies and fortuitous markings in the exta (entrails) of a sacrificed sheep.


In order to prevent a decrease in the fertility of agricultural soil, it was standard practice in Assyrian times to let fields lie fallow, i.e. not cultivate them, in alternating years.
Fat-tailed sheep
Sheep with distinctive large tails and hindquarters, bred for the high-quality fat stored in this part of their body.
In astrology TT , a very small distance in the sky, equivalent to about 0° 5' in modern angular measure.
An evergreen conifer, distinguished by its upright cones, which is native to much of the Middle East and beyond, and which the Assyrians used for building materials.
Foundation stone
Inscribed document deposited in the foundation of Assyrian palaces, temples and fortification walls, identifying and praising the initiator of the construction work; in most cases, this was the king.
Fumigant, fumigation
Certain aromatic woods or resins, such as cedar TT , were burnt in braziers as part of cultic and medical rituals TT . The cleansing smell of the smoke was thought to cleanse the ritual space and/or the performers or client of the ritual.


A stock food and main ingredient of the Babylonian PGP  diet.
A possible but uncertain translation for some attestations of the Assyrian term bēt bēli, literally "the master's house(hold)".
The highest official in a province of the Assyrian Empire, personally selected and appointed by the king to govern this subdivision of the state on his behalf. In addition to their local administrative duties, governors were in charge of collecting and distributing taxes, and of mustering and supporting contingents of soldiers for the Assyrian army. See the essay on Assyrian governance.


Literally "house of the women": a part of the royal palace containing the living quarters of the female members of the court headed by the queen, managed by a female administrator (šakintu, sometimes translated as "harem governess") and guarded by a eunuch TT  called Overseer of Women (sometimes translated as "harem warden").
Haruspex, haruspices
A type of scholar TT  specialising in extispicy TT , i.e. determining the divine will by reading the entrails (exta) of sacrificed sheep; the Assyrian term is bārû.
Chainmail hood; specialised defensive armour for the head.
See Homer TT .
See Palace Herald TT .
A building type of north Syrian origin with a characteristic column-structured façade. In the 8th century BC, it became a popular element in Assyrian palace architecture, and Sargon II's PGP  palace in Dur-Šarruken PGP  included several such hilanu buildings or suites.
Literally a "donkey load". [1] An area measure equivalent to about 1.8 ha. [2] Also a large capacity measure, equivalent to about 80-100 litres.
Honey, or perhaps rather date TT  syrup, was often used as a ritual TT  ingredient.
See Shield-bearer TT .
House-born slave
A slave born into a household as opposed to bought (see Son of a bought slave TT ); when applied to the palace, synonymous with "son of a palace maid" TT . The term can be used as an expression of unfaltering loyalty.


A form of taxation through manual labour that every subject of the Assyrian king who owned land (or a stand-in) had to perform for a fixed number of days each year; this could be military service or other labour for public welfare, such as construction work or the maintenance of irrigation canals; see Corvée TT .
A mixture of aromatic plant products, for instance from cedar TT  or cypress TT  resin, designed to be burnt in a brazier TT  to release fragrant smoke during rituals TT  but also banquets.
Intercalary month, intercalate
Because the year TT  of twelve lunar months TT  amounts to 354 days but the solar year is 365 1/4 days long, every three years or so the scholars TT  informed the king that an extra lunar month needed to be inserted (intercalated) after the sixth month, Elul TT , or the twelfth month, Adar TT , to return the two cycles to harmony.
While the Assyrians did not need interpreters when dealing with the speakers of other Semitic languages such as Babylonian, Aramaic, Phoenician, Hebrew or Arabic, interpreters were crucial in dealings with the inhabitants of Anatolia and Iran. The Assyrian term for this profession, targumānu, is attested also in other Semitic languages such as Arabic and entered the European vocabulary as "dragoman", referring to the mediators employed by the Ottoman Empire to liaise with the European powers.
The second month TT  of the Assyrian year TT ; roughly April-May.


The tenth month TT  of the Assyrian year TT , equivalent to December-January in the modern calendar. Also a festival in this month.
See Raft TT .
The ninth month TT  of the Assyrian year TT ; approximately November-December.
Kissing the feet
A gesture of submission and devotion, performed by the servants and vassals of the Assyrian king at ceremonial meetings; as the king was then usually seated on an elevated throne positioned on a throne base, with his feet supported by a footstool, this did not necessarily involve falling to the ground.
A Babylonian PGP  capacity measure, equivalent to about 300 litres.


A benevolent deity in the form of a human-headed bull or lion, thought to bring good fortune and protect against evil.
Lapis lazuli
An intensely blue semi-precious stone from Afghanistan that was highly valued in Assyria. Sparkling yellow flecks on the stone's surface were thought to resemble the twinkling stars in the night sky.
As their earthly representative, the king was entitled to the "leftovers" of the meals served to the gods in their temples, and as these were thought to absorb the essence of the food without actually consuming it, the "leftovers" constituted for all practical purposes the divine meal in its entirety. While the king did make use of his privilege on certain occasions, sharing the meal with his retinue, more often the food was distributed among the temple personnel. The tradition was especially important in the Assyrian king's dealings with the Babylonian PGP  temples whose clergy sought to demonstrate their loyalty and their acceptance of the Assyrian king as their overlord by sending him the "leftovers" - presumably only some choice dishes - that were his due.
Literally "trusted one" (qēpu): the Assyrian king's personal envoy to a vassal ruler's court, where he represented Assyrian interests; often more powerful than the vassal ruler himself.
Someone suffering from leprosy, a chronic infectious disease characterised by skin lesions and the loss of nerve sensation. Although it is often difficult to equate ancient descriptions of illnesses with modern disease types, the characteristic symptoms of leprosy are so clearly described in Assyrian medical texts that its identification is virtually certain.
The standard Assyrian capacity measure for beer and other liquids was approximately a litre (about two pints).
A plant-eating insect, widespread in the Middle East and beyond, which can cause substantial damage to crops and trees when migrating in large swarms. There are several species to which the ancient Assyrian words might refer; their exact identification is uncertain.


Literally "great one": a designation for one of the Assyrian king's senior political or military advisors. See Chief Cupbearer TT , Commander-in-Chief TT  and sartinnu TT . See the essay on Assyrian governance.
The senior official who ran the domestic aspects of the royal palace, literally "head of the household".
The eighth month TT  of the Assyrian year; approximately October-November.
The representative of either a city (or a city quarter, as in Assur PGP ) or of a temple (like the temple of Nabu PGP  in Kalhu PGP ); chosen by the king from among the local population.
A fruit like a small brown apple, grown on trees cultivated extensively across the ancient Middle East. They are very hard and bitter when first picked, and need to be stored until their insides are pulpy to become edible. Alternatively, they can be cooked into jelly.
In the Assyrian Empire, a royal trade agent who procured essential goods such as horses and metals on behalf of the Assyrian king, usually working closely with the military. See also Chief Merchant TT .
A cereal crop ideally suited to arid environments.
A weight measure of 60 shekels TT , roughly equivalent to 0.5 kg.
Assyrian months began with the first appearance of the new moon at sunset and were thus either 29 days or 30 days long, 30 days being the ideal.
The offspring of a male donkey and a female horse, this was the Assyrians' preferred riding and pack animal for long and straining routes, including the royal postal service (see Mule express TT ). Mules are hardier and less nervous than horses and stronger and less stubborn than donkeys, making up for the fact that they are usually infertile. See the essay on the King's Road.
Mule express
The royal postal service reserved for state communication and organised along the royal road TT  network. The messengers used mules TT  which were exchanged for fresh animals at dedicated road stations under the command of a postmaster TT ; the maintenance of these stations was one of the administrative duties of provincial governors TT . See the essay on the King's Road.
Mule stable attendant
An administrative official in charge of organising transport and riding animals for state business, often concerned with military matters or population management (deportations, runaways). Sometimes translated as "Mule-house man" (ša bēt kūdini, literally "he of the mule house").
Mural crown
A crown resembling a fortified or crenellated city wall, typically worn by the queens of Assyria PGP .
Evergreen shrub prized for its highly fragrant leaves.


Crude oil which in Assyrian times was collected from natural springs, the most important being at Itu'u PGP  on the Euphrates PGP ; used for building works but also in warfare in which arrows dipped in naphtha and set aflame were regularly employed. See also Bitumen TT .
New Year festival
A religious festival performed over days at the spring equinox TT , and featuring the gods' renewal of the king's right to rule; Akkadian akītu TT .
The first month TT  of the Assyrian year TT , which began at the first appearance of the new moon after the spring equinox TT . Its first ten days comprised the akitu TT  festival. Approximately March-April.
An Assyriological abbreviation for "unknown name".
Literally "son of a beautiful one" (mar banî): designation for a member of a Babylonian PGP  city's hereditary elite. Also translated as "free citizen". See also Assembly TT .


A promise or a statement of fact by which the oath-taker called upon the gods as his witnesses and guarantors. The oath itself was perceived as a spiritual essence which entered the body and thus prevented "from within" any breach of the agreement. See also Treaty TT .
Someone who has dedicated their life to the service of a god without becoming a priest; more prosaically, a temple dependent.
Old Palace
In the reign of Sargon II PGP , this designation probably referred to the royal palace built by Tiglath-pileser III PGP  at Kalhu PGP , today called the Central Palace.
Omen, ominous
Assyrian omens take the form "If X is observed, then Y will happen", where X is any event or phenomenon in the sky, on earth or on a person's body. The outcome Y (which could be favourable or unfavourable) was not inevitable but could be averted by sacrifices TT , lamentations and/or rituals TT . Specialist diviners TT  such as astrologers, augurs TT , exorcists TT  and haruspices TT  were responsible for reading and interpreting ominous signs.
Oracle, oracular
A message from the gods, usually sent to a prophet through a dream or ecstatic trance; but it can also mean the divine answer to an extispicy TT  query.
Large flightless bird, in Assyrian times native to the arid regions of the Middle East where it is today extinct. The Assyrians used the shells of its eggs to create luxury vessels or ground them up for medicinal purposes; they also ate its meat. The ostrich was an animal fit for the royal hunt and a popular motif in Assyrian art, for example on the cylinder seal used by king Urzana PGP  of Muṣaṣir PGP , a contemporary of Sargon II PGP .
A messenger on horseback; part of the army's intelligence service.


Palace Herald
A very senior official (magnate TT ) in the king's personal retinue, who held high administrative functions within the Assyrian Empire and commanded a border province of key strategic importance.
Palace Manager
Literally "chief of the palace" (rab ekalli): a high-ranking official in charge of the palace administration. His relationship to the Palace Superintendent TT  is unclear.
Palace Scribe
The king's personal scribe TT  and the manager of the palace archives. See the essay on the Palace Scribe.
Palace Superintendent
Literally "the one in front of the palace" (ša pan ekalli): a high-ranking official in charge of the palace administration. His relationship to the Palace Manager TT  is unclear.
A unit of measure based on the width of the palm of a hand; about 8 cm.
An early form of paper, made from the pith of the papyrus reed that grows in the Nile valley and imported into Assyria from Egypt PGP .
Using a pen and ink, texts in alphabetic Aramaic script were commonly recorded on leather scrolls. While the term "parchment" is frequently used as a translation for these scrolls, this is anachronistic and should be avoided as "parchment" refers to a very specific leather-derived product prepared according to a recipe not yet attested in Assyrian times.
An inheritance derived from the deceased father's estate.
At the Assyrian court, a scholar TT  with particular responsibility for the physical wellbeing of the royal family; Assyrian asû.
A highly infectious epidemic illness; almost certainly not the plague or Black Death of the Middle Ages, which was caused by the bacillus Yersinia pestis.
Fruit tree native to the Middle East, whose sweet multi-seeded fruit was popular as a food and, symbolising fertility, also in rituals.
A fast-growing, tall tree whose timber was used for construction work.
Another word for omen TT .
Italian architectural term for a columned porch leading to the entrance of a building; part of a building type called hilanu TT . See also Column TT .
Official in charge of a road station of the royal postal system. See Mule express TT .
A type of property constituting a share in a Babylonian PGP  temple's income, held by a temple functionary and linked to this functionary's cultic duties.
A military officer, superior in rank to the Commander-of-Fifty TT  and the cohort commander TT . Sometimes translated as "captain" (šaknu, literally "the appointed").
The senior priestly administrator of a temple.
Unmarried woman who was sexually active; if she had children, they were under the authority of her male relatives.
A concise statement expressing a subjective truth or observation; from the third millennium BC, collections of proverbs were part of the Mesopotamian literary tradition.
Purification, purity
Purity is not just about physical cleanliness but has religious, mental, moral and social implications too. For the Assyrians, ritual TT  purification was an important means of destroying or preventing evil and/or of gaining the favour and support of the gods.
The most prestigious colour, fit for the Assyrian king who bestowed gifts of purple robes on those he wished to honour. The dye was extracted from a mollusc found off the Phoenician coast which in classical antiquity became a symbol of royalty because only the very wealthy could afford it.


Literally "woman of the Palace": the official wife of the Assyrian king and usually also the mother of the crown prince TT .
Fruit tree native to the Middle East, producing pear-shaped fruit which can be eaten raw but was mostly used for cooking.


rab mūgi
A high military official; "strategist", as the Greek equivalent is strategos according to a Greek-Aramaic bilingual text from the 3rd century BC.
Rafts (Assyrian kalakku, corresponding to Arabic kelek) constructed using wooden beams and inflated animal skins were the most common mode of river transport in Assyrian times. They served to transport downstream two important commodities from the mountain region to Assyria's north and northeast, namely building timber and wine, with which the skins were partly filled. When a raft reached its destination, it was disassembled into its components, leaving only the empty animal skins which could be used again. Individual inflated skins served as buoyancy aids for individuals and can be seen in depictions of Assyrian soldiers crossing a river.
Recruitment officer
Also translated as "procurement officer" (mušarkisu). This military administrator was in charge of mustering soldiers and animals, especially horses.
Review Palace
At Kalhu PGP , Dur-Šarruken PGP  and Nineveh PGP , so-called Review Palaces - the literal meaning of the Assyrian term ekal māšarti - were built in intentionally isolated positions within the city, protected by their own fortifications. These extensive buildings included a great many army barracks, stables and storerooms for stocking military supplies and raw materials, vast courts to exercise and survey the army and also representative suites for the king to receive audiences.
A drinking cup in the shape of an animal's head, such that the beer or wine was poured in through a large opening at the back or top, and was drunk through a small hole in the animal's mouth.
Rite, ritual
At its simplest, a ritual is a socially agreed set of symbolic actions and/or utterances, performed in a stylised way. Rituals may be performed at set times or as the need arises. In Assyria, rituals could have any combination of religous, magical, political, social or healing significance; they could be perfomed by scholars TT  or priests on behalf of a client (such as the king). The word "rite" is usually reserved to describe predominantly religious rituals.
Road station
See Mule express TT  and Postmaster TT .
Royal confidant
Assyrian ša qurbūti, literally "he who is close (i.e. to the king)": an honorary title for members of the royal entourage who enjoyed the king's trust and consequently often served as his special envoys.
Royal delegate
See Legate TT .
Royal road
The network of the Assyrian "king's roads" (hūl šarri) was a system of privileged overland routes used for state purposes, such as the transport of troops and communication between the king and his officials; its maintenance was one of the duties of provincial governors TT . The mule express TT  postal service made use of this road network. See the essay on the King's Road.


The ritual TT  offering, often accompanied by prayers, of food or drink to the gods, whom the Assyrians understood to consume the offering though their sense of smell.
The holy-of-holies of a temple.
A very senior official (magnate TT ) in the king's personal retinue. The title was archaic (probably derived from the Hurrian language) and no longer reflected the duties of that official, who decided high-profile legal cases on the king's behalf and held high administrative functions.
Scepter / sceptre
A rod or staff presented to the king by the gods as a symbol of kingship and authority.
The Assyrian court employed a variety of learned, literate men to advise the king on his relationship with the gods. The scholars included astrologers TT , augurs TT , exorcists TT , haruspices TT  and specialised scribes TT . Such roles, and the specialist education which they entailed, were often handed down within families.
A professionally literate person, who may have been as lowly as a secretary or as eminent and powerful as the king's senior scholar TT . Scribes might write on papyrus TT  or writing-boards TT  as well as, or instead of, clay tablets TT .
Scribe of the Palace
See Palace Scribe TT .
A capacity measure of about 10 litres TT , used especially for grain and beer.
Seal, sealing
Tablets TT , writing-boards TT , papyri TT  and other objects could be sealed with clay, either to prevent unauthorised access or to mark them with the symbol of the official or individual responsible for them. The sealing official either impressed the clay with a stamp seal, or rolled out the inscribed or decorated surface of a cylinder seal, and left it to dry before releasing the object.
Series of the Fox
The canonical version of a cycle of animal fables centred on the cunning of the fox, popular both in Assyria PGP  and Babylonia PGP .
Sesame was a staple crop in Assyria, where its nutritious seeds were crushed for cooking oil. The modern word comes from the Assyrian šama(n)šammu, literally "plant oil".
A restraining device worn around the ankles by prisoners to stop them from escaping.
The eleventh month TT  of the Assyrian year TT ; approximately January-February.
The leader of a tribe; in Assyrian, the term is reserved for the Chaldean PGP  rulers of southern Mesopotamia.
A weight equal to a sixtieth of a mina TT , approximately 8.3 grammes.
Literally "he of the shield" (ša arīti): a soldier equipped with a shield. Most commonly referring to troops fighting on foot, although the term could also be applied to the "Third Man" TT  of a chariot team who was in charge of defending the crew. The anachronistic translation "hoplite" (a Greek term for a specialised infantry soldier, derived from the term for a type of shield) is best avoided.
Signet ring
Also translated as "(royal) stamp seal", the Assyrian term unqu refers to the Assyrian royal seal which shows the king fighting a lion; the motif was known throughout the empire and was closely identified with the king himself. The king bestowed a copy of this seal, usually in the shape of a golden signet ring, on his representatives: whoever held such a seal was acting on behalf of the king and his commands must not be refused. See the essay on the royal seal.
The main currency of the Assyrian Empire following Sargon II's PGP  annexation of Carchemish PGP , with its enormous silver state treasury, in 717 BC.
A tree native to the Indian subcontinent (musukkannu, written logographically as GIŠ.MES.MÁ.GAN.NA, with the last element referring to Magan, the traditional Mesopotamian name for the Indus region); cultivated also in Mesopotamia where its timber was valued for building work.
The third month TT  of the Assyrian year TT ; approximately June-July.
Son of a bought slave
A slave who had not been born into a household but only acquired later on; deemed to be less loyal to his master than a house-born slave.
Son of a palace maid
See House-born slave TT .
A celestial length measure equal to half a cubit TT  or 15 fingers TT ; approximately 1o 15' in modern angular measure.
Distance between road stations TT  of the royal road TT , the imperial communication network.
Stamp seal
See Signet ring TT .
Literally "refined iron": an iron alloy with carbon content, which acts as a hardening agent.
Stretch (of the royal road)
See Stage TT .
A pointed writing implement, the size and shape of a pen, used to impress cuneiform TT  signs onto the surface of a tablet TT  or a writing-board TT .


Most simply, a document made of clay, on which cuneiform TT  writing was impressed with a reed stylus.
A weight measure of 60 minas TT , equivalent to about 30 kg.
The fourth month TT  of the Assyrian year TT , named after the god Tammuz; approximately June-July.
Team commander
A military officer of the chariotry TT , literally "chief of teams (of horses)" (rab urāte).
The tenth month TT  of the Babylonian PGP  year; aproximately December-January. In Assyrian, the month is called Kanunu TT .
The highest-ranking priestly functionary in a Babylonian PGP  temple.
Temple steward
While the Assyrian term lahhinnu is a loan from a Hurrian word of unknown meaning, it is clear that it designates a high-ranking administrative temple official.
Third Man
A member of a chariot TT  team, together with "master of the chariot" and the chariot driver TT  (literally "holder of the reigns"). His role was primarily defensive: he used a shield to protect the "master of the chariot", who fought with either bow and arrow or spears.
A plot with a flat, even surface and exposed to the wind where the farmer threshed the harvest in order to separate the grains from the chaff.
The name of the throne of the god Aššur PGP  in his temple in the city of Assur PGP .
The seventh month TT  of the Assyrian year TT ; approximately September-October.
Anachronistic translation of the Assyrian term šaddīnu, an upper garment for men and women made out of linen and often multicoloured.
A very senior official (magnate TT ) in the king's personal retinue, who held high administrative functions within the empire and commanded a border province of strategic importance. The title masennu is a loanword from a Hurrian term of unknown meaning but the title's logographic spelling as LÚ.IGI.DUB provides us with the translation of "treasurer", which by Neo-Assyrian times reflected only a part of this official's remit.
Mutual agreement between the Assyrian king and an ally or vassal ruler, or between the king and his subjects, sealed by oath.
Annual payment by a vassal state to the Assyrian king, either handed over at the border to a governor TT  or delivered by emissaries to the king in person (the latter being seen as more dignified and prestigious).
Anachronistic translation of the Assyrian term kitû (borrowed into Greek as chiton), an upper garment for men and women made out of linen.


Said of male animals, such as stallions, bulls or rams, which have not had their testicles removed.


A very senior official (magnate TT ) in the king's personal retinue, who held high administrative functions within the empire and commanded a border province of key strategic importance. The title sukallu is archaic and a loanword from the Sumerian language, originally denoting the second-highest state official after the king. The primary office holder is sometimes called the sukallu dannu, "grand vizier", in order to distinguish him from his deputy, the "second vizier".
Votive gift
An object or person dedicated to a deity, thereby becoming the property of the temple.


A seasonal river that flows only during times of high rainfall but for much of the year is a dry bed.
A two-day ritual (Akkadian mis pî) which served to transform a newly fashioned divine statue into an actual representation of the god.
The skins of goats and other animals could be cleaned, cured and sewn up to make water containers. Their flexibility and lightness made them much more suitable for travel than pottery vessels.
Wine master
A palace or temple official in charge of the wine cellars.
Wineskin, wineskin-raft
See Raft TT .
Wiping stone
A piece of fine basalt TT  stone used for cleaning metal.
Scribes TT  often wrote on wooden boards which were covered in a thin layer of wax. The wax could be warmed to smooth the surface and erase the writing on it. Writing-boards had the advantage of being more portable than tablets TT  and could be hinged together to form multi-leaved writing-boards (polyptychs). Fortunately for modern scholarship, in Assyrian times the perishable writing-board never completely replaced the relatively indestructible tablet TT  - or we would have almost no surviving written evidence to work with.


In Assyria, the cultic year comprised 354 days of 12 lunar months TT . It was thus necessary to intercalate TT  an extra lunar month every three years or so to keep the lunar year in step with the solar year of 365 1/4 days.


A stepped tower in or near a temple precinct and itself a place of worship as well as a major landmark and symbol of a city's prestige.

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© Mechanisms of communication in the Assyrian empire. History Department, University College London, 2009-2013
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