Heather D. Baker
Assyriology/Ancient Near Eastern Studies
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The Urban Landscape in First Millennium BC Babylonia

Aims and approach

The main aim of this study is to evaluate the form and character of the Babylonian cities on the basis of both the archaeological and the written sources. Scholarly attention has tended to focus on the great monumental structures (temples and palaces), while other elements of the urban fabric have been less intensively investigated. Our approach is therefore to attempt to reconstitute the city “from the bottom up,” at three interlocking levels:
    1. the individual property (houses, other structures, unbuilt plots)
    2. the form and composition of neighbourhoods and city districts
    3. city layout (including the street network, city walls)
A combined approach which uses the entire range of evidence, both archaeological and written, is important because the numerous documentary sources tell us about many features of the urban landscape, including some which have not yet been recovered through excavation. For example, we have cuneiform tablets which confirm the presence of reed structures within the city, though no physical traces of such buildings have yet been dug. Also, unbuilt plots are better attested in the written documents than in excavation, and these are extremely important for understanding the makeup of the city and for examining occupation densities. The wealth of written evidence has never before been systematically examined for what it can tell us about the form of the city, and one of the aims of this work is to exploit this material to the fullest extent. On the other hand, we could not hope to reconstruct the groundplan of a Babylonian house, for example, based on the written descriptions alone: the excavation results naturally form the point of departure for every aspect of this work. By using both types of evidence we hope to arrive at a much more detailed description of the urban fabric than has previously been achieved.
This study also takes into account the conditions of ownership and use of urban properties since these are vital to understanding processes of urban development, especially with regard to the residential areas. This period is one of the very best documented eras in Mesopotamian history, and so we are very well informed about the social and economic context of urban life. The data we have collected on property prices and occupation densities are important for the study of long-term economic and demographic trends in Babylonia.


The archaeological evidence includes excavated remains from a number of Babylonian settlements. Babylon and Uruk are especially important since they have both been the subject of intensive - and well published - excavation. More limited investigation of first millennium remains has been carried out at a number of other sites such as Abū Qubūr (ancient name uncertain), Borsippa, Dilbat, Isin, Kish, Kissik, Larsa, Nippur, Sippar and Ur.  
The written evidence comes in the form of cuneiform tablets written in the Babylonian dialect of the Akkadian language. The study draws on a database of over 1100 so-called ‘economic documents’ which contain information about urban properties or about some aspect of city topography. Other important sources of information on urban topography, especially for Babylon, include cuneiform tablets belonging to the genre of ‘literary/topographical texts’. Also, a small number of city maps on clay tablets are preserved, along with a larger number of tablets bearing plans of houses and other properties.

Topics Covered

The book is organised according to the following (provisional) chapter headings:
1. Approaching the Babylonian city
2. The sources
3. The house and its composition
4. Non-residential properties within the city
5. The size of urban properties
6. Patterns of ownership, sale, acquisition, inheritance and dowry
7. The renting of properties
8. Prices, rents and obligations incumbent upon urban properties
9. Patterns of residence
10. City districts
11. Intramural watercourses
12. Orchards and gardens
13. Craft production and commerce
14. Variability in the use of city space
15. The street network
16. The city walls and gates
17. Urban form in first millennium Babylonia: an overview

The research described here has been mainly conducted under the auspices of the START Project on ‘The Economic History of Babylonia in the First Millennium BC’ at the University of Vienna, funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).

last updated: 12 October 2015