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Babylonian Records
Babylonians kept records on clay tablets using a type of writing called cuneiform. At first this was generally for
business purposes, in order to keep track of financial transactions and inventories. Several cuneiform tablets
have been found, however, that focus on more scientific topics. One notable example is the Venus Tablet of King
Ammizaduga, pictured below, which demonstrates the scientific methodology used by the Babylonian
astronomers. The main topic of this tablet is the appearance and disappearance of the planet Venus as it goes
from being an evening star to a morning star. Based on the detailed astronomical patterns mentioned in this
tablet, modern scientists were able to use computers to determine that the Venus tablet was probably written in
the year 1581 B.C. Another astronomical cuneiform tablet was found in the tomb of King Ashurbanipal of
Ninevah, and also details the times of Venus' appearance and disappearance from the horizon.
Venus Tablet of King Ammizaduga
Document B: Alulu Beer Receipt – This records a purchase of "best" beer from a brewer, c. 2050 BC
from the Sumerian city of Umma in Ancient Iraq.
Document C: (Extract from Hammurabi’s Code)
“ When Anu the Sublime, King of the Anunaki, and Bel, the lord of Heaven and earth, who decreed the fate of the land,
assigned to Marduk, the over-ruling son of Ea, God of righteousness, dominion over earthly man, and made him great
among the Igigi, they called Babylon by his illustrious name, made it great on earth, and founded an everlasting
kingdom in it, whose foundations are laid so solidly as those of heaven and earth; then Anu and Bel called by name me,
Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the
wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed
people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind.”
Document D:
We have little information on the actual surgical practices, with the exception of one of the great documents in the
history of mankind, Hammurabi's famous code of laws from circa 1780 B.C. It was found engraved on this black
stone nearly eight feet in height, containing 282 laws. Several of these laws laid down the payments and
punishments the ashipu could expect if he practiced surgery. I'll only quote two of these laws to illustrate both the
profitable and the dangerous side of surgery with which the ashipu had to contend. "if a physician performed a
major operation on a seignior with a bronze lancet and has saved the seignior's life;... he shall receive 10 shekels of
silver." This amount could purchase the services of a carpenter for 450 working days. "if a physician performed a
major operation on a seignior with a bronze lancet and has caused the seignior’s death... they shall cut off his
hand." It is impossible to know if judges imposed this stern malpractice judgment, as no records have been located.
Document E:
The first dictionary of an ancient Mesopotamian language is finally complete after ninety years in the making.
At 21 volumes, this creates an unparalleled resource for studying the first urban civilisations in history.
The language, Akkadian, was used between 2500BC and 100AD,
and survives on thousands of clay tablets, which range from tax documents to love letters. Production of the
Chicago Assyrian Dictionary started in 1921 at the University of Chicago and was expected to take ten years.
By 1935, a million index cards had been used and the project was still growing, drawing in researchers from
all over the world1. Robert Biggs, who worked on the project for almost fifty years, recalls; “You always saw
the light at the end of the tunnel… But the end of the tunnel kept getting further and further away.”
The academics battled with worn lettering, broken tablets and words whose use had changed over the
millennia. Martha Roth, editor-in-charge, explains that it’s not a case of just understanding which word means
‘king’ for example, it’s “a matter of understanding the thousands and thousands of references to the word king
in every document in every period.”
This wasn’t just a culture of kings and queens, however; the tablets reveal the lives of ordinary people with
similar problems and concerns for their families that we know today. As a result the encyclopaedic dictionary
details many aspects of Mesopotamian life. “They wrote these tablets thousands of years ago, never
meaning for them to be read so much later,’ says Biggs, ‘But they speak to us in a way that makes their
experiences come alive.”
Question 1: a) Using Document A, discuss the development of Mesopotamian sciences. (3 marks)
b) Explain the nature of the contents of document E. (2 marks)
Question 2:
Compare and contrast documents D and E with regards to the study of Mesopotamia. (6 marks)
Question 3: Analyse documents B and C with regard to the origin, purpose, value and limitations from the perspective
of a historian studying Mesopotamian society. (6 marks)
Question 4: Using the given documents and any relevant outside knowledge, discuss three characteristics of
civilization and their significance in Mesopotamian society. (8 marks)
Paper 1 Practice Test
Ancient Mesopotamia
February 27th, 2013
(Use the following documents to answer the attached questions at the end of the package)