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© Research Unit “Cuneiform Texts from Assur” (Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities)


Degree: Bachelor of Arts
Application: not required
Course commences: winter semester only
Standard course duration: 6 semesters
Focus options: 75%; 50%, 25%
Language requirements: reading proficiency in English and French
Language of instruction: German

Faculty of Philosophy


Course outline

Assyriology (also known as Ancient Near Eastern Philology) is devoted to the study of the high cultures of the ancient Near East, investigating their languages, history, religion, science, literature, economy, societies and legal systems. The source material consists largely of clay tablets bearing cuneiform script. The cuneiform system is highly complex. It originated in southern Mesopotamia in the late 4th millennium BC. For over 3,000 years, cuneiform was the most important script system of the Near East, serving various languages as a vehicle of expression: Sumerian and Akkadian in Mesopotamia, Hittite in Anatolia, Elamitic in Iran, etc. Around the beginning of the first millennium AD cuneiform was finally ousted by Aramaic and Greek script and lapsed into oblivion. While the ancient Near Eastern cultures were ultimately submerged by Hellenism, they have left their mark on the philosophy, religion and science of the present-day world by way of the major influence they exerted on Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian culture.

Assyriology is a relatively young subject. Akkadian cuneiform texts have only been decipherable since approx. 1850, Sumerian texts took even longer to unravel. Despite all the editing work that expert scholars have invested, a vast number of cuneiform texts remain unpublished and that number is constantly swelled by the excavations taking place in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran. Coverage of the ancient Near Eastern languages by dictionaries, grammars and lexical studies is far from complete. The B.A. course concentrates first and foremost on acquisition of the ancient Near Eastern languages (notably Sumerian, Akkadian and Hittite) and their script.

Although Assyriology is primarily concerned with written records, a halfway profound understanding of the cultures of the ancient Orient is only achievable if the information in those texts is combined with the information handed down to us by the material relics of these cultures. This is the province of Near Eastern Archaeology. Though after the Second World War the abundance of the material to be dealt with prompted Near Eastern Archaeology and Assyriology to split up into two (formally) independent disciplines, they still remain in close association with one another.

Ancient Near Eastern cuneiform texts come from all spheres of life. Alongside countless economic and administrative texts, there are myths, hymns, prayers and theological disquisitions, lexical texts, dictionaries and grammars, letters, memoranda and legal texts of various kinds, historical, geographical, medical, botanical, geological, chemical, mathematical, geometric, astronomic, astrological, divinatory and magic texts and much more. Though at first glance Assyriology may appear to be a highly specialised concern, it turns out to be a subject of immense breadth because of the possibility and necessity of engaging not only with philological issues but also with the interpretation of the diverse text genres one is confronted with. This makes cooperation with representatives of more “modern” disciplines indispensable (e.g. the sciences, economic history, legal history, medical history, etc.)

Requirements and prerequisites

In a relatively short space of time, main-course students of Assyriology need to acquire the essentials of at least three ancient Oriental languages (Akkadian, Sumerian, Hittite) and learn cuneiform in its various guises (subsidiary students learn Akkadian only).

A prerequisite is a good working knowledge of English and French as these languages are indispensable when consulting the scholarly literature on the subject. Some topics also require proficiency in Italian or other European languages.


Course structure

Assyriology can be studied as a main (major), as a joint, or as a subsidiary (minor) subject. The course revolves around the acquisition of ancient Near Eastern languages (Akkadian, Sumerian and an introduction to Hittite for main-course students, Akkadian for subsidiary students) and cuneiform script. At the same time, students are expected to acquire a basic knowledge of other sectors of the subject (history, religion, science and society in the ancient Near East).

Standard course duration is six semesters. The following combinations are possible:

  • B.A. course in Assyriology 75%. This is the main-course option (75%) encompassing the study of Assyriology plus Near Eastern Archaeology and requiring students to choose a freely selectable subsidiary subject (25%). The only option excluded as a subsidiary subject is of course Near Eastern Archaeology. In addition, 20 credit points for “cross-disciplinary skills” have to be acquired.
  • B.A. course in Assyriology 50%. This is a first main-course option (50%) encompassing the study of Assyriology only (without Near Eastern Archaeology). It requires students to choose a freely selectable second main subject. In addition, 20 credit points for “cross-disciplinary skills” have to be acquired, 10 in each subject.
  • B.A. course in Assyriology 25%. This is Assyriology as a subsidiary (minor) course to go with a main subject accounting for 75% of the study workload.

The B.A. course concludes with the B.A. thesis and an oral examination. Graduates can go on to take the M.A. course in Assyriology (standard course duration 4 semesters).

Degrees and combinations

B.A. and M.A. are of course academic degrees in their own right. In the case of Assyriology, however, most students go on to do a PhD. Suitable joint or subsidiary options for Assyriology students (alongside Near Eastern Archaeology and Semitic Studies) are those subjects that have an historical or systematic kinship (Egyptology, Ancient History, Legal History, Economic and Social History, Religious Studies, Theology, Jewish Studies, Classical Philology, Prehistory and Protohistory, History of Science and Medicine). Vice versa, Assyriology as a subsidiary subject is a valuable complement and enrichment for the subjects referred to above.


Formal requirements


Admission to the course is not restricted. Information on how to enrol can be found here.

International applicants

There are special regulations for international applicants. For more information, apply to the International Relations Office of Heidelberg University (Seminarstraße 2).


Subject combinations

Subject combinations are listed in the catalogue of subjects.

Study and examination regulations

Examination regulations B.A. Assyriology (28 March 2007)
Examination regulations B.A. Assyriology (14 June 2010)
Examination regulations B.A. Assyriology (14 June 2010, last amended 06 July 2016)
Examination regulations B.A. Ancient Near Eastern Studies with special emphasis on Assyriology (28 March 2007)

Module Handbook

Please click here to find the latest Module Handbook.

Examinations board

Issues arising in connection with examinations, credit transfer and academic credential recognition are dealt with by the relevant examinations board/office. For more information, consult the academic advisor(s) indicated below.


Tuition fees at Heidelberg University are payable at the beginning of each semester.

M.A. course

Heidelberg University offers a consecutive M.A. course in Assyriology.


Academic advisor

Dr. Betina Faist
Wednesdays 3 - 4 pm
Hauptstraße 126, Office 107
phone: +49 (0)6221 543510



Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near East
Hauptstraße 126
D-69117 Heidelberg

phone: +49 (0)6221 542965
fax: +49 (0)6221 543619


e-mail: Editor
Last change: 2018-07-10
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