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Old Assyrian Private Archives

The Old Assyrian “archives” correspond to groups of tablets kept together in a same house, witnessing the activities of merchant belonging to the same family, often over two generations. Their owners (men and women) accumulated them until they were no more useful or until they left their house. These archives belong mainly to merchants from Aššur who settled in Anatolia for trade purposes; very few belong to Anatolians.

The Old Assyrian private archives have been unearthed at Kültepe, the ancient city of Kaneš, 21 km North-East of the modern town of Kayseri, in Central Anatolia; they date to the 19th and 18th centuries BC. Two other Assyrian settlements in Anatolia have also yielded some tablets: Hattuš (modern Boğazköy) and Amkuwa (modern Alişar). The Old Assyrian level at Aššur has not been excavated, very few Old Assyrian tablets, mainly school texts have been found in this city, scattered in later levels.

Kültepe is divided in two major sectors: the mound with official buildings, and the lower town which housed a merchant harbour. The distribution of tablet discoveries is the following:  

Kültepe : 22,500 tablets   Hattuš Amkuwa Aššur

40 tablets
Lower town  

72 tablets

63 tablets

24 tablets
Level II 
(19th cent.)
Level Ib 
(18th cent.)
22,000 tablets 460 tablets

Tablets from the archive of Ali-ahum and his son Aššur-taklāku excavated in 1993 at Kültepe. Photo C. Michel. ©Kültepe Archaeological Mission.
When they mention their archives, the Assyrians refer to them usually as “my tablets” (tuppūa). The archives were stored in some rooms of the house in baskets, boxes or clay jars lying on the ground or on wooden shelves and identified by sealed clay labels, bullae. They were arranged by type (certified legal text, letters), dossier dealing with a specific matter, or owner.

Inside an archive, tablets may be classified into several text genres according to our modern categories: letters, legal texts, personal memoranda, and non-commercial texts.



Larsen M. T. 2008. Archives and filing systems at Kültepe, in C. Michel ed., Old Assyrian Studies in Memory of Paul Garelli, Old Assyrian Archives Studies 4, Publications de l’Institut historique-archéologique néerlandais de Stamboul 112, Leiden, p. 77-88.

Michel, C. 1995. Validité et durée de vie des contrats et reconnaissances de dette paléo-assyriens, in Joannès (ed.), Les phénomènes de fin d’archives en Mésopotamie: Présentation, Revue d’Assyriologie et d’Archéologie Orientale 89, Paris 1995, p. 15-27,

Michel, C. 1998. Quelques réflexions sur les archives récentes de Kültepe. Pp. 419-433 in 3. Uluslararası Hititoloji Kongresi Bildirileri, eds. Sedat Alp and Aygül Süel. Ankara : Uyum Ajans,

Michel, C. 2003.  Old Assyrian Bibliography of Cuneiform Texts, Bullæ, Seals and the Results of the Excavations at Assur, Kültepe/Kanis, Acemhöyük, Alishar and Bogazköy, Old Assyrian Archives Studies 1, Publications de l’Institut historique-archéologique néerlandais de Stamboul 97, Leiden. And supplements OAB 1, AfO 51 (2006), p. 436-449; OAB 2, AfO 52 (2011a), p. 416-437; OAB 3, AfO 53 (2015), p. 525-559.

Michel, C. 2011b. The Private Archives from Kaneš Belonging to Anatolians, in M. Balza ed., Archival, Scribal, and Administrative Spaces among the Hittites, Altorientalische Forschungen 38, p. 94-115.

Michel, C. 2017. Constitution, Contents, Filing and Use of Private Archives: The case of the Old Assyrian archives (19th century BC), in A. Bausi, C. Brockman, M. Friedrich & S. Kienitz eds., Manuscripts and Archives: Comparative Views on Record-Keeping, Studies in Manuscript Cultures, Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, (in press).

Veenhof, K. R. 2003. Archives of Old Assyrian Traders, in Brosius (ed.) Archives and Archival Tradition. Concepts of Record-Keeping in the Ancient World, Oxford Studies in Ancient Documents, Oxford, p. 78-123.

Veenhof, K. R. 2013. The Archives of Old Assyrian Traders: their Nature, Functions and Use, in (ed.), Archives and archival documents in ancient societies: Legal documents in ancient societies IV, Trieste 30 September - 1 October 2011, Trieste 2013, p. 27-71.


Page prepared by Cécile Michel



old_assyrian_archives.txt · Last modified: 2017/04/27 19:52 by gombert
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