Graduate Program in Mesopotamian Civilization

NELC’s graduate program in Mesopotamian Civilization offers advanced study of the languages and philology of ancient Mesopotamia, as well as the history and archaeology of that region in its Near Eastern context. In general, the student is to follow the MA general procedures or the PhD general procedures of the Department, but the following statements outline the regulations specific to the PhD program in Mesopotamian Civilization.

Students in the Mesopotamian Civilization program may specialize in either Archaeology and Art History or History, Language, and Literature, but all students are expected to command a primary and secondary ancient language, as well as the general history and culture of the region. The specific distribution of courses varies by specialization. Students are expected to work out the broad outlines of their programs in consultation with their faculty advisor when they begin their studies. Expectations for individual students will be conveyed in writing to the Graduate Group Chair, with updates provided as necessary.

Specialization in History, Language, and Literature

Students in Mesopotamian History, Language, and Literature may choose either Akkadian or Sumerian as their primary language, with the other language serving as their secondary language. The distribution of courses typically includes 12 c.u. of language and 8 c.u. of history and culture, including literature, art, and archaeology.

  • Languages (12 c.u.)

    Students are required to develop a detailed knowledge of the primary language with ability to read, translate, and interpret texts representative of its major linguistic periods and of the main genres of its literature. Students need an effective working knowledge of the secondary language based upon the essentials of its grammar. Students are encouraged to acquire basic competency in a second Semitic language, in addition to the primary and secondary languages, as well as a basic knowledge of other ancient Near Eastern literatures. It is advisable for students to choose from appropriate secondary fields such as Biblical Studies or Egyptology to meet this desideratum.
  • History

    Students must develop a knowledge of ancient Near Eastern history in general, and a detailed knowledge of Mesopotamian history in particular. Familiarity with the main facets of Mesopotamian civilization, its culture, and institutions is expected.
  • Art and Archaeology

    Students are expected to have basic knowledge of archaeological techniques, the archaeological sequence for Mesopotamia, and the history of Mesopotamian art.
Specialization in Archaeology and Art History

Students specializing in Mesopotamian Archaeology and Art History emphasize these fields in their course work while acquiring satisfactory working knowledge of Akkadian and Sumerian. The distribution of courses typically includes 6 c.u. of language and 14 c.u. of history and culture, including literature, art, and archaeology.

  • Languages and Literatures

    Students are required to learn Akkadian and Sumerian so that they will be literate consumers of specialized cuneiform studies. In general, students must take at least 4 c.u. in Akkadian and 2 c.u. in Sumerian. Students are encouraged to take additional language courses appropriate to the chronological focus of their proposed dissertation research.
  • History

    Students need a command of ancient Near Eastern history and a detailed knowledge of Mesopotamian history. They are also expected to have a familiarity with the main facets of Mesopotamian civilization, its culture, and institutions.
  • Archaeology and Art History

    Students are expected to acquire a comprehensive knowledge of the archaeological sequence for Mesopotamia’s preliterate and literate periods down to the time of Cyrus’ conquest of Babylon in 539 BCE, as well as a rudimentary knowledge of the Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian, Sasanian, and Early Islamic periods; and, an advanced understanding of Mesopotamian artifacts and ancient Near Eastern art history.

    In addition to focusing on Mesopotamia, students need a basic knowledge of archaeological methods (excavation and analytical techniques) and theory. Students are also encouraged to take courses on other geographical and culture areas, e.g., Indus Valley, Iran, Egypt, Levant, and Aegean.


Students concentrating in other NELC programs such as Biblical Studies or Egyptology may acquire secondary field competence in Mesopotamian Civilization with six courses. The distribution of the courses should reflect the student’s focus on history, language, literature, or archaeology. Students in history, language, and literature must take at least two art or archaeology courses and students in archaeology and art history must complete at least one introductory language sequence.

Qualifying Exams

Qualifying Exams in Mesopotamian Civilizations normally consist of two exams. For language specialists, one exam will be in the major language (Akkadian or Sumerian) and one in either the non-major language (Akkadian, Sumerian, or Biblical Hebrew), history, archaeology, or art; each will normally last three-five hours, although one may be a take-home exam (twenty-four to forty-eight hours). For archaeology specialists, one exam will normally be a three-day take-home exam in ancient Near Eastern archaeology. The other exam will be in either the Akkadian language, the Sumerian language, or ancient Near Eastern history; it will normally be a three-five hour exam, but may be a twenty-four hour take-home exam.

Candidacy Exams

Candidacy Exams in Mesopotamian Civilization normally consist of four exams. For language specialists, the exams will normally be in Akkadian, Sumerian, history, and archaeology/art. The Akkadian exam will be an eight-hour exam, and the others a combination of take-home exams and five-hour exams. For archaeology specialists, the exams will normally be in archaeology, history, Akkadian, and either Sumerian, art, or archaeological methods. The archaeology exam will normally be a four-five day take-home exam and the others a combination of five-eight hour exams written in the Department and twenty-four to forty-eight hour take-home exams.