Assyriology in Finland

The University of Helsinki is the only place in Finland where Assyriology can be studied as an academic discipline, and it has a long and illustrious teaching and research tradition in the field. Assyriology has been continuously taught at the University since 1891, initially as a subfield of Oriental Literatures and since 1949, after Armas Salonen’s appointment as personal extraordinary professor, as an independent discipline. However, already Salonen’s predecessors, Knut Tallqvist and Harri Holma, were Assyriologists of international fame, and most of Tallqvist’s teaching and research as professor of Oriental Literatures was in the field of Assyriology. With its 120 years of Assyriological teaching and research, the University of Helsinki has the fifth-longest Assyriological tradition in the world.

Between 1986–2001, Helsinki developed into one of the most important centres of Assyriological research in the world. The creation of the State Archives of Assyria Centre of Excellence in 1997 made it possible to expand Assyriological teaching at the University considerably, so that for many years the Institute of Asian and African Studies (later the Department of World Cultures) was able to maintain an internationally competitive, diversified and productive study programme in Assyriology. In international research evaluations conducted at the University of Helsinki, the discipline of Assyriology consistently received the highest quality mark.

After Simo Parpola’s retirement in 2009, the chair of Assyriology at the University of Helsinki was left vacant. Teaching and research in the field could however be continued on a limited scale thanks to the FiDiPro professorship of Robert Rollinger established in the Department of World Cultures with funding from the Academy of Finland. Rollinger’s research project “Intellectual Heritage of the Ancient Near East” continued the interdisciplinary Melammu project started in Helsinki in 1998 and provided employment for three Finnish Assyriologists between 2010–2015. In 2015, the Academy of Finland decided to fund an Assyriological research project for five years, but of course temporary funding could not compensate for the lack of a permanent chair, which posed a serious threat to the future of Assyriology in Finland. Luckily, this precarious period of Finnish Assyriology ended on June 1, 2017, with the Academy’s decision to grant long-term funding (2018–2025) for the interdisciplinary Centre of Excellence in Ancient Near Eastern Empires.

Centre of Excellence in Ancient Near Eastern Empires (ANEE)

In January 2018, the Centre of Excellence in Ancient Near Eastern Empires (ANEE) started its work at the University of Helsinki. The Centre is led by Assyriologist, Associate Professor Saana Svärd. The Centre is funded for the years 2018–2025 by the Academy of Finland through its Centre of Excellence flagship programme, and hosted by the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Arts and Faculty of Theology. ANEE marshals a cross-disciplinary arsenal of methods and scholars, working through the periods of Neo-Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, Persian, Hellenistic, and early Roman/Parthian control, overcoming the very real challenge of dialogue between ancient historians, archaeologists and social scientists.

Empires shape human societies, with legacies that last longer than the regimes themselves. Social group identities and lifeways in the ancient and modern worlds alike are inseparable from their imperially-shaped context. The ancient Near East, as the home of the world’s earliest empires and scripts, offers a unique dataset for understanding these dynamics. To date, these empires have been treated in relative isolation. Hence, the Centre of Excellence in Ancient Near Eastern Empires (ANEE) asks: How do changing imperial dynamics impact social group identities and lifeways over a long period of time?

The focus of Centre’s research starts roughly 3,000 years ago, from about 912 BCE, continuing up to the start of the Common Era. The work of the Centre is carried out in three research teams focusing on methodologically diverse approaches: from language technology, to sociology, to heritage studies. The teams are led by Dr. Saana Svärd (director; leader of Team 1), Dr. Antti Lahelma (vice-director; leader of Team 3), and Dr. Jason Silverman (leader of Team 2). Our methodologically diverse research teams collaborate with one another on four work packages: 1) “Imperial identities,” 2) “Marginal and marginalizing regions,” 3) “Rural life under empire,” and 4) “Macro/micro identities.”

Foundation for Finnish Assyriological Research gave part of its hand book library to the use of Centre, and these books are situated now in the Centre premises at Fabianinkatu 24 A.

More on on Centre’s Homepage:

Other links

Finnish Assyriologists are members of the following research projects at the University of Helsinki: