The Netherlands Institute for the Near East

Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten  -  Institut néerlandais du Proche-Orient

31 Jan 2020 General

Best BA and MA Thesis on the Ancient Near East, 2019

We are pleased to announce the winners of the NINO BA and MA Thesis Prize 2019:

◊ BA Thesis, First Prize: Mark Eertink

◊ BA Thesis, First Runner-up: Jet Vellinga

◊ MA Thesis, First Prize: Oscar Billing

◊ MA Thesis, First Runner-up: Elena Hertel


The prizes consist of € 400 for the best BA thesis and € 600 for the best MA thesis. The runners-up receive an honorable mention.

We received eleven theses from two Dutch universities and seven different study programs – from Linguistics to Egyptology and from History to Archaeology. All essays were graded with an 8 or higher by the supervisors and the jury was impressed by the exceptional merit of each.

Awarding these Prizes would not have been possible without the efforts of the jury. Fifteen colleagues graciously assisted the process of evaluating the theses in two rounds: Lucy Bennison-Chapman, Renate Dekker, Jan Gerrit Dercksen, Lucinda Dirven, Melanie Gross, Carina van Hoven, Alwin Kloekhorst, Diederik Meijer, Miriam Müller, Lidewij van de Peut, Banjamin Suchard, Michiel de Vaan, Caroline Waerzeggers (chair), René van Walsem, Lara Weiss, Jürgen Zangenberg, and Carolien van Zoest (secretary).

The jury selected two winners and two runners-up in each category.


BA Thesis, First Prize: Mark Eertink – The Marriage of Martu: History’s First Caricature 

BA in History, University of Groningen; thesis supervisor: Dr. C.G. Williamson.


200131_Cover ThesisAround the turn of the second millennium BCE, a people known as the ‘Amorites’ frequently feature in accounts written by their literate contemporaries from the Sumerian cities. The interrelation between these two distinct walks of life is still subject to debate. Scholars are left with sources whose provenience often derives from religious contexts and whose aggregate is ambiguous and, not uncommonly, incongruous. The most illustrious and oft-quoted of descriptions pertaining to Amorites is found in the closing lines of the poem The Marriage of Martu – with Martu being the Amorites’ divine representative. This passage ostensibly contains quite derogative and insulting slurs, which traditionally have been interpreted as evidence for a negative attitude from the Sumerians towards foreigners: “He lives in a tent, exposed to wind and rain […] digs up truffles in the foothills, does not know how to bend the knee, and eats raw flesh” (ll. 133,135,136).

This exegetical thesis elaborates on the work of Anne Porter (2011) and Daniel Fleming (2016), who claim that previous studies of this passage have wrongfully omitted their literary and historical context. As a result, a discord has developed both between the interpretation of the passage in the context of The Marriage of Martu, as well as in the context of references to Amorites found elsewhere in Sumerian literature. Therefore, its more fundamental interpretation as being representative of the interaction between semi-nomadic and sedentary societies must be re-evaluated. Central to this question is the important conceptual distinction between the motives of the fictitious person making these slurs, and those of the authors including this passage in the story. Whereas the traditional interpretations of The Marriage of Martu remain limited to the former, this thesis additionally examines the literary and historical context in which the manuscript was most likely produced: the seminaries of Nippur.

It shows that the intellectual library from which the ancient scribes would have been able to draw inspiration contained a variety of motifs and tropes, carrying both negative and positive connotations towards Amorites. Most direct references include a unique epithet to assert the Amorites’ otherness (“those who have no houses”, Enki and the World Order ll. 248-249.) Yet simultaneously, the fact that the Amorites do feature in such texts demonstrates that the Sumero-Akkadian society was not as exclusive as non-religious sources lead to believe – at least not in a perfectly idealised world ordered by the gods. A text known as The Disputation of Sheep and Grain, which allegedly featured in the curriculum of the scribal school, best exemplifies this notion of inclusivity.

In an attempt to resolve the discord surrounding the infamous passage from The Marriage of Martu, this thesis hypothesises that it should not be taken for a historical truth, but as a ridicule of a pre-existing bias. The authors’ argument was authenticated by the adoption of other tropes and motifs present in the matrix of Sumerian literature. It was, perhaps, history’s first caricature.

Jury remarks

The work has impressed the jury with its mature style, lucid argumentation and extensive literature review. The jury compliments the author for his application of literary theory to ancient texts; in their view, the author holds great promise for the future.


MA Thesis, First Prize: Oscar Billing – Finite verb formation in Lycian

(res)MA in Linguistics, Leiden University; thesis supervisors: Dr. A. Kloekhorst and Dr. M. Peyrot.


200131_Cover ThesisIn this thesis, the finite verb in Lycian is treated synchronically and diachronically. Lycian is an extinct Indo-European language belonging to the Anatolian branch and was spoken in the region of Lycia in modern day southern Turkey from roughly the late 5th to the early 3rd century BCE. As such, it is closely related to the more richly attested Hittite, and even more so to other so called Luwic languages, such as Luwian. The Lycian corpus consists mostly of epitaphs inscribed on stone, employing a Greek-derived alphabetic script. Moreover, there are some inscriptions found on ceramics, metalware, and coins minted in the region. It should be noted that Lycian is what could be classified as a Kleincorpussprache, a language for which attested material is scarce. Thus, our understanding of the language is incomplete and always subject to revision. This thesis employs both comparative and internal reasoning to attempt to shed some more light on this sometimes enigmatic language.

As stated above, the object of study in this thesis is the Lycian finite verb. Thus, infinite verb forms such as infinitives and participles are excluded, their total number of occurrences remaining comparatively low. All verbal endings and stems are analysed and given both a synchronic description and, to the maximum possible extent, a diachronic explanation. First, all verbal endings are gathered and described both generally and individually. Subsequently, the verbal stems are categorised into types according to stem formant (last segment(s) before the ending) and ending allomorphy (e.g. lenited vs. unlenited). A schema is presented in which the established Lycian stem types are mapped to their original Proto-Indo-European types (section 4.6), e.g. Lyc. s-stems < PIE sḱé/ó-presents. Thereby, a comprehensive model is provided by which the Lycian finite verb may be understood in both its Anatolian and Indo-European context. This includes novel diachronic accounts, e.g. a new explanation of the origin of the Lycian unleniting e-stem type. The last sections are devoted to a detailed individual treatment of all attested Lycian verbal stems. Also here novel suggestions are presented, e.g. for the various Lycian stems for ‘to build’ and for the Anatolian puwa-family.

The full text of Billing’s thesis can be found in the Leiden University repository

Jury remarks

The jury reports were extremely complimentary, almost extatic in their praise. Our colleagues describe the thesis as perfect, excellent, exceptional, as lifting a subfield of Indo-European linguistics to a next level. The work was recommended for publication as a monograph.


BA Thesis, First Runner-up: Jet Vellinga - “Als volgt spreekt Kella…”: De mythe van Illuyanka als theatertekst

BA in Oude Culturen van de Mediterrane Wereld (Track: Talen en Culturen van Mesopotamië en Anatolië), Leiden University, thesis supervisors: Dr. W.J.I. Waal and Dr. A. Kloekhorst


200131_Cover ThesisDe voorliggende scriptie is een poging om het veld van de Hittitologie te benaderen vanuit een theaterwetenschappelijke-antropologische kader. De primaire bron waarop deze scriptie gebaseerd is, is de Illuyanka-mythe, een oorspronkelijk Hattische mythe waarin de strijd tussen de chaosveroorzakende slang Illuyanka en de Stormgod van Nerik centraal staat. De mythe dient als etiologische verklaring voor tijden van voor- en tegenspoed en werd hoofdzakelijk opgevoerd tijdens het purulli-festival. De tekst in is twee verschillende versies overgeleverd. De scriptie bestaat uit de volgende onderdelen: een tekstanalyse en scriptvertaling, argumentatie voor het lezen van de tekst als script voor een theaterstuk (aan de hand van inhoudelijke en formele kenmerken), en de reconstructie van het theaterstuk. Afsluitend gaat de scriptie in op de significantie van de opvoeringsvorm van de mythe en de functie die het als ‘sociaal drama’ vervult binnen de Hittitische maatschappij.

Uit de tekstanalyse van de mythe blijkt dat één van deze versies als script vertaald kan worden, terwijl de andere de vorm van een monoloog heeft. Dit blijkt onder andere uit het gebruik van directe rede, de concrete aanduiding van personen en locaties, en het gebruik van werkwoorden in de tegenwoordige tijd in versie één, allemaal aanwijzingen voor een lezing als script. Daarbij bevat de mythe een spanningsboog die de immer nog populaire vijf-act structuur volgt, en zijn er humoristische en dramatische passages ingevoegd die erop duiden dat de tekst méér dan alleen een religieuze functie had en ook voor vermaak en ontroering moest zorgen. Een scriptvertaling vormt daarom het uitgangspunt voor de veronderstelling dat de Illuyanka-mythe een vroege vorm van toneelkunst belichaamt waarin zang, dans, muziek en acteerwerk gecombineerd worden tot een soort Gesamtkunstwerk. Naast de grammaticale analyse wordt er in deze scriptie ook op de inhoudelijke eigenschappen en narratieve technieken van de Illuyanka-mythe ingehaakt die humor en drama bewerkstelligen.

Dan gaat de scriptie in op het zo accuraat mogelijk reconstrueren van het toneelstuk: hoe werd het opgevoerd, door wie, met welke middelen, op welke locatie en in welke hoedanigheid? Bronnen om de locatie en plaats binnen de rituele festivalcontext vast te stellen vormden bekende Hittitische festivalinstructies zowel als de archeologie. Hieruit blijkt dat de meest voordehand liggende opvoeringslocatie Nerik was, en specifieker het halentuwa-huis of de voet van de berg Zaliyanu. Van de iconografie konden de kostuums, attributen en décors afgeleid worden. Verder is er onderzoek gedaan naar de rol van de verschillende cultfunctionarissen en het publiek, om een zo precies mogelijke reconstructie te creëren. Als laatste wordt er ingegaan op de uitwerking die het toneelstuk op het publiek moet hebben gehad, en de maatschappelijke rol die het in zijn rituele context vervulde.

Al met al tonen de bevindingen uit deze scriptie aan dat de antropologie en de theaterwetenschap lonende invalshoeken zijn om nieuwe inzichten over de Hittitische cultuur en religie te verwerven. Ook demonstreert het dat de Hittieten theater gebruikten om complexe maatschappelijke kwesties aan te kaarten, en schetst de scriptie een beeld van hoe dit theater zich moet hebben voltrokken.


MA Thesis, First Runner-up: Elena Hertel - The ‘Breaking of the Red Vessels’ – An ancient Egyptian Rite of Fragmentation

ResMA in Classics and Ancient Civilizations (Specialization: Egyptology), Leiden University, thesis supervisors: Dr. O.E. Kaper and Dr. M. Müller


200131_Cover ThesisIn ancient Egyptian thought, the funerary procedure played a key role in the transition to the afterlife. The Pyramid Texts and the depictions in private tombs show a highly evolved funerary ritual as early as the Old Kingdom (2686–2125 BC). This ritual involved a great number of individual rites which, as a whole, would ensure a safe transition to the realm of the dead and a pleasant afterlife for the deceased. While some of these rites are well studied and understood, others have not been explored to a point where their meaning is clear. One of them is the so-called ‘Breaking of the Red Vessels’, an enigmatic rite of which little more than its name is known. The aim of this thesis is to provide a better understanding of this ritual.

The thesis is structured in two parts. In the first part, the previous research on the rite is summarized and critically studied with a particular focus on the interpretations which have been proposed to explain the unusual act of intentional breaking of a vessel. The second part consists of a thorough study of the rite itself. This includes a look at the topic of ‘fragmentation’, the study of deliberate breaking of objects primarily conducted by archaeologist, which creates a theoretical framework on how to interpret a case of ritual breaking. Moreover, the identification of the ‘Red Vessels’ which are supposed to be broken according to the name is researched in detail by comparing textual, iconographical, and archaeological sources. Lastly, the known attestations identified as the ‘Breaking of the Red Vessels’ are discussed thoroughly in the respective context.

The thesis has primarily revealed the following results:
1) The most common interpretation, which claims that the rite is meant to drive away evil forces in a similar manner as the better known ‘execration ritual’ is not supported by the ancient evidence and cannot be upheld.
2) It is impossible to unite all forms of intentional damaging of vessels present in Egypt under one rite. The term ‘Breaking of the Red Vessels’ refers only to one specific act.
3) The term ‘Red Vessel’ refers to specific vessels which are generally associated with purification rites. Whether these vessels had to be of a red colour and whether their name was connected to the symbolism of this colour is cannot be said.
4) The rite referred to as ‘Breaking of the Red Vessels’ in ancient Egyptian text sources is most prominent in the Old Kingdom and seems to disappear during the New Kingdom (1550–1069 BC). Depictions which show the breaking of vessels found in some New Kingdom tombs differ extremely in every aspect from this earlier rite. This leaves only two options, namely a considerable change in ritual practice and interpretation of the rite during the New Kingdom, or the presence of two different rites which include the breaking of vessels.