The Netherlands Institute for the Near East

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

29 Jan 2021

Best BA and MA Thesis on the Ancient Near East, 2020

We are pleased to announce the winners of the NINO BA and MA Thesis Prize 2020:

◊ BA Thesis, First Prize: Mehyar Attar

◊ BA Thesis, First Runner-up: Joost Herman

◊ MA Thesis, First Prize: Emma de Looij

◊ MA Thesis, First Runner-up: Hanna Hoogenraad


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

Ten theses, all graded with an 8 or higher by their supervisors, competed this year. They were written at four different universities in the Netherlands for different study programs:

Archaeology, Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Ancient History, Egyptology, Theology, and several specialisations within these programs.

We thank our jury for evaluating the competing theses in two rounds, next to everyone’s busier-than-ever schedule. Awarding the prizes would not have been possible without our 21 jurors:

Cristina Barcina, Lucy Bennison-Chapman, Margaretha Folmer, Julia Hamilton, Carina van den Hoven, Lidewijde de Jong, Henk Jan de Jonge, Dina Katz, Pieter ter Keurs, Julia Krul, Diederik Meijer, Ilan Peled, Wido van Peursen, Frederik Rogner, Daniel Soliman, Nico Staring, Rolf Strootman, Jonathan Valk, Miguel John Versluys, Willemijn Waal (chair), Jürgen Zangenberg, Elyze Zomer, Carolien van Zoest (secretary).

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

BA Thesis, First Prize: Mehyar Attar – Royal Agency in Creating Identity Change: The Seleucid Case

BA in History, Utrecht University; thesis supervisors: Prof. Dr. Leonard Rutgers and Dr. Irina Marin.


200131_Cover ThesisThe culture and identity of the Levant under the Seleucids had noticeably Greek characters, with a strong local core, as the different peoples of the region were forever transformed by a mixed culture and identity combining Greek and indigenous elements. This paper investigates the role played by the monarchy in creating this cultural change, by analysing the contemporary material evidence from the period, in order to understand it within the religious and political context of the Seleucid period in the Levant. Traditionally, the Greek cultural influence in the Levant was portrayed as an imperial imposition by early twenty century historians. In the second half of the century, the model changed fundamentally, and the Hellenistic identity was perceived either as a result of a natural cultural interaction between locals and Greeks, or a marginal superficial layer over a local core. In this paper, it is argued that while the cultural interaction was responsible for the emergence of the Levant’s Hellenistic identity, another equally important factor, often neglected by scholars, existed, which is that the monarchy actively attempted to create such a mixed Greek-local identity. Hence, it was both a natural development and a political incentive which created a new identity in the Seleucid Levant. The royal initiative, or policy, is explained as a result of the local culture’s importance, and the necessity of securing local support for the Seleucid kings, who were faced with internal and external pressures, rendering a mixed culture which can provide a sense of unity between the Greeks and indigenous peoples necessary. The paper explores how the Seleucid monarchs themselves were in the centre of this identity, and how this translated into a long lasting legacy that became a political tool of legitimization for successive regimes, even three centuries following the demise of the Seleucid kingdom. This will be shown evident by the example of Palmyra and its monarchs, who associated themselves with the Seleucids to legitimize the establishment of a new kingdom in the Roman East.

Jury remarks

‘A very well written and carefully researched thesis of a very high level, in which the student has dared to tackle a fundamental question. The author demonstrates that he is well familiar with the debate surrounding Hellenism in the East. His research question is solid and the research up-to-date. The author convincingly shows how the Seleucid kings played a crucial role in the formation of identity and the ‘culture of coherence in diversity’.

MA Thesis, First Prize: Emma de Looij – Altered States of Consciousness in relation to Hathor

rMA in Classics and Ancient Civilizations, Leiden University; thesis supervisors: Prof. Dr. Olaf Kaper and Dr. Ben Haring.


200131_Cover ThesisAltered states of consciousness (ASCs) are universally experienced phenomena and have considerable importance in many cultures and religions. Yet, these phenomena are often avoided in academia because the terms are frequently used in too vague a manner. This thesis gives an overview of possible ASCs that have been experienced in ancient Egyptian religion. The goddess Hathor, mistress of inebriety, music, and dance, was the deity par excellence who was associated with ASCs.

Theories from the fields of psychology and anthropology are introduced in this thesis to establish a working definition of ASCs and to give an overview of the terminology in use for ASCs in contexts of religion. To research the role of ASCs in the New Kingdom in relation to Hathor, the thesis discusses the following questions: What were Hathor’s characteristics, and why was this goddess related to ASCs? What sources point to ASCs in relation to Hathor, and which indications for ASCs do we find in these sources? What type of ASCs occurred in relation to Hathor, how were they induced, and why?

ASCs are per definition subjective and can only be identified per individual. Without questionnaires and brain imaging techniques, it cannot be said with certainty whether one arrived in an ASC. Nevertheless, by observing the ancient Egyptians through the sources that we have at our disposal, the origin or method of induction can often be identified. Through myths, hymns, temple and tomb decoration, love poems, and dream reports, we learn about the cultural attitude towards ASCs.
The sources that are studied in this thesis point to the induction and occurrence of the following four categories of ASCs: 1) pharmacologically, 2) psychologically, 3) physically and physiologically induced ASCs, and 4) spontaneously occurring ASCs.

This thesis shows that it is very imaginable that the ancient Egyptians were much more in touch with their senses than most people in Western societies. Additionally, because of their great belief in an all-encompassing divine world, the ancient Egyptians would have been particularly receptive to experiencing ASCs. There are, naturally, always individual differences in receptibility and intention. Generally speaking, however, the positive attitude towards reaching an ASC during festivities that were celebrated for Hathor would have left less room for personal inhibitions than in a culture where ASCs are disapproved of. An ASC was understood as a sort of liminal zone between the world of the living and the world of the gods. Hathor was a very approachable goddess, and ASCs made it possible to deepen the personal connection with this deity.

This thesis encourages disciplines that study ancient cultures to closely collaborate with disciplines that observe living cultures and individuals and study elements that have existed at all times. It demonstrates that Egyptology can benefit from collaboration with disciplines such as psychology and psychiatry, chemistry, botany, anthropology, and ethnomusicology; Egyptology – a culture in itself – can continue to learn from other fields and cultures.

Jury remarks

This really is an excellent thesis, which was a pleasure to read. Exemplary use of diverse ancient sources (especially textual and visual) to support an analysis of an ancient religious phenonemon. The author should be commended for controlled use of modern vocabulary (ASC) when applied to ancient world, and for a context-sensitive approach to sources, without falling into trap of claiming that all evidence of physically and physiologically induced states are explained by one type of ritual, or performed by one homogenous group. The thesis is also beautifully presented, well-illustrated, and with careful attention to structure and flow of argument.

BA Thesis, First Runner-up: Joost Herman – The Marduk Narrative in Sargonid Assyria

BA in Oudheidwetenschappen, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, thesis supervisor: Dr. Ilan Peled and Prof. Dr. Kristin Kleber.


200131_Cover ThesisIn ancient Mesopotamia, the Babylonian and Assyrian cultures existed side by side for centuries. Traditionally, Babylonian culture has been seen as the more sophisticated of the two cultures, while the Assyrians were sometimes seen as the more warlike, less culturally advanced neighbours of Babylonia. This way of looking at the two cultures is probably as old as Biblical tradition. This view has now been mostly abandoned, but it is still worth noting that the Assyrians, and the Assyrian elites in particular, had a special connection with their Babylonian neighbours and held their traditions in high regard: Assyrian kings ordered royal inscriptions and literary works to be written in Babylonian dialects by their scribes, they took on Babylonian royal titles, or sometimes even claimed the Babylonian throne, sponsored Babylonian temples and religious festivals, and adopted deities from the Babylonian pantheon. Around the eighth century BCE, at the height of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, contacts between the two states became more intense and Assyrian influence grew in Babylonia. At times, the Assyrians actually attempted to rule over Babylonia. It has been argued that the Assyrians had a so-called Babylonian problem: they did need to control Babylonia to a certain extent, because it was a strategically important vassal, but were hesitant to exercise too much power over Babylonia since they recognised the enormous influence Babylonian culture had on Assyrian culture. Babylonia was a state that was difficult to control, inhabited by people of different cultural traditions, and different tribal groups. It was always prone to rebellion, sometimes aided by tribal groups like the Chaldeans, sometimes aided by outsiders like the Elamites. This posed some problems for the Assyrians, as they could not treat Babylonia as one of the other states that had fallen to the Assyrian empire. Therefore, the usual Assyrian imperial ideology had to be adapted in order to cope with this Babylonian problem. The kings of the Sargonid dynasty of Assyria, Sargon II, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, Aššurbanipal, and Šamaš-šuma-ukīn, who was actually king of Babylon while his brother Aššurbanipal ruled Assyria, each had to find ways of fitting Babylonia, the Babylonians and Babylonian culture into their own political and cultural ideology. The Sargonid kings attempted to control Babylonia in different ways, either by putting governors, vassal kings, loyal native Babylonians or close relatives on the Babylonian throne, or sometimes even by taking the throne themselves. The Babylonian king always ruled with the consent of Marduk, and the Sargonids had to come up with certain constructs to insert themselves into this Babylonian narrative if they wanted to be known as legitimate rulers of Babylon. In this paper I will try to look at this aspect of the Babylonian problem and try to answer the question: What narratives are given to Marduk in the political, religious, and cultural ideology of the Sargonid kings? I will look at royal inscriptions, letters, and literary works from the reigns of Sargon II, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, Aššurbanipal and Šamaš-šuma-ukīn, from both Assyria and Babylonia, and attempt to illustrate that there were several narratives, with different functions, constructed around the Babylonian god Marduk.

MA Thesis, First Runner-up: Hanna Hoogenraad – ‘Exactly the same way the words are said in the Greek language’: Three Sixth-Century Syriac Translators Explaining Their Work

rMA in Classics and Ancient Civilizations, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, thesis supervisors: Prof. Dr. R.B. ter Haar Romeny and Prof. Dr. L.R.A. Van Rompay.


200131_Cover ThesisThe fifth to seventh centuries CE witnessed a transition from expositional to literal translations of Greek texts into Syriac. A related development in translation technique concerns the growing familiarity of West-Syriac scholars with the Septuagint. In earlier centuries, the standard Syriac biblical text, the Peshitta, was used in Syria, but the readings of some verses were different from the Septuagint. This resulted in incomprehensible passages in some translations of Greek exegetical works which had adopted the translation of the Peshitta for the lemmata. This problem is evident in various letters written by translators as introductions to their translations, which can be placed in the larger context of the transition towards literal translations from the Greek. Both developments seem to be the result of the theological debates from the fifth century onwards as well as from a reverence for Greek sources and a wish to follow them as closely as possible when translating.

This thesis translates and analyses the letter introducing the translation of Gregory of Nyssa’s Commentary on Song of Songs, as well as those introducing the translations of Moses of Aggel of Cyril of Alexandria’s Glaphyra, and of Abbot Simeon of Athanasius’ Letter to Marcellinus, which all belong to the sixth century, as well as extracts of the actual translations. These letters and extracts reveal the change in translation style during the transitional phase from the reader-oriented to source-oriented translations and are, therefore, representative of the progressing transition. These contemporary testimonies provide a unique glimpse into the change in translation style that occurred in the period under study, as well as into the increasing awareness of the need for more precise translations due to the ongoing process of Hellenisation and theological developments in this period.

The Syrians were able to fully participate in the theological debates of the time because of the bilingualism that had been imposed upon them. On the other hand, the Syriac-speaking population did not want to assimilate to the Greek culture and language, and they therefore used their bilingualism to affirm their Syriac identity. As such, they appropriated much of the Greek patristic theology and literary culture, especially from the pre-Chalcedonian era, as reflected in this massive translation project, while they also interpreted this material in terms of their own perspectives and even used it to construct their resistance to Chalcedon. Thus this thesis contributes to our understanding of the paradox that, on the one hand, the Syriac language became more important as a written language between the fifth and seventh centuries CE, while, on the other hand, the importance of the Greek language and Greek Bible was also increasingly stressed.