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Resource Mobilization, Social Engineering, and Opportunism: The Revival of Larsa in Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian State Project
When a Babylonian and Median coalition put an end to Assyrian domination over the Ancient Near East in the late 7th century BCE, the Babylonian kings set about to revitalize the heartland of their new state, the Neo-Babylonian empire. One of the cities that benefited from this imperial program of rebuilding and land reclamation was Larsa, an ancient cult center of the sun god Shamash in what is now southern Iraq. The main architect of this project was Nebuchadnezzar II. Although he is most (in)famously known through the Bible, he also left his imprint in numerous Babylonian sources.
However, because we have no state archives from that period, temple and private records are the primary source for reconstructing modes of state intervention. Using an unpublished 6th century BCE private archive from Larsa and other textual sources, I will show that Larsa and its temple were revived for a combination of economic, political, and religious reasons, and that they were kept small and semidependent by design. Finally, I will argue that Nebuchadnezzar opportunistically exploited this revival to cast himself in the figure of a state builder. In addition to contributing to our understanding of imperial state policies in the first millennium BCE, this research highlights the use of everyday documents to reconstruct the socio-economic life of urban and non-urban populations in the Ancient Near East.
Dr. Odette Boivin
Visiting Assistant Professor, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, NYU