B.J.F. (Bastian) Still

  • PhD student
  • Assyriology

Fields of interest

Social history of Mesopotamia in the first millennium BC, particularly the Neo-Babylonian city of Borsippa; private and administrative documents.

PhD research

The Social World of Babylonian Priests
Supervisors: Caroline Waerzeggers and Wilfred van Soldt

My thesis, conducted in the framework of ERC Starting grant project BABYLON (PI: Caroline Waerzeggers), presents an investigation into Babylonian society, focusing on the city of Borsippa during Neo-Babylonian and early Persian rule (c. 620-484 BCE).

Priestly families occupied the highest echelons of Babylonian society and often managed to maintain their positions in religious as well as civic institutions over multiple generations. In the temples, their activities were structured according to a strict hierarchy based on notions of purity and proximity to the gods. The question that arises is whether their lives outside the temple were affected by this ideology. Improving our knowledge of how these families interacted within the community will increase our understanding of Babylonian society as a whole – which so far has remained largely unstudied.

In my thesis I will investigate the following social interactions to explore if and how the priestly stratum was affected by concepts of hierarchy and rank: a) marriage practice, b) patterns of landownership, c) money lending and other credit operations, and d) circles of trust and intimacy. By analyzing the identity of the persons with whom they interacted I will be able to determine to what extent and in which areas priests adhered to the temple hierarchy. This investigation will be based on the priestly family archives from Borsippa, which constitute a representative and homogenous corpus consisting of circa 2.000 cuneiform texts.

My aim is to locate the priests in Neo-Babylonian society by creating a social map of their world. Through combining the traditional method of closely reading the archives with the experimental technique of Social Network Analysis and using sociological theories and anthropological studies as frames of reference, this investigation will attempt to reveal dynamics, strategies and social constructs that have remained invisible in more traditional approaches to the data. In terms of interdisciplinary relevance my thesis will try to raise Neo-Babylonian studies to a new level of sophistication and contribute towards integrating this still very specialized field into a more general historical discourse.


2012 – Present: PhD research at Leiden University
2010 – 2012: PhD research at University College London
2009 – 2010: MA in Ancient Studies, VU University, Amsterdam
2006 – 2009: BA in Ancient History, VU University, Amsterdam

2011 – 2012: Teaching Assistant on The Near East to 1200 BC: The Earliest States. Department of History, UCL

Last Modified: 27-08-2015