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Babylonia, i.e., lower Mesopotamia, represented a well-defined geographic territory during Achaemenid times. It revolved around several ensembles defined by urban centres that have provided most of the cuneiform archives presented here.
The cities of Sippar and the Babylon-Bosippa-Kiš-Kuta ensemble had fertile farming lands, such as the estates of the temple of the god Šamaš in Sippar, the Crown’s estates around Babylon, or the private estates of urban notables. These regions included cities of old religious tradition and the former capital, Babylon, which continued to uphold a major political function. The cuneiform documentation from here concerns land and people management and the activities of local businessmen.
Nippur, in the centre of the country, kept its ancestral cultural traditions, but it was also the centre of a group of royal and princely estates farmed by military settlers, documented in the late 5th century BC in the Murašu family archives. The old Sumerian city of Uruk has supplied documentation primarily linked to management of the temple of the goddess Ištar, the archives for which come to an abrupt halt during the reign of Darius I. In private archives, Larsa and Ur show that the cuneiform tradition lasted throughout the Achaemenid period.
Certain cuneiform Akkadian texts can only be approximately located in Babylonia. A few other rare texts were written in the western Near East or in Iran. Despite their small quantities, they bear witness to the fact that cuneiform script was still widespread in Achaemenid times.
Francis Joannès (université Paris 1) / February 2014