Founded in 1909 by a gift from J. Pierpont Morgan, the Yale Babylonian Collection is the largest collection of documents, seals, and other artifacts from ancient Mesopotamia in the United States, and one of the leading collections of cuneiform tablets in the world. It comprises about 45,000 items, ranging in date from around 3000 BCE to early in the Christian era. An independent branch of Yale University, the Babylonian Collection holds virtually every genre, type, and period of ancient Mesopotamian writing, such as commemorative inscriptions, scholarly treatises, letters and business documents, administrative accounts, and literature in poetry and prose, in Akkadian, Sumerian, and Hittite. Noteworthy manuscripts include the world’s oldest epic narratives, a group of recipes 1500 years older than any other known from the ancient world, a large corpus of magic spells, royal letters in Sumerian and Akkadian, a Sumerian agricultural manual, and the oeuvre of the first author in history whose work can be identified: a woman, whose passionate and obscure poetry, composed over 4200 years ago, was deciphered and edited in the Babylonian Collection workroom. The Collection is also a center for the conservation of cuneiform tablets; Collection staff routinely conserve and identify tablets belonging to other museums, libraries, and educational institutions without charge.
In addition to its function as a museum repository, the Yale Babylonian Collection has a unique role in the University’s educational mission. It is the only major University collection closely allied with an academic department and has its own classroom, where the department’s courses in Assyriology are carried on. The curators have always been professors of Assyriology. The Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations at Yale is one of the most productive programs in Assyriology anywhere. Most doctoral work in Assyriology in the Department since 1912 has been based on materials in the Babylonian Collection. The daily experience of graduate students in this great collection gives them an educational experience to be found nowhere else. The Collection also maintains active community outreach, frequently hosting school groups from throughout Connecticut.
The Babylonian Collection consists of six groups of material: the Yale Babylonian Collection (YBC), founded by A. T. Clay; the Nies Babylonian Collection (NBC), founded by James B. Nies; the Morgan Library Collection (MLC), founded by A. T. Clay and formerly in the Morgan Library, New York; the Goucher College Babylonian Collection (GCBC), founded by Raymond Dougherty; the Newell Collections of Babylonian Tablets (NCBT) and of Babylonian Seals (NCBS); and the Rosen Babylonian Collection (RBC), founded by Jonathan Rosen, Esq.
The Babylonian Collection is the home of seven text and research publication series: Babylonian Inscriptions in the Collection of James B. Nies (BIN), ten volumes published; Babylonian Records in the Library of J. Pierpont Morgan (BRM), four volumes published; Yale Oriental Series (YOS or YOSBT), seventeen volumes published; Yale Oriental Series, Researches (YOSR), twenty-four volumes published; Texts from the Babylonian Collection (TBC), three volumes published; Goucher College Cuneiform Inscriptions (GCCI), two volumes published; and Yale Near Eastern Researches (YNER), ten volumes published. Volumes of these series, except TBC, still in print, may be ordered from the Yale University Press (New Haven), out-of-print volumes from AMS Press (New York). TBC may be ordered from CDL Press (Bethesda, Maryland).
Comprehensive publication of the seals in the Collection began with Early Near Eastern Seals in the Yale Babylonian Collection (1981).
Tablets in the Babylonian Collection have been catalogued on a sophisticated electronic database, made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities Access to Collections Program. Most tablets in the Collection are now electronically searchable under various rubrics such as text type, date, period, and keywords. In addition, printed volumes cataloging texts by period and collection are in preparation in a series entitled Babylonian Collections at Yale, four volumes published. These may be ordered from CDL Press (Bethesda, Maryland).
The Babylonian Collection maintains a complete reference library, adjacent to the workrooms, in the fields of Assyriology and Ancient Near Eastern studies, including about 13,000 books and serials and over 10,000 offprints. There is also an extensive cast collection representing major monuments of Mesopotamian art.
The Yale Babylonian Collection is housed in the Sterling Memorial Library of Yale University. It is open to qualified researchers by prior arrangement and its displays are normally open to the public 2-5 weekdays, September through July. Visitors will need to secure a visitor’s pass from the Privileges Office, located in the main nave of the Sterling Memorial Library, behind the Circulation Desk. School groups should schedule their visits well in advance by contacting Collection staff at 203-432-1837.
The Collection regularly mounts special exhibitions in the public areas of Sterling Library. Recent shows include: METRON and Mesopotamia (2002); Man & Beast in Mesopotamia (2002); Love in Mesopotamia (2004); Mayhem in Mesopotamia (2005); Magic in Mesopotamia (2006); Madness in Mesopotamia (2007); Birds in Babylonia (2008); School Days in Sumer (2011); Monarchs in Mesopotamia (2012). Justice in Mesopotamia (2007) was displayed in the Law School Library.
Oin 14 November 2009, the Yale Babylonian Collection celebrated its centennial, with an afternoon of talks and a special screening of the Fall of Babylon episodes from the silent film "Intolerance," followed by a guided visit to the exhibitions in Sterling Library, "Treasures of the Yale Babylonian Collection" and "From Nineveh to New Haven." In the evening, participants enjoyed a concert of music with ancient Near Eastern themes, presented by the Saybrook Orchestra.
The Yale Babylonian Collection is an active participant in the international project “Interactions between Man and the Environment in Mesopotamia,” under the auspices of the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto, Japan. The Collection is the first participant in the project to permit sampling of cuneiform tablets for Neutron Activation and X-Ray Diffraction Analysis, as well as Magnetic Susceptibility Measurements.
The Curator will normally assign exclusive publication rights to Collection tablets and objects for a period not to exceed five years. All publication rights assigned prior to January 1, 2003 will also be for a period of five years, beginning with that date. Exceptions can be made, by prior arrangement, only for large groups of tablets or objects to be published as a single project.
All inquiries concerning the Yale Babylonian Collection, including permission to reproduce images, should be addressed to the Curator, Benjamin R. Foster (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the Associate Curator, Ulla Kasten (email@example.com), Postal address: Yale University Library, 130 Wall Street, P.O. Box 208240, New Haven, CT 06520-8240
(Below) Window medallions from the Babylonia Collection windows in Sterling Memorial Library.