The Decline and Fall of the Assyrian Court Scholar: A Social Network-Based Examination
Keywords:Neo-Assyrian Empire, Social Network Analysis, Esarhaddon, Ashurbanipal, Cuneiform Scholars
Scholars have long been divided over whether the correspondence of scholars with the Assyrian kings Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal represents an anomaly or a typical relationship between scholars and kings in the ancient Near East. This paper uses social network analysis to examine the changing social status of scholars in Assyria. It argues that the reign of Esarhaddon saw the emergence of an ‘inner circle’ of scholars who maintained power and influence through controlling access to the king, and an out-group with little influence who hoped to move into the inner circle. By contrast, under Ashurbanipal all scholars experienced an immediate decline in centrality scores, suggesting an immediate loss of status as the scholars were marginalized and slowly phased out even as Ashurbanipal collected his own archive of cuneiform scholarship. The decline of court scholars in Assyria should therefore be understood primarily as a political phenomenon, that is, an attempt by Ashurbanipal to reduce the influence of a group which he perceived as having become too powerful within the Assyrian imperial administration.
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