Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations

First Advisor

Grant Frame


This dissertation is aimed at providing new perspectives on Mesopotamian medicine by reconstructing its social history and paving a path for interdisciplinary research. The strategy chosen for this dissertation is to investigate and define transitions in the role and appearance of healing goddesses – the representations of Mesopotamian medicine and illness in the divine realm – and their relationship with the asû in order to gain understanding of the medical marketplace and how Mesopotamian professional or scholarly healers perceived their expertise, knowledge and role. The study consists of three sections. First, it presents a survey of textual, archaeological and iconographical evidence from three millennia in order to analyze the individual origins, cults and personae of the Mesopotamian healing goddesses. The healing goddesses considered are those who were called asû and were associated with each other through shared features and households: Gula/Meme, Ninkarrak, Ninisina, Bau and Nintinuga. A synchronic and diachronic analysis is given for each goddess, as well as of her healing qualities over time and her relationship with the asû. The second part is an examination of the asû and his role in the Mesopotamian medical marketplace throughout Mesopotamian history based on sources outside the medical scholarly literature, such as administrative texts and letters. This reveals that the asû was a term applied to healers operating in different segments of society and different sectors of the health care system alongside a variety of other healers. In the Kassite period, some asûs developed a scholarly identity. In the third part, this phenomenon is considered against the parallel development of Gula, who at this time became the healing goddess per excellence and embodied medical scholarship. It is shown that from the Kassite period on, Gula was employed as a divine legitimizing model for the scholarly asûs in the textual and iconographic material in order for the latter to become more competitive in the Mesopotamian medical marketplace. This tension between different kinds of healers and the legitimization of professional healers can be demonstrated in a wide range of times and places, including the modern western world, which lays a foundation for future comparative research.


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