prof. dr. R.J. (Bert) van der Spek

  • Functie:Professor of Ancient Mediterranean and West Asian History

Unit: Faculty of Arts, dep. of Archaeology, Classics and Ancient Near Eastern Studies
Office hours:
 Please make an appointment by e-mail
Room: 14a-87 

Curriculum Vitae

Since September 2012, VU University Amsterdam and the University of Amsterdam are offering a joint Master’s programme within the Amsterdam Centre for Ancient Studies and Archaeology (ACASA). Thanks to this partnership, students can choose from a wide range of subjects, allowing them to develop as scholars in many different specialisms in the field of Classics, Ancient Studies en Archaeology.

Research interests

Ancient History of the Mediterranean world; The history of the Ancient Near East, in particular the history of Western Asia in the so-called Hellenistic period (Alexander the Great to the first century BC); Economic History and the history of the interaction between Greeks and Babylonians. 


Courses on Ancient History at BA, MA and MPhil level. Among other subjects: BA courses on "Hellenism between Alexander the Great and Severus Alexander" (with J.J. Flinterman); Seminar on Alexander the Great (both second semester).

Graduate courses. First semester: MPhil course: “Ethnic Identities in Antiquity” (with A.M.J. Derks and several other members of staff); MA course “Great Debates in Ancient Historical Studies I” (with K. Kleber, J.J. Flinterman and A. Prent); Akkadian Seminar 2: reading of the Nabonidus Chronicle (ABC 7)” [replacing K. Kleber]; second semester: “Confrontation between Greek and Mesopotamian Civilizations”; “Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations: The reception of Mesopotamian culture” (seminar with several specialists and guest lecturers).


Two projects:

1. The efficiency of markets for agricultural products in pre-industrial societies: The case of Babylonia c. 400 – c. 60 BC,a research programme, financed by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). 

The research aim of this programme is to examine the functioning of the Babylonian market in raw foodstuffs and wool (i.e. surplus agricultural produce) from the end of the Achaemenid to the early Parthian period (404-60 BC). This aim will be achieved by analysing the exogenous shocks which influence prices and by comparative study of price data of other periods. The programme is carried out by two PhD students and a postdoctoral researcher. The research is carried out in cooperation with Prof. J.L. van Zanden (University of Utrecht).
The basis of the research is the collection of the so-called Astronomical Diaries from Babylon. These diaries not only report celestial events, but contain information about political events as well. Furthermore they give monthly prices of barley, dates, cress, dodder, sesame and wool. Thousands of prices are preserved in this way, for Ancient History an unrivalled dataset. Analysis of the prices in comparative perspective is part of the project. The dataset is published on the website of the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam:

Publication of R.J. van der Spek, B. van Leeuwen, J.L. van Zanden eds., A History of Market Performance from Ancient Babylonia to the Modern World. Routledge Explorations in economic History (London: Routledge) is scheduled for March 2014. 

2. The edition of Babylonian Chronicles of the Hellenistic Period in transliteration, translation and commentary, in collaboration with dr. Irving Finkel, Department of the Ancient Near East, British Museum, London. The edition will contain new editions of published and unpublished chronicles, written in cuneiform script and housed in the British museum. The chronicles report about events of local interest in Babylon, as well as facts about international politics. They give invaluable new information on the empires of Alexander the great, the Seleucids and the Parthians and give a remarkable insight into the daily life in Babylon, where Babylonian and Greeks lived side by side. The texts are a welcome supplement to the Greek sources. Publication of the historical sections of the astronomical diaries is also envisaged (with dr. R. Pirngruber, University of emptyVienna)

Most of the chronicles are published now on Internet:

Recent publications (selection)

--- ‘Alexander in spijkerschrift,’ in: Diederik Burgersdijk, Wouter Henkelman, Willemijn Waal red., Alexander en Darius. De Macedoniër in de spiegel van het Nabije Oosten (Hilversum: Uitgeverij Verloren 2013), 81 - 99.

Several entries on Seleucid kings in: Simon Hornblower, Anthony Spawforth, Esther Eidinow eds., The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Fourth Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2012)

---, ‘Economy, Near East (Hellenistic)’ in: R. Bagnall, K. Brodersen, C. Champion, A. Erskine, S. Huebner eds., The Encyclopedia of Ancient History (Oxford: Whiley-Blackwell 2012) 2285-8.;

---, ‘Review of: L. Capdetrey, Le pouvoir séleucide. Territoire, administration, finances d'un royaume hellénistique (312-129 avant J.C.) (Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes 2007),’ Klio 94 (2012) 527-9.

--- ‘The “silverization” of the economy of the Achaemenid and Seleukid empires and early modern China,’ in:  Archibald, Z.H., Davies, J.K., Gabrielsen, V., eds, The Economies of Hellenistic Societies, Third to First Centuries (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 402-420.

--- ‘Review of: A.L. Slotsky and R. Wallenfels, Tallies and Trends. The Late Babylonian Commodity Price Lists. (Bethesda MD 2009),’ Akkadica 132, 182-4.

---  ‘Seleukiden, Seleukidenreich (Seleucids, Seleucid empire),’ in: M.P. Streck, Sabine Ecklin, Sabine Pfaffinger (eds.), Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter), 369-383.

--- ‘Review of: Lexikon des Hellenismus, herausgegeben von Hatto H. Schmitt und Ernst Vogt. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag 2005,’ Bibliotheca Orientalis 67 (2010) 244-247.


---, B. van Leeuwen, J.L. van Zanden eds., A History of Market Performance from Ancient Babylonia to the Modern World (London: Routledge).

---, ‘Factor markets in Hellenistic and Parthian Babylonia (331 BC – 224 AD),’ in: Journal of the Social and Economic History of the Orient.

--- ‘Cyrus the Great, Exiles and Foreign Gods. A Comparison of Assyrian and Persian Policies on Subject Nations,’ in: Wouter Henkelman, Charles Jones, Michael Kozuh, Christopher Woods (eds.), Extraction and ControlStudies in Honor of Matthew W. Stolper. Oriental Institute Publications. (Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago). See: > Ressources > sous presse.

--- ‘The volatility of prices of barley and dates in Babylon in the third and second centuries BC,’ in:  Heather D. Baker and Michael Jursa eds., Documentary Sources in Ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman History: Methodology and Practice (Oxford: Oxbow Books).

---, Bas van Leeuwen, ‘Quantifying the integration of the Babylonian economy in the Mediterranean world using a new corpus of price data, 400-50 BC,’ in: F. de Callataÿ and A. Wilson (eds.), Long-term quantification in ancient history (Bari: Edipuglia).

--- ‘Seleukos, self-appointed general (strategos) of Asia (311-305 B.C.),’ in: H. Hauben & A. Meeus eds., The Age of the Successors (323-276 BC). Studia Hellenistica. Leuven: Peeters.

(last update: October 24, 2013)

Complete list of publications


Ancillary activities

  • Member advisory board Studi Classici e Orientali (Pisa University Press)
  • Board member section Ancient History of the research school OIKOS
  • Chairman of the department Amsterdam of the "Vooraziatisch-Egyptisch genootschap 'Ex Oriente Lux'"
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