This Handbook is a state-of-the-field volume containing diverse approaches to sensory experience, bringing to life in an innovative, remarkably vivid, and visceral way the lives of past humans through contributions that cover the chronological and geographical expanse of the ancient Near East.

It comprises thirty-two chapters written by leading international contributors that look at the ways in which humans, through their senses, experienced their lives and the world around them in the ancient Near East, with coverage of Anatolia, Egypt, the Levant, Mesopotamia, Syria, and Persia, from the Neolithic through the Roman period. It is organised into six parts related to sensory contexts: Practice, production, and taskscape; Dress and the body; Ritualised practice and ceremonial spaces; Death and burial; Science, medicine, and aesthetics; and Languages and semantic fields. In addition to exploring what makes each sensory context unique, this organisation facilitates cross-cultural and cross-chronological, as well as cross-sensory and multisensory comparisons and discussions of sensory experiences in the ancient world. In so doing, the volume also enables considerations of senses beyond the five-sense model of Western philosophy (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell), including proprioception and interoception, and the phenomena of synaesthesia and kinaesthesia.

The Routledge Handbook of the Senses in the Ancient Near East provides scholars and students within the field of ancient Near Eastern studies new perspectives on and conceptions of familiar spaces, places, and practices, as well as material culture and texts. It also allows scholars and students from adjacent fields such as Classics and Biblical Studies to engage with this material, and is a must-read for any scholar or student interested in or already engaged with the field of sensory studies in any period.

chapter |13 pages


part I|109 pages

Practice, production, and taskscapes

chapter 1|18 pages

The sense of practice

A case study of tablet sealing at Nippur in the Ur III period (c. 2112–2004 bce)

chapter 2|27 pages

Senses and textiles in the eastern Mediterranean

Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages (1550–1100 bce)

chapter 3|15 pages

New sensory experiences through technological innovation

The use and production of transparent drinking bowls in the Neo-Assyrian palace

chapter 4|23 pages

To touch upon

A tactile exploration of the Apadana reliefs at Persepolis

chapter 5|24 pages

Soundscapes and taskscapes in the ancient Near East

Interactions and perceptions

part II|85 pages

Dress and the body

chapter 8|22 pages

Beyond the flesh

Sensing identity through the body and skin in Mesopotamian glyptic contexts

chapter 9|21 pages

A sense of scale

Proprioception, embodied subjectivities, and the space of kingship at Persepolis

part III|179 pages

Ritualised practice and ceremonial spaces

chapter 10|21 pages

Temple ritual as Gesamtkunstwerk

Stimulation of the senses and aesthetic experience in a religious context

chapter 11|20 pages

Pure stale water

Experiencing Jewish purification rituals in early Roman Palestine

chapter 12|13 pages

Megaliths and miniatures

Scale and the senses in the early Neolithic

chapter 14|23 pages

In the light and in the dark

Exhibiting power, exploiting spaces in Early and Old Syrian Ebla—an analysis of the five senses in an Early–Old Syrian court

chapter 15|24 pages

The Ishtar Gate

A sensescape of divine agency

chapter 16|20 pages

The Jerusalem Temple

A sensory encounter with the sacred

chapter 17|26 pages

The ancient synagogue at Nabratein

The acoustic dynamics of architectural change

part IV|77 pages

Death and burial

chapter 18|12 pages

Sensing the ancestors

The importance of senses in constructing ancestorship in the ancient Near East

chapter 20|22 pages

The smells of eternity

Aromatic oils and resins in the Phoenician mortuary record

chapter 21|17 pages

The sixth sense

Multisensory encounters with the dead in Roman Egypt

part V|89 pages

Science, medicine, and aesthetics

chapter 22|18 pages

Seeing stars

Knowing the sky in Mesopotamia

chapter 25|28 pages

The distant eye and the ekphrastic image

Thinking through aesthetics and art for the senses (Western/non-Western)

part VI|159 pages

Languages and semantic fields

chapter 27|27 pages

Metaphors of perception verbs in ancient Egyptian

The proximal senses

chapter 28|33 pages

Metaphors of sensory experience in ancient Egyptian texts

Emotion, personality, and social interaction

chapter 29|27 pages

Smellscapes in ancient Egypt

chapter 30|15 pages

Crossing sensory boundaries

From vocabulary to physical experience

chapter 31|21 pages

Open your ears and listen!

The role of the senses among the Hittites