Dr Selena Wisnom

Lecturer in the Heritage of the Middle East

Dr Selena Wisnom

MA, M Phil, D Phil Oxon

Personal details

I initially studied Classics at Oxford before taking up graduate work in Cuneiform Studies. My MPhil and DPhil focused on Babylonian poetry, and alongside my research I wrote a trilogy of plays set in ancient Assyria. Subsequently I held an AHRC Cultural Engagement Fellowship, working to build links between theatres and academic research. In Oct 2016 I was elected to a Junior Research Fellowship in Manuscripts and Text Cultures at The Queen's College, Oxford, and I was a fixed-term lecturer in Assyriology at the University of Cambridge from 2017-2019.


The ancient near East, Babylonian sources, languages for ancient history


My research centres on the heritage of ancient Iraq, specifically the languages, literature, and intellectual history of Mesopotamia. Particular areas of interest include Babylonian poetics and metre, Mesopotamian scholarly texts, divination, and neo-Assyrian history. I also work with a number of arts, heritage, and community organisations to promote wider engagement with Iraq’s ancient history and culture, especially through theatre and performance.

Current and recent projects

My book 'Weapons of Words: Intertextual Competition in Babylonian Poetry' was published by Brill in November 2019. Focusing on three poems central to Babylonian culture, it shows how they compete to establish their protagonists, ideals, and poetics as superior to those that came before them, and demonstrates that intertextuality is fundamental to Mesopotamian literature.

My current research project examines the rules and symbolism of divination, specifically extispicy: divination from the entrails of sacrificial sheep. The aim is to understand the rules and symbolism of Babylonian logic: why do they connect certain signs with certain outcomes, and how does the underlying theory work? Using anthropological perspectives and approaches inspired by experimental archaeology, I also reconstruct the process of entrail reading in order to understand how the materiality of the liver and the experience of the diviner shaped interpretation. My play ‘Ashurbanipal: the last great king of Assyria’ was performed at the Crypt Gallery, Euston, 28th Feb - 3rd Mar 2019: https://www.catharsistheatre.com/ashurbanipal

I am Chair of the Enheduanna society, a UK charity dedicated to the popularisation of the literature, history, and culture of ancient Iraq, and on the advisory board of Eye on Heritage, a digital platform for the documentation of intangible cultural heritage under threat.

I am on the board of the Centre for Manuscript and Text Cultures at the Queen’s College, Oxford, an interdisciplinary research centre examining the materiality of texts and knowledge production: https://www.queens.ox.ac.uk/centre-manuscript-and-text-cultures

Research Student Supervision

Topics for Supervision

Mesopotamian literature, religion, and intellectual history

Heritage engagement

Current research students

Second supervisor of:

Jen Cousal 2020 –

George Heath-Whyte (University of Cambridge, 2018 –)

Alex Barker (University of Cambridge, 2018 –)


Wisnom, S. (2020). Weapons of Words: Intertextual Competition in Babylonian Poetry. A study of Anzû, Enūma eliš, and Erra and Išum. Brill. Leiden; Boston.

Wisnom, S. (2019). Blood on the Wind and the Tablet of Destinies: Intertextuality in Anzû, Enūma eliš, and Erra and Išum. Journal of the American Oriental Society 139.2, 269 – 286.

Wisnom, S. (2015). Stress patterns in Enūma Eliš: a comparative study. Kaskal 12, 485–502.

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