Robartus Johannes van der Spek

prof. dr.

1986 …2019
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Personal profile

Personal information

Curriculum Vitae

1976 - 'Doctoraal examen' (c. MA-degree) History at the University of Leiden. Major Ancient history, minors Assyriology and modern history.


1986 - PhD at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU University Amsterdam). Disstertation: grondbezit in het Seleucidische Rijk [Land Tenure in the Seleucid Empire]. Promoters: prof. dr. P.W. de Neeve and prof. dr. M. Stol.


1974-5 - History teacher at Christelijk Lyceum Zandvliet, The Hague.


1975-9 - History teacher at Pieter Groen College, Katwijk aan Zee.


1976 - Lecturer in Ancient History VU University Amsterdam (1976-9 halftime, afterwards fulltime).


1979-84 - Part time lecturer in Ancient History at teacher training college "De Vrije Leergangen" (evening classes).


1982 - Initiator of academic discipline "Ancient Civilizations" (Oudheidkunde) at VU University, now BA Oudheidkunde (Ancient Studies) and part of MA Classics and Ancient Civilizations (programs in Classics, Ancient Studies and Ancient History).


1993 - Professor of Ancient Mediterranean and West Asian History, VU University Amsterdam.



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. 


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:


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).


Ancillary activities

  • President of the Vooraziatisch-Egyptisch Genootschap (Société Orientale) "Ex Oriente Lux"
  • Board member section Ancient History of the research school OIKOS
  • Member advisory board Studi Classici e Orientali (Pisa University Press)


Ancillary activities

No ancillary activities

Ancillary activities are updated daily

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics where Robartus Johannes van der Spek is active. These topic labels come from the works of this person. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Babylonia Arts & Humanities
Babel Arts & Humanities
Economy Arts & Humanities
History Arts & Humanities
Exchange Rates Arts & Humanities
Seleucids Arts & Humanities
Diary Arts & Humanities
Hellenistic Period Arts & Humanities

Network Recent external collaboration on country level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots.

Research Output 1986 2019

An Introduction to the Ancient World. Third Edition.

van der Spek, R. J. & de Blois, L., 7 Jun 2019, London: Routledge. 402 p.

Research output: Book / ReportBookAcademicpeer-review

Historical Research
Web Sites
Late Roman
Roman Empire
Open Access

Conclusion: In Search of Trust

van der Spek, R. J. & van Leeuwen, B., 2018, Money, Currency and Crisis: In Search of Trust, 2000 BC to AD 2000. van der Spek, R. J. & van Leeuwen, B. (eds.). Routledge, p. 346-357 12 p. (Routledge Explorations in Economic History; vol. 80).

Research output: Chapter in Book / Report / Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review

Debates on the World of Berossus

van der Spek, R. J., Dec 2018, In : Zeitschrift für Altorientalische und Biblische Rechtsgeschichte. 24, p. 137-151 16 p.

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Homerus en de oosterse epiek

van der Spek, R. J., Jun 2018, In : Phoenix. 64, 2, p. 3-6 4 p., 1.

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlePopular


Activities 2002 2014

  • 12 Lecture / Presentation
  • 1 Conference

Akademie Colloquium

R.J. van der Spek (Organiser)
19 May 2011

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventConferenceAcademic

The purchasing power of silver and market efficiency from a Babylonian perspective

R.J. van der Spek (Speaker), B. van Leeuwen (Speaker), P. Földvári (Speaker)
20 May 2011

Activity: Lecture / PresentationAcademic

Stad, land en voedselvoorziening in Hellenistisch Babylon en Seleucia

R.J. van der Spek (Speaker)
17 Nov 2004

Activity: Lecture / PresentationAcademic