On the Spot: Amanda H. Podany

‘I’d like to have met Baranamtara, the Queen of Lagash in the early 24th century BC.’

Seal of Barnamtarra
Seal of Barnamtarra, Queen of Lagash. Clay, c. 2400 BC. Louvre Musuem/Wiki Commons.

Why are you a historian of the ancient Near East? 

To converse with long-dead people who first wrestled with coexisting amicably in cities. 

What’s the most important lesson history has taught you? 

That we humans are very new to urban living. 

Which history book has had the greatest influence on you? 

The Sumerians by Samuel N. Kramer. 

What book in your field should everyone read?

The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture.

Which moment would you most like to go back to?

A meeting between envoys during the late 15th century BC, probably in Egypt, when five great Middle Eastern kingdoms began the process of forging a lasting peace.

Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?

Marc Bloch.

Which person in history would you most like to have met? 

Baranamtara, the Queen of Lagash in the early 24th century BC.

How many languages do you have?

Besides English, six: two modern and four ancient.

What historical topic have you changed your mind on?

The chronology of the second millennium BC.

What is the most common misconception about your field? 

That Hammurabi wrote the world’s first laws (he didn’t). 

Which genre of history do you like least? 

Poorly written history.

What’s the most exciting field in history today?


Is there an important historical text you have not read? 

Outside Assyriology? These are supposed to be short answers.

What’s your favourite archive? 

The cuneiform tablets found at Terqa in Syria, which I have been studying for decades.

What’s the best museum?

‘Best’ is tough, but I love the Met Museum in New York.

What technology has changed the world the most? 


The Mediterranean or the Indian Ocean?


Historical drama or documentary? 

Documentary, as long as it has nothing to do with ancient aliens.

The Parthenon or Machu Picchu?

Both have suffered from being loved too much. Time to pick some new, hardier destinations! 

What will future generations judge us most harshly for?

Everything we have not done to save the environment.


Amanda H. Podany is Professor Emeritus of History at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and author of Weavers, Scribes, and Kings: A New History of the Ancient Near East (Oxford University Press, 2022).