The almattu-azibtu Formula in the Emar Texts

The almattu-azibtu Formula in the Emar Texts

Masamichi YAMADA

This study deals with the almattu-azibtu formula, the enigmatic expression that a certain woman is almattu itti almanāti azibtu itti azbāti, « a widow with widows (and) a divorcée with divorcées, » which is attested in six Emar texts of Syro-Hittite type. Through an analysis of these texts, the following three features are particularly noteworthy: (1) the women concerned are free women; (2) but they are in a socio-economically inferior position; also (3) the above formula is stated in the context of the premise of (or, in five texts, at the time of) their marriage. From the last point, we may conclude that the meaning of the almattu-azibtu formula is that after the marriage ends, either by the death of the husband or divorce, the woman is to be treated like other normal widows or divorcées. Furthermore, we should note that this formula is used substantially to prescribe the release of a former slave in Emar VI 16. In another text, a free woman married to a slave (QVO 5-T 1) was, after his death, adopted by his owner, who presumably wanted to keep her under his control (QVO 5-T 2). From these points, we may understand the intention of the formula as prescribing that because they are free women, though in an inferior position, they shall not be treated as slaves.

I. Introduction
In the Emar texts from Late Bronze Age Syria, occasionally we find the enigmatic statement, that a certain woman is almattu itti almanāti azibtu itti azbāti, that is « a widow with widows, (and) a divorcée with divorcées. » We will call it the almattu-azibtu formula below. This formula is attested in the six texts of Syro-Hittite type listed in the handout. The texts marked with an asterisk use variant expressions: in QVO 5-T 1 the order of the two elements is reversed, and azibtu/azbāti is written in the Babylonian form as ezibtu/ezbēti; and in Semitica 46-T 1 and SMEA 30-T 13 the formula is partly omitted. This study seeks to clarify the meaning and intention of the formula.

II. Texts
Because of the limit of time, in this presentation I take three texts as samples for examination.

This is a short text stating that a certain Kuna’e marries a woman named Anna-kime to his slave Abi-SA-SI. The just-married Anna-kime is unhappily called a widow and divorcée. Although she herself seems to be a free woman, as she is referred to with her patronymic, she is made a wife of a slave. Probably she is a daughter handed over to Kuna’e by her father, who had failed to repay his debt. This point would be supported by the phraseology that Kuna’e « took » her.
From another text, QVO 5-T 2, it is known that Kuna’e later had Anna-kime marry Ḫizmiya, his amīlūtu, a specific type of debtor owing silver in Emar. This suggests that her first husband had died. It is interesting to note that this time she is called Kuna’e’s « daughter. » One may suppose some connection between this adoption and the almattu-azibtu formula. We will return to this point later.

2. Emar VI 216
This is a contract of the so-called matrimonial adoption (or marriage adoption). Here, the girl Ba‘la-bea is given to a woman named Anat-ummi as her daughter, (and also as her kallātu according to a related tablet). If Anat-ummi’s husband needs an heir, Anat-ummi will marry the girl to her husband, and she will be a widow with widows and a divorcée with divorcées. Else, Anat-ummi may marry her to someone in another family. The family of Ba‘la-bea is obviously in poverty, and this transaction seems to be actually her sale, as her bridewealth is called « the price of Ba‘la-bea » in the related tablet.
However, according to the related tablet, Emar VI 217, this matrimonial adoption was cancelled because Anat-ummi did not pay the promised price of 30 shekels of silver (ll. 13f.). It is interesting to note that in Emar VI 216 the amount of silver is not stated in l. 5, if my reading of the text on the basis of the handcopy is correct. In my opinion, Ku’e, the mother of Ba‘la-bea, received a part of the 30 shekels, so she could support her children in the year of famine, but not the full price. Emar VI 217 states that after canceling the adoption contract, Ba‘la-bea’s parents sold their sons and daughters, including Ba‘la-bea, as slaves to the diviner Adda-malik for 60 shekels of silver.
In view of the above texts, we can note the following common points about the almattu-azibtu formula: (1) the woman concerned is a member of a poor family; (2) the formula is stated on the occasion of her marriage. These points seem to be applicable also to RAI 47-T 2 and Semitica 46-T 1. Furthermore, SMEA 30-T 13, too, seems to be in a marriage context, although the woman concerned is a former slave as in the following text.

3. Emar VI 16
This is a care (palāḫu) contract, in which the creditor Ùaggar-abu cancels 20 out of 41 shekels of silver of the debt of his amīlūtu Bazila, and obliges Bazila to take care of himself and his wife as long as they live. Šaggar-abu also gives to Bazila as his wife, a certain Abi-qiri, who is probably his slave, as she is referred to without her patronymic. After finishing his obligation, Bazila may leave the house of Šaggar-abu together with his wife and sons, if he pays the rest of the debt, 21 shekels, to the sons of Šaggar-abu.
The part of the text cited in the handout is concerned with what happens if Bazila dies during the period of this obligation. Now, it is Abi-qiri, his wife, who accepts the obligation in his stead. Then, how is she treated after finishing it? She is a widow with widows and a divorcée with divorcées. (Here, it is interesting to note that even though she would clearly be a widow in this case, the formula mentions both widows and divorcées. This indicates that these two elements are considered as more or less equivalent).
Furthermore it is said, « the sons of Šaggar-abu shall not claim her. » The phrase, ana muḫḫi X lā iraggumū, « they shall not claim X, » is attested in three care contracts (Emar VI 177: 20′-22′; RE 27 [sg.], 66), in which a slave accepts the obligation to take care of family members of his or her owner until their deaths. For example, in Emar VI 177 the owner of Itti-beli, the slave, says that after finishing the obligation, « Itti-beli is released to the sun. My sons shall not claim him » (ll. 21′-22′). This means that Itti-beli is released from the status of slave, and those sons cannot claim the ownership of him; in other words, he may leave the house of his former owner as a freeman. Similarly, in the present text, the statement that the sons shall not claim her would confirm well the above identification of Abi-qiri as a female slave. Furthermore, we may take the almattu-azibtu formula as substantially the same as « Itti-beli is released to the sun, » indicating her release as a free woman.

III. Considerations

1. Features
On the basis of the above, the following common features are to be noted on all the women concerned:

  1. They are free women. The connection of the almattu-azibtu formula with this point is clearly shown in Emar VI 16.
  2. But they are in a socio-economically inferior position. Note that formerly they were either female slaves or members of poor families.
  3. They are married women. Particularly, in five out of the six texts, the almattu-azibtu formula is stated in the context of their marriage.

These points are significant when we consider the meaning and intention of the almattu-azibtu formula below.

2. Meaning of the formula
In the five texts in which the almattu-azibtu formula is stated in the context of marriage, its meaning is easily understood. Once a woman is married, in the future she will be either a wife, a widow, or a divorcée. The almattu-azibtu formula refers to « widows » and « divorcées » on the occasion of her marriage because it is concerned with her future. So, the formula can be understood as a general prescription that when she becomes a widow or divorcée, she will be treated like other (normal) widows and divorcées. Needless to say, the reference to « wife » is unnecessary here, since (it is taken for granted in the male centered society that) as long as the husband is alive, he will always treat his wife well and properly.
As for the remaining text, Emar VI 16, in which the formula is given not in the context of her marriage, but of her widowhood, the same meaning is applicable. To clarify this point, let us ask simply to where this former slave is going after her release. Since she is the widow of Bazila, it must be to his parents’ home. Then the formula is understood as prescribing that she will be treated like other widows there. Thus its close connection with marriage is obvious in this text.
In conclusion, we may take the almattu-azibtu formula as meaning that a certain free married woman in a socio-economically inferior position is to be treated like other normal widows and divorcées when her marriage ends.

3. Intention of the formula
However, widows and divorcées, as well as orphans, seem to have been the representatives of socially weak people. Then, does the almattu-azibtu formula indicate that they are to be treated as such? I do not think so. In my opinion, the point is that they are to be treated like other normal widows and divorcées, that is, as free women.
Now, let us recall Emar VI 16, in which the almattu-azibtu formula substantially prescribes the release of the former female slave Abi-qiri as a free woman. In this respect, it is worthy noting the destiny of Anna-kime, who was made to marry a slave in QVO 5-T 1. As noted above, QVO 5-T 2 shows that when she actually did become a widow, she was made an adopted daughter of Kuna’e, the owner of her dead husband. Why did Kuna’e adopt her? I think, because of the almattu-azibtu formula. He presumably wanted to keep her in his household, but because of this formula in the contract was obliged to treat her as a free woman. In this case, how could he secure his control over her? Threre was no way but to adopt her, since she was neither his slave nor his debtor. This case of Anna-kime shows how the almattu-azibtu formula was actually effective, involving the surrounding people.
Based on the above, we may conclude that the almattu-azibtu formula intends to insure that the women concerned are treated as free women, not as slaves, although they are socio-economically inferior.

IV. Final Remarks
The almattu-azibtu formula is concerned with married, free women who are in a socio-economically inferior position. It prescribes directly that they are to be treated like other normal widows and divorcées when they become widows or divorcées. However, its intention is more general, to insure they are treated as free women, not as slaves. In short, it says, they cannot be enslaved. Although widows and divorcées are socially weak, the formula means that at least they are free women. They are referred to as widows and divorcées only because they would have been formerly married.
In Emar, the barrier of social rank between freemen and slaves seems to have been relatively low, as we see frequently in the Emar texts that a debtor who cannot repay his debt becomes the slave of his creditor, while an owner sometimes releases a slave on his own initiative. However, the almattu-azibtu formula insists a clear distinction between them. Probably use of the formula reflects the mental threat of that fluidity of the social orders felt by the Emarites, particularly the freemen in an inferior position, who seriously tried to resist it.

The almattu-azibtu Formula in the Emar Texts

I. Introduction

  1. The formula: almattu itti almanāti azibtu itti azbāti
    Emar VI 16: 26f.; 216: 11f.; QVO 5-T 1: 5-7*; RAI 47-T 2: 5f.; Semitica 46-T 1: 6*; SMEA 30-T 13: 6f.* (all Syro-Hittite type)
  2. Problems: its meaning and intention

II. Texts (selected)

(1) mku-na-’-e DUMU ir-ri-g[e] (2) fan-na-ki-me DUMU.MÍ mx-ḫi-ir?-[x] (3) LÚ URU.ú-ri a-na DAM-ut-ti (4) ša ma-bi-SA-SI ÌR-šu (5) il-qe e-zi-ib-tu (6) it-ti ez-be-ti ù al-ma-tu (7) it-ti al-ma-na-ti /
Kuna’e, son of Irrig[e], took Anna-kime, daughter of X-ḫir(?)-x, man of Uru, as the wife of Abi-SA-SI, his slave. (She is) a divorcée with divorcées and a widow with widows.
Cf. daughter of Kuna’e (QVO 5-T 2: 3)

2. Emar VI 216
(1) fku-’-e DUMU.MÍ mzu-[…] (2) DAM mza-dam-ma [a-kán-na iq-bi] (3) ma-a LÚ.mu-ti4-ia il-t[a-bi-ir DUMU.MEŠ-ni] (4) ṣe-eḫ-ru ša ú-bal-la-aṭ-s[ú-nu NU.TUK] (5) ù fdNIN-be-a DUMU.MÍ-ia a-na KÙ.[BABBAR(.MEŠ)] [1] (6) a-na DUMU.MÍ-ša ša fa-nat-um-mi DAM mše-gal DUMU ik-ki (7) at-ta-din-ši DUMU.MEŠ ṣe-eḫ-ru-ti i-na MU dan-na-ti (8) ú-bal-li-iṭ šúm-ma fa-nat-um-mi DAM mše-gal (9) la! tu-la-ad fdNIN-be-a a-na DAM-šú ša <m>še-gal (10) LÚ.mu-ti4-ša ta-na-din-ši i-na EGIR u4-mi (11) fdNIN-be-a al-mat-tu4 it-ti al-ma-na-ti (12) ši-it a-zi-ib-tu it-ti az-ba-ti! ši-it (13) ù šúm-ma fa-nat-um-mi i-na mše-gal (14) LÚ.mu-ti4-ša tu-la-ad (15) mše-g[al] ù fa-nat-um-mi (16) [f]d[NIN-b]e-a DUMU.MÍ-šú-nu i-na É e-mi (17) li-d[in-nu]? KÙ.BABBAR.MEŠ NÌ.MÍ.ÚS.SÁ-ši (18) lil-[q]u?-ú
Ku’e, daughter of Zu-[…], wife of Zadamma, [said as follows]: « My husband has beco[me old (and) our children(!) are (still) young (but) [there is no] one who supports t[hem]. So, I gave Ba‘la-bea, my daughter, as a daughter of Anat-ummi, wife of Šegal, son of Ikki, for sil[ver]. (Then) I (could) support (our) young children(!) in the year of distress (i.e., famine). » If Anat-ummi, wife of Šegal, does not bear (a son), she will give Ba‘la-bea to Šegal, her husband, as his wife. Thereafter she is a widow with widows (and) she is a divorcée with divorcées. But if Anat-ummi bears (a son) for Šegal, her husband, Šeg[al] and Anat-ummi may m[arry] off [Ba‘la-b]ea, their daughter, to someone else and ta[k]e the silver of her bridewealth.

Cf. kallātu of Anat-ummi (Emar VI 217: 12); 30 shekels of silver (ll. 12, 13) Note: at the time of marriage (RAI 47-T 2, Semitica 46-T 1, also SMEA 30-T 13!)

[1] Cf. š[ám] (Arnaud); ma-ar-[tu-ti] (Durand & Marti); é.[gi.a ù] (Justel). Note KÙ.BABBAR in the handcopy: Emar VI 216: 5, 17, 20 (Msk. 731070 + 74333).

3. Emar VI 16
(22) šúm-ma i-na EGIR u4-mi mba-zi-la BA.ÚŠ fa-bi-qí-ri (23) DAM-šú u4-mi.MEŠ ša md30-a-bu ù DAM-šú bal-ṭu (24) i-pal-làḫ-šú-[n]u-ti ki-[i-me-e] i-p[al-là]ḫ-šú-nu-ti (25) EGIR ši-im-ti-šú-nu ub-bal-šú-nu-ti [a]-na EGIR u4-mi (26) fa-bi-qí-ri al-ma-tu4 it-ti a[l-m]a-[n]a-ti [a-zi]-ib-tu4 (27) it-ti az-ba-ti [D]UMU.MEŠ-šú š[a] md30-a-bi a-na muḫ-ḫi-ši (28) la-a i-ra-gu-mu š[ú]m-ma i-ra-gu-mu ṭup-pu an-nu-ú (29) i-la-’-e-šú-nu-ti /
If in the later days Bazila dies, Abi-qiri, his wife, shall serve Šaggar-abu and his wife as long as they live. When she serves them, she brings them after their destiny. Thereafter (she is) a widow with w[id]o[w]s (and) a [divo]rcée with divorcées. The sons o[f] Šaggar-abu shall not claim her. If they claim (her), this document overcomes them.
Cf. (e.g., PN [= slave] ana šamši muššur) ana muḫḫišu lā iraggumū (Emar VI 177: 22′; RE 66: 9f.; cf. also RE 27: 6f. [sg.])

III. Considerations
1. Features: the women concerned are

  • a) free women; esp. cf. Emar VI 16: release of a former slave
  • b) socio-economically inferior: former slaves or members of poor families c) married women: on the premise (or at the time) of marriage

2. Meaning of the formula
note: married woman –> wife, widow or divorcée
※ she will be treated like other (normal) widows and divorcées

3. Intention of the formula
note: the widows and divorcées = free women, not slaves (Emar VI 16, also QVO 5-T 2 [cf. no. 1])
※ she must be treated as a free woman, not as a slave

IV. Final Remarks

  1. Conclusions: meaning (III.2) and intention (III.3)
  2. Gap: interchangeability (freeman ⇄  slave) vs.distinction (freeman ⇔ slave)


  • Arnaud, D. 1985-86: Recherches au pays d’Aštata. Emar VI/1-3, Paris (= Emar VI).
  • —— 1992: « Tablettes de genres divers du moyen-Euphrate, » SMEA 30, pp. 195-245 (= SMEA 30-T).
  • —— 1996: « Mariage et remariage des femmes chez les Syriens du moyen-Euphrate, à l’âge du Bronze récent d’après deux nouveaux documents, » Semitica 46, pp. 7-16, Pl. 1 (= Semitica 46-T).
  • Di Filippo, F. 2010: « Two Tablets from the Vicinity of Emar, » in: M. G. Biga & M. Liverani (eds.), ana turri gimilli: studi dedicati al Padre Werner R. Mayer, S.J. da amici e allievi (Quaderni di Vicino Oriente V), Roma, pp. 105-115 (= QVO 5-T).
  • Durand, J.-M. & L. Marti 2003: « Chroniques du Moyen-Euphrate 2. Relecture de documents d’Ekalte, Émar et Tuttul, » RA 97, pp. 141-180.
  • Hallo, W. W. 2002: « Love and Marriage in Ashtata, » in: S. Parpola & R. M. Whiting (eds.), Sex and Gender in the Ancient Near East (RAI 47), Helsinki, pp. 203-216 (= RAI 47-T).
  • Justel, J. J. 2008: « L’adoption matrimoniale à Emar (Syrie, XIIIe s. av. J.-C.), » RHD 86, pp. 1-19.
  • Yamada, M. 2011: « On QVO 5-T 2, a Recently Published Emar Text, » Bulletin of the Society for Near Eastern Studies in Japan (= BSNESJ) 54/2, pp. 119-122 (in Japanese).
  • —— 2012: « The Contracts of Caring by amīlūtus in Emar: In Comparison with Slaves, Adopted Sons and Creditors, » BSNESJ 55/1, 2-21 (in Japanese with English summary).
  • —— submitted: « Widows and Divorcées as Free Women in Emar: A Study of the almattu-azibtu Formula, » BSNESJ 56 (in Japanese with English summary).

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