Tous les articles par Cécile MICHEL

Directrice de Recherche au CNRS ArScAn-HAROC Maison de l'Archéologie et de l'Ethnologie Nanterre - France

Assyrian Women’s Contribution to International Trade with Anatolia

The Assyrian women* living in Aššur during the 19th century BC had own property in their own right, independent of their husbands and also distinct from their dowries.[1] Their capital originated, at least partially, from their contribution to the long distance trade with Anatolia, established by the Assyrians since the end of the 20th century BC. The following presentation is devoted to the involvement of women in this international trade and their income from the sale of their textiles.

Textile production is well-known in large scale manufacturing organised by Ur III or Old Babylonian palaces; archaeological material also documents the private sphere, with discoveries of spindle whorls and loom weights in houses. The Old Assyrian level has not been excavated at Aššur, thus to understand textile production in this city, we rely almost exclusively on written sources. Thanks to the numerous letters sent by women from Aššur to their family members at Kaneš, we can follow the private textile production in Aššur and the conditions of its sale in Anatolia. The sale of women’s textiles in Anatolia generated revenues for them. To estimate the women’s contribution to the international trade it is necessary to evaluate the income per garment and the number of textiles produced by a household.

 

1. Textile production

The cuneiform documentation excavated at Kültepe, with the help of other corpuses, allow the reconstruction in varying amount of detail of the textile production by Aššur women, from the purchase of wool to the sale of textiles in Anatolia, or their use for clothing family members.

1.1. Purchase of wool

From the letters they sent to Kaneš, we learn that the Assyrian women used large quantities of wool for the production of textiles, both for their households and for the long distance trade with Anatolia.[2] The wool was bought on the market in Aššur or at the city gate. The kutānum-textile, which was the most common type of fabric exported to the West by Aššur women, could be woven with expensive wool from Šurbu located in the Hamrin Mountains, Southeast of Aššur, in an area well-known for sheep breeding.[3]

Women’s letters refer regularly to the lack of wool on the market. According to the Royal archives from Mari dated to the 18th century BC, this could be caused by political tensions.[4] In a letter sent to the king, a high official, proposed that the plucking of the sheep should take place, not as it used to be, in the vicinity of Aššur, but where the flocks used to graze, in the Suhûm, Southeast of Mari: “The plucking (of sheep) from Suhûm must be done here, so that the Aššur people come and it must be here that they take the wool.”[5] This was a way for Mari to control the people of the Suhûm, and their contact with the Assyrians. As herds no longer came to Aššur, wool was lacking on the market.[6]

When they could not find wool at a reasonable price on the market, women wrote from Aššur to their relatives in Anatolia asking them for small quantities of wool: “(Here), in the City (of Aššur), wool is expensive” and “When you send the purse, enclose some wool”.[7] Lamassī complains that she did not receive the wool sent by her husband from Anatolia:[8] “You wrote me as follows: ‘Ahuqar and Ia-šar are bringing you each 5 minas of wool.’ (But) they gave me nothing! Ia-šar (said) as follows: ‘I will myself make one textile for him.’ ” Wool was then carried to Aššur on donkeys together with gold and silver.[9] But these wool shipments to Aššur concern only small quantities of wool, because of the cost of the transport.

1.2. Manufacturing of textiles

If the wool bought on the Aššur market was in the form of raw material, one had to remove from it dust and waste wool. It was aired, disentangled, cleaned by teasing, and could be combed before being spun into a thread.[10] None of these activities are attested by our documentation, but we can imagine that they were time-consuming. An Ur III text indicates that one woman could clean and comb 125g in a day.[11]

It has been presumed that spinning and weaving were the main activity of all the women of the house, including young girls, elderly women and female slaves.[12] Women’s letters sent to Anatolia contain allusions to the making of textiles, but data are scarce and technical details not always clear. The Assyrian merchants marketing the Assyrian products in Central Asia were able to judge the quality of the textiles and to give them technical advice. Puzur-Aššur sent a letter to the lady Waqqurtum insisting on the thinness of the textile and its density: “Add per piece one mina more of wool than you used for the previous textile you sent me, but they must remain thin!”, and giving its size, 4.5×4 metres: “A finished textile that you make must be nine cubits long and eight cubits wide.”[13] This implies that it was not woven in one piece. This letter which was sent to Aššur was found in Kaneš lower city, it could be a copy. Merchants’ remarks about the textile qualities were sometimes quoted by the women while answering back, as in this letter sent by Lamassī to her husband:[14] 

« Why do you write to me every time as follows: ‘The textiles which you keep sending me are not good?’ Who is this man who lives in your house and who is criticizing the textiles when they get to him? »

They also cite some received advice indicating that they followed it. But there could be some misunderstanding. When Lamassī wrote to her husband that she had reduced the size – i.e. put less wool – in her textiles, that was presumably not what Pūšu-kēn intended; he wanted denser, i.e. warmer textiles:[15]

As for the textiles about which you wrote to me as follows: ‘They are (too) small, they are not good!’ Was it not at your own request that I reduced the size? And now you write (again), saying as follows: ‘Process half a mina (of wool) more in each of your textiles.’ Well, I have done so.”

According to another letter, she added half a mina of wool per textile but alerts her husband that those she is sending were made previously:[16]

Those to which I am adding ½ mina (of wool) each, I will send you with Ia-šar. Those that Urani is bringing you, (were made) earlier, before you wrote to me.”

Assyrian women were thus producing textiles to be exported to Anatolia, their production was much appreciated there and it was improved by advice given by merchants aware of the demands of the local market.

1.3. Transport of textiles to Anatolia

Once woven, textiles needed to be finished, i.e. cleaned; this was done by the ašlākum, the “washerman”, usually a male specialist. It is not clear whether the textiles sent to Anatolia were finished in Aššur or not, but when they were sent as garments for the Assyrian merchants there, they were first cleaned in Aššur as we learn from this letter, again from Lamassī to her husband:[17] 

“As for the textile (made of wool) from Šurbu about which you wrote me as follows: ‘Send me a garment for me to wear’, the garment has indeed been made, but (it is) now with the washerman, so I have not yet sent (it) up to you. I will send up to you by a later (caravan) the textile (made of wool) from Šurbu for you to wear.”

Women of Aššur used to entrust several textiles to travellers going along with caravans of merchandise to Kaneš: “I will send to you with later caravans whatever textiles I can manage (to make).”[18] These transporters added the textiles to their own consignment and so would generally not accept more than ten textiles, often less; they also regularly refuse to take textiles as Lamassī complains:[19]

“Kulumaya is bringing you 9 textiles. Iddin-Suen is bringing you 3 textiles. Ela refused to accept textiles (for transport). Iddin-Suen refused to accept 5 textiles more (for transport).”

An average of entrusted textiles could be five pieces according to Pūšu-kēn who writes to his wife: “Give to the servants good quality textiles in lots of five so that they carry (them) to me.”[20] Women usually specified in letters sent separately the number and quality of the textiles they sent: “Abatananum is bringing you 3 kutānum-textiles. Šumī-abia is bringing you 1 heavy textile.”[21] But they could not be always certain that their textiles arrived at the destination. In the following letter, Lamassī asks her husband to acknowledge the receipt of her textiles:[22]

“When you were still here, I gave to Aššur-malik 1 heavy textile, and upon his return, I gave him 1 kamdum-textile (and) 3 kutānum-textiles. Why, though I repeatedly send textiles to you (do you claim that you have not received any)? Send me a message saying if he did or did not bring (them) to you so that I know (about it)!”

We have no idea about the cost of the transport; perhaps the women had some agreements with the transporters, paying their services in kind. But taxes were deduced on the price of the textiles according to the following letter sent by Šūbultum: “Dān-Aššur is bringing you 7 kutānum-textiles (and) a tablet with my seal; they are not liable to dātum-toll and import tax.”[23]

 

2. An activity paid by piecework

The sale of their textiles by relatives in Anatolia assured an income to these women of Aššur. But only part of their production was commercialized.

2.1. Textile production for exports

In fact, the intensive production of textiles by Aššur women was intended both to dress the household members and for the international trade. We have no data about the existence of a centralized textile production in Aššur, as it is attested for example during the Middle Assyrian period.[24] There is also no mention of the purchase of large amounts of wool by local institutions. Textiles sold by Aššur eponyms could have previously been bought by the House of the eponyms or Town Hall to Babylonian merchants or to Aššur houses.[25] The import of numerous Babylonian textiles supplemented local production, and thousands of textiles were thus exported each year to Anatolia.[26]

It seems clear that the textile production of these Aššur households exceeded their needs; the surplus was sent to Anatolia, thus contributing to the international trade. The Assyrian merchants’ demand in Anatolia was very high as we understand from Ababaya’s letter to Kulia: “What is the purpose of constantly writing me as follows:  ‘Send me five textiles!’ ”,[27] or from Lamassī’s letters to her husband: “I try my best to make and send textiles to you!”.[28] As well, Tarām-Kūbi wrote to her husband Innaya that she could not follow the demand: “6You keep sending me consignments (of silver); but, here, I cannot send you (in return) each time textiles that (are) heavy.”[29]

Production of textiles intended for export to Anatolia was difficult to combine with weaving of textiles for home use.[30] With about a dozen of people to clothe at home, their need for textiles was important as explains Lamassī to her husband:[31]

“If you are my master, do not be angry on account of the garments about which you have written me and (which) I have not sent you. Since (our) girl has grown up, I have made a few heavy textiles for the wagon. And I also made garments for the household personnel and for the children, (this is why) I could not manage to send you some textiles. I will send you with later caravans whatever textiles I can manage (to make).”

Moreover, some of the garments made in Aššur and sent to Anatolia were not for sale but for the Assyrian men to wear, husbands, brothers and sons, and other relatives of the Aššur women. As mentioned earlier, Lamassī made for Pūšu-kēn a garment from expensive Šurbu wool. Some fabrics could even be sent as garment for the local family of the Assyrian traders. The daughter of Aššur-nādā sent a shawl for the Anatolian wife of her father, adding “(…) I shall (so) love your amtum-wife who is with you in Kaneš.”[32]

Wealthy households in Aššur could include about ten women, including the aged ones, young daughter-in-laws, children, and female slaves. A half-dozen or so of small size textiles could be necessary yearly to cloth both these women and their male relatives in Anatolia.

2.2. Payment for the exported textiles

As their textiles were sold on the Anatolian markets, Aššur women received back small amounts of silver.[33] This is quite clear from several letters sent by women who claim the price of their textiles, as, for example, Tarām-Kūbi in a letter to her brother Imdīlum: “Why don’t you send to me the proceeds from my textiles?”[34], or Lamassī to her husband: “Concerning the textiles that Aššur-malik brought with the previous caravan, why don’t you send me the silver?”[35] or “As for me, in order that from each caravan trip at least 10 shekels of silver accrue to your house, I try my best to make and send textiles to you![36]

Some letters give detailed accounts between husband and wife concerning the sale of textiles, as for example this message sent by Pūšu-kēn to Lamassī and for which we have a copy excavated at Kaneš:[37]

“The pri[ce] of your previous textiles has been paid to you. Concerning the 20 textiles that you gave [to] Puzur-Aššur: 1 textile for the import tax, 2 textiles as purchase, 17 textiles of yours remain. Ahuqar brought me 6 textiles, Ia-šar brought me 6 textiles, Iddin-Suen brought me 2 textiles; to these, I added 3 textiles for Puzur-Aššur. I made for him an upqum-packet of 20 textiles and I put (it) at his disposal. The remainder of [your textiles], 11 textiles, (are) on my account.
[For] these, Kulumaya is bringing you under my seal 1 ½ minas of silver – its import [tax] added, its transport tax paid for. You w[rote me] as follows: ‘In[cluded with] the textiles that I sent [you] (are) 2 textiles from Šūbultum.’ (So) of the 1 [½ minas] of silver that Kulumaya is bringing [to you], 1 mina of silver (is) yours (and) give ½ m[ina] to Šūbultum. They will bring me from Burušhattum the price of the heavy textile from Šūb[ultum]. I will get together the 7 shekels of silver from Ilī-bāni that the son of Kuzari has paid and the silver from the sale of the rest of your textiles and will send [(it) to you] by Iddin-Suen.”

Pūšu-kēn explains here to his wife how the 20 textiles she sent him have been sold and details the amount of silver she can expect from their sale. Among these, were some textiles made by Šūbultum who should get back their proceeds.

Letters often quote amounts of silver sent to women in Aššur.[38] Also, several private notices list šēbultum-consignments; these correspond to small amounts of silver or gold meant for women,[39] which could sometimes correspond to the payment for textiles they had sent to Kaniš for sale, even if this is not always indicated. With the silver they received, women of Aššur could buy grain for their household and wool to make more textiles: “The time is now, be sure to send me silver you have in exchange for my textiles, so that I can buy barley, about 10 ṣimdu measures (ca. 300 l.).”[40]

 

3. Evaluation of their contribution to the international trade

Part of the payment they received for their textiles increased the personal capital of women. It is almost impossible to give an evaluation of the percentage that was spent on food and daily life goods and that which they kept for them or reinvested in financial operations. But we can try to compute the income per garment as well as the textiles produced yearly by Aššur households. 

3.1. Income per garment

Because we lack documentation from Aššur, it is quite difficult to estimate the income per textile. However, some letters sent to Kaneš give indications about the amount of silver women hoped to receive or did receive for the textiles they sent. In a message addressed to her brother, Tarām-Kūbi complains that her textiles have been underpaid:[41]

“Kutallānum brought you 6 textiles in his previous transport. 7-8You sent me 1 mina 10 shekels of silver, 8-11but [si]nce you left, you have never sent me any other consignment. 11-14To whom else but me would you send (only) 1 mina 10 shekels for 6 textiles? 15-16(Now) Kutallānum is bringing you 6 kutānum-textiles. 17-18If you (are) my brother, you should not send me (less) than ⅓ mina per (textile)!”

The 6 textiles transported by Kutallānum were paid 1 mina 10 shekels, thus 11 2/3 shekels a piece, but Tarām-Kūbi claims 1/3 mina per textile (i.e. 20 shekels). In the following letter, Ištar-lamassī received 12 shekels of silver, plus another 5 shekels for a textile, thus 17 shekels: “Enna-Suen is bringing you a textile (…) Enna-Suen brought me 12 shekels of silver, and he also brought me another 5 shekels separately.”[42] As a matter of comparison, a list of expenses made in Anatolia for a wedding feast quote the purchase of 5 kutānum-textiles at a price of 5/6 minas, thus 10 shekels a piece.[43] But we know that such quality textiles could be sold at 15 shekels a piece in Kaneš; thus, after all the taxes deduced, women could hope to get back between 10 and 12 shekels for each textile they sent to Anatolia. Taxes were indeed levied on the textiles sent to Anatolia, and on the silver sent back to Aššur. According to the letter of Pūšu-kēn to his wife quoted above,[44] on an amount of 20 textiles, one piece was given to pay the import tax (5% of the textiles) and two others were bought by the palace at a low price (equivalent to the tithe of 10%). On the silver, proceeds of the textiles, a transport tax was levied by the kārum authorities of 1/60 and an import tax by Aššur Town Hall amounting to 4% of the precious metal. On the 1 ½ minas of silver sent, the transport tax has already being paid, and the import tax has been added. So Lamassī receives 1 ½ minas all taxes deducted for 11 textiles, i.e. a little more than 8 shekels each, which is quite low.

The fine and good quality textiles were more expensive according to a letter sent by Puzur-Aššur to Waqqurtum: “The thin textile you sent me, make (more) like it and send (them) to me with Aššur-idī and I will send you ½ mina of silver (apiece).”[45]

To compute the income per textile exported to Anatolia, we need to know the price of the wool at Aššur. Unfortunately, it is not given by texts from Kaneš. However, a royal inscription of Šamšī-Adad I (18th century BC) gives a list of basic commodities and the quantities that one could buy for one shekel of silver: “When I built the temple for the god Enlil, my lord, the prices in my city, Aššur, (were the following): 2 gur of barley could be purchased for 1 shekel of silver; 15 minas of wool for 1 shekel of silver; 2 bán of oil for 1 shekel of silver, according to the prices of my city Aššur.”[46] A price of 15 minas of wool per shekel of silver seems to be the average for Upper Mesopotamia during the first half of the 2nd millennium BC.[47] This price probably applied to raw material. So with 1 shekel of silver it was possible to acquire 15 minas of wool, which could be used to weave 3 textiles.[48] Indeed, according to a letter from Lamassī already quoted, one needed 5 minas of wool (2.5 kg) to make a textile.[49] During the cleaning of wool before spinning, there could be a waste of 20 to 30% of the original wool;[50] with 5 minas of wool it may have been possible to produce a textile weaving about 4 minas (2 kg).

Thus, with the income of one textile corresponding to 10-12 shekels of silver, a woman could buy wool to produce 30 to 36 textiles if she had no other expenses to make, although this was usually not the case. According to a letter sent by the consecrated woman Ištar-lamassī, a third of the sale price of a textile could be invested in the purchase of wool to make various quality textiles:[51]

“Šū-Anum, son of Hanu, brought me 12 shekels of silver (…) From the silver that the son of Hanu brought, I made 1 Abarnian-textile, 2 fine (textiles) and 4 medium quality (textiles), and they are deposited in the …”

With 12 shekels of silver, it was possible to buy 3 talents of wool. She made altogether 7 textiles. With an average of 5 minas per textile, she needed about 35 minas of wool, thus a little more than one fourth of the 12 shekels of silver available. The remaining silver was used to buy barley for the household – Šamšī-Adad’s inscription indicates that it was possible to purchase 2 gur (600 litres) for 1 shekel of silver – other food products, various utensils for the house, and perhaps some textiles to send to Anatolia.

3.2. Estimated number of textiles produced by a household

It is difficult to evaluate the total number of textiles sent annually by each Aššur household; these were supposedly counted in dozens, each weighing about 4 minas, plus or minus one or a half of mina of wool.[52] In fact, in such estimation, each parameter is based on assumptions. However, thanks to the data given in the Ur III corpus and experiments made at the Centre for Textile Research (Copenhagen), we can present a tentative estimation.[53] Our calculations will be based on pieces of textiles measuring 4 × 4.5 metres and weighing 4 minas (2.5 kg), but prepared from 5 minas of raw wool.

The women had first to prepare and comb the raw wool they have purchased. As seen above, a craftsperson would only prepare for spinning about 125 g of wool a day (op. cit. note 11). Thus, for 5 minas, it would have taken 20 days to prepare the necessary amount of cleaned and combed wool. Perhaps this estimation is a little pessimistic.

As for spinning, depending naturally on the thickness of the thread, it is possible to spin an average of 35 to 50 metres of thread per hour.[54] To weave a square metre of textile, depending on the density of the fabric, one needs about 2 km of thread, and some 2 to 5% more for the setting of the loom; one person had thus to spin for 5 days to obtain this 2 km of thread. For a 18 m2 piece (4 × 4.5 metres), at least 36 km of thread were necessary, thus some 3 months of spinning for a single woman.

The preparation of a loom to weave a 3.5 square metre textile needed, according to Ur III texts, the work of three women during three days, and two women could weave on this loom some 50 cm per day.[55] But according to experiments, one person is able to weave about 50 cm per 8 hours day of work depending naturally on the width of the loom.[56] The Assyrian textile measuring 4 × 4.5 metres would presumably not be woven in one piece and we must suppose that it was woven in at least two, preferably three, pieces which were then sewn together. To set up the looms, one needed at least some 9 women-days. If the textile was made from three strips of fabric of 1.5 metres wide each, a woman would achieve it in a minimum of 24 days (3 × 8 days), a number which needs to be double if women were working on the looms by pairs. Adding the different stages of work, we obtain the following results:[57] 

 Tasks / women-days  One woman per loom Two women per loom
 Cleaning and combing

20  

20  

 Spinning

90  

90  

 Setting of the loom(s)

9  

9  

 Weaving

24  

48  

 Total of working
 days/woman

143  

[4 2/3 months]  

167  

[5 months 1/2]  

We can thus reasonably suppose that, if textile production was performed almost throughout the year,[58] a women was able to weave the equivalent of 2 to 2.5 textiles (of 4 × 4.5 m) a year. A wealthy household such as the one of Lamassī could perhaps house a dozen active girls and women who would then be able to produce some 20 to 25 textiles a year, among which 4 or 5 would have been needed each year to clothe the members of the household.

According to the letters found in Kaneš, the shipments of textiles by Aššur women seem indeed quite regular.[59] Lamassī’s textile shipments to her husband can be summarized as follows:[60]

Text

Shipments of textiles by Lamassī and names of transporters

165 Kulumaya: 9 textiles Iddin-Sîn 3 textiles    
166 Kulumaya: 9 textiles Iddin-Sîn 3 textiles    
163 Done : Kulumaya 3 kamsum + 6 kutānum Done: Aššur-malik 5 kutānum Urani = 8 (before adding wool) Ia-šar (later on + ½ mina)
164   Done : Aššur-malik1 heavy+1 kamdum + 3 kutānum    
167 Aššur-bāšti : 2 textiles      
168 Gave 20 textiles to Puzur-Aššur some from Šubultum Iddin-Sîn 2 textiles Ahu-waqar 6 textiles Ia-šār 6 textiles
169 Aššuriš-takil 1 heavy textile      

The first three texts (165, 166, 163) deal with the same shipment transported by Kulumaya, in the first two letters it is announced, according to the third letter, the shipment has been made. The third and the sixth texts both deal with a shipment by Ia-šar (163,168). Texts three and four refer to the same shipment transported by Aššur-malik (163, 164). It is not impossible that the last text refers to more or less the same period. Adding all these textiles together, we obtain a total of 33 textiles sent by Lamassī to Anatolia in a limited span of time, of perhaps a year or two. 

* * *

 Thousands of textiles were exported each year by the Assyrians to Anatolia; the Aššur women production was complemented by textiles bought from the Babylonians and called “Akkadian” textiles. There is no reference to a possible centralized textile production with workshops belonging to the palace or to temples as attested elsewhere in Upper Mesopotamia or Babylonia. Thus, textile production was a private activity, done by women at home.

For one piece of textile, the expenses of wool amounted to 1/3 shekel of silver, and a woman needed some four two-thirds to five and a half months to prepare the wool, spin the thread and weave a 4 × 4.5 m textile weighing 2 kg. The income per textile, minus the price of its wool, was about 11 shekels per item. A woman was able to produce two to two and a half textiles per year, thus a household of a dozen of women could manufacture between twenty-five and thirty textiles per year, most of them being sold in Anatolia; this corresponded to an income average of 5 minas of silver, which was the price of a small house in Aššur.[61] A few texts from Late Bronze Age Aššur show that such a profitable business also went on during the Middle Assyrian period.[62]

 

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2010     The Textiles Traded by the Assyrians in Anatolia (19th-18th centuries BC). In C. Michel & M.-L. Nosch (eds), Textile Terminologies in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean from the Third to the First Millennia BC, Ancient Textiles 8. Oxford – Oakville, 210-271.

Postgate, J. N.
in press    Wool, Hair and Textiles in Assyria. In C. Breniquet & C. Michel (eds) Wool Economy in the Ancient Near East and the Aegean: From the Beginnings of Sheep Husbandry to Institutional Textile Industry, Ancient Textiles 17, Oxford – Oakville.

Thomason, A. K.
2013     Her Share of the Profits: Women, Agency, and Textile Production at Kültepe/Kanesh in the Early Second Millennium BC. In M.-L. Nosch, H. Koefoed & E. Andersson Strand (eds.), Textile Production and Consumption in the Ancient Near East. Archaeology, Epigraphy, Iconography. 93-112. Ancient Textiles Series 12, Oxford – Oakville.

Veenhof, K.R.
1972     Aspects of Old Assyrian Trade and its Terminology. Studia et  Documenta 10. Leiden.
1977     Some social effects of the Old Assyrian Trade. Iraq 39, 109-118.
2011     Houses in the ancient city of Assur, in B. S. Düring, A. Wossink & P. M. M. G. Akkermans, Correlates of Complexity. Essays in Archaeology and Assyriology Dedicated to Diederik J. W. Meijer in Honour of his 65th Birthday, PIHANS 116, 211-231.

Waetzoldt, H.
1972     Untersuchungen zur neusumerischen Textilindustrie. Roma.
2010     The Colours and Variety of Fabrics from Mesopotamia during the Ur III Period (2050BC). In C. Michel & M.-L. Nosch (eds), Textile Terminologies in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean from the Third to the First Millennia BC, 210-271. Ancient Textiles 8. Oxford – Oakville, 201-209.

 


* CNRS, ArScAn-HAROC, Maison Archéologie et Ethnologie, Nanterre. I would like to thank very much Richard Firth for his revision of my text.

[1] Michel 2013.
[2] Michel 2006b, 290-293; Michel in press.
[3] TC 2, 7:25-26 = Michel 2001, no. 108: “There is no Šurbu-wool available”. ‘Tablet Rendell’ = Michel to appear, no. 167, to Pūšu-kēn by his wife Lamassī: “As for the textile (made of wool) from Šurbu about which you wrote me (…) I will send up to you by a later (caravan) the textile (made of wool) from Šurbu for you to wear”. For good quality textiles made of this type of wool, see TC 2, 14:6. The location of Šurbu is discussed by Dercksen 2004, 16, note 32; Michel & Veenhof 2010, 221.
[4] Michel in press.
[5] Charpin & Durand 1997, 377 and 387-391, No. 4 (A 2459):rev.3’-6’, ù bu-qú-um Su-hi-im, an-na-nu-um li-ib-ba-qí-im-ma, ù lú-meš Aš-šu-ru-úki li-il-li-ku-nim-ma, an-na-nu-um-ma síg li-il-qú-ú.
[6]Another letter mentions the Assyrians complaining about the Suhûm people who prevented access for their traders, sheep, and wool, see Charpin & Durand 1997, No. 5 (A 4535-bis).
[7] BIN 4, 9 = Michel to appear, no. 163; Garelli 1965, 158, No. 25 = Michel to appear no. 147; BIN 6, 7 = Michel to appear.
[8] BIN 4, 9 = Michel to appear, no. 163.
[9] Prag I 554:9-10 mentions a shipment of silver to Aššur that includes “3 minas of wool for Waqqurtum”. Michel & Veenhof 2010, 216; Lassen 2010. There were important wool markets southeast of Kaneš, Michel 2006b; Dercksen 2004, 273-274; Lassen 2010, 167-170; Lassen in press.
[10] See Michel in press. “One comb” 1 mu-uš-ṭum , CCT 3, 31 = Michel to appear, no. 221:29.
[11] Waetzoldt 1972, T. 32, rev. i6-14, and Waetzoldt 2010, 207.
[12] Veenhof 1972, Michel 2006b, Michel to appear, chapters 3 and 4.
[13] TC 3, 17 = Michel to appear no. 162.
[14] BIN 6, 11 = Michel to appear, no. 165.
[15] BIN 4, 10 = Michel to appear, no. 164.
[16] BIN 4, 9 = Michel to appear, no. 163.
[17] Rendell = Michel to appear, no. 167.
[18] CCT 3, 20 Michel to appear no. 166.
[19] BIN 6, 11 = Michel to appear, no. 165. See also: texts 163 (Lamassī): “Urani is bringing you 8 textiles. Those to which I am adding ½ mina (of wool) each, I will send you with Ia-šar”.
[20] CCT 6, 11a = Michel to appear, no. 168.
[21] CCT 4, 8a = Michel to appear, no. 227 from Abaya to her brother-in-law Innaya.
[22] BIN 4, 10 = Michel to appear, no. 164.
[23]BIN 4, 85 = Michel to appear, no. 222.
[24] However, Dercksen 2004, 16 suggested that centralized and institutional production did exist. For the Middle Assyrian sources, see Postgate in press. It is attested also during the Old Babylonian period at Mari.
[25] Günbattı 1987, 197, and TPAK 1, 143; see Dercksen 2004, 14-15.
[26] Veenhof 1977, 114, note 18
[27] AKT 5, 9 = Michel to appear, no. 133
[28] BIN 6, 11 = Michel to appear, no. 165.
[29] CCT 3, 23b = Michel to appear no. 207.
[30] Veenhof 1972, p. 103-123; Michel 1998, p. 101-102; Michel 2006b; Michel to appear.
[31] CCT 3, 20 = Michel to appear no. 166.
[32] BIN 4, 88 = Michel to appear 172. See also text no. 221 for various textiles sent to women in Anatolia.
[33] Veenhof 1972; Michel 2001 (chapter 7); Michel 2006b; Thomason 2013.
[34] TC 1 5 = Michel to appear.
[35] RA 59 159 = Michel to appear. See also CCT 4, 21b = Michel to appear no. 169 to Pūšu-kēn and Aššur-malik from Lamassī: “Concerning the heavy textile that I sent you with the caravan of Aššuriš-takil, son of Sukkallia, it has arrived, (but) Pūšu-kēn (said) as follows: ‘He did not give (it) to me!’ There, make him acknowledge it and send me silver or the (equivalent of the) merchandise that is (waiting) for years!”
[36] BIN 6, 11 = Michel to appear, no 165. See also TC 3, 17 = Michel to appear, no.162 from Puzur-Aššur to Waqqurtum: “1 mina of silver – its import tax added, its transport fee paid – Aššur-idī brings you under my seal.” Then, it mentions the receipt of textiles.
[37] CCT 6, 11a = Michel to appear, no. 168.
[38] CCT 4, 13b = Michel to appear, no. 218 : Ab-šalim received successively 5 shekels by Ištar-palil, 5 shekels by Ataya and 3 shekels of silver by Nūr-kī-ilī. KTS 1, 2a = Michel to appear, no. Text 201: the same lady received 10 shekels more. See also BIN 4, 88 = Michel to appear, no. 172 written by a woman: “Ennam-Aššur br[ought me] ½ mina 5 shekels of silver. Puzur-Ištar brought me 5 shekels of silver (and) 3 shekels of gol[d]. Ṭāb-ṣilli-Aššur brought me 5 shekels of silver (and) 5 minas of copper.”
[39] See for example CCT 6, 27b = Michel to appear, no. 174, in which Lamassī and her daughter Ahaha receive 13 shekels of siliver, Šūbultum, 1 ½ shekels, Tarīš-mātum and Bēlātum, 1 ½ shekels and Lamassātum, 1 ½ shekels; or KTS 1, 50a = Michel to appear, no. 224 where Ab-šalim and Ahaha receive some silver as well.
[40] CCT 3, 24 = Michel to appear, no. 128.
[41] Or 50, no. 2 = Michel to appear, no. 170.
[42] LB 1201 = Michel to appear, no. 171.
[43] Albayrak 2002, p. 1-10 = Michel to appear, no. 14.
[44] CCT 6, 11a = Michel to appear, no. 168.
[45] TC 3, 17 = Michel to appear, no. 162. Confirmed by AKT 2, 52 = Michel to appear, no. 173, letter to to Mannum-kī-Aššur: thus (says) Šīmat-Sîn: “I gave one fine kutānum-textile to Šū-Enlil asa tadmiqtum-interest-free loan. He promised me ½ mina of silver.
[46] Grayson 1987, A.0.39.1:59-72, i-nu-ma é dEn-líl, be-lí-ia, e-pu-šu, ki-lam a-li-ia A-šur4ki, a-na 1 gín kù-babbar, 2 gur še, a-na 1 gín kù-babbar, 15 ma-na síg, a-na 1 gín kù-babbar, 2 bán ì, i-na ki-lam a-li-ia, A-šur4ki, lu-ú iš-ša-am.
[47] Michel in press.
[48] Rendell = Michel to appear, no. 167, cited above.
[49] BIN 4, 9 = Michel to appear, no. 163; Veenhof 1972, 89.
[50] According to an Ur III tablet, when the raw wool was very durty, the losses in cleaning could go up to 50%, see Waetzoldt Waetzoldt 1972, T. 32, rev. i6-14.
[51]LB 1201 = Michel 2001, no. 363 = Michel to appear no. 171.
[52] Veenhof 1972, 89-90. For the variation of the quantity of wool per textile, see the following texts: TC 3, 17 = Michel to appear, no. 162, “Add per piece one mina more of wool than you used for the previous textile you sent me, but they must remain thin!”; LB 1201 = Michel to appear, no. 163, “Those to which I am adding ½ mina (of wool) each, I will send you with Ia-šar. Those that Urani is bringing you, (were made) earlier, before you wrote to me.”; BIN 4, 10 = Michel to appear, no. 164, “Process half a mina (of wool) more in each of your textiles.”
[53] This research is in progress. It is carried out within the framework of the Projet International de Cooperation Scientifique (PICS) CNRS – DNRF Textiles from Orient to the Mediterranean from the Third to the First millennia BC (2012-2014), coordinated by C. Michel (France) and M.-L. Nosch (Danemark). A more detailed study will be presented in the forthcoming workshop Traditional Textile Craft – an Intangible Cultural Heritage (Jordan, March 2014).
[54] Andersson 2012, 34.
[55] Waetzoldt 1972, T. 32:iii4-rev i14, and Waetzoldt 2010, 205.
[56] Andersson Strand 2012, 35.
[57]As a matter of comparison, Firth & Nosch 2012 have made an estimate for the production of an Ur III túgguz-za fabric, measuring 3.5 × 3.5 metres and weighing 2 kg,  with the data of the text Waetzoldt 1972, T. 32, rev. i6-14: it amounted to 130 days including cleaning and combing. If we scale up to the size of a kutānum-textile, supposing a textile of a similar density, then this would become 192 days. For a different interpretation of the same Ur III text, see Andersson Strand & Cybulska 2013.
[58] According to Breniquet 2008, it was more a seasonal activity.
[59] See for example the two lettres to Innaya from Abaya, BIN 4, 10 = Michel to appear, no. 164, “Ilī-bāni is bringing him 1 namašuhhum-textile from Ahaha for the servant, and later, I will send him 1 nibrārum-textile.” CCT 4, 8a = Michel to appear, no. 227, “. Abatananum is bringing you 3 kutānum-textiles. Šumī-abia is bringing you 1 heavy textile.”
[60] Text numbers are those of Michel to appear.
[61] Veenhof 2011, 226.
[62] Postgate in press.

Women and Economy in the Family Sphere According to the Old Assyrian Sources

Women and Economy in the Family Sphere
According to the Old Assyrian Sources
 

Cécile Michel*

Abstract

The Old Assyrian private archives, mainly of commercial nature, include a higher proportion of documents related to women and their economic activities than the majority of cuneiform sources. Letters sent from Aššur reflect the preeminent role of the Assyrian women in the domestic economy as well as their participation to the long distance trade. Contracts and other legal texts excavated at Kaneš attest Assyrian and Anatolian women as party in marriage contracts, last wills, loan or sale contracts.

In this presentation, we will try to offer a relative estimation of womens’ possessions, as well as of their use; we will study the role of women in the management of the household and define the economic relationships existing between women and other members of the family group.

 *

 The Old Assyrian private archives, excavated at Kültepe (Central Anatolia, ancient Kaneš), and dating to the 19th and 18th centuries BCE, mainly of commercial nature, include a high proportion of documents related to women and their economic activities.[1] They show that wives and daughters of the Assyrian merchants at Aššur and Kaneš have enjoyed considerable independence in family life.

The letters sent from Aššur by the wives and female relatives of merchants who had gone off to live in Anatolia reflect the preeminent role of the Assyrian women in the domestic economy as well as their participation to the long distance trade. Various types of family records, such as marriage and divorce contracts, as well as testaments found at Kaneš reflect the status of Assyrian women there.

This paper focuses on Assyrian women living in Aššur, but also in Kaneš, and their role in the domestic economy. After giving a relative estimation of women’s property, I will analyze the women involvement in purchase and loan contracts. The role of women in the management of the household will allow defining the economic relationships existing between women and other members of the family group.

1. Women’s property

1.1. Inventory of a woman’s house

The recognized status of the adult woman was as a wife. In marriage contracts, she was the legal equal of her husband. When they married, daughters received a dowry consisting of an amount of silver and household goods. Texts are quite silent about dowries perhaps because marriages between Assyrian men and women were celebrated in Aššur. However, an inventory of bronze vessels belonging to a Assyrian woman living in Kaniš, as well as some last wills give us an idea of the nature and importance of women’s property.[2]

10 grooved stands, 1 stand for a sieve, 2 duck-shaped figures with lamp wicks, one stand for sappum-bowls, 2 ṣurṣuppum-containers, 3 supānu-bowls of Kaneš-type, a measuring cup of 2 liters, a measuring cup of 1 liter, 9 haburrum-vessels, one among them is a sappum-bowl with a handle, 18 šāhum-pitchers, 4 large and 4 small hublum-vessels?, 6 sappum-bowls with metal band, 5 kunakkium, 2 zuršum-cups, 5 hutūlum-vessels, 2 ašhalum-vessels, 2 mirrors?, 3 sappum-bowls stripped, 1 agannum-large bowl, 1 šakanum, 1 spoon; in total 1 talent 40 minas of bronze (objects) . 14 talents (420 kg) of interest-bearing copper, 14 tables, 7 urunsannum-tables, 6 qablītum-containers, 3 cauldrons of 30 minas each (from) the stock of cauldrons in my kitchen. 1 lurum, 2 qablītum-containers of 15 minas each, 3 tables, 2 chests, she received since Aya died. All this is with Šāt-Aššur.

This inventory concerns predominantly bronze and copper items – mainly vessels – in Šāt-Aššur’s house in Kaneš. Most of the vessels and other quoted objects are not identified; they weight a total of 50 kg of bronze. Few items presumably made of wood are listed at the end of the text: tables, chests and unknown objects. Unfortunately, we do not know the origin of these assets: inheritance share, dowry, etc.

1.2. Women in last wills

When the father had died leaving his daughter unmarried, his sons had to organize and finance their sister’s marriage from their shares of the inheritance.[3] In some instances, merchant daughters inherited along with their brothers; this seems to concern eldest daughters who had been consecrated to a deity and remained single.[4] In fact, without a fixed rule concerning inheritance, Assyrian merchants drew up testaments that often demonstrate their concern for protecting the financial interests of the female family members. The goods that they left over consisted of one or more pieces of real estate, notes of debts due to them, amounts of silver or gold, various bronze objects, male and female slaves, and their personal cylinder seal.

According to these last wills, the widow received a share in the estate or her support was provided by her children. The eldest son could get a larger share of the inheritance, comprising the family home where his mother lived, but had to support her.[5]

Ilī-bāni drew up a will concerning his household.
(Description of 3 tablets of credit in tin, copper and silver) these tablets (of credit) belong to Ahātum, my daughter, the gubabtum-consecrated girl. My remaining tablets (of debts owed me), in both Aššur and Anatolia, go to my sons, and to my daughter, the gubabtum-consecrated girl, as one [share. The house i]n Kaniš [is the property of Lama]ssī, my wife. None of my [children shall rais]e a claim against [Lamassī. Among] my [ta]blets at Kaniš, [are some] concerning 1 ½ minas of [si]lver, Nabutum shall give those tablets to Lamassī. Iya and Ikuppiya shall give 6 minas of copper a year to Ahātum, my daughter. All my sons are responsible for my debt. None (of them), without the others, shall open any of my tablets (of debt owed me), either in Aššur or in Anatolia. From their (meat) offerings, they shall give breast cuts to Ahātum. Ia shall take my seal. (…)
Witnesses

Ilī-bāni left the family house in Kaneš to his wife Lamassī as well as some credit tablets preserved in his archives. He also left three tablets of credit to his consecrated daughter Ahātum. She shall share the other credit tablets with her brothers Iya and Ikuppiya who will also give her an annual allowance of copper and some meat.

As well, in his testament, Agūa provided first for his wife, who received his assets and the use of the house she was living in at Aššur, next his daughter, Ab-šalim – presumably a consecrated girl –, who inherited gold, silver, and a servant.[6]

Agūa drew up his will as follows. The house of Aššur is the property of my wife. Of the silver, she shall share with my children. She is father and mother over the silver (that is) her inheritance share. The house and silver (that) she (shall leave) behind, and everything that she owns, (shall afterwards be) the property of Šū-Bēlum. The house of Kaniš is the property of Šū-Bēlum. My sons shall pay back my investors, and of the silver that will remain belonging to me, Ab-šalim shall be the first to take ⅓ mina of gold, 1 mina of silver and a girl. Then, from what remains, my sons who did not receive houses shall each take 4 talents of copper instead of their (share) of real estate. Of the remaining silver and male and female slaves, my wife, Šū-Bēlum and my sons shall share in equal parts. (…)
Witnesses

By constituting his wife “father and mother” (abat u ummat) over the money that she received, Agūa granted her full ownership. She may use her money as she wished, on the condition that it remained in the family so that, at her death, the eldest son would inherit it, along with the family home in Aššur. Drawing up of wills with the intention of providing female family members with shares, shows that women enjoyed important socio-economic status within the family’s sphere.

Moreover, unlike sons, daughters inherited only assets, such as obligations due the family, and were not held responsible for debts – presumable commercial in nature – left by their deceased fathers. These had to be paid by the male heirs before any division of the estate as we learn from Ilī-bāni’s testament: “All my sons are responsible for my debt”. Next the women of the family, mothers and daughters, received their shares; they were, moreover, often the first to do so. Such a legal protection of women assests is also implied by one of Alāhum letters. After his father’s death, he made the inventory of his house in which several women of the family were still living. It turned out to be empty and he suspected the women to have helped themselves: “You (are) women, but he (is) a man, and they will bring action against him for his father’s debts.”[7]

1.3. Last wills of women

When their mother died, the children naturally inherited her goods. Some widows drew up their own wills to distribute their belongings as they wanted. But it is not clear which goods belonged to them and which were inherited from their husbands.[8] Lamassātum, widow of Elamma, whose archives were found in 1991, made a list of her goods which, after her death, were to be taken to Aššur and divided among her consecrated daughter and her sons.[9]

3 cups and toggle pins, their weight: 1 mina of silver, under my seal; separately ⅓ mina 6 shekels of silver under my seal, votive offerings of Elamma; 2 tablets of 2 minas 15 shekels of silver referring to the debt owed by an Anatolian; 1 tablet of 1 ½ mina of silver referring to the debt owed by Naniya; 1 tablet of 1 mina 6 shekels of silver referring to the debt owed by Būr-Sîn; 1 tablet of ⅓ mina 4 shekels of silver referring to the debt owed by Il(ī)-tappa; I gave 1 mina of silver to Irma-Aššur for making purchases; I gave 1 mina of silver to Ah-šalim for making purchases; I gave 9 pirikannum-textiles and 1 Abarnian textile to Pilah-Ištar for making purchases; 5 slaves and 5 slave girls, of which 1 slave girl, named Iantalka, belongs to Ilina, daughter of Aššur-ṭāb. All this, Lamassātum, wife of Elamma left (at her death). Ištar-pālil, Enna-Sîn and Maṣi-ilī, representatives of Lamassātum, shall entrust it to a licensed trader and to her sons, they shall bring it to the City (of Aššur), and, in accordance with the testamentary dispositions applying to them, my daughter, the gubabtum-consecrated girl and my sons shall act.

This inventory includes valuable vessels, jewelry, silver from votive offerings, credit tablets in her favor, merchandise, and slaves.

The status of daughters mentioned in Old Assyrian wills and who inherited portions of their fathers’ estates is not always specified. They seem to have been unmarried and it is most likely that in every case they were consecrated daughters.[10] As they themselves had no heirs, their paternal family apparently received their goods when they died. Married daughter had left their own family and belonged to the family (bētum) of their husband.

Beside goods that they received when getting married or when they had a share in an inheritance, women earned themselves money by producing textiles and participating to the long distance trade to Anatolia.[11]

 2. Head of the household in Aššur

The internal structure of the Assyrian merchant families cannot be reconstructed in detail because their archives were kept at Aššur, and have not been discovered. The expression “the house of the father” (bēt abim) can refer to various realities, from the building itself to the “family” over three generations.[12]

In the absence of their husbands, merchants’ wives found themselves alone, at the head of their households (bētum). Besides children, it could include aged family members,[13] a young daughter-in-law or other members of the family without their proper home, and domestics, especially female slaves. These were part of the household, so women had to see to their support, both clothing and food. Thus, certain households could contain more than a dozen people.

 2.1. Food provisioning

In the absence of their husbands, women in Aššur raised their youngest children, who grew up in an environment dominated by women. They had to care for their food and clothes. Lack of means to buy barley, the basic food item, was one of their principal worries. At Aššur, they could buy grain after the harvest with silver sent by their husbands or with the proceeds from their sale of textiles. They had to estimate the quantities needed to feed all the members of their household and could come up short as we learn from this letter sent to Innaya by his wife.[14]

You wrote me as follows: “Keep the bracelets and rings that are there. Let them serve to provide you with food.” Certainly, you had Ilī-bāni bringing me ½ mina of gold, but what bracelets did you leave me? When you left, you did not leave me silver, not even a single shekel! You emptied the house and took (everything) out! After you had gone, there was a severe famine in the City (of Aššur and) you did not leave me barley, not even a single litre! I keep having to buy barley for our sustenance. And, as to the goods for the temple collection, I gave an emblem in/among […] and I spent all my own possessions. Moreover I just paid to the City Hall for [what] the house of Adada owed. What complaints do you have to keep writing me about? There is nothing for our sustenance so we are the ones to keep making complaints! I scraped together what I had at my disposal and sent it to you. Now, I am living in an empty house. The time is now, be sure to send me silver you have in exchange for my textiles, so that I can buy barley, about 10 ṣimdu measures (ca. 300 l.). (…)

Grain, ground into flour, was used to make various kinds of bread. It was also the main ingredient of beer prepared daily by the women.

2.2. Textile production

Women had also to provide their children and domestics with a wardrobe. All the women of the household took part in the production of textiles.[15] They bought the needed wool and organized the production, but an important part of their production went for long distance trade. In a letter addressed to her husband, Lamassī explains that she trouble combining the production of textiles to clothe the children and servants with the textiles she has to make for export to Anatolia.[16]

(…) If you are my master, do not be angry on account of the garments about which you have written me and (which) I have not sent you. Since the girl has grown up, I have made a few heavy textiles for the wagon. And I also made garments for the household personnel and for the children, (this is why) I could not manage to send you some textiles. I will send you with later caravans whatever textiles I can manage (to make). (…)

2.3. Managing the domestic staff

Some women complained in their letters about the high cost of having domestics. Assyrian women owned personally one or more female slaves, and bought or sold them as they liked: indeed, various slave sales were initiated by women. Ahatum, for example, bought in several instances a girl from her parents:[17]

Ahatum bought the daughter of Hana. She paid ½ mina 1 ½ shekels of silver. If Hana takes her daughter (back), Hana shall pay 1 mina of silver, (then) she shall take her daughter back. If anyone takes her (away), Ahatum shall take Hana.  If she commits an offense or an act of insolence, Ahatum may sell her wherever she wishes.
Witnesses

In this example, the girl was pledged and could be redeemed. The Assyrian women disposed of their maids as they wished; they could decide to sell them if they were no longer useful and keep the proceeds for themselves: “(…) If the slave girl is unsatisfactory to you (fem.), sell her and keep the price you receive for her.”[18] It is difficult to estimate the number of slaves, men or women, per household at Aššur and Kaneš, but wealthy families could clearly maintain a whole staff.

2.4. Maintenance of the house building

The housewife, in her husband’s absence, had to keep up the family house and keep an eye on everything inside it: furnishings, utensils, documents, and merchandise. Houses were built of unbaked clay brick, a material frequently in need of repair. The roof was held up by wooden beams which had to be replaced regularly and the plaster roofing redone. Women who lived alone at Aššur bought bricks and timbers to strengthen the walls and redo the roof, but waited for their husbands’ return to carry out work as we learn from Tarīš-mātum’s letter:[19]

Concerning the house in which we live, I was afraid because the house has fallen in disrepair, so, in the spring, I had mud bricks made and I stacked (them) in piles. Concerning the beams about which you wrote me, send me the necessary amount of silver so that they [will buy] beams [for you] here (…)

The house was the woman’s domain. She wanted to own as large a house as possible, to symbolize the social success of her family.[20]

Since you left, Šalim-ahum has built two houses; when will we be able to do (the same)? As for the textile(s) which Aššur-malik brought you previously, could not you send the silver?

The archives found at Kaneš contain contracts for the purchase of real estate in which women sometimes appear, either as buyers or sellers. The woman Šalimma bought the house of a couple for 2 ½ minas of silver; the house was previously owned by an Anatolian:[21]

The house of Ištar-lamassī and Aššur-ṭāb, for 2 ½ minas of silver, they sold to Šalimma and with the silver, price of their house, Aššur-ṭāb and Ištar-lamassī are satisfied. The house belongs to Šalimma. If anyone raises a claim against her for the house, Aššur-ṭāb and Ištar-lamassī shall clear her.
Aššur-ṭāb gave to Šalimma the contract recording the sale of this house, with the seal of the Anatolian, its previous owner.
Witnesses

Women who lived alone had to protect the family’s assets kept in their house against bankers and angry associates tempted to come and take away goods.

3. Women as debtors and creditors

3.1. Women as debtors

Several loan contracts, found in the houses of the lower town at Kaneš, show Assyrian women borrowing silver, with or without interest, from a man or another woman. These texts almost never state the reason for the loan – necessity or business loan. Loan contracts involving women as debtors are very similar to those concerning men; the default interest is the same in both cases (30% per year):[22]

Pūšu-kēn has loaned 12 shekels of silver to Šāt-Ea. From the week of Aššur-taklāku, she shall pay in 5 weeks. If she has not paid, she shall add 1 ½ shekels per mina (and) per month as interest.
Month allānātum (xii), eponym Ilī-dān (KEL 97/122).
Witnesses

Loans in which women appear as debtors often deal with small amounts of silver, or sacks of cereals, so seem in general to be for their own subsistence and that of their children in time of shortage, as shown by the repayment dates, sometimes fixed to the harvest.

Women were of course responsible for repaying their loans. Some creditors required of them some sort of guarantee: pledge of an object or a person or designation of a guarantor, man or woman. For example, women could put up as pledge their house. Women’s debts seem to have been incurred on their own, independently of their husbands, and any line between individual and common property, if ever common fund existed, does not seem always to have been clearly drawn.[23]

3.2. Women as creditors

With the silver they owed, Assyrian women took part in various transactions and invested their silver in interest-bearing loans. Numerous women appear as creditors in loan contracts. The amounts loaned by women were generally slightly smaller than those loaned by men, often a few shekels of silver, though occasionally much more. Some women’s loans exceeded a mina of silver. Assyrian women made loans to men as well as to women. In the following sample, a woman has loaned half a kilo of silver to another woman.[24]

Ištar-lamassī has loaned 1 mina of litum-silver to Šāt-Ea. From the week of Amurru-bāni and Aššur-nādā, she shall add as interest 2 shekels per month. Month Allānātum (xii), eponym Ṭāb-Aššur (KEL90).
Witnesses

3.3. Women as guarantors

Some women’s personal circumstances allowed them to stand as guarantors for debtors, especially for members of their own family; they were thus executrixs for creditors.[25]

(Concerning the) 15 shekels of silver that Iddin-Suen owes the Anatolian (creditor and for which) Musa, his sister, (is) guarantor, as the equivalent to the 15 shekels of silver he gave to Musa and the Anatolian (creditor) his plots of land that are behind the house. If anyone raises a claim against the Anatolian (creditor) and Musa about the plots of land, Iddin-Suen shall clear them of liability.

Musa, an Assyrian woman stood as guarantor for her brother for a debt of 15 shekels of silver. When he was unable to repay, he gave a small piece of land to the creditor and to his sister; perhaps it was she who paid her brother’s debt to the creditor.

4. Economic relationships between women and the other members of the family

Besides managing their own property and their house, women were involved in their husbands’ business and financial affairs. The Assyrian women who lived alone at Aššur represented their husbands’ interests while they were absent for long stays in Anatolia. Since they were in regular contact with their husbands’ local agents, they sometimes got copies of letters addressed to them so they could follow ongoing transactions, check on how instructions were being carried out, and were supposed to keep them informed about various matters going forward.

4.1. Paying the debt of her brother

The were sometime asked to advance the necessary funds to pay off overdue debts; in which case they made sure to note the amount to be repaid to them and even charge an interest on it as suggest Puzur-ilī to his older sister Ahatum:[26]

You (are) my mother, you (are) my lady. There, pay the silver of Mannukkīya and, as much silver you pay, charge (to me) the silver and interest on it, (then) write me so I can send you (the equivalent) silver.

4.2. Accounting between family members involving women

Women had sometimes to deal with their brothers or husbands’ financial obligations to the authorities, such as unpaid taxes or fines. The city authorities could exert pressure on them by taking away their slaves. They did not, however, always agree to take on this task and defend their ownership of these slaves. These women would then require their brothers or husbands to pay the amount due so they could get their slaves.[27]

The eponym is frightening me, and he keeps seizing my slave-girls as security. Send me silver, about 10 minas, and let your representatives offer (it) to him and pay for the amount that has been declared to me.

Ahaha asks her brothers to pay the debt due to the eponym in Aššur.

Many of these women were good accountants, keeping records documenting their expenses, and claiming what was due them. Letters exchanged between husband and wife contained accounting of what they owned each:[28]

The pri[ce] of your previous textiles has been paid to you. Concerning the 20 textiles that you gave [to] Puzur-Aššur: 1 textile for the import tax, 2 textiles as purchase, 17 textiles of yours remain. Ahuqar brought me 6 textiles, Ia-šar brought me 6 textiles, Iddin-Suen brought me 2 textiles; to these, I added 3 textiles for Puzur-Aššur. I made for him an upqum-packet of 20 textiles and I put (it) at his disposal.
The remainder of [your textiles], 11 textiles, (are) on my account. [For] these, Kulumaya is bringing you under my seal 1 ½ minas of silver – its import [tax] added, its transport tax paid for. You w[rote me] as follows: “In[cluded with] the textiles that I sent [you] (are) 2 textiles from Šūbultum.” (So) of the 1 [½ minas] of silver that Kulumaya is bringing [to you], 1 mina of silver (is) yours (and) give ½ m[ina] to Šūbultum. They will bring me from Burušhattum the price of the heavy textile from Šūb[ultum]. I will get together the 7 shekels of silver from Ilī-bāni that the son of Kuzari has paid and the silver from the sale of the rest of your textiles and will send [(it) to you] by Iddin-Suen.

4.3. Separate accounts for spouses

There is no clear evidence of commun founds in the family or in the couple, but it is clear that women owned personal assets that they could use as they wished. A father writes to his son making a clear distinction between his own assets and his wife’s assets:[29]

For each shekel of silver that I gave you, as well as what I gave you that belongs to your mother, I gave the equivalent to your mother.

The funds belonging to each spouse were clearly identified and if a third party erroneously used a wife’s funds to pay her husband’s debts, the matter could be brought to court.[30]

(Concerning) ½ mina of gold and 1 ½ minas of silver, belonging to Qannuttum (…) That silver and gold have been paid to the Town Hall for Ilī-bāni’s debt. There, wherever goods ordered by Ilī-bāni are available, (then) seize to an amount of ½ mina of pašallum-gold and 1 ½ minas of silver or goods bought for (that amount) and take them under your own reponsibility. I hold a binding tablet from the City (of Aššur) stating that the silver and gold belong to Qannuttum.

This did not prevent a husband from making a purchase in his wife’s name, nor a wife from representing her husband in a transaction.

*

This study intends to show that Assyrian women had multiple tasks inside the family and in the household, several of these having an economical impact. They had their own property, independent of their husband’s or of their joint assets if it existed, and also distinct from their dowry. They took part in all sorts of financial transactions, purchasing slaves and real estate, loaning money at interest, investing in various commercial undertakings long or short term, buying goods for export, etc.

Although financially independent of their husbands, Assyrian wives acted as their representatives to their associates and to the Assyrian authorities. Their husbands for their part represented them in certain transactions in Anatolia, selling their textiles and goods and acting in their interest to secure what was due them. The social position and reputation of Assyrian men and women were determined by the success of the family firm (bēt abini, “our father’s house”), the profile of which might be hard to define, but in any case its resources were individually owned. There was no clear demarcation between family connections and the commercial network. Assyrian women enjoyed important social status and showed it by living in large houses in Aššur.

Bibliography

All the texts presented in this paper are edited in a book in hand Women in Aššur and Kaniš according to the private archives of the Assyrian merchants at beginning of the IInd millennium B.C., Writings from the Ancient World, SBL, Baltimore, (Michel Women).

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* ArScAn-HAROC, UMR 7041, CNRS, Maison de l’Archéologie et de l’Ethnologie, Nanterre; cecile.michel…at…mae.cnrs.fr.

[1] For an overview, see Michel 2001, p. 417-511.

[2] Kt h/k 87 = Michel Women, no. 135. Lines 1-28 and 32-33 are cited by Dercksen 1996, p. 77. The text was collated in Ankara in May 2011. Text discoveries at Kültepe are detailed in Michel 2003a and supplements Michel 2006a, Michel 2011.

[3] For Old Assyrian testaments, see Von Soden 1976, Wilcke 1976, Albayrak 2000, Michel 2000, Albayrak 2010, Veenhof 2012.

[4] Michel 2009b.

[5] ICK 1, 12 = Michel Women, no. 56. This text was first edited and studied by von Soden 1976, p. 212-216 and Wilcke 1976, p. 202-203.

[6] Kt o/k 196a-c = Michel Women, no. 54. This text was first published by Albayrak 2000 and commented by Michel 2000 and Albayrak 2010.

[7] Michel Women, no. 70. See also Michel 2003b.

[8] Veenhof 2008, Veenhof 2012

[9] Kt 91/k 421 = Michel Women, no. 61. Text first published by Veenhof 2012, 196-197.

[10] Michel 2009b.

[11] This aspect will be the subject of a contribution during the 2nd International meeting of the French-Japanese ANR Chorus REFEMA project to be held in Tokyo in June 2013.

[12] Larsen 2007, Veenhof in press.

[13] For the aged members of the family and ancestors, see Veenhof 1997, Michel 2009a.

[14] CCT 3, 24 = Michel Women, no. 128. Letter to Innaya from Tarām-Kūbi also edited by Michel 1991, no. 3, and translated by Michel 2001, no. 348. For the correspondence between Innaya and Tarām-Kūbi, see Matouš 1982, Michel, 1991, p. 77-88, Michel 2001, p. 464-470.

[15] Veenhof 1972.

[16] CCT 3, 20 = Michel Women, no. 166. Letter to Pūšu-kēn from Lamassī also translated by translated by Michel 2001, no. 307. For the role of women in the long distance trade, see Michel 2006b, Thomason 2013.

[17] ICK 1, 27 = Michel Women, no. 94. Text edited by Kienast 1984, no. 10.

[18] ICK 1, 69:7-12 = Michel Women, no. 140. Letter from Laqēpum to Hutala also translated by Michel 2001, no. 389.

[19]AAA 1/3, 1:4-11 = Michel Women, no. 146. Letter to Enlil-bāni from Tarīš-mātum translated by Michel 2001, no. 320. Concerning houses, see also Michel 1997, Veenhof 2011.

[20] RA 59, 159 = Michel Women, no. 147. Letter from Pūšu-kēn from Lamassī translated by Michel 2001, no. 306. About wealth in the Old Assyrian society, see Michel 2008.

[21] Kt 91/k 522 = Michel Women, no. 148. Text published by Veenhof 2003, p. 693-695.

[22] CCT 1, 8c = Michel Women, no. 74. Text edited by Eisser & Lewy 1930, no. 60.

[23] About individual property, see Larsen 2007.

[24] ICK 2, 11 = Michel Women, no. 183. Text edited by Rosen 1977, p. 155.

[25] VS 26, 97 = Michel Women, no. 194. Text edited by Eisser & Lewy 1933, no. 215.

[26] CCT 4, 15a = Michel Women, no. 204. Letter to Ahatum and Mannum-kī-ēniya from Puzur-ilī translated by Michel 2001, no. 394.

[27] TC 2, 46 = Michel Women, no. 141. Letter to Aššur-mūtappil, Buzāzu and Ikuppaša from Ahaha translated by Michel 2001, no. 315.

[28] CCT 6, 11a = Michel Women, no. 168. Letter from Pūšu-kēn to Lamassī translated by Michel 2001, no. 300.

[29] KTS 1, 2b:7-10.

[30] AKT 5, 30 = Michel Women, no. 175. Letter to Atata and Qannuttum from Anah-ilī.