Archives de catégorie : Sumer / Ur III

(2) State employment of women during the Ur III period

(2) State employment of women during the Ur III period 

Second and third REFEMA workshops, Tokyo (June 2013) and Carqueiranne (September 2013)

Bertrand Lafont (CNRS, Nanterre)

As a huge part of the Ur III documentation concerns the administrative management of state-dependent laborers and the calculation of what was allotted to them, we have of course much more information on women at work in the public sphere and outside their family than inside (cf. previous workshop).


We will start with a brief general “status questionis” on our subject, before having a look at some new evidence on results generated by the recently published archives of Garšana and Irisagrig.

In the written documents concerning the management of state-dependent laborers sustained through the so-called “ration system”, men and women were very often recorded together: thousands of texts record a joint administrative management of guruš and geme2 side by side (in many administrative Ur III texts we can find for example accounts for n geme2 guruš u4 1-šè, “n female and male work-days” counted together). It seems therefore that women contributed in the same way as men to the economic life managed by the state and we can emphasize right away that phenomenon of mixed management of human resources.

Nevertheless, in this regard, we must challenge the usual view according to which men worked for the primary productive sector of the economy (outdoors in the fields and in animal husbandry), while women were mainly occupied in the secondary productive sector (indoor processing activities to produce flour, oil, clothing, etc.)[1]. This gender dimension of labor division does not precisely fit our documentation, as we find in the following:

  • male weavers (guruš-uš-bar) next to female weavers (geme2-uš-bar), as in the tablet Legrain, UET 3, 1449
  • male millers working alongside female millers (Watson, BCT 2, 49)
  • or, on the contrary, many women involved in agricultural activities (passim).

In fact, it seems that we can divide the economic contribution of the female part of the working population between two kinds of activities:

  • Outdoor activities: agriculture, hauling boats, making and carrying bricks, construction projects,  production and food processing. In these activities women contributed in the same way as men for the same kinds of collective work. They were employed in a large number of jobs, sometimes in unexpected sectors, as for example these female workers (geme2) “having built the house of Amar-Suen” (é damar-dsuen-ka dù-a, Sauren, NYPL 138). Perhaps these activities had something to do with the corvée-duty: according to P. Steinkeller[2], only heads of families owed such a service to the state but it is clear that women, needing more salaries and rations, were also involved in the same collective projects.
  • Indoor activities: in this case, the professional specialization of women was most often indicated and three of these were more specifically their own domain: weaving (geme2-uš-bar), milling flour (geme2-kikken2), and extracting oil (geme2-ì-sur).

Concerning these indoor processing activities, as has been thouroughly studied (thanks to the works of Waetzoldt[3], Maekawa[4], Grégoire[5], Englund[6], and others), the real feature that was quite unique to this time is that some of them were clearly organized on an industrial scale. All around the country, some large factories employing female workers were operated especially for producing garments, flour and oil. And it is even possible that in or around the major cities of the kingdom, some individual “industrial” centers combining these various activities did exist:

  • At Ur, female weavers, oil pressers and millers were allotted all together as can be seen in the tablet Legrain, UET 3, 1504, viii 28-29: níg-ba geme2-uš-bar geme2-ì-sur ù geme2-kikken2, “allotments for female weavers, oil pressers and millers”.
  • At Garšana they built a unique triple complex, in the form of a “brewery-kitchen-mill building”: é-lunga é-kikken2 ù é-muhaldim (index CUSAS 4, passim).
  • And at the same place they built another double complex in the form of a “textile mill and craftsmen’s building”: é-uš-bar ù é-gašam-e-ne (index CUSAS 4, passim)[7].

Therefore, these main “industrial” factories employing women were weaving mills (é-uš-bar), places for pressing oil (é-ì-sur-sur), mills producing various flours (é‑kikken2), kitchens (é‑muhaldim), and breweries (é-lunga). The following chart offers a summary.


The work of women in large textile factories (é-uš-bar) was intensively analyzed by Waetzoldt 40 years ago (UNT, p. 91-108) and that study remains the reference synthesis on this subject. As an illustration, let us consider a tablet kept in the British Musem (Maekawa, ASJ 20, 1998, 108 n°7). This enormous accounting text calculates the amount of barley distributed to personnel working in the various public weaving mills in the province of Lagash in the year Šulgi 48.


As analyzed by A. Uchitel[8], this text makes a clear distinction between 1) those receiving monthly rations because they were supposed to work only part-time in the workshop (note that some of them were receiving more than the usual average rations), and 2) those receiving yearly grain rations, likely as they did not belong to families holding allotment plots. In total, the text records more than 10,000 individuals working in the weaving mills of the province of Lagash in Šulgi 48. Almost ⅔ of them were female weavers but men, children and elders were also categorized, divided according to the quota of rations they received (from 100 liters to 10 liters per person and per month). Once again, these are amazing numbers.

And for an example of a mill producing flour and employing female workers, let us have a look at another text from the British Museum (King, CT 3, pl. 19-20, BM 18344). This is a comprehensive list of various workers receiving grain rations, and it can be completed based on other several similar large accounts from Girsu. The text provides a good example of how a millhouse was organized.


This “great millhouse” (é-kikken2 gu-la) of Girsu seems to have employed 658 people in total. Two thirds of them were female millers, counted with their children. But some others were employed as weavers and oil pressers. Those in 1), 2) and 3) represent the workers in charge of producing flour. But the text also records people belonging to the regular staff in charge of maintenance and supervision of the mill, especially craft workers, boat towers, gardeners and specialists in boat constructions: most of them were male, recorded in 4), 5) and 6). We see therefore that, besides female millers who constituted the core of the workshop, a variety of craftsmen supported their activity.

But who were these state-dependents women working in outdoor activities or in these various mills? And what do we know about them or about their origin?


To explore this question, let us start with an important royal inscription of king Šu-Suen, after his victorious military campaign against Šimanum in the Zagros mountains (Frayne, RIME 3/, 129’-145’). It is said there that:

« The king blinded the young men of those cities, whom he had overtaken. And the women of those cities, whom he had overtaken, he offered as a present to the weaving mills ».

As we can see, after this military campaign, male and female prisoners were separated. And whereas the male captives were blinded (probably to avoid any revolt without losing such a labor force), the female ones were not mutilated, but sent off to some textile mills of the inner kingdom. It is therefore clear that the labor force of Neo-Sumerian textile mills consisted in part of prisoners of war, a situation that is not without parallel, as for example at Mari in Old Babylonian time with its « ergasterions » (nepârâtum), that were large prison-workshops where mass productions were organized[9].

In brief, from all the documentation it appears that women working in these Ur III factories included:

  • war-captives (nam-ra-ak)[10],
  • purchased or indebted slaves (geme2 // arad2)
  • donated personnel (a-ru-a)[11],
  • women of the impoverished classes and outcasts of society.

Yet these categories of women certainly did not represent the entire workforce inside the state-run workshops. They would have been an insufficient number to meet the economic needs of the state. In all likelihood, many of the female workers employed in the mills were simply state-dependants, working part-time or full-time for rations and salaries, like their male counterparts.

M. Van de Mieroop[12] calculated that more than 13,000 female weavers were active at a single time in the workshops of Ur. Such a huge number is consistent with a text from Ur (Legrain, UET 3, 1504), where wool is distributed to female workers involved in the factories of that city for a total of 8,542 kg of wool. Waetzoldt calculated that at the rate of 1 mina of wool per capita (likely according to parallels), more than 17,000 female workers could have been concerned, employed as weavers, millers and oil pressers. In the same way Waetzoldt also calculated (UNT, p. 99) that, at Lagaš/Girsu, 15,000 personnel were employed in the weaving industries of the province.

Among them, 6,466 female weavers are explicitly recorded in two Girsu administrative texts dated to the year Amar-Suen 1 (Sigrist, SAT 1, 279 // Hussey, HSS 4, 3). These two tablets inform us that, among the three main urban centers of the province of Lagaš (Girsu, Kinunir and Gu-abba), the greatest weaving mills were situated in the third one, Gu-abba.

In total, thousands of women were therefore involved in every province of the kingdom and this must reflect a significant part of the population. However, it remains impossible to assess what percentage of the total female population was thus employed in these state-run workshops, or to estimate the importance of their contribution to the global economy, even if it may have been substantial. And it is also difficult to differentiate groups of women in terms of social hierarchy.

In several studies (and in a forthcoming article on “Corvée Labor in Ur III Times”)[13], P. Steinkeller has considered that two categories of workers must be distinguished in Ur III society: those belonging to the eren2 class, who received royal land and rations in exchange for part-time service, and those who were semi-free workers (ùg-ÍL, geme2), working all year round as unskilled laborers in exchange for rations. In all likelihood, men and women belonging to both of these categories were employed in the mills.

As for the unskilled workers, it is interesting to find (but not so frequently) in administrative texts some mentions of female menials (geme2 ùg-ÍL) parallel to male ùg-ÍL. Sometimes their occupations are given: geme2 ùg-ÍL mar-tu “menial Amorite women”, geme2 ùg-ÍL amar-e gub-ba, “menial women on duty for the calves”, geme2 ùg-ÍL é-gu4-niga-ka “menial women of the house of fattened cattle”.

Another point can be observed: I. J. Gelb noticed[14] that, in many Ur III administrative texts, women are recorded alone with their children, without any accompanying man. He called these lists of rations for women and their children the “geme2-dumu texts”, and he asked: “where are the husbands?”. We must confess that, 40 years later, this important question remains unanswered. We know almost nothing about the family life of these thousands of geme2 employed in these large weaving and milling factories and working there with their children. Were there dormitories or barracks for them around the factories? Or did they return home every evening to their families and villages nearby? We have no information regarding these questions. But we can consider that, depending on the status of these women, individual situations probably varied: prisoners and slaves were probably confined to barracks, while “free” workers had their own home and family life independently, and came to work every day with their younger children. In any case, general conditions in these factories were harsh and restrictive, as we can see by the need of porters/keepers (ì-du8) to control inputs and outputs, and the frequent mention of fugitives (zàh) that were pursued (the text Legrain, UET 3, 1018 records up to 134 of these geme2-zàh!), or dead (úš) people on many occasions.


For the management of full-year working women, the best and most frequently mentioned example is the one given by the tablet studied some twenty years ago by Robert Englund in his article “Hard Work” (see note 6). Instead of commenting for the umpteenth time on the content of this text, let us consider a parallel document from Umma: Genouillac, TCL 5, 5670. On the same model, it is a balance account written by a man named Ur-Šara, the foreman of a mill.


Over a period of one year, the state allocated to Ur-Šara various amounts of grain and a team of 36 female workers. This was his “debit” (meaning that “this was owed to the state”). The credit column describes all the work performed by these 36 female workers during the year: two thirds of their time was spent producing flour. Yet it is interesting to observe that the remainder of their time was occupied in agricultural work, in weaving, in loading and unloading boats, in producing earthworks, and so on. One sixth of the time was counted as days off (that is 5 days per month, 2 months per year). Finally, all of this was converted in the final balance into equivalents of workdays and of produced flour. Compared to what was expected, there was a deficit, to be reimbursed by these women in the following year.

Here, we can observe that these women were employed full-time, all year long in the mill. But it is noteworthy that they could easily be assigned to occupations besides producing flour, to suit the needs of the economic organization.

We just saw above that, in total, these female workers were counted in the thousands for each province. Consequently, with the Ur III accounting system and its “workdays” equivalencies, some summary administrative texts finally calculated women workforce in tens of thousands of female “workdays” (geme2 u4 1-šè). Below is a chart that shows the greatest numbers of workdays of female workers that can be found in Ur III texts. And one will not be surprised to see, once again, that milling and textile production are principally concerned.


How were these women paid? As it is well known, the “ration system” with its amounts of barley, oil and wool issued to dependents, was a hallmark of early Mesopotamian history and is especially well documented in the Ur III period: it is mainly because of such rations that we have such a huge written documentation. In this system, women were paid distinctly less than men, a phenomenon already attested in earlier periods (Ebla, Lagaš II): while the guruš received an average of 60 liters of grain per month, women usually received only 30 to 50 liters.

But as we just saw, only some people worked full time for the state and we can imagine that many of these women were married or related to members of the eren2 class: they belonged to families that held plots of subsistence land and they could have stayed at home or worked only part-time in public factories. And as a matter of fact, we do find texts in which women could, like men, be “hired” (hun-gá) for some periods of time (an example of a text with geme2 hun-gá, “hired women”, is Ozaki-Sigrist, BPOA 1, 564), and many texts record real “salaries for women” (á geme2) instead of rations.

A last observation will be made about positions of authority that these women could hold in such a context of “public” work. It is not infrequent to find forewomen at the head of teams of workers, as for example in the text Waetzoldt-Yıldız, MVN 16, 727, 11-12. Sometimes women could hold high administrative positions, at the same level as men and could seal tablets, as shown by several seal impressions and the attested title of munus-dub-sar (as in Forde, Nebraska 45). And this situation can now be best observed in the archive of Garšana, where the management of the estate which was located there was greatly between the hands of women.


This leads us finally to the two large new archives that have recently been recovered, gathered, studied and published by David Owen: those of Garšana (published 6 years ago)[15] and those of Irisagrig (just published in Nisaba 15)[16]. In spite of their lack of archaeological context, these archival texts give unique insights into the culture of Sumer in the late 3rd millenium. And they provide, for our REFEMA topic, unprecedented data on the role of women in the Neo-Sumerian economy and society.

Let us illustrate here this new wealth of information with a few brief examples. First, from the Garšana archive: this archive not only offers 1500 additional common Ur III administrative texts but it also provides the unique records of a huge and hitherto unknown private household: during the reigns of Šu-Suen and Ibbi-Suen, this household was the estate of a general (šagina) and physician (a-zu), named Šu-Kabta, and his wife, a princess named Simat Ištaran who was a sister of king Šu-Suen. This archive highlights espacially the role of women, both as heads of the household and in the capacity of supervisors, administrators (some of them have seals), and laborers in many sectors of the estate. And if one takes the point of view of the labor force available or used in this household, it is interesting to see that, in the all archive, working women topped in numbers working men. Finally, thanks to the new evidence of Garšana, we can see that women in Ur III society had more authority and influence than may have been previously recognized and sheds light on a hitherto undocumented aspect of society in the Ur III period.

After Šu-Kabta’s death, his wife, princess Simat-Ištaran, inherited and actively managed the Garšana estate herself. From that time on, several women of the household began to play an important role. As an illustration, let us consider the case of a woman named Aštaqqar who ended up managing the all textile industry at Garšana as supervisor of the weavers (ugula-uš-bar, a function usually occupied by men). She had her own seals, as shown below, with which she sealed tens of tablets (seals drawn by R. Mayr, CUSAS 3, p. 431).


Various other women also supervised construction gangs consisting of both men and women : such positions were until now unattested within the existing Ur III records[17].

As observed in my previous paper for the first REFEMA workshop at Nanterre, a quick look at the occupations attested in the household headed by Šu-Kabta and Simat-Ištaran presents at first the usual list for women : oil pressers, grain millers, or weavers. But it is noteworthy that these women were in fact often performing tasks far from their primary specialty. Consider for example the women who are qualified as weavers (geme2-uš-bar). Even if they were surely mainly employed in the textile mill (é-uš-bar) of Garšana, we can also see them in many other occupations; they are thus employed for :

– Harvesting (CUSAS 3, 262 : 19-22) :

  • 18 geme2 sag-dub 1 geme2 á-⅔ geme2-uš-bar-me-éš (…) u4 105-šè (…) še gur10-gur10-dè zàr tab-ba-dè ù geš ra-ra-dè a-šà Ṣe-ru-um gub-ba
    « 18 full-time female weavers (and) 1 female weaver at ⅔ wages for 105 days (…) employed at the Ṣerum field to harvest barley, stack (its) sheaves (for drying) and flail (them) »

– Demolishing a house (CUSAS 3, 273 : 1-6) :

  • 6 guruš ašgab 8 guruš lú-azlag2 24 geme2-uš-bar u4 1-šè al-tar é A-bí-a-ti gul-dè gub-ba
    « 6 leather workers, 8 fullers (and) 24 female weavers employed for 1 day of construction to demolish the house of Abiati »

– Transporting crops of barley (CUSAS 3, 290 : 1-4)

  • 16 ⅓ geme2-uš-bar u4 10-šè še Ù-dag-gaki-ta GAR-ša-an-naki-šè de6-a
    « 16 ⅓ female weavers for 10 days having brought barley from Udaga to Garšana »

– Lamenting after the death of their master Šu-Kabta (and they are paid for that, CUSAS 3, 252 : 1-7 et 257 : 1-6)

  • 97 geme2 sag-dub 15 geme2 á-⅓-ta geme2-uš-bar-me-éš [n] geme2 [u4] 9 ½-šè [gaba] sìg-dè gub-[ba u4 Šu]-kab-tá ba-úš-a
    « 97 full-time female weavers (and) 15 female weavers at ⅓ wages (and) [n] female spinner(s) employed for 9 ½ [days] to beat (their) [breasts when] Šu-Kabta died »

As we can see, these specialized women were finally employed for many tasks far beyonf their basic specialty and mostly at the same level as men.

But at Garšana, one point is particularly striking: the involvement of women in the construction works sector. This has been recently and extensively studied by W. Heimpel[18] who has gathered especially more than 200 tablets that are the daily records of an ambitious construction project during the three last years of the life of Šu-Kabta, at the end of the reign of Šu-Suen. It seems that this construction has mainly concerned the building of a “ringwall”, of several factories and of private residences. In this context, it appears that women of the household were primarily involved in these construction work and did, for example, almost all the carrying of bricks (such a task was hitherto unattested elsewhere). Note the scheme in the last lines of many of these texts that list female brick carriers by name in groups headed by a foreman or a forewoman (table borrowed from W. Heimpel [19]).


These texts, sometimes having more than 100 lines, give at the end the number of carried bricks, the distance over which they were carried, the work standard in the form of numbers of carried bricks that earned a day’s wage, the amount of the wage, the total of barley required for pay, and the name of the overseer. As an illustration, consider one of these tablets : Owen, CUSAS 3, 352.

7. šu+nigin2 10 ⅓ sar 2 ½ gín sig4 Total 10,…  plots of bricks
8. ús-bi 50 ninda The (transportation) distance is 50 rods
9. á geme2 1-a 216 sig4-ta Work for one female worker: 216 bricks each (day)
10. geme2-bi 34 ½ 5 gín The number of maids (for one day) is 34,5…
11. še 3 sila3-ta ba-hun They are hired at 3 liters of barley each
12. še-bi 0,1.4. 3 ⅔ sila3 5 gín The needed barley is 103,…  liters
13. á sig4 ÍL-gá é-šu-x-[…] Wages for carrying bricks at GN.
14. Me-é-a ugula lú hun-gá ME-ea supervisor of hired persons
15. giri3-bi [dIškur-illat] šabra Responsible : Adad-tillati the administrator
16. ù [Puzur4dnin-kar-kè dub-sar] and Puzur-Ninkarak the scribe.
17. šà [GAR-ša-an-naki] At Garšana
18. iti […] Date
19. (Year Šu-Sîn 8)

Only women were concerned in these texts. Yet finally, what can be learned from the Garšana archive as a whole is the involvement of the women of the estate in all kinds of works: they were employed in the same way as men and even more than them, and these texts show how great was the flexibility in the organization of their work, regulated by bureaucratic authorities. This observation perhaps addresses the question of the supposed scarcity of labor in the Ur III period (an idea put forward by Piotr Steinkeller[20]). We can even ask about the existence of a kind of “labor market”  because of so many people mentioned in this archive as having been “hired” (hun-gá).

But a new archive adds now to this picture: the Irisagrig archive recently published by David Owen in two new volumes of the series Nisaba (volume 15/1 and 15/2)[21]. The 1,200 tablets published and studied there represent another example of a unique archive, this time from a major city of the Ur III kingdom: Irisagrig, not far from Nippur[22], known to have been the seat of a governorship. These texts are part of a large, official archive (probably of the provincial governor, named Ur-mes), and concern the affairs of various officials, mainly during the reign of Šu-Suen.

The identification and recovery of this large body of new data add a significant dimension to our understanding of the historic, religious, political, and socio-economic dynamics of the Ur III state. Like the Garšana texts, they add especially to the picture we can sketch for the role played by women in Ur III society. The number of named women in this archive is substantial and includes many newly attested (mostly Akkadian) female personal names, newly documented princesses, and wives of prominent officials, along with women in positions that are rarely, if ever, attested in other sources.

A more comprehensive study of the data will surely come in the near future. But we can have a quick look at these occupations, which include:

– “Usual” female occupations in the documents of Irisagrig:

  • geme2-àr-ra / geme2-kikken2, “millers”
  • geme2-uš-bar, “weavers”
  • geme2-kar-kíd, “single women, prostitutes” (?)

– “Unusual” female occupations in the documents of Irisagrig (references to the texts in the indices of Nisaba 15/1):

  • geme2-azlag(usually male lú-azlag2, “fuller, washerman”)
  • munus-a-zu (usually male a-zu, “physician”)
  • munus-dub-sar  (usually male dub-sar, “scribe”)
  • munus-gudu(usually male gudu4, “purification priest”)
  • geme2-ì-du8, munus-ì-du(usually male ì-du8, “doorkeeper”)
  • geme2-muhaldim, munus-muhaldim (usually male muhaldim, “cooker”)
  • geme2-nar, munus-nar (usually male nar, “singer, musician”)
  • qadištum (written munusqá-dì-iš-tum)  nu-gig/qadištu, “midwife?”, was only attested until now in the recently published new parts of the Ur-Namma Code[23]

Such an amazing list surely deserves further study. But in the frame of this short paper, we will just examine, to conclude, an emerging Irisagrig batch of tablets that provides new data on the role of a new prominent woman at the head of a large household: this woman was named Ninsaga and was the daughter of the governor (ensi2) of Irisagrig, Ur-mes. She was at the head of a large estate in that city. Three texts deserve attention: the first (Owen, Nisaba 15, 953), is a complete inventory, on twelve columns, of hundreds of named male and female slaves (arad2 and geme2) belonging to the household of Ninsaga in year Ibbi-Sîn 3. Each of them received monthly between 10 and 75 liters of barley rations. At the end, we find recorded: 74 guruš, 48 geme2, 47 dumu-nita2, 56 dumu-munus (122 adults, 103 children, that is 225 men and women). All these dependents of this private household are clearly characterized as “slaves” (geme2-arad2) of Ninsaga.

One year before (Ibbi-Suen 2) another text (Owen, Nisaba 15, 797) shows that a general (šagina) had taken away 50 slaves who had been removed from this household of Ninsaga, probably to bring them to the king, since these slaves are characterized as being assigned to the throne (arad2-geme2 nam-gešgu-za). And it is interesting to find again this same information exactly quoted in another text (Owen, Nisaba 15, 1038), which summarized other withdrawals made over Ninsaga’s household staff.

Finally, it appears that, if 51 slaves were left (si-ì-tum) in the household of Ninsaga after the “removal” carried out by the military officer, the large census that we mentioned at the beginning shows that, one year after (in Ibbi-Suen 3), the staff of the household had increased to 122 slaves.

What we see in the end and for the first time with this small batch of tablets, is the great number of dependents, men and women, that could be found in a private household and how these dependents could be added or removed from the household to be posted elsewhere, according to the will of administrative authorities. And this could maybe makes us reconsider what could have been the exact status of these slaves and dependents in these “private” households during the Ur III period.


Some provisional main points can be summarized:

During the Ur III period, women were not confined to the spheres of family, marriage and household: they were employed along with men in all kinds of indoor or outdoor work and activities.

Milling, weaving and pressing oil were essentially state-run activities, organized on an “industrial” scale and performed by state-dependent women working in large production units to meet the huge needs of the State for its “ration allotment” system. Weavers, millers and oil pressers were often associated. Their installations, perhaps aggregated in unique places, seem to have been managed under the direct supervision of the royal power.

We should beware of ​​a depreciating vision according to which only poverty or enslavement could explain and justify the work of women. Texts show the same intensive use of male and female workers belonging to various categories of the society in the all kingdom.

The pressure put by the state administration and its strong will of control observable through the texts should probably be analyzed in the context of a scarcity of labor during the Ur III period, an idea previously suggested by P. Steinkeller.

Finally, one major gap characterizes our documentation: there is absolutely no information in any of our texts regarding the potential participation of women in market activities. Is it simply because, in this area, written documents were usually unnecessary or outside the administrative sphere?

[1] B. Lion kindly drew my attention to the fact that this is the classical envision developed notably in chapter VII of Xenophon’s Oeconomicus, where it is asserted that women should devote themselves to indoor activities and men to outdoor ones.

[2] Contribution of P. Steinkeller to the “Ur III colloquium” of Madrid in 2013, devoted to the Corvée Labor in Ur III Times. I thank the author for having sent me his forthcoming paper.

[3] Untersuchungen zur neusumerischen Textilindustrie, Rome 1972.

[4] In many articles, notably in the Acta Sumerologica Journal.

[5] “Les grandes unités de transformation des céréales: l’exemple des minoteries de la Mésopotamie du sud à la fin du IIIe millénaire avant notrère ère”, in P. Anderson (éd.), Préhistoire de l’agriculture: nouvelles approches expérimentales et ethnographiques, Paris, 1992, p. 321-339.

[6] “Hard Work, where will it get you? Labor management in Ur III Mesopotamia”, JNES 50, 1991, p. 255-280.

[7] See also for example Legrain, UET 3, 1422, 7-8, where geme2-uš-bar geme2-ì-nun ù geme2-kikken2 are clearly associated. Also Hallo, TLB 3, 71, rev. 1, where geme2-kikken2-na geme2-un-ÍL geme2gešì-sur-sur ù geme2-èš-didli are mentioned all together.

[8] Text studied by A. Uchitel, “Women at work: weavers of Lagash and spinners of San Luis Gonzaga”, in CRRAI 47, p. 621-632, Helsinki, 2002 (a text that can be completed by Waetzoldt, UNT 18).

[9] See J.-M. Durand, Documents épistolaires de Mari tome III, LAPO 18, 2000, p. 250; J. Cooper, “Blind Workmen, Weaving Women and Prostitutes in Third Millennium Babylonia”, CDLN 2010/5.

[10] For the prisoners of war sent to workshops (as to the nêparâtum of Mari), we do have several examples of geme2-nam-ra-ak (see CDLI and BDTNS databases). See also K. Maekawa, “Female weavers and their children”, ASJ 2, 1980, p. 125 n. 63, with the text Reisner, TuT 159, v 5. Three texts quoted by I. J. Gelb in his article “Prisoners of war in Early Mesopotamia”, JNES 32, 1973, p. 70-98, are crucial concerning female prisoners of war, and among them the important text Genouillac, TCL 5, 6039.

[11] I. J. Gelb, “The a-ru-a institution”, RA 66, 1972, p. 1-32.

[12] “Women in the Economy of Sumer”, in B. S. Lesko, Women’s Earliest Records from Ancient Egypt and Western Asia, Atlanta, 1989, p. 64.

[13] See note 2.

[14] In his article quoted above n. 11.

[15] D. I. Owen and R. Mayr, The Garšana Archive, CUSAS 3, 2007, with indices in CUSAS 4, 2009.

[16] D. I. Owen, Cuneiform Texts Primarily from Iri-Sagrig / Al-Šarraki and the History of the Ur III Period, 2 volumes, Nisaba 15, Bethesda, 2013.

[17] See W. Heimpel, Workers and Construction Work at Garšana, CUSAS 5, 2009.

[18] W. Heimpel, Workers and Construction Work at Garšana, CUSAS 5, 2009. The following presentation owes much to that work.

[19] See W. Heimpel, CUSAS 5, p. 31.

[20] P. Steinkeller, “Money Lending Practices in Ur III Babylonia: The Issue of Economic Motivation”, in M. Hudson and M. Van de Mieroop (eds.), Debt and Economic Renewal in the Ancient Near East, Bethesda, 2002, p. 109-137.

[21] See above note 16.

[22] A forthcoming article of M. Molina will suggest a precise localization for Irisagrig.

[23] M. Civil, “The Law Collection of Ur-Namma”, CUSAS 17, 2011, p. 221-286, and especially p. 281-284.

šu-í “Barber” and šu-í-munus “Female Barber” in the Early Dynastic Lagash Texts*

1.     Preliminary[1]

About 23 names of barbers, both male (šu-i2) and female (šu-i2-munus), occur in the Lagash E2-MI2 corpus of the Early Dynastic period,[2] from Enentarzi year 2 through Lugalanda to the end of Urukagina lugal-year 6.[3] The organization called E2-MI2 was in charge of the three wives of the Lagash rulers around the middle of the 24th century B.C.E. Nearly 1,800 clay tablets, which were unearthed at Girsu, record various different kinds of economic activities undertaken by this organization for about 20 years.[4]

Naturally the professional work of these barbers involved grooming—cutting, shaving, trimming, and coiffuring—of hair. The word for one of their tools, šu-i-gir2 “barber’s knife/razor,” is found in a lexical text from Abu Salabikh (OIP 99 33 vi 11′). Pictorial representations from around the mid-third millennium B.C.E. often depict elite men and especially women wearing elaborate hairstyles, and also men with clean-shaven heads and faces (Collon 1995:507).

What makes the ED Lagash texts remarkable is the occurrence of šu-i2-munus “female barbers.”[5] This contrasts with Ur III times (including the Garšana and Iri-Sagrig documents), in which no female barbers have been identified to date.[6] This paper collects references to male and female barbers in the ED Lagash E2-MI2 corpus, examines their status and functions, and argues that they can be placed in three groups under the E2-MI2 administration. One group consists of landed male barbers who belonged to high socio-economic strata. The other two groups are landless male and female barbers, one group working for the E2-MI2, and the other for the royal children’s households.

2.     Barbers in the Fara Texts

Before going into the Lagash material, it will be helpful to look briefly at barbers (šu-i) in the earlier Fara administrative texts.[7] A quick survey shows that female barbers do seem to occur there, and that the Fara šu-i had some administrative tasks as well as barbering proper, as we will see shortly.

2.1. Munusgeshtin the Barber

Munusgeshtin—the name is most likely female—is identified as a barber in WF 22[8] rev. i 8–9: munus-geštin šu-i; and in TSŠ 558[9] ii 1–3: munus-geštin šu-i sa12-du5 “Munusgeshtin, the barber of/under the chief administrator.”[10]

2.2. Administrative Roles of šu-i in Fara Texts

TSŠ 881[11] is a text concerning the allocation of barley and different types of goods, in which a barber named Lubarasi acted as deputy (x 5′–7′: lu2-bara2-si/ šu-i/ maškim), along with various officials. They seem to have been “responsible for the personnel involved in journeys to and from Šuruppak” (Pomponio and Visicato 1994:186).

It should be noted en passant that, in later texts from Ur (ED IIIb) and Nippur (Akkad period), barbers also acted as deputies (maškim): UET 2, Supp 35 3–4: lugal-dingir-mu šu-i2/ maškim-bi (from Ur); BIN 8 154 (= Edzard SR 91) iii 7–9: lugal-UN-e/ šu-i2/ maškim-bi (from Nippur); TMH 5 159 (= Edzard SR 99) iv 4–6: ur-e2-mah/ šu-i2/ maškim-bi and vi 7–9: šudx(KA׊U)-gal2-la/ šu-i2/ maškim-bi (from Nippur). The last text is a Sammentafel with 17 cases of river ordeals: a deputy/commissioner (maškim) was assigned to each case: in the sixth and the tenth cases, two barbers acted in this role.[12]

3.     References to Barbers in Lagash E2-MI2 texts

 3.1. Formulaic Expression

As has already been mentioned, male and female barbers occur in the ED Lagash texts regularly from the times of E2 through Lugalanda to UL6. In general, the male barber is identified as PN šu-i2[13] andthe female barber as PN šu-i2-munus.[14] However, female barbers are sometimes identified simply as šu-i2, without the gender-specifying sign MUNUS “womam/ female.”[15] In one case, the female barber Ninigigateshmu, which there is written as Ninigigateshbi,[16] is presented bearing no profession name and is simply labeled munus-me along with another woman: DP 119 rev. i 9-ii 3: 0.0.4 ga2-ka-nam-he2-ti/ e2-gal-la/ i3-ti/ 0.0.3 nin-igi-ga2-teš2-bi/ [U2-U2] agrig-da/ e-da-ti/ munus-me “24 sila for Gakanamheti, she lives in the palace; 18 sila for Ninigigateshbi, she lives with agrig-official [U2-U2]; they are women.”[17]

When a male and female pair of barbers is concerned, they are often described as NUM PN/ nita-am6/ NUM PN/ munus-am6/ šu-i2-me.[18] However, sometimes the plural marking -me is not specified, as in DP 115 Rev. i 1–5: 0.1.0 dingir-al-sa6/ nita-am6/ 0.0.3 geme2-du6/ munus-am6/ šu-i2. In some cases, the gender of neither barber is specified, as in DP 231 rev. vi 5′–7′: 0.1.0 dar-da/ 0.1.0 nin-al-sa6/ šu-i2-me “36 sila for Darda, 36 sila for Ninalsa; they are barbers.” This kind of abbreviated writing makes it difficult for us to determine the number and sex of the ED Lagash barbers.

3.2. List of ED Lagash Barbers

The following is a list of 23 names of barbers (by gender, in alphabetical order), attested in about 80 texts, which are mainly various types of ration distribution accounts, but also include records of field-allotment, lease-holding, and obligatory work assignments as part of the duty of the land-holders, as well as other documents dealing with miscellaneous administrative tasks.

Male Barbers

Igi-zi/ Igi-zi-bar-ra

Female Barbers

dInanna-menx-zi-pa4-pa4/ dInanna-menx
Nin-igi-ga2-teš2-bi/ Nin-igi-ga2-teš2-mu

4.     ED Lagash Barbers: Status, Functions, and Structure

4.1. Barbers of Higher Socio-Economical Status

At least seven male barbers, attested in documents dating from E2 to UL6.11b, form a distinctive group. They belonged to higher socio-economical strata, were allocated prebend land (classified as GAN2 šuku), and/or held leased land (classified as GAN2 apin-la2). They often received 72 sila of rations—the largest quantity in the standard ration system of the ED Lagash,[19] and carried out certain administrative functions. We will now briefly examine each of them in turn.

4.1.1. Lugaltemen

Lugaltemen was certainly one of the prominent barbers in the ED Lagash corpus. He is first mentioned in BIN 8 347 (E2), which is the record of barley-emmer rations (še-ba ziz2-ba) distributed to “the palace/E2-MI2 personnel and the core military and labor force” (lu2-igi-nigin2 šub-lugal-ke4-ne) (Maekawa 1973-74:110) for the occasion of the festival of the goddess Baba.[20] There, he was given 36 sila of barley and 36 sila of emmer: 72 sila in total. He is also found in DP 127,[21] recording “barley-emmer rations of the festival of Baba” (še-ba ziz2-ba ezem dba-ba6-ka) dispensed to the elite members of society, starting with the ereš-dingir-priestess of the goddess Baba (possibly the queen herself),[22] Geme’ubkuga (the queen’s mother),[23] and several sisters of the governor (nin ensi2-ka-me). Lugaltemen was listed among these dignitaries, again receiving 36 sila of barley and 36 sila of emmer-flour, or 72 sila in total.

Three documents, VS 25 61 (E3), VS 27 12 (L1), and VS 25 40 (L3), testify that Lugaltemen held parcels of apin-la2 (leased) land. Specifically, more than two and a half iku of taxable newly cultivated land (GAN2 su3-la-maš)[24] was measured out (gid2) for him (VS 25 61 iii 2–3); he paid two goats as tax on the field leased from the governor (VS 27 12 i 1–2)[25]; and also received three iku of ki-uzug5-field from Lugalanda’s land (šuku lugal-an-da) (VS 25 40 i 1–3).[26]

A certain Lugaltemen had a kind of living or working arrangement with some of the barbers of the households of Urukagina’s children for more than two years during the reign of Urukagina (UL2.?b–4.7b): NP1+n lugal-temen-da e-da-ti/se12 (the verb ti is used for the singular subject and se12 for the plural subject).[27] Although this Lugaltemen is not labeled by his profession, it is not unreasonable to identify him with the barber Lugaltemen, especially because those who were assigned to live/work with him were all barbers (see below 4.3.2 for details of living/working arrangements).

4.1.2. Ninmumadaag

A document (DP 199) dating from L4 reports that Ninmumadaag carried out an administrative task: he brought with him (e-da-DU) from the animal fattener (kurušda) two sheep that were meant to be Baranamtara’s offering at the festival of Ninmar.[28] The name Ninmumadaag could be understood to be a woman’s name.[29] Rosengarten (1960:244) translated nin-mu-da-ag2/ šu-i2 as “la coiffeuse N” (DP 199 ii 3-rev. i 1). However, we can deduce that Ninmumadaag was actually a male barber from DP 111, in which this person, first listed with 72 sila (iii 1–2), was counted in the sum section (šu-nigin2) as the only person (1 lu2) who received 72 sila of barley (rev. ii 4). On the other hand, the 17 women (DP 111 iii 5-rev. ii 1) and one woman from Umma (rev. ii 2–3) are counted as 18 female servants, each receiving only 18 sila (rev. ii 7: 20 la2 2 geme2 0.0.3).[30] Hence, the Ninmumadaag in question is most likely a man, although the term lu2 does not always refer to a male, as can be discerned from DP 176, in which a group of women, PNf1–PNf15, are counted as lu2; for the groups of women in DP 111 and DP 176, see 4.2.1 below.

4.1.3. Lugalmatum

RTC 60 (L3) records that three people brought with them various goods as “the offerings of the ruler to the kianag,[31] in the festival of Baba, for Enentarzi.”[32] Lugalmatum was listed as the first of these three people.[33]

4.1.4. Igizi(-bara)

Igizi is the best-attested barber of those discussed in this paper. On one occasion, in DP 624(L3), his name was listed in a longer form, Igizibara.[34] This document, dealing with the work of canal maintenance that was one of šuku-field holders’ duties (Maeda 1984), assigned to him the maintenance work of the length of 4 gi (= ca. 12 m).[35] That he was from higher socio-economical strata is made apparent further by his occurrence in VS 14 173 (L4), DP 226 (L4), and DP 132 (L5), which are documents classified as lu2 igi-nigin2 lu2 ga-ku3 munu4-ku3 ba-me.[36] In this—perhaps a ceremonial gift exchange (Selz 1995:73) or a transfer (Magid 2001:314, n. 6)—pure milk and malt was given from one person to another, and the majority of both givers and receivers seemed to belong to higher social strata.[37] Igizi the barber was listed as eighth among the givers. About the same time, in L5 (BIN 8 353 ii 7–8) and in L6 (VS 25 41 v 3–4), he carried out a crop-related task, another duty of šuku-holders, on behalf of the governor.

From UL3.12b to UL4.10b, Igizi the barber was listed as receiving the “barley rations of the personnel of the princes” (ša-ba lu2-di4-di4-la-ne), and repeatedly received 72 sila.[38] In UL4, he provided 620 sila of barley (DP 563 ii 2–3: 5.0.0 igi-zi/ šu-i2) for the purchase of low quality wool (še siki mug-a sa10-a-am6).

His status as a šuku-holder is again clearly shown by several texts dated to UL6. According to DP 584, a parcel of šuku-field was measured out (gid2) for him (rev. i 3–4: ½(iku) GAN2 igi-zi/ šu-i2).[39] In addition to this, the four texts recording the sixth, ninth, tenth,and eleventh “barley rations of šuku-holders” (še-ba lu2-šuku-dab5-ba) listed him as repeatedly receiving 72 sila.[40]

Although the classification is not preserved, Erm 14349 (rev. ii 5–6: 0.2.0 igi-zi/ šu-i2) and Erm 14346 (rev. ii 8–9: [0.2.0 igi]-zi/ [šu]-i2) may well pertain to the text group of še-ba lu2-šuku-dab5-ba.

4.1.5. Sheshkura

VS 14 72 (L4), whose classification reads GAN2 šuku še mu2-a gid2-da lu2 didli “barley planted šuku-field—measured—of various people” records that a large parcel of land was measured out for Sheshkura (rev. i 1–2: 1(eše3) 3(iku) šeš-kur-ra/ šu-i2).[41] He is found in DP 465 (L6) carrying out a certain administrative task, probably overseeing the transportation of ten beams that Eniggal, the chief administrator (of the E2-MI2), had taken out from the Mesandu-storehouse.[42]

4.1.6. Ursag

Erm 14371 reports that Ursag along with other officials played the role of deputy (maškim) in a business transaction involving barley (transfer of barley?): ii 4–6: 0.1.0(?) ur-sag/ šu-i2/ maškim-bi “36(?) sila (of barley)—Ursag the barber (is) its deputy.”

4.1.7. Enudana

DP 591 records that “Shubur the smith received a parcel of crop planted šuku-field[43] measuring 3½ iku, (previously) held by Enudana the barber” (ii 9–iii 3: 3(iku) ½(iku) GAN2/ GAN2 en-ud-da-na/ šu-i2-kam/ šubur/ simug/ e-dab5).

4.2. Barbers Working for the E2-MI2

4.2.1. Ninuma and Ninalmah

DP 176 (wool rations: siki-ba tur-mah-ba ar3-du2 u2-rum dim3-tur) and DP 110 and DP 111 (both barley rations: še-ba geme2-dumu) contain the lists of 15, 16, and 17 women, respectively.[44] The membership of the groups, over about two years, increases by two but otherwise stays the same. In DP 176 and DP 110, Ninuma is the last name on the list and the profession name šu-i2 “barber” follows immediately afterward, while in DP 111, Ninuma was joined by Ninalmah and their names were followed by šu-i2-me “barbers”:

PNf1–PNf14/ nin-u3-ma/ šu-i2 (DP 176; E3)
PNf1–PNf15/nin-u3-ma/ šu-i2 (DP 110; E3.12b)
PNf1–PNf15/nin-u3-ma/ nin-al-mah/ šu-i2-me (DP 111; E4.6b)

Now, it seems rather inconceivable that all of these women were barbers. Even in Urukagina’s reign, when the E2-MI2 organization has increased its size (Maekawa 1973–74:101), the attested number of male and female barbers is around ten (see below for more details). Therefore, DP 176, DP 110, and DP 111 should have included all female workers with various specializations including barbers. This is also implied by the rubric of DP 176, indicating the women were part of the bigger group labeled “servants/personnel, property of Dimtur.”[45] It is reasonable to think that, in DP 176 and DP 110, šu-i2 refers to Ninuma and, in DP 111, šu-i2-me refers to Ninuma and the newly employed Ninalmah. In this way, the use of the plural marking -me can be explained.

4.2.2. Darda and Ninalsa; Darda and Dingiralsa

A pair of a male and a female barber, Darda and Ninalsa, occurs in DP 231 rev. vi 5′–7′: 0.1.0 dar-da/ 0.1.0 nin-al-sa6/ šu-i2-me “36 sila (of barley) for Darda; 36 sila (of barley) for Ninalsa; (they are) barbers.” The text clearly indicates that they received the ninth ration, while the šuku-field holders (lu2-šuku-dab5-ba-me) received the first ration.[46] So, in contrast to the aforementioned high-ranking barbers, these two were not šuku-holders: in other words, they were landless. As for the date of this text (which is not preserved), Maekawa (1973–74:108) proposes the first half of Lugalanda’s reign, while CDLI, with reservations, proposes L1.

In DCS 8, dated to Lugalanda-nuhunga 1 (= L1), Darda and, rather than Ninalsa, Dingiralsa occur as barbers, both receiving a ration of 12 sila of emmer (rev. iv 9–11) at the festival of Baba, which was the last or penultimate month of a year (Cohen 1993:38).[47] This Dingiralsa is to be identified with the Dingiralsa who repeatedly appears as a barber in the service of the E2-MI2 after L6 (see 4.2.3 below). If we assume that Dingiralsa worked continuously, it would place Ninalsa ahead of him in time, and would thus mean that DP 231 precedes DCS 8.[48]

4.2.3. Dingiralsa and Inannamen(-zipapa)/ Meme/ Gemedu

From L6.9b to UL6.12b, there was a pair of male and female barbers who received 36 (or 48) sila and 24 (or 18, and once 36) sila of barley rations, respectively. The pair was usually registered on the “palace tablet” (ša3-dub-e2-gal) on the ration distribution accounts classified as še-ba igi-nu-du8 (il2) ša3-dub-didli (once, še-ba ša3-dub-e2-gal ša3-dub-didli: P387452 in CDLI).[49] The formula that expresses the entry is:

NUM PNm/ nita-am6/ NUM PNf/ munus-am6/ šu-i2-me

PNm is always Dingiralsa, while PNf changes from Inannamen(-zipapa)[50] (L6.9b–UL2.8b)[51] to Meme (UL3.6b–4.6b)[52] to Gemedu (UL5.3b–6.12b).[53] A document dating from UL3.10b (HSS 3 17) informs us that in addition to the amounts of rations given to Dingiralsa and Meme, some kind of living/working arrangement was made for them with U2-U2.[54]

4.3. Barbers Working for Royal Children’s Households

Barbers are included in the personnel of the households of royal children and their rations are recorded in the lists classified as še-ba lu2/geme2-dumu (lu2) di4-di4-la-ne.[55]

4.3.1 Barber of Munussaga: Lugalmutu

Lugalmutu was the barber belonging to the household of Munussaga, one of Lugalanda’s children. He received 24 sila of barley at the ninth(DP 157 rev. ii 9–10), the tenth(VS 25 37 rev. i 10–11), and the eleventh(VS 25 14 rev. i 7–8) expenditures, all dated to L6.

For the ninth and the tenth rations of L6 and for the seventh ration of UL4, both the ration lists of the personnel of the royal children’s households (še-ba geme2-dumu/lu2 di4-di4-la-ne) and those of the other workers (še-ba igi-nu-du8 il2 ša3-dub-didli) are preserved, thus clearly showing that there were two separate groups of barbers.

4.3.2. Barbers of Gemebaba, Gemetarsirsir, and Aenramugi/Aenekiag

Seven barbers in total are attested to the three households of Urukagina’s children, Gemebaba, Gemetarsirsir, and Aenramugi/Aenekiag,[56] from early UL2 to UL5.7b. There were three to five barbers working at a given time. Barbers of Gemebaba: Lugalenlile, Babadingirmu, and Ninsaggatuku

Lugalenlile repeatedly received 36 sila, which was the second largest ration out of the seven barbers, the largest being that of Igizi (see below). Judging from this quantity of rations (minimum but livable) and also from the lack of a record of a living/working arrangement with anyone else, Lugalenlile seems to have been independent. On the other hand, Babadingirmu received 18 (on one occasion 24 sila) and had a kind of living/working arrangement, at one point, with Lugaltemen,[57] and, the rest of the time, with U2-U2.[58] As I mentioned above, this Lugaltemen and the Lugaltemen the barber whom we have already discussed were most likely the same person; U2-U2 was once identified as an agrig-official. Sometime after UL3.9b and before UL4.10b, Babadingirmu was replaced by Ninsaggatuku, who was likewise given 18 (on one occasion 24) sila.[59] No living/working arrangement is reported for the latter, nor for the other barbers after UL4.10b. Barbers of Gemetarsirsir: Sagmuabtuku, Agilsa, and Igizi

Sagmuabtuku received 24 (on one occasion 30) sila throughout his career. His one-time female partner was Agilsa, who received the same amount of rations (24 sila), and at one point, both of them had a kind of living/working arrangement with Lugaltemen.[60] Sagmuabtuku kept this relationship with Lugaltemen for more than two years[61] (DP 116 [UL4.7b] being the last attestation of this) and continued working as a barber for another year until UL5.7b (Nik 1 20 vii 4–5). After Agilsa’s disappearance, Igizi entered into the service toward the end of UL3. This Igizi, who repeatedly received 72 sila of barley rations, should be identified with Igizi, the high-ranking and šuku-holding barber (see above 4.1.4). Barber of Aenramugi/Aenekiag: Ninigigateshbi/mu

This barber’s name is written either as nin-igi-ga2-teš2-bi or nin-igi-ga2-teš2-mu (see n. 16). She was the only barber of the household of Aenramugi/Aenekiag, received 18 or 24 sila, and presumably had a kind of living/working arrangement with Lugaltemen at one point[62] and, the rest of the time, with U2-U2[63] as the other female barbers did.[64]

5. Concluding Remarks

Although the ED Lagash E2-MI2 corpus does not reveal what the professional duties of the barbers were, we can draw a rough picture of how they might have been organized. At any given time, more than one high-ranking barbers would be at the top of the organization: they were among the elite of Lagash society, received parcels of šuku-field or of apin-la2 field, and in return fulfilled their obligations as land-holders and carried out miscellaneous administrative tasks. Under these, a pair of barbers, nomally a male and a female, was kept on the palace register, and worked for the E2-MI2. This pairing is attested until the end of UL6. Also under the E2-MI2’sadministration, male and female barbers worked among the personnel of the royal children’s households. The last attestation of these barbers is UL5.7b, somewhat earlier than that of the E2-MI2 barbers.


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–, 1999. The “Temples” and the “Temple Personnel” of Ur III Girsu-Lagash. In K. Watanabe, ed., Priests and Officials in the Ancient Near East. Papers of the Second Colloquium on the Ancient Near East—The City and its Life, Held at the Middle Eastern Culture Center in Japan (Mitaka, Tokyo). Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag C. Winter, pp. 59–102.

Magid, G., 2001. Micromanagement in the e2-mi2/dBa-u2: Notes on the Organization of Labor at Early Dynastic Lagash. T. Abush et al, eds., Historiography in the Cuneiform World: Proceedings of the XLVe Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Part 1. Bethesda, Maryland: CDL Press, pp. 313-328.

Molina, M., 2008. New Ur III Court Records Concerning Slavery. In P. Michalowski, ed., On the Third Dynasty of Ur: Studies in Honor of Marcel Sigrist. JCS Supplemental Series Vol. 1. Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research, pp. 125–143.

Pomponio, F., 1983. “Archives” and the Prosopography of Fara. ASJ 5:127-145.

–, 1987. La prosopografia dei testi presargonici di Fara. Rome: Università degli Studi La Sapienza.

Pomponio, F. and G. Visicato, 1994. Early Dynastic Administrative Tablets of Šuruppak. Naples: Instituto Universitario Orientale di Napoli.

Prentice, R., 2010. The Exchange of Goods and Services in Pre-Sargonic Lagash. AOAT 368.

Rosengarten, Y., 1960. Le concept sumérien de consommation dans la vie économique et religieuse: etude linguistique et sociale d’après les textes présargonique de Lagaš. Paris: E. de Boccard.

Selz, G., 1989. Altsumerische Verwaltungstexte aus Lagaš, Teil 1: Die altsumerischen Wirtschaftsurkunden der Ermitage zu Leningrad. FAOS 15/1.

–, 1993a. Altsumerische Verwaltungstexte aus Lagaš, Teil 2: Altsumerische Wirtschaftsurkunden aus amerikanischen Sammlungen, 1. Abschnitt. FAOS 15/2-1.

–, 1993b. Altsumerische Verwaltungstexte aus Lagaš, Teil 2: Altsumerische Wirtschaftsurkunden aus amerikanischen Sammlungen, 2. Abschnitt. FAOS 15/2–2.

–, 1995. Untersuchungen zur Götterwelt des altsumerischen Stadtstaates. Occasional Publications of the Samuel Noah Kramer Fund, 13. Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Museum.

–, 2011. Reconstructing the Old Sumerian Administrative Archives of the É-MÍ – É-dBa-ba6– Institution. In G. Barjamovic et al, eds., Akkade Is King. A Collection of Papers by Friends and Colleagues Presented to Aage Westenholz on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday. Leiden: NINO, pp. 273–286.

Visicato, G., 2011. The Careers of Some Bureaucrats in ED IIIB and Sargonic Girsu. In G. Barjamovic et al, eds., Akkad is King: A Collection of Papers by Friends and Colleagues Presented to Aage Westenholz on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday 15th of May 2009. PIHANS 118, pp. 301-313.

Waetzoldt, H., 1987. Compensation of Craft Workers and Officials in the Ur III Period. In M. A. Powell, ed., Labor in the Ancient Near East. New Haven, Connecticut: American Oriental Society, pp. 117–41.

Yamamoto, S., 1980. “The “Agricultural Year” in the Pre-Sargonic Girsu-Lagash (II),” ASJ 2:169–195.

–, 1981. The lú-KUR6-dab5-ba People in Pre-Sargonic in the é-mí-e2dBa-Ú in Pre-Sargonic Lagash. ASJ 3:93–110.

* I thank Lluis Feliu, Frederick W. Knobloch, and Manuel Molina for their helpful discussion and comments. Gebhard J. Selz kindly provided me with his manuscripts of AWAB 71, 78, and 175.

[1] Abbreviations used: nb = the nth ration; En = Enentarzi year n; ED = Early Dynastic; Ln = Lugalanda year n; NUM = Number; ProfN = Profession Name; UE = Urukagina ensi-year; ULn = Urukagina lugal-year n; E, L, UL are placed in italic (E, L, and UL) when they are inferred.

[2] The texts write the word šu-i2 with the sign I2, which is the sign I turned some 45° clockwise. Cf. šu-i in Fara (e.g., TSŠ 1 v 17; TSŠ 558 ii 2; WF 5 ii 2 and others) and Abu Salabikh (OIP 99 60 iii 10; OIP 99 61 vii 5; OIP 99 74 vi 6; and OIP 99 33 vi 11′). Texts from ED Nippur either have šu-i (TMH 5 2 i 4; TMH 5 67 ii 10; TMH 5 123 2; and TMH 5 136 i 2) or šu-i2 (TMN 5 159 iv 5 and vi 8). Ur III texts mostly use šu-i, with sporadic use of šu-i2: for an example of the Ur III i2, see Molina 2008:130, No. 3, rev. 7 (here the sign I2 is the sign I turned almost 90° clockwise).

[3] Excluded from our discussion are two “barbers” listed among the witnesses in a sale document of a house sold by a woman (Hallo 1973:238, ll. 51-53: Ilugal-igi-tab/ Ie-da-hul/ šu-i2-me) from a slightly earlier period. The sign read by Hallo with an exclamation mark as šu-i(!)-me is the sign I2 according to the current method of transcription. The date of the composition was expressed as “at that time… Dudu was sanga-priest” (ll. 65 and 68: ud-ba… dudu sanga) and can be safely placed during the reign of Enmetena, as CDLI does; RIME1.9.5.27 reads “his (= Enmetena’s) servant Dudu, the temple administrator of the god Ningirsu” (iii 1-3: ir11-ra-ni/ du-du/ sanga dnin-gir2-su2-ka-ke4). See Maekawa 1973-74:137-38, with n. 82, for Dudu and the placing of his tenure as the sanga of Ningirsu just before Enentarzi.

[4] For the most recent update of the text information, see Voxvog 2011:59, n. 2.

[5] In the ED Lagash texts, in addition to the typical women’s jobs related to the textile industry, we find women working as gate-keepers (i3-du8), wailers/cantors (gala), rope makers and braiders (tug2-du8), and in other roles. I will address questions about these women in our September workshop.

[6] M. Molina, personal communication; for barbers of Iri-Sagrig, see Kleinerman 2013.

[7] For its date, see Krebernik 1998:257-259 and Krebernik 2002:5.

[8] Classified as “Registers of equids” in Pomponio and Visicato 1994:4 (18).

[9] Dealing with two strings of apples; classified as “Registers of fruit” in Pomponio and Visicato 1994:3 (6).

[10] The structure “PN ProfN1 ProfN2” can be considered a variation of the type PN1 ProfN PN2, meaning “PN1, the ProfN of PN2,” discussed by Pomponio (1986:64), since the office of sa12-du5 is a “very high office,” which “must have been held by a single person for the period to which the available Fara documentation refers and it would render the addition of his personal name superfluous” (Pomponio and Visicato 1994:208).

[11] Classified as “Registers of various goods” in Pomponio and Visicato 1994:3 (15).

[12] Other people who played the role of maškim were either cupbearers (sagi) (in the first, fourth, and ninth cases), or bore no profession name.

[13] E.g., BIN 8 347 rev. iii 13-14: NUM lugal-temen/ šu-i2.

[14] E.g., Nik 1 22 iv 1–2: NUM dba-ba6-dingir-mu/ šu-i2-munus-am6; HSS 3 25 rev. i 10–11: NUM nin-igi-ga2-teš2-mu/ šu-i2-munus-am6.

[15] E.g., TSA 18 iii 14–15: NUM dba-ba6-dingir-mu/ šu-i2-am6; BIN 8 359 rev. i 10–11: NUM nin-igi-ga2-teš2-mu/ šu-i2-am6; compare them with the examples of n. 14.

[16] Ninigigateshmu (five times); Ninigigateshbi (four times).

[17] Gakanamheti is a female servant (ar3-du2-munus) who lived in the palace together with other people, according to DP 116, rev. iii 2–5: (PN…) ga2-ka-nam-he2-ti/ ar3-du2-munus-am6 e2-gal-la/ i3-se12.

[18] E.g., Nik 1 9 vii 4–8: 0.1.0 dingir-al-sa6/ nita-am6/ 0.0.4 dinanna-menx-zi-pa4-pa4/ munus-am6/ šu-i2-me “36 sila for Dingiralsa, male; 24 sila for Inannamenzipapa, female; they are barbers.”

[19] Rations were issued to individuals; rations for children were recorded along with those of their mothers; for an overview of the ration system in the Ur III period, see Waetzoldt 1987.

[20] Cf. Selz, FAOS 15/2, p. 545: “Gerstzuteilungen (und) Emmerzuteilungen für die Leute (von) ‘Ansehen,’ (und zwar)? die Untergebenen des Königs.”

[21] This text is dated to Lugalandanuhunga (= Lugalanda) but no year number is given. According to Selz 1995:24, lugal-an-da is a short form for lugal-an-da-nu-hun-ga “der König, der sich für An nicht beruhigt.” For more discussion, see Selz FAOS 15/1, p. 544.

[22] Maekawa 1996:179.

[23] VS 27 81 i 3-4: geme2-ub5-ku3-ga/ ama munus.

[24] AWAB 71: “abgabepflichtiges Newbruchfeld”; also see Selz, FAOS 15/1, p. 192.

[25] AWAB 78.

[26] AWAB 71.

[27] Maekawa (1973-74:122, n. 74) translates ti as “work” or “work under the direction of someone (-da-)”; see also Magid 2001.

[28] For the festival of Ninmarki, see Cohen 1993:60 and Selz 1995:258-59, with n. 1243.

[29] According to Foxvog 2011:61-2, nin “lady, sister” is one of the gender-specific name incipits, and is borne by 189 females, 4 males, and 7 unknown people in the ED Lagash corpus of 121 names beginning with nin-. Gelb (1975:72) also observed that a great majority of the names composed with the element nin- are feminine.

[30] According to Ellison 1981:39–40, a monthly diet of 18 sila (= 0.6 sila = 0.50 liters daily) or even 24 (= 0.8 sila = 0.66 liters daily) is not an adequate energy intake for a person, male or female; for more discussion on small ration amounts, see my REFEMA 3 paper.

[31] ki-a-nag “mortuary chapel” (Jagersma 2007:296); the feast in honor of the dead (Brunke 2011:177).

[32] RTC 60 rev. i 5-ii 2: nig2-giš-tag ensi2-ka/ ki-a-nag!-še3/ ezem dba-ba6-ka/ en-en3-tar-zi-ra. Actually, the noun phrase nig2-giš-tag ensi2-ka “the offerings of the ruler” is the object of the predicate mu-na-DU (rev. ii 3).

[33] RTC 60 ii 4–iii 2: lugal-ma-tum2 šu-i2 e-da-DU “Lugalmatum the barber brought with him” (sheep, bread, roasted grain, dairy products, fruits, and beer).

[34] Inannamen(-zipapa) (see 4.3.2 below) is another example of name-shortening (Foxvog 2011:64).

[35] Regarding the šuku-field holders, Maekawa 1973-74:88 says, “[p]laying a central role in collective labor or war, the lu2-kur6-dab5-ba formed the backbone of the city.”

[36] “‘Leute von Ansehen,’ Leute, die (kultisch) reine Milch (und) reines Malz schenken, sind sie” (Selz 1995:74); “the malted-milk offering” dubbed in his class but “not too seriously” (Gelb 1975:72).

[37] Gelb (1975:72-3) schematically described this as offerings “by about 50 men to the wives of 50 other men.” However, neither the givers nor the receivers were exclusively of the same sex. The former included some of the female palace personnel (ar3-tu2-munus-me) such as Altush (um-me), Geme’edam (um-me-da), Gemeshu (nu-gig), and others, headed by Emete. For a recent discussion on um-me, um-me-da, and nu-gig, see Civil 2011:281–84.

[38] HSS 3 27 vi 11–12, Nik 1 16 vi 4–5, DP 116 vii 12–13, DP 117 vii 4–5, and DP 118 vii 11–12; as the date of DP 118, which is not preserved, CDLI suggests UL5(?).

[39] Cf. MLVS 8 rev. iii 7-8.

[40] 0.2.0 igi-zi/ šu-i2 in DP 121 rev. ii 10–11, BIN 8 354 rev. ii 5–6, HSS 3 13 rev. ii 7–8, and HSS 3 12 rev. ii 8–9.

[41] For še mu2-a, gid2, and other šuku-field-related terminology, see Yamamoto 1980.

[42] DP 465 i 1–ii 4: 10 giš-ur3 za3-gu2-la2/ en-ig-gal/ nu-banda3/ ganun dmes-an-du-ta/ e-ta-gar/ šeš-kur-ra/ šu-i2/ ba-DU.

[43] DP 591 iii 4-5: šu-nigin2…GAN2 šuku še mu2-a/ GAN2 šuku-am6.

[44] DP 176, DP 110, and DP 111 have been discussed by Maekawa (1973–74:101–109) in conjunction to the development of the E2-MI2.

[45] Maekawa (1973–74) discusses some of the women (Me-nigar-ta, Nin-al-sa6, Nin-e-an-su, Ama-bi-a-ra2-nu2, Šeš-e-a-na-ak, Nin-šer7-zi, and dBa-ba6-na-nam) on p. 102, n. 30; p. 107, n. 41; and pp. 128–29, with n. 70.

[46] The lu2-šuku-dab5-ba “were given barley for four or five successive months from the eighth or ninth month up to the end of the year” while others were given barley once a month throughout the year” (Maekawa 1987:51); however, during UL6, they were issued barley rations every month of the year (Prentice 2010:20 and 78 with n. 338).

[47] Its bookkeeping rubric reads ziz2-ba surx (ERIM)-ra ezem dba-ba6-ka; for the reading surx (ERIM), see Balke 2013:9 (sub Vs. I i).

[48] The name Ninalsa, which occurs in the lists of the female personnel in DP 176, DP 110, and DP 111, however, is not to be identified with Ninalsa the barber (following Maekawa 1973–74:102, n. 30). On the other hand, the Darda who is listed among eight men (bearing no profession name), receiving 36 sila in DP 110 iv 4 and DP 111 ii 3 might be the same individual as Darda the barber.

[49] Cf., še-ba geme2-dumu igi-nu-du8 il2 ša3-dub-didli dating from UL6.11b (HSS 3 24 iii 11–12) and UL6.12b (TSA 13 iii 15–16), where Dingiralsa occurs alone by himself on the miscellaneous register (ša3-dub-didli-am6).

[50] The name Inannamenzipapa is shortened to Inannamen (UL1–).

[51] VS 25 71 viii 6–10, VS 25 11 viii 2–6, RA 71 102 viii 12–rev. i 2, MVN 3 2 viii 11–rev. i 4, Nik 1 9 vii 4–8, HSS 3 15 vi 14–18, HSS 3 16 vii 1–5, DCS 4 vii 1–5, FAOS 15/2 123 vi 4–8, P387452 viii 2–6, and DP 113 ix 8–12. The pair also received wool rations in DP 171 (rev. v 9–12), a document classified as siki-ba lu2 u2-[rum] dba-ba6.

[52] CT 50 36 rev. i 4–10, HSS 3 17 viii 17–rev. i 6, FAOS 15/2 120 ix 2–6, TSA 14 viii 17–ix 2, and FAOS 15/1 2 ix 1–5.

[53] DP 114 ix 10–14, DP 115 rev. i 1–5, TSA 17 ix 9–13, FAOS 15/2 122 rev. i 2–6, TSA 16 viii 13–17, and HSS 3 18 vii 13–viii 3.

[54] HSS 3 17 viii 17–rev. i 6: 0.1.2 dingir-al-sa6/ nita-am6/ 0.0.4 me-me/ munus-am6/ šu-i2-me/ U2-U2/ e-da-se12.

[55] See Maekawa 1973-73:131–134, especially, n. 74, for the development of this type of ration list.

[56] Aenramugi apparently changed his name at some point to Aenekiag; so Beld 2002:17, but, in p. 78, he regards them as two different persons. In contrast to these three,  Shuburbaba, another child of Urukagina’s, has no barber listed among his personnel.

[57] Nik 1 22 iv 1–4: 0.0.3 dba-ba6-dingir-mu/ šu-i2-munus-am6/ lugal-temen-da/ e-da-ti.

[58] 0.0.3 dba-ba6-dingir-mu/ šu-i2-(munus)-am6/ U2-U2/ e-da-ti (BIN 8 359 iii 15–iv 3, HSS 3 25 iii 15–iv 2, TSA 18 iii 14–17 (0.0.4), HSS 3 26 iii 12–15, and FAOS 15/2 124 iii 12–15; for the name U2-U2, see Balke 2013:10 (sub Rs. I 9, II 2) and Foxvog 2011:61.

[59] DP 117 iv 6–7, CT 50 35 xx–iv 1′, DP 118 iv 12–13, and FAOS 15/1 20 iv 6–8.

[60] Nik 1 22 v 14–vi 6: [sag-mu-ab-tuku]/ nita-am6/ a-gil-sa/ munus-am6/ šu-i2-me/ lugal-temen-da/ e-da-se12.

[61] 0.0.4 sag-mu-ab-tuku/ šu-i2-(am6)/ lugal-temen-da/ e-da-ti in DP 119, BIN 8 359 v 13–vi 1, HSS 3 25, TSA 18, HSS 3 26, FAOS 15/2 124, Nik 1 16, and DP 116.

[62] Nik 1 22 rev. ii 1–4: [0.0.3 nin-igi-ga2-teš2-bi/ šu-i2-munus]-am6/ lugal-temen-da/ e-da-ti.

[63] DP 119 rev. i 9–ii 3: 0.0.4 ga2-ka-nam-he2-ti/ e2-gal-la/ i3-ti/ 0.0.3 nin-igi-ga2-teš2-bi/ [U2-U2] agrig-da/ e-da-ti/ munus-me (UL2.4b) (see above 3.1), NUM nin-igi-ga2-teš2-bi/mu/ šu-i2-munus-am6/ U2-U2/ e-da-ti in TSA 18 rev. iii 16–iv 3 (UL3) and DP 116 rev. iii 11-14 (UL4.7b).

[64] According to Magid (2001:325), when texts talk about, for example, a barber living with another barber, a servant living with another servant, or a miller living with another miller, we are dealing with overseer-subordinate pairings. This might be the case with Lugaltemen and the four barbers: we have seen that Lugaltemen himself was a barber. However, we face a problem with U2-U2 because he is not described anywhere as a barber, but is at one point identified as an agrig-official, provided that the restoration by CDLI is correct. Accordingly, the nature of their arrangement may not have been professional. I wonder whether Lugalanda and U2-U2 were somehow responsible for feeding or compensating for the nutritional shortage of the people who received a less than sufficient ration. This idea, however, is undermined by the fact that Dingiralsa, whose ration (48 sila) was enough to live on, also had an arrangement with U2-U2 (HSS 3 17 viii 17-rev. i 6). So, we are back to the starting point. In any case, this ti/se12 arrangement for the barbers seems to have come to an end sometime during the two months of UL4.7b–10b.

(1) Women economic activities at home and outside home during the Ur III period

(1) Women economic activities at home and outside home during the Ur III period 

Bertrand Lafont (CNRS, Nanterre)

By way of introduction two preliminary remarks:

a)   First, and just as a reminder, about the basic structural element of ancient Mesopotamian economy and society, notably during the IIIrd millennium B.C.: the « e2 » (Akkadian bîtum, « household »). As a category, the « e2 » (comparable to the Greek oikos) describes every possible socio-economic unit: it could be a large institution, such as a palace, or a temple, or a royal estate; or it could be the home of a professional or even of a common independent family. The ordinary urban household consisted of the immediate family, perhaps some additional dependent relations, and less frequently, a handful of slaves. It was ordinarily a patriarchal household.

b)   Second, concerning our sources: the tens of thousands of administrative records available for the Ur III period (the one studied here) have significant processing constraints: their mass is as huge as the scope they cover is narrow, since they document mainly, through several large batches of archives, the administration of the state institutional sector in several provinces of the Sumerian kingdom of Ur.

In these archives we actually have thousands of references concerning work done by women. At Ur III, they were part of the workforce at the same level as men (guruš ≠ geme2). And we can appreciate their place  in the Sumerian society of that time according to the various categories revealed by the administrative records:

  • by genre:                     men / women
  • by age:                         children / adults / elders
  • by social status:          slaves / ordinary people / ruling class

But we know very little about the private and family life of these women. Our documentation leaves many crucial questions unanswered, particularly those concerning the kinship relations and the family structure of the population. As a matter of fact, most of the available information on Ur III women concerns aspects that will be studied in our next workshop (devoted to women’s work in public institutions and outside the family).


We can assert, without fear of being too much influenced by our own conceptions of what is a « family », that the Sumerian society of that time was based on nuclear families practicing monogamy, with a relatively small number of children (in contrast with what is known for royal families). Here is an example of such a small unit that constituted a family:

[1] UET 3, 93 (CDLI P136410). Ur, no date.

1. 1 Ur-ni9-gar sanga PN1, chief administrator: head of family
2. 1 Geme2dšul-gi-ra dam PN2, his wife,
3. 1 Lú-dnin-gá dumu-nita2 PN3 and PN4, his sons,
4. 1 Arad2-al-la dumu-nita2
5. 1 Geme2-é-e11 dumu-munus PN5, PN6 and PN7, his daughters.
6. 1 Dingir-in-na-kam dumu-munus
7. 1 Nam-nin-e-ba-ab-du7 dumu-munus
8. dam dumu ur-ni9-gar-me-éš They are the wife and the children of Ur-nigar,
9. é dnin-a-zi-mú-a-me-éš of the temple of Nin-azimu.

Was such a couple with five children “typical” for Neo-Sumerian time? Maybe, but we do not know, in any case, about the purpose of such a text, or about whether this household was in fact larger with relatives, slaves, and so on, as it is possible given the fact that the head of this family was a “notable” (sanga). Another example of such a nuclear family is proposed below: in the following text we see an entire family –in this case probably much lower on the social scale: it is likely an over-indebted family that can not meet its needs– selling and reducing itself to slavery to survive, a fairly well documented practice at that time:

[2] TMH NF 1-2, 53 (CDLI P134365), cf. Steinkeller,  FAOS 17, 20. Nippur, Šu-Suen 1.

1. [1 Ur]-du6-kù-ga PN 1,
2. 1 Dingir-bu-za dam-ni PN2, his wife,
3. 1 Nin-da-da PN3, PN4, PN5, his 3 children (2 girls, 1 boy),
4. 1 Nin-úr-ra-ni
5. 1 Ur-dšu-mah
6. dumu-ni-me
7. ⅔ ma-na 3 gín kù-babbar-šè for ⅔ mina and 3 shekels of silver
8. ní-te-ne-ne ba-ra-an-sa10-áš sold themselves

And we find one more illustration in these 2 lines of BAOM 2, 26 26 (CDLI P104889) that mention « 30 liters (of barley) for Geme-Eana, widow, mother of 5 (children) » (3 bán Geme2-é-an-na nu-ma-SU ama dumu 5).

In some of these households, women could have property of their own, and this could come from a marital gift. The next text shows how quite a rich father distributed gifts to his wife, his two daughters and his son, giving them slaves, livestock, and real estate:

[3] BM 105377 (CDLI P112634), cf. Wilcke, Elderly, p.49. Umma, Amar-Suen 4.

1. 1 gu4-numun g[u…] 1 ox …
2. 1 é [x] 1 house …
3. 1 Ur-sukkal 4 slaves
4. 1 Zi-NI-ti
5. 1 A-lí-ma?
6. 1 A-a-ha-ma-ti lú nam-ha-ni
7. [x]+1 u8 sila4 dù-a x pregnant sheeps
8. [x]+1 ud5 máš dù-a x pregnant goats
9. é? KI.ANki šu-du7-a-bi 1 house (in) KI.ANki with its furniture
10. 1 na4kín šu sè-ga 1 millstone with its upper stone:
11. Ur-ni9-gar-ke4 Ur-nigar
12. dam-na in-na-an-ba gave as a gift (all this) to his wife 
13. 10 gín har kù-babbar 10 sheqels of ring silver and
14. 1 Geme2dšara2 1 slave: gifts for Baza his daughter.
15. níg-ba Ba-za dumu-munus
16. 1 Eš18-dar-ì-lí 1 slave: gift for Ninbatuku his daughter.
17. níg-ba Nin-ba-tuku dumu-munus
18. 1 [Lugal]-ušurx 1 slave: gift for Hala-abbana (his son ?)
19. níg-ba Ha-la?-ab-ba-na
20. Ur-ni9-gar-ke4 dumu-ne-ne in-na-ba Ur-nigar gave as a gift (all this) to his children
(Witnesses and date)

The reasons for such gifts given by the family head are unknown. It could have been an arrangement before his death, before a journey, or before going to war, to protect his family. The trial displayed below shows again that this independent property of women could come from a marital gift. In that case, we see a son who turned against his mother after his father’s death, demanding a cow and two slaves. The woman denied the request, saying she had received these goods as a personal gift during the lifetime of her husband:

[4] Molina, Fs Owen : 213 n°9 (CDLI P375930). Umma, no date.

1. Du-gu-da-ga Dugudaga
2. Geme2-gu ama-ni-da di in-da-du11 brought a legal case against Gemegu his mother
3. 1 áb-máh Geme2-gú-eden-na mu-bi-im – 1 milk-producing cow whose name is Gemeguedena
4. 1 sag-nita2 Šu-na mu-ni-im – 1 male slave whose name is Šuna
5. 1 sag-munus Ma-tu mu-ni-im – 1 female slave whose name is Matu
6. 1 Geme2-gu dam-gu10 ma-an-ba             bí-in-du11 “My husband gave them as a gift to me” Gemegu declared

Of course, large family households (é) or princely domains of larger size, or estates of several wives belonging to provincial governors are also well known in our archival texts. One interesting case concerns the household of the son of the governor of Girsu, early in the reign of Amar-Suen. In the inventory made ​​of his household (Maekawa 1996 = P102665), the following were recorded:

  • 5 hectares orchard
  • 200 slaves (half of them being women)
  • 3700 heads of livestock
  • 250 heads of cattle
  • objects in silver, non precious metal, stone, wood, and reed
  • clothes, drapery, and skins
  • perishable goods

Apparently, his wealth originated mainly in animal husbandry. But a more detailed look at the description of this large household estate (inventoried on the occasion of seizure proceedings, as shown by K. Maekawa) shows that more than 200 garments, nearly 500 kg of wool and large quantities of oil, honey, wine, cheese, dates and aromatics were also counted. The list of these goods, together with common sense, prompts us to conclude that the women in this household, including maids and slaves, were the ones who transformed all of these raw materials into the products needed for everyday life. These women were probably busy first of all with providing members of the household with their basic needs in terms of food, clothing, and care. But the problem is that their work remains « invisible » as there is never any mention of it in our archives.

The domestic area was also probably the place for other productive and economically significant activities, but, once again, we have very little proof of this in the written documentation, because of its nature (see the introduction above). However some texts do exist, documenting a real productive activity involving women within a family home. In the following administrative tablet we can see six men and two women (the second one with her child), in the household of the governor of Girsu; they all received food rations for producing beer within the household during one month:

[5] MVN 6, 147 (CDLI P114602). Girsu, Lagaš II, no date.

1. 0,1.0 Má-gur8-re 60 liters (monthly ration): Magure
2. 0,1.0 Me-ni-šu-na 60 liters: Menišuna
3. 0,1.0 Ur-dba-ba6 60 liters: Ur-Baba
4. 0,1.0 Ur-dlugal-bàn-da 60 liters: Ur-Lugalbanda
5. 0,1.0 Ur-zigum-ma 60 liters: Ur-ziguma
6. 0,1.0 É-[…]-da 60 liters: E-[…]-da
7. 0,0.3. Nin-bara2-ge-si 30 liters: Nin-baragesi
8. 0,0.3. Geme2-ŠIM?-su4 30 liters: Geme-ŠIM-su, her child.
9. dumu-ni
10. še-bi 1,2.1. gur Total : 430 (sic!) liters of barley.
11. kaš-a gub-ba-me They are involved in the beer (production).
12. ugula Sipa-da-rí Supervisor : Sipadari.
13. giri3-sè-ga ensi2-me They are personnel of the governor.

The question that can be asked here is whether or not this activity of producing beer exceeded the goal to meet the domestic needs of the governor of Girsu. But in reality, in the Ur III period, we never see any text mentioning surplus from a domestic production that would feed some external economic channels of distribution.


We must first assert that there was no automatic assignment of women to the domestic sphere alone. On the contrary, it appears clearly that some women could have professional skills equal to those of men, and that they could exercise them outside the family home. We will illustrate this point by examining a list of women’s professions and specializations recorded in the archives of Garšana and Irisagrig, texts that bring some new evidence for the role that women played in Ur III society. Thanks to these new data, we can now assert that women held many positions hitherto documented only for men. These specialized occupations include:

  • geme2-azlag2                                 (cf. male lú-azlag2, « fuller », « washerman »)
  • geme2/munus-muhaldim           (cf. male muhaldim, « cooker »)
  • geme2-ì-du8                                  (cf. male ì-du8, « doorkeeper »)
  • geme2-kisal-luh                             (cf. male kisal-luh, « (temple) sweeper »)
  • nar-munus                                      (cf. male nar, « singer », « musician »)
  • munus-a-zu                                 (cf. male a-zu, « physician »)
  • munus-dub-sar                         (cf. male dub-sar, « scribe »)
  • munus-gudu4                             (cf. male gudu4, « purification priest »)

The last three professions (in bold) are particularly interesting, as they are highly specialized and as they were not previously attested much for women.

Again in Garšana, a quick look at the female population of the household headed by princess Simat-Ištaran (a sister of king Šu-Suen) shows that there were six basic female occupations frequently mentioned in this archive (cf. Owen & Kleinerman, CUSAS 4, p. 721). They are very common and correspond to what is expected for a household of this kind, but it is noteworthy that these women were in fact often performing tasks far from their first specialty, as shown by the following table that compares titles qualifying the registered women against the actual activities which they were involved in and for which the tablets were written:

Professional occupations qualifying women in Garšana texts

Real occupations recorded for these women in administrative Garšana texts

 – geme2-àr-ra                “grinders”     – agricultural work
 – geme2-kikken2            “millers”     – construction work
 – geme2gešì-sur-sur      “oil pressers”     – transportation & boat towing
 – geme2-gu                     “spinners”     – flour & food processing
 – geme2-uš-bar               “weavers”     – mourners

As we can see, there were real specialties and specific skills for women (here at the most basic level, thus essentially for food processing and textile production, linked without doubt with their daily tasks) and that could be used to categorize these women. But what we observe is that these women had also to perform further productive activities (agricultural work, boat towing, construction work, and so on), probably for the corvée duty to which they were regularly forced part-time, at the same level as men. So it seems that we can distinguish between categorized female occupations and the variety of works actually performed by these women.

Therefore, from an economic point of view, we can assert that the role played by these women was multifaced, both inside and outside their family house. Nevertheless, in Ur III all women did not systematically belong to an official or family “e2”. Thus, we do find frequent mention of women qualified as geme2-kar-KID: these women were not necessarily “prostitutes” as often said, but rather independent women, not living under male authority, or not part of a patriarchal household. They had to support themselves in any number of ways (and some may in fact have been prostitutes) [see Assante 1998, Cooper 2010, Démare-Lafont s.p.].

Finally let us consider the case of women who could find themselves alone and powerless because of the death of their husbands. If they did not have the means of economic independence, they were then taken in charge by the institutional sector that provided their sustenance in exchange for servile labor. This is shown for example by the  following brief administrative text where the wife of a man, left alone after the death of her (executed?) husband, is sent to the (weaving) ergastulum:

[6] TCTI 2, 3658 (CDLI P132869). Girsu, Šu-Suen 1.

1. 5 ⅓ ma-na siki Expenditure of 5,33 mines of wool
2. mu Ur-diškur ba-gaz-šè because Ur-Iškur has been killed
3. dam-ni é-uš-bar and his wife has entered the weaving house.
4. ba-an-ku4-ra-šè
5. zi-ga


Now some words concerning aspects of the management autonomy that women could experience. First, let us mention as a reminder the case of some well-known women managers of large state institutions in Sumer during the IIIrd millennium, as in the é-munus in Presargonic Lagaš, or as in the estates managed by queen Šulgi-simti in Drehem(?) or by princess Simat-Ištaran in Garšana during the Ur III period (see Weiershäuser 2008). These cases are not exceptional and Law codes as well as historical texts often consider situations where women were managers of family or private estates at that time. It is explicitly considered for example in the Statue B of Gudea (// see also Cyl. B xviii 8-9, and §B2-B3 of the Laws of Ur-Namma in Civil’s new edition):

[7] Gudea, Satue B

vii 44.  é dumu-nita2 nu-tuku                         For a household not having a son
vii 45.  dumu-munus-bi ì-bí-la-ba              I let the daughter (of the house) become its heir
vii 46.  mi-ni-kux(KWU634)

And again in §E4 of the Laws of Ur-Namma or in §b and §18 of the Code of Lipit-Eštar, where it is explicitly stated that a man as well as a woman could manage an estate:

[8] CUN, §E4 (according to Civil’s new edition)

tukum-bi lú ba-úš                                              If a man dies,
dam-PI-ni ibila-1-gin7 é-a hé-dím          his wife will act in the house like a single heir

[9] CLE, §18

tukum-bi lugal é-a ù nin é-a-ke4                   If the master or the mistress of an estate

And this is reflected also in some trial texts, as the following which treats a dispute between two women:

[10] Molina, Fs Owen n°1, p.201-202 (CDLI P200743). Umma, no date.

1. Geme2dsuen-ke4 Geme-Suen said to the wife of Ur-lugal the gardner
2. dam Ur-lugal santana-ka that she had a credit of 2 minas of silver with her
3. 2 ma-na kù-babbar in-da-tuku in-na-du11 (= the wife of Ur-lugal) …

In his synthesis on Ancient Near Eastern Law, Ray Westbrook (Westbrook 2003a) has shown that this women’s private property could have 3 sources in the Ur III period:

  • dowries (sag-rig7) received from their father
  • gifts given by their husband (as seen above)
  • personal purchases made ​​on their own property

Therefore, we see quite frequently women involved in lending, borrowing, buying or selling things, silver, livestock, slaves, orchards or houses, just as did men, as illustrated by the following:

 a) Women lending and borrowing: [11] NRVN 1, 96 (CDLI P122311). Nippur, Šu-Suen 6.

1. ½ ma-na 2 gín kù-babbar ½ mana and 2 shekels of silver,
2. máš 5 gín 1 gín-[ta] 1 shekel per each 5 shekels is the interest;
3. ki Geme2dli-si4-na-ta Amasaga and her son Mašgula
4. Ama-sa6-ga received it
5. ù Maš-gu-la dumu-nita from Geme-Lisina
6. šu ba-an-ti-eš

b) Women buying and selling: [12] FAOS 17, n°117* (CDLI P116217). Nippur, Ibbi-Suen 2.

1. 1 sag munus En-né-dla-az mu-ni-im 1 female slave, her name is Enne-Laz
2. 1 gín igi 3-gál kù-babbar for 1,33 shekel of silver, her full price,
3. sa10 ti-la-ni-šè
4. ki Ša-at-dsuen-ta from Šat-Suen
5. Geme2dnanna-[ke4] Geme-Nanna
6. [in-ši-sa10] bought.

Several examples can also be found that show women (often widows[1]) disposing of their property, without interference from the men of their family. For example in this text concerning a widow in charge of the subsistence field (šuku) of her deceased husband. The land was linked to a duty to perform services (dusu). And this duty was given away to a man in return for a payment in silver, but it seems that the land remained in the hands of the widow.

[13] NATN 258 (CDLI P120956) [See Démare-Lafont, Féodalités, 535, and Wilcke, Elderly, 55-56]. Nippur, Šu-Suen 1.

1. 1(eše3) 3(iku) GÁN Concerning 3,22 ha of field,
2. šuku Lugal-KA-gi-na-ka subsistence field of Lugal-KAgina,
3. Geme2dsuen dam-ni Geme-Suen his wife
4. ù Péš-tur-tur dumu-munus-ni and Pešturtur his daughter
5. Lugal-hé-gál-ra approached Lugal-hegal
6. igi-ne-ne in-ši-gar-ru-éš
7. šuku-gá dusu-bi gùr-ba-ab She said to him: “Bear the
8. in-na-an-du11 obligation of my subsistence field”.
9. Lugal-hé-gál-e Lugal-hegal
10. mu šuku-ra-šè 5 gín kù-babbar gave to Geme-Suen, wife of Lugal-KAgina
11. Geme2dsuen dam Lugal-KA-gi-na-ra and to Pešturtur his daughter
12. ù Péš-tur-tur dumu-munus-a-ni-ir 5 shekels of silver for the subsistence field
13. in-na-an-šúm

Another important text on the same topic illustrates the right of widows, but this time also addresses the thorny issue of land ownership. Without entering the debate over the status of agricultural land during the Ur III period, it seems that “in itself this text is sufficient to prove the existence of arable in private hands” (van Driel, quoted in Garfinkle, CUSAS 22, p.21 n.17 [contra Civil? [2]])

[14] NATN 302 (CDLI P121000) [see Owen, Widows’ rights, ZA 70 = Lafont, RJM n°10 =  FAOS 17: 203]. Nippur, Šu-Suen 8.

1. 1 Á-la-la Alala
2. 1 Ur-ddun a-ne-bi-<da?> together with Ur-Dun
3. ibila-me were heirs
4. é? ad-da-ba íb-ba (and) had divided the estate of their father.
5. Ur-ddun ba-úš (Then) Ur-Dun died.
6. Geme2dsuen dam Ur-ddun-ke4 Geme-Suen, the wife of Ur-Dun,
7. [Á]-lá-lá-<da?> entered into litigation with Alala
8. [mu a-šà] é níg ha-[la-ba Ur]-ddun-šè under the juridiction of Dada,
9. [šu] Da-da the governor of Nippur, concerning
10. ensi2 Nibruki-ka the field, the house, the furnishing (representing)
11. [di] in-da-du11 the inheritence portion of Ur-Dun.

[NB : the restitution a-šà in the break of line 8 is quite certain because of the following lines of the text, not given here but that mention a-šà]

One last example will be proposed that goes in the same direction: an action brought by a widow to de­fend her property and rights after the death of the family head, facing his heirs:

 [15] ITT 3, 5279 (CDLI P111162). [See Lafont, RJM n°12, and Wilcke, Elderly, 50-51]. Girsu, Šu-Suen 4.

1. di til-la Final judgement.
2. 2 ⅚ sar é KUM.DÚR 2 sar and ⅚ of a house-[x] :
3. In-na-sa6-ga Innasaga,
4. dam Du-du dumu Ti-ti-ka-ke4 wife of Dudu the son of Titi, bought it with
5. kù šu-na-ta bar igi-gál-ni in-sa10 silver from her own hand on her own initiative.
6. Du-du a-ba-ti-la:da Innasaga testified under oath that :
7. é-bi Ur-é-ninnu dumu Du-du-ke4 in-gíd – together with Dudu, while he was still alive
8. mu In-na-sa6-ga in-sa10-a-šè    Ur-Eninu, son of Dudu, measured this house,
9. dub é sa10-a-bi – because Innasaga had bought (the house),
10. ki In-na-sa6-ga-ta ba-an-sar    the actual tablet concerning the house purchase
11. é kù šu-na-ta-àm in-sa10-a    was written from Innasaga’s side (=place),
12. níg-gur11 Du-du la-ba-ši-lá-a – the house had been bought with her own silver
13. In-na-sa6-ga – nothing of Dudu’s has been paid for it.
14. nam-erim2-àm
15. 1 Nin-a-na dumu Ni-za kù-dím Dudu had given Ninanna, child of the goldsmith
16. Du-du In-na-sa6-ga dam-ni-ir Niza, as a gift to Innasaga.
17. in-na-ba
18. egir5 Du-du-ta After Dudu’s death, Dudu’s heirs litigated this
19. šu Arad2dnanna sukkal-mah ensi2-ka under the juridiction of the sukkalmah
20. ì-bí-la Du-du im-ma-a-gi4-eš and governor Arad-Nanna


In traditional societies, the division of labor is established according to two essential criteria: age and gender. It is the traditional view that children keep herds, elders stay at home while the adults hunt, fish, work in the fields and ensure collective tasks. Some occupations are reserved for women besides their management of everything related to the domestic space. On their side, men have their own occupations considered as typically male. It is clear however that this scheme does not fit exactly the situation as it has just been described for Ur III.

Indeed, during the Ur III period, the domestic area was clearly the place of productive and eco­no­mically significant activities for women, enabling them at first to provide mem­bers of the household with their basic needs for food, clothing and care. But in this regard, it must be noticed that we never see any surplus of goods produced at home by women that could have fed external economic channels (even if, on that point, attention must be paid of course to the argument from silence…) [3]

We must not imagine, however, any assignment of women to the domestic area only. For several decades it was popular in scholarship to see an opposition of public/private along male/female gender lines. This approach asserted that women were reduced to the domestic, private sphere in their activities, while men acted in the public sphere. This view is now outdated, especially since progress in gender studies has shown that family, marriage or household are not spheres specific to women and that women were not totally defined by their roles within families.

Thus, the concept of professional skill or specialization was real for women as well as for men, and we can see both men and women doing their job inside or outside the domestic sphere, for various tasks of production or service, including in the framework of the corvée obligation which made no gender distinction (and we can note that women were employed to do the same hard works as men: in the fields, in towing boats, in hauling bricks, etc.).

As we just saw it (but this situation has been known since quite a long time), women could own property and manage it freely. They had full legal, economic rights, with the same management autonomy as men: they could sell, buy, lend, borrow, sue for economic redress, all with the same legal capacity. As a witness of such a situation, we can also mention that more than a hundred of seals are known to have been owned by women in Ur III.

We can therefore assert with Marc Van de Mieroop (Van de Mieroop 1989) that the participation of women in the economic sphere was real, separate from their husbands and on the same terms, although on a smaller scale. And that, from an economic point of view, Ur III women were not necessarily dependent on men: the possible inequality of women « was one of scale, not of area of activity » (ibidem).

Ultimately, are these data sufficient to validate or invalidate the commonly asserted idea that the living conditions of women deteriorated over time in Mesopotamian history after the IIIrd millennium? At least it is possible to assert that, during the Ur III period, these conditions were more or less the same as those of men.


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Démare-Lafont, Sophie s.p.       “Women”, in A Handbook of Ancient Mesopotamia (G. Rubio éd.), à paraître

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Heimpel, Wolfgang 2010     “Left to themselves. Waifs in the Time of the Third Dynasty of Ur”. In A. Kleirnermann and J. M. Sasson, eds., Why Should Someone Who knows Something Conceal it? Cuneiform Studies in Honor of David I. Owen on His 70th Birthday. Bethesda MD: CDL Press, pp. 9-13.

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Neumann, Hans 2011     “Slavery in Private Households Toward the End of the Third Millennium B.C.”. In L. Culbertson, ed., Slaves and Households in the Near East. Oriental Institute Seminars (OIS), 7. Chicago, Illinois: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, pp. 21-32.

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[1] Note that among so many administrative texts of Ur III, only 8 mention widows (nu-mu-SU, nu-ma-SU, Akk. almattu).
[2] According to Miguel Civil, “women could not inherit agricultural land” (CUSAS 17, p. 268, concerning CUN §B3). But it seems that we have some attestations, since Old Sumerian times until Ur III, of women holding agricultural land inherited from their husband or their father. And we can find some examples where women (widows?) can dispose of their land property without interference from men of their family. On the same topic “fields and women”, see also the difficult letter of the “Ur III angry wife” (MVN 11, 168 = CDLI P116181, studied by Owen, Fs Gordon 2, 1982, Neumann TUAT NF 3, Hallo COS 3, p. 295, and Michalowski, CKU, p. 16). And add finally the remarks of P. Michalowski in Letters, p. 78, with the letter TCS 1, 229 = Michalowski, Letters 131 (CDLI P145730).
[3] R. Westbrook (introduction to the colloquium Women and Property): “The products of a woman’s industry, in particular of weaving, are remarkable for their virtual absence from the Ancient Near East sources as a form of property. (…) Nonetheless, there is ample archaeological evidence for the importance of weaving in the domestic context. (…) The ANE situation is to be contrasted with the Greek sources, which provide ample evidence of both the economic and property aspects of women’s work”.