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The economic activities of Isḫunnatu, a slave woman of the Egibi Family


Within the framework of this second meeting entitled “The Economic role of women in the public sphere in Mesopotamia:  from the workshop to the marketplace”, I tried to find examples of slave women involved in economic activities inside the public sphere, that is to say outside their master’s home. To have enough time to develop my subject, I chose today to present you only one single example: it is about Isḫunnatu, slave of the Egibi family from Babylon, who manages a drinking establishment in Kiš, a city located some 12 km east of Babylon. In the introduction, I would like to give some general information about the context in which slave women are quoted in private archives and especially in the Egibi’s.

 1) On one hand, we notice that in the great majority of cases, women slaves appear in a passive way in private archives:

a) They are mentioned in sale contracts when they are bought or sold. In this first example, Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, chief of the third generation of the Egibi family sold a slave woman named Mizatu at Opis :

Camb. 143 (Opis, 24/xii/Camb 2) [abstract]: (1-5)Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, son of Nabu-ahhe-iddin, descendant of Egibi, has voluntarily sold to Asalluhi-ah-uṣur, son of [Šila’], his slave woman fMizatu for the full price of 1 mina and 25 shekels of silver.

     b) Slave women are also mentioned in family documents such as dowry contracts or testaments. In this second example, Itti-Marduk-balaṭu gave 5 servants as dowry to her daughter Tašmetu-tabni :

 Cyr. 143 (Babylon, 26/xi/Cyr 3) [abstract]: (1-8)Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, son of Nabu-ahhe-iddin, descendant of Egibi, has voluntarily given 10 minas of silver, 5 slave women, household goods, dowry of fTašmetu-tabni, his daughter, to Itti-Nabu-balaṭu, son of Marduk-ban-zeri, descendant of Bel-eṭeru.

  c) They can be also mentioned in promissory notes among pledged properties. In this third example, Marduk-naṣir-apli, chief of the fourth generation of the Egibi family, secures a heavy debt by casting a real estate and a slave family including a mother and her daughters as pledge for the debtor:

 TCL 13, 193 (Susa, 10/xii-b/Dar. 16) [abstract]: (1-4)45 minas of nuhhutu-silver of one-eighth alloy belonging to Šarru-duri, royal officer, son of Edraia, is the debt of Širku, whose second name is Marduk-naṣir-apli, son of Iddinaia, descendant of Egibi. (6-14)Madanu-bel-uṣur, his wife, fNanaia-bel-uṣur, his sons, Zababa-iddin, Madanu-bel-uṣur, Bel-gabbi-Bel-ummu, Ahušunu, and his daughters, fHašdayitu and fAhassunu, a total of 8 slaves from the service of his home (…) are the pledge of Šarru-duri.

2) On the other hand, we notice that slave women do not appear in two types of activities which seem reserved to slave men:

a) First, women never act as agents contrary to some slave men who take care of a part of the economic activities of the Egibi family. For example, in this text, Nergal-reṣua, slave of Itti-Marduk-balaṭu receives the rent of a home belonging to the Egibi family following his master’s order :

Camb 253 (Babylon, 7/viii/Camb 4) [abstract]: (Concerning) 8 shekels of silver, half-yearly rent of a house belonging to Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, son of Nabu-ahhe-iddina, descendant of Egibi, which is the debt of Arad-Bel, son of Kalbaia : Nergal-reṣua, slave of Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, received them according to the instructions of Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, from Arad-Bel, son of Kalbaia, descendant of Šuma-libši.

 b) Second, women are not among slaves who receive a formation for a specific job through apprenticeship contracts. Slaves men could learn various very qualified jobs as weaver, cook, lapidary’s craftsman, potter, sack-maker, carpenter, etc[1]. These contracts were a way for the Egibis to diversify their income. For example, in this text, it is Nuptaia, wife of Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, who sends a man slave belonging to her husband to Bel-etir, the weaver master:

Cyr 64 (Babylon, 20/vii/Cyr 2): Nuptaia, daughter of Iddin-Marduk, descendant of  Nur-Sin, has given Atkal-ana-Marduk, slave belonging to Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, son of Nabu-ahhe-iddin, descendant Egibi, to Bel-eṭir, son of Aplaia, descendant of Bel-eṭir, for five years to (learn) the weaver’s craft (išparūtu).

The great majority of women are used in housework, activities which do not produce the writing of contracts. Beyond domestic activities, rare texts allow us to study the case of women slaves working outside the house. So, the story of Isḫunnatu is an exceptional example.

1. History of the business establishment entrusted to Isḫunnatu

1.1. The creation of the business establishment during Cambyses’ reign (530 – 522)

   The business establishment entrusted to Isḫunnatu is documented by two Babylonian texts belonging to the Egibi Archive found in Babylon : Camb 330 and Camb 331[2]. These texts were drafted the same day of the 6th year of Cambyses in Kiš and more precisely in Hursagkalamma. The name Kiš applies to a range of tells covering a large area. Hursagkalamma corresponds to Tell Ingharra, in the south-Eastern part of the Kiš area[3]. The Egibi texts allow us to study the creation of a business establishment at this place.

1) In Camb 330, a man named Marduk-iqišanni must deliver to Isḫunnatu, slave of Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, an important capital including furniture and dishes:

 Camb 330: (1-2)Equipment which Marduk-iqišanni will give to Isḫunnatu, slave woman of Itti-Marduk-balaṭu : (3-7)5 beds (gišná = eršu), 10 chairs (giš = kussû), 3 tables (gišbanšur = paššuru), 1 lamp stand (ingurēnu), 3 knifes (serpu), 1 iron hoe (marru), 1 axe (qulmû), 1 fermenting vat (namzītu), 1 vessel stand (kankannu), 1 kettle (mušahhinu), 1 vat?giššiddatu, 1 maššânu, 1 chest (arānu), 1 reed ušukullatu(7-8)They own nothing jointly. (8)They will not renew litigation against each other. (9-10)Equipment which belongs to Isḫunnatu, until the end of the month of šabāṭu (xi), Marduk-iqišanni will not make it out. (11-12)Isḫunnatu will pay the rent of the house by herself. (13-15)Witnesses : Remut, son of Aplaia, descendant of Arad-Nergal ; Bel-apla-iddin, son of Remut, descendant of Paharu ; Tukulti-Marduk, son of Iddin-Nabu, descendant of Šangu-Parakki (16-17)And the scribe : Kalbaia, son of Ṣillaia, descendant of Nabaia (17-19)Hursagkalamma, 11th day of kislīmu (ix), year 6th of Cambyses, king of Babylon, king of Lands. (19-21)The promissory note belonging to fLillikanu, Marduk-iqišanni will give it to Isḫunnatu.

 The contract contains three very allusive clauses. The first specifies that « Marduk-iqišanni will not make the equipment go out » from the business establishment during a period of two and half month (l.9-10). The second specifies that « Isḫunnatu will pay the rent of the house by herself » (l.11-12). The last one says that « The promissory note belonging to fLillikanu, Marduk-iqišanni will give it to Isḫunnatu » (l.19-21). We can wonder who is the owner of the house to whom Isḫunnatu now has to pay a rent ? Is it Marduk-iqišanni or Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, descendant of Egibi ? Most of the historians consider that the house belongs to the Egibi family, but we have to confess that there is no evidence in this text for this affirmation. Anyway, we understand that Marduk-iqišanni was the previous owner or the previous tenant of the business establishment simply qualified here as « house ». He managed it, maybe with Lillikanu, who is quoted at the end of the contract. He lends part of his capital including furniture and dishes to Isḫunnatu, the Egibi’s slave woman, during a period of two and half months. If Lillikanu’s share was sold to Isḫunnatu, this transaction would have produced the writing of a promissory note that is the debt of Isḫunnatu. Finally, Isḫunnatu has to give the rent of the house, probably to his owner. So, it seems that the creation of Isḫunnatu’s drinking establishment comes from the rental of an already existing establishment. With the expected profits, Isḫunnatu will be able to return or to buy the equipment belonging to Marduk-iqišanni.

  2) If part of the capital of the establishment comes from Marduk-iqišanni, a second part was supplied by Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, master of Isḫunnatu, as shown in text Camb 331. In this second text, the Egibi chief gives to Isḫunnatu a capital composed of food, furniture and dishes. This capital has a value of 2 minas and 2 shekels of silver. The contract specifies that Isḫunnatu will give to Itti-Marduk-balaṭu an interest during one and half month. If we consider an usual annual interest of 20%, Isḫunnatu will pay 3 shekels of silver for one month and a half. After this period, it is possible that Isḫunnatu will repay to her master a part of the profit of her business establishment.

 Camb 331: (1-8)1 mina of silver, price of 50 vats-dannu of fine beer with (their) haṣbattu ; 40 shekels of silver, price of 10 800 liters of dates, 22 shekels of silver, price of 2 bronze kettles (mušahhinu) weighing 7 minas 1/2, 7 bronze cups (gú.zi = kāsu) and 3 bronze bowl-baṭû as well as 720 liters of kasû which are stored in the house, a total of 2 minas and 2 shekels belonging to Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, son of Nabu-ahhe-iddin, descendant of Egibi, are at the disposal of Isḫunnatu, slave woman of Itti-Marduk-balaṭu. (9)Until the end of the month ṭebētu (x), she will pay an interest. (10-14)Not including : 5 beds (gišná = ešru), 10 chairs (giš = kussû), 1 kettle (mušahhinu), 1 vat-giššiddatu, 1 stand lamp (ingurēnu), 3 knifes (serpu), 1 iron hoe (marru), 1 axe (qulmû), 2 fermenting vats (namzītu), 1 stand for fermenting vat (kankannu ša namzītu), 1 vat of decantation (namhāru), 2 maššânu. (14-17) Witnesses: Remut, son of Aplaia, descendant of Arad-Nergal ; Bel-apla-iddin, son of Remut, descendant of Paharu ; Tukulti-Marduk, son of Iddin-Nabu, descendant of Šangu-Parakki (17-18)And the scribe : Kalbaia, son of Ṣillaia, descendant of Nabaia (18-20)Hursagkalamma, 11th day of kislīmu (ix), year 6th of Cambyses, king of Babylon, king of Lands.

The Isḫunnatu’s business establishment consists of the rent of capital goods belonging to Marduk-iqišanni and maybe to Lillikanu and of capital goods belonging to Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, her master.

3) Another text, OECT 10, 239 (Museum number : 1924/1280), would show that Isḫunnatu obtained goods from a third source[4] :

OECT 10, 239 / 1924.1280): (1)4 beds (gišná = ešru(2) 3 chairs (giš = kussû)  (3)1 table (gišpaššuru(4) 1 vat- giššiddatu for beer (5)1 (vat- giššiddatu) for water (6)1 rack(?)simmiltu (7)1 fermenting vat (namzītu(8-9)They were entrusted to Isḫunnatu. (10-14)In the presence of  : Belšunu, son of Zababa-eriba ; Nabu-ah-ittannu, son of Zababa-šum-ereš(?) ; Ṭabiya, son of Bel-iddin ; Zababa-ana-bitišu, son of [NP] ; [NP], son of [NP].

This text arises numerous problems: First, this text doesn’t belong to the Egibi archive, it was found in Kiš and was drafted in front of Kiš inhabitants if we consider the presence of the god-name Zababa among witnesses. Second, there is no date, this text was just a memento. Third, it quotes a woman, named Isḫunnatu who received furniture and dishes, same kind than texts Camb 330 and 331. So, it’s not clear if this Isḫunnatu is the Egibi’s slave and if this text is connected to the drinking establishment of the Egibis in Kiš. But, we have to admit that it will be an incredible coincidence that the city of Kiš shelters two establishments of the same kind both managed by women with the same name. More, the name Isḫunnatu (meaning “cluster of grapes”) is very rare[5]. This text would show that our Isḫunnatu has received furniture and dishes probably from people who live in Kiš. For Isḫunnatu, this capital from Kiš would have served to develop her business activity or to replace Marduk-iqišanni’s goods which were at her disposal during a limited time.

It is very exciting to imagine that this text was maybe discovered by the archaeologists directly inside Isḫunnatu’s establishment in Kiš. Unfortunately, we have to specify that we don’t have any information about the place of the excavation. Even the date of this discovery (ie 1924) seems to be wrong as McEwan notices: « Some texts in the 1924 series (1924.943 – 1786) are known to have been numbered in 1950 (…) Thus, these tablets may date from excavations seasons other that 1924 »[6]. So, it’s impossible to link this text with a precise archaeological expedition in Kiš and to determine from which tell he comes from.

1.2. Economic activities during Darius’reign (521 – 486)

The economic activities of Isḫunnatu in Kiš continue during the beginning of Darius’ reign as shown in two other texts drafted in Hursagkalamma but probably found in Babylon within the Egibi archive: CTMMA 3, 65 and BM 30948[7]. At this time, the slave woman belongs to a new master: Širku, nickname of Marduk-naṣir-apli, son of Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, descendant of Egibi, leader of the fourth generation of the family. So, Marduk-naṣir-apli inherited Isḫunnatu among his father’s possessions.

1) In CTMMA 3, 65 dated from the second year of Darius, Isḫunnatu receives 1800 liters of dates from Nabu-reu’šunu, son of Nabu-eṭir, descendant of Sin-tabni. This creditor probably comes from the city of Babylon, where his ancestor’s name is the most attested:

CTMMA 3, 65: (1-6)(Concerning) the full (payment of) 1 800 liters of dates, Isḫunnatu, slave woman of Širku, on the instructions of [PN], son of Nurea, has received them from Nabu-re’ušunu, son of Nabu-eṭir, descendant of Sin-tabni. (7-10)Witnesses : Bel-lumur, son of Iddin-Marduk, descendant of Šigua ; Nabu-ah-remanni, son of Remut, descendant of Rab-šušši. (10-11)Scribe : Bel-šakin-šumi, son of Iddin-Nabu, descendant of Eppeš-ili. (12-14)Hursagkalamma, 25th day of kislīmu (ix), year 2nd of Darius, king of Babylon, king of Lands. (15)They have taken one (copy) each. (16-17)Dates which for 1 reed vat for decantation (namhāru) … were given.

The contract specifies that the dates were used to buy a reed vat of decantation (namharu). We shall see later that this kind of dishes was necessary for the functioning of an establishment as Isḫunnatu’s one.

2) In the last text, Isḫunnatu borrows 10 800 liters of dates. She has to give them back in Babylon, on a canal and she has to pay the transportation costs (gimru). The use of the dates is not specified: to buy furniture or to make beer ?

BM 30948 / Bertin 2780): (1-5)10 800 liters of dates […]Hursagkalamma [belonging to?] Bel-apla-iddin, son of Remut, descendant of [NP], is the debt of Isḫunnatu, slave woman of Širku, descendant of Egibi. (6-8)The 20th day of kislīmu (ix), she will pay the 10 800 liters of dates on the canal // according to the mašīhu-measure of [PN] // and the transportation costs. (8-11)[Broken lines] (12)A previous promissory note of […] (13-17)Witnesses : Kalbaia, son of Nabu-ahhe-iddin, descendant of Egibi ; Balaṭu, son of Marduk-šum-iddin, descendant of Sippe ; Iqišaia, son of Zababa-iddin, descendant of lú-dugsila3.bur (18-19)Scribe : Tu[kulti]-Marduk, son of [PN], descendant of [PN]. (20-23)Hursagkalamma, 3rd day of [NM], year [xth of] Darius, king of [Babylon], king of lands.

These two last texts show that part of the capital including dates necessary for Isḫunnatu’s establishment in Kiš comes from Babylon, so we can suppose that Egibi’s family members were involved in those supplies. So, it seems that Isḫunnatu was still dependent on Babylon and on her master.


The various goods from Babylon or Kiš at the disposal of Isḫunnatu can be classified in two big categories and can help us to qualify the business establishment and the role of Isḫunnatu[8].

2.1. What are the characteristics of Isḫunnatu’s establishment ?

1) First, we notice that Isḫunnatu’s establishment is a place of consumption : Both texts from the Egibi archive quote various furniture including 3 tables, 10 chairs and lamp stands (Camb 330 & 331). Various dishes are quoted too: cups and bowl. At these tables, customers consumed especially beer. In Camb 331, Isḫunnatu receives a total of 50 vats-dannu of good quality beer. According to the different mentions, one vat-dannu could contain 1 kurru of beer or wine, that is to say 180 liters[9]. Isḫunnatu so has already 9 000 liters of liquids ready to be served.

A place of consumption

Furniture :– 3 tables (paššuru / gišbanšur)– 10 chairs (kussû / giš– 1 lamp stand (ingurēnu)
Dishes :– 7 bronze cups (kāsu / gú.zi)– 3 bronze bowls (baṭû)
Beer :– 50 vats-dannu of good quality beer

2) Second, the Isḫunnatu’s establishment is a place of production too. Indeed, Isḫunnatu also received 10 800 liters of dates and the material necessary for their transformation into alcohol: Fermenting vat as well as their wooden support and vat of decantation. 720 liters of kasû (mustard / cuscuta?) which enter the manufacturing of beer from dates, probably to perfume it. The presence of a hoe could be related to the exploitation of a kitchen garden near the business establishment. The various products of which could be prepared in a kettle[10].

A place of production

Beer :– 10 800 liters of dates– Fermenting vat (namzītu)– Stand for fermenting vat (kankannu)– Vat for decantation (namhāru)

– 720 liters of kasû (mustard or cuscuta)

Kitchen garden? :– Hoe (marru)– Kettle (mušahhinu)

3) Finally, the Isḫunnatu’s establishment is a place of accommodations, this being supported by the presence of 5 beds among the inventory.

A place of accommodation:

 – 5 beds (eršu / gišná)

So, the Isḫunnatu’s business establishment was a place of consumption of beer and also other food, a place of production and a place where people could sleep.

1.2. How to qualify this business establishment? What was the exact role of Isḫunnatu ?

There are at least two terms naming drinking establishments in Mesopotamia  : bīt sabi and bīt aštammi. The last term indicates more specifically an inn, a place where people can find accommodation as in the house of Isḫunnatu. These two sorts of drinking establishments are especially attested during the 2nd millenium BC[11]. Some historians consider them as places of prostitution. The house entrusted to Isḫunnatu does not escape this image. About the Isḫunnatu’s establishment, the presence of a woman, beds and alcoholic drinks – and the erotic images associated with – has probably excited the imagination of some scholars who connected these three elements automatically with prostitution. Indeed, in his article about “Prostitution in Ancient Mesopotamia”, J. Cooper gives only one example in the paragraph dedicated to brothels, madams and procurers: the case of Isḫunnatu. The question of her establishment as a place of prostitution is clearly asked : « Although beds can be used for lodgers as well as for prostitution, these texts at least show that sexual relations could easily be accommodated ». And the role of Isḫunnatu as procuress is evocated too: « Whether the proprietress was a madam, that is, whether she hired prostitutes or simply provided the venue, is unknown »[12].  These hypotheses about the nature of Isḫunnatu’s establishment and the woman’s role are not based on textual evidences but seem to be supported on a topos. Indeed, the link between drinking establishment and prostitution was strongly disputed by Julia Assante in various articles. She considers that « The tavern prostitute is a scholastic invention »[13] ; « These are just topoi, yet scholarship has been so sure of tavern prostitution that the tavern, éš-dam, bīt aštammi or bīt sabîm/sabîtim, has been all too often easily translated as bordello or brothel. Within this schema, the sabîtu(m), the female tavern keeper (…) becomes synonymous with the brothel madam »[14]. The author speaks about the scholarship’s misunderstanding of Mesopotamian texts and images. Now, I’m going to try to summarize three examples from Julia Assante’s studies :

1) First, Julia Assante considers that the link between drinking establishment and prostitution finds his main source inside the Inanna/Ishtar’s literature. In the Ancient literature, the goddess is a tavern-goer who is looking for sexual companionship. Assante remarks that “This common and spirited literary motif never once includes payment and it would be odd indeed if this powerful goddess of sex and love were financed by her favors”. The author also adds that “Furthermore, to base the brothel hypothesis on such texts ignores others versions of the tavern in which Inanna appears as a young bride or virginal sister”[15].

2) Second, about the following lines from the Code of Hammurabi : “If a nadītu or a ugbabtu, who does not reside within the gagû, should open (the door of) a tavern or enter a tavern for some beer, they shall burn that woman” (§ 110); some scholars have understood these lines as an attempt to prevent the nadītu from mixing with the tavern’s low life, especially prostitution, or from committing sexual offenses there. But, in this case, the prohibition seems to be more ritual than moral. These women were vulnerable of becoming impure because of contacts with elements in the tavern such as fermenting vats[16].

3) Third, the various explicit terracottas called “drinking scenes” were interpreted as realistic scenes of Tavern. Julia Assante considers that these objects representing the divine couple Inanna and Dummuzi bears a magic utility : “Since the constellation of Inanna’s erotic plaques and poems reverses the negative application of mating, marriage and seizure found in other magical literature, its potential as apotropaia seems to be more than a reasonable hypothesis. Plaques may be the physical remains of counteractive measures a householder might have taken to prevent the disastrous occurrence of « mating » with evil, in whatever form it might arrive”[17].

So, after taking into account contributions from the gender Studies, I’d rather attribute a neutral definition for Isḫunnatu’s establishment and I shall follow the definition given by Jacobsen and Kramer, more objective and less focused on supposed sexual aspects, who likened the éš-dam to a modern coffee-house or village-inn, a social center where people came to relax[18]. Indeed, I think that we have to consider the creation of Isḫunnatu’s inn as a part of a large plan managed by the Egibi to create new social relations in Kiš.


The main economic activities of the Egibi family take place in Babylon and in Borsippa. But, it seems that since the end of Nabonidus’ reign, members of the family tried to develop their business activities towards the city of Kiš. The family archive allows us to distinguish two periods.

1) First, during Nabonidus’ reign, the family possesses some properties in Kiš or in the area. For example, the dowry of Qibi-dumqi-ilat, sister of Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, contains a farmland located on the way from Babylon to Kiš (Nbn 760). The family owns a house in Hursagkalamma which belongs to Itti-Marduk-balaṭu. He rents it to his brother Kalbaia during the 16th year of Nabonidus (Nbn 967). Kalbaia seems to manage a part of the economic activities of the Egibis in Kiš through a harranu-partenership with the other members of the family : « Kalbaia was operating a harranu-enterprise in Hursagkalamma, with personnel hired from Itti-Marduk-balaṭu and on property rented from him, and with financing provided by Iddin-Marduk [= father-in-law of Itti-Marduk-balaṭu]”[19].

2) During Cambyses’ reign, Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, leader of the Egibi family managed himself a new business plan in Kiš. We notice an important activity of investment in Kiš during the 6th year of Cambyses :

a) First, Itti-Marduk-balaṭu opens a city-inn for Isḫunnatu, his slave, the 11th day of kislīmu (ix) (Camb 330 & 331).

b) Second, he buys a home near the home of the « Chariot-driver » (bīt mukīl appāti) the 28th day of addaru (xii) (Camb 349). As Yoko Wataï notices in her PhD dissertation : « The Chariot-driver » occupied an important position in the army but also in the civil administration in Assyria. However, we cannot determine his function in the babylonian administration[20]. So, if the Chariot-driver kept an important function in Babylonia, it would seem that Itti-Marduk-balaṭu tried to get closer to important persons of Kiš.  We notice that Itti-Marduk-balaṭu led the same building policy in Babylon in the TE.Eki district where we find members of the royal administration among its neighbors[21]. The appropriation of a city-inn in Kiš for one of his slaves and the acquisition of a house next to an officer could be part of the same plan. As a place for meetings, the city-inn can be a way for the Egibi to create or to strengthen links of sociability with the inhabitants of Kiš. The inn can be a manner of being in the heart of the city and to know all the rumors and the free speech which is ran in this kind of place. It is maybe a place to meet people and the members of the city elite. The plan to develop the family’s business activities and to be closer to the Kiš elite seems to have been a success :

1) First, in a contract drafted in the 6th year of Darius, an inhabitant of Kiš must go to Babylon to find an arrangement with Marduk-naṣir-apli about a tax on his bow-land (Abraham 2004 : n°17). So, it seems that the chief of the Egibi family became a tax collector from some tax-payers living in Kiš.

2) Secondly, Marduk-naṣir-apli bounded links with the governor of Kiš. Indeed, the chief of the Egibis lent to him an important quantity of silver in Susa during the 16th year of Darius (Abraham 2004 : n°78). So, the leaders of the Egibi Family managed to create business links with the authorities of Kiš.

In the same time, at a lower level, Kalbaia continues his own economic activities in Kiš. Kalbaia seems to live most of the time in Kiš where he owns various lands. His implication earned him the nickname of « Kalbaia of Kiš » (CTMMA 3, 73). Present in Kiš, he maintains relations with Isḫunnatu’s establishment. And indeed, appears as the first witness in text n°5.


Isḫunnatu enjoys a large part of freedom in managing her business, appearing as debtor in text CTMMA 3, 65 and BM 30948. In these contracts, she acts by herself and she is the only one responsible for the repayment of the loans. But two facts shows that the members of the Egibi family exercise an attentive control over her economic activities :

1) Except text OECT 10, 239, all the other texts belong to the Egibi Archive found in Babylon. The Egibis keep and control all the transactions contracted by Isḫunnatu.

2) The presence of Kalbaia among witnesses in BM 30948 shows that Egibis attends the transactions involving Isḫunnatu. Their presence can be used as guarantee for the creditor.




Assante, J.

1998        « The kar-kid / harimtu, Prostitute or Single Woman ? A Reconsideration of the Evidence », UF 30 : 66.

2002        “Sex, Magic and the Liminal Body in the Erotic Art and Texts of the Old Babylonian Period”, Sex and Gender in the Ancient Near East, Actes de la XLVIIe Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale (Helsinki, 2-6 July 2001), Simo Parpola and Robert M. Whiting, eds., Helsinki, 2002: 27-51.

 Cooper, J.

2006        « Prostitution », RlA 11 (1/2) : 12-21.

 Dandamaiev, M.

1984        Slavery in Babylonia. From Nabopolassar to Alexander the Great (626-331 B.C.). Northern Illinois University Press, Detroit.

 Gibson, McG.

1980        « Kiš », RlA : 613-620.

 Hackl, J.

2010        « Apprenticeship contracts », in : M. Jursa (dir.), Aspects of the Economic History of Babylonia in the First Millennium BC, AOAT 377, Münster : 700-715.

2011        « Neue spätbabylonische Lehrverträge aus dem British Museum und der Yale Babylonian Collection » (New Late Babylonian Apprenticeship Contracts from the British Museum and the Yale Babylonian Collection), AfO 52 : 77-97.

i. p.          « Frau Weintraube, Frau Heuschrecke und Frau Gut – Untersuchungen zu den babylonischen Namen von Sklavinnen in neubabylonischer und persischer Zeit », To be published in: Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 101. Pre-paper available on

 Jacobsen, T. & Kramer, S. N.

1953        « The Myth of Inanna and Bilulu », JNES 12 : 160-188.

 Joannès, F.

1992a     « Inventaire d’un cabaret » NABU 1992/64.

1992b     « Inventaire d’un cabaret (suite) » NABU 1992/89.

 Jursa, M. (dir.)

2010        Aspects of the Economic History of Babylonia in the First Millennium BC. Economic geography, economic mentalities, agriculture,  the use of money and the problem of economic growth (with contributions by J. Hackl, B. Janković, K. Kleber, E.E. Payne, C. Waerzeggers and M. Weszeli) (AOAT 377), Münster.

 Lion, B.

i. p.          « Les cabarets à l’époque paléo-babylonienne », in : C. Michel (éd.) L’alimentation dans   l’Orient ancien, de la production à la consommation, actes du Séminaire d’Histoire et d’Archéologie des Mondes Orientaux (SHAMO).

 McEwan, G.

1984        Late Babylonian Texts in the Ashmolean Museum (OECT 10), Oxford.

 Spar, I. & von Dassow, E.

2000        Private Archive Texts from the First Millenium B.C. (CTMMA 3), New York.

Watai, Y.

2012        Les maisons néo-babyloniennes d’après la documentation textuelle, thèse de doctorat, Université de Paris 1.

 Wunsch, C.

2000        « Neubabylonische Geschäftsleute und ihre Beziehungen zu Palast- und Tempel- verwaltungen : das Beispiel der Familie Egibi », dans : A. C. Bongenaar (éd.), Interpendency of institutions and private Entrepreneurs (Mos Studies 2 ; PIHANS 87), Leiden : 95-118.

[1] About apprenticeship contracts, cf. Hackl 2010 & 2011.

[2] These two texts were published and discussed in Joannès 1992a. The unpublished text BM 35140 kept in the British Museum which mentions Isḫunnatu (quoted in Hackl in press) could give additionnal information about the economic activities of the Egibi’s slave woman.

[3] For a summary of the excavations of Kiš, cf. Gibson 1980 : 613-620.

[4] Text published and discussed in Joannès 1992b.

[5] Hackl in press.

[6] McEwan 1984 : 1.

[7] Copy Bertin 2780.

[8] See the comments of F. Joannès about these goods (Joannès 1992a. & b).

[9] CAD, D : 98b-99a.

[10] Joannès 1992a.

[11] Lion in press.

[12] Copper 2006 : 20.

[13] Assante 1998 : 65.

[14] Assante 1998 : 66.

[15] Assante 1998 : 66.

[16] Hypothesis of S. Maul followed and developed by J. Assante (Assante 1998 : 67-68).

[17] Assante 2002 : 43.

[18] « We have assumed that the éš-dam represents the social center of the estate or village, a place in which the inhabitants would typically gather for talk and recreation after the end of work as in a modern coffee-house or village-inn » (Jacobsen & Kramer 1953 : 185a). In this case, one can wonder if it is not in this kind of establishment that the travelers could stay in Kiš (About journeys of Babylonians in Kiš, cf. Jursa (dir.) 2010 : 213-124).

[19] Spar & von Dassow 2000 : 123.

[20] Wataï 2012 : 301-302.

[21] Itti-Marduk-balaṭu hold several houses in the TE.Eki district. One of them is nearby the house of the Crown-prince (bīt-mār-šarri) (Nbn 50), another near a house belonging to a slave of Neriglissar and then Balthazzar (Nbn 9 & Nbn 50) and a third probably near a sepīru of prince Cambyses. Indeed, text Dar 379 enumerates the real estate property of the Egibi family in Babylon and Borsippa. The text specifies that Marduk-naṣir-apli, the representative of the fourth generation of the Egibis, possesses, among others, « a house situated in the TE.Eki district and which is nearby of Hašdaia, son of Gabbi-ili-šar-uṣur » (l.7 ). He is probably the son of Gabbi-ili-šar-uṣur, the scribe on parchment of prince Cambyses evoked in text Cyr 177 (this identification was proposed by Wunsch 2000: n. 23 p. 103-104).

Project of prosopographical study of Neo-Babylonian women (french version)

Project of prosopographical study of Neo-Babylonian women
(french version)


Yoko WATAI (Post-doctoral researcher, Université Chuo — UMR 7041-ArScAn)


Exemplier Yoko Watai

Dans le cadre du projet REFEMA, «Rôle économique des femmes en Mésopotamie ancienne /Women’s role in the economy of Ancient Mesopotamia»), je vais travailler sur la prosopographie féminine néo-babylonienne. Pour cela je vais recenser tous les noms de femmes qui apparaissent dans les documents juridiques et économiques privés, ainsi que dans les archives institutionnelles. Ce travail nous permettra d’analyser des noms féminins eux-même mais aussi d’étudier les nombreuses activités économiques des femmes dans le secteur privé et dans le secteur institutionnel. En raison du nombre de femmes qui se trouvent dans les documents néo-babyloniens, ce projet se terminera dans 3 ans, pour le colloque de 2014. Je présenterai donc seulement l’état actuel et provisoire de ce travail.

<Méthode et source>

J’ai créé une base de données et enregistré 88 femmes et 69 nomspour le moment, c’est-à-dire toutes les femmes mentionnées dans les livres de C. Wunsch concernant les archives d’Iddin-Marduk (CM 3) et les archives d’Egibi (CM 20), sauf les noms complètement cassés. Il faut bien noter que ce ne sont pas 88 noms mais 88 femmes. Les femmes ayant le même nom sont chacune enregistrées sur une fiche (par exemple, on trouve 2 Amat-Ninlil, 3 Ina-Esagila-ramât, etc.). Ilfaut remarquer qu’il y a un «biais» dans le choix des documents, puisque les livres que j’ai consultés, surtout le livre des archives des Egibi, ne traitent que des activités concernant les champs et les jardins.

Je vais maintenant présenter les deux axes de ce travail : les recherches onomastiques et les études sur les activités économiques dont s’occupent les femmes.

I. Etudes onomastiques

Nous allons maintenant observer les noms féminins, leurs constructions et leurs significations. Je les ai classés en deux groupes : les esclaves et les femmes libres, et puis je les ai catégorisés selon leur construction, d’après le livre de Stamm, Die Akkadische Namengebung et d’après l’Appendix de Di Vino, Studies in Third Millennium Sumerian and Akkadian Personal Names.

On trouve donc principalement deux sortes de noms : les «Theophorous Names» (contenant le nom d’un dieu) et les «Non-theophorous Names». Ces noms se divisent ensuite en plusieurs types. Pour les «Theophorous Names» (y compris quand le nom de la divinité est omis), on trouve au moins 5 types :

  1. les «Petitions» : les noms des appels aux dieux qui utilisent l’impératif et l’optatif.
  2. les «Thanksgiving Names», c’est-à-dire les noms qui remercient une divinité pour un événement spécifique (comme la naissance des enfants). Ces deux types appartiennent à la catégorie : «Concret Sentence Names», les noms mentionnant des événements spécifiques.
  3. les «Attribute-Names», qui décrivent la nature des divinités, comme Tašmētu-damqat «Tašmētu est agréable».
  4. 4le «type Sin-abī (Sin est mon père)», expression de la confiance potentielle (ici, Bānītu-tuklatu appartient à ce type.)
  5. les noms «Relation to the deity», ici Amat-nom de divinité. Ces  trois derniers types appartiennent à la catégorie «Generalization», à savoir une expression intemporelle.

Le groupe des «Non-theophorous Names» est constitué de deux types d’«Affectionate Names», qui désignent des enfants: les «Affectionate Names I» sont les désignations par référence aux parents, frères ou soeurs : par exemple, Ramûa «My love», Bēlessunu «Their goddess». Les «Affectionate Names II» contiennent des noms d’animaux, de plantes, etc.

Malgré l’insuffisance des données, on peut quand même dessiner une première tendance dans la construction des noms féminins: une grande partie des noms d’esclaves féminines appartiennent au type «Petitions» et «affectionate Names II». D’autre part, les «Attribute Names» et les «Affectionate Names I» sont préférés pour les noms des femmes libres.

On peut dire que la variété des types de noms féminins est moins grande que celle de noms masculins ; par exemple, les types très utilisés pour les noms masculins, par exemple les «Thanksgiving Names», comme Nabû-aḫḫē-iddin «Nabû (m’)a donné les frères», Marduk-apla-uṣur «Marduk a protégé mon fils», etc. sont rares pour les noms féminins. Et, il n’y a pas de noms féminins contenant des mots qui désignent la relation entre les enfants et les parrains. (On trouve le nom «Marduk a protégé mon fils» mais on ne trouve pas le nom «Marduk a protégé ma fille»)

Concernant les déesses mentionnées dans les noms de femmes, elles sont relativement variées pour l’instant. Dans les noms d’esclaves, les déesses qui apparaissent le plus souvent sont Bānītu et Nanaya (3 noms pour  chacune). On trouve aussi Ištar, Šidada, Mammītu et Zarpanītu. Par ailleurs, dans les noms des femmes libres, Ninlil et Tašmētu apparaissent chacune dans deux noms pour trois personnes. On trouve également Baba, et Nanaya. On peut probablement dire que Ninlil était relativement appréciée pour les noms de femmes, qu’elles soient esclaves, ou femmes libres.

Il me semble qu’il existe une petite différence dans le choix des déesses entre les noms des esclaves et ceux des femmes libres, même si cette différence n’est pas encore très remarquable pour l’instant.

II. Activités économiques des femmes

Nous allons regarder maintenant les activités économiques des femmes apparues dans les documents qui ont été enregistrés sur 88 fiches de la base de données. D’abord, concernant les esclaves, la plupart des femmes sont vendues, prises en gage, données comme dot, transférées dans les contrats de partage et dans les documents de l’héritage, etc.. Quand elles apparaissent comme objet du transfert, on peut dire que les femmes participent passivement aux activités économiques. On sait que les esclaves s’occupaient parfois de transactions, vraisemblablement comme agents de leurs maîtres. En effet, nous avons une attestation dans laquelle une esclave de Ina-Esagila-ramât (la femme d’Iddin-Marduk) apparaît comme créancière de l’argent (BM 30544). Je suis sûr que ce type d’attestations est assez abondant, mais nous n’en avons qu’une seule dans notre base de données pour l’instant.

Au sujet des activités des femmes libres, on consultera les tableaux : je les ai classées en deux catégories : «les femmes propriétaires de terrains» et «les autres activités». Pour la première catégorie, on trouve les «activités actives», par exemple, la vente et l’achat, la location, etc., et les «activités passives», par exemple la réception de terrains, ou la gestion par quelqu’un d’autre d’un terrain qui leur appartient, etc. Les autres activités sont constituées des transactions concernant l’argent et des esclaves. On peut donc également qualifier cette catégorie d’«activités actives».

Parmi les «actives actives», on trouve deux catégories : dans le premier cas, les femmes ont une participation indépendante, tandis que dans le deuxième cas, elles agissent avec quelqu’un d’autre, en général un membre de la famille, comme leur mari, leurs fils, leurs frères et même leurs beaux-frères.

L’activité la plus fréquente, soit indépendante, soit avec quelqu’un, est la vente de terre. On trouve deux attestations de vente d’une propriété conjointe entre des soeurs, deux où la femme agit avec son fils, un avec son frère et deux avec son beau-frère. Il n’y a pas, dans le corpus enregistré jusqu’à maintenant, d’attestation indiquant qu’elles vendent le terrain avec leur mari. Mais on en trouve dans le corpus concernant les maisons que j’ai établi pour ma thèse: elles le vendent soit seule soit avec d’autres membres de la famille. Cela nous permet de supposer que c’est normalement le mari qui vend des terrains et que les femmes citées comme vendeuses sont principalement des veuves ou des célibataires.

Les femmes ou les mères (c’est-à-dire la «maîtresse de maison», bēlet bītim) des vendeurs sont souvent présentées à la fin de la liste des témoins habituels et introduites par la phrase ina ašābi dans les contrats de vente des terrains et des maisons (voir dans le document joint le tableau 1.2 «participation passive»). Il reste difficile de comprendre quelle est la qualification de cette présentation comme témoin dans les contrats de ventes d’immobilier, si l’on considère que les femmes n’ont aucun droit sur les terrains. Mme S. Démare-Lafont m’a indiqué au cours d’une discussion sur ce sujet que, selon elle, la formule ina ašābi dans la liste des témoins désignerait une garantie pour leur situation postérieure, si elles deviennent veuves. De mon côté, quand j’en ai traité dans ma thèse au chapitre du contexte de la vente des maisons, j’ai proposé qu’il s’agisse d’un «droit social de propriété», plutôt qu’un droit juridique de plein exercice et que la mention ina ašābi parmi les témoins concerne l’usage des maisons et témoigne du «pouvoir» exercé par les femmes à l’intérieur de la maison. Mais au vu des attestations dans des contrats de vente, il faut compléter cette dernière hypothèse. On remarque ainsi que les maîtresses des maisons vendues (bēlet bīti) reçoivent les vêtement lubāru des acheteurs des maisons dans plusieurs contrats de vente des maisons, mais non pas dans les contrats de vente de terrains agricoles. Il me semble concerner un certain droit sociale de propriété latent des femmes, constitué à l’intérieur des maisons.)

D’autre part, en dehors des textes de vente, on trouve des attestations de copropriété à l’intérieur d’un couple: on trouve par exemple un contrat d’échange qui atteste une copropriété d’une femme avec son mari. La femme, appelée Kabtaya, et son mari donnent un tmerain à leur petit-fils, c’est-à-dire le fils de leur fille, celle-ci ayant déjà disparu.

La catégorie «activités passives» dans l’immobilier comprend des activités qui documentent la propriété féminine sans que les femems participent aux activités de gestion économique des biens:

  1. les femmes reçoivent des terrains des membres de leur famille, principalement de leur père, en dot, mais aussi de la part de leur mari et de leurs fils, sans doute pour assurer leur entretien en cas de décès du mari.
  2. on trouve des femmes qui sont propriétaires d’un bien immobilier, mais dont ce sont les maris ou les frères qui le donnent à exploiter en fermage. On trouve aussi quelques attestations où elles donnent elles-mêmes les terrains en location, mais il plus fréquent que ce soit les maris qui les gèrent.
  3. des femmes sont attestées comme voisines des terrains mentionnés dans des contrats: ces attestations témoignent aussi du fait que des femmes sont propriétaires du bien immobilier.
  4. on trouve des femmes qui se présentent pourtémoigner dans des contrats de transfert du terrain. On trouve ainsi deux sortes d’expressions : «ana mukinnūtu ašābu», tel qu’écrit dans le texte, et ina ašābi, qu’on a déjà vu. Ces deux expressions sont assez semblables l’une à l’autre, en utilisant le même verbe. Mais il me semble que l’expression ana mukinnūtu ašābu est employée pour quelqu’un qui a un droit de propriété, afin d’indiquer qu’il a bien abandonné son droit. Cette expression ne concerne donc pas uniquement des femmes, tandis que l’expression ina ašābi s’applique toujours aux femmes ou aux mères des vendeurs. Les témoins ina ašābi ne sont pas forcément toujours catégoriséscomme des «femmes propriétaires de terrains», mais je pense qu’elles ne sont pas quand même complètement étrangers aux transferts des propriétés familiales.

Un autre problème doit maintenant être examiné : est-ce que toutes les propriétés des femmes sont incluses dans leurs dots ou non? Quand elles achètent les terrains, on peut sans doute considérer que les femmes deviennent propriétaires de terrains qui ne sont pas attachés à leur dot. Je voudrais ainsi examiner la possibilité que les femmes aient le droit de posséder les terrains qui ne relèvent pas de la dot.

(1) On trouve plusieurs attestations dans lesquelles sont présentes des femmes comme contractantes principales, même si de temps en temps elles sont mentionnées avec leurs maris. On pourrait considérer que ces terrains font partie de la dot de ces femmes, même si cela n’est pas stipulé dans les documents, puisqu’on sait que le mari peut utiliser la dot de sa femme. Mais la situation est manifestement plus compliquée dans quelques documents, où les femmes vendent des terrains avec parfois leur beau-frère, c’est-à-dire le frère du mari. Dans ce cas, ces terrains me semblent plutôt appartenir au patrimoine de la famille du mari. Une hypothèse possible est alors que la femme a reçu le droit de demander une part du bien de son mari pour compenser l’intégration de sa dot dans les terres gérées par le mari.

Dans le texte Nbn 1031, où il s’agit de la vente d’un terrain, il est dit que : «si NP (le vendeur), les frères du vendeur et la femme du père du  vendeur sont présents sur le contrat (ana mukinnūtu ašābu), NP2 (probablement un agent de l’acheteur ?) payera l’argent». Ici aussi, donc, le vendeur a besoin de la présence de la femme de son père (= seconde femme de son père?) dans le contrat de vente.

On peut également citer un autre exemple, dont le contexte reste cependant assez compliqué à analyser. Il s’agit d’un dossier concernant une femme appelée Kurunnam-tabni (ou aussi Kuttaya). Kurunnam-tabni d’abord, a reçu un terrain et des esclaves de la part de ses fils (BM 302398). Puis, concernant un terrain qu’elle aurait reçu, en compensation de sa dot, de la part des «scribes du roi», elle ne donne pas à son fils aîné la moitié de terrain qui lui revient (RA 41, 101). (On ne sait pas pourquoi les «scribes du roi» lui ont donné le terrain.) Ses deux fils (ou beaux-fils ?) font alors un procès contre elle à propos du terrain et des esclaves qu’ils ont donnés. Enfin, les fils de Kurunnam-tabni vendent chacun leur terrain à un nommé Nabû-bāni-aḫi et ce dernier les vend à Nabû-aḫḫē-iddin de la famille Egibi. Le texte Nbn 1111 dit que la femme d’un des fils devra siéger comme témoin (ana mukinnūtu ašābu) au contrat de vente du terrain que son mari et ses frères ont vendu.

Il me semble que la phrase ana mukinnūtu ašābu s’applique ici à quelqu’un qui a un droit de propriété en bonne et due forme, afin d’indiquer qu’il a bien abandonné son droit. On peut donc supposer que Kurunnam-tabni disposait d’un droit de propriété partiel sur la terre de son mari. Dans le texte Nbn 442, la femme de l’autre fils de Kurunnam-tabni donne la tablette du terrain que son mari a fait établir à Nabû-bāni-aḫi, puis à Nabû-aḫḫē-iddin, les acheteurs du terrain. Dans les deux cas, les maris, c’est-à-dire les fils de Kurunnam-tabni doivent être décédés, et vraisemblablement ils n’avaient pas d’enfant.

On voit donc bien par ces exemples que certaines femmes participent à la gestion des biens immobiliers de leurs maris. C’est un premier point.

(2) Le deuxième point à souligner est qu’on trouve des exemples de propriété commune et indivise entre des soeurs. Dans le texte BM 33056+, trois filles de Šamaš-udammiq de la famille de Maštuk : Bēlilitu, Nadaya et Ina-Esagila-ramât vendent un champ qu’elles ont reçu de leur mère. À ce moment, Ḫibuṣu, la femme du frère du père de ces trois filles conteste cette vente, et fait un procès avec son fils. Elle déclare que son mari, c’est-à-dire le frère du père des trois filles, n’avait pas fait de réclamation quand Tašmētu-damqat, la mère des trois filles, avait reçu ce terrain et qu’il l’avait donc mis à sa disposition. Mais malheureusement les lignes suivantes sont cassées et on ne peut pas savoir pour quelle raison exacte Ḫibuṣu et son fils ont fait cette réclamation. On sait, par un autre document, que les trois filles ont déposé 55 sicles d’argent chez Nabû-aḫḫē-iddin de la famille Egibi et que cet argent devait servir à payer Ḫibuṣu et son fils. En tout cas, il semble que le fils de Ḫibuṣu est encore très jeune et que c’est en son nom, fondamentalement, qu’elle fait cette réclamation. Ce document nous montre donc comment des filles reçoivent un terrain des leur mère, tandis que leur tante par alliance fait une contestation contre les membres de la famille. Ce dossier me semble documenter une forme de propriété des femmes à côté de la dot.

Pour récapituler, on pourrait donc trouver la possibilité d’une propriété des femmes en dehors de la dot dans les trois cas ci-dessous:

  • en premier lieu, dans le cas où des femmes achètent directement un terrain.
  • en deuxième lieu, après la mort de leur mari, quand les femmes deviennentpropriétaires d’une part des biens de leur mari qu’elles ont à partager cesbiens avec les frères du mari. Il est possible de considérer cette part comme une compensation de leur dot, quand celle-ci a été intégrée au patrimoine familial mais les documents ne nous donnent pas toujours beaucoup d’informations à ce sujet.
  • en troisième lieu, les filles peuvent hériter un bien de leur famille, probablement quand elles n’ont pas de frères.

Si l’on se tourne vers les activités féminines autres que celles qui concernent la propriété des biens immobiliers, nous avons également beaucoup d’attestations d’autres activités, notamment liées à l’usage de l’argent: comme créancières ou débitrice. On peut noter déjà que les femmes apparaissent plutôt en position d’indépendance quand elles prêtent de l’argent, alors qu’elles sont souvent associées à des membres de leur famille quand elles empruntent. Mais il s’agit là d’une recherche qui commence, et je ne peux pas fournir d’analyse détaillée à ce sujet pour l’instant.

Ce que je viens de présenter est donc une première étape dont tousles aspects ne sont pas définitifs puisque nous sommes au début de travail.Il est certain que l’accroissement de la base de données prosopographiquespermettra d’enrichir le corpus et de diversifier les conclusions, que j’espère pouvoir présenter dans la suite du déroulement du projet.

Dowry management in the neo-Babylonian period: A case study

Dowry management in the neo-Babylonian period:  A case study

Laura Cousin (doctoral student, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne — UMR 7041-ArScAn)



Historians have been interested in the type and role of women in society since the 1960s, and Assyriology has not fallen behind with studies such as Images of Women in Antiquity by Averil Cameron and Amelie Kuhrt in 1983 which extended the question to women’s status in the Ancient Near East, and more recently Femmes, Droit et Justice dans l’Antiquité orientale by Sophie Lafont in 1999 and Women of Babylon by Zainab Bahrani in 2001. Women’s dowries have themselves been the subject of several studies, notably those of Martha Roth in a series of articles in JAOS 111/1, 1991 and AfO 42-43, 1989.

The term dowry, nudunnû in Akkadian, comes from the root NDN meaning to give. Dowry promises and receipts are at the heart of numerous administrative documents. This aspect was studied by K. Abraham in “The Dowry Clause in Marriage Documents”, RAI 38, 1992. Dowries are mentioned in the great majority of marriage contracts in the first millennium, between 635 and 203[1] BC. Dowry contracts are drawn up in the following manner: at the beginning of the period, the clause consists of two components, a list of items composing the dowry and its donation to the new couple by the bride’s agent (K. Abraham listed 14 deeds of this type, dated between 556 and 486 BC). We will study two dowry contracts that follow this model. In later texts, in addition we find a document summarising the items contained in the dowry, its receipt by the groom (mahir) and in some cases, the receipt (eṭir).

In this presentation, I would like to introduce several women whose personal trajectories are quite distinct from each other, thus explaining the different management of their dowries and the matrimonial strategies that surround this question:

– Ina-Esagil-ramât (IER), daughter of Balaṭu and Kaššaya and descendant of Egibi, married to Iddin-Nabû of the Nappahu family (not to be confused with the grand-mother of Marduk-naṣir-apli/Itti-Marduk-balaṭu//Egibi, who was also called IER and was married to a man bearing the name Iddin-Marduk of the Nur-Sîn family);

– Šikkuttu, daughter of royal judge Marduk-šakin-šumi, of the URÙ.DÙ-mansum family, married to Ea-šuma-uṣur of the Eṭiru family;

– Amat-Baba (AB), daughter of Kalbaya from the Nabaya family, who married the famous Marduk-naṣir-apli (MNA), son of Itti-Marduk-balaṭu of the Egibi family (see K. Abraham’s study dedicated to the archives of this individual linked to the state Business and Politics under the Persian Empire, Bethesda, 2004).    

Our questions will be the following: to which degree were women able to manage their dowry and make them fructify? And what are the limits of this management?

We should note beforehand that it will not be possible here to establish one model that will apply to all women encountered. We can only present specific cases.

  1. The composition of these women’s dowries: between recurring items and exceptional goods

M. Roth has studied in a most thorough manner the dowry composition in the neo-Babylonian period[2]. Items contained in dowries are divided into two categories: those a woman brings for herself, that is to say the udê biti (household items), either furniture, jewellery items, even female slaves who may be used as domestics or ladies-in-waiting, and those items destined for the settling in of the new couple and for their financial well-being, that is money, real estate, and slaves to sell. Dowry lists as a whole may appear disparate because the composition of a dowry depends on the specific and inherent circumstances of the marriage arranged between the protagonists’ two families: whether the bride comes from a wealthy family or not, whether she is coming to a house independent of her mother-in-law’s own or a house already existing and therefore already equipped.

But the sources we have must be studied with due circumspection. Indeed, we do not have marriage contracts at our disposal to complete our view point on the arrangements the two families would have made regarding the utilization of the dowry.

1.1. Attractive dowries: the cases of Ina-Esagil-ramât and Amat-Baba

1.1.1. Ina-Esagil-ramât’s dowry: the appeal of the land

Text BM 77600, studied by H. Baker in The Archive of the Nappahu Family, AfO Beih. 30, 2004, contains IER’s dowry:

“Balaṭu, son of Ibnaya, descendant of Egibi, voluntarily gave as a dowry with Ina-Esagil-ramât, his [daught]er, to [Iddi]n-Nabû, son of Nabû-ban-zeri, descendant of Nappahu, (the following) : 0.4 kur of land planted (with date palms) out of his land in Kār-Taš[mētu] which is next to (the property of) Marduk-naṣir, son of [FN descendant of AN, and n]ext to (the property of) Nabû-nadin-šumi and [Bēl-ēreš, sons of Mušezib]-Marduk, descendant of Gahal […(3 lines largely lost) … (the slave) Ni]nlil-Silim [… …], a foot[stool], a chair, […], a lamp, a bronze lamp stand and a bronze lantern, 2 cups, a bowl, a brazier and a g[ra]te. [Not including] the 0.1 kur of land planted (with date palms) which Iddin-Nabû purchased [fro]m [Bal]āṭu for the full price of [x minas x shek]els of silver. …Witnesses… [Babylon], 26th day of [Nisan]nu, [x year of RN, ki]ng of Babylon [(…)]”.

The marriage of these two individuals seems to have taken place at the end of Nabonidus’ reign, bordering on the beginning of Cyrus’ reign, around 537[3] BC. The composition of IER’s dowry is rather typical and after studying her sisters’ dowries, we notice that she is given more assets than her younger siblings, and this is also a common trait as the eldest daughter’s dowry is generally the most advantageous. Thus Ṣiraya’s dowry, one of IER’s younger sisters, is composed of slaves almost exclusively. Similarly, Amat-Ninlil’s dowry – also known under the name of Gigītu – is a little more consequential but not as important as her sister’s own (0.2.3. kur of a field, that is, what remains of Kār-Tašmetu’s estate and one female slave).

We thus see emerging the roles of each and the relationships that arise within the family unit. Further, the fact that IER is given a larger share than her younger sisters is not an isolated case. Indeed, IMB’s daughters, Tašmetu-tabni and Ina-Esagila-belet, are not given an equivalent dowry: it is a dowry worth double that of her younger sibling which is given to the eldest daughter. Thus when Tašmetu-tabni receives five slaves and two plots of land, her younger sister is given three slaves and one plot of land[4] (for the dowries of Tašmetu-tabni and Ina-Esagila-belet, see IMB’s will, dated Cyrus’ accession year).

We can also trace the origin of certain items in IER’s dowry from text BM 77600. Her parents are Kaššaya, daughter of Šuma-iddin, from the Kutimmu family, and Balāṭu, son of Ibnaya, descendant of Egibi – it does not seem that this Egibi family should be linked to the branch of the Egibi family that we know so well thanks to the studies of C. Wunsch and K. Abraham, and of which Amat-Baba, one of the other ladies in this study, is part. Kaššaya – whose real name seems to be Tašmetum-damqat[5] – bequeaths certain assets to her daughters, IER and to her sister Amat-Ninlil/Gigītu, assets which she herself had received in her dowry. For instance, this is the case of the bequest she makes in favour of IER in the form of her mulugu-slave’s son (a mulugu is a special term for a slave. Slaves said to be mulugu are included in certain dowries, but all slaves in a dowry are not necessarily mulugu-slaves. According to M. Roth, the difference between a mulugu-slave and a slave who does not bear this title, lies in the fact that the children of mulugu-slaves are susceptible to remain in the dowry’s legal and economic orbit). However, Kaššaya changes her mind later, and leaves her two daughters a field she had received from her husband as compensation for her 4 minas of silver, the gold value of her “box” (quppu). Briefly presented, the quppu according to M. Roth is “a cash sub-category” which in certain cases is associated with the nudunnû.  A husband can use his spouse’s quppu, but he must give her a pledge, and when it has been exhausted, he must convert it into other goods for his spouse. The land bequeathed by Kaššaya to her daughters is located at Nabatu, a locality probably situated near Nār-ša-aḫḫē-šullim and Bit-Ašani next to Babylon.

IER’s dowry can be completed by documents VS 3 94 et VS 3 95 which mention another field part of the young girl’s dowry: “8 kurru de dattes, la redevance-imittu du champ de Kār-Nabû au bord du Nār-ša-aḫḫē-šullim, appartenant à la dot de Saggil-ramât (sic)”. This field is not very far from Babylon on the Aḫḫē-šullim canal and most probably constitutes a personal donation given by her father. Among the numerous goods IER brings with her, the most precious in the eyes of the Nappahu family is undeniably land. The ownership of agricultural land is indeed lacking in the family’s estate. Iddin-Nabû’s mother, Zunnaya owned one kur of land next to the Šamaš gate in Babylon which she shared with a woman named Ramûa, who seems to be her sister. But this land left the economic orbit of the Nappahu family upon the marriage of Iddin-Nabû’s sister, Ṣiraya, who received it as part of her dowry around 540[6] BC. After examining IER’s dowry, it would seem that the fact IER is apparently a young girl from a wealthy family, and brings a valuable asset with her, is going to determine her status as a spouse and her future actions within the Nappahu family.

1.1.2.     The case of Amat-Baba: the appeal of a rich dowry

Amat-Baba appears for the first time in a contract for a land sale in Dar 26 (see C. Wunsch CM 20b, text 177). Her future husband, Marduk-naṣir-apli is the buyer and her father Kalbaya is the seller. The land mentioned in this contract is next to the one promised for AB’s dowry. This latter’s dowry is particularly important (BM 34241 and duplicate BM 35 492):

“Kalbaya, son Sillaya, descendant of Nabaya, voluntarily gave as a dowry with Amat-Baba, his daughter to Marduk-nasir-apli, son of Itti-Marduk-balatu of the Egibi family, son of the daughter of Iddin-Marduk and Ina-Esagil-ramât: 30 mina of silver, 2 kur of land planted out of his land, which is next the irrigation ditch of the Ilu-tillati family, situated in Litamu, 5 slaves and udê biti. Iddin-Marduk son of Iqišaya and descendant of Nur-Sîn received the 30 mina of silver from the hands of Kalbaya, son of Sillaya, descendant of Nabaya. They each took a document […] to Amat-Baba […] 5 slaves…[…] Marduk-nasir-apli”.[7].

In this dowry, we note that MNA is presented as a descendant of Iddin-Marduk and IER, who are in fact his paternal grand-parents. In addition, it is Iddin-Marduk, the grand-father, who receives the dowry. We can therefore conclude together with M. Roth that Itti-Marduk-balaṭu (IMB), MNA’s father, died suddenly and that the transfer of his estate has taken time to happen[8]. We indeed see that twelve years go by before IMB’s holding-company is divided between his three sons[9]. This situation surely explains in part MNA’s behaviour with regard to his wife’s dowry. Moreover, a dowry so considerable is rather surprising. Through this marriage, Amat-Baba is going to enter an influential family and one already wealthy. Thus the Egibis are most probably asking for colossal dowries for the young women to marry one of them, and inversely when a young Egibi woman marries into another family, dowries are less consequential as the Egibi family’s prestige reflects on them. Previously the Nupta family had to pay a considerable sum to marry their daughter to MNA’s father, IMB[10].

1.2.Šikkuttu’s marriage and dowry: a problematic reconstruction

The third woman in our study is Šikkuttu, the daughter of Royal Judge Marduk-šakin-šumi who practiced under the reigns of Neriglissar and Nabonidus. C. Wunsch assembled the documents relating to Šikkuttu in Urkunden zum Ehe-, Vermögens- und Erbrecht aus verschiedenen neubabylonischen Archiven, 2003. The deeds are found in the Babylonian archive of the Šangu-Ninurta family as one of Šikkuttu’s daughter, Amat-Ninlil, is married to Hariṣanu from the Bēl-apla-uṣur family, and this family line is itself linked to the Šangû-Ninurta family[11]. Šikkuttu has several types of documents to her name: a house purchase, two transfers of properties to her children, a debt note in which she is the creditor, two field rentals with imittupromissory notes and a lawsuit, which we will study later.

Already before her marriage, Šikkuttu was engaging in financial activities as text BM 46646 shows: Šikkuttu lent 10 and a ½ shekels to Kabtiya/Na’id-Marduk//Ṣahit-ginê in year 5 of Neriglissar, and she therefore has probably received an education orienting her towards this type of activity: 10 ½ shekels of silver belonging to Šikkuttu, daughter of Marduk-šakin-šumi, descendant of the URÙ.DÙ-mansum family, is the debt of Kabtiya, son of Na’id-Marduk, descendant of the Sahit-ginê family. In the 11th month (Šabattu), he will pay with his own silver […]. Witness. In Babylon, the 5e of Arahsamnu (8th month), the second year of  Neriglissar. The previous debt note of 5 ½ shekels of silver is cancelled”[12].

We have the rather broken marriage contract between Šikkuttu and her future husband, Ea-šuma-uṣur of the Eṭiru family (BM 48 562), which dates from Nabonidus’ reign. This text, from which only ten fragmentary lines are preserved, deals with an u’iltu promissory note and a nudunnu dowry[13]. Indeed, the name of Šikkuttu’s spouse is lost, only text BM 46581 enables us to reconstruct it: Ubartu, one of Šikkuttu’s children is called “daughter of Ea-šuma-uṣur”. As Ea-šuma-uṣur never appears in the documentation, C. Wunsch has proposed that Šikkuttu may have found herself widowed quite quickly with three children, two daughters Amat-Ninlil and Ubartu and one boy, Nabû-nadin-šumi, and she would thus have had to find the means to sustain her family. The fact that Šikkuttu has become widowed is never mentioned, but the documents we have suggest this. Further, the term widow, almattu, is only very seldom attested during the neo-Babylonian period, and according to M. Roth occurs only once in text Dar 43[14] .

  1. Women’s management and its limits

2.1.The dowry conversion phenomenon: the example of Amat-Baba

Amat-Baba’s dowry conversion is recorded in BOR 2 3, Babylon, 5-III-16 Darius I, in 506 BC: “Marduk-nasir-apli, son of Itti-Marduk-balatu and descendant of Egibi voluntarily gave to Amat-Baba, daughter of Kalbaya, descendant of Nabaya:  a planted field, which is in Bit-rab-kasir, on the Nar-Tupašu, his property, with his slaves Madanu-bēl-usur, Nannaya-bēl-usur, Zababa-iddin, Madanu-iddin, Bēl-gabbi-belumma, Nabû-rehti-usur, Ahušunu, Hašdayitu, her daughters and Ahassunu: instead of 30 mina of white silver, 2 mina of gold, 5 mina of refined silver and a ring; instead of Nabû-ittiya and Nana-killili-aha the slaves, the dowry of Amat-Baba. Witnesses. In Babylon, the 5th of Simanu, 16th year of de Darius”.

Dowry conversions were studied by M. Roth[15] also.  Converting a dowry means converting an asset into another, but the value must remain identical. Thus, when a husband or father-in-law wishes to use part of a young girl’s dowry, in particular silver or another precious object, he must substitute the item for something of equal value. The dowry conversion phenomenon regularly occurs. Indeed, IER’s mother, Kaššaya, saw part of her dowry property converted by her husband. She owned gold, estimated at four minas of silver, which was converted by her husband into a field and a slave, and this is rather typical for dowry conversions, according to M. Roth: “Real estate and slaves were the only property into which the original dowry components were converted, and silver was the most common original component to be converted”[16].

We may wonder if this dowry conversion was made to the advantage of Amat-Baba or of MNA, and it seems clear that MNA is the primary beneficiary. Indeed, he seizes part of his wife’s assets and the land he gives her in exchange seems to be largely under his control as revealed by numerous contracts in MNA’s archives which were drawn up at Bit-rab-kaṣir. AB takes no active part in the running of the estate.

2.2.Withholding a dowry and its consequences: the case of Šikkuttu

The documents concerning Šikkuttu show that this woman led a rather independent life. Indeed, as IER, she seems to manage an estate herself and especially, she is greatly concerned with ensuring her children’s situation, in particular her daughters. While we do not find any documents related to the activities of Šikkuttu’s husband, relations between Šikkuttu and her in-law family are abundant in our texts, particularly her interaction with her brother-in-law Bēl-ikṣur. Šikkuttu’s father-in-law, Ea-aḫḫē-iddin, has probably taken control of the dowry management, and upon the pater familias’ death, it is Šikkuttu’s brother-in-law, Bēl-ikṣur, who takes charge of the family’s affairs. A compensation for Šikkuttu’s dowry must therefore be found. Then follows a series of documents in which emerges the process for the dowry compensation. Text BM 46581 could be said to deal with the compensation that Šikkuttu receives for her dowry from her brother-in-law Bēl-ikṣur l.2: ahi zēri zittu [x-x]-tu4 mehrat abul dzababa that is: “a half field, the share of […], in front of the Zababa Gate”. This field is mentioned in no other documents and it could be the compensation Bēl-ikṣur found for Šikkuttu.

During the eighth year of Cyrus’ reign in 531 or 530 BC, Šikkuttu had a document drawn up concerning all the assets she received from her father (BM 46838): thus we find 11 slaves that Šikkuttu’s father, Marduk-šakin-šumi had given her and whom she bequeaths to her daughters in an official contract (taknuk-ma). Ten years later, around 521, at the beginning of Darius’ reign, she acquires from her nephew Bēl-nadin-apli, son of Bēl-ikṣur (see BM 47795+BM 48712) part of a land in Alu eššu in Babylon, with a reed hut, the total area measuring around 144 m². We do not know the price Šikkuttu paid. Then text BM 46581 mentions a transfer of assets between Šikkuttu and her daughters, she lets them have five slaves (but in BM 46 838 eleven were mentioned, therefore according to C. Wunsch, they were either hired or transferred). This land enables her to harvest dates like BM 46830 illustrates: “58 kur of dates, imittu of the harvest of the field owned to Šikkuttu, daughter of Marduk-šakin-šumi, descendant of the URÙ.DÙ-mansum family, by Ina-Esagil-Budiya and Dininni, her wife,  Šikkuttu’s slaves.”

Finally, Šikkuttu will attempt everything she can to secure the position of her daughters, no doubt in view of the hazards she herself has known. Indeed, this mother seems to rather favour her daughters, Amat-Ninlil and Ubartu, compared to her son Bēl-nadin-apli. For example in BM 46581 (asset transfers between Šikkuttu and her daughters), even though the house is divided into three parts, the land, slaves and money are shared only between the daughters. She also uses the formula taknuk-ma pani…tušadgil (she has sealed and transferred property to…) for this donation, thereby not strictly treating it as a dowry. Finally the daughters have the right to use and to dispose of these assets but not their husbands. Šikkuttu, an independent woman by the force of events or by her own will, wishes the same for her children.

2.3.Between personal involvement and being pushed aside          

2.3.1.     The involvement of Ina-Esagil-ramât in the management of her land and its consequences

The most interesting element in IER’s dowry is of course the land she obtains from her father at Kār-Tašmetu, in the environs of Borsippa and Babylon. The families of IER and IN are both going to find reciprocal benefits and advantages in this marriage. IER’s family owns real estate, seemingly rather consequent considering the land donations we know, and the Nappahu family, presented like a middle-class family by H. Baker[17], disposes of a certain prestige due to their numerous prebends in Babylon which keep them linked with the religious powers. In fact, a large part of the Nappahu archive studied by H. Baker shows the family’s activities linked to prebends. IER’s husband, IN, owns prebends for the temple of the gods Karibu and Išhara at Babylon, which he received as inheritance from his father, and another prebend which he acquired from his adoptive father, Gimillu, husband of Tappaššar.

But let us return to the land of Kār-Tašmetu. It is a palm grove measuring 0.4.0 kur, which had apparently previously produced very good quality dates (in text 139 of H. Baker’s edition/ VS 5 66, deals with Dilmun dates). In addition to this property there is also 0.1.0 kur of land which IN previously bought from her father-in-law, thus forming a field of 1 kur. In addition to this land, there is the field at Kār-Nabû. IER finally has at her disposal a third plot of land at Nabatu, but it does not form part of her dowry as such. IER wants to exploit the land at Kār-Tašmetu with her sister Amat-Ninlil/Gigītu: numerous imittu-deeds benefitting the sisters illustrate this. She also exploits the Kār-Nabû plot of land but this time with her brother Nabû-tabni-uṣur, who also owns a part of this land. We may deduce that due to these different exploitations IER obtains certain liquidities, and this may be confirmed by the fact she has acted as a money lender on several occasions.

IER’s activities therefore do not concentrate only around agriculture. Indeed, in VS 4 186, in 520, she lends 26 and a ½ shekels of silver to Iqiša-Marduk, of the Nappahu family. She lends him again 24 shekels a month later. Finally, she is the creditor of Nabû-aplu-iddin, Nidintu and Eribaya, of the Ir’āni family for a debt of one mina and 20 shekels and during the 8th year of Cyrus’ reign, she takes a house as an antichretic pledge for this money debt. According to H. Baker: “the document, though styled as a promissory note, contains some of the standard features of a house lease contract: the term for which the house was to be at her disposal is specified (2 years), and she was to bear responsibility for the repairs to the house” (p. 54). But no other additional information has come to us regarding the person who potentially occupies the house when IER was the owner, and if she has kept it for the family to use, or if she sublet it. Finally, in the 2nd year of Darius, she takes a field as guarantee for a debt she is owed by the sons of Nabû-balassu-iqbi, descendant of Nappahu.

2.3.2.     Pushed aside from the dowry management: the case of Amat-Baba

AB’s role in the Egibi family perfectly illustrates the matrimonial politics that govern lineage. Besides, as IMB is dead and the transfer of his estate delayed, MNA must find the funds to establish himself financially and socially. Dar. 26 is a good example of MNA’s will to build his own estate[18]. This text mentions the purchase of a field made by MNA from his father-in-law Kalbaya. This field is next to the one Kalbaya had given as dowry to AB (see the similar situation between Iddin-Nabû and IER’s father). According to a note, the field is to be considered as MNA’s specific property and therefore must not be linked to the family’s estate.

Over the years, MNA is also going to try to seize what is left of his spouse’s personal goods. Thus, after the conversion of her dowry, AB tries to regain control of her capital selling seven of the nine slaves that her husband had given her in exchange. Dar 429 highlights the difficulties present between husband and wife because of this dowry: AB wants to sell them to Marduk-belšunu, son of Arad-Marduk from the Šangû-Ea family for 24 minas of silver, maybe to redress the financial situation but the sale is later annulled and we do not know clearly who is at the source of this annulment.

Contract annulments were studied by C. Waerzeggers. All the documents relating to AB mention that she executes these deeds “by her own will” (ina hūd libbišu), but we cannot be duped.  We can compare Amat-Baba’s documents with those of Inṣabtu from the Naggāru family at Borsippa, studied by C. Waerzeggers in “The Records of Inṣabtu from the Naggāru Family”, AfO 46-47, 1999-2000. Inṣabtu is the daughter of Iddin-Nabû and lived at the beginning of 5th century BC. Among the twelve tablets that make up her archive, we count two annulments. Inṣabtu is married to Murānu, son of Nabû-šuma-šukun from the Malahu family. She appears in documents dated between the 20th year of Darius’ reign, until the first year of Xerxes’ reign. However the status of Inṣabtu remains unclear according to C. Waerzeggers. Indeed, even though she has had the opportunity to conclude contracts previously, Inṣabtu is only designated as being “the wife of Murānu” in document Dar. 36 and this date could be the year of her marriage to Murānu even though at this time she was already about thirty years-old: “The possibility that Dar. 36 was the year in which Inṣabtu and Murānu married, should therefore be considered. This would be, however, against the general assumption that Mesopotamian girls married in their teens […]. Maybe she was a widow or a divorcee who remarried in Dar. 36. Two cancellation documents from Dar. 36 offer more, though vague, evidence for a previous marriage” (p. 193).

Inṣabtu is involved in several cases, among which are slave sales subject to two annulments. The first transaction concerns the sale of a slave belonging to Inṣabtu, named Ninlil-silim and of this latter’s son, Ina-qātê-Nabû-šakin (see BM 79048 and BM 79122). In the sale contract, it is specified that it was drawn according to the wish (ana našê ṣibûti ša NP) of Inṣabtu with Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, son of Nabû-aha-iddina.  This latter bought the two slaves for the sum of 3 minas and 20 shekels of silver. However, Inṣabtu never received the money of her sale and neither did she recover her slaves. The annulment was then confirmed. The second case is similar and only concerns Ninlil-silim (BM 79122). The contract states that Inṣabtu wished to sell Ninlil-Silim for 2 and a ½ minas of silver to Bēl-iddina, son of Zababa-šuma-iddina, descendant of Zeriya. But as before, she does not receive the sale money nor does she recover her slave. The sale is thus annulled. According to C. Waerzeggers, in light of Inṣabtu’s matrimonial situation, it would in fact be Inṣabtu’s first husband, Nabû-aḫḫē-iddina, son of Šula, descendant of Imbu-iniya, who had decided to sell the slaves. This leads us to think that, in the cases of Amat-Baba and Inṣabtu, the initial contracts were not drawn up by the women themselves but by a person who acts for them, most probably their husband, who thereby seizes all or parts of their assets.

In the case of AB and of the annulled sale of the slave family, we can suppose that it is in fact MNA who wished to make this transaction and not his spouse. When she was made aware of this, she attempted to have it annulled. Following this when AB regains possession of her slave family, she gives them as a donation with a field to her three daughters (BM 33997). But this gift is also later annulled (DT 233), and we cannot clearly tell why nor by whom. As C. Waerzeggers writes: “the gift document was treated as a sale contract and the three girls were considered as substitute-buyers operating on behalf on their father MNA”. Thus MNA would have gained full control of his wife’s assets, most probably after her death.


After this presentation on dowry management, it would seem that it was often made at the expense of the wife, as the cases of Amat-Baba, and in part that of Šikkuttu clearly demonstrate. In this rather negative picture, the only positive light emanates from the person of Ina-Esagil-ramât, who, according to the documents we have, seemed to certainly have enjoyed prerogatives.

Dowry management cannot be subject to a stereotyped norm as so much is left at the discretion of the husbands and their families, with very little left to the women. These women can only take an active part in the management of their assets if they dispose of a real prestige before their marriage, as the bringing of numerous valuable assets illustrates.

[1] See K. Abraham, RAI 38, 1992, p.311

[2] See M. Roth, “The Material Composition of the Neo-Babylonian Dowry”, AfO 36/37, 1989-1990, p.1-55

[3] H. Baker, p. 20

[4] See C. Wunsch, “Die Frauen der Familie Egibi”, AfO 42/43, 1995-1996, p. 41-42

[5] See H. Baker, The Archive of the Nappahu Family, AfO Beih. 30, 2004, p. 28

[6] Besides, H. Baker adds at p. 63: “While it is true that the only documentation of Nabû-bān-zēri’s estate concerns his temple prebends, if Iddin-Nabû had inherited any agricultural holdings we would expect to find some evidence for its exploitation, in the form of rental contracts, promissory notes for imittu and the like. Nor did Iddin-Nabû give any land as part of the dowry of his daughter, Tabluṭu”.

[7] Copy and transliteration, C. Wunsch, AfO 42/43, p. 54

[8] M. Roth, JAOS 111/1

[9] M. Roth, “The dowries of the women of the Itti-Marduk-balaṭu family”, JAOS 111/1, 1991, p. 19

[10] See M. Roth, “The Dowries of the Women of the Itti-Marduk-balaṭu Family”, JAOS 111/1, 1991

[11] See the very useful family tree for this family in C. Wunsch, “The Šangû-Ninurta archive”, AOAT 330, 2005, p. 367

[12] For the transliteration and copy of the tablet: C. Wunsch, Urkunden zum Ehe, p. 93-94

[13] Copy and transliteration: C. Wunsch, “Und die Richter berieten… Streitfälle in Babylon aus der Zeit Neriglissars und Nabonids”, AfO 44/45, 1997-1998, text 28, p. 95

[14] See M. Roth, “The Neo-Babylonian Widow”, JCS 43-45, 1993, p. 3

[15] M. Roth, “The Material Composition of the Neo-Babylonian Dowry”, AfO 36-37, 1989-1990, p.5-6

[16] M. Roth, “The Material Composition of the Neo-Babylonian Dowry”, AfO 36-37, 1989-1990, p.5-6

[17] See RGTC 8, p. 198

[18] For a translation of this text, see C. Wunsch, Das Egibi-Archiv, I. Die Felder und Gärten, CM 20B, p.210-212, text n.177.

Women and family solidarities in the Murašû Archive (Nippur – Fifth century B.C.)

Women and family solidarities in the Murašû Archive
(Nippur – Fifth century B.C.)

Gauthier TOLINI
(Post-doctoral researcher, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne — UMR 7041-ArScAn


                  For this first meeting dedicated to “Women and Economy in Ancient Mesopotamia : the household setting”, I was interested about the role of the women in the Murašû Archive. In spite of few women’s attestations, I was surprised to see that the majority of them intervened in a context of solidarity when their family had to face a situation of debt. It’s this subject concerning the women and the family solidarities that I would like to expose to you. In first, let’s start with some general considerations about the Murašû Archive. The campaigns of archeological excavations in Nippur at the end of the Nineteenth century have set to light a large archive of more than height hundred cuneiform tablets belonging to the sons of Murašû. These texts spread over from the beginning of the Artarxerxes I.’reign to the beginning of the Artaxerxes II.’s reign, from 455 to 404 B.C., but mainly concentrates during the period of transition between the end of Artaxerxes I. and the beginning of the Darius II.’s reign. We can notice an extraordinary peak of the preserved documentation during the first year Darius II (423 B.C.).The principal actors of the Murasšûs firm are Enlil-shum-iddin and his nephew Remut-Ninurta. Their economic activities illustrate especially a man’s world. Indeed, The members of this family manage lands belonging to the Persian crown which were entrusted to : soldiers, great administrators of the Persian Empire and male members of the Persian nobility. So, it’s not a surprise, if we just found very few names of women in this archive. In fact, we have only 27 female names inside the 2200 names mentioned in the Archive.


                  By taking into account the legal status and the social-economic position, we can divide these women into three main categories :

                  1) Three women belong to the Iranian nobility. They hold lands in Nippur, but they are not physically there, they just manage their lands through members of their staff and through the Murashû firm:

Amisiri’                  BE 9, 39 : 2 ; BE 10, 45 : 9 ; EE 1 : 4, 5 ; IMT 38 : 3

Madumitu              BE 9, 39 : 2 ; IMT 38 : 2 ; IMT 39 : 11 ; PBS 2/1, 75 : 3

Purušatu/iš           BE 10, 97 : 14, Lo.E. ; BE 10, 131 : 27 ; PBS 2/1, 38 : Lo.E. ; PBS 2/1, 50 ; PBS 2/1, 60 : 2, 5, 8 ; PBS 2/1, 75 : 3 ; PBS 2/1, 146 : 27 ; PBS 2/1, 147 : 27, U.E. ; TuM 2-3, 185 : 2, 9, 12.


                  2) Six women are slaves, they are mentioned in sale contracts :

Attar-dannat, slave of Nabu-dilini’, mother of Nanaia-bulliṭininni     JCS 53, n°9 :2, 8, 11

Attar-ṭabat      IMT 104 : 1, 6

Bisaha’             IMT 104 : 2, 6

Nanaia-bulliṭininni, daughter of Attar-dannat     JCS 53, n°9 : 4, 8, 11

Šakha’              IMT 104 : 2, 7

Ubartu              IMT 104 : 1, 6


                  3) Eighteen women can be identified as free women and inhabitants of the region of Nippur. My present study concerns only this last category of women. As we can see, this last group is not homogeneous at all :

3. Free women and inhabitants of Nippur

3.1. Independant and active women

Naqqitu, daughter of Murašu     EE 46 : 5, 7

Belessunu     BE 10, 74 : 5, 16 ; IMT 61 : 5

3.2. Women acting inside their family group in a situation of debts

3.2.1. Women mentionned in promissory notes

Amat-Belti, daughter of Makkur-Enlil, wife of Na’id-Enlil, son of Arad-Ninurta     BE 9, 53 :13, Lo.E.

Arditu, daughter of Baniya, mother of Šum-iddin     BE 10, 2 : 2, U.E.

Belessunu, daughter of Ah-ereš, wife of Šum-iddin, son of Zabudu     BE 9, 58 : 3, L.E.

Nanaia-ta-hu-šà, wife of Nidintu, mother of Hašdaia and Abdida’     IMT 93 : 6, 15

Nidintu, daughter of Ibaia     BE 10, 3 : 2

3.2.2. Women in connection with the prison Women detained in prison

Amat-Nanaia, wife of [NP]     EE 101 : 3’, 5’’

Baruka’, wife of  Kuṣura     EE 100 : 4, 9, 10

Bazita, wife of Nabu-nadin     IMT 103 : 3, 7, 9

Kussigi, wife of Akka     EE 100 : 3, 8, 10

Limitu-Belet, wife of Ribat     EE 100 : 3, 8, 10

The wife of Bel-ibni, son of Nanaia-duri’     TuM 2/3, 203 : 5, 11

The wife of Nadir, son of Hašdaia     TuM 2/3, 203 : 4, 10 Women asking for the liberation of a relative

Amat-Esi’, wife of Illulata’     PBS 2/1, 17 : 2, 13

Mammitu-ṭabat, daugther of  Bel-eṭir, sister of Šiṭa’     PBS 2/1, 17 : 1, 12

3.3. Other situations

Esagil-belet, daughter of Enlil-ittannu, wife of Mitradatu, mother of Bagamiri     BE 9, 48 : 37 = TuM 2/3 144 : 36

Riša     IMT 44 : 5

                  On a first hand we can find some independent and active women. It’s the example of Naqqitu, daughter of Murašû who manages a land. This text is the only one which mentions Naqqitu. It’s important to say that, here, Naqqitu does not act instead of her brothers because the text says that the “land is under the management of Naqqitu (ša ina pāni ša Naqqitu)”. So, we have to admit that Naqqitu received the management of several lands of the crown. Maybe, the majority of her own archive was preserved in another place than the Murašû’s sons’ archive :

Text n°1: EE 46

(1-5)(Concerning) the 2 minas of white silver, out of 2 minas ½ of silver, plus straw, rental of fields, for fields planted with trees and in stubble, belonging to Aplaia, son of [PN], Ah-iddin, son of Nanaia-iddin, Ukittu and Ṣil[la- …], (payment of which is due) on the month of Tašrītu (vii) of the 29th year and on the month of Aiāru (ii) of the 30th year of King Artaxerxes (I.), (lands) which are under the management of (ša ina pāni ša) fNaqqitu, daughter of Murašû : (6-8)Zabaddu, foreman (šaknu) of the gate-guards, son of Bel-[…], received them from the hands of fNaqqitu, daughter of Murašû ; he is paid.

(1’-5’)(Witnesses and scribe). 

(5’-7’)Nippur, 9th of aAbu (v), 29th year of Artaxerxes (I.), king of the Lands (= 436 B.C.).

(Le.Ed)Cylinder-seal of Enlil-ittannu, the paqdu.

                  With these rare exceptions of active women like Naqqitu who belongs to the urban notability, a majority of women are mentioned in a situation of debts inside their family group. To face a need of credits, a family can use two ways of solidarity to obtain silver or barley :

                  1) People borrow goods inside their family, this “horizontal solidarity” between the members of a same family doesn’t produce written documents.

                  2) But when the resources of a family are not enough to face the needs, people can borrow silver or barley to the members from the urban notability as the Murashûs’sons. This “vertical solidarity” produces a lot of written documents.

                  With the Murašû Archive, we can see these two circles of solidarities contacting when the members of a same family come together to meet the urban elite and when the debtors take the responsibility for each other’s to pay back the creditors. Inside these family solidarities, women, as mothers and wives, played an important role in different situations.



First situation : Feminine solidarity in family businesses

                  The text BE 9, 53 seems to illustrate the role of solidarity of a wife in a family business. A man, Na’id-Ninurta has to deliver sheeps and wool to the Murašû. Numerous members of his family are guarantors for the penalty : his two sons, his wife, Amat-Belti, and his brother-in-law :

Text n°2: BE 9, 53

(1-3)124 sheeps-qunnunītu and 2 talents ½ of wool-qunnunītu belonging to Enlil-šum-iddin, son of Murašû, are the debt of Na’id-Ninurta, son of Arad-Ninurta. (4-6)The 20th of Tašrītu (vii) of the 37th year, he will deliver the 124 sheeps-qunnunītu and the 2 talents ½ of wool. (6-10)If he does not deliver the 124 sheeps-qunnunītu and the 2 talents ½ of wool on the appointed day, he will give 12 minas of refined silver the 25th day of tašrītu (vii) of the 37th year. (10-14)Ninurta-ah-iddin, son of Makkur-Enlil, Eriba-Enlil and Enlil-ah-iddin, sons of Arad-Ninurta, and fAmat-Belti, wife of Na’id-Ninurta, daughter of Makkur-Enlil, guaranteed the repayment of the 12 minas of silver.

(15-21)(Witnesses and scribe).

(21-23)Nippur, 1st Ulūlu (vi), 37th year of Artaxerxes (I.), King of the lands (= 428 B.C.).

(Lo.E.)Ring of fAmat-Belet. (L.E.)Cylinder seal of Arad-Enlil, son of Širikti-Ninurta.

                  So, this text shows the horizontal solidarity inside the family of Nai’d-Ninurta. It seems that all these members of this family are invested in this activity of shepherding including the wife and her family. We can notice that Amat-Belet sealed the tablet with a ring. It’s the only reference of seal belonging to a woman in the Murashû Archive. The ownership of this object seems to show that this woman has a relatively high economic and social position.


Sceau Murašû
Ring of Amat-Belti, daughter of Makkur-Enlil
(Picture of W. Balzer)

The Amat-Belti’s ring is described as follows : “A recumbent winged lion facing right. In front of him is a stalk” (Bregstein 1993 : n°392).

Second situation : Feminine solidarity in promissory notes

                   Text BE 8, 126 is a contract drafted at the end of the Babylonian year which records the receipt of dates lent by ŠṢum-iddin, son of Zabudu. The debtor gave them back to the wife of the creditor : Belessunu. She has to register the payment to Šum-iddin, son of Ṣilli-Ninurta :


Text n°3: BE 8, 126

(1-3)(Concerning) the 3 672 litres of dates belonging to Šum-iddin, son of Zabudu, which is the debt of Ninurta-uballiṭ, slave of [PN] : (4-6)fBelessunu, daugther of [Ah-ereš], has received the 3 672 litres of dates from Ninurta-uballiṭ. (7-9)She will enter the payment in the book of Šum-iddin, son of Ṣilli-Ninurta, and she will give (a written confirmation fo this fact) to Ninurta-uballiṭ.(10-15)(Witnesses and scribe).

(16)Nippur, the 6th Addaru (xii), 37th year  of Artaxerxes (I.), King of the Lands (= 427 B.C.).

(L.E.)Nail mark of Belessunu.

(U.E.)Aramaic epigraph : Written document of the wife of [PN]

We can wonder why Šum-iddin, son of Zabudu, the first creditor, didn’t take the dates back by himself and why is his wife who did that. Anyway, it seems that Šum-iddin, son of Zabudu, his wife Belessunu and Šum-iddin, son of Ṣilli-Ninurta, belong to the same farm. Text BE 9, 58 allows us to deepen the relations between these three people. Some days laters, Belessunu and Šum-iddin, son of Ṣilli-Ninurta borrow barley from Enlil-šum-iddin. It’s a short-term debt without interest :

Text n°4: BE 9, 58

(1-5)1 800 litres of barley belonging to Enlil-šum-iddin, fils de Murašû, is the debt of  Šum-iddin, son of Ṣilli-Ninurta, and fBelessunu, wife of Šum-iddin, son of Zabudu, daugther of Ah-ereš. (5-9)In aiāru (ii) of the 38th year, they will give the 1 800 litres of barley, in the taru-measure of Enlil-šum-iddin, in Nippur, at the door of the silo. (9-11)They shall each bear responsibility for one another for payment that the closest will pay.

(12-18)(Witnesses and scribe).

(19-20)Nippur, the 22th addaru (xii), 37th year of Artaxerxes (I.), King of the Lands (= 427 B.C.).

(L.E.)Nail marks of Šum-iddin and fBelessunu.

                  We notice that once again Shum-iddin, son of Zabudu, didn’t act in this contract. Belessunu and the son of Silli-Ninurta share the responsibility for the repayment of the barley during the next harvest. Because of this close relation between Belessunu and the son of Silli-Ninurta we suppose that they have a closed links, family or neighborhood link. So, we can see a horizontal solidarity between this woman and man. At the end of the Babylonian year, this group seems to be in a bad economic situation : they have to get back a first debt of dates and they have to borrow barley from the Murashûs’ sons.

Three contracts show women who are involved in promissory notes of silver with her sons. Text IMT 93 deals with a big quantity of silver, the silver is share between four groups of people. The last group consists of two sons and her mother. The fathers of the sons are not mentioned. We notice too that it’s a loan without interest. The contract drafted at the end of the Babylonian year doesn’t mention the reasons of this loan :

Text n°5: IMT 93

(1-6)452 shekels ½ of refined silver belonging to Enlil-šum-iddin, son of Murašu, are the debt of Hašdaia, son of [PN], Lugalmarda-ibni, son of Belšunu, Bisde, son of Enlil-ittannu, Hašdaia, son of Bel-eṭir, Hašdaia and Abdida’, sons of Nidintu, and fNanaia-ta-hu-šà, their mother. (6-8)The 452 shekels ½ of silver were given the 13th day of intercalary-addaru (xii2) of the 40th year of d’Artaxerxes (I.). (8-9)They shall each bear responsibility for one another for payment of the 452 shekels ½ of silver.

(10)Out of it, 167 shekels of silver are the debt of Hašdaia,

(11)out of it, 127 shekels of silver are the debt of Bisde,

(12)out of it, 6 shekels of silver are the debt of Hašdaia,

(13)and 91 shekels ½ of silver are the debt of Hašdaia and Abdida’, sons of Nidintu, and fNanaia-ta-hu-šà, their mother.

(16-19)(Witnesses and scribe).

(19-20)Nippur, 13th day of intercalary-Addaru (xii2), 40th year of Artaxerxes (I.), King of the Lands (= 424 B.C.).

(Le.E)Cylinder seal of Arad-Enlil. (U.E.)Cylinder seal of Eriba-Enlil.

                  In the Murashû archive, some people need silver when they have to pay their annual taxes. So, maybe, this family group had to borrow silver to pay the taxes for the royal administration ? And we can wonder what was the profit fort he Murashûs’s sons to rent silver without interests ? We’ll give a hypothesis about this question later.

                  Texts BE 10, 2 and BE 10, 3 are drafted in Nippur at the end of the Darius II’s accession year. These promissory notes of silver show a situation completely different than the situation describes by the text IMT 93 (we shall try later to explain the causes of these differences) :

 Text n°6a: BE 10,2

(1-4)15 minas and 50 shekels of refined silver belonging to Enlil-šum-iddin, son of Murašu, are the debt of fArditu, daughter of Baniya. (4-5)As long as the 15 minas and 50 shekels of silver will be at her disposal, each month two shekel of silver per mina will accrue against her. (6-7)From the 15th day of šabāṭu (xi) of the accession year of the king Darius II., the silver is at her disposal. (8)[Her house] is the security at the disposal of Enlil-šum-iddin. (8-10)No other creditor shall have right of disposal over it until Enlil-šum-iddin obtains satisfaction of his claim. (10)The silver (was) the debt of Šum-iddin, her son.

(11-17)(Witnesses and scribe).

(17-19)Nippur, the 15th day of Šabaṭu (xi), accession year of Darius II., King of the Lands (= 423 B.C.).

(U.E.)Nail mark of fArditu. (L.E.)Cylinder seal of Enlil-šum-iddin.

Text n°6b: BE 10, 3

(1-3)[15 minas and 40 shekels of refined silver belonging to Enlil-šum-iddin], [son of Mura]šu, [are the debt of] fNidintu, daughter of Ibaia. (3-5)As long as the 15 minas and 40 shekels of silver will be at her disposal, each month two shekel of silver per mina will accrue against her. (6-7)From the 15th day of šabāṭu (xi) of the accession year of the king Darius II, the silver is at her disposal. (8)[Her house] is the security at the disposal of Enlil-šum-iddin. (8-10)No other creditor shall have right of disposal over it until Enlil-šum-iddin obtains satisfaction of his claim. (10-11)The silver (was) the debt of [PN], her son.

(12-18)(Witnesses and scribe).

(18-19)[Nip]pur, the 15th day of Šabaṭu (xi), [accession year of Dari]us II., King of the Lands (= 423 B.C.).

(L.E.)Cylnder seal of Enlil-šum-iddin.

For now, we can see that BE 10, 2 and 3 have many points in common :

                  1) They were drafted the same day in Nippur,

                  2) They evoke an enormous quantity of silver which are very close,

                  3) They involve women as debtor

                  4) Women put their home as security for the debt

                  5) The loans contain an interest

                  6) The women seem to take back a debt that had been contracted in a first time by their son.

In conclusion about these promissory notes of barley and silver, we can notice that:

                  1) The promissory notes are drafted at the end of the Babylonian year, when the stocks of barley are very low or when people have to pay their taxes (> texts BE 9, 58 ; IMT 93 ; BE 10, 2 & BE 10, 3)

                  2) The women involved are never alone, they are in relation with their sons ( texts 5, 6a & 6b) or with their relatives ( IMT 93). But we notice that their husbands are never mentioned. Maybe, the Husband’s absence weakened the family circle of the horizontal solidarity and force the women to request barley and silver to the urban elite.

                  3) Some loans are without interest (BE 9, 58 & IMT 93) and some others are with interest and pledge ( texts BE 10, 2 and BE 10, 3).

The urban elite takes advantages of this situation of need :

                  1) It’s a way for the creditors to control the new harvests when the debtors have to pay back their loan with barley (BE 9, 58).

                  2) It’s a way to take possession of real estates when the debtors put their home or land as security (texts BE 10, 2 & BE 10, 3).

                  3) It’s a way to obtain a dependant workforce when the debtors have to work for the creditors until the pay off their debts. This legal procedure raises numerous problems because this penalty is never mentioned in promissory notes. So, we have to suppose that when a debtor cannot pay back, this penalty is a tacit sanction not written in the contract. About this last point, we can see that the Murashûs’sons have a prison where the debtors work for them. In this case, Women’s solidarity is also visible with the contracts in which they ask for the liberation of their relatives.

Third situation : feminine solidarity with relatives detained in jail

                   In the First Millennium Babylonia, the Murašûs’sons are the rare persons to possess a private jail named bīt kīli. Most of the time, the bīt kīli concerns the temple like Ebabbar in Sippar or Eanna in Uruk. As Guillaume Cardascia said, the bīt kīli is not strictly speaking a prison, but more probably a “working house”. A creditor holds his defaulting debtor in the bit kili until he gets his money back with the work of the debtor. So, more than 10 people are attested in the Murashûs’jail in Nippur. Most of the texts do not specify the reason of the detention. Text IMT 103 speaks about a “harvest arrears” which the debtors have to pay to the Murashûs sons.

                  Text PBS 2/1, 17 records a request of liberation of two detained brothers during the First year of Darius II. : Il-linṭar and Illulata’. Several members of their family including two women presented this request : Mammitu-ṭabat, probably the sister of the detained brothers and Amat-Esi, the wife of Illulata’ :

Text n°7: PBS 2/1, 17

(1-4)Šiṭa’ and fMammitu-ṭabat, children of Bel-eṭir, and fAmat-Esi’, wife of Illulata’, spoke from their own will to Remut-Ninurta, son of Murašu, as follows : (4-7)« Release Illulata’ and Il-linṭar, sons of Nabu-eṭir, our brothers, who are kept in prison by Enlil-šum-iddin. Deliver them in front of us. We are guarantors for them ». (7-9)Then, Remut-Ninurta agreed and delivered Illulata’ and Il-linṭar in front of them. (9-14)If Illulata’ and Il-linṭar run away towards another place, Šiṭa’, fMammitu-ṭabat and fAmat-Esi’ will pay 30 minas of silver to Remut-Ninurta without lawsuit or contestation.

(16-19)(Witnesses and scribe).

 (19-20)Nippur, the 3rd šabaṭu (xi), 1st year of Darius II., King of the Lands (= 423 B.C.).

(L.E.)Cylinder seal of Enlil-šum-iddin, son of Tattannu.

Remark : Bel-eṭir and Nabu-eṭir are maybe the same person, the signs dEN (=Bel) and dNÀ (= Nabu) are very similar, so it might be an error of the modern copyist or an error of the ancient scribe.

                  Once again, in this case, women didn’t act alone but inside their family group. In this text, the family members doesn’t pay the debts instead of the detained brothers, the two brothers will continue to work for the Murashû until their debts are settled but outside the bīt kīli, in their own home. In other cases, women could be detained in the Murashûs’ bīt kīli too.


                  Some texts mention women detained in the Murashûs’jail. In the first contract, IMT 103, a group of three people are held : two men Nidintu, Gadiy’a and a woman Bazita, the wife of Nabu-nadin The text specifies the reason of their presence in prison: they are still debtor of a part of the harvests to Enlil-shum-iddin. The text doesn’t mention the link between these three people but we can suppose that they belong to the same family :

Text n°8: IMT 103

(1-2)Nabu-ušezib, slave of Enlil-šum-iddin, spoke of his own volition to Remut-Ninurta, son of Murašu, as follows : (2-8)« Release Nidintu-Bel, Gadiy’a and fBazita, the wife of Nabu-nadin, who are kept in prison because a harvest arrears due Enlil-šum-iddin. Deliver them in front of me from the 14th ulūlu (vi) of the 41th year to the 28th ulūlu (vi) of the 41th and I will be guarantor for their moves ». Nabu-ušezib will bring Nidintu-Bel, Gadiy’a and fBazita back and will turn them to Remut-Ninurta. (8-12)If the 28th ulūlu (vi), Nabu-ušezib has not brought Nidintu-Bel, Gadiy’a and fBazita back and turned them over to Remut-Ninurta, Nabu-ušezib will pay to Remut-Ninurta any debt at all that may be in evidence in documents drafted to their debit in favor of Enlil-šum-iddin.

(13-18)(Witnesses and scribe).

(18-19)Nippur, the 14th ulūlu (vi), 41th year of Artaxerxes (I.), King of the Lands (= 424 B.C.).

(R.)Aramaic epigraph : Written document of Nabu-ušezib : he took back three (people) from Arad-Ninurta[1].


                  In the second text, TuM 2/3, 203, two women are detained. We notice that they are not quoted by their own names but only as wife of their husband: the wife of Nadir, son of Hašdaia, and the wife of Bel-ibni, son of Nanaia-duri’. Because of this fact, it seems that these anonymous women were not the debtors of the Murašûs’ sons but their husbands were probably the debtors but they sent their wife in the Murashûs’jail instead of them :


Text n°9: TuM 2/3, 203

(1-4)Belšunu, son of Mannu-ki-Nanaia, Enlil-suppe-muhur, slave of Remut-Ninurta, Šum-iddin, son of Ina-ṣilli-Ninurta, and Arad-Ninurta, son of Enlil-ittannu, spoke of their own volition to Remut-Ninurta, son of Murašu, as follows : (4-8) « Give to us the wife of Nadir, son of Hašdaia, and the wife of Bel-ibni, son of Nanaia-duri’, who are kept in the town of Enlil-ašabšu-iqbi and we will be guarantors against their flight until the month of dūzu (iv) of the 2nd  year of Darius II ». (8-9)Then, Remut-Ninurta agreed and delivered in a front of them the wife of Nadir and the wife of Bel-ibni. (10-11)In dūzu (iv) of the 2nd year of the king Darius II, they will bring the wife of Nadir and the wife of Bel-ibni back and will turn them over to Remut-Ninurta. (12-15)If, the wife of Nadir and the wife of Bel-ibni run away towards another place, Belšunu, Enlil-suppe-muhur, Šum-iddin and Arad-Ninurta will pay 90 minas of silver to Remut-Ninurta without lawsuit.

(16-22)(Witnesses and scribe).

(22-23)Nippur, the 28th nisannu (i), 2nd year of Darius (II.), King of the Lands (= 422 B.C.).

 (Edges)Cylinder seals.

These texts show two peculiarities:

                  1) The first peculiarity comes from the liberators, indeed, they do not belong to the family of the prisoners, on the contrary, they belong to the Murashûs’ Firm. In the first text, the liberator is Nabu-ushezib, a salve of Enlil-shum-iddin ; and in the second text, we find Enlil-suppe-muhur, slave of Remut-Ninurta, included the liberators.

                  2) The second peculiarity comes from the liberation modalities : The Murashûs’sons give to their slaves the detained people just for a short period of time.

                  So, these texts are not a freedom contract, in fact, We can consider them as a kind of work contract : the Murashûs’sons give to members of their firm the workers whom they hold in prison, maybe because they want to send them to work in another place under the control of their own servants or because they want that they do a specific work outside their bit kili.


A majority of the texts, which illustrate the women’s role inside the family solidarities, is concentrated on a very short period, from 425 to 422 :


1. Promissory notes of silver

Nanaia-ta-hu-šà, wife of Nidintu, mother of Hašdaia and Abdida’  Text n°5 (13/xii-b/Art 40)

Arditu, daughter of Baniya, mother of Šum-iddin   Text n°6a (15/xi/Dar II 0)

Nidintu, daugther of Ibaia  Text n°6b (15/xi/Dar II 0)


2. Women asking the release of their relatives

Amat-Esi’, wife of Illulata’   Text n°7 (3/xi/Dar II 1)

Mammitu-ṭabat, daughter of Bel-eṭir, sister of Šiṭa’   Text n°7 (3/xi/Dar II 1)


3. Women detained in jail

Bazita, wife of Nabu-nadin   Text n°8 (14/vi/Art 41)

The wife of Bel-ibni, son of Nanaia-duri’  Text n°9 (28/i/Dar II 2)

The wife of Nadir, son of Hašdaia   Text n°9 (28/i/Dar II 2)


Women in a context of debts from 425 to 422 (Art 40 – Dar II 2)


             It’s inside this short period that Mattew Stolper suggests to see an important economic crisis which affected Babylonia and Nippur in particular. In this final part, I would like to study the links between this economic crisis and the women’s solidarities.

                  1) First, M. Stolper remarks that the promissory notes with pledge of real property are extraordinary numerous during the First year of Darius II (424).

Promissory notes with pledges of real property

Tableau Stolper-Donbaz
Donbaz & Stolper 1997 : 10

                  For Stolper, soldiers had to ask silver to the Murashû’s firm to be able to pay the special taxes ordered by the new king. To face this enormous request for silver, Murashûs’sons required exceptional guarantees. This general crisis situation of credit explains why Murashûs’sons required to fArditu and fNidintu interests and pledge security (BE 10, 2 & BE 10, 3) contrary to the credit granted to Nanaia-ta-hu-šà and to her sons some years ago (IMT 93).

                  2) Secondly, it’s during the same period, the end of Artaxerxes I and the beginning of Darius II that we find a majority of text which deals with the Murashûs’ bīt kīli, at this time the prison seems to be full of people (men and women too) :


« Liberators »

Detained persons

04/ii/Art 38

EE 104

Imbiya, son of Kidin, and Labaši, son of Ahhe-utir Ahhe-utir

Kalkal-iddin, son of Ahhe-utir

14/vi/Art 41

IMT 103

Nabu-ušezib, slave of Enlil-šum-iddin

Nidintu-Bel, Gadiya and fBazita, wife of Nabu-nadin

16/i/Darius II 01

BE 10, 10

Il-linṭar, son of Iddin-Enlil

Iddin-Enlil, son of Ah-iddin

11/viii/Darius II 01   

PBS 2/1, 21

Zimmaia, son of Bel-eṭir

Ah-iddin, son of Zuza

02/ix/Darius II 01                            

PBS 2/1, 23

Bel-ittannu, son of Bel-bullissu, Šum-iddin, son of Ubar and Arad-Gula, son of Ninurta-iddin

Ninurta-uballiṭ, son of Enlil-iqiša

03/xi/Darius II 01

PBS 2/1, 17

Šiṭa’ and fMammitu-ṭabat, children of Bel-eṭir,  fAmat-Esi’, wife of Illulata’

Ilulata’ and Il-linṭar, son of Nabu-eṭir

28/i/Darius II 02

TuM 2/3, 203

Belšunu, son of Mannu-ki-Nanaia, Enlil-suppe-muhur, slave of Remut-Ninurta, Šum-iddin, son of Ina-ṣilli-Ninurta, and Arad-Ninurta, son of Enlil-ittannu

The wife of Nadir, son of Hašdaia, and  the wife of Bel-ibni, son of Nanaia-duri’

                  So the women’s solidarities role to find credit and to request the freedom of their relatives takes place in a short period of economic crisis where a lot of people needed silver and credit. But as Van Driel remarked, the people including women didn’t pay back the Murashûs’ sons, indeed, we found these promissory notes inside the Murashû Archive, this fact means that the members of the firm didn’t give the contracts back to the debtors because the debtors didn’t settle their debts. It’s very interesting because in the same time, we can see that the Murashûs’ sons cancel the promissory notes of silver and they accepted to release people from their prison. We can wonder where this kindness comes from ? The new king’s wish ? Or the Murashûs’sons own decision ?


                  The economic and social situation of the Nippur Region during the Fifth century and especially during the transition between Artaxerxes I and Darius II is very complicated, but it is thanks to this crisis that we can see in this man’s world the women go out and play a major role in their family group to face the crisis.

[1] For the reading of the epigraph, cf. Jursa 1999.