Archives par mot-clé : crisis

The Economic Role of Women during the Crisis in Emar, Syria

 The Economic Role of Women during the Crisis in Emar (Syria)

Josué J. JUSTEL[1] (Altorientalisches Institut, Universität Leipzig — UMR 7041 ArScAn)

1. Introduction


The existence of economic crises in the Ancient Near East is well known. One of the most investigated periods is the Late Bronze Age, which written sources attest the difficulties families experienced.[2] To this period belongs the documentation unearthed in the excavations of Tell Meskene, ancient Emar, by the Syrian Euphrates, when the city – as well as the near Ekalte, modern Tell Mumbāqa – was under the influence of the Hittite Empire.

It seems that Emar (or its territory) was attacked, by the middle of the thirteenth century BC, by the Hurrian army. This episode is documented in four texts (Emar VI 42, AulaOr. Suppl. 1 9, HANEM 2 77, ASJ 12 7) and, despite the exact date is unclear, the attack would have taken place ca. 1250 BC.[3] Another two texts (AulaOr. Suppl. 1 25, 44) attest additional raids, but they do not mention that they were undertaken by the Hurrian troops.[4] In any case, it is evident that Emar was attacked several times.[5]

These war episodes, and other circumstances as well, would have born one or more deep economic crises. This phenomenon is explicitly stated in some legal documents from Emar by the reference to the “year of famine (and) war” (a/ina šanat dannati nukurti), with slightly different formulations. Zaccagnini gathered 33 references;[6] 4 more have become noted since,[7] to which 5 additional attestations can be added here.[8] These 42 cases are distributed amongst the two scribal traditions present in the Emar archives: the so-called Syrian (= S, esp. for landed property sales) and the Syro-Hittite (= SH, for sale of persons).[9] In line with the above-mentioned episodes of war,[10] some economic crises would have taken place, in which the price of the food would have increased dramatically.[11] Only during the reign of Pilsu-Dagān, king of Emar, the episodes of sale of persons are attested.[12] The formula may be also attested in two additional documents discovered in the archive of Ekalte, some kilometers to the north.[13]

In essence, these references are found in legal documents attesting two different economic transactions: transferences of landed property and of persons. By the inclusion of this expression, it is therefore stated that the transaction took place in a difficult moment for at least one of the parties involved. However, the exact implications of that formula remain unclear. For example, Zaccagnini think that only in the case of sale of persons the actual cause would have been the economic difficulties of those families.[14] When landed property was involved, however, “these contracts do not seem to exhibit any distinctive feature that might be connected with war and famine.” In these cases he thinks that the reference to war and famine could be a “scribal mannerism.”[15] Adamthwaite has calculated the prices of these transactions and pointed out that only the cases of sale of persons correspond to real economic difficulties.[16]

It is unclear whether an economic crisis is to be posited only when the above-mentioned formula (ina šanat dannati nukurti) is employed. The formula probably does not reflect personal difficulties, but a generalized crisis in Emar.[17] Démare-Lafont points that “la clause paraît plutôt avoir une utilité juridique en ce qu’elle introduit une exception justifiant l’application de dispositions dérogatoires, qui diffèrent sensiblement selon qu’elles concernent la vente ou le prêt.”[18] In that case, it would be possible that the inclusion of the formula allowed the seller to buy this property again. Other references to difficulties of concrete families do not use this formula,[19] but they will be considered in the present exposition too.

This situation of war and economic crisis, with its terrible consequences on society, is attested again during the siege of Nippur by the Assyrian army in the 7th century BC.[20] A set of ten documents attests that a man named Ninurta-uballiṭ acquired different children – most of them, girls – from their parents, who went through a rough period. These documents were published by Oppenheim,[21] who proposed further parallels: one from the Old Assyrian period, five during the siege of Babylon by Assurbanipal, and three from other sieges in Uruk. Zaccagnini has provided 3 further Neo-Assyrian parallels.[22]

The purpose of this investigation is to study the active[23] role of women in these moments of generalized economic crisis, represented by the use of the aforementioned formula, or during concrete economic difficulties. In contrast to previous treatments,[24] I will present the evidence by dividing the examples according to concrete legal actions (selling/buying or debt transactions), and not according to the object (landed property/persons), but see an overview of the latter case in § 6.


2. Women in buying and selling


More than two hundred sale-contracts from Emar have been published up to now, the object of the transaction being landed or movable property, animals or persons.[25] A woman appears as seller in sixteen cases.[26] Among these sixteen occurrences, in four it is stated that the transaction took place during a generalized crisis by the use of the formula “in the year of famine (and) war” (ina šanat dannati nukurti). The cases are:

–    Emar VI 20 (S): Bāba buys from his step-mother/adoptive mother[27] fAbini a house for 170! shekels of silver[28] “[in the y]ear of famine and war” (l. 14: [a/i-na m]u-tu4 kala nu-kúr-ti). Later on (ll. 28-30) it is stated that fAbini’s children had abandoned her “because of the famine and the war” (a-na dan-na-ti nu-kúr-ti). It is explicitly indicated that Bāba bought the property “as a stranger” (kīma nikari ll. 13, 31).[29]

–    AulaOr. Suppl. 1 57 (S): Ipqi-Dagān buys from ʾIlī-iamūt and his mother fʾAḫa-mi a house for 200 shekels of silver “because of the famine” (l. 18: a-na dan!na-ti).[30]

–    AulaOr. Suppl. 1 65 (SH):[31] fAdamma-ilī and her four children (fDagān-niwārī, fʾImmī, Ḥabʾu and ʾAbiu) sell a house[32] to Bēlu-kabar and Dūdu (who were brothers) for 45 shekels of silver “in the years of famine” (l. 6: a-na mu-meš!ti dan-na-ti). It is explicitly stated (ll. 8-14) that fAdamma-ilī’s children could buy the property again by giving the buyers the double price – that is, 90 shekels of silver. fAdamma-ilī’s family had run into debt since the silver was finally received by Tūra-Dagān, who would have been the creditor (ll. 17-18).

–    ASJ 10 E (SH): fDagān-ilī sells her son Zū-Eia for […] shekels of silver to Dagān-bāni “[in the year] of famine, when three qa of barley stood [for one she]kel of silver” (ll. 1-2: [a/i-na mu] kala-ga ša 3 qa še / [a-na 1 gí]n kù-babbar iz-za-az).

Another example, Emar VI 82 (SH),[33] should be added. A woman named fAdda-naʿmī seems to sell some landed property to Dagān-taliʾ; it is mentioned that this man therefore “has le[t her] children live” (ll. 6-7: dumu-meš-[ši] / u[b]!te-li-iṭ).[34] Later on (ll. 7-14) a reference to the right of buying the property again seems to appear. Though there is no mention of the “famine and war” formula, it is evident that this woman experienced hardship.

Among these more than 200 sale-contracts from Emar, a woman was the buyer in 5 cases.[35] Only one of these contains the expression “in the year of famine (and) war,” Emar VI 111 (S). It is mentioned that a fAštar-abu had bought a house for 3 hundred shekels of silver. This price is really very high compared to the remaining transactions which took place during the period of crisis, and also compared to the normal price of houses in other moments as well.[36] Durand thinks that “la clause signifie que la terre n’entrera pas dans la définition du patrimoine de son mari lorsqu’il mourra,”[37] and therefore the high price was not related to the economic crisis. For his part, Viano thinks that the price was not modified by the buyer’s gender.[38] In this case the formula is found at the end of the document, referring to the future, and not to the moment in which the transaction had taken place, which is more usual: “(In) the years of war and famine, she shall give (the property to those) among her children she wishes, either female or male” (ll. 36-39: mu-ḫi-a nu!kúr-ti kala-ga / i-na dumu-meš-ši a-šar ta-ra-am / ta-na-din / i-na munus ú nitá).


3. Women in debt transactions


Along with their presence in sale contracts, women may be found in debt transactions. Different kinds of documents attest the processes of indebtedness, as the loan agreements, registers of annulment of debt, etc. In total, the number of these documents found in Emar is about thirty; another nine administrative records may be added to the corpus.[39] In this documentation, women might take an active part in the transaction:[40] we find 4 cases in which a woman was the creditor[41] and 5 in which she was the debtor.[42]

Only in one of these cases a variant of the mentioned “famine and war” formula is attested. It is ASJ 13 37 (SH), which starts with a formal declaration of a woman named fBaʿla-ʾilī: “In the year of famine, when three qa of barley stood for one shekel of silver, there was none who took care of me. Now Zū-Aštarti, son of Aḫī-mālik, son of Kutbu, has paid twenty five shekels of silver – my debt – and in the year of famine he has let me live of bread and water” (ll. 2-6: i-na mu kala-ga ki-i 3 qa še-meš a-na 1 gín kù-babbar / iz-za-az ša i-pal-la-ḫa-an-ni ia-nu i-na-an-na / Izu-aš-tar-ti dumu a-ḫi-ma-lik dumu kut-be 25 gín kù-babbar / ḫu-búl-li-ia ul-tal-lam ù mu kala-ga iš-tu ninda-meš / ù a-meš ub!tal-li-ṭa-an-ni). We find here that this woman was alone and going through a very bad economic situation, so a man named Zū-Aštarti settled her debts. The silver was received by the creditor, fEsertu (l. 10).

Other cases do not state explicitly that it was the case of a generalized crisis, but they refer to concrete economic difficulties. An example is ASJ 13 36 (SH), in which one learns that fBaʿla-simātī had run into debt for 40 shekels of silver. Zū-Aštarti – the same man mentioned in the previous example – settled her debt, so fBaʿla-simātī and her daughter fAštar-ummī enter Zū-Aštarti’s household as female slaves.

A last piece of evidence regarding debts is Emar VI 213 (SH).[43] fḪuti made her testament, granting all her possessions to her daughter. The testatrix declares that, after her husband’s death, she became poor and fell into debt (ll. 10-11: muš-kè-na-ku / ù uḫ-ta-bíl), and no relative helped her. For that reason, a man named Baʿl-mālik “honored me and paid my debts” (l. 13: ip-tal-ḫa-an-n ù ḫu-bu-la-ti-ia ul-tal-lim). Finally, fḪuti decided to adopt this man Baʿl-mālik (not explicitly stated, but see l. 20) and caused him to marry her daughter fBatta. This legal phenomenon, labeled by modern historiography as “adoption with marriage,” is quite common in the documentation from Emar,[44] but that is the only case in which somebody adopted his/her creditor.


4. Other attestations


Two further documents from Emar refer to the situation of women during the period of economic crisis. These texts do not correspond stricto sensu to sale contracts nor debt transactions; their characteristics are actually connected to family arrangements.

The first example, AulaOr. Suppl. 1 48 (S), is strictly speaking an adoption contract.[45] fWāʿi, probably a widow, adopts Iaḫṣi-Baʿl, and some usual clauses in this kind of legal documents are expressed; for example, the obligation for the adopted to support (wabālu Gtn) his mother in the future. It is also stated that “Iaḫṣi-Baʿl has supported her mother fWāʿi in the years of famine, and he has taken the house and the gods her husband gave to her” (ll. 31-37: ia-aḫ-ṣi-en / fwa-a-e ama-šu / i-na mu-ḫi-a-ti dan-na-ti / it-ta-na-bal-ši / ù é-ta u dingir-meš / ša mu-ti-ši id-dì-na-ši / il-qè).

The second example, Emar VI 216 (SH), is actually a marriage adoption contract.[46] A woman named fKuʾe stated that her husband was absent[47] but their children were very young, at least one still an unweaned baby. They were going though hard times, so this woman decided to give one of her daughters in matrimonial adoption to another woman (fʿAnat-ʾummī), in exchange for 30 shekels of silver (the amount is only stated in Emar VI 217: 12). In addition, fKuʾe declared: “she has made (my/our) young children live in the year of famine” (ll. 7-8: dumu-meš še-eḫ-ru-ti i-na mu dan-na-ti / ú-bal-li-iṭ).[48] This text belongs to a set of documents which allows us to follow the events of  fKuʾe’s family. In a later text (Emar VI 217) one learns that the transaction never took place, since fʿAnat-ʾummī did not pay the terḫatu of the girl given away in matrimonial adoption. Since her parents still needed the silver, they sold the girl, her unweaned sister and two brothers to Baʿal-mālik, who led a scribal school. Three clay lumps bear the imprints of feet and the names of three of these children, probably in order to record their size and age, and to avoid their being changed thereafter (Emar VI 218, 219, 220).[49] The end of the story is unknown.[50]

As stated before (§ 1), in this paper only the active role of women is taken into account. Note however that other documents record a woman – usually a young girl – being sold during periods of economic crisis. It is the case of Emar VI 83, AulaOr. Suppl.I 52,[51] ASJ 10 A, and perhaps Emar VI 256.[52] Sales of women are also known for periods when no crisis is explicitly mentioned.[53]

5. Women and crisis


Scholars have barely devoted a word on the role of women in these episodes of economic generalized crisis, or concrete personal difficulties.[54] I have shown the available evidence according to the type of legal deed (sale contracts, debt transactions, etc.). In the following table all this documentation, rearranged after the object of transaction (landed property or persons), is to be found.

Landed property


a/ina šanat dannati nukurti

Emar VI 20

Emar VI 111

AulaOr. Suppl. 1 57

AulaOr. Suppl. 1 65

Emar VI 216

AulaOr. Suppl. 1 48

ASJ 10 E

ASJ 13 37

No reference to crisis

Emar VI 82

Emar VI 213

ASJ 13 36


The general situations attested in the aforementioned documents share some common features. In general, the women which appear in those texts are alone. The husband is usually not mentioned. In some cases, we are told why these women are alone:

–    Emar VI 20: “Her children abandoned fAbini because of the famine and the war” (ll. 28-30: fAbini mārēši ana dannati nukurti īzibūši).

–    Emar VI 213: (fḪuti:) “After (the death of) my husband I became poor and ran into debt, but there was none among my husband’s brothers who took care of me” (ll. 10-12: arki mutiya muškēnāku u uḫtabbil u ina libbi aḫḫē mutiya ša ipallaḫanni yānu).

–    Emar VI 216: (fKuʾe:) “My husband is g[one, my/our children] are young (and) [there is non]e who makes (them) live” (ll. 3-4: mutiya itta[lak mārēya/ni] ṣeḫrū ša uballaṭ [ul īšu]).

–    AulaOr. Suppl. 1 48: “Iaḫṣi-Baʿl has supported her mother fWāʿi in the years of famine” (ll. 31-34: Iaḫṣi-Baʿl fWāʿi ummašu ina šanāt dannati ittanabbalši).

–    ASJ 13 37: “In the year of famine (…) there was none who took care of me” (ll. 2-3: ina šanat dannati … ša ipallaḫanni yānu).

According to this information, Zaccagnini reached the conclusion that “in most cases these women were either war widows or wives whose husbands had disappeared, thus leaving their families without any means of support.”[55] In these cases the man is absent because he is dead (Emar VI 213) or because he has left temporally (Emar VI 216[56]). It happens that, when the woman sells a property, one or more of her children are also mentioned (AulaOr. Suppl. 1 57, 65).  It is interesting that, when a man is in economic troubles, these circumstances are not stated.

Comparatively, women appear to have managed these periods of crisis more frequently than men. The sale contracts provide suitable example for this situation. A woman is attested as seller in 16 cases, of which 4 contain the formula “in the year of famine and war.” That represents 25% of the total. If we focus on the remaining sale contracts from Emar, about 200, in 25 the formula is mentioned, representing the 12,5% of the total. Despite the scarcity of sources, the difference between both circumstances is noticeable. It would seem to indicate that the necessity of selling properties during the periods of difficulty was higher among women than men. Recently Viano has reached this very same conclusion by analyzing the prices of landed property sold: “Women mostly appear in the house sale contracts when they are forced to sell their properties due to economic difficulties as the quite low prices recorded in these texts seem to lead.”[57]

For the other part, it should be stressed that the aforementioned evidence clearly shows that women were equal in rights to men in managing their resources during these periods. Numerous documents attest that a man was going through bad times (by using the “war and famine” formula), and another one helped him. In AulaOr. Suppl. 1 25, for example, a man pays off the debts of another, and therefore lets him live (l. 7: ub-tal-li-ṭá-an-ni-mi), as in other cases of women mentioned above.[58] These examples share the same main characteristics referring to the procedure undertaken.

In this sense, there is one expression, “to let someone live,” which is frequently found in this corpus related to economic crisis. In general we are told that one man has paid off the debts of a man or woman, so he has let him/her live. The formula always employs the Akkadian verb balāṭu in D-Stamm,[59] and takes place in 4/5 documents from Emar, all of them referring to a period of economic crisis.[60] All these 4/5 documents belong to the Syro-Hittite scribal tradition, a fact that seems to have received no notice in the secondary literature. In two of these documents (Emar VI 216 and ASJ 13 37) a woman participated actively in the transaction. In Emar VI 216 fKuʾe is supposed to receive 30 shekels of silver for her daughter – given away in matrimonial adoption – from fʿAnat-ʾummī, who let fKuʾe’s children live (l. 8: ú-bal-li-iṭ). The form uballiṭ could be understood as 1cs, and in that case fKuʾe would be the one who lets the children live.[61] However, in the remaining cases of use of balāṭu D, the subject of the verb corresponds to the one who has paid off the debts (in this concrete case fʿAnat-ʾummī), and therefore the verbal form in Emar VI 216 should be understood as 3cs.[62] For its part, from ASJ 13 37 we learn that fBaʿla-ʾilī had run into debt and Zū-Aštarti let her live (l. 6, ub!tal-li-ṭa-an-ni, see § 3). fBaʿla-ʾilī finally entered Zū-Aštarti’s household, but we do not know whether she was considered a female slave. Finally a further document, previously considered (§ 2), could be added to the corpus, despite it contains no reference to the period of economic crisis: Emar VI 82 (SH). fAdda-naʿmī sold some properties, so with this silver the buyer “made [her] children live” (ll. 6-7: dumu-meš-[ši] / u[b]!te-li-iṭ). In this case, as well as in the aforementioned examples, the verbal form is to be interpreted as 1cs.[63] Note that in another document, AulaOr. Suppl. 1 48 (§ 4), of Syrian scribal tradition, similar circumstances are to be found, but a form of the verb wabālu Gtn (l. 34) is employed. This verb is usually employed in order to express the obligations acquired by adopted children, as it is the case in AulaOr. Suppl. 1 48. Despite the scarcity of sources, the logical conclusion is that, when the technical term balāṭu D appears, it is usually a woman who is the object of the verb – and always it is a man who lets her live (note again that women are not mentioned as frequently as men in these economic transactions, so the odds favor this interpretation).

6. Conclusions


To sum up, women appear in the context of economic crisis in the documentation from Emar. The available sources are mentioned in the following table:



Sale contracts


Other attestations

a/ina šanat dannati nukurti

Woman selling

Emar VI 20

AulaOr. Suppl. 1 57

AulaOr. Suppl. 1 65

ASJ 10 E

ASJ 13 37

Emar VI 216

AulaOr. Suppl. 1 48

Woman buying

Emar VI 111

No reference to crisis

Emar VI 82

Emar VI 213

ASJ 13 36


These women had to manage these economic difficulties. They used to be alone, most of cases corresponding to widows. Sometimes, it is even stated that they had to care of their children and had no resources. For that these women had to sell properties or fell into debts, to solve this hard situation. In fact, comparatively, women appear to have managed these periods of crisis more frequently than men, as the analysis of the use of the verb balāṭu D shows. One can see that these women seem to have managed their properties and even their families at their will. The legal features exhibited in those documents are exactly the same which can be found in the case of men managing their properties during economic difficulties. For that very reason, it may be concluded that in these periods of crisis – as well as in other circumstances – the legal capacity of women was complete, at least when they were alone.


7. Bibliography


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Beckman, G. (1996). Family Values on the Middle Euphrates in the Thirteenth Century B.C.E. In M.W. Chavalas (ed.), Emar: The History, Religion, and Culture of a Syrian Town in the Late Bronze Age. Bethesda: 57-79.

— (1997). Real Property Sales at Emar. In G.D. Young/M.W. Chavalas/R.E. Averbeck (eds.), Crossing Boundaries and Linking Horizons. Studies in Honor of Michael C. Astour on His 80th Birthday. Bethesda: 95-120.

Bellotto, N. (2000). La struttura familiare a Emar: alcune osservazioni preliminare. In E. Rova (ed.), Patavina Orientalia Selecta. HANEM 4, Padova: 188-98.

— (2004). L’adozione con matrimonio a Nuzi e a Emar. KASKAL 1: 129-37.

— (2008). Adoptions at Emar: An Outline. In L. D’Alfonso/Y. Cohen/D. Sürenhagen (eds.), The City of Emar among the Late Bronze Age Empires: History, Landscape, and Society. Proceedings of the Kontanz Emar Conference, 25-26.04.2006. AOAT 349, Münster: 179-94.

— (2009). Le adozioni a Emar. HANEM 9, Padova.

Cavigneaux, A./D. Beyer (2006). Une orpheline d’Emar. In P. Butterlin/M. Lebeau/J.Y. Monchambert/J.L. Montero Fenollós (eds.), Les espaces syro-mésopotamiens. Volume d’hommage offert à Jean-Claude Margueron. Subartu 17, Bruxelles: 497-503.

Cohen, Y. (2005). Feet of Clay at Emar: A Happy End? OrNS 74: 165-70.

—        (2009). The Scribes and Scholars of the City of Emar in the Late Bronze Age. HSS 59, Winona Lake.

— (2012). An Overview on the Scripts of Late Bronze Age Emar. In E. Devechi (ed.), Palaeography and Scribal Practices in Syro-Palestine and Anatolia in the Late Bronze Age. PIHANS 119, Leiden: 33-45

D’Alfonso, L./Y. Cohen/D. Sürenhagen, eds. (2008). The City of Emar among the Late Bronze Age Empires: History, Landscape, and Society. Proceedings of the Kontanz Emar Conference, 25-26.04.2006. AOAT 349, Münster.

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— (2008). Gli atti di compravendita di Emar. Rapporto e conflitto tra due tradizioni giuridiche. In M. Liverani/C. Mora (eds.), I diritti del mondo cuneiforme (Mesopotamia e regioni adiacenti, ca. 2500-500 a. C.). Pavia: 419-56.

Divon, S.A. (2008). A Survey of the Textual Evidence for “Food Shortage” from the Late Hittite Empire. In L. D’Alfonso/Y. Cohen/D. Sürenhagen (eds.), The City of Emar among the Late Bronze Age Empires: History, Landscape, and Society. Proceedings of the Kontanz Emar Conference, 25-26.04.2006. AOAT 349, Münster: 101-09.

Durand, J.M. (1989). RA 83: 163-91: review (first part) of D. Arnaud, Recherches au pays d’Aštata: Emar VI, Paris 1985-1987.

—        (1990). RA 84: 49-85: review (second part) of D. Arnaud, Recherches au pays d’Aštata: Emar VI, Paris 1985-1987.

Fales, F.M. (2011). Transition: The Assyrians at the Euphrates Between the 13th and the 12th Century BC. In K. Strobel (ed.), Empires after the Empire: Anatolia, Syria and Assyria after Suppiluliuma II (ca. 1200 – 800/700 B.C.). Eothen 17, Firenze: 9-59.

Fleming, D./S. Démare-Lafont (2009). Tablet Terminology at Emar: “Conventional” and “Free Format”. AulaOr 27: 19-26.

Justel, J.J. (2008a). L’adoption matrimoniale à Emar. RHD 86: 1-19.

—        (2008b). La posición jurídica de la mujer en Siria durante el Bronce Final. Estudio de las estrategias familiares y de la mujer como sujeto y objeto de derecho. SPOA 4, Zaragoza.

Leichty, E. (1989). Feet of Clay. In H. Behrens/D. Loding/M.T. Roth (eds.), DUMU-E2-DUB-BA. Studies in Honor of Åke Sjöberg. OccPubl. S. N. Kramer Fund 11, Philadelphia: 349-56.

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Viano, M. (2010). The Economy of Emar I. AulaOr 28: 259-83.

— (2012). The Economy of Emar II – Real Estate Sale Contracts. AulaOr 30: 109-64.

Vita, J.P. (2002). Warfare and the Army at Emar. AoF 29: 113-27.

Westbrook, R. (2001). Social Justice and Creative Jurisprudence in Late Bronze Age Syria. JESHO 44: 22-43.

—        (2003). Emar and Vicinity. In R. Westbrook (ed.), A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law. HdO 72, Leiden/Boston: 657-91.

Yaron, R. (1959). Redemption of Persons in the Ancient Near East. RIDA 6: 155-76.

Zaccagnini, C. (1992). Ceremonial Transfers of Real Estate at Emar and Elsewhere. VO 8: 33-48.

—        (1994). Feet of Clay at Emar and Elsewhere. OrNS 63: 1-4.

—        (1995). War and famine at Emar. OrNS 64: 92-109.


[1] Member of the research group «Histoire et Archéologie de l’Orient Cunéiforme», UMR 7041-ArScAn, Maison de l’Archéologie et de l’Ethnologie René Ginouvès, Nanterre. This paper has been sponsored by the Spanish Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (postdoc. ref. EX2009-0811) and the Alexander-von-Humboldt Stiftung (ref. 1134700). I thank Ch.W. Hess (Universität Leipzig) for his help in composing this paper in acceptable English. Abbreviations of specialized journals, texts, and series follow the Reallexikon der Assyriologie und vorderastiatischen Archäologie (Berlin/Leizpig).

[2] See Liverani 2004: 30-33, and a bibliographical introduction in Zaccagnini 1995: 923.

[3] See the overview in Vita 2002: 117-20, who dates the episode in 1230 BC; recently other authors have proposed the attack took place ca. 1270 BC (see comments of Divon 2008: 104 and Fales 2011: 28).

[4] Vita 2002: 121-23.

[5] Zaccagnini 1995: 100, Vita 2002: 122.

[6] Zaccagnini 1995: 96-98.

[7] Vita 2002: 116.

[8] According to Démare-Lafont 2010: 8070. Four of them had been published but not taken into account by the mentioned authors; the fifth document is Subartu 17 p. 498: 19-20, published by Cavigneaux/Beyer 2006 (cf. comments of Démare-Lafont 2010: 78-80).

[9] Vita 2002: 116, Démare-Lafont 2010: 82. These scribal traditions would have been employed in different moments; see esp. the papers included in D’Alfonso/Cohen/Sürenhagen 2008, or Di Filippo 2004, Fleming/Démare-Lafont 2009 and Cohen 2012: 34-35 (with previous bibliography).

[10] Divon 2008: 108 points: “All these texts [= containing the above mentioned formula] may be tentatively linked to the war against the Hurrians.”

[11] Adamthwaite 2001: 171 or Cavigneaux/Beyer 2006: 50326.

[12] See esp. Divon 2008: 105.

[13] WVDOG 102 54: 1’, 76: 16 (both very damaged).

[14] Zaccagnini 1995: 106.

[15] See Zaccagnini 1995: 99, and the discussion in Adamthwaite 2001: 137-38, who rejects this idea (p. 158).

[16] Adamthwaite 2001: 153, 168, 174.

[17] Zaccagnini 1995: 99, Adamthwaite 2001: 174.

[18] Démare-Lafont 2010: 81-82.

[19] Zaccagnini 1995: 99.

[20] Contemporary to the documentation from Emar are the Middle Assyrian Laws (MAL A 39), which refer to family economic difficulties as well.

[21] Oppenheim 1955.

[22] Zaccagnini 1995: 94-95.

[23] Therefore cases in which a woman was sold are not treated.

[24] For example Zaccagnini 1995 or Adamthwaite 2001: 133-75.

[25] See a list in Justel 2008b: 1866; for sale contracts of landed property see Beckman 1997, Viano 2011, 2012; for the formulary see Di Filippo 2008, Démare-Lafont 2010: 46-52.

[26] Emar VI 7, 20, 35, 80, 82, 89, 113, 114, 130, 217; AulaOr. Supp. 1 57, 65; HANEM 2 68; ASJ 13 17; AulaOr. 5 9; ASJ 10 E. The same circumstance is attested in other Syrian Late Bronze Age archives, as Ugarit (RS 16.156, 17.22+) and Alalaḫ (AlT 70); see Justel 2008b: 188-95.

[27] On the family circumstances expressed in this document see Zaccagnini 1995: 9921.

[28] The real price is unclear, see the comments of Durand 1989: 177; Viano (2012: 122) accepts the above-expressed reading.

[29] According to Westbrook (2003: 686), “the implication [of the formula kīma nikari] is that the sale was not at a discount, as between family members, but at the full market price, like an outsider. The clause may have been designed to protect the buyer’s title against future redemption by the seller or his heirs” (cf. also Zaccagnini 1992: 36). This proposal is not sure and new perspectives have been proposed; for example cf. Viano 2012: 123.

[30] See comments of Viano 2012: 122.

[31] On this document see Westbrook 2001: 24-26, as well as the comments of Zaccagnini 1995: 107 and Viano 2012: 122.

[32] It is unclear whether it was simply a house; see Viano 2012: 12232.

[33] See comments of Durand 1989: 190-91 and Zaccagnini 1995: 108.

[34] See § 5.

[35] Emar VI 111, 114; AulaOr. Supp. 1 81; HANEM 2 49; ASJ 12 3. 8 documents attesting similar circumstances come from Ugarit; see esp. Justel 2008b: 196-200 for an analysis of the evidence (p. 19660 for the concrete cases).

[36] See Adamthwaite 2001: 165 and Viano 2012: 122.

[37] Durand 1990: 53.

[38] Viano 2012: 122.

[39] See the formulary of these texts in Démare-Lafont 2010: 66-72.

[40] See Justel 2008b: 215-20.

[41] AulaOr. Supp. 1 27, 33; HANEM 2 67; ASJ 13 37.

[42] Emar VI 23, 24; AulaOr. Supp. 1 65; ASJ 13 36, 37. Another document with similar circumstances comes from Ekalte (WVDOG 102 93 = HANEM 2 89), and further 7 examples from Ugarit (RS 6.345, 15.12 = KTU2 4.135, 16.354, 17.37, 17.297 = KTU2 4.290, 18.111 = KTU2 4.386, 19.73 = KTU2 4.632).

[43] See esp. Zaccagnini 1994: 101-02, Viano 2012: 121, as well as the translation and comments of Tropper/Vita 2004: 155-56 and Bellotto 2009: 217-18.

[44] See esp. Beckman 1996: 63-65, Bellotto 2000: 190-91, 2004: 132-35, 2008: 189, 2009: 91-122, Justel 2008b: 91-93.

[45] On this legal genre see esp. Bellotto 2009 (this document in p. 232-33) and Démare-Lafont 2010: 58-63.

[46] On this legal phenomenon in Emar see esp. Justel 2008a (this document in p. 14). Cf. also the comments of Zaccagnini 1995: 101 and Adamthwaite 2001: 138, 141-42.

[47] See Durand 1990: 74.

[48] See § 5.

[49] See Leichty 1989: 356.

[50] Cohen (2005) proposed that they would have been scribes in Emar, but that does not seem to be correct (Cohen 2009: 17475). Cf. Zaccagnini 1994.

[51] Adamthwaite 2001: 136 thinks that the sellers were a man and his wife, but he states in p. 143 that they were two women. Actually the sellers were two brothers.

[52] See Zaccagnini 1995: 102-03

[53] See esp. Justel 2008b: 233-38.

[54] See for example Zaccagnini 1995: 100 or Justel 2008b: 190-191, 199-200.

[55] Zaccagnini 1995: 100.

[56] He reappears in Emar VI 217.

[57] Viano 2012: 122.

[58] See Zaccagnini 1995: 96, with n. 15 (p. 96-97).

[59] AHw 99b, sub D2c and CAD B 61, sub 7a.

[60] Emar VI 86: 4, 216: 8, AulaOr. Supp. 1 25: 6, ASJ 13 37: 6, and probably SMEA 30 9: 6 (restored). See Adamthwaite 2001: 148-50 and Démare-Lafont 2010: 81. For this expression in the Middle-Assyrian sources see Aynard/Durand 1980: 23, Démare-Lafont 2010: 83; during the Neo-Babylonian period see Oppenheim 1955: 71-75.

[61] As Zaccagnini 1995: 98, 101, thinks.

[62] As other authors think: Arnaud 1985/1987: III 231, Adamthwaite 2001: 149, and cf. Yaron 1959: 161-63.

[63] As Arnaud 1985/1987: III 91, contra Zaccagnini 1995: 108.

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.