Archives par mot-clé : children

The economic role of women in neo-Babylonian temples

1. The position of women in the religious hierarchy

The place that women hold in temples during the neo-Babylonian period is rather contrasted. Contrary to previous periods where we find women part of the religious personnel, even in restricted numbers, the phenomenon is hardly perceptible in the later periodThe third millennium and the Isin-Larsa period had known the nin-dingir as well as female participants to sacred marriages. The old-Babylonian period has left rich archives for nadītu­-religious women. Nothing like this is to be found for the neo-Babylonian period, apart from the spectacular but totally isolated case of Nabonidus’ daughter, En-nigaldi-Nanna (Ērešti-Sîn in Akkadian), for whom her father restored the giparu sanctuary of Ur and revived the entu function, an institution abandoned several centuries earlier[1]. We will however mention the seemingly particular position, it seems, that the daughters of Nebuchadnezzar II, Ba’u-asîtu and Kaššaia, held at Uruk even if nothing indicates in the Eanna texts (see Weisberg 1971 and Beaulieu 1998) that they were part of the personnel. The special attention they pay to the Eanna could simply be due to the special link the dynasty preserved with the city of Uruk (see Jursa 2010).  Indeed, the mention in YOS 6 10:22 (28-i-Nbn 1) of “rations for the king’s daughter to enter in the king’s account” (kurum6-há šá dumu-mí lugal a-na qu-up-pi šá lugal ú-šu-uz) could also apply to the daughter of the reigning king, Nabonidus, at the very beginning of his reign[2], but it is not excluded either that one of the daughters of Nebuchadnezzar II, Bā’u-asītu, whom we know resided at Uruk, is meant here [3]. While the devotion showed by Adad-guppi, mother of Nabonidus, towards the god Sîn of Harrān does not mean that she was part of the temple, contrary to what has often been written. The economic role of these very high-status women in sanctuaries mostly rests on donations that can be rather important in value, as the inventory established by P.-A. Beaulieu for Kaššaia testifies (Beaulieu 1998, p. 181-192). The texts mention few religious functions that could have been undertaken by women in neo-Babylonian temples: the ritual during the month of Kislīmu (see Cağırgan-Lambert 1991) indicates the presence of at least a nadītu, who performed during the ritual but whose function is otherwise rarely made explicit. We have also attached the title of sagittu[4] to the religious sphere, which appears in a neo-Babylonian legal text at Uruk. Further, and in a more general manner, their mother’s status seems to have been important for the recruitment of priests and prebend-owners of the temple (Waerzeggers 2008, p. 10 sq.) But all in all, harvest is meagre. However, this can only be a provisional situation when we pay attention to the mention we find in text OIP 122 36 (= Weisberg 2004), reinterpreted by M. Jursa in Waerzeggers  2008. There, we find a woman who performed the function of a salluḫ(a)tu “female water-pourer/sprinkler”, and M. Jursa mentions a letter from Uruk (YOS XXI, 85 letter of Nabû-mukīn-apli to Nabû-aḫ-iddin), in which it is said that:

             “There are not enough female sprinkler for the inner temple precinct. fMuhhû[tu(?)], the daughter of Marduk-[…], should work as a sprinkler (of flour) for the inner temple precinct”.

But this can only be a temporary placement linked to a particular ceremony, and which does not involve a permanent position. Also, if we examine the literary tradition (the Epic of Gilgameš, the Epic of Erra), the cult of Ištar seems to have associated women to certain rites. The corpus we have for neo-Babylonian texts however remains silent on this point. Thus, the only ritual of the Eanna that has survived for this period (UVB 15, 40) cites no female personnel.

 2. The female workforce: the question of status

In fact, we must examine the evidence for other categories of women, those who were part of the temple’s non-religious labour force and who therefore belonged to the lower social classes, that of dependants and slaves. While the purpose of our inquiry here isn’t to produce a synthesis on oblates, we will go through successive points to examine the female population from two angles: their legal status, to see how boundaries between free women and slaves establish themselves, and their social status, in particular the conditions under which temples take poor women issued from the Babylonian population under their care.

 a) the distinction between dependants and oblates  

The question was posed again from a legal angle these last years, during talks discussing the manner in which we should understand the oblates’ category[5]. We can distinguish two essential categories of personnel working for the temple: on the one hand, persons belonging to a large group of dependants in the sanctuary who are legally free but economically bound to temple service, and on the other hand, oblates, bound much more closely to the sanctuary, without being considered purely and simply as slaves, as we find individuals who are both free and former slaves freed by their masters and later dedicated to the divinity. All are indeed said to have been “dedicated” (šarāku ou zukkû) to the principal divinity of the temple. Presently, it remains difficult to precisely identify the women who are only dependants, even if their existence is accepted and recognised by those who have dealt with this system. They were inserted within the nucleus of the family structure, like most of the rural families, it is they in part (next to families of oblate-labourers) whom the temples of Šamaš at Sippar recorded, in fragments of a census that has come down to us (Joannès 1997, p. 129): CT 56 689 mentions wives (aššatu) and daughters of individuals who are apparently farming dependants of the Ebabbar at Sippar; CT 56 796 mentions the children of single women (and so not necessarily free in status); CT 56 803 records the composition of a shepherd’s family (of the Ebabbar?): the shepherd, his wife (aššatu), three sons, a daughter; CT 56 813 lists the arborists’ families of the Ebabbar. These families can constitute a standard model (husband-wife-children), but some of them include the arborist’s wife, others his sister. It is unlikely that families of dependants had slaves associated to their families, while this was more the case for families of urban notables (see the First Workshop). Women who are the most easily identifiable because they are those most cited are in fact oblates (širkatu) who in large part come from private donations, and they can be individuals who were free in status originally (children) or slaves whose owners transferred them, via a dedication process, from their authority to that of the sanctuary: they thus find themselves enfranchised and freed from their legal condition of private slave, but bound through the same process to the principal divinity of the sanctuary.

 b) the dedication’s terms: why a differed donation?

A notable point is that this donation can be immediate or can take place much later: for example, in the year 4 of Nabonidus’ reign, the ša-rēši Ninurta-aḫ-iddin proceeds with a donation that has immediate effect (YOS 6, 56): he dedicates (zukkû) to the Lady of Uruk five individuals (a woman and her four children) designated both as amēlūtu, that is slaves, and as oblates (mí šir-ki-a-ta). We can interpret this procedure as one of “freeing” the 5 slaves from their civil servitude (amēlūtu) to turn them into “serfs” bound to the temple (širku). They therefore are not slaves per se, but they are totally bound to the religious establishment. In year 17 of the same reign, an individual named Iqīšaia makes a differed donation (TCL 12 36): his slave Nanaia-iddin together with her childrens are given to Karanatu, Iqīšaia’s wife. After Karanatu’s death,  Nanaia-iddin will become a zakîtu of Ištar. Finally, we find, but very rarely, self-dedications to the temple, as YOS 6 186 seems to indicate:

 “(Concerning) Nabû-ayyālu, the son of Kullaia, the zakîtu, who said to Nabû-šar-uṣur, the ša rēš šarri : “Kullaia, my mother, is a zakîtu of the Lady of Uruk and she entered into the house of the oblates (= she became a zakîtu while being received as an oblate). 10-x-Nbn 7”.

Of course, the question we should ask is why does the temple welcome these elderly female oblates: the sanctuary doesn’t necessarily have any interest in doing this, but it does so anyway and accepts them even when a donation is differed. The delay, sometimes long, between the legal donation and its realisation can indicate that private families are looking to keep for the longest time possible these slaves as labour force for their own use. They are in their greater majority female slaves: men appear in non-domestic affairs but are less concerned by this procedure. There are two explanations possible, and in fact complimentary, for this practice: the dedication of one or two slaves by a couple to the temple is often preceded by a husband allocating them to his spouse. He thus withdraws the slave from family succession and enables the future widow to subsist thanks to this usufruct, anticipating a division of the estate that may take away her means of subsistence. To later avoid a second phase of inheritance distribution, a potential source of family complications, the slave is dedicated to the temple. The donation to the temple is thus a practical continuation of a dowery’s constitution, to benefit the surviving wife. But we can also understand that upon the donor’s death, the family who inherits is not necessarily any longer interested by a female slave being made available, one most probably quite advanced in age who will no longer make children and whose work capacity has diminished. Therefore by welcoming her, the temple plays a social role and prevents her from a miserable existence. This explanation was proposed by M. Dandamaiev (Dandamaiev 1984, p. 472-487), M. Jursa (Jursa 2006, p. 15, note 80), G. van Driel (van Driel 1998, p. 178-179[6] and note 32), R. Magdalene and C. Wunsch (Magdalene & Wunsch, in press), but the problem is to know whether the temple really did benefit or not from this system.

 c) under whose authority do oblates fall?

This point was also much debated, and the recent study by Magdalene & Wunsch, in press, presents its terms in a very convincing manner: the notion of ownership and legal freedom does not suffice alone to explain oblates’ situations. Contrary to a private slave whose master is the owner, an oblate is not a sanctuary “possession”; he or she enjoys no autonomy vis à vis the sanctuary, even though during the process of the donation to the temple, the master first frees his or her slave[7]. We must therefore take into account the notion that R. Magdalene and C. Wunsch call potestas, defined as the customary legal right that a natural authority (paternal, religious, royal) has over its subordinates, within a family or within an institution. Maintaining or not this potestas determines a potential emancipation. The most evident application of such potestas is that exercised by a father over his daughter when she is to be married. We thus see, once more, the exercise of an authority functioning on and applied to the family (and we should define this as one of the “mental structures” that govern the organisation and the world-view of the people of Mesopotamia). This relationship between father and daughter within the family structure, between the principal divinity and its oblates within the temple structure, based on a potestas is of the same nature than that which ties a patron to his clients in Rome. In Babylonia, an individual legally free can thus remain under the authority of the family head: first his children (daughters especially), but also a certain number of domestics who are free in status. R. Magdalene and C. Wunsch thus propose to interpret the širkūtu as a socio-legal category in which an individual finds himself or herself subject to the potestas of the divinity represented by the temple administration, just as the mār banūtu is the category in which an individual finds himself or herself subject to the family’s authority.

 d) what recovery action can the temple take?

When a slave is dedicated to the temple by his or her master and that the heirs do not respect this donation but keep or sell the slave, the temple can begin a legal action. Several documents illustrate this. We can take as examples texts published by Nadia Czechowicz at the RAI of Helsinki (Czechowicz 2001): Andiya (= Amtiya), a slave named Etellitu was dedicated by her mistress to the Lady of Uruk and recorded as such on the register (gišda = gišlē’û) of the Eanna, in Nbk 35 [570]. But in Nbk 37 [568], the qīpu of the Eanna seems to have withdrawn her and given her back to the son of her donor, Nabū-mušetiq-uddê. However, in Cyrus 2 [537], the temple requests the document from the widow of Nabû-mušētiq-uddê, Innaia, who must produce it or she will have to hand back the slave to the temple. Thus 34 years go by, between the initial donation and the legal case that will fix Andiya’s status. It is possible that text YOS XXI 69 (= NCBT 4), a letter sent by the administration chief (bēl piqitti) of the Eanna to the šatammu Nidinti-Bēl, is linked to this case (but the name of the slave is different):

           (…) the contract which has been established with Innaia[8], mistress of the zakîtu-oblate Ana-bītišu, as well as the contract (established) with the mistress of the zakîtu-oblate Tabluṭu, , which with you… (…)

 A text published by D. Arnaud [Arnaud 1973 = TBER pl. 60-61], also shows that the temple welcomes oblates a long time after their original donation: it concerns a female slave Nanaia-hussinni, who had been dedicated by her master Mār-Esagil-lumur to the goddess Nanaia. But then she was sold (by her master, or rather, after his death, by an heir) to a certain Tattannu. This latter person declares that “she fled from his home during the reign of Amēl-Marduk” (562-560). In the year 17 of Nabonidus (539), representatives of the Eanna initiate a legal action to settle the exact status of Nanaia-ḫussinni. The donation probably took place under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, that is, at the latest in 563. Around 25 years went by between this donation and the legal action began by the temple. Similarly, YOS 7 91 mentions a non-compliant sale, in year 10 of Nbn [546], of a slave dedicated by her master to the temple, whose contract was examined by the temple assembly in year 6 of Cyrus [533], that is 14 years after. Finally, YOS 19, 91 dated year 2 of Nabonidus [554], mentions a donation dating from year 13 of Nebuchadnezzar II’s reign [592]: almost 40 years have passed. The situation is not the same when dedicated individuals are explicitly presented as children. Thus in OIP 122 n.2 (with collations and reinterpretation by Jursa 2006 and Wunsch 2010): in this latter case, having taken away the children of the slave couple Nabû-rēmanni and Nanaia-silim, it is possible that distributing the parents between the heirs while separating them was allowed, and because of this it was easier to operate the donation: we indeed see that in general there is a reluctance to completely separate slave families, and particularly to take children from their mother. The numerous legal cases and legally binding documents kept for Uruk show that the temple rigorously kept its register up to date (gišlē’û) for its present and even future personnel (those expected to come from a differed donations), and show that the temple initiates legal actions to recover female slaves that were dedicated to it. We see for example that the temple acts to “break up” the family that was constituted by a person named Dayyān-Marduk when he married his slave Bēl-ab-uṣur to an oblate of the Eanna, La-tubāšinni. He must, before 4 months have elapsed, bring to the temple and hand over La-tubāšinni and her children (YOS 7 60). We find the reverse situation in text YOS 7 66: the slave Nuptaia is left at her actual master’s home (the brother of this latter had originally dedicated her to the Lady of Uruk) with her children, until the death of the owner. It is only afterwards that they become part of the temple’s oblates.

e) cases of single women: the zakîtu

Among oblates we find families, and also isolated individuals: very rarely men (zakû)[9], most often women (zakîtu). These women are particular in that they have no matrimonial ties, either because they never had any, or because they lost it upon the death of their husband; but they can have children who are referred to as mār zakîti. Their male offspring therefore belong to the category of the širku but they do not bear male patronyms, aside exceptions (see below). How does one slide from the meaning of zukkû “to free/dedicate” to that of “isolated woman” for zakîtu? In fact, the semantic range of the verb is wider than that of the nominalised verbal adjective. An oblate can fall within the first without being characterised by the second, if she is married[10]. In fact, to call a woman a “zakîtu of DN” is to designate her as “a woman with no ties, oblate of DN”. The zakîtu cannot marry a private individual without the temple’s consent as text YOS 7 92 shows, just as a woman termed a “širkatu of DN” cannot (YOS 7 56) The zakîtu-oblates can have children (born before or after their oblation) as YOS 19 112 shows, and they are in any case clearly considered to be oblates/širku. Also, these sons of zakîtu are not necessarily manual workers: they can integrate the class of skilled craftsmen, as YOS 19 115 illustrates: we thus find among the sons of zakîtu required for the upkeep of the temple weavers-išpar birmu, silversmiths-nappaḫ parzilli. We should note however the correction E. Payne (Payne 2008, p. 60-62) brought forward: she noticed that the same male oblates are sometimes cited with the name of their fathers, while other occurrences show mār zakîti.

 “The most convincing case for this form of dual identification can be made for two brothers working as weavers of colored cloth: Arad-Bēl and Šamaš-ēṭer. In YBC 9027, the two men are identified as brothers and sons of Silim-Bēl, a man unknown in the textile corpus; in YOS 19, 115, they appear in immediate succession, both as sons of a zakîtu-woman. As further corroboration, the men appear in both texts as members of the work group under the direction of Innin-šumu-uṣur, and the other members of the group mentioned in the texts are identical. Given this level of agreement, together with the other evidence, albeit circumstantial, it seems without question that in both instances one and the same individual is intended. A similar case can be constructed for two launderers: Bēl-ēṭer and Nidintu. In YBC 9027, they appear with their brothers (Arad-Innin and Rīmūt, respectively) and are identified as sons of their fathers (Arad-Nabû and Ninurta-šarru-uṣur, respectively). The two launderers, moreover, appear in separate contracts (PTS 3053 and GC 1, 412), identified as the sons of zakîtu-women. Again, an analysis of the work groups shows a high level of continuity and supports the notion that these men, though variously identified, were the same individuals”.

The qualification zakîtu is not to be understood as designating all single women indistinctly however. Young girls “single to be married” are called nārtu, as pointed out by C. Wunsch, (Wunsch 2003, p. 3-7). BM 64026 is very informative on this point (MacGinnis 2002 No. 12 (Bertin 1730) BM 64026, with bibliography):

                  Zittaya the širkatu of Šamaš and wife of Eteru the ikkāru of Šamaš, whose daughter Sudduštu the single girl gave birth to Ubaria in (the time of) her status as single woman, but hid (him) from Marduk-šum-iddin the šangu of Sippar and the scribes: afterwards, in year 6 of Cyrus king of Babylon king of countries she said « Ubaria is [the son of] Sudduštu; he is a širku of Šamaš. Let him enter on to the writing board! » [Marduk-šum-iddin] the šangu of Sippar and [the scribes listened] to Zittaya and according to (the statement of) her daughter inscribed Ubaria [in the writing board of Šamaš]. Witnesses. Sippar,7-x-Cyrus 6.

We therefore have a first category of women who can either be free dependants, or servant oblates, but married in both cases and who work within their family (often in a rural setting) for the temple. We should add a second category, more original, of women servants, oblates AND non-married (zakîtu), who can have children though and constitute monoparental families. The oblates of the first category can be defined as belonging to the immediate labour force of the temple (we must however take into account the fact that the sanctuary does not multiply this immediate workforce, which is costly to maintain, and instead gives preference to the dependence system). As for the oblates-zakîtu they are often present because of the social function of the Babylonian temple (taking care of those who are marginalised) and these women enable the temple to gain from this help through the work they undertake, even when they are aged. The average life expectancy of manual workers for this period was limited to about forty, fifty maximum, indeed, oblates-zakîtu who join the temple upon the death of their private owners never remain there for very long.

 f) the situation of children

Children born from oblates have the same legal status than their parents (see AnOr 8 74 or YOS 7 66), but a widow cannot dedicate her children to the temple because of famine without herself being integrated among the oblates (YOS 6 154): children are given a star-mark to bear and acquire the status of širku, which enables them to have food rations (kurummatu) from the temple. As for the mother, she remains a free and autonomous individual. We sometimes see complex situations, as in YOS 7 60, where an oblate is the spouse of a private slave, but where the temple requests both the mother and the children. Finally, text YOS 19 91 shows that a woman dedicated to Ištar as an oblate transfers her status to her children when they have not been recognised as free individuals. The brother of an individual who had dedicated his slave, Bānitu-rāmat, had a daughter with her, Gāmiltu; but he sold this girl to a private person. The temple thus makes the fact recognised in court as he had renounced, through this sale, his paternity right over her and the temple’s ownership right, passed on by her oblate mother, outweighed the right of the buyer: Gāmiltu is then given the status of zakîtu of Ištar. She integrates the temple’s oblates personnel as a single woman.

 3. The economic activities of the female workforce

This entire system can only be understood if the sanctuary’s authorities see in it an economic interest, because the integration of a donated individual supposes that she will be allocated regular food rations. We can thus deduct from this that the temple makes the oblates it welcomes work, according to their physical capacity. We are thus within the problematic of the Care of Elderly[11], applied here to the management of elderly slaves. We can suppose that there was in Babylonia at this time a high rate of male mortality, and that the problem of old age was no doubt more relevant for women rather than for men: the study by Gehlken 2005 indicates that an average male life expectancy is around 40 years, not taking infant mortality into count. M. Jursa already presented in 2004 identical conclusions (Jursa 2006, p. 56), but insisting on the lack of statistical corpus for women. We can however reasonably hypothesise that women used for domestic labour did not have a life expectancy much higher than men. Speculating that a female slave will only join the temple after around 25 years of private service we would be to attribute her a service-lifespan, as an oblate “in full use”, of between 5 to 10 years maximum.

 a) what type of workforce and for what kind of work?

Tasks assigned to these female oblates are of the same nature as those for the usual sanctuary workforce. Thus we find an oblate (Nanaia-šarrat, wife of Ammaia) referred to as the “oblate working for the service of the Eanna” (lú rig7 i-pu-uš dul-la šá é-an-na) (YOS 6 108). Nanaia-ḫussinni (Arnaud 1973), said to be a zakîtu of Nanaia, is counted among the “workers carrying the brick-basket of the Eanna” (um-man-ni za-bil tup-šik-ku šá é-an-na). As YOS 17 9 shows, dated 15-v-Nbk 43, an oblate of the Lady of Uruk is made available to Issar-māt-tukkin for an annual “rent” of 2 sequels of silver. The location of her assignment outside of Uruk, close to the Harri-ša-Iddinaia canal, in a līmu-district of the Eanna, at a place called “Huṣṣēti-ša-Nabû-uballiṭ” shows that it concerns an assignment with a farmer of the temple. That women, themselves or together with their husband, have temple land to exploit is proven also by certain records, as YOS 17 300 (record of a delivery of dates, for the village levy of Bāb-bitqa). Furthermore, YOS 19 93 shows that an administrator dependant of the temple, the rab qannāti ša širku šā Bēlti ša Uruk, can on his own initiative pledge an oblate in a neighbouring city of Uruk with a private person (= corresponding to a work contract disguised?), and so rented by another private individual for a mandattu­-compensation of 1 sequel of silver per year. It is however probable that the temple was not making its aged female slaves undertake tasks where physical force was essential and which would have needed a speedy execution. A study of women’s work in temples shows that there are in fact two major specialities which are, in a manner of speaking, habitually “reserved” for them: these are food preparation (and particularly grinding grain) and treating textile fibres.

 b) milling activities

But an elderly female workforce remains physically unsuited to the first activity, and we note that an important part of this work is either carried out in a prison (bīt kīli) or in a workshop (bīt qēmêti), by younger female millers. A more detailed presentation of female milling activities can be found in an earlier study by Joannès 2008. K. Kleber arrives at the same conclusion (Kleber 2008, p. 82): “Organisierte Müllerinnen mit Aufsehern sind sowohl für Eanna als auch für die königliche Administration bezeugt”)[12]. We will also note the mention, infrequent however, for “millers (of the palace?) of Babylon” in the archives of Bēl-rêmanni[13] (BM 42353:1-4 (Darius I 26) [translation M. Jursa]):

                  ”86 kor Datteln, [die Ration]en für die Mehlarbeiterinnen von Babylon, unter der Verantwortung von [Šumu-ukīn], dem Aufseher über das Gesinde, zustehend dem Bēl-ēṭer, Sohn von Ina-ṣi[lli-šar]ri, dem für die Mehlarbeiterinnen zuständigen Alphabetschreiber, zu Lasten von (…) »

c) textile work

The most important activity, especially for the most elderly female personnel, is therefore within the textile industry. G. van Driel noted (van Driel 1998, p. 180), regarding a census of labour families, that they can be made up of an important number of oblates:

“The female members of the families of the ploughmen are, as a rule, not included though, presumably, in practise, they served a similar purpose. The reason is probably that these females were registered separately as a general labour, or, perhaps, as belonging to the workforce in textile industry. We know that the rural population had to deliver a fixed amount of textile annually to the institutions to which they belonged”.[14]

 OIP 122 72 (probably written in Uruk) seems to also mention a large quantity of wool (raw for spinning?) received by various recipients among whom at least two women: Aḫabi’ and Ekur-ḫammat. Contrary to Ur III or to Mari (and maybe to the palace of Babylon), neo-Babylonian temples do not have weavers’ workshops at their disposal[15]. If this is not collective labour, then we should perhaps think of it as work from home, most probably following the structure of the iškaru[16]. It seems that this course is not written down at any time, as it is practically not documented in the temple’s archives. It is possible that it also occurs in the form of a debt note that the temple has over a private individual, as illustrated in Jursa 1997, text n.13  dealing with the order of a piece of fabric to be woven in 6 months’ time from wool donated to the temple (translation M. Jursa):

                  «Fünf Minen Gewebe, Preis von zehn Minen Wolle, Eigentum der Herrin von Uruk und Nanājas, zu Lasten von Tuqnāja, der Tochter des Bēl-šumu-iškun. Im Du’ūzu wird sie (die Wolle) geben. Zeugen: Bel-nādin-apli/Zer-Bābili/Ile’i-Marduk, Bēlšunu/Nabū-ahhē-iddin/Egibi, Ištaran-zēru-ibni/Sîn-iddin. Schreiber: Eanna-Sumu-ibni/Ahhēšāja. Uruk, 16. Tebētu, Jahr 31 Nebukadnezar, König von Babylon.»

 This practice is ancient in Uruk, and already attested under the reign of Kandalānu (De Jong Ellis 1984, n.7) :

                  «Ilat and her son Eanna-ibni are assigned to Iqîšaia, son of Marduk-šarrānni and Ṣillaia, son of Eanna-ibni. Each year, Iqîšaia and Ṣillaia will deliver 2  túg-kur-ra–garments to Ištar  of Uruk and Nanaya. (…) Uruk. 14-vi-Kandalānu 6 de Kandalānu»

This does not exclude of course the recourse to workshops and skilled craftsmen when the material concerned is expensive or that the work requires a strong specialisation. These women may also integrate this category, as a text from Uruk cited by E. Payne (Payne 2008 p. 119 = Eames R27 ll. 1-3) shows: “One lubāru-garment and one šalḫu-garment are at the disposal of Hipāya for sewing”. For everything that is fabric and garment based, the treatment (spinning, weaving, finishing) of textile fibres can be done at home or within the context of an extension of women’s domestic economy. Age is not necessarily a handicap for spinning, nor for embroidery in particular.

d) the temple’s property income

The economic activity of women must also be examined from the point of view of the payments that they themselves issue, when they pay the rent for the homes placed at their disposal by the temple. Indeed, the temple rents houses to certain members of its personnel, especially to families, for which it receives the rent price yearly, as shown by two texts Camb. 28 and 29, dated on the same day (3-i-Cyr. 1) that concern the same people (Ina-tēšî-ēṭir and his wife fĒṭirtu) , with a slightly different presentation. We also find single women in certain houses’ lists: for example in Cyrus 135 we find an inventory of 25 sheep, the ownership of the temple of Šamaš, divided into deposits (piqid) placed with private individuals, probably dependants of the Ebabbar. Among them are two women:  fBūsasa and fAkiltu. The situation is the same under Darius I: see for example, Dar. 180 which mentions “fHi[…]ia” as having one sheep in the house. As for text CT 57 26, undatable, it mentions a woman (fNere’immi) who gives the rent for a house she seems to occupy alone, in a village near Sippar. At Uruk, the document OIP 122 n.169 dresses a list of houses allocated by the temple to oblate families comprising a husband, a wife, sons and daughters.

In conclusion…

The female personnel of a temple such as the Eanna of Uruk, the best documented for the neo-Babylonian period from this point of view, only included very few individuals exercising religious functions. Women, mostly, were made part of the workforce often by being integrated in stable families: either as dependants (wives or daughters of farmers-errešu, to use the distinction drawn by M. Jursa), or as oblates-širkātu, married (wives or daughters, then, of farmers-ikkaru); when they remained unmarried, they were called zakîtu, and their male offspring were defined as “sons of zakîtu”. The social status of oblates, following the distinction drawn by R. Magdalene and C. Wunsch, were that of the legally free or freed individuals, but were not emancipated from the potestas that the temple exercised over them as a family chief would over the members of his household.

A certain number of these women were aged, and because of this, were all the more easily transferable from the private sector to the institutional sector. Their presence in the temple responded then to the needs for a workforce as much as for a social help function.

All of the temple’s dependants, whatever the degree of dependency, were integrated within the production cycle which, for women, seems to have concerned two sectors: milling, through the bīt qēmêti, and textile production, through a system analogous to the neo-Assyrian iškaru, in which order-givers provided the raw material (wool and flax) and distributed these in houses inhabited by dependants and oblates, and it was for them to provide fabric in return.

The constant search by the sanctuary for the optimisation of its personnel and production costs, lead administrators to provide their oblates with a minimum of maintenance rations for a maximum of required work, which explains cases where oblates or their children attempted to return to the private sector. But we must not hide nor downplay the role of “retirement home” that the temple played, which is part of a tradition of charitable care undertaken by religious institutions, itself ancient in Mesopotamia. The question remains: to what extent did this care also comprise a very restraining side, leading to confinement and to putting to forced labour impoverished and marginalised populations.




Arnaud D.

1973            “Un document juridique concernant les oblats”, RA 67, 1973, p. 147-156.

Beaulieu P.-A.,

1989            The Reign of Nabonidus, King of Babylon (556-539 B.C.) (Yale Near Eastern Researches 10) New Haven, Yale University Press, 1989

1998            “Ba’u-asītu et Kaššaya, Daughters of Nebuchadnezzar II”, Or. NS 64, 1998, p. 173-201

Bongenaar, A. C. V. M.

1997            The Neo-Babylonian Ebabbar Temple at Sippar: Its Administration and its Prosopography, Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut te Istanbul, 1997 (= Uitgavan van het Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut te Istanbul, PIHANS 80), Leiden, 1997.

Cağırgan G./Lambert W. G.

1991            “The Late Babylonian kislîmu Ritual for Esagil”, JCS 43-45 (1991)-1993, p. 89-106

Czechowicz N.,

2001            “Zwei Frauengeschichten aus den späten Jahren von Nebukadnezar II. Probleme der Interpretation”, in Sex and Gender in the Ancient Near East, Helsinki: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 2001, p. 113-116.

Dandamaev, M. A.

1984            Slavery in Babylonia from Nabopolassar to Alexander the Great (626-331 B.C.), 1984, DeKalb, Illinois

De Jong Ellis, M.

1984            “Neo-babylonian Texts in the Yale Babylonian Collection”, JCS 36, 1984, p. 1-63

van Driel, G.

1998            “Care of the Elderly: The Neo-Babylonian Period”, in The Care of the Elderly in the Ancient Near East, edited by Marten Stol and Sven P. Vleeming, Studies in the History and Culture of the Ancient Near East 14 (Leiden–Boston–Köln: Brill), 1998, p. 161–197

Frame, G.

1991            “Nabonidus, Nabu-šarra-uṣur, and the Eanna temple”, ZA 81, 1991, p. 37-86

Jankovic, B.

2007          “Von Gugallus, Überschwemmungen und Kronland”, WZKM 97, 2007, (Festschrift Hunger), p. 219-242

Joannès, F.

1997            “La mention des enfants dans les textes néo-babyloniens”, Ktéma 22, 1997, p. 119-133

2008            “Place et rôle des femmes dans le personnel des grands organismes néo-babyloniens”, Persika 12, p. 465-480.

Jursa, M.

1997           “Neu- und spätbabylonische Texte aus den Sammlungen der Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery”,  Iraq 59, 1997, p. 97-174.

1999            Das Archiv des Bēl-rêmanni. Istanbul, Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut Leiden, Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten, 1999.

2006           Neo-Babylonian Legal and Administrative Documents: Typology, Content and Archives, Münster, 2006

2010            Aspects of the Economic History of Babylonia in the First Millennium BC, AOAT 377, Münster, 2010

Kleber K.

2008            Tempel und Palast. Die Beziehungen zwischen dem König und dem Eanna-Tempel im spätbabylonischen Uruk (= Veröffentlichungenzur Wirtschaftsgeschichte im 1. Jahrtausend v.Chr., Band 3) AOAT 358. Münster, 2008.

2011            “Neither Slaves nor thruly free: the Status of the Dependants of Babylonian Temple Households”, in L. Culbertson (éd.), Slaves and Households in the Near East, Papers from the Oriental Institute Seminar, University of Chicago 5-6 March 2010, The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Oriental Institute Seminars 7, Chicago, p. 101-112.

MacEwan, G. J. P.

1981         “Arsacid Temple Records,” Iraq 43, 1981, p.131-143

MacGinnis, J. D.

1993            “The Manumission of a Royal Slave,” ASJ 15, 1993, p. 99-106

1998            “BM 61152: iškāru and širkūtu in Times of Hardship”, Archiv Orientální 6, 1998,  p. 325–330

2002            “The Use of Writing Boards in the Neo-Babylonian Temple”, Iraq 64, 2002, p. 217–236

Magdalene, R. et Wunsch, C.

in press       (pre-print version) «Freedom and Dependency: Neo-Babylonian Manumission Documents with Oblation and Service Obligations», in W. Henkelman, Ch. Jones, M. Kozuh, & Chr. Woods (eds.), Extraction and Control: Studies in Honor of Matthew W. Stolper (Chicago: Oriental Institute Press)

Payne, E.

2008              The Craftsmen of the Neo-Babylonian Period: A Study of the Textile and Metal Workers of the Eanna Temple, Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University (2007)

Ragen, A.

2006            “The Neo-Babylonian širku: A Social History”, Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University (2006)

Roth, M.

1989            “A Case of contested Status”, Mél. Sjöberg, 1989, p. 481-489

San Nicolò, M.

1941             Beiträge zu einer Prosopographie neubabylonischer Beamten der Zivil- und Tempelverwaltung. SBAW 2, 1941, München

Scheil, V.

1915           “La libération judiciaire d’un fils donné en gage sous Neriglissar en 558 av. J.-C.”, RA 12, 1915, p. 113

von Soden, W.

1968           “Aramäische Worter…. Ein Vorbericht. II (n – z und Nachtrage)”, Or. NS 37, 196, p. 261-271

Waerzeggers, C.

2008          “On the initiation of Babylonian Priests”, ZAR 14, 2008, p. 1-38 (with a contribution by M. Jursa)

Weisberg, D. B.

1971             “Royal Women of the Neo-Babylonian Period”, CRRAI 19, 1971, p. 447sq.

2000            “Pirqūti or Širkūti? Was Ištar-ab-uṣur’s Freedom affirmed or was he re-enslaved? ”, in S. Graziani (éd.), Studi sul Vicino Oriente antico dedicati alla memoria di Luigi Cagni, volume 2. Instituto Universitario Orientale, Dipartimento di Studi Asiatici, Series Minor 61. Naples, p. 1163-1177.

2004            Neo-Babylonian Texts in the Oriental Institute Collection, University of Chicago, Oriental Institute Publications 122, Chicago, 2004

Wunsch, C.

2003           Urkunden zum Ehevermögen und Erbrecht aus verschieden Neubabylonischen Archiven. Dresden

[1] Herodotus however stated in a very clear manner that a pristess would join the god Bēl in the upper chamber of Babylon’s ziggurat, during the Achaemenid period.

[2] Proposed by San Nicolò 1941:69, Beaulieu 1989:122 and Frame 1991:57

[3] This is the position of Kleber 2008 p. 280. This decision by Nabonidus forms part of the reforms he imposed at the very beginning of his reign, during his stay in Larsa.

[4] Scheil 1915. Probably of Aramean origin: see von Soden 1968, p. 271. See, for the parthian period in Babylon, the mention of MacEwan 1981, p. 142 AB 248:14-15 « 10 gín ana túg lu-bu-uš-tu4  gí-gí-i-tu4  mí nar-tu4 šá mu 218-kam na-din » « 10 shekels for the clothing of Gigitu, the songstress for year 218 was expended » (trad. G. J. P. MacEwan).

[5] Jursa 2006, p. 14-15; Kleber 2011, p. 101-111; Magdalene-Wunsch in press; Ragen 2006.

[6] “For our subject, it is of some significance that the temple could function as a kind of repository, or rather dump, for people, i.e. slaves, no longer required by their owners. (…) In practice this means that the slaves are transferred to the temple when they are old and worn. Also for declassed free persons the temple could be a last resort. (…) I retain, however, my doubts, as the temple will have required a quid pro quo, cf. section V 1. Within limits, the temple’s social role must however, be accepted.”

[7] Text OIP 122 38 was especially debated from this point of view: see Roth 1989, Weisberg 2000.

[8] YOS XXI 69:6 mí in-[n]a-a. The name is read in-[b]a-a by E. Frahm and M. Jursa (YOS XXI, p. 64).

[9] OIP 122 n.38 mentions Ištar-ab-uṣur, the lú za-ku-ú of Ištar in Uruk (see Roth 1989). Applied to a man, the term is in fact often disconnected from the dedication to a temple and simply signifies that a slave was freed.

[10] The semantic range of zukkû is presented in Magdalene & Wunsch in press: “Cf. CAD Z s.v. zakû 5. zukkû a 1′ “to free, release.” The verb can of course also refer to a release from obligations (tax or corvée) owed by individuals or communities to the sovereign or to his officials in the context of land grants. Michael Jursa [= Jursa 2006], p. 15, therefore, translates zakû as “free of claims (or the like).” In the case of ASJ 15, pp. 105–06 (BM 64650, edition in MacGinnis 1993; see now also Jursa 2006 pp. 14–15), a slave is released and emancipated, rather than dedicated. He is, nevertheless, referred to as a zakû. The same holds true for a slave woman in BM 38948 (to be published in Wunsch and Magdalene, in press): a-na DUMU.DÙ-nu-tum ú-zak-ki fPN DUMU.SAL ba-ni-i ši-i “he ‘cleansed’ (her) for free status; fPN is a mārat banî (i.e., of free status)”; and OIP 122 [= Weisberg 2004]  37: PN IM.DUB LÚ.DUMU.DÙ-ú-tu ša (slaves) … ik-nu-uk; (slaves) za-ku-ú “PN has issued a ṭuppi mār banûti to (the slaves); … (the slaves) are ‘cleansed ones’ ” (ll. 2–4; 8–9)”.

[11] van Driel 1998.

[12] See texts for reference: AnOr 8 21, Jursa 1997 n.16, PTS 2833, TCL 9 121, TEBR 56, YOS 7 107. We find on several occasions a certain Burāšu mentioned, with the function of team leader. See also Jankovic 2007, p. 223 footnotes 9-10

[13] Jursa 1999, p. 152.

[14] We also note that here we are most probably dealing with hypotheses, and they are for the moment not yet confirmed by the existing textual corpus.

[15] A text from Sippar, mentions however a bīt meḫṣi (CT 55, 222 = BM 92720 = 82-7-14,125): see CAD M2 62b.

[16] On iškaru contrats see Bongenaar 1997, p. 360-361. We could put this system in parallel with the treatment of textile in 19th century France in the North and in Normandy.

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

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

Bertrand Lafont (CNRS, Nanterre)

By way of introduction two preliminary remarks:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Professional occupations qualifying women in Garšana texts

Real occupations recorded for these women in administrative Garšana texts

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

[7] Gudea, Satue B

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

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

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

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

[9] CLE, §18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Assante, J. 1998     “The kar.kid / harimtu, Prostitute or Single Woman? A Reconsideration of the Evidence.” Ugarit Forschungen 30, 5-96.

Cooper, Jerrold 2006     “Prostitution”, Reallexikon der Assyriologie 11. Berlin, New York : W. de Gruyter, pp. 12-21.

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

Gelb, Ignace J. 1972     “The a-ru-a Institution.” Revue d’Assyriologie 66, pp. 1-32. 1979     “Household and Family in Early Mesopotamia”. In E. Lipinski, ed., State and Temple Economy in the Ancient Near East. Proceedings of the International Conference organized by the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven from the 10th to the 14th of April 1978. Leuven, pp. 1-98.

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

Lafont, Bertrand 2001     “Fortunes, héritages et patrimoines dans la haute histoire mésopotamienne. À propos de quelques inventaires de biens mobiliers”. In C. Breniquet and C. Kepinski, eds., Etudes mésopotamiennes. Recueil de textes offert à Jean-Louis Huot. Bibliothèque de la délégation archéologique française en Iraq, 10. Paris: Editions recherches sur les civilisations, pp. 295-314.

Lion, Brigitte 2007    “La notion de genre en assyriologie”. In V. Sebillotte et N. Ernoult, Problèmes du genre en Grèce ancienne, Paris, pp. 51-64.

Maekawa, Kazuya 1996     “Confiscation of Private Properties in the Ur III Period: A Study of é-dul-la and níg-GA.” ASJ 18, 103-168.

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

Owen, David I. 1980a     “A Sumerian Letter from an Angry Housewife”. In G. Rendsbury and e. alii, eds., The Bible World. Essays in Honor of Cyrus H. Gordon. New York: KTAV, pp. 189-202. 1980b     “Widow’s Rights in Ur III Sumer.” Zeitschrift Für Assyriologie 70, 170-184. s.p.         Unprovenanced Texts Primarily from Iri-Sagrig/Al-Šarraki and the History of the Ur III Period (Nisaba 15)

Owen, David I., et Rudolf H. Mayr 2007     The Garšana Archives. Cornell University Studies in Assyriology and Sumerology (CUSAS) 3. Bethesda, MD: CDL Press.

Parr, P. A. 1974     “Ninhilia: Wife of Ayakala, Governor of Umma”. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 26, 90-111.

Steinkeller, Piotr 1989     Sale Documents of the Ur III Period. FAOS, 17. Stuttgart

Van De Mieroop, Marc 1989     “Women in the Economy of Sumer”. In B. S. Lesko, ed., Women’s Earliest Records from Ancient Egypt and Western Asia. Atlanta, pp. 53-66. 1999     Cuneiform Texts and the Writing of History. London, New York : Routledge

Weiershäuser, Frauke 2008     Die königlichen Frauen der III. Dynastie von Ur. Göttinger Beiträge zum Alten Orient, 1. Göttingen: Universitätsverlag Göttingen.

Westbrook, Raymond, ed. 2003a     A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law (2 vol.). Handbuch der Orientalistik, 72. Leiden, Boston: Brill. 2003b     Women and Property in Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean Societies. Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University.

Wilcke, Claus 1998     “Care of the Elderly in Mesopotamia in the Third Millennium B.C.”. In M. Stol and S. P. Vleeming, eds., The Care of the Elderly in the Ancient Near East. Leiden: Brill, pp. 23-57.

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

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.

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


Adamthwaite, M. (2001). Late Hittite Emar: The Chronology, Sychronisms, and Socio-Political Aspects of a Late Bronze Age Fortress Town. ANESS 8, Louvain.

Arnaud, D. (1985/1987). Recherches au pays d’Aštata: Emar VI. Synthèse 18, Paris.

Aynard, M.-J./J.-M. Durand (1980). Documents d’époque médio-asyrienne. Assur 3: 1-54.

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.

Démare-Lafont, S. (2010). Éléments pour une diplomatique juridique des textes d’Émar. In S. Démare-Lafont/A. Lemaire (eds.), Trois millénaires de formulaires juridiques. HEO 48, Genève: 43-84.

Di Filippo, F. (2004). Notes on the Chronology of Emar Legal Tablets. SMEA 46: 175-214.

— (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.

Liverani, M. (2004). Oltre la Bibbia. Storia antica di Israele. Bari.

Oppenheim, A.L. (1955). “Siege-Documents” from Nippur. Iraq 17: 69-89.

Tropper, J./J.P. Vita (2004). Texte aus Emar. TUAT NF 1: 146-62.

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.

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.