Archives par mot-clé : wife

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

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

Cécile Michel*

Abstract

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

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

 *

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

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

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

1. Women’s property

1.1. Inventory of a woman’s house

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

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

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

1.2. Women in last wills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.3. Last wills of women

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

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

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

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

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

 2. Head of the household in Aššur

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

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

 2.1. Food provisioning

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

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

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

2.2. Textile production

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

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

2.3. Managing the domestic staff

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

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

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

2.4. Maintenance of the house building

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Women as debtors and creditors

3.1. Women as debtors

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

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

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

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

3.2. Women as creditors

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

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

3.3. Women as guarantors

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

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

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

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

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

4.1. Paying the debt of her brother

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

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

4.2. Accounting between family members involving women

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

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

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

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

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

4.3. Separate accounts for spouses

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

Bibliography

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

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  • Thomason, A. K.
    2013     Her Share of the Profits: Women, Agency, and Textile Production at Kültepe/Kanesh in the Early Second Millennium BC, in M.-L. Nosch, H. Koefoed & E. Andersson Strand (eds.), Textile Production and Consumption in the Ancient Near East. Archaeology, Epigraphy, Iconography. Ancient Textiles Series 12, Oxford – Oakville, p. 93-112.
  • Veenhof, K. R.
    1972     Aspects of the Old Assyrian Trade and its Terminology, Studia et Documenta ad Iura Orientis Antiqui Pertinentia 10, Leiden (chapter devoted to textile production).
    2003     Three Unusual Old Assyrian Contracts, in G. J. Selz (ed.), Festschrift für Burkhart Kienast zu seinem 70. Geburtstage dargebracht von Freuden, Schülern und Kollegen, AOAT 274, Münster, p. 693-705
    2008     The death and Burial of Ishtar-Lamassi in karum Kanish. In R. J. van der Spek (ed.), Studies in Ancient Near Eastern World View and Society Presented to Marten Stol on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday, 10 November 2005, and his retirement from the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, p. 97-119.
    2011     Houses in the Ancient City of Assur. In B. S. Düring, A. Wossink & P. M. M. G. Akkermans (eds.), Correlates of Complexity. Essays in Archaeology and Assyriology dedicated to Diederik J. W. Meijer in Honour of his 65th Birthday, PIHANS CXVI, Leiden, p. 211-231.
    2012     Last wills and inheritance of Old Assyrian Traders with Four Records from the Archive of Elamma, in K. Abraham & J. Fleishman (eds), Looking at the Ancient Near East and the Bible through the Same Eyes. A Tribute to Aaron Skaist. Bethesda, p. 169-201.
    In press             Families of Assyrian Traders. In L. Marti (ed.), La famille dans le Proche-Orient ancien : réalités, symbolismes et images, Actes de la 55ème Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Paris 6-9 juillet 2009, Paris, in press.
  • Von Soden, W.
    1976     Ein altassyrisches Testament, WO 8, p. 211-217.
  • Wilcke, C.
    1976     Assyrische Testamente, ZA 66, p. 196-233.

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

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

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

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

[4] Michel 2009b.

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

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

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

[8] Veenhof 2008, Veenhof 2012

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

[10] Michel 2009b.

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

[12] Larsen 2007, Veenhof in press.

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

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

[15] Veenhof 1972.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[23] About individual property, see Larsen 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real Estate Dowries and Counter-Dowries in the Kingdom of Arrapḫe

Real Estate Dowries and Counter-Dowries
in the Kingdom of Arrapḫe

 J.J. Justel / B. Lion

 

Only a few texts from the Kingdom of Arrapḫe refer to dowries, for which the technical legal term seems to have been mulūgu (or mulūgūtu). According to some of these references, the bride could receive real property from her father or legal guardian. In return, she gave a gift (Sumerian NÍG.BA/Akkadian qīštu), labeled by modern historiography as “counter dowry,” consisting of textiles, livestock, and sometimes silver.

The present paper is an attempt to reconsider these legal phenomena. We will examine the status, function and nature of the real estate granted to the bride, as well as the nature of the goods a girl was able to provide her father or guardian before her wedding.

0. Introduction

Written sources from the Kingdom of Arraphe – also known commonly as “Nuzi texts” – date back to the Late Bronze Age, more precisely to the 14th century BC. Nuzi was a town of the Kingdom of Arrapḫe, a political entity submitted to the Mittani Empire. Some 5,000 tablets were found in Nuzi and almost 200 in the near town of Āl-ilāni/Arrapḫe (modern Kirkūk), homonym capital of the Kingdom. Some of these texts contain transfers of property on the occasion of marriages. This phenomenon presents the following main mechanisms:

  • Usually, the groom or his father gives a “bridewealth” to the bride’s father which is called terḫatu, just as in the Old Babylonian period.
  • The father of the bride, or her legal guardian (for example her brother), gives her a dowry, called in Nuzi mulūgu or mulūgūtu. Few texts mention dowries, and it has been suggested for a long time that most dowries consisted of movable property – such as clothes, livestock, domestic items – and were thus not recorded on tablets. On the contrary, when a tablet was written down, the dowries were supposed to be more substantial and actually some of them were  real property.
  • In some cases, when the bride receives real property within her dowry, she gives in return to her father (or her guardian) several goods which are known as NÍG.BA (Akkadian qīštu), “gift, present.” Historians have labeled this unfrequent phenomenon “counter-dowry.”

Texts mentioning real estate-dowries and counter-dowries are the subject of this paper.[1] We will examine, on one hand, the status and the function of real property granted to the bride and, on the other hand, the nature of the goods a woman was able to provide her father (or guardian) before her wedding.

1. The real estate given as dowry

1.1. Corpus

In her important study “Dowry and Brideprice in Nuzi,” G. Dosch provides a list of texts mentioning real estate given away as dowry, which is now to be completed (see table below).[2] Some other dowries, consisting of movable property (HSS 5 80 and HSS 13 93 = HSS 14 2[3]), are not taken into account.

Text

Dowry

Given by

Given to

Dowry items

ilku

Legal status of the dowry in next generations

HSS 5 76 ana mulūgi father daughter field ø HSS 5 11: given to the granddaughter, then to her children
HSS 19 71 ø father+ brother daughter / sister house brother ø
HSS 19 76 ø father daughter field ø ø
HSS 19 79 ana mulūgū[ti] father son-in-law house father given to children
HSS 19 108 + EN 9/1 139 kīma mulūgišu brother sister housesilver ø ø
Gadd 31 ana mulūgūti adoptive brother adopted sister unbuilt plot in Arrapḫe adoptive brother ø
SCCNH 7 6 [ana mul]ūgūti adoptive brother adopted sister house(s) adoptive brother ø

In five of these texts the word mulūgu ou mulūgūtu is used; in the other two real estate deliveries it is transferred to a girl, receiving no precise designation. In HSS 19 71 a brother gives her sister fArim-turi a house which has been previously appointed for her by their father. In HSS 19 76 a man transfers his daughter fAššuanašši “in status of wife” (ana aššūti) to another woman, who would be in charge of organizing the marriage between her brother and that girl, “with her tablet and with the field mentioned in the tablet”[4] – the field probably representing her dowry.

1.2. Giver and recipient

The dowry was usually given away by the father of the bride (HSS 5 76, HSS 19 76 and HSS 19 79) or alternatively by her brother (HSS 19 71 and HSS 19 108 + EN 9/1 139), probably because the father was dead. In Gadd 31 and SCCNH 7 6 the woman seems to have neither father nor brother, and is adopted as sister (ana ahātūti) by a man who provides for her a dowry;[5] the woman apparently acts on her own behalf and might even have already been married – she might be a widow or a divorced woman. The woman is the recipient of the dowry of every case except HSS 19 79: the tablet states that the father “has given these houses as a dowry to his daughter fAštaya to Akap-šenni,” this latter being his son-in-law.

1.3. Interpretations

According to J. Fincke, the two tablets of sistership adoption Gadd 31 and SCCNH 7 6 should rather be considered as sale-adoptions, “by which a legal title to real estate is transfered to the adopted woman in return for movable property.”[6] She refers to Speiser,[7] who was the first suggesting this idea concerning HSS 5 76, pointing that “the transaction resembles, then, a sale-adoption, except that instead calling the purchased land zittu, it is termed in this case mulūgu (…), the mulūgu being just as much a ficitious dowry as the zittu was an unreal inhertance protion.”[8] Gordon also favored this idea in his discussion on both tablets Gadd 31 and HSS 5 76.[9] So this hypothesis could be extended to every case in which a woman, receiving real estate as mulūgu (or mulūgūtu) from her father, brother or adoptive brother, gives in exchange a NÍG.BA (Akkadian qīštu) – this word beeing also used in the so-called sale adoptions; this is the case in HSS 5 76, HSS 19 71, Gadd 31 and SCCNH 7 6 (see below § 3). In fact in these four tablets, except from the presence of the term mulūgu/mulūgūtu, there is no reference to the marriage of the woman, the only purpose of the tablet being the record of the transfers of items.

The main problem arises when at least two texts recording transfers of real estate to women (HSS 19 76 and HSS 19 108 + EN 9/1 139) do not mention a NÍG.BA/qīštu. In HSS 19 76 a field (not designated as mulūgu) is transferred to the girl who is about to be married; in HSS 19 108 + EN 9/1 139 the mulūgu is mentioned in the context of a marriage. Should one distinguish between the “real” mulūgu transferred on the occasion of marriages, and the transfers of lands labeled as mulūgu, just like we have to distinguish between “real” adoptions and sale-adoptions?

Another problem is that one might wonder why a father would transfer movable property to his own daughter (HSS 5 76), or a brother to his sister (HSS 19 71), by a kind of “sale-adoption.” Sale-adoptions are numerous, but are neither concluded between father and son, nor between brothers. And in Gadd 31 and SCCNH 7 6, it is not clear why a man had to adopt a woman as his sister in order to transfer real estate to her: he could as well adopt her as his “child/son,” a mechanism well attested in Nuzi tablets.[10]

For these reasons, whatever the precise nature and function of the transaction might be, we prefer to focus on the content of these real estate transactions – i.e. land or houses received by women – and on the goods given away by these women.

2. The content of dowries: fields and houses

In HSS 5 76 and HSS 19 76 the daughter receives fields. HSS 19 76 provides no indication about the location of the field. However in HSS 5 76 the field is said to be located in the district (Akkadian dimtu) of Ar-Teššub; since it does bear the name of the girl’s paternal grandfather, it would be a family property. The subsequent fate of the field is known through another tablet, HSS 5 11,[11] by which fArim-turi gives her granddaughter fEluanza (her daughter’s daughter) to another woman, fMatkašar, her daughter-in-law; fMatkašar will provide for the marriage of fEluanza. fArim-turi gives also a field of one imēru, which she received from her own father as a dowry (ana mulūgi), to fMatkašar; and fMatkašar will bequeath this plot to fEluanza’s and her future husband’s children, it is explicitly forbidden to transfer it to a stranger. Therefore fArim-turi makes sure that the field stays within the family, since it would ultimately be inherited by her great-grandchildren. We are able to follow the story of this field, which has been mainly transmitted by the female line of the family, over six generations.

In other cases, the dowry is made up of houses (HSS 19, 71 79, HSS 19 108 + EN 9/1 139 and SCCNH 7 6) or even of an unbuilt plot in the town of Arrapḫe (Gadd 31). In HSS 19 108 + EN 9/1 139 the husband, Ar-Teya, gives house(s) as terḫatu to his brother-in-law Wunnukiya (a mechanism  quite unusual), and this latter gives his sister house(s) and silver as mulūgu. One could maybe formulate the hypothesis of an exchange of houses between both families; another possibility is to suppose that one and the same house has been given as terhatu and subsequently attributed to the bride, just as in the case of indirect dowries – f.ex. in HSS 5 80 some movable property, given as terhatu, is also given as mulūgu to the bride. In HSS 19 79 the expected fate of the house given away as dowry is established: it would belong to the children born by the couple.

When houses can be located, it is noteworthy that they are found in the immediate vicinity either of the father’s house (HSS 19 79) or of the brother’s house – which was most probably earlier the father’s (HSS 19 71). The unbuilt plot transferred in Gadd 31 is found next to the house of Šalap-urhe, the adoptive brother, who seems to give part of his estate; another neighbour is Šekaya, who is mentioned earlier in the tablet, in a broken context: he might be either the woman’s father[12] or that of her adoptive brother.

Text

Recipient of the dowry

Estate

Neighbour

Surface

HSS 19 71 fUriaše, sister of Innatu house Innatu 40 m2
HSS 19 79 Akap-šenni, husband of fAštaya,daughter of Paikku house Paikku 53,125 m2
Gadd 31 fḪalaše, [daughter of (?)] Šekaya unbuilt plot Šekaya
Šalap-urḫe (adoptive brother)
max. 126 m2

These houses are not big and rather remind us of a few rooms than of an entire house, especially when compared to surfaces known from other Nuzi texts and also to the surfaces of the buildings excavated in Nuzi. The daughter would thus seem to receive as a dowry a part of her father’s house.

Textual data: surfaces of the houses[13]

Text

Surface in m2

Remarks

HSS 9 110 6,25 Room in a house, in Nuzi, in the fields
Gadd 5 8,75 Room in a house
JEN 239: 11-15 27 Part of a house
EN 9/1 126 31,50 or 36 House not yet built
Genava 15 32 In the town of Arrapḫe
JEN 737 38,25? In the town of [Nuz]i?
HSS 19 71 40 In a town
EN 9/2 10 40,50 In the citadel (kirḫu) of Nuzi
HSS 13 161 53,125 In the town of Arrapḫe. Part of a house
HSS 19 79 53,125 In a town
AASOR 16 58 56,25 In the citadel (kirḫu) of Nuzi
JEN 239: 5-8 75 House
IM 10856 82,5 In the town of Arrapḫe
HSS 9 115 93,75 In Nuzi
JEN 246 176 In Turša
JEN 588 450 In the town of Nuzi

Comparison with the archaeological data: surface of houses excavated in Nuzi, Level II[14]

House

(= “Group”)

Total surface at the ground level in square meters

Living space at the ground level in square meters

HSS 19 71: 40
HSS 19 79: 53,125 HSS 19 71: 40
20 95,14 49,9
HSS 19 79: 53,125
32 96 69,68
12 101,80 43,98
5 127,84 76,77
8 146,88 71,11
10 155,44 89,22
6 169 86,38
2 190,40 104,16
9 193,68 122,36
3 238 ?
19 300,60 194,01

There is no mention of an ilku duty on the fields. When the ilku is mentioned on the houses (or the unbuilt plot in Gadd 31), it is always the responsibility of the person giving away the dowry, be it her father or her adoptive brother. The exact nature of the ilku duty is still subject of debate,[15] and it raises the problem of the type of ownership held by the woman on this property. Adoptions involving the transfer of land plots would rather refer to transfers of the title of ownership, whereas the possession of the land would stay with the adopter – thus explaining why he would keep paying the ilku duty.[16] If this hypothesis applied also here, women would have a title of ownership on the land or house, whereas the possession of the property would stay with her father or adoptive brother; this would be coherent with J. Fincke’s interpretation of Gadd 31 and SCCNH 7 6 as “sale-adoptions.” But on the other hand, at least in HSS 19 71 and HSS 19 79, if the women only held a title of ownership on the house, what kind of practical benefit would they receive, beside the guarantee that their children would have rights on the house? In HSS 19 79 the house is clearly transferred on the occasion of the marriage, and this raises the question of the residence of the new couple. If the married woman and her husband do not dwell it, we would hardly understand the benefit, for them, to have rights on a few rooms of the father’s house at the precise moment when the bride leaves her family. However if the bride, or the couple, lives in the house, that would mean thas they do not only have a title of ownership, which contradicts the first hypothesis.

3. The counter-dowry

3.1. General remarks

In some of these texts the woman who receives the dowry (in one case her husband) gives some movable property in return to her father or legal guardian. This is not the case in HSS 19 76 nor in HSS 19 108+, which will not be dealt with here.

Text

Counter dowry

Given by

Given to

Livestock

Textiles, shoes

Metals

HSS 19 79 NÍG.BA son-in-law father 1 good male donkey, 4 years old 1 hullanu-garment ofordinary quality 10 mines of tin
HSS 5 76 NÍG.BA daughter father 1 sheep, 1 pig with its 10 piglets 1 pair of shoes,1 textile
HSS 19 71 NÍG.BA sister brother 20 sh. of silver hašahušennu
Gadd 31 NÍG.BA adopted sister adoptive brother [1] new, good šilannu-textile1 new, good hullanu-garment.Value: 15 sh. of silver
SCCNH 7 6 adopted sister adoptive brother 24 sh. of silver

In HSS 19 79 the counter-dowry is said to be paid by the husband, who receives the dowry; thus it does not constitute evidence of the possessions of the bride.[17] But in the remaining four documents the counter-dowry is given by the woman herself. Whatever the precise function of that counter-dowry may be, we would just focus here on its contents, since these texts mention the properties women owned;[18] and at least in HSS 5 76 and HSS 19 71 the girls still dwell the house of their father or brother, before getting married. These counter-dowries are made up of movable properties which can be classified in the different rubrics: livestock, textiles, and metals.

3.2. Livestock

Animals appear only in HSS 5 76; it happens to be a sheep, thus small livestock, as well as a pig or more probably a sow, since it is accompanied by ten piglets. Pig rearing is mainly a domestic activity, often entrusted to women. It would thus not be much of a surprise to find a girl owning a sow and her piglets.[19]

3.3. Textiles and shoes

Textiles of different kind appear in two cases. We are still lacking a study of textiles in Nuzi, but some general remarks are in order. Textile workers seem to be men, be it the craftsmen mentioned in the palace texts[20] or those working for private individuals who gave them wool to manufacture textiles (f.ex. HSS 5 95).

It is nonetheless very likely that domestic textile production mainly corresponded to women. Excavations in Nuzi have unearthed hundreds of spindlewhorls as well as loomweights;[21] it is sometimes difficult to attribute them to a specific archaeological level – f.ex. Stratum II (contemporary with the tablets), or the older Stratum III, or more recent levels. Among these objects, the rare examples that were published came from private houses.[22] In the house called Group 24 (Stratum II) two clay loomstands were recovered in room F 24, and another one in room F 14 which, according to Starr, was “the center of considerable domestic activity.”[23]

Some long inventories found in the Nuzi palace show that this building housed a great quantities of textiles. In some contracts concluded between private individuals we can also identify the circulation of textiles, often in small quantities and associated to other goods (wool, livestock, metals): they can thus be among the goods given to somebody as tidennūtu, a loan pledged by a field (HSS 5 87, HSS 9 98, HSS 9 115…) or a person (EN 9/3 51, HSS 5 82…). They can also be part of an inheritance, mainly for girls (EN 9/3 517). But in all these examples textiles are given by men: should one suppose that they disposed of the textile production of their daughters and wives? If this is the case, did the women get something for their work?

All this remaining at a general level, we can hypothesize that besides an institutional or professional textile production, a domestic sector also produced surpluses which could be exchanged between private individuals. For example for HSS 19 79 we might wonder where the husband got the textile he was giving to his father-in-law: it would have been woven by his wife, whose dowry he is managing.

This production might, in the case of counter-dowries, be considered as belonging to women, even to girls before their marriage. If most of the dowries were made up of movable property, we could think that they included the woman’s clothes, produced by herself while she lived at her father’s house.[24]

As to the shoes (HSS 5 76), we know nothing of their production and they might have been manufactured in a domestic context as well.

3.4. Metals

In HSS 19 71 fUriaše gives ḫašaḫušennu silver to her brother; G. Müller has suggested that the meaning of this term might be “in any kind of form.”[25] It is thus not certain that silver actually circulated: the value intended could be obtained by accumulating a variety of goods. The situation would be the same as in Gadd 31 where fHalaše gives away two textiles, the price of which is expressed in silver.

In SCCNH 7 6, the woman gives 24 shekels of silver (= ca. 192 g), which is the higher amount mentioned within this corpus. If she really gives away metal, we do not know how she was able to get such a sum. Was she able to benefit actually from textiles produced by herself (see above § 3.3)? She does not receive her dowry from her father, but from a man who adopted her as sister; thus she might have already left her father’s house and we do not know if she had already been married before, nor if she had some kind of economic autonomy.

The amounts given as counter-dowries, when expressed in silver, are quite high: 15, 20, and 24 shekels of silver. As a comparison, the amount of a terḫatu in Nuzi raises usually to 40 shekels of silver,[26] though other quantities are also attested: 10 shekels (JEN 434), 15 (HSS 19 144), 30 (JEN 186, RA 23 12), 35 (HSS 19 99), 45 (HSS 19 84), etc.

4. Conclusions

This article is a first attempt to deal with a subject rarely investigated, despite the number of studies devoted to the status of women, namely the involvement of women in economic life as well as the properties, movable or immovable, that they might possess. In our opinion, it might be further investigated following two research approaches:

  • On one hand, by focusing on the real estate properties of women: they can be adopted as sons by their own father and thus inherit land,[27] but also be adopted by other men who transfer a plot of land to them (the question remains open if Gadd 31 and SCCNH 7 6 belong to this category), or loan barley or other commodities and take a plot of land as pledge.
  • On the other hand, one should have a closer look at the movable properties women can inherit according to their father’s wills, as well as at those they can give away in adoption contracts, or even lend as a part of a loan arrangement[28].

 

Bibliography

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Ben-Barak Z., 1988, “The Legal Status of the Daughter as Heir in Nuzi and Emar,” in M. Heltzer and E. Lipinski (eds.), Society and Economy in the Eastern Mediterranean (c. 1500-1000 BC), OLA 23, Leuven, p. 87-97.

—     2006, Inheritance by Daughters in Israel and the Ancient near East. A Social, Legal and Ideological Revolution, Tel Aviv.

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—     1999, “Nuzi Note 57. HSS 19, 108 Joined to EN 9/1, 139,” in D. I. Owen and G. Wilhelm (eds.), Nuzi at Seventy-Five, SCCNH 10, p. 428-429.

—     2010, “Zum Verkauf von Grundbesitz in Nuzi,” in J. Fincke (ed.), Festschrift für G. Wilhelm, Dresden, p. 125-141.

—     2012, “Adoption of Women at Nuzi,” in P. Abrahami and B. Lion (eds.), The Nuzi Workshop at the 55th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, SCCNH 19, Bethesda, p. 119-140.

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Grosz K., 1981, “Dowry and Brideprice at Nuzi,” in M. A. Morrison and D. I. Owen (eds.), Studies on the Civilization and Culture of Nuzi and the Hurrians in Honor of Ernest R. Lacheman, Winona Lake, p. 161-182.

—     1983, “Bridewealth and Dowry in Nuzi,” in A. Cameron and A. Kuhrt (eds.), Images of Women in Antiquity, London and Canberra, p. 193-206.

—     1987, “Daughters adopted as sons at Nuzi and Emar,” in J.-M. Durand (ed.), La femme dans le Proche-Orient antique, Actes de la XXXIII° R.A.I. (Paris, 1986), Paris, p. 81-86.

—     1988, The Archive of the Wullu Family, Copenhagen.

—     1989, “Some Aspects of the Position of Women in Nuzi,” in B. Lesko (ed.), Women’s Earliest Records From Ancient Egypt and Western Asia, Atlanta, p. 167-189.

Lacheman E. R., 1973, “Real Estate Adoption by Women in the Tablets from uru Nuzi», in H. A. Hoffner (ed.), Orient and Occident. Essays Presented to C. H. Gordon, AOAT 22, Neukirchen-Vluyn, p. 99-100.

Lion B., 2009a, “Les porcs à Nuzi,” in G. Wilhelm (ed.), General Studies and Excavations at Nuzi 11/2, SCCNH 18, Bethesda, p. 259-286.

—     2009b, “Sexe et genre (1). Des filles devenant fils dans les contrats de Nuzi et d’Emar,” in F. Briquel-Chatonnet, S. Farès, B. Lion and C. Michel (eds.), Femmes, cultures et sociétés dans les civilisations méditerranéennes et proche-orientales de l’Antiquité, Topoi Supplement 10, p. 9-25.

Maidman M. P., 2010, Nuzi Texts and Their Uses as Historical Evidence, Atlanta.

Mayer W., 1978, Nuzi-Studien I. Die Archive des Palastes und die Prosopographie der Berufe, Neukirchen-Vluyn.

Müller G. G. W., 1995, “Zur Bedeutung von hurro-akkadissch hašahušennu,” UF 27, p. 371-380.

Novak M., 1994, “Eine Typologie der Wohnhäuser von Nuzi,” Baghdader Mitteilungen 25, p. 341-446.

Paradise J. S., 1980, “ A Daugnter and her Father’s Property at Nuzi», JCS 32, p. 189-207.

—     1987, “Daughters as “Sons” at Nuzi,” in M. A. Morrison and D. I. Owen (eds), General Studies and Excavations at Nuzi 9/1, SCCNH 2, Winona Lake, p. 203-213.

Pfeifer N., 2009, “Das Eherecht in Nuzi: Einflüsse aus altbabylonischer Zeit,” in G. Wilhelm (ed.), General Studies and Excavations at Nuzi 11/2, SCCNH 18, Bethesda, p. 355-420.

Speiser E. A., 1928-1929, “New Kirkuk documents Relating to Family Laws,” AASOR 10, p. 1-73.

Starr, R. F. S., 1937, Nuzi, Volume 2, Plates and Plans, Cambridge (Mass.).

—     1939, Nuzi, Volume 1, Text, Cambridge (Mass.).

Westbrook R., 1993-1997, “Mitgift,” RlA 8, p. 273-283.

Wilhelm G., 1981, “Die Siegel des Königs Itḫi-teššup von Arrapḫa,” WO 12, p. 5-7.

Zaccagnini C., 1979, The Rural Landscape of the Land of Arrapḫe, Rome.


[1] See previous studies in Paradise 1980: 204-205; Grosz 1981, 1983, 1989; Westbrook 1993-1997: 278-279; Pfeifer 2009: 397-399.

[2] Grosz 1981: 170 provides a table with the texts mentioning dowry payments, which needs some corrections: the first text, described as “HSS 19 79,” is actually HSS 19 71, and HSS 19 79 should be added; in HSS 13 93 = HSS 14 2: 17-18, Apukka is designated as LÚ mu-lu-gi5 ša DAM-at Ihi-iš-mi-te-šub DUMU LUGAL (Wilhelm 1981: 4; Deller 1987), but this does not necessarily mean that the fields mentioned held the status of dowry. Several texts have been transliterated, translated and studied by Breneman 1971: 63-65 (HSS 19 76), 120-123 (HSS 5 11), 177-179 (Gadd 31), 190-195 (HSS 19 79 and HSS 5 76), and 267-268. “SCCNH 7 6” refers to BM 104822+BM 104835, joint made by Fincke 1995: 35-36, who also gives the transliteration and the translation; J. Fincke compares this tablet with Gadd 31 and the reading [ana mul]ūgūti l. 5, just like in Gadd 31, has been suggested by J.J. Justel, who collated the tablet. The join between HSS 19 108 and EN 9/1 139 was made by Fincke 1999, who provides a complete transliteration of the document.

[3] See n. 2.

[4] l. 5-6: it-ti ṭup-pí-šu-ma ù it-ti A.ŠÀ ša pí-i ṭup-pí.

[5] These two tablets have been found in Kirkūk (Arrapḫe) and, according to Grosz 1988: 128-141, they belong to the same family: fUntuya, adopted as sister in SCCNH 7 6, would be the grandmother of fHalaše, adopted as sister in Gadd 31.

[6] Fincke 2012: 122 n. 28.

[7] Fincke 1995: 36.

[8] Speiser 1928-1929: 26-27.

[9] Gordon 1936: 158.

[10] Lacheman 1973; for example fTulpun-naya acquires orchards, fields and houses in this way (Abrahami and Lion 2012: 20-24).

[11] HSS 5 76 and HSS 5 11 have been transliterated by Dosch 1976: 126-129 (nos. 85 and 86), and HSS 5 11 is studied by Assante 1988: 19-22.

[12] According to Grosz 1988: 140-141, fHalaše would be the daughter of Šekar-Tilla i.e. Šekaya (hypocoristic form). The adoptive brother, Šalap-urhe, and fHalaše might have been relative.

[13] Zaccagnini 1979: 42-43 (data have been completed). We assume here that the ammatu is about 50 cm.

[14] These data are provided by Novak 1994: 375-377. HSS 19 71 and HSS 19 79 are added to allow comparisons even if, of course, the houses mentionned in these texts have not been identified nor excavated.

[15] See especially Fincke 2010 and Maidman 2010: 163-227.

[16] See recently Fincke 2010.

[17] Cassin (1969: 129) notes that the bride’s father, Paikku, “a donné à sa fille en ‘dot’ des maisons qui lui sont payées par son gendre,” considering apparently the counter-dowry as the price of the houses.

[18] Grosz 1983: 202, 1989: 172-173.

[19] Lion 2009a.

[20] For example HSS 14 593, where 24 UŠ.BAR receive rations. A list of more than 100 textiles workers has been established by Mayer 1978: 169-175, all of them being men.

[21] Starr 1939: 412 and 1937: pl. 116, S-Y and 127, FF (whorls), pl. 117 C-E and G (weights).

[22] Starr 1937: pl. 127 FF (whorl) was found in B 7, group 2 (a house dated to stratum III); pl. 116 S (whorl) in K 436, a room which is not indicated on the plan, and belongs to group 18 (stratum III), cf. Starr 1939: 269-270; pl. 116 W (whorl) was found in G 10, a room belonging either to group 4 (stratum III) or to group 27 (stratum II); pl. 117 D (weight) in C 42, group 10 (stratum III); pl. 117 G (weight) in H 53, group 11 (stratum III); and pl. 117 C (weight) in C 29, group 33 (stratum II).

[23] Starr 1937: 218-219; Starr 1939: pl. 118 A and B (ancient loomstands) and 30 B (Arab loom). Starr compares these loomstands with those used by the inhabitants of region when he led the excavations.

[24] See this idea first in Grosz 1981: 174.

[25] Müller 1995: 380 (“in beliebiger Form bezahlbar”).

[26] See f.ex. Breneman 1971: 261, Pfeifer 2009: 381.

[27] See Paradise 1980, 1987; Grosz 1987; Ben-Barak 1988: 91-93, 2006: 144-148; Lion 2009b.

[28] This last subject will be deal with in the next REFEMA meeting.

(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).

1. WOMEN IN FAMILIES AND PRIVATE HOUSEHOLDS

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.

2. WOMEN OCCUPATIONS AT HOME AND OUTSIDE HOME

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

3. MANAGEMENT AUTONOMY FOR WOMEN INSIDE FAMILIES

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
(…)

CONCLUSION

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.

References

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. http://chs.harvard.edu/wa/pageR?tn=ArticleWrapper&bdc=12&mn=1219

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”.

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)

 

Introduction

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.

Conclusion

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

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


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

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

[3] H. Baker, p. 20

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

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

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

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

[8] M. Roth, JAOS 111/1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[17] See RGTC 8, p. 198

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

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

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


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

INTRODUCTION

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

1. WHO ARE THE WOMEN QUOTED IN THE MURAŠÛ ARCHIVE ?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Attar-ṭabat      IMT 104 : 1, 6

Bisaha’             IMT 104 : 2, 6

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

Šakha’              IMT 104 : 2, 7

Ubartu              IMT 104 : 1, 6

 

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

3. Free women and inhabitants of Nippur

3.1. Independant and active women

Naqqitu, daughter of Murašu     EE 46 : 5, 7

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

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

3.2.1. Women mentionned in promissory notes

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

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

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

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

Nidintu, daughter of Ibaia     BE 10, 3 : 2

3.2.2. Women in connection with the prison

3.2.2.1. Women detained in prison

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wife of Nadir, son of Hašdaia     TuM 2/3, 203 : 4, 10

3.2.2.2. Women asking for the liberation of a relative

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

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

3.3. Other situations

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

Riša     IMT 44 : 5

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

Text n°1: EE 46

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

(1’-5’)(Witnesses and scribe). 

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. THE FEMININE SOLIDARITIES

 

First situation : Feminine solidarity in family businesses

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

Text n°2: BE 9, 53

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

(15-21)(Witnesses and scribe).

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

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

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

 

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

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

Second situation : Feminine solidarity in promissory notes

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

 

Text n°3: BE 8, 126

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

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

(L.E.)Nail mark of Belessunu.

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

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

Text n°4: BE 9, 58

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

(12-18)(Witnesses and scribe).

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

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

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

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

Text n°5: IMT 93

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

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

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

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

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

(16-19)(Witnesses and scribe).

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

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

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

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

 Text n°6a: BE 10,2

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

(11-17)(Witnesses and scribe).

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

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

Text n°6b: BE 10, 3

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

(12-18)(Witnesses and scribe).

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

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

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

                  1) They were drafted the same day in Nippur,

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

                  3) They involve women as debtor

                  4) Women put their home as security for the debt

                  5) The loans contain an interest

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

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

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

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

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

The urban elite takes advantages of this situation of need :

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

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

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

Third situation : feminine solidarity with relatives detained in jail

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

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

Text n°7: PBS 2/1, 17

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

(16-19)(Witnesses and scribe).

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

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

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

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

3. RISK OF SOLIDARITIES : WOMEN DETAINED IN JAIL

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

Text n°8: IMT 103

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

(13-18)(Witnesses and scribe).

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

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

 

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

 

Text n°9: TuM 2/3, 203

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

(16-22)(Witnesses and scribe).

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

 (Edges)Cylinder seals.

These texts show two peculiarities:

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

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

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

4. THE CRISIS OF THE YEARS 424-423 AND FEMININE SOLIDARITIES

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

 

1. Promissory notes of silver

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

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

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

 

2. Women asking the release of their relatives

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

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

 

3. Women detained in jail

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

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

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

 

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

     

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

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

Promissory notes with pledges of real property

Tableau Stolper-Donbaz
Donbaz & Stolper 1997 : 10

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

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

Texts

« Liberators »

Detained persons

04/ii/Art 38

EE 104

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

Kalkal-iddin, son of Ahhe-utir

14/vi/Art 41

IMT 103

Nabu-ušezib, slave of Enlil-šum-iddin

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

16/i/Darius II 01

BE 10, 10

Il-linṭar, son of Iddin-Enlil

Iddin-Enlil, son of Ah-iddin

11/viii/Darius II 01   

PBS 2/1, 21

Zimmaia, son of Bel-eṭir

Ah-iddin, son of Zuza

02/ix/Darius II 01                            

PBS 2/1, 23

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

Ninurta-uballiṭ, son of Enlil-iqiša

03/xi/Darius II 01

PBS 2/1, 17

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

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

28/i/Darius II 02

TuM 2/3, 203

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

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

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

***

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


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

La place des femmes dans l’économie domestique néo-babylonienne

La place des femmes dans l’économie domestique 

à l’époque néo-babylonienne

Francis JOANNÈS (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne — UMR 7041-ArScAn (CNRS))

Évaluer la place des femmes, du point de vue économique, dans le cadre de la maison privée à l’époque néo-babylonienne, revient à essayer de reconstituer les mécanismes qui gouvernent la société néo-babylonienne. Le sujet de la condition féminine à cette époque a déjà été abordé, mais la situation économique des femmes doit être appréciée en fonction d’autres critères et de réponses à d’autres questions que celles posées habituellement: on part évidemment des contrats mettant en scène des femmes pour apprécier leur situation. Mais on est assez vite cantonné alors à la reconstitution des dots, de leur utilisation (prêts, achats d’esclaves), de leur transmission, et des droits des femmes sur les patrimoines familiaux et de la manière dont elles servent de vecteur à sa transmission.

Historiographiquement, cela a été traité en grande partie pour le Ier millénaire par M. Roth, partiellement par K. Abraham, H. Baker, C. Waerzeggers et C. Wunsch, et par les deux ouvrages généraux de B. Lesko et de E. Specht[1]. Le reste est fondu dans des synthèses plus générales comme celle de M. Dandamaiev sur les esclaves.

On ne doit, évidemment, pas faire dire aux sources plus qu’elles ne nous fournissent, et l’on est ici typiquement dans un cas d’approche «oblique», dans la mesure où ce qui nous intéresse (la part que prennent les femmes à l’activité économique domestique) n’est pas documentée en tant que telle. On sait à peu près quel est le régime juridique qui gouverne les transferts de biens au moment des mariages, des successions, des donations. Mais les activités propres aux femmes et, surtout, la manière dont elles les contrôlent, n’avaient pas de raison particulière de donner lieu à un enregistrement écrit dans le cadre de l’économie domestique privée. Archéologiquement, il est également très difficile de repérer ou d’identifier des zones «féminines» d’activité. Il faut donc regrouper les maigres indices disponibles pour cette époque, en fonction de questions qui leur donnent le sens voulu. Ces questions sont, fondamentalement au nombre de deux:

1) quelles activités mènent les femmes dans la maison, ou, sous une autre forme, quelle est leur part dans l’ οἰκονομία « l’administration du foyer »?

2) de quelle autonomie disposent les femmes dans la gestion des ressources de la maisonnée? Cette autonomie s’exerce par rapport au mari, mais aussi par rapport à la belle-famille, et enfin par rapport à la société locale. On ne trouve d’ailleurs que de très rares exemples assurée de femmes exerçant des responsabilités abandonnées par leur époux pour cause de maladie[2].

3) existe-t-il des femmes qui assurent en totalité la direction de leur maison? et jusqu’à quel degré d’indépendance vis à vis de la société contemporaine peuvent-elles aller?

Il est certain que c’est bien la «maison» est l’endroit privilégié où s’exerce l’activité féminine et qu’il est rare, dans la vie courante des familles urbaines, que les femmes sortent isolées à l’extérieur; même si certaines activités comme l’acquisition de l’eau ou la fréquentation des lieux de commerce de détail impliquait que des femmes sortent de la maison, c’était très probablement en groupe. Car la rue n’est pas sans danger pour une femme isolée: un texte atypique mais révélateur rapporte un incident survenu en pleine rue de Babylone sous le règne de Nabonide: deux témoins certifient sous serment :

«(qu’ils ont vu) le 14 Nisan (de l’an 11), un individu retenir de force une femme et la contraindre à entrer dans une maison située dans la ruelle du fils de Zannā, à côté de la maison de Nabû-uballiṭ fils de Bēl-šar-uṣur, qu’ils ont entendu les cris de protestation de la femme et de la jeune esclave qui l’accompagnait, et que c’est bien de force qu’elle a été emmenée dans cette maison»[3].

 

1. Femmes et production

Le cas de Tappašar

On peut partir du dossier très éclairant rassemblé par H. Baker dans Nappāḫū, p. 000, à propos des textes n°35-40. Il s’agissait de régler les relations entre Iddin-Nabû et la veuve de son père adoptif, Tappašar, épouse de Gimillu. D’après la reconstitution plausible qu’en propose H. Baker, Gimillu aurait été très diminué physiquement peu de temps avant sa mort, ce qui aurait conduit Iddin-Nabû à assurer la conduite de ses affaires financières et immobilières, et à utiliser, pour lui-même et pour le couple Gimillu-Tappašar, une maison prise en gage d’un prêt d’argent comme lieu d’habitation. Après la mort de Gimillu, un premier règlement financier intervint entre Iddin-Nabû et Tappašar aux termes duquel ils se retrouvèrent habiter toujours la même maison, mais chacun dans une aile différente. Dans ce cadre, Tappašar prêta un serment qui stipulait qu’elle ne prenait pour son usage personnel qu’un certain nombre d’objets et de meubles de la maisonnée (texte n°33). Un second document (n°34 = VS 6 246) énumérait ce qui est sans doute la totalité du mobilier de la maison: il constitue ainsi une sorte d’inventaire après décès et il est particulièrement intéressant puisqu’il s’agit de l’un des rares cas où c’est l’ensemble de ce mobilier et des objets de la vie courante qui est ainsi inventorié[4].

Or, en comparant les deux listes: celle des meubles laissés à la disposition de Tappašar et l’inventaire général, on constate que la veuve ne garde pour elle que du mobilier dont elle a un usage personnel, à l’exclusion de tout ce qui peut servir à la préparation de la nourriture, si ce n’est une marmite. La conclusion la plus logique est qu’elle n’était pas en mesure de s’occuper de cette préparation, et que c’est probablement une ou des servantes d’Iddin-Nabû[5] qui assuraient l’artisanat alimentaire de l’ensemble de la maison.

 

Tableau récapitulatif des objets et meubles disponibles dans la maison de Gimillu

(en gras, les meubles gardés par Tappašar):

 

akkadien

français

matériau

quantité

eršu ša musukkannu lit bois 1
šupal šēpe escabeau bois 1
eršu ša giškìm lit bois 1
arannu ša giškìm coffre bois 1
mušāḫḫinu ša 0,0.3 (= 18 litres) marmite bronze 1
mušāḫḫinu ša talammu (= entre 6 et 10 litres ?) marmite bronze 1
kasu coupe à boire bronze 2
mukarrīšu huilier bronze 1
baṭû plateau bronze 1
dug ha-aṣ!-ba-tu …… cruche (à bière) argile 20
Namzītu vase à fermentation argile 2
kankannu support bois 2
ḫuttu jarre argile 2
namḫāru sorte de cratère argile 2
na4-har + na4 narkabu meule complète pierre 1
kussu chaise bois 2
littu tabouret bois 2
šāšitu (3 kg!) lanterne fer 1

 

On trouve ainsi un ensemble cohérent énuméré pour la préparation et la consommation des nourritures à base de céréales, de viande et de légumes (meule, marmite(s), huilier, écuelle) et de boisson alcoolisée (vase à fermentation, cratère, cruche, coupe à boire). On remarque aussi que la préparation de la nourriture de la maison est très probablement prise en charge de manière collective, par une ou plusieurs personnes.

Encore à l’époque séleucide[6], la donation faite par un mari à son épouse reprend les biens et les éléments de mobilier dont elle a besoin pour vivre (YOS 20 n°20, ll. 10-12), mais, à l’inverse du cas précédent, lui laisse la disposition de trois objets indispensables pour la préparation de la nourriture:

giš-šub-ba é du-ú-du zabar mu-kar-riš zabar u na4-har-har mu-meš  «la prébende, la maison, la marmite-dūdu de bronze[7], l’huilier-mukarrišu de bronze et les (deux) meules (…)»

a) Le mode collectif de fonctionnement

C’est sans doute sur cet aspect collectif de la production domestique qu’il faut mettre l’accent. Dans le rassemblement et l’analyse des données textuelles qui documentent la famille en Babylonie, on privilégie en général sa forme nucléaire, en considérant que l’unité de base de la maison est constituée du mari, de sa femme, et de leurs enfants. Il faut clairement élargir et modifier cette base, en considérant qu’il y a souvent une ou plusieurs domestiques féminines de statut servile qui travaillent sous les ordres de la «maîtresse de maison», et que même dans les familles non urbaines, ou relevant de catégories sociales qui ne sont pas en mesure de disposer d’esclave(s), la maison réunit dans un fonctionnement commun plusieurs familles nucléaires, associant des relations verticales (grands-parents/parents/enfants) ou horizontales (frères et soeurs).

La «transition domestique»

Cette hypothèse d’un mode de fonctionnement fondamentalement collectif à l’intérieur de la maison trouve confirmation, me semble-t-il, dans les données que fournissent les contrats de mariage où sont énumérées des dots. Si l’on suit l’analyse éclairante de M. Roth 1989/1990, on note que les jeunes épouses peuvent être accompagnées dans les familles aisées d’une ou plusieurs domestiques féminines, qui leur sont souvent fournies spécifiquement par un membre féminin de leur famille d’origine: mère, grands-mères maternelle et paternelle, tante. Selon M. Roth, il s’agit là de faciliter la «transition domestique» en permettant à la jeune épouse de garder un lien avec son environnement humain d’origine, et de ne pas être «aspirée» par une structure familiale nouvelle dans laquelle sa belle-mère et/ou ses belles-soeurs sont en position de force. Il s’agit aussi, clairement, de constituer une force de travail en mesure de répondre aux besoins de la maison, sans que tout repose sur la seule épouse. Il faut d’ailleurs imaginer certainement toute une série de situations mixtes, depuis l’épouse accompagnée d’une seule servante jusqu’au groupe féminin (dans les formes les plus collectives d’habitation) constitué des épouses des divers membres masculins de la famille, de leurs soeurs, des servantes de chacune, le tout étant placé sous l’autorité et la gestion de la mère de famille.

De fait, la société urbaine traditionnelle fonctionne par cercles concentriques allant de la famille proche jusqu’aux affidés et au voisinage, selon une organisation dont on retrouve de très nombreux exemples dans les sociétés méditerranéennes traditionnelles[8]. On comprend mieux dès lors comment un bien immobilier peut être l’objet de revendications émanant de la communauté familiale au sens large désignée par les termes de kimtu, nešūtu, sallatu[9].

La composition de la dot

Le second point à noter est que ne figurent dans les dots, en général, que ce qui peut intéresser le mari ou la belle-famille. Ces dots, comme le montre M. Roth, se répartissent clairement en trois postes:

a) des éléments de patrimoine: terre agricole, maison, esclaves

b) des biens de prestige: vêtements de luxe, bijoux et métal précieux, mobilier

c) certains objets de la vie domestique

mais certains biens ont une fonction intermédiaire: ainsi, les esclaves domestiques sont à la fois un élément de patrimoine et un auxiliaire de la vie dans la maison; comme le note M. Roth[10] le mari peut convertir un esclave en argent, ou, plus souvent, de l’argent en esclave; elle note ailleurs[11], que les donations supplémentaires d’esclaves faites à l’épouse par sa mère, sa grand-mère maternelle, par sa tante paternelle, par sa grand-mère paternelle consistent toujours en une esclave féminine[12]; le métal précieux est à la fois un bien de prestige et un élément de patrimoine; et, naturellement, certains biens de prestige ont aussi une utilisation dans la vie quotidienne (meubles en bois semi-précieux).

Mais, à l’exception de «l’inventaire après décès» signalé plus haut, les inventaires de mobilier des dots ne sont pas à prendre comme des reflets exacts de l’ensemble des biens mobiliers présents dans la maison. Pour les meubles, on notera le fait qu’en dehors des meubles ne bois semi-précieux, figurait certainement du mobilier en bois de palmier ou en roseaux, qui n’est jamais cité; de même que ne figurent pas les nattes, coffres, couffins, paniers qui sont pourtant bien présents dans l’environnement de la Mésopotamie contemporaine[13].

Les contrats d’apprentissage

Un autre ensemble de renseignements est fourni par les contrats d’apprentissage que l’on trouve dans la documentation néo-babylonienne, et qui concernent souvent (mais pas exclusivement) des esclaves. La dernière mise au point à ce sujet est celle de J. Hakl dans Jursa 2005, p. 700sq. Hackl répertorie 34 contrats d’apprentissage entre le règne de Kandalānu et la période séleucide. Par rapport à la répartition qu’il fournit[14], on peut présenter la liste selon un autre principe de tri, en distinguant entre:

– les métiers relevant de l’artisanat spécialisé (barbier, joaillier, maître-maçon, menuisier-ébéniste, orfèvre, potier, tanneur, vannier et tresseur de nattes), soit 11 occurrences

– les métiers relevant de l’artisanat de l’alimentation (cuisinier/boulanger et producteur de farine): 8 occurrences

– les métiers relevant de l’artisanat des textiles (blanchisseur, fabricant d’habits lamḫuššu, tisseur, tisseur d’étoffes multicolores, tresseur de sacs): 7 occurrences

– métiers hors artisanat (chasseur de rats, acteur/danseur, chantre): 3 occurrences

– métier non spécifié (ou cassé): 5 occurrences

 Hors cette dernière sous-catégorie, on constate que les métiers liés à la préparation de la nourriture et des textiles représentent un peu plus de la moitié, dont 7 cuisiniers/boulangers, deux tisserands et deux blanchisseurs. Dans tous les cas, les apprentis sont des hommes, et 6 des 7 apprentis cuisiniers sont des esclaves, alors que dans le domaine textile les apprentis sont plutôt de statut libre.

On peut donc se demander s’il s’agit d’esclaves à qui l’on apprend un métier destiné à leur faire tenir boutique de manière autonome, ou s’il ne s’agit-il pas plutôt de l’optimisation de l’organisation économique interne d’une «grande maison» urbaine? Il semble qu’à partir d’un certain niveau social, la «maîtresse de maison» se libère de tâches qu’elle accomplissait directement ou en collaboration, ou qu’elle dirigeait, et qu’elle les confie à un technicien spécialisé. Si les aspects techniques, voire marchands l’emportent sans doute pour le traitement des étoffes, on peut se demander si l’emploi d’un cuisinier spécialisé n’est pas aussi une question de prestige, mais il faut avouer que la documentation est peu explicite sur ce point. On remarque surtout que s’il y a spécialisation technique, elle entraîne le recours à un homme. Il n’est pas exclu d’autre part que certains de ces spécialistes (en particulier pour les cuisiniers/boulangers) tiennent aussi une boutique accolée à, ou insérée dans, la structure de la demeure à laquelle ils sont attachés[15]

Cette forme de sous-traitance ne se rencontre, à ce degré de spécialisation, que dans les familles de la société urbaine supérieure et l’on peut estimer qu’à ce moment la maîtresse de maison accède à des activités autres. La question, qui sera à voir ensuite est de savoir si cela lui confère une autonomie personnelle accrue. Mais il est évident que nous n’avons que très peu de renseignements sur les activités de loisir ou de sociabilité[16].

On notera également les remarques pertinentes de C. Waerzeggers, à propos des activités de blanchissage:

 «It is generally assumed that families of means owned a small number of domestic slaves who worked in the household as nannies, kitchen maids, servants, cooks, house-keepers etc. We would be inclined to add ‘washermen, or -women’ to this list.»[17]

 Pour récapituler, et d’après les artisanats représentées, ainsi que par les listes de dot, on voit apparaître deux secteurs majeurs dans lesquels s’exerce l’activité domestique féminine: la préparation de la nourriture et la confection des étoffes d’habillement. Mais — et ce point est particulièrement important à souligner — ces activités ne sont pas individualisées, elles impliquent un travail en groupe ainsi qu’un mode d’occupation collective de certains espaces de la maison. S’il y a autonomie féminine dans l’exercice de ce travail, c’est une autonomie collective et cela n’empêche pas l’existence d’une hiérarchie interne qui pouvait être très marquée entre les différentes femmes de la maison.

 

b) les productions courantes

Les deux secteurs identifiables sont l’alimentation et l’habillement. On les présentera ici à la suite. Le premier est lié à une certaine forme d’occupation de l’espace domestique, en particulier les endroits où l’on peut procéder à la cuisson: P. Miglus enregistre ainsi[18] trois sortes de dispositifs, présents soit dans la cour intérieure, soit dans une pièce attenante: four, tannour, et foyer à même le sol. Le second est plus difficile à localiser, mais il n’est pas impossible que certaines des pièces que P. Miglus qualifie de «Gegenzimmer», des grands espaces ouvrant directement sur la cour par une ou plusieurs ouvertures aient été réservées à ce genre d’activité[19].

Le cadre même des activités économiques des femmes néo-babyloniennes, la maison, n’est d’ailleurs pas un espace figé. Comme le remarque C. Castel (Castel 1992, p. 98):

 «Il est très vraisemblable finalement que le «temps de la vie quotidienne et la successiond es situations selon les heures de la journée, (aient) modelé les lieux de la maison (néo-assyrienne et néo-babylonienne), les affectant de fonctions successives, au gré des circonstances, tandis que la destination de certaines pièces rest(ait) constante», selon le même principe que celui que l’on retrouve dan certaines maisons contemporaines. Les déplacements quotidiens ou la fixation temporaire d’une activité en un lieu précis de l’habitation pourrait s’expliquer notamment par la chaleur, le froid, l’ombre, la lumière. (…) La maison paraît avoir été vécue comme un ensemble organique multifonctionnel.»

 Production alimentaire

Comme le montrent en général les objets cités dans les listes de dot, il s’agit d’abord de la préparation du pain et de celle de l’alcool de dattes fermentées[20]; il est intéressant de noter cette spécialisation de la préparation de la bière de dattes comme une activité féminine, que confirment les textes en rapport avec les cabarets. Les femmes qui les tiennent ont en effet aussi à préparer la bière de dattes. La lettre YOS 21 151 de Šum-ukīn à Ea-ušallim montre cependant que la préparation de la bière de qualité supérieure, à base d’orge, est une activité plutôt masculine[21]

L’autre activité, plus attendue, est celle qui consiste à moudre et à préparer la nourriture, dont la base est formée par les céréales. Curieusement, alors que les mentions de meules existent dans les textes de dot paléo-babyloniens, on ne les trouve que très rarement au Ier millénaire. Il n’y a pas de changement technologique, mais sans doute plutôt une transformation du marché qui fait que les pierres à meule sont d’un accès plus commun. On en a d’autre part retrouvé suffisamment en fouille pour que leur présence comme élément de base des activités domestiques soit assurée[22].

 On remarque d’autre part que cette spécialisation féminine ne vaut que pour la sphère privée. On sait que la part des femmes dans le processus de production artisanale des temples néo-babyloniens était restreinte[23]. L’étude récente de C. Waerzeggers le confirme, à propos des gens chargés de moudre le grain destiné à préparation des offrandes alimentaires[24]:

 «(…) we find slaves, free persons from little known families, as well as members from the established baker clans in the milling houses. Despite theses liberal rulesnof access, women played no part whatsoever in thesesa ctivities, indicating that gender restrictions on temple access were severe».

 Pour préparer les galettes de pain cuites au four, on a recours le plus souvent à un dispositif de four (tinūru) de type tanour, identifié dans les espaces à ciel ouvert de plusieurs maisons d’époque néo-babylonienne[25]; on s’en sert également pour les préparations bouillies mijotées dans les marmites de bronze et dans des récipients en argile (que les textes ne citent pas). On utilise aussi le gril sous diverses forme (kišukku, naṭilu), placé sur le four. La mention du réchaud (kinūnu) servant à la fois de radiateur et de four portatif n’est pas attesté dans ce type de documentation à l’époque néo-babylonienne. Le travail des femmes est donc de moudre ou de concasser les céréales, puis de les transformer en diverses préparations et de les faire cuire, avec, éventuellement un accompagnement de viande et de légumes bouillis ou grillés. Pour la bière, il s’agit de préparer le mélange à base de dattes destiné à fermenter puis de le filtrer et de stocker le contenu dans des jarres prêtes à la consommation. Une partie de cette bière peut être commercialisée.

Tout cela est documenté par la littérature épistolaire contemporaine:

 CT 22 n°40 (lettre d’Ardi-Bēl à son épouse Epirtu)

ll. 6-10 ……lìb-bu-ú-a il-ṣi ki-i te-re-’e en-na dìb-bi x x [ o o o ] kaš bi-šu-’u-a 1 ma-na kù-babbar bi in-ni-i «…mon coeur s’est réjoui de te savoir enceinte. Maintenant, l’affaire [………], ma bière de mauvaise qualité, vends-la, s’il te plaît, pour 1 mine d’argent»

Jursa 2010 p. 223 évoque un couple d’esclaves des Egibi, Nabû-utēr et Mīṣatu, qui brassent et vendent de la bière et produisent un bénéfice de plusieurs dizaines de sicles d’argent en une année, reversés à leur propriétaire:

 Nbn 815, ll. 15-21

«2 mines 15 sicles d’argent comptabilisés depuis le mois d’Ulūlu de l’an 13 (de Nabonide), (plus) 16 sicles d’argent précédent, argent qui s’ajoute lui-même aux 1/3 de mine 4 sicles d’argent précédents de Nabû-utēr et sa femme Mīṣatu; 50 jarres de bière de bonne qualité de l’an 13. Total: 2 mines 55(!) sicles 1/2 d’argent et 50 jarres de bière de bonne qualité, se trouvent chez Nabû-utēr, sans compter les jarres vides et le mobilier.

Si les femmes ont en général la mainmise sur ces préparations culinaires, comment ont-elles accès aux produits alimentaires bruts? [26] Les lettres néo-babyloniennes montrent que certaines femmes reçoivent ou donnent des instructions pour recueillir et redistribuer le produit des récoltes agricoles ou de la viande:

 NBB 149 recueille les instructions fournies à une femme nommée Belit sur la répartition à opérer de la récolte des dattes et de l’orge de la maisonnée

 NBB 151 est une lettre à une femme mentionnant une livraison d’orge:

Lettre de Nabû-zēr-ušabši[27] à Šikkū, mon épouse. Puissent Bēl et Nabû prononcer le bien-être physique et moral de mon épouse! Ça va bien pour moi, et ça va bien pour Bēl-iddin. Vois: j’ai écrit à Iddin-Marduk, fils d’Iqīšaia: il va te donner 10 gur d’orge. Ne néglige rien de ce qui concerne la maison! Je suis abattu: prie les dieux en ma faveur! Et qu’une nouvelle de toi m’arrive rapidement par n’importe quel messager!

 Waerzeggers 2001 n°18 cite la création d’une société commerciale à base d’argent et de jarres vides pour fabriquer et commercialiser de la bière de dattes, dont les revenus servent à nourrir la famille et le personnel de la maison de Bēl-iddin:

 ll. 14-15 (…) l’épouse de Bêl-iddin et ses filles tireront leur nourriture de l’association commerciale; les domestiques de la maison de Bêl-iddin travailleront au service de l’association commerciale et tireront leur nourriture de l’association commerciale

dam Iden-mu u dumu-mí-šú-meš ninda-há ina kaskalII ik-ka-lu!(RI) lú un-meš é šá Iden-mu na-áš-par-tu4 šá kaskalIIšú-nu il-la-ku ninda-há ina kaskalII ik-ka-lu!(RI)

 Les renseignements que l’on peut tirer des textes à ce sujet, restent dans l’ensemble assez maigres et la question des espaces de stockage et de leur gestion dans le cadre domestique doit faire l’objet d’études complémentaires. De la même manière l’accès à l’eau n’est pratiquement pas documenté: qui puise l’eau? à quel endroit? est-ce une activité réservée à certaines personnes de la maisonnée?[28] De fait, seule l’archéologie nous permet d’identifier des jarres sur support qui devaient servir aux besoins journaliers de la maison en eau: pour la boisson, mais aussi les préparations culinaires et pour les ablutions. Par ailleurs, comme le remarque C. Castel[29]: «L’absence totale de citerne, la rareté des adductions d’eau et des puits conduit à penser, dans la plupart des cas, que le ravitaillement en eau se faisait “à la main”, au cours d’eau le plus proche, ce qui ne laisse pas d’étonner quand on songe au raffinement de certains aménagements.»

 

Production d’étoffes

Le second artisanat est lié au textile, et implique toute une série d’opérations allant de la préparation de la laine puis du filage jusqu’au tissage. Pourtant presque aucune mention n’existe des instruments utilisés pour cette activité: quenouille, métier, pesons ne sont pas cités[30], alors même qu’on parle à plusieurs reprises de la production textile de la maisonnée:

 La lettre NBB 226, entre deux femmes, concerne de la laine (à traiter?):

Lettre de Qutnānu à Inṣabtu, ma soeur. Puissent Bēl et Nabû décréter santé et bien-être de ma soeur! Vois: je t’ai envoyé mon garant avec 4 mines de laine. Tu la mesureras et [… reste cassé…]

La production la plus courante, susceptible d’être distribuée ou vendue en dehors de la maison est celle du sari’am, qui est clairement un vêtement de dessus que l’on porte à l’extérieur, et qui peut vraisemblablement être ouvert (type kaftan) ou fermé (type djellaba ou dichdacha), et de la karballatu[31] . Les données rassemblées dans Jursa 2010 montrent que des sociétés commerciales privées écoulent ainsi de la production textile d’origine familiale. Dans ce cas, l’activité économique des femmes de la maisonnée dépasse les simples besoins familiaux et touchent à la sphère de l’économie commerciale.

 On note ainsi dans Jursa 2010, p. 221:

«In NBC 6189 from the Ṣāhit-ginê B archive, one reads of a female worker’s spinning duties which are supervised by the wife of one of the archive’s chief protagonists, Ninurta-ahu-uṣur. This must refer to work for the family’s trading business which was done by women weaving and spinning from their home. Since the temple archives also refer to women weaving and spinning in their homes, one can assume that this was a typical arrangement rather than an exceptionnal one.»

 L’on trouve aussi des habits-gulēnu[32], dont les veuves prises en charge par le temple de Šamaš à Sippar doivent tisser trois exemplaires par an, selon le texte Dar. 43[33], ll. 2′-8′:

 (…) au 1er du mois de Tašrītu de l’an 2, à l’exclusion des 19 membres d’équipe, [ils ont été remis(?)] à Šamaš-iddin; aucune des femmes [= les veuves] n’aura le droit de résider auprès d’un mār banî, ni de donner fils ou fille en adoption à un mār banî. Parmi elles, Idintu, Mistaia et Bazītu devront donner chaque année 3 habits-gulēnu, en tâche assignée (iškaru) à Šamaš, réalisée par leurs propres soins; elles n’auront pas le droit de s’installer dans une autre ville (…)

Les vêtements mentionnés dans les dots sont soit des vêtements de la vie courante (en quantités qui peuvent être importantes: jusqu’à 20), soit des vêtements de luxe. Le texte TBER n°00, cite pourtant un túg kirku ša ina bīti maḫṣu «un rouleau d’étoffe qui a été tissé à la maison»

Les fibres autres que la laine sont très peu documentées en contexte privé: il est cependant possible qu’un filage et un tissage du lin ait existé[34], mais il reste impossible de savoir si cette activité artisanale à domicile servait uniquement aux besoins privés ou fonctionnait également pour les sanctuaires.

De même le traitement et la conservation des habits n’ont laissé que peu de traces dans la documentation écrite[35]. Une reconnaissance de dette des archives des Egibi (Nbn 340) prévoit qu’en échange d’un prêt de 30 sicles d’argent pour un mois, le débiteur met à la disposition de Nabû-aḫḫē-iddin sa servante Šalmu-dīninni, blanchisseuse (pu-ṣa-’i-i-tu4); le contrat ne prévoit pas de versement d’intérêt; le travail de la blanchisseuse est donc estimé valoir 1/2 sicle d’argent par mois, soit 6 sicles par an.

Enfin, si l’on considère que ce qui constitue les rations d’entretien courantes (epru, piššatu, lubuštu) relève des bases de l’artisanat domestique, et passe donc par les mains féminines, on pourrait supposer que la fabrication de l’huile relève aussi de leur compétence: l’huile de sésame est extraite (bouillie et non pressée) pour un usage de toilette, soit en application directe[36], soit pour fabriquer une sorte de savon;il suffisait de mélanger l’huile à de l’argile et à la cendre de plantes à soude (salicorne et soda) qui poussent facilement sur les terres salées[37] .

 

Tableau des fonctions artisanales féminines attestées (contexte privé et professionnel)

 

FONCTION MÉTIER MASCULIN MÉTIER FÉMININ
tisserand išparu oui oui (išpartu)
blanchisseur puṣayu oui oui (pūṣa’ītu)
foulon ašlāku oui non
cuisinier nuḫatimmu oui non (seulement Mari)
parfumeur muraqqu oui oui (muraqqītu dans le palais de Babylone)
brasseur sirāšu oui non (pas après Nuzi, sirāšītu)
cabaretier/marchand de bière sābû oui oui sābītum (mais pas domestique)
boucher ṭābiḫu oui non
meunier ṭē’inu oui oui (ṭē’intu/ṭē’ittu ou ararratu mais pas attesté en tant que tel !) mí-meš ša qēme i-ṭe4-en-na-a’ Bongenaar Ebabbar p. 113
presseur d’huile ṣāḫitu oui non (1 attestation nA ṣaḫittu)
jardinier/arboriculteur nukarribu oui non (1 attestation OB nukarribatu)
médecin asū oui non (1 attestation OB mí a-zu)
gardien de volaille usandu oui non
vannier atkuppu oui non
faiseur de nattes paqqu oui non
musicien/chanteur naru oui non (nartu)
sage-femme oui (šabsūtu: NBC 4787 cf. Jursa 2005 p. 632 et note 3346)

Existe-t-il des métiers féminins spécialisés ?

Jursa 2010 p. 727-728 considère qu’un grand nombre de productions sont externalisées et monétisées à l’époque néo-babylonienne, y compris pour des produits de la vie courante. Il y a une forte spécialisation du travail qui pemret à des artisans de vivre de leur production, et qui fonctionne selon un système de «reciprocal exchange». Cette argumentation tire parti du dossier des blanchissaeurs professionnels étudié par C. Waerzeggers[38]

Il reste cependant nombre de tâches remplies par les femmes dans le cadre familial. Mais plus on sort du cadre urbain, plus la documentation devient mince sur cet aspect spécifique de la main-d’oeuvre féminine. On doit souvent procéder par analogie, à partir de la documentation des grands temples, et il faut sans doute intégrer dans les tâches féminines certaines activités de production agricole ou assimilée: on ne trouve pas de femme dans les travaux des champs proprement dits, mais le temple du dieu Šamaš à Sippar emploie, par exemple, pour l’entretien ou l’acquisition de sa volaille destinée aux offrandes alimentaires, quelques femmes[39].

Plus la famille est riche, plus elle recourt à du personnel spécialisé; on a vu qu’on assiste alors à une migration de la technicité de la sphère féminine à la sphère masculine: les grandes maisons ont un cuisinier, des spécialistes de divers artisanats qui leur sont attachés à demeure, et recourent probablement à la gestion écrite de l’utilisation de leurs ressources. Dans les cas les plus complexes, comme la famille Egibi de Babylone, la famille peut se répartir sur plusieurs maisons, voire sur plusieurs villes. Ainsi les Egibi ont-ils des implantations à Babylone, mais aussi à Borsippa et à Kiš, et leur personnel circule, semble-t-il, entre ces trois centres urbains.

Il faut également envisager la possibilité, dans les familles de la classe la plus élevée, de servantes et de serviteurs spécialisés dans les soins personnels, si l’on considère que la «cour divine» des temples peut reproduire non seulement la cour royale, mais aussi certaines très riches maisons: A. George[40] cite les «Filles de L’Ezida» et les «Filles de l’Esagil», qui servent de coiffeuses (ṣepirtu); et il faut penser aussi à un ou plusieurs barbier(s) dans ce genre de maison.

Le texte YOS 6 5, daté du 26-xii de l’année inaugurale de Nabonide rapporte d’ailleurs l’acquisition pour 58 sicles d’argent par Šum-ukīn, le Fermier Général de l’Eanna d’Uruk, d’un esclave barbier (lú qal-la lú šu-i) auprès d’un dénommé Nabû-mukīn-apli.

 Il existe d’autres femmes aux activités spécialisées: ainsi, comme en témoignent BE 8/1 47 et 000 (= Zawadzki 2010) des contrats de nourrice[41] existent.

Le texte NBC 4787 d’Uruk, cité dans Jursa 2010 p. 632 et note 3346 est l’un des rares à documenter les aspects économiques de l’accouchement:

ll. 5′ (…) 0,0.3 zú-lum-ma a-na a-la-du šá ina-é-an-na-al-si-iš 0,0.1 zú-lum-ma egir-ú-tu ina igi gu-gu-ú-a 0,1 munu4 0,1.2 še-bar la-bi-ri 4-tú a-na mí šab-su-tú

18 litres de dattes pour l’accouchement de Ina-Eanna-alsiš, 16 litres de dattes, fourniture supplémentaire, à la disposition de Gugūa, 36 litres de malt, 48 litres d’orge des réserves, 1/4 de sicle d’argent pour la sage-femme…»

 BE 8 47 (cf. San Nicolo 1935 p. 22)

Urki-šarrat, fille de Nabû-nakuttu-alsi, allaitera en tant que nourrice la fille d’Ardiya, fils de Gimillu, descendant d’Eppeš-ili, jusqu’à son sevrage. Chaque mois, Ardiya donnera à Nabû-nakuttu-alsi 1/3 de sicle d’argent. Urki-šarrat n’aura pas le droit d’abandonner la fille d ‘Ardiya; elle n’aura pas le droit d’aller dans un autre lieu jusqu’à la fin du mois d’Ululu de l’an 6; Urki-šarrat allaitera la fille d’Ardiya à partir du 1er Tašrītu de l’an 5, [………] à la fin du mois d’Ulûlu de l’an 6, Ardiya donnera à Nabû-nakuttu-alsi x sicles d’argent, valeur d’un habit (túg-kur-ra). (3 témoins, 1 scribe. Babylone, le 28 Ulûlu de l’an 5 de Nabonide, roi de Babylone. Fait en présence d’Equbuta, épouse de Nabû-nakuttu-alsi, mère d’Urki-šarrat. Courant jusqu’au Ier Nisannu , Nabû-nakuttu-alsi a reçu 2 sicles d’argent des mains d’Ardiya.

Deux explications sont possibles: la plus probable étant qu’on ait affaire, à une famille de simples particuliers dont la fille-(mère ?)[42] vient d’accoucher. Elle est en mesure d’allaiter la fille (sans nom…) d’Ardiya/Gimillu/Eppeš-ili pour une période d’un an, mais la transaction est passée avec ses parents et ce sont eux qui reçoivent ses gains (dont les six premiers mois versés en une seule fois). L’autre explication est qu’on ait affaire au produit d’une relation entre Ardiya et la fille d’un couple (servile?): Ardiya reconnaît l’enfant comme sienne, mais ne considère juridiquement la mère que comme une nourrice, et la rétribue en ce sens (cf. CH 6 170 sur la reconnaissance des enfants d’esclaves)

Au total, la part féminine dans l’économie domestique apparaît bien fondamentale, puisqu’il s’agit de transformer un certain nombre de matières premières de base en produits consommables et de veiller au bien-être des habitants, plus ou moins nombreux, de la maison. Selon le niveau social et la taille de la famille, les tâches sont plus ou moins déléguées, effectuées par des domestiques, voire par des esclaves spécialisés, libérant alors du temps pour la maîtresse de maison. Mais, de manière générale, il faut penser la vie à l’intérieur de la maison de manière collective, et la structure du ménage isolé n’est certainement pas celle qui rend le mieux compte de la réalité du rôle économique des femmes dans ce cadre.

2. Quel degré d’autonomie?

 a) Autonomie ou délégation de gestion
 Une gestion autonome? Le cas de Re’indu

Certaines femmes sortent du cadre étroit de l’activité productrice et assurent une partie de la réception des produits et de la gestion des stocks. Il leur arrive même de gérer des paiements courants, comme le montre un petit dossier constitué par les «archives» de Re’indu, une femme donnant des ordres de virement et d’achat sous le règne de Xerxès. Les contours de l’ensemble de l’archive restent très difficiles à cerner et il est probable que plusieurs des paiements effectués ou reçus par Re’indu soient à mettre au compte de la gestion d’une prébende; mais le fait demeure qu’une femme est ici clairement impliquée dans des mouvements de métal précieux correspondant à des paiements.

VS 6 192

VAT 4927

NRVU 798

lieu non précisé

fRe’indu/Bazûzu

nd

VS 6 303

VAT 4973

NRVU 854

lieu non précisé

fRe’indu/Bazûzu 

nd

VS 6 315

VAT 4982

NRVU 862

lieu non précisé

fRe’indu/Bazûzu 

nd

VS 6 317

VAT 4995

NRVU 863

lieu non précisé

fRe’indu/Bazûzu 

nd

VS 6 313

VAT 4996

NRVU 860

lieu non précisé

fRe’indu/Bazûzu 

nd

VS 4 202

VAT 4997

NRVU 793

lieu non précisé

fRe’indu/Bazûzu 

nd

VS 3 204

VAT 4998

NRVU 790

lieu non précisé

fRe’indu/Bazûzu 

nd

VS 4 193

VAT 5016

NRVU 574

 lieu non précisé

fRe’indu/Bazûzu 

Xerxès 01

VS 6 142

VAT 5017

NRVU 597

Borsippa

fRe’indu/Bazûzu 

Dar I 24

VS 6 191

VAT 5043

NRVU 797

lieu non précisé

fRe’indu/Bazûzu 

NR 01 (= Xerxès)

VS 6 311

VAT 5048

NRVU 859

 lieu non précisé

fRe’indu/Bazûzu 

nd

A 182

OECT 12

 

 lieu non précisé

fRe’indu/Bazûzu 

22-ii-Xerxès 2

Les femmes du dossier Nabû-ēṭir

On note également la situation particulière de certaines femmes dans des dossiers de transfert de produits alimentaires, tel celui rassemblé par R. Zadok à propos de Nabû-ēṭir[43]. Il s’agit d’un ensemble de courts billets, provenant très vraisemblablement de Borsippa, enregistrant des fournitures de produits alimentaires, pain et viande essentiellement, à des particuliers. Même si le contexte cultuel est très probable, il ne s’agit pas d’un dossier propre à l’administration de l’Ezida, comme le note C. Waerzeggers[44]. On serait plutôt dans la sphère des circuits personnels privés de redistribution de la nourriture servie ou simplement préparée pour les offrandes aux dieux et qui concerne au premier chef les prébendiers du temple.

On voit donc qu’à côté d’un circuit quasi commercial de la viande, dont fait état C. Waerzeggers à Borsippa, il en existe un autre, qui procède de la redistribution et des échanges personnels, dans lequel des femmes interviennent, comme bénéficiaires ou même comme donneuses d’ordre. On peut supposer que certaines d’entre elles sont mentionnées parce qu’elles ont la propriété nominale des prébendes qui fournissent ces revenus alimentaires, mais il n’est pas exclu que les interventions féminines traduisent aussi une forme de droit de regard sur l’acquisition des produits alimentaires destinés à leur communauté familiale.

Tout au long des années 26 et 27 de Darius Ier, on voit revenir certains noms de manière régulière: ceux de Amtiya, de Mullissu-iddin, de Balāṭ-napišti(?), de Mullissu-silim, de Bānītu-ittiya. Certaines reçoivent purement et simplement farine, pain, ou viande[45]; d’autres (et parfois les mêmes…) les transmettent, elles-mêmes ou par un intermédiaire à qui elles donnent des instructions écrites ou orales. Le n°13 (BM 29309), enregistre, de manière intéressante la livraison, sur ordre de Nabû-eṭir, d’un pain-ṣibtu par Bêl-eṭir à Mullissu-iddin à la place de 22 sicles de laine.

On remarque en particulier la place non négligeable, que tient Amtiya comme donneuse d’ordre[46]. Cela permet de rattacher à ce dossier la lettre CT 22 221 (même série de cote de musée), dans laquelle Amtiya indique à Bēl-ēṭir comment préparer la viande.

 NBB 221:

Lettre d’Amtiya à Bēl-eṭir. Maintenant, lorsque tu l’auras sous la main, la viande qui est à ta disposition, ouvre[47]-la et place-la dans du sel. Et si tu ne l’as pas sous la main à partir du 9ème jour, donne-la viande à Naṣir: que ce soit lui qui (l’)ouvre. Vois: c’est par l’intermédiaire d’Itti-Nabû-gūzu que je t’ai écrit.

Mais dans la majorité des cas, si la maîtresse de maison est habilitée à participer à la gestion, c’est le plus souvent en suivant les instructions de son mari. C’est ce dont témoigne BIN 1 28 d’Uruk(?), une lettre d’Innin-eṭerat à Nabû-šum-ukīn, «son seigneur». Elle l’informe de l’état de son domaine agricole et d’opérations financières qu’elle effectue selon ses instructions:

 (ll. 26sq.) «(…) à propos de ce que tu m’as écrit en ces termes: “J’ai laissé 5 sicles 1/2 d’argent dans la maison; il y a aussi 1 sicle (de) [……]ia et 1/2 sicle (de) Nadin, fils de Nabû-zēr-ukīn, plus 3 sicles moins 1/4 d’argent, soit un total de 10 sicles d’argent [que ……]… j’ai déposé” (…) 2 paires de chaussures et 2 bourses en cuir-parūtu de ………, voici que je les ai données en cadeau

 Une autonomie juridique ?

L’autonomie juridique de la femme dans le cadre du mariage est un sujet en soi, mais elle a des rapports certains avec l’autonomie économique. La question se pose pour la formation du couple: on sait, depuis les études de M. Roth, que l’épouse n’a que très peu d’initiative dans la conclusion du mariage. Elle est ensuite insérée dans un groupe familial plus ou moins étendu avec sa hiérarchie propre (cf. ci-dessous). Et elle ne sort du mariage, le plus souvent que par le décès de son époux. Il existe quand même quelques très rares cas de dissolution, qui ont été analysés par C. Wunsch[48]: l’un à la suite de la rupture d’une promesse de mariage (Wunsch BA 2 p. 40 n°9), l’autre qui est un véritable cas de divorce (Wunsch BA 2 p. 32sq. n°8).

On trouve également un autre aspect de l’autonomie domestique des femme qui est celui de l’intervention dans la gestion des biens, tout particulièrement les biens dotaux. La situation la plus répandue est que ces biens soient pris en charge par le chef masculin de la famille dans laquelle entre une jeune épouse: il peut s’agit de son beau-père, d’un beau-frère, ou, naturellement, de son époux. C. Waerzeggers a montré que ces gestionnaires ont toute latitude pour exploiter les biens dotaux et qu’il leur arrive même de les dilapider[49]. On observe aussi que plus le niveau de richesse de l’épouse est élevé, plus son degré d’autonomie est grand, et les études sont nombreuses à avoir mis en évidence ces situations où une femme gère elle-même ou avec des membres de sa famille d’origine ses biens dotaux: le cas le mieux connu est celui d’Ina-Esagil-ramat, épouse d’Iddin-Nabu/Nappāḫu. On y note en particulier la présence d’esclaves féminines qualifiées de mulugu, pour lesquels M. Roth[50] a montré qu’elles peuvent être utilisées par le mari (en particulier comme gage antichrétique d’une dette), mais qu’elles et leur éventuelle descendance restent la propriété de l’épouse au titre de la dot.

On n’entrera pas outre mesure dans l’utilisation de la dot, dans la mesure où cet aspect concerne aussi de près les problèmes de transmission du patrimoine qui sont une autre partie de la recherche, et où ce qui est ici en cause est avant tout de déterminer la part prise par la femme dans l’économie de la maison et le degré d’autonomie dont elle peut y disposer. Il apparaît, de toute manière assez clairement que si la femme mariée garde normalement la propriété de ses biens dotaux, et qu’elle est protégée par la loi dans ce cadre, elle n’en a que très rarement la disposition: s’il s’agit de biens fonciers, ils sont le plus souvent gérés par la partie masculine de la famille et leur revenu sert à l’entretien de la famille: cf. la mention du procès Edinburgh n°69 «Bel-apla-iddin pourra prendre auprès d’Etellitu son épouse le coût de sa nourriture et de son habillement, à concurrence du montant de sa dot»2

b) la hiérarchie interne de la maisonnée

Quand on envisage les choses en termes de maisonnée, on voit qu’il existe une hiérarchie féminine interne qui reproduit d’une certaine manière la hiérarchie masculine de la maisonnée. La lettre CT 22 6 [BM 31121 = S+ 76-11-17, 848] rend assez bien compte de cette situation: elle est envoyée par Itti-Marduk-balāṭu, descendant d’Egibi, qui écrit sous son diminutif d’Iddinaia, à sa famille[51]. La destinataire principale est sa mère, Qudāšu; il s’adresse ensuite spécifiquement à ses beaux-parents, Iddin-Marduk et Ina-Esagil-rāmat, (mais pas à son épouse Nuptaia !); il s’enquiert ensuite de la santé d’un certain nombre de personens, dont ses fils et ses filles. On a clairement l’impression que ce groupe familial est localisé dans un espace sinon unique, du moins commun à beaucoup de ses participants.

 Les femmes de la maison

Selon le niveau social de la famille, selon sa taille, aussi, on peut avoir une mère de famille assistée de sa ou ses filles puis de sa ou ses belles-filles, puis une maîtresse gouvernant un certain nombre de domestiques de statut serviles plus ou moins jeunes: en général on les appelle «petite» (qallatu), mais il existe aussi des stades plus expérimentés, y compris nourrices, cuisinières et préposées à la toilette. Il faut évidemment supposer des systèmes mixtes associant filles et belles-filles de la famille et esclaves domestiques. Une partie de leurs activités est consacrée aussi à la production des vêtements.

Mais la hiérarchie féminine interne peut être encore plus compliquée: il faut partir ici des remarques développées par K. Abraham[52] à propos des jeunes épouses dont le père est absent au moment du mariage: il s’agit soit d’orphelines, soit de «filles sans père», qui sont très souvent des enfants trouvées, recueillies et adoptées par des femmes de familles aisées:

«The difference between the orphaned and the father-less brides can be traced interestingly enough to the time long before they were married, when they were taken in as babies or small children. (…) We can see that orphaned girls were formally adopted, then served (palāḫu) their adoptive parent(s), but wer free to go, once the latter has/have died. On the other hand, foundling girls were taken in by well-to-do Babylonian women or by the temple, but without being formally adopted. They were to remain with their foster parentsin order to serve (palāḫu) them. They could have left their foster parents on the condition that they were to be married to a hal-free person (…) or that they were to enter another household as half-free».

 Esclaves et dépendantes

La structure interne de ces familles est normalement liée à l’habitat urbain, mais on sait que chaque famille de notables dispose de domaines agricoles proches de la ville, qu’elle fait exploiter par des familles d’esclaves ou de dépendants. Il est alors probable qu’à l’occasion les forces de travail ou les compétences de ces fermiers et fermières servile sou dépendants soient aussi mobilisés dans le cadre du fonctionnement de la maison de ville (au moment du transport des récoltes ou du filage de la laine par exemple).

Les frontières du groupe familial sur lequel les femmes exercent une autorité en rapport avec les taches spécialisées qui leur sont affectées restent floues, en l’état actuel de nos connaissances. On a vu qu’il comprend vraisemblablement plusieurs familles nucléaires, ainsi que des domestiques de statut servile, plus ou moins gérés en commun. Les esclaves figurent en bas de la hiérarchie familiale, mais il y a sans doute une distinction à opérer entre ceux et celles qui sont une propriété de la famille dans son ensemble, sans rattachement particulier, et ceux et celles qui sont plus spécialement attachés à une personne, ou un couple, à l’intérieur du groupe familial. Le groupe des esclaves domestiques est globalement qualifié par le terme de nišê bīti. Une sous-catégorie possible est celle des esclaves féminines qui ont des enfants de l’un des membres de la famille, puisque les amours ancillaires existent et que le veuvage de l’un des membres de la famille élargie n’entraîne pas forcément un remariage. Mais les enfants nés de ces unions ne sont pas forcément reconnus par le père comme héritiers et gardent alors un statut inférieur.

Dans les familles les plus riches, on doit aussi compter des formes d’association impliquant une forme de dépendance, voire de clientélisme. C’est-à-dire que des membres de la maisonnée sont attachés à la famille ni par les liens du sang, ni par une appartenance en tant qu’esclave, mais par une dépendance volontaire qui en fait les client(e)s de cette famille. C’est peut-être ce qui, au fond, est exprimé par la mention des «maisons de mār banî» dans lesquelles «entrent» des personnes en situation précaire[53]. Sans vouloir régler ici la difficile question de ce que sont ces maisons de mār banî, il est possible que le cas parfois litigieux du rattachement de certaines personnes à la «maison d’un mār banî», fasse allusion à l’existence de semblables maisonnées et au système de clientèle qui en résulte. Dans ce cas, les clauses de garantie, dans les ventes d’esclaves, concernant la non appartenance au statut d’esclave royal (arad-šarrūṭu), d’oblat (širki-ilūtu) de serf (šušānūtu), de personnel de tenure militaire (bīt sīsi, bīt narkabti) ou de domaine royal (bīt kussi), s’appliqueraient aussi à l’état de «clientèle» (mār banûtu).

Au final, on se trouve donc en présence d’une hiérarchie complexe des statuts féminins au sein des maisons urbaines, qui commande très certainement le type d’activité attribuée à chacune des femmes de la maison, depuis les jeunes esclaves jsuqu’à la maîtresse de la maison. Cette hiérarchie peut être résumée dans le tableau suivant, de sens descendant, dont il faudrait pouvoir encore moduler la répartition en fonction des âges et des qualifications propres, mais celles-ci nous restent cependant inconnues la plupart du temps.

 

Statut juridique       

Place dans la famille

 

 

libre

maîtresse de maison (bēlet bīti)
épouse des fils de la maison
fille de plein droit (non encore mariée)
fille (orpheline) adoptée (non encore mariée)
fille d’une esclave et du maître de maison (reconnue)
   

dépendante

fille (enfant trouvée) adoptée
femme dépendante (cliente de mār banî)
   

servile

esclave personnelle
fille d’une esclave et du maître de maison (non reconnue)
esclave de la famille

 

3. Une économie de femmes seules?

 a) marginalisation accidentelle: les veuves

On peut partir de la remarque de M. Roth[54]:

 «(…) women first married between the ages of fourtheen and twenty and men between the ages of twenty-six and thirty-two. This decade or more age difference between spouses suggests that many women, surviving childbirth , would outlive their husbands, producing a relatively young widowed female population, still fertile and capable of reproduction».

Outre la possibilité d’un nombre élevé de veuves, cette remarque suggère également que l’inégalité d’autonomie était renforcée par la différence d’âge quand il s’agissait d’un premier mariage féminin: une jeune épouse de 17 à 18 ans n’était guère en situation de s’imposer à un époux trentenaire, et encore moins à la mère de celui-ci, probablement quinquagénaire. Par contre, comme le remarque M. Roth, le nombre de familles monoparentales dirigées par des veuves était sans doute assez élevé. Il faut cependant faire la part de l’entourage familial: le rôle de la communauté familiale est précisément d’aider à la prise en charge de ceux de ses membres dont la famille nucléaire a souffert d’une disparition. Même dans le cas des jeunes veuves avec enfants, on n’avait donc que peu de cas de femmes réellement isolées.

Cependant une femme se retrouvant veuve et sans enfants pouvait être amenée à réintégrer sa famille d’origine. Comme le remarque M. Roth[55]:

«the death of a husband, then, would not necessarily make a woman legally and economically independant if there was a prior jural authority to reassort control».

 Dans l’ensemble, le veuvage féminin apparaît comme un moment de fragilité et de vulnérabilité: on notera par exemple le cas de Zunnaia, une veuve remariée dont le beau-père refuse que son fils du premier lit devienne l’héritier de son second mariage[56]. De même, le texte de mariage Nbk 101 (= Roth n°4) a bien été analysé par G. van Driel[57] comme comportant une compensation pour la mère, veuve, de la jeune femme épousée, à laquelle le mari fournit un esclave et une somme d’une mine et demi d’argent. Il ne s’agit pas à proprement parler de l’«achat» de l’épouse, mais de la prise en charge forfaitaire des besoins de la mère de cette dernière, auprès de qui l’épouse remplissait la fonction de soutien économique primordial:

 ll. 4-9: «Ḫammaia l’a écouté favorablement, et elle lui a donné comme épouse sa fille La-tubāšinni. Et Dagil-ilāni, de son plein gré, a donné à Ḫammaia, en échange (kūm) de sa fille La-tubāšinni, l’esclave Ana-muḫḫī-bēl-amur qui avait été acheté pour 1/2 mine d’argent, plus 1 mine 1/2 d’argent avec lui.»

 b) marginalisation professionnelle: les prostituées et les cabaretières

 La justification d’une présence féminine à la tête des débits de boisson, qui n’est par ailleurs pas exclusive, peut trouver sa raison première dans le fait qu’il s’agit d’un substitut de la maison privée, où l’on peut boire et manger, et dont la production est à ce titre d’abord considérée comme relevant des femmes.

Ce point fera l’objet d’une recherche spécifique et de développements ultérieurs

Conclusion provisoire

            Au terme de cette enquête, un certain nombre de faits apparaissent assez clairement: la société néo-babylonienne, dans sa composante urbaine, la seule vraiment bien documentée par les textes de la pratique, est structurée par le modèle de la famille collective. Une répartition des tâches entre hommes et femmes en fonction des compétences — plus ou moins supposées — fait que les femmes assurent l’entretien courant (toilette, nourriture, habillement) et prennent en charge les enfants en bas-âge et les personnes âgées. Mais très peu de ces femmes le font à un stade individuel: elles constituent, soit par le réseau des relations familiales, soit par le biais de la domesticité féminine, un groupe suffisamment nombreux et structuré pour répondre aux besoins. À l’intérieur de ce groupe règne une hiérarchie plus ou moins forte, mais qui assigne à chacune des femmes une place stricte. Au sommet, la maîtresse de maison (bēlet bīti) jouit d’une considération suffisante pour bénéficier dans certaines transactions juridiques de cadeaux spécifiques[58]. Il semble également qu’elle dispose d’une forme de délégation de gestion lorsque le chef de famille est absent, comme en témoigne la correspondance privée.

Plus la situation sociale de la famille est élevée, plus le groupe féminin est susceptible d’être nombreux, mais également diversifié, certaines des domestiques prenant en charge des activités très spécifiques. Les esclaves ont par ailleurs un double statut: elles participent à la production domestique, mais peuvent aussi être placées dans d’autres familles en tant que gages antichrétiques. Si cette situation n’est pas réservée aux femmes, et si elle n’est pas toujours le fruit d’une décision volontaire, elle permet en général à une famille aisée de disposer d’un revenu complémentaire

On observe aussi que certaines tâches sont prises en charge par un technicien, qui est en général un homme: c’est typiquement le cas des cuisiniers/boulangers (nuḫatimmu) dans les grandes maisons. Il n’est pas impossible qu’une partie de la production domestique ait été externalisée, soit par le biais de boutiques accolées à une grande maison (mais rien n’indique qu’elles aient été tenues par des femmes), soit mise sur le marché, en particulier pour certains vêtements.

De ce fait, un débat particulièrement intéressant est à mener sur le degré d’insertion de l’économie familiale dans le processus général de production et de commercialisation à l’oeuvre en Babylonie au Ier millénaire. Si l’on suit les conclusions de Jursa 2010, on est en présence d’une société urbaine très insérée dans l’économie de marché et susceptible de produire, dans le cadre familial, des biens qui sont ensuite vendus (ou troqués ?) à l’extérieur. Cette vision des choses suppose une importante monétarisation des échanges (même si la monnaie de métal n’existe pas en tant que telle), une forte activité des sociétés commerciales privées (visibles à travers les contrats ana ḫarrāni), et une spécialisation du travail déjà très avancée. On serait alors dans un type de société urbaine particulièrement actif et diversifié (ce qui, après tout, correspond assez bien à la vision traditionnelle de la Babylone du Ier millénaire…).

À l’inverse, l’aspect très traditionnel du cadre dans lequel s’exerce la production familiale dont les femmes ont la responsabilité (artisanat alimentaire et artisanat textile) correspond assez bien avec ce que nous documentent les textes, si l’on admet que le recours à des artisans spécialisés extérieurs est surtout une question de statut social. Cependant l’exemple paléo-assyrien des familles de marchands insérées dans un processus général de production textile montre que les deux aspects ne sont pas incompatibles.

D’autre part, on doit prêter attention au fait que les données fournies par les contrats de mariage, en particulier et les inventaires de dot reflètent des situations qui sont souvent atypiques[59] et qui traduisent parfois une situation de vulnérabilité socio-économique des familles concernées. On ne peut donc pas en déduire a priori un état systématique d’infériorité des épouses néo-babyloniennes.

            Au final, après ce premier examen de la part prise par les femmes dans l’économie domestique, des pistes de réflexion apparaissent, mais les conclusions sont encore provisoires et nécessitent une série d’études de cas spécifiques, orientées dans cette direction.


[1] Voir la «bibliographie néo-babylonienne» dans le recueil bibliographique rassemblé pour le projet REFEMA. Les transcriptions des textes présentés ici en traduction seront disponibles dans une annexe en ligne sur le site internet dédié au projet.

[2] Baker, Nappāḫu p. 32

[3] Jursa 2000, p. 498-499 (BM 64153 = Bertin 1446).

[4] On verra un peu plus loin que les inventaires des dots sont sélectifs et ne reproduisent pas forcément l’ensemble du mobilier d’une maisonnée

[5] Il est à peu près exclu qu’il se soit agi de l’épouse d’Iddin-Nabû, Ina-Esagil-ramat, car elle était d’un rang social qui lui permettait de ne pas effectuer elle-même ce genre de tâche.

[6] le texte est daté de l’an 41 de l’ère séleucide, en 270 av. n. è.

[7] dūdu est compris par les dictionnaires comme une marmite («kettle»). Il peut être placé sur un naḫmaṣu, compris comme un «support» (CAD N1 140), mais qui est plutôt un dispositif servant à transporter la marmite (chaude?), au vu du sens initial de ḫamāṣu «to tear away».

[8] Par exemple dans les cercles de voisinage des sociétés semi-urbaines d’Italie du sud aux époques médiévale et moderne («vicinato»).

[9] Ce point a fait l’objet d’une analyse détaillée dans la thèse de doctorat de Y. Watai , p. 000-000.

[10] Roth 199o, p. 13.

[11] Roth 199o, p. 15, et développé spécifiquement à propos du sex-linked dowry, p. 36.

[12] «these slaves are part of a female-to-female donation, (…) and are specifically intended to facilitate the wife’s adjustment to her new home and circumstances».

[13] Cf. dès 1978 l’article de N. Postgate dans l’Archéologie de l’Iraq, p. 000.

[14] Hackl 2005, p. 705-707.

[15] Cf. la thèse de Y. Watai, p. 000.

[16] Eventuellement, la littérature populaire (en particulier satirique: cf. le texte publié par A. Cavigneaux sur «the Rake’s porgress») peut donner des indications.

[17] Waerzeggers 2006, p. 95.

[18] Miglus 1999, p. 197-198 et Tableau 32.

[19] Cf. en partiucleir Miglus 1999 p. 198.

[20] Par commodité, on gardera ici le terme de «bière», qui ne convient pas particulièrement à la réalisation de cette boisson fermentée, mais que la tradition savante a pris l’habitude d’employer.

[21] Hackl, Jankovic, Jursa 2010, p. 216 n°28:3-10 «(…) Fais macérer les 10 kurru ((= 1800 l.) de dattes pour faire de la bière claire (pīṣu); on a fourni pour cela 30 jarres-dannu; s’il y a manque de cruches-haṣbātu, donne des dattes à Nabû-taqbi-līšir, pour qu’il les entrepose en ville et se charge de les faire macérer. (Mais) commence à faire macérer tout ce qu’il y a en plus (des 10 kurru) et fournis les dattes et l’épice-kasu.

[22] Castel 1993, p. 84.

[23] Joannès 19oo (Femmes des grands organismes)

[24] Waerzeggers 2010, p. 234. Sur la participation des femmes, en général, aux activités cultuelles, très restreinte au Ier millénaire, cf. ibid. p. 49-51.

[25] Cf. cependant la remarque de Castel 1993, p. 95: «(…) les aménagements liés au feu ne sont pas nécessairement installés dans les espaces à l’air libre. (…) Les “cuisines” sont aussi bien de grands espaces que de petits, quelle que soit la taille des maisons».

[26] Une mention très intéressante se trouve dans un texte publié par C. Wunsch (BA 2 n°17): une femme, Gagaia, s’y procure du pain «à la porte de la maison des boulangers» (1 qa ninda-há šá ká é lú mu-meš) et de la bière «à la porte de la maison des brasseurs» (1 qa kaš-sag šá ká é lú lunga-meš). On pourrait y voir une mention de boutiques où ces produits sont vendus, mais le contexte général et les mentions parallèles orientent plutôt vers le système des prébende et des ateliers du temple.

[27] Cf. Wunsch, Iddin-Marduk, n°93. Mêmes individus ?

[28] Les textes bibliques osnt plus explicite sà cet égard: cf. le récit du mariage de Jacob à Harran.

[29] Castel 1992, p. 83.

[30] cf. mémoire de master 2 de L. Quillien. Mention du tamaris comme bois pour fabriquer les métiers à tisser.

[31]  Cf. Jursa 2010, p. 221: «The karballatu cap is a headgear typically worn by soldiers», et à propos de FLP 667 (note 1273): «In this case, 240 caps are bought, or manufactured, for one mina of silver».

[32] CDA 96a: an overgarment

[33] collations de M. Roth dans RA 82 p. 136 note 17.

[34] Le mémoire de m2 de L. Quillien mentionne ainsi une(!) atetstation de lin cultivé par des particuliers.

[35] Ce dossier a été étudié dans Waerzeggers 20oo

[36] Huile de sésame: une huile utile pour la repousse des cheveux, car elle nourrit les bulbes pileux et leur fournit un milieu approprié pour la croissance. Il contient de l’acide lynolique (nom scientifique), qui lutte contre les maladies dermatologiques, telles que l’eczéma, la kératinisation folliculaire, et agit comme un écran solaire pour la peau

[37] Forbes 1965 (Studies in Ancient Technologies tome III), p. 186: «In Mesopotamia, however, some kind of soap was manufactured, certainly as early as the Ur III Period, when the Sumerians boiled oil and alkali together».

[38] Waerzeggers 2006: RA 100, p. 83-96.

[39] Pour une très grande majorité d’hommes, cependant: cf. les cas de Bābāia, Ḫimmītu, Inbāia, Nādāia, Suddirtu, Šikkû mentionnées dans Jankovic 2004.

[40] George 2000 p. 295 «Presumably position of such goddesses in the divine courts was analogous with the situation of young unmarried daughters in a human household»

[41] Pour une nourrice royale, cf. Evetts, Inscriptions, App. n°2 = Graziani, n°8: 6 gur še-bar šá ar-ti-im mu-še-ni-iq-tu4 šá it-ta-aḫ-šá-aḫ dumu-mí lugal (année inaugurale de Xerxès).

[42] Cf. Stol, CM 14 p. 182, qui y voit peut-être une jeune veuve.

[43] Zadok 2006 («The Text Group of Nabû-eṭer» AfO 51 (2005-2006), pp.147-197).

[44] Waerzeggers  2010, p. 000.

[45] n°54 (BM 29310), 148 (BM 96490), 149 (BM 29570), 150 (BM 29267).

[46] Le n°93 (BM 96543) daté du mois i de l’an 27 de Darius Ier cite une Andiya, fille de Ḫiptaia, mais il n’est pas sûr qu’il faille tout ramener à l’unité, vu le caractère trsè commun du  nom Amtiya/Andiya.

[47] šu-pal-li-ka (l. 6) et lu-šu-pal-li-ka (l. 14) sont considérés comme un impératif 2ème personne et un précatif 3ème personne, singulier, de napalkû au système III, là où l’on attendrait šupalkî et lišpalki.

[48] <Référence à venir>

[49] Sur l’exploitation de la dot de la femme par le mari, cf. C. Waerzeggers , AfO 46/47 p. 183-200.

[50] M. Roth 1989/90 p. 15-17; cf. la confirmation par Baker 2004 p. 73.

[51] Itti-Marduk-balāṭu est alors en déplacement dans le pays de pa-ni-ra-ga-na (lecture non assurée), sans doute en Iran d’après ce que l’on sait de ses déplacements: cf. la thèse de G. Tolini, chapitre 000. D’après G. Tolini (communication personnelle), le toponyme serait peut-être plutôt à lire a!-sa!-ra-ga-na et serait à mettre en rapport avec Asurukanu en Médie où se trouve effectivement Itti-Marduk-balāṭu au mois vi bis de l’an 2 de Cyrus, d’après le texte Cyr. 58.

[52] Abraham 2006 p. 210-211.

[53] Voir la discussion de cette institution dans Roth 1988, 1989, et CTMMA III , p. 214 note 3. voir M. T. Roth, 1988 Women in Transition and the bīt mār bāni. Revue d’Assyriologie 82:131-138. et 1989 A Case of contested Status In DUMU-E2-DUB-BA-A : Studies in Honor of A. K. Sjöberg, edited by D. L. M. T. R. H. Behrens, pp. 481-489, Philadelphia.> cf. Weisberg n°38, un esclave est affranchi à l’occasion de son mariage et transformé en client (on lui rédige une tablette de mar bani), mais il est prévu qu’il deviendra ensuite, avec ses enfants, un zaku d’Ištar d’Uruk. Cela reviendrait à dire qu’au couple ardu (esclave)/ša bît mar bani (client) dans une maison privée, correspondrait un couple širku (oblat)/zakû (client du temple) dans le sanctuaire?

[54] Roth 1993 p. 4. Cette estimation est cependnat tempérée par G. van Driel, Care of Elderly p. 173, qui observe: «M. T. Roth’s estimates of the age of the partners in the “Mediterranean marriage” are no more than acceptable intelligent guesses. We can speculate with confidence that few people could expect to reach the age of forty even if they had passed the ten year boundary».

[55] Roth 1993 p. 22.

[56] transcription et traduction la plus récente dans MMA III n°102.

[57] Care of the Elderly in the Ancient Near East, p. 188

[58] cf. dans la thèse de Y. Watai, l’hypothèse que lors des ventes de maison on reconnaît une sorte de droit de propriété virtuel à la maîtresse de maison au titre de sa présence permanente dans les lieux, qui se traduit par la remise d’un cadeau sous la forme d’un habit: cf. CAD B 191b lubāri/túg-há ša bēlet bīti.

[59] Présentation par C. Wunsch au congrès de Berlin sur Babylone en 2009 des textes de Al-Yaḫūdu.

 

The Woman in Marriage as Reflected in the Code of Hammurabi

The Woman in Marriage as Reflected in the Code of Hammurabi

Ichiro NAKATA
(Professor Emeritus of Chuo University, Tokyo)

 

A. SURVEY

 

I. The women in some Akkadian expressions of getting married

The verbs most frequently used in the CH to express the action of getting married are “to take (in marriage) or to seize” (aḫāzum)[1] and “to enter” (erēbum). The grammatical subject of aḫāzum is male and the woman appears only as the object of aḫāzum.

(1) « if a man takes a wife in marriage but does not make a contract for her, . . .  (šumma awīlum aššatam īhuzma riksātiša la iškun) « . (§ 128. See also §§ 144, 148, 162, 316, and 167) [2]

(2) « if that man has a debt incurred before he takes that woman in marraige  (šumma awīlum šû lāma šinništam šuāti iḫḫazu ḫubullum elišu ibašši) ». (§ 151)

Although the verb aḫāzum is used with a prospective husband as subject, the following expression pays some attention to the will of a woman.

(3) « a husband of her choice shall take her (in marriage) (mut libbiša iḫḫassi) ». (§ 172)

The subject of erēbum, on the other hand, is always female, as shown below. The verb is intransitive and does not require a grammatical object.

(4) « If a debt should be incurred by them after that woman enters the man’s house, both of them shall satisfy the merchant (šumma ištu sinništum šî ana bīt awīlim īrubu elišunu ḫubullum ittabši kilallāšunu tamkāram ippalū) » (§ 152). See also §§ [133a], 133b, § 134, 135, 136, 151, 152, 173, 176a and 177.

Note that the underlined paragraphs deal with cases of remarriage. §§ 133a~135 deal with cases of remarriage of a wife whose husband is a prisoner of war in an enemy land, while §136 deals with a case of a wife of a husband who has deserted his family and his town. §§ 173 and 177, on the other hand, deal with a widow who gets remarried. Thus, of ten paragraphs of the CH in which erēbum appears, seven paragraphs deal with cases of remarriage. However, the remaining three cases are most probably those of the first marriage. Thus, the use of erēbum cannot be considered limited to cases of remarriage[3].

It is important to pay attention here to the cases in which aḫāzum and erēbum are employed for referring to the same marriage. For example, at the end of § 172, we find “a husband of her choice shall take her (in marriage) (mut libbiša iḫḫassi)”. This same marriage is rephrased from the standpoint of the woman in the following paragraph (§173): “if that woman should bear children to her latter husband into whose house she entered (šumma sinništum šî ašar īrubu ana mutiša warkîm mārī ittalad) “.

The same type of rephrasing is found in § 176: “if a slave of the palace or a slave of a muškēnum marries a woman of the awīlum-class (u šumma warad ekallim ulu warad muškēnim mārat awīlim īhuzma . . .” //” (and when he marries her,) she enters the house of the slave of the palace or of the slave of a muškēnum together with the dowry brought from her father’s house (qadum šeriktim ša bīt abiša ana bīt warad ekallim ulu warad muškēnim īrubma) “ and § 151: “if that man has a debt incurred before marrying that woman (. . . šumma awīlum šû lama sinništam šuāti iḫḫazu ḫubullum elišu ibašši)”// “and if that woman has a debt incurred before entering the man’s house (u šumma sinništum šî lāma ana bīt awīlim irrubu ḫubullum eliša ibašši)”.

However, in the Old Babylonian marriage, as reflected in the CH, the father of the bridegroom and the father (or mother or brother, when the father is deceased) of the bride are considered to be parties to the marriage at least in a stage prior to the marriage of their respective son and daughter (or sister). The action of the father on the side of the future bridegroom taken toward the marriage is expressed by the verb ḫiārum (§ 155) or even aḫāzum (§ 166).

(5) « if a man selects a daughter-in-law for his son (šumma awīlum ana mārišu kallatam iḫīrma) « (§ 155)

(6) « if a man takes wives for his grown-up sons but does not take a wife for his young(est) son, . . . (šumma awīlum ana mārīšu ša irbû (text: iršû) aššātim īḫuz ana mārišu ṣeḫrim aššatam la īḫuz…) » (§ 166)

Action of the father (or mother or brother) of the bride, on the other hand, is expressed by the verb (ana mutim) nadānum.

(7) « if a father sets up a dowry for his daughter, who is a šugītum, gives her to a husband, and writes a sealed document for her, . . .( šumma abum ana mārtišu šugītim šeriktam išrukšim ana mutim iddišši kunukkam išṭuršim) » (§ 183). See also § 184.

II. Steps to the Consummation of Marriage

II-1. Prior to an Inchoate Marriage

When an agreement (riksātum) is reached between the father of a future bridegroom and the father of a future bride (or her brother or mother in case her father is deceased) regarding the marriage of the two, a ceremonial banquet (kirrum)[4] takes place. It is likely that the amount of terḫatum and the details of the dowry (šeriktum) are specified in this agreement. However, the agreement (riksātum) needs not be in a written form[5]. The existence of this process is not clear in the CH, and is only inferred from §§ 27-28 of the Laws of Eshnunna (hereafter LE)[6].

II-2. Inchoate Marriage[7]

When the biblum (presents for the wedding feast) is delivered and the terḫatum is given by the bridegroom to his father-in-law, a big wedding feast takes place[8]. After that, the bridegroom and the bride are regarded as “husband” and “wife” to the outside world. When both the bridegroom and the bride have by then reached the age ready for childbearing, the bride enters the household of the bridegroom, and their marriage are consummated by their sexual union, but when the bridegroom or the bride is too young for childbearing, the bride may either stay with her father[9] or move into the household of her father-in-law as a daughter-in-law (kallatum)[10].

The period between this wedding feast and the consummation of the marriage is regarded as a period of inchoate marriage. The bride in this period is a “wife” to the outside world and is legally protected as such from any sexual offence against her.

II-3.  Consummation of Marriage

An inchoate marriage is consummated, when both the bridegroom and the bride have reached the age ready for childbearing, by the bride’s moving into the household of her bridegroom and by the sexual union of the couple, or simply by their sexual union in the case of the kallatum-marraige[11].

III. Women in Dissolution of Marriage

III-1. Dissolution of an inchoate marriage

III-1-1. Dissolution initiated by the side of the bridegroom

Case 1:  If he (bridegroom), being attracted by another woman, declares to his father-in-law, « I will not take your daughter in marriage », the father of the daughter will take full possession of whatever has been brought to him (i.e. biblum and terḫatum). (§ 159)[12]

Case 2:  If the father-in-law lies with her daughter-in-law, before his son (i.e. the bridegroom) carnally knows her, the father-in-law must pay 1/2 mana (30 shekels) of silver and restore to her whatever she brought from her father’s house, and « a husband of her choice may take her in marriage ». (§ 156)[13]

Cf. § 155: If a man selects a bride for his son (šumma awīlum ana mārišu kallatam iḫīrma) and his son carnally knows her, after which he (the father of the bridegroom) himself then lies with her and they seize him in the act, they shall bind that man and cast him into the water.

III-1-2. Dissolution initiated by the side of the bride

Case 1:  If the father of the bride declares, after he received biblum and terḫatum, « I will not give my daughter to you, » he must return twofold everything that has been brought to him ». (§160)[14]

Case 2:  If a man has biblum brought to the house of his father-in-law and gives terḫatum, and then his friend slanders him (with the result that) his father-in-law declares to the husband (bēl aššatim), “You shall not take my daughter in marriage”, he (the father-in-law) must return twofold whatever had been brought to him; moreover, his friend shall not take his “wife (aššassu)” in marriage. (§ 161//CL § 29)[15]

Case 3a:  If a woman hates her husband, and declares, « You will not take me in marriage”[16], her circumstances shall be investigated by the authorities of her city quarter, and if she is circumspect and without fault, but her husband is wayward and disparages her greatly, that woman will not be subject to any penalty; she shall take her dowry and she shall depart for her father’s house.  (§ 142)

Case 3b: If she is not circumspect but is wayward, squanders her household possessions, and disparages her husband, they shall cast that woman into the water. (§ 143)

III-2. Dissolution of a Consummated Marriage

III-2-1. Dissolution of a consummated marriage is expressed by the verb ezēbum (abandon, leave) with a husband as subject, though it is his wife that leaves his house.

Case 1:  If a man decides to divorce (ezēbum) a šugītum who bore him sons, or a nadītum who provided him with sons, they shall give her one half of (her husband’s) field, orchard, and property, and she shall raise her children; after she has raised her children, they shall give her a share comparable in value to that of one heir from whatever properties are given to her sons, and a husband of her choice may take her for marriage (muttu libbiša iḫḫassi). (§ 137)

Cf. If a man has begotten sons, but divorces his wife and marries another woman, he must be expelled form the house and whatever there may be therein, . . . (LE, § 59)

Case 2a:  If a man divorces his first wife (ḫīrtašu) who has not born sons to him, he must give her as much silver as her terḫatum and restore to her the dowry she brought from the house of her father and he may divorce her. (§ 138)

Case 2b:  if there is no terḫatum, he (an awīlum) must give her 1 mana of silver as divorce money (uzubbûm) (§ 139). If he is a muškēnum, he shall give her 1/3 mana of silver (§ 140).

Case 3a:  If a man takes a woman in marriage, and later la’bum-desease seizes her and (if) he decides to take another woman in marriage, he may take her in marriage. (However,) he may not divorce his wife whom la’bum-desease has seized; she shall reside in the house he built and he must support her as long as she lives. (§ 148[17])

Case 3b: If that woman does not agree to reside in the house of her husband, he (the husband) may restore the dowry she brought from her father’s house, and she may go. (§ 149)

IV. terḫatum, šeriktum and nudunnnûm 

IV-1. terhatum

IV-1-1. What is terḫatum?

terḫatum was basically cash (silver), given by a bridegroom to his father-in-law. However, in some cases, it contained a female slave and/or small cattle. The total amount of terḫatum, or a portion of it was often tied to the hem of the bride’s garment and brought with her to the house of her bridegroom together with her dowry at the time of her move. The terḫatum may be placed under the custody of the bridegroom, but its ownership belongs to the bride.

P. Koschaker stated in 1917 that terḫatum was either an earnest money or bride price depending on whether it was given at the time of engagement or at the time of actual marriage[18]. Koschaker’s view of Kaufehe was challenged by E. Cuq[19], and G. R. Driver-J. C. Miles[20] among others. In 1950 Koschaker modified his view of 1917 by accepting Driver-Miles‘ inchoate marriage theory and abandoning his hypothesis on engagement together with his concept of earnest money. However, he continued to regard terḫatum as bride price to purchase the right to acquire a bride from her father[21]. R. Westbrook also took it as his task to criticize Koschaker’s theory on Kaufehe in his OBML, 1988, pp. 53-58.

Here are the main objections of scholars against the Kaufehe theory, as summarized by R. Westbrook[22].

(1) §§138-40 presupposes a marriage without terḫatum: If a man (=awīlum) intends to divorce his wife (ḫīrtašu) who did not bear him sons, he must give her silver as much as was her terḫatum . . . If there was no terḫatum, he (=awīlum) must give her 1 mana (60 shekels) of silver as a divorce settlement (uzubbûm). If (he is) a muškēnum, he must give her 1/3 mana of silver[23].

(2) If terhatum were to be a bride price, its amount would be too small. (Note that the amount of terḫatum is in generally either 5 or 10 shekels, as shown below. 10 shekels would be more or less equivalent to the average price of a slave in the Old Babylonian period, but 5 shekels would be less than the average price of a slave in the OB period[24].)

(3) If terḫatum is really a bride price, it would be very difficult to explain the institution of giving a nudunnûm to ensure the livelihood of a wife in future when she becomes widowed.

(4) The OB law did not treat her as the property of her husband.

Westbrook prefers to see an analogy between child-adoption and marriage institution rather than between the sales and marriage institution[25]. He thinks that terḫatum is a payment to a bride’s father for the right to control over their daughter[26].

IV-1-2. The amount of terḫatum

The amount of terḫatum ranged from 1 to 40 shekels of silver in the OB period apart from some rare cases, but it is normally either 5 or 10 shekels of silver. It may be noted that Šamšī-Adad I thought that 4 biltu’s (240 mana roughly equivalent to 120kg) of silver might not be sufficient as terḫatum for a daughter of the king of Qatna who was going to get married with Yasmaḫ-Addu, his son, and suggested 5 biltu’s (300 mana, roughtly equivalent to 150kg) of silver would be more appropriate as her terḫatum (ARM I, 77:11f. Cf. ARM I, 46:5).

  • 1 shekels:VAS 9, 192:5ff.
  • 1.5 shekels+15 barleycorns:CT 4, 18b:13
  • 4 shekels:CT 8, 76:9
  • 5 shekels:BIN 7, 173:8; CT 33:34:9; CT 47, 40a:10; CT 48, 55:15; PBS 8/2, 252:15; YOS 13, 440:2; TIM 4, 46:3: TIM 4,47:26; YOS 12, 457:6; YOS 13, 440:2
  • 6 shekels:CT 48, 53:10(case) (5 shekels on the tablet)
  • 10 shekels: CT 48, 51:9, 52:6, 55:15, 57:7; Donbaz-Yoffee, OB Kish, p. 72 r.7;Meissner, BAP 90:8; VAS 8, 92:8; YOS 13, 440:2
  • 20 shekels:Waterman, Business Doc. 39:2
  • 40 shekels + a slave:VAS 8, 4:11

IV-2. šeriktum (dowry)

A šeriktum in the CH is a dowry given to a bride by her father and is brought to the house of her bridegroom, when the bride enters his house as a bride or as a daughter-in-law (kallatum). šeriktum (dowry) consists of garments, accessories, oil, kitchen utensils, furniture, a slave (or slaves), small cattle, etc., and does not normally include money (silver). Although this use of the term šeriktum for dowry is found in the Middle Assyrian Laws (MAL A, §29), šeriktu(m) does not appear in the “documents of practice” in the post-OB periods. šeriktum only means “gift” in a very general sense in the post-OB periods. In the NB Laws šeriktu is used in a sense very similar to that of nudunnûm in the CH[27].

IV-3. nudunnûm

The term nudunnûm is used outside of the CH, in the documents of practice, to designate dowry[28]. This is especially true in the NB period[29], but in the CH a nudunnûm is a gift given together with a written document (ṭuppum) by a husband to his wife in order to ensure her and her children’s livelihood after his death. After the death of the wife, the nudunnûm is inherited by her sons.

The nudunnûm may include a part of the husband’s field, orchard and house and (or and/or?) movable property, if § 150 (If a man awards to her wife a field, orchard, and house and (or and/or?) movable property and makes out a sealed document for her,…) refers to a nudunnûm, as G.R. Driver-J. C. Miles (BL, I, 1952, p. 268) and R. Westbrook, OBML, 1988, pp. 95-96 so suppose.

The wife (ḫīrtum) can take her dowry and the nudunnûm which her husband awarded to her in writing, and she can continue to reside in her husband’s dwelling; as long as she is alive she can enjoy the use of it, but she may not sell it; her own estate shall belong (as inheritance) only to her own children. (§171).

If her husband has not given a nudunnûm to her, they must restore her dowry and she may take a share of the property of her husband like any one of the heirs. If her sons make her life impossible so that she may go out, the judges must investigate her case and must impose penalty upon her sons; this wife does not need to go out of her husband’s house. If this woman decides to go out, she must leave to her sons the nudunnûm her husband has given her. She may take the dowry (brought) from her father’s house, and a husband of her choice may take her in marraige. (§172).

.

B. A FEW OBSERVATIONS

1. In a sharp contrast to assertive and aggressive Mesopotamian goddesses such as Ishtar who asked Gilgamesh to get married with her on his way home from his adventure into the Cedar Mountains and Adgarkidu, daughter of Numušda who insisted on getting married with Martu against strong advices of her girl friend, the woman in Mesopotamia, at least as reflected in the CH, does not seem to have had a say in her own marriage.

Usually some ones other than she decide with whom she gets married. This situation is collaborated by the lack of Akkadian expressions of getting married in which the verb takes a woman as subject and a man as object. It is true that the verb erēbum is used with a woman as subject, but erēbum is an intransitive verb and does not require an object.

An oblique expression that takes into some consideration the will of the woman is “the husband of her choice may take her in marriage (mut/mutu libbiša iḫḫassi)”. This expression appears in three paragraphs of the CH (§§ 137, 156 and 172), but they all deal with cases of remarriage. Besides, here too, the woman appears as object of the verb aḫāzum and not as subject.

This situation in the OB period reminds us of that of pre-modern Japan, when men used to say, “watashiha Hanako-sanwo yomeni morau (I take Hanako as wife.). However, women could not say, “watashiha Taro-sanwo ottoni morau (I take Taro as husband.). Women in those days could only say, “Watashiha Taro-sanno tokoroni yomeiru (I enter the household of Taro as bride/daughter-in-law.). In those days, women in Japan had little say in their marriage that was often arranged by their parents.

2. The penalty of the father-in-law who lies with his daughter-in-law (kallatum) whom his own son has known carnally is death by being thrown into water (§ 155). This would not surprise us. However, the penalty of the same act by the father-in-law that takes place before his son knows her carnally (payment of 1/2 mana of silver and dissolution of the inchoate marriage) seems to be too lenient (§156) in comparison to the penalty (death) for a sexual assault against a woman in the state of inchoate marriage by an unrelated man (§130). Is this because the father-in-law was regarded as a party to the marriage contract? (Cf. § 166: šumma awīlum ana mārīšu ša irbû (text: iršû) aššātim īḫuz ana mārišu ṣeḫrim aššatam la īḫuz . . .)

3. There are cases of dissolution of an inchoate marriage the process of which the bride initiates by declaring, “You will not take me in marriage (, meaning you will not consummate this marriage)”. (§§ 142-143) However, it is far more difficult for a bride to do so than for a bridegroom, because she has to be investigated by the authorities of her city quarter, risking her life in the worst case. A bridegroom, on the other hand, can initiate the same process, if he is willing to forfeit the biblum and the terḫatum he has presented to his father-in-law.

4. Dissolution of a consummated marriage without children (written: sons) was possible with conditions that the divorcing husband would give his wife as much silver as her terḫatum and restore to her the dowry she had brought from the house of her father (§138). If there were no terḫatum and if he were an awīlum, he would have to give 1 mana of silver to his wife as divorce money (uzubbûm) (§139). If he were a muškēnum, he would have to give 1/3 mana of silver (§140). The amount of the divorce money was large and must have had discouraging effects on a man who was contemplating a divorce.

Even if a man’s wife were to become seized by la’abum-desease so that he might not be able to beget sons, this would not be considered as an excuse for divorcing his sick wife, though he may be allowed to take a second wife, unless she (the first wife) desires to get divorced under the circumstances (§§148-149).

However, divorcing a wife who has born sons seems to have been strongly discouraged. A pertinent paragraph on this point is §137. This paragraph is concerned not with divorcing an ordinary woman, but with divorcing nadītum who provided her husband with children (written: sons) or šugītum who bore children (written: sons) for her husband. According to the prevailing principle regarding the nadītum and šugītum during the OB period, namely, “The marrier of one marries the other; the divorcer of one divorces the other“,[30] it is difficult to explain the situation of §137, because it deals with a divorce of either nadītum or (ulu) šugītum. Leaving this problem aside, they (the city authority or the elders of the town?) require the husband in this case to return to his wife her dowry and give her one half of his field, orchard, and property so that she may be able to raise her children. They also require the divorcing husband to give his wife a share comparable in value to that of one heir from whatever properties are given to her sons as well as freedom to get remarried with a man of her choice. Here I should like to draw you attention to § 59 of the Laws of Eshnunna which says: “If a man has begotten sons but divorces his wife and marries another woman, he must be expelled from the house and whatever there may be therein, . . .”

5. It is without saying that OB women had very little say in their own marriage. However, they are not without protection or security for their future life in case something happens with their husbands.

Married women according to the CH have their own possessions such as her dowry (šeriktum), a part or whole of terḫatum that is tied to the hem of their garment by their father and is returned to their husband’s household (cf. §§ 163 and 164) when they move in, and lastly nudunnûm which is given to wives probably when they have their first child. They are probably under the custody of their husband while he is alive, but if, for example, their husband dies, they can live on their own possessions at least for sometime. These possessions of the wives are inherited, when they die, by their sons.

The welfare of the wives and children of Babylonian soldiers, when they are captured in an enemy land and held as prisoners of war is another matter of concern of the CH (§ 29).

The protection of married women especially with children is well in accord with the concern of Hammurabi for the weakest of the society (orphans and widows), as can be seen in the words of Hammurabi in the epilogue of the CH as well as in those of other lawgivers before him indeed.

List of Abbreviations

AL G. R. Driver-J. C. Miles, The Assyrian Laws, Oxford, 1935
ARM Archives royales de Mari
ArOr Archiv Orientální
BAP B. Meissner, Beiträge zum altbabylonischen Privatrecht, Leipzig, 1893
BE The Babylonian Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania
BIN Babylonian Inscriptions in the Collection of J. B. Nies
BL G. R. Driver-J. C. Miles, The Babylonian Laws, 2 vols., Oxford, 1952-1955
Business Doc. L. Waterman, Business Documents of the Hammurapi Period from the British Museum, London, 1916
CAD The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Chicago, 1956-
CH Code of Hammurabi
CL Code of Lipit-Ishtar
CT Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum
Droit matrimonial A. van Praag, Droit matrimonial Assyro-babylonien, Amsterdam, 1945
JAOS Journal of the American Oriental Society
JCS Journal of Cuneiform Studies
Law Collections Martha T. Roth, Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, SBL Writings from the Ancient World Series, 6, Atlanta, 1995
LE Laws of Eshnunna
MAL Middle Assyrian Laws
OBML R. Westbrook, Old Babylonian Marriage Law, AfO, Beiheft 23, Horn, 1988
OrNS Orientalia, Nova Series
PBS Publications of the Babylonian Section, University Museum, University of Pennsylvania
RvSGgH P. Koschaker, Rechtsvergleichende Studien zur Gesetzgebung Hammurapis, Königs von Babylon, Leipzig, 1917
Symbolae David J. A. Ankum et al. (eds.), Symbolae Iuridicae et Historicae M. David Dedicatae, Vol. 2, Leiden, 1968
TIM Texts in the Iraq Museum
VAS Vorderasiatische Schriftdenkmäler der Königlichen/ Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin
YOS Yale Oriental Series, Babylonian Texts

[1] R. Westwood discusses the meanings and the usage of aḫāzum extensively in OBML, 1988, pp. 10-16.

[2] Marth T. Roth’s translates, “If a man marries a wife but does not draw up a formal contract for her, . . .” (Law Collections, 1995, p. 105) Here I prefer to translate aḫāzum more literally. Furthermore, riksātum does not mean a written contract. See n. 6 below.

[3] R. Westbrook seems to think that the use of erēbum with a woman as the grammatical subject is limited to second marriages (OBML, 1988, p. 51).

[4] kirrum is a metal container for beer and other liquid products. While S. Greengus, “Old Babylonian Marriage Ceremonies and Rites”, JCS 20, 1966, p. 65 proposes to translate the word “libation”, R. Yaron, The Laws of Eshnunna, 1988 (2nd ed.), p. 59 renders it by “marriage feast,” following B. Lansberger, “Jungfräulichkeit: Ein Beitrag zum Thema ‘Beilager und Eheschliessung’”, Symbolae David, II, 1968, pp. 76ff.

[5] S. Greengus, “The Old Babylonian Marriage Contract,” JAOS 89, 1969, pp. 506-514. This view is accepted by R. Westbrook, OBML, 1988, pp. 29f.

[6] R. Yaron, The Laws of Eshnunna, 1988, pp. 202-205.

[7] This idea was first proposed by G. R. Driver and J. C. Miles in The Assyrian Laws, Oxford, 1935, pp. 167 and 173f. See also their BL I, 1952, pp. 322-324.

[8] No mention is made of the wedding feast in CH, but biblum must have included such edible things as corn and sheep presumably to be consumed at the feast. G.R. Driver-J. C. Miles refer us in this connection to a wedding feast of Samson which is said to have lasted seven days (Judges 14:10-13). G.R. Driver-J. C. Miles say, “In the Assyrian Laws the biblu alone is given by the man’s father and it is called the ‘present’ (Ass. Zubullû) , when it is brought by the son; in neither section (MAL A, 30-31) is the tirḫâtum mentioned by name.” (BL I, 1952, p. 249) Since zubullû in the Middle Assyrian Laws (A §30) includes “lead, silver, gold” as well as edible things, it is possible that zubullû in the Assyrian Laws was a combination of biblum and terḫatum of CH.

[9] For examples, §§ 141-142, 159-161.

[10] For examples, §§ 155-156. G. R. Driver-J. C. Miles called this mode of marriage “kallatum-marriage” and distinguished it from the inchoate marriage (BL I, 1952, pp. 251-252), However, I prefer to follow R. Westbrook (OBML,1988, p. 37) and consider that the kallatum-marriage is a form of the inchoate marriage.

[11] There seem to have been cases in which the period of the inchoate marriage unduly prolonged (CT 48, 79:9-11 and BE 6/2, 58, cited by R. Westbrook, OBML, 1988, p. 45).

[12] Cf. R. Westbrook, OBML, 1988, pp. 43-45.

[13] R. Westbrook, OBML, 1988, p. 43.

[14] R. Westbrook, OBML, 1988, pp. 41-43.

[15] R. Westbrook, OBML, 1988, pp. 42-43.

[16] This paragraph is translated variously by scholars: B. Landsberger translated, “ich werde nicht länger mit ihr verheiratet sein” (BE 6/2 58:12?); Marth T. Roth: ‘You will not have marital relations with me’ (Law Collections, 1995, p. 108; CAD A1, 1964, p. 175a: “You shall not touch me” and comments, “(here aḫāzum is) used as a euphemism (for sexual relationship)” (words in parentheses are mine); G. R. Driver: “Thou shalt not have (the natural use of) me” (BL II, 1952, p. 57). He and J. C. Miles commented that this paragraph dealt with a refusal of conjugal rights of her husband and not just a refusal of consummation of an inchoate marriage (BL I, 1952, p. 301).

[17] A parallel paragraph in the CL (§ 28) requires the second wife to support the sick wife.

[18] A van Praag regarded it as a present. However, if a man does not give that gift, then, according to van Praag, it becomes a debt for him with the result that he cannot claim his wife (Droit matrimonial, 1945, pp. 147-148). Van der Meer, on the other hand, regarded it as a payment for the first night. (“terḫātum”, RA 31, 1934, pp. 121-123.

[19] E. Cuq considered that terḫatum was “une libéralité.” See E. Cuq, Études sur le droit babylonien, Paris, 1929, p. 25.

[20] G. R. Driver-J. C. Miles, BL, I. pp. 259-265. They say, “It is therefore far more probable that its meaning is a marriage-gift or a gift given to secure a marriage with a view to procreation than that it means a price by which a bride is purchased.” (BL, I, 19952, p. 264)

[21] P. Koschaker’s theory of “Kaufehe” is accepted by J. Renger, “Who are All Those People?”, OrNS 42, 1973, pp. 259-273.

[22] R. Westbrook, OBML, 1988, pp. 54-56. Westbrook’s own criticisms are found in OBML, pp. 56-57.

[23] P. Koschaker thought that this paragraph reflected the Sumerian institution of marriage which did not require giving of terḫatum (RvSGgH, pp. 152f., 159-163, 178-183; ArOr 18, 1950, pp. 229-230). J. Renger thinks that there existed another type of marriages in the Old Babylonian period that did not require terḫatum, and § 139 reflects that type of marriages (OrNS 42, 1973, p. 265).

[24] See J.-M. Durand, ARM XXI, p. 193.

[25] R. Westbrook, OBML, 1988, pp. 58f.

[26] R. Westbrook, OBML,1988, p. 60.

[27] CAD Š3, p. 103 sub 1b.

[28] M. T. Roth translates nudunnûm as “marriage settlement” in her Law Collections, 1995, p. 114.

[29] CAD N2, pp. 310-312.

[30] R. Westbrook, OBML, 1988, pp. 109-110.