Archives par mot-clé : legal-status

The economic role of women in neo-Babylonian temples

1. The position of women in the religious hierarchy

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

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

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

 2. The female workforce: the question of status

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

 a) the distinction between dependants and oblates  

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

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

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

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

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

 c) under whose authority do oblates fall?

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

 d) what recovery action can the temple take?

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

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

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

e) cases of single women: the zakîtu

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

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

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

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

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

 f) the situation of children

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

 3. The economic activities of the female workforce

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

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

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

 b) milling activities

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

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

c) textile work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

d) the temple’s property income

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

In conclusion…

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

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

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

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




Arnaud D.

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

Beaulieu P.-A.,

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

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

Bongenaar, A. C. V. M.

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

Cağırgan G./Lambert W. G.

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

Czechowicz N.,

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

Dandamaev, M. A.

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

De Jong Ellis, M.

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

van Driel, G.

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

Frame, G.

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

Jankovic, B.

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

Joannès, F.

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

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

Jursa, M.

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

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

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

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

Kleber K.

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

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

MacEwan, G. J. P.

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

MacGinnis, J. D.

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

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

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

Magdalene, R. et Wunsch, C.

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

Payne, E.

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

Ragen, A.

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

Roth, M.

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

San Nicolò, M.

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

Scheil, V.

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

von Soden, W.

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

Waerzeggers, C.

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

Weisberg, D. B.

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

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

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

Wunsch, C.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11] van Driel 1998.

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

[13] Jursa 1999, p. 152.

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

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

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

The Woman in Marriage as Reflected in the Code of Hammurabi

The Woman in Marriage as Reflected in the Code of Hammurabi

(Professor Emeritus of Chuo University, Tokyo)




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).



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.