Archives par mot-clé : solidarity

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*


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. (…)

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. (…)

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.

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.

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).

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).

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.


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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  • 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…

[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.

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Attar-ṭabat      IMT 104 : 1, 6

Bisaha’             IMT 104 : 2, 6

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

Šakha’              IMT 104 : 2, 7

Ubartu              IMT 104 : 1, 6


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

3. Free women and inhabitants of Nippur

3.1. Independant and active women

Naqqitu, daughter of Murašu     EE 46 : 5, 7

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

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

3.2.1. Women mentionned in promissory notes

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

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

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

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

Nidintu, daughter of Ibaia     BE 10, 3 : 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.3. Other situations

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

Riša     IMT 44 : 5

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

Text n°1: EE 46

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

(1’-5’)(Witnesses and scribe). 

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

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

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

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

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

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



First situation : Feminine solidarity in family businesses

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

Text n°2: BE 9, 53

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

(15-21)(Witnesses and scribe).

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

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

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


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

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

Second situation : Feminine solidarity in promissory notes

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


Text n°3: BE 8, 126

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

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

(L.E.)Nail mark of Belessunu.

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

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

Text n°4: BE 9, 58

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

(12-18)(Witnesses and scribe).

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

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

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

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

Text n°5: IMT 93

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

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

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

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

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

(16-19)(Witnesses and scribe).

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

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

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

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

 Text n°6a: BE 10,2

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

(11-17)(Witnesses and scribe).

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

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

Text n°6b: BE 10, 3

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

(12-18)(Witnesses and scribe).

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

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

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

                  1) They were drafted the same day in Nippur,

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

                  3) They involve women as debtor

                  4) Women put their home as security for the debt

                  5) The loans contain an interest

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

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

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

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

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

The urban elite takes advantages of this situation of need :

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

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

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

Third situation : feminine solidarity with relatives detained in jail

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

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

Text n°7: PBS 2/1, 17

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

(16-19)(Witnesses and scribe).

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

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

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

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


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

Text n°8: IMT 103

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

(13-18)(Witnesses and scribe).

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

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


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


Text n°9: TuM 2/3, 203

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

(16-22)(Witnesses and scribe).

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

 (Edges)Cylinder seals.

These texts show two peculiarities:

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

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

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


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


1. Promissory notes of silver

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

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

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


2. Women asking the release of their relatives

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

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


3. Women detained in jail

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

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

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


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


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

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

Promissory notes with pledges of real property

Tableau Stolper-Donbaz
Donbaz & Stolper 1997 : 10

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

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


« Liberators »

Detained persons

04/ii/Art 38

EE 104

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

Kalkal-iddin, son of Ahhe-utir

14/vi/Art 41

IMT 103

Nabu-ušezib, slave of Enlil-šum-iddin

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

16/i/Darius II 01

BE 10, 10

Il-linṭar, son of Iddin-Enlil

Iddin-Enlil, son of Ah-iddin

11/viii/Darius II 01   

PBS 2/1, 21

Zimmaia, son of Bel-eṭir

Ah-iddin, son of Zuza

02/ix/Darius II 01                            

PBS 2/1, 23

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

Ninurta-uballiṭ, son of Enlil-iqiša

03/xi/Darius II 01

PBS 2/1, 17

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

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

28/i/Darius II 02

TuM 2/3, 203

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

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

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


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

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