Archives par mot-clé : widow&widowhood

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.

Project of prosopographical study of Neo-Babylonian women (french version)

Project of prosopographical study of Neo-Babylonian women
(french version)


Yoko WATAI (Post-doctoral researcher, Université Chuo — UMR 7041-ArScAn)


Exemplier Yoko Watai

Dans le cadre du projet REFEMA, «Rôle économique des femmes en Mésopotamie ancienne /Women’s role in the economy of Ancient Mesopotamia»), je vais travailler sur la prosopographie féminine néo-babylonienne. Pour cela je vais recenser tous les noms de femmes qui apparaissent dans les documents juridiques et économiques privés, ainsi que dans les archives institutionnelles. Ce travail nous permettra d’analyser des noms féminins eux-même mais aussi d’étudier les nombreuses activités économiques des femmes dans le secteur privé et dans le secteur institutionnel. En raison du nombre de femmes qui se trouvent dans les documents néo-babyloniens, ce projet se terminera dans 3 ans, pour le colloque de 2014. Je présenterai donc seulement l’état actuel et provisoire de ce travail.

<Méthode et source>

J’ai créé une base de données et enregistré 88 femmes et 69 nomspour le moment, c’est-à-dire toutes les femmes mentionnées dans les livres de C. Wunsch concernant les archives d’Iddin-Marduk (CM 3) et les archives d’Egibi (CM 20), sauf les noms complètement cassés. Il faut bien noter que ce ne sont pas 88 noms mais 88 femmes. Les femmes ayant le même nom sont chacune enregistrées sur une fiche (par exemple, on trouve 2 Amat-Ninlil, 3 Ina-Esagila-ramât, etc.). Ilfaut remarquer qu’il y a un «biais» dans le choix des documents, puisque les livres que j’ai consultés, surtout le livre des archives des Egibi, ne traitent que des activités concernant les champs et les jardins.

Je vais maintenant présenter les deux axes de ce travail : les recherches onomastiques et les études sur les activités économiques dont s’occupent les femmes.

I. Etudes onomastiques

Nous allons maintenant observer les noms féminins, leurs constructions et leurs significations. Je les ai classés en deux groupes : les esclaves et les femmes libres, et puis je les ai catégorisés selon leur construction, d’après le livre de Stamm, Die Akkadische Namengebung et d’après l’Appendix de Di Vino, Studies in Third Millennium Sumerian and Akkadian Personal Names.

On trouve donc principalement deux sortes de noms : les «Theophorous Names» (contenant le nom d’un dieu) et les «Non-theophorous Names». Ces noms se divisent ensuite en plusieurs types. Pour les «Theophorous Names» (y compris quand le nom de la divinité est omis), on trouve au moins 5 types :

  1. les «Petitions» : les noms des appels aux dieux qui utilisent l’impératif et l’optatif.
  2. les «Thanksgiving Names», c’est-à-dire les noms qui remercient une divinité pour un événement spécifique (comme la naissance des enfants). Ces deux types appartiennent à la catégorie : «Concret Sentence Names», les noms mentionnant des événements spécifiques.
  3. les «Attribute-Names», qui décrivent la nature des divinités, comme Tašmētu-damqat «Tašmētu est agréable».
  4. 4le «type Sin-abī (Sin est mon père)», expression de la confiance potentielle (ici, Bānītu-tuklatu appartient à ce type.)
  5. les noms «Relation to the deity», ici Amat-nom de divinité. Ces  trois derniers types appartiennent à la catégorie «Generalization», à savoir une expression intemporelle.

Le groupe des «Non-theophorous Names» est constitué de deux types d’«Affectionate Names», qui désignent des enfants: les «Affectionate Names I» sont les désignations par référence aux parents, frères ou soeurs : par exemple, Ramûa «My love», Bēlessunu «Their goddess». Les «Affectionate Names II» contiennent des noms d’animaux, de plantes, etc.

Malgré l’insuffisance des données, on peut quand même dessiner une première tendance dans la construction des noms féminins: une grande partie des noms d’esclaves féminines appartiennent au type «Petitions» et «affectionate Names II». D’autre part, les «Attribute Names» et les «Affectionate Names I» sont préférés pour les noms des femmes libres.

On peut dire que la variété des types de noms féminins est moins grande que celle de noms masculins ; par exemple, les types très utilisés pour les noms masculins, par exemple les «Thanksgiving Names», comme Nabû-aḫḫē-iddin «Nabû (m’)a donné les frères», Marduk-apla-uṣur «Marduk a protégé mon fils», etc. sont rares pour les noms féminins. Et, il n’y a pas de noms féminins contenant des mots qui désignent la relation entre les enfants et les parrains. (On trouve le nom «Marduk a protégé mon fils» mais on ne trouve pas le nom «Marduk a protégé ma fille»)

Concernant les déesses mentionnées dans les noms de femmes, elles sont relativement variées pour l’instant. Dans les noms d’esclaves, les déesses qui apparaissent le plus souvent sont Bānītu et Nanaya (3 noms pour  chacune). On trouve aussi Ištar, Šidada, Mammītu et Zarpanītu. Par ailleurs, dans les noms des femmes libres, Ninlil et Tašmētu apparaissent chacune dans deux noms pour trois personnes. On trouve également Baba, et Nanaya. On peut probablement dire que Ninlil était relativement appréciée pour les noms de femmes, qu’elles soient esclaves, ou femmes libres.

Il me semble qu’il existe une petite différence dans le choix des déesses entre les noms des esclaves et ceux des femmes libres, même si cette différence n’est pas encore très remarquable pour l’instant.

II. Activités économiques des femmes

Nous allons regarder maintenant les activités économiques des femmes apparues dans les documents qui ont été enregistrés sur 88 fiches de la base de données. D’abord, concernant les esclaves, la plupart des femmes sont vendues, prises en gage, données comme dot, transférées dans les contrats de partage et dans les documents de l’héritage, etc.. Quand elles apparaissent comme objet du transfert, on peut dire que les femmes participent passivement aux activités économiques. On sait que les esclaves s’occupaient parfois de transactions, vraisemblablement comme agents de leurs maîtres. En effet, nous avons une attestation dans laquelle une esclave de Ina-Esagila-ramât (la femme d’Iddin-Marduk) apparaît comme créancière de l’argent (BM 30544). Je suis sûr que ce type d’attestations est assez abondant, mais nous n’en avons qu’une seule dans notre base de données pour l’instant.

Au sujet des activités des femmes libres, on consultera les tableaux : je les ai classées en deux catégories : «les femmes propriétaires de terrains» et «les autres activités». Pour la première catégorie, on trouve les «activités actives», par exemple, la vente et l’achat, la location, etc., et les «activités passives», par exemple la réception de terrains, ou la gestion par quelqu’un d’autre d’un terrain qui leur appartient, etc. Les autres activités sont constituées des transactions concernant l’argent et des esclaves. On peut donc également qualifier cette catégorie d’«activités actives».

Parmi les «actives actives», on trouve deux catégories : dans le premier cas, les femmes ont une participation indépendante, tandis que dans le deuxième cas, elles agissent avec quelqu’un d’autre, en général un membre de la famille, comme leur mari, leurs fils, leurs frères et même leurs beaux-frères.

L’activité la plus fréquente, soit indépendante, soit avec quelqu’un, est la vente de terre. On trouve deux attestations de vente d’une propriété conjointe entre des soeurs, deux où la femme agit avec son fils, un avec son frère et deux avec son beau-frère. Il n’y a pas, dans le corpus enregistré jusqu’à maintenant, d’attestation indiquant qu’elles vendent le terrain avec leur mari. Mais on en trouve dans le corpus concernant les maisons que j’ai établi pour ma thèse: elles le vendent soit seule soit avec d’autres membres de la famille. Cela nous permet de supposer que c’est normalement le mari qui vend des terrains et que les femmes citées comme vendeuses sont principalement des veuves ou des célibataires.

Les femmes ou les mères (c’est-à-dire la «maîtresse de maison», bēlet bītim) des vendeurs sont souvent présentées à la fin de la liste des témoins habituels et introduites par la phrase ina ašābi dans les contrats de vente des terrains et des maisons (voir dans le document joint le tableau 1.2 «participation passive»). Il reste difficile de comprendre quelle est la qualification de cette présentation comme témoin dans les contrats de ventes d’immobilier, si l’on considère que les femmes n’ont aucun droit sur les terrains. Mme S. Démare-Lafont m’a indiqué au cours d’une discussion sur ce sujet que, selon elle, la formule ina ašābi dans la liste des témoins désignerait une garantie pour leur situation postérieure, si elles deviennent veuves. De mon côté, quand j’en ai traité dans ma thèse au chapitre du contexte de la vente des maisons, j’ai proposé qu’il s’agisse d’un «droit social de propriété», plutôt qu’un droit juridique de plein exercice et que la mention ina ašābi parmi les témoins concerne l’usage des maisons et témoigne du «pouvoir» exercé par les femmes à l’intérieur de la maison. Mais au vu des attestations dans des contrats de vente, il faut compléter cette dernière hypothèse. On remarque ainsi que les maîtresses des maisons vendues (bēlet bīti) reçoivent les vêtement lubāru des acheteurs des maisons dans plusieurs contrats de vente des maisons, mais non pas dans les contrats de vente de terrains agricoles. Il me semble concerner un certain droit sociale de propriété latent des femmes, constitué à l’intérieur des maisons.)

D’autre part, en dehors des textes de vente, on trouve des attestations de copropriété à l’intérieur d’un couple: on trouve par exemple un contrat d’échange qui atteste une copropriété d’une femme avec son mari. La femme, appelée Kabtaya, et son mari donnent un tmerain à leur petit-fils, c’est-à-dire le fils de leur fille, celle-ci ayant déjà disparu.

La catégorie «activités passives» dans l’immobilier comprend des activités qui documentent la propriété féminine sans que les femems participent aux activités de gestion économique des biens:

  1. les femmes reçoivent des terrains des membres de leur famille, principalement de leur père, en dot, mais aussi de la part de leur mari et de leurs fils, sans doute pour assurer leur entretien en cas de décès du mari.
  2. on trouve des femmes qui sont propriétaires d’un bien immobilier, mais dont ce sont les maris ou les frères qui le donnent à exploiter en fermage. On trouve aussi quelques attestations où elles donnent elles-mêmes les terrains en location, mais il plus fréquent que ce soit les maris qui les gèrent.
  3. des femmes sont attestées comme voisines des terrains mentionnés dans des contrats: ces attestations témoignent aussi du fait que des femmes sont propriétaires du bien immobilier.
  4. on trouve des femmes qui se présentent pourtémoigner dans des contrats de transfert du terrain. On trouve ainsi deux sortes d’expressions : «ana mukinnūtu ašābu», tel qu’écrit dans le texte, et ina ašābi, qu’on a déjà vu. Ces deux expressions sont assez semblables l’une à l’autre, en utilisant le même verbe. Mais il me semble que l’expression ana mukinnūtu ašābu est employée pour quelqu’un qui a un droit de propriété, afin d’indiquer qu’il a bien abandonné son droit. Cette expression ne concerne donc pas uniquement des femmes, tandis que l’expression ina ašābi s’applique toujours aux femmes ou aux mères des vendeurs. Les témoins ina ašābi ne sont pas forcément toujours catégoriséscomme des «femmes propriétaires de terrains», mais je pense qu’elles ne sont pas quand même complètement étrangers aux transferts des propriétés familiales.

Un autre problème doit maintenant être examiné : est-ce que toutes les propriétés des femmes sont incluses dans leurs dots ou non? Quand elles achètent les terrains, on peut sans doute considérer que les femmes deviennent propriétaires de terrains qui ne sont pas attachés à leur dot. Je voudrais ainsi examiner la possibilité que les femmes aient le droit de posséder les terrains qui ne relèvent pas de la dot.

(1) On trouve plusieurs attestations dans lesquelles sont présentes des femmes comme contractantes principales, même si de temps en temps elles sont mentionnées avec leurs maris. On pourrait considérer que ces terrains font partie de la dot de ces femmes, même si cela n’est pas stipulé dans les documents, puisqu’on sait que le mari peut utiliser la dot de sa femme. Mais la situation est manifestement plus compliquée dans quelques documents, où les femmes vendent des terrains avec parfois leur beau-frère, c’est-à-dire le frère du mari. Dans ce cas, ces terrains me semblent plutôt appartenir au patrimoine de la famille du mari. Une hypothèse possible est alors que la femme a reçu le droit de demander une part du bien de son mari pour compenser l’intégration de sa dot dans les terres gérées par le mari.

Dans le texte Nbn 1031, où il s’agit de la vente d’un terrain, il est dit que : «si NP (le vendeur), les frères du vendeur et la femme du père du  vendeur sont présents sur le contrat (ana mukinnūtu ašābu), NP2 (probablement un agent de l’acheteur ?) payera l’argent». Ici aussi, donc, le vendeur a besoin de la présence de la femme de son père (= seconde femme de son père?) dans le contrat de vente.

On peut également citer un autre exemple, dont le contexte reste cependant assez compliqué à analyser. Il s’agit d’un dossier concernant une femme appelée Kurunnam-tabni (ou aussi Kuttaya). Kurunnam-tabni d’abord, a reçu un terrain et des esclaves de la part de ses fils (BM 302398). Puis, concernant un terrain qu’elle aurait reçu, en compensation de sa dot, de la part des «scribes du roi», elle ne donne pas à son fils aîné la moitié de terrain qui lui revient (RA 41, 101). (On ne sait pas pourquoi les «scribes du roi» lui ont donné le terrain.) Ses deux fils (ou beaux-fils ?) font alors un procès contre elle à propos du terrain et des esclaves qu’ils ont donnés. Enfin, les fils de Kurunnam-tabni vendent chacun leur terrain à un nommé Nabû-bāni-aḫi et ce dernier les vend à Nabû-aḫḫē-iddin de la famille Egibi. Le texte Nbn 1111 dit que la femme d’un des fils devra siéger comme témoin (ana mukinnūtu ašābu) au contrat de vente du terrain que son mari et ses frères ont vendu.

Il me semble que la phrase ana mukinnūtu ašābu s’applique ici à quelqu’un qui a un droit de propriété en bonne et due forme, afin d’indiquer qu’il a bien abandonné son droit. On peut donc supposer que Kurunnam-tabni disposait d’un droit de propriété partiel sur la terre de son mari. Dans le texte Nbn 442, la femme de l’autre fils de Kurunnam-tabni donne la tablette du terrain que son mari a fait établir à Nabû-bāni-aḫi, puis à Nabû-aḫḫē-iddin, les acheteurs du terrain. Dans les deux cas, les maris, c’est-à-dire les fils de Kurunnam-tabni doivent être décédés, et vraisemblablement ils n’avaient pas d’enfant.

On voit donc bien par ces exemples que certaines femmes participent à la gestion des biens immobiliers de leurs maris. C’est un premier point.

(2) Le deuxième point à souligner est qu’on trouve des exemples de propriété commune et indivise entre des soeurs. Dans le texte BM 33056+, trois filles de Šamaš-udammiq de la famille de Maštuk : Bēlilitu, Nadaya et Ina-Esagila-ramât vendent un champ qu’elles ont reçu de leur mère. À ce moment, Ḫibuṣu, la femme du frère du père de ces trois filles conteste cette vente, et fait un procès avec son fils. Elle déclare que son mari, c’est-à-dire le frère du père des trois filles, n’avait pas fait de réclamation quand Tašmētu-damqat, la mère des trois filles, avait reçu ce terrain et qu’il l’avait donc mis à sa disposition. Mais malheureusement les lignes suivantes sont cassées et on ne peut pas savoir pour quelle raison exacte Ḫibuṣu et son fils ont fait cette réclamation. On sait, par un autre document, que les trois filles ont déposé 55 sicles d’argent chez Nabû-aḫḫē-iddin de la famille Egibi et que cet argent devait servir à payer Ḫibuṣu et son fils. En tout cas, il semble que le fils de Ḫibuṣu est encore très jeune et que c’est en son nom, fondamentalement, qu’elle fait cette réclamation. Ce document nous montre donc comment des filles reçoivent un terrain des leur mère, tandis que leur tante par alliance fait une contestation contre les membres de la famille. Ce dossier me semble documenter une forme de propriété des femmes à côté de la dot.

Pour récapituler, on pourrait donc trouver la possibilité d’une propriété des femmes en dehors de la dot dans les trois cas ci-dessous:

  • en premier lieu, dans le cas où des femmes achètent directement un terrain.
  • en deuxième lieu, après la mort de leur mari, quand les femmes deviennentpropriétaires d’une part des biens de leur mari qu’elles ont à partager cesbiens avec les frères du mari. Il est possible de considérer cette part comme une compensation de leur dot, quand celle-ci a été intégrée au patrimoine familial mais les documents ne nous donnent pas toujours beaucoup d’informations à ce sujet.
  • en troisième lieu, les filles peuvent hériter un bien de leur famille, probablement quand elles n’ont pas de frères.

Si l’on se tourne vers les activités féminines autres que celles qui concernent la propriété des biens immobiliers, nous avons également beaucoup d’attestations d’autres activités, notamment liées à l’usage de l’argent: comme créancières ou débitrice. On peut noter déjà que les femmes apparaissent plutôt en position d’indépendance quand elles prêtent de l’argent, alors qu’elles sont souvent associées à des membres de leur famille quand elles empruntent. Mais il s’agit là d’une recherche qui commence, et je ne peux pas fournir d’analyse détaillée à ce sujet pour l’instant.

Ce que je viens de présenter est donc une première étape dont tousles aspects ne sont pas définitifs puisque nous sommes au début de travail.Il est certain que l’accroissement de la base de données prosopographiquespermettra d’enrichir le corpus et de diversifier les conclusions, que j’espère pouvoir présenter dans la suite du déroulement du projet.