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

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

 J.J. Justel / B. Lion

 

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

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

0. Introduction

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

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

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

1. The real estate given as dowry

1.1. Corpus

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

Text

Dowry

Given by

Given to

Dowry items

ilku

Legal status of the dowry in next generations

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

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

1.2. Giver and recipient

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

1.3. Interpretations

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

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

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

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

2. The content of dowries: fields and houses

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

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

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

Text

Recipient of the dowry

Estate

Neighbour

Surface

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

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

Textual data: surfaces of the houses[13]

Text

Surface in m2

Remarks

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

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

House

(= “Group”)

Total surface at the ground level in square meters

Living space at the ground level in square meters

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

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

3. The counter-dowry

3.1. General remarks

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

Text

Counter dowry

Given by

Given to

Livestock

Textiles, shoes

Metals

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

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

3.2. Livestock

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

3.3. Textiles and shoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.4. Metals

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

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

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

4. Conclusions

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

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

 

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] See n. 2.

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

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

[6] Fincke 2012: 122 n. 28.

[7] Fincke 1995: 36.

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

[9] Gordon 1936: 158.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[16] See recently Fincke 2010.

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

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

[19] Lion 2009a.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Brigitte Lion

Professeur d’histoire ancienne, université François-Rabelais, Tours.
Laboratoire: EA 6298 CeTHiS.
Mots-clés: assyriologie, Bronze Récent, Nuzi, femmes, genre, animaux, alimentation.

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