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nadītum-women in the Field Lease Contracts from Sippar

nadītum-women in the Field Lease Contracts from Sippar

Ichiro NAKATA (Chuo University, Tokyo)
REFEMA Workshop, 2013

932 Old Babylonian real estate texts from Sippar housed in the British Museum were published in transliteration by Luc Dekiere in his Old Babylonian Real Estate Documents from Sippar in the British Museum, Mesopotamian History and Environment, Texts, Vol. II (hereafter, MHET II), Ghent, 1994-1997 in six parts.[2] The texts published in MHET II/1-4 are arranged in chronological order, while those texts whose date is lost or not recorded have been published in MHET II/5. According to Dekiere, 179 texts (64%) of the 279 texts that are published in MHET II/5 could be dated relatively, and additional 28 texts (19%) with a broken year name or unknown year name could be dated after cleaning and collation.[3] The texts published in MHET II/6, on the other hand, are from the “Series” 1902-10-11 in the British Museum and are also arranged chronologically from Sabium to Ammi-Ṣaduqa.

A glance at the catalogues attached to Parts 1-6 of MHET II shows that the field lease contracts are the most numerous, followed by the field sales contracts, as shown in Chart I.[4] The only exception is the case of real estate texts dated to pre-Hammurabi period published in MHET II/1. Here, we find only 4 field lease contracts, as opposed to 35 field sales contracts according to my count. The ratio of the numbers of the two types of texts in MHET II/1 (4 vs. 35) is more or less in agreement with the corresponding ratio of the number of the field lease contracts (6 texts) vis-à-vis that of field sales contracts (40 texts) from pre-Hammurabi Sippar that were available to R. Harris at the time of the publication of her Ancient Sippar: A Demographic Study of an Old-Babylonian City (1894-1595 B.C.), Istanbul, 1975.[5]

In the field lease contracts and the field sales contracts published in MHET II/1-6, the majority of the lessors in the former except in MHET II/4 and II/6 and the majority of the purchasers in the latter except in MHET II/5 and 6 are women, as the figures in the bracket in Chart I show. Those women are quite likely to have been nadītum-women of Šamaš who lived in the “cloister (gagûm)” in Sippar even when they are not so specified.

Chart I  Numbers of Field Lease and Field Sale Contracts


Field Lease Contracts

Field Sale Contracts



35 (19)



15 (13)


46 (40)

9 (7)


63 (23)

9 (8)


137 (116)

25 (8)


22 (4)

4 (2)

Note: The figure in the bracket shows the number of the texts in which a woman leases or purchases a field (a.šà).

In this paper, I would like to examine those field lease contracts with a nadītum-woman as lessor, as published in MHET II/1-6.

1. The acreage of the field for leasing

There are two types of field lease contracts: one with an indication of the specific acreage of the field for leasing and one without (cf. a.šà mala maṣû[6] or a.šà mala qāssu ikaššadu[7]).

When the acreage is indicated, a field for leasing is 2 iku (approximately 0.72 ha) or larger with a few exceptions.[8] One popular size of fields for leasing on the lower end of this scale is 3 iku (for example, 15 field lease contracts[9] with a nadītum woman as lessor in MHET II/2 alone). 6 iku is another popular size of fields for leasing (14 contracts[10] again in MHET II/2 alone). However, the 18 iku (=1 bùr) or more is not rare among the sizes of fields leased on the higher end of the scale (3 field leasing contracts for 18 iku and 1 for 19 iku of field in MHET II/2[11]).

2. The minimum acreage needed for a nadītum-woman to subsist

In order to evaluate this data properly, it is necessary to know the minimum acreage of field required for the subsistence of an average individual.

J. Oates assumes that 6 ha (about 16.7 iku) of land constitute the minimum necessary to support an average family of 6 persons under conditions of plough agriculture on the basis of alternate fallow[12]. This means that the minimum acreage for one person to live on was 1 ha (about 2.8 iku), and, according to J. Oates, this is supported by the minimum allotment of a field of 1 bùr (18 iku, approximately 6.48 ha) to an ālik ilkim, a holder of ilkum-obligation and his family at the time of Hammurabi[13].

E. Stone and D.I. Owen compare the higher level of support (720 sìla or 540 KWE) per year for a male adopter by a male adoptee in OB adoption contracts from Nippur with the figure of 536 kg wheat equivalent (KWE) per year that C. Clark and M. Haswell calculated as the average subsistence level in Iraq during the 1950s.[14] 536 KWE would be equivalent to about 713 liters of barley.[15]

M. Stol made a survey of annual allowances for people “as long as they live” and came up with figures of 2 liters of barley per day or 720 liters per year per person.[16] Since he posits that the expected yield of barley from a field of 1 iku is 400 liters,[17] the subsistence level in terms of acreage of field for a person under conditions of plough agriculture on the basis of alternate fallow system would be about 3.6 iku (720 litres÷400 liters [the expected yield per iku per year]×2[18]) or approximately 1.3 ha.

Now, if we suppose that a nadītum-woman lives by herself[19] and solely on the rent(s) coming from the fields that she has, she must have at least a total of 5.4 iku (approximately 1.9ha) of fields under cultivation in any given year. A total of 5.4 iku of fields would theoretically produce an annual yield of 2160 liters of barley at the harvest time. Even under the less favorable “1/3 contract” she would then receive a rent of 720 liters of barley that would be enough to guarantee her subsistence. In the alternate fallow system, this would mean that she must have, at least, a total of 10.8 iku (5.4 iku x 2) of fields in two or more irrigation districts.

It is interesting to note in this connection that, in a late Old Babylonian text from Sippar-Amnānum,[20] 9 out of 10 bā’irum-soldiers are allotted a total of 12 iku of fields each as subsistence allotments (ṣibtum-fields) in two to four different irrigation districts (a.gàr’s/ugārū).[21] The bā’irum –soldiers appearing in this text could probably support themselves and their family of two or three persons with the yield from these ṣibtum-fields, even if they had to give a part of the yield to the landlord (the state in this case).

3. The rent of the field

The rent is paid in kind at the time of harvest and, according to my count, is fixed to a third of the yield in 33 (25.6%) of the 129 field lease contracts with a woman as lessor[22]published in MHET II/2 and 3. However, we find rents much more favorable to the landowner such as 50% of the yield in 12 field lease contracts (9.3%)[23] and 75% of the yield in 22 field lease contracts (17%)[24] published in MHET II/2 and 3; in the other cases, however, the rent varies[25]. We find such a low rates as 15% (MHET II/2, 198), but we also find such high rates as 87.5% (MHET II/3, 351) and 87.9% (MHET II/2, 280)[26].

Furthermore, tenants are required to give, in addition, one or two bán’s of flour (1 bán =about 10 liters) and a piece of meat to the landlady of the field (ipaqqissi) on the occasions of three to six festivals of Šamaš in a year. The rent, on the other hand, is usually required to be measured (ì.ág.e) at the gate of the cloister (gagûm) but in one instance (MHET II/2, 192) at the temple of Šamaš.[27]

4. Timing for concluding a field lease contract

Normally a lease contract of a field is for one year. However, one field lease contract (MHET II/2, 166), for example, is made for two years, while three (MHET II/2, 142, 148 and 156) are for three years.[28]

Perusing 40 leasing contracts in MHET II dated to the reigns of Hammurabi and Samsuiluna that contain not only a year name but also a month name, I have found all the month names except Month VII (September/ October) and Month X (December/January). However, 25 (62.5%)[29] of the 40 leasing contracts for the current season of cultivation are concluded during the period from Month I (March/April) to Month III (May/June), namely between the beginning of the annual inundation of the Euphrates River and its inundation peak. The rest of the leasing contracts are concluded in Month IV (MHET II/2, 289 and 306), Month V (MHET II/2, 174), VI (MHET II/2, 291 and II/5, 610), VIII (MHET II/2, 237, 253 and MHET II/3, 382), IX (MHET II/2, 235), XI (MHET II/2, 208, 231 and MHET II/3, 368) or XII (MHET II/2, 185, 223 and 249). The leasing contracts concluded in Months IV-VI may have been written rather late for the season, while those of Months VIII-XII may have been written early for the coming agricultural season.

5. Lessees of the field lease contracts

Here I would like to refer to R. Harris’ remark[30], because my prosopographical data and analysis of it is not yet sufficient.

 “The occupation of the lessee is not specified before the time of Ammi-ditana, but the occupations mentioned from this period onward indicate that those renting fields are often affluent individuals, who did so as investments. Fields are rented by such well-to-do people as a sanga of the Gula temple, scribes, a diviner, a judge, a general, a rabiānu official, the abi ṣābi officials , barbers, and the overseer of the barbers, a shepherd and a gardener. Among the perhaps less affluent lessees are a house-builder, fisherman, and Suteans.”

6. Some prominent (nadītum-)women in the field lease contracts

There are twenty-two women who appear as lessor in three or more field lease contracts published in MHET II/1-6. Six of them are not clearly stated as nadītum (lukur), but it is quite likely that they too were nadītum- women. What follows are the names of twenty-two women and their textual references together with the date of each field lease contract in abbreviation[31] as well as the acreage and the location of the field leased.

  • Amat-kallātim (nadītum), daughter of Šamaš -ilum: MHET II/2, 192 (H18, a field of 6 iku/ZA HA x num), 228 (H28, 12 iku/ša-Nuhanim), 247 (H32: 12 iku/ša-Nahanim), II/5, 730 (-, 3 iku/-)
  • Amat- Šamaš (nadītum), daughter of Mašum: MHET II/2, 288 (H40, 2 iku/-), 229 (H27, a field of 2 iku/Pahuṣum), 235 (H29, 2 iku/ Pahuṣum)
  • Amat- Šamaš (nadītum), daughter of Sîn-iddinam: MHET II/2, 150 (H09, 9 iku/ Iplahi), 151 (H09, 9 iku/Iplahi), II/5, 737 (-, 9 iku/-)
  • Amat- Šamaš, daughter of Warad- Šamaš: MHET II/3, 366 (Si02, 1 iku/Lugal.sag.ila), 376 (Si03, 3 iku/ša-Našuriš), 391 (Si05, 3 iku/ Pahuṣum)
  • Aya-tallik (nadītum), daughter of Ahulap-Šamaš: MHET II/5, 688 (H?, 3 iku/a.gàr GAL), 694 (H?, 3 iku/a.gàr, 830 (-, 9 iku/a.gàr GAL)
  • Bēlessunu (nadītum), daughter of Kazatum: MHET II/2, 296 (H41, 3 iku/Balala), 304 (H42, 3 iku/Balala), 309 (H43, 3 iku/Tawirātum), MHET II/3, 360 (Si02, 3 iku/Balala), MHET II/5, 759 (H?, 3 iku/Balala), 793 (H?, 5 1/2 iku/Nadiātum; 3 iku/Balala), 797 (H?, 4 1/2 iku/-)
  • Eli-erēssa (nadītum), daughter of Akiyatum: MHET II/2, 220 (H26, 5 iku/Ṭābum), 284 (H40, 5 iku 30 sar/Ṭābum), II/5, 801 (-, 5 iku/ Ṭābum), 809 (-, 5 iku/Ṭābum), 812 (-, 5 iku+20 sar/Ṭābum)
  • Eli-erēssa (nadītum), daughter of Sîn-abušu: MHET II/3, 346 (Si01, mala maṣû/ Ebirtum), 381 (Si03, 4 iku/ birīt nārim), 382 (Si03, 6 iku/Saškum), 403 (Si09, 4 iku/biīt nārim), 655 (-, 1 iku/birīt nārim)
  • Erišti(nin-ti)-Aya, daughter of Nabī-ilišu: MHET II/2, 178 (H15, 6 iku/Huba) : 196 (H17, 6 iku/erased), 201 (H18, 6 iku/Huba), 270 (H38, mala maṣû/a.gàr gal), 272 (H38, mala maṣû/-), 285 (H40, 4 iku/Huba), 305 (H42, 50 sar/-)[32], II/5, 751 (-, 3 iku/ša-Sîn), 756 (H?, 5 iku/a.gàr, 761 (H?, 3 iku/Huba), 783 (-, 40 sar/ -), 806 (-, mala maṣû/-), 820 (-, 6 iku/Huba)
  • Erišti-Aya, daughter of Bununum: MHET II/5, 722 (-, 5 iku/a.gàr, 728 (-, 5 iku/-), 767 (-, 1 iku+/a.gàr GAL), 782 (-, -/-)
  • Ḫuššutum (nadītum), daughter of Sîn-puṭram: MHET II/1, 113 (Sm06, 10 iku/Pahuṣum), II/2, 160 (H11, 18 iku/Pahuṣum), 187 (H16, 3 iku/ša- Našuriš), 249 (H32, 4 iku +/ša-Ninkarrak), II/5, 610 (H20?, 18 iku/Pahuṣum), 824 (-, -/Pahuṣum)
  • Ḫuzālatum nadītum), daughter of Sumuraḫ: MHET II/2, 179 (H15, 6 iku/Saškum), 193 (H17, 4 iku/Nagûm), 207 (H22, 6 iku/Saškum), 237? (H30, 4 iku/birit nārim), 260 (H35, 6 iku/ša-Amkanum), 261? (H35, 4 iku/Nagûm), 283 (H40, 4 iku/Nagûm), 287? (H40, mala maṣû/ Saškum), 295 (H41, 4 iku/Haṣārum), II/3, 428 (Si15, 4 iku/-), II/5, 749 (H?, 6 iku/ Saškum), 762 (-, mala mas:û/Saškum), 779 (-, 6 iku/ Saškum), 796 (-, 6 iku/a.gàr, 800 (-, 6 iku/Saškum), 813 (-, 4 iku/Ebirtum), 827 (-, 3 iku+/Biīt nārim)
  • Ina-libbi-eršet (nadītum), daughter of Warad-ilišu: MHET II/4, 506 (Aṣ04, 7 iku/a.gàr 0.1.3 iku.e), 514 (Aṣ08, 6 iku/še.gi6), 555 (Aṣ17+b, x iku/Bu[ … ]), II/5, 736 (-, -, -)
  • Kuzābatum, daughter of Nūr-Šamaš: [419] (Si11, 6 iku/Haganum), 719 (-, 6 iku/Haganum), 780 (-, 6 iku/Haganum)
  • Lamassi (nadītum), daughter of Iddin-Sîn: MHET II/2, 139(?)[33] (H01, x+2 iku/Gula), 262 (H35, mala maṣû/, II/3, 351 (Si01, 3 iku/ a.gàr Gula), 362 (Si02, 30 sar/-), 363 (Si02, mala mas:û/-), 371 (Si03, 1/2 šu.ši/-), 373 (Si03, 1 iku/-), 375 (Si09, 3 iku/a.gàr, 513 (Si01, 3 iku/a.gàr Gula)
  • Mannatum (nadītum), daughter of Yassi-El: MHET II/2, 175 (H14, 18 iku/a.gàr Martu), 208 (H22, mala mas:û/-), II/5, 583 (H?, 8 iku/?), 715 (H?, -/a.gàr Martu)
  • Masmaratum (nadītum), daughter of Ahušina: MHET II/2, 148 (H7, mala maṣû/Mahana), 174 (H14, 6 iku/Mahana), 177 (H15, mala maṣû/Mahana), 185 (H15, 6 iku/Mahana), II/3, 429? (Si15, 7 iku/-), II/5, 712 (-, 6 iku/Mahana), 741 (-, 6 iku/Mahana), 771 (-, ?-/Mahana), 804 (-, 3 iku/Piti[…]), 807 (-, 7 iku/Saškum), 811 (-, 6 iku/)
  • Narāmtum, daughter of Šamaš-tillassu: MHET II/2, 219 (H26, mala mas:û/-), 254 (H33, 3 iku/Šalim-bēlī), II/5, 687 (Sm03, mala mas:û/Huba)
  • Ruttum (nadītum), daughter of Hammurabi: MHET II/2, 204 (H21, 12 iku/a.gàr Sumuqan [dGIR]), 209 (H24, 14 iku/Gizanum), 212  (H24, a.šà umaškanum mala mas:û/gú ud.kib.nun(ki) (only in the case)), II/3, 441 (case) (Si25?, 18 iku/ Appaya)
  • Ruttum (nadītum), daughter of Iṣi-Qatar[34]: MHET II/2, 273 (H38, 19 iku/Pahuṣum), 274 (H38, 6 iku/ša-Amkanum), 302 (H42, 12 iku/Lugal.sag.íla), 306 (H42, 18 iku/Pahuṣum), 312 (H43, 9 iku/erased), II/3, 368 (Si2, 19 iku/ Pahuṣum), 397 (Si6, 15 iku/Gizanum), 443(Si26, 18 iku/Pa[huṣum]), II/5, 612 (H?, 18 iku/dAppaya), 744 (Si?, 15 iku/ Gizanum), 772 (H?, ? iku/Bura)
  • Šāt-Aya (nadītum), daughter of Ikūn-pî appearing:
    • as sole lessor: MHET II/2, 278 (H40, 7 iku/Buša), 279 (H40, 3 iku/-), 289 (H40, 3 iku/Buša)[35], II/5, 644 (H?, 3 iku?/Buša)
    • as co-lessor with Geme-Aya[36], another nadītum-woman and daughter of Nūr-ilišu[37]: 280 (H40, 7 iku/Buša). (Šāt -Aya and Geme-Aya in MHET II/2, 213, 259, 265, 269, 271, 291, 293, 310 are not included here, because it is not certain that they are identical with the two women in MHET II/2, 280.)
  • Šî-Lamassi, daughter of Enlil-Malik: MHET II/3, 406 (Si07, 9iku/Ašlatum), 399 (Si06, 9 iku/Ašlatum), 411 (Si08, 9iku/Ašlatum)

Of these twenty-two prominent (nadītum)women only five appear in Harris’ “Biographical Notes on the nadītum-women of Sippar”, JCS 16, 1962, 1-12, namely Amat-Šamaš, daughter of Sîn-iddinam, Ḫuššutum, daughter of Sîn-puṭram, Ina-libbi-eršet, daughter of Warad-ilišu, Mannatum, daughter of Yassi-El and Narāmtum, daughter of Šamaš -tillassu.[38]

Most of the names of the twenty-two prominent (nadītum-)women listed above were culled, thought not exclusively, from British Museum’s collection with the register number Bu 91-5-9, an overwhelming part of which is said to have come from Tell ed-Der (G. Kalla, ZA 89, 1999, p. 222). They are Amat-kallātum (nadītum), daughter of Šamaš-ilum, Amat-Šamaš (nadītum), daughter of Mašum, Amat-Šamaš (nadītum), daughter of Sîn-iddinam, Amat-Šamaš, daughter of Warad-Šamaš, Bēlessunu (nadītum), daughter of Kazatum (MHET II/ 2, 309 is from Bu 94-1-5), Eli-erēssa (nadītum), daughter of Akiyatum, Eli-erēssa (nadītum), daughter of Sîn-abušu, Erišti-Aya, daughter of Nabī-ilišu, Erišti-Aya, daughter of Bununum, Huššutum (nadītum), daughter of Sîn-puṭram (MHET II/ 2, 160 and MHET II/5, 610 are from Bu 94-1-5), Huzālatum (nadītum), daughter of Sumurah, Ina-libbi-eršet (nadītum), daughter of Warad-ilišu, Kuzābatum, daughter of Nūr-ilišu (MHET II/5, 780 is from Bu 81-5-9), Lamassi, daughter of Iddin-Sîn, Mannatum (nadītum), daughter of Yassi-El, Masmaratum (nadītum), daughter of Ahušina, Ruttum (nadītum), daughter of Īṣi-Qatar (MHET II/2, 302 II/3, 368, II/5, 612 are from Bu 94-1-15), and Šî-Lamassi, daughter of Enlil-Malik. Only Šāt -Aya (nadītum), daughter of Ikūn-pî is culled from the texts in AH 82-9-18 which are said to have come from Abu Ḥabba (G. Kalla, ZA 89, 1999, 219).  The rest of the names are culled from Bu 89-10-14 (Aya-tallik [nadītum], daughter of Ahulap-Šamaš and Narāmtum, daughter of Šamaš-tillassu) or Bu 92-5-16, 92-7-9, 94-1-15 (Ruttum [nadītum], daughter of Hammurabi) that contain tablets from Abu Ḥabba as well as Tell ed-Der.

Why did many of the records of contract of nadītum-women involving field leasing apparently come from Tell de-Der (Sippar-Amnanum) and not from Abu Ḥabba where the cloister (gagûm) is supposed to have been located? G. Kalla suggests that these records of contract were kept not in respective nadītum- women’s houses in the cloister (gagûm) but in the houses of their fathers, brothers or uncles[39]. This is yet to be proved, but the suggestion is worth taking seriously.

7. Comments on some individual nadītum-women

(1) We note that eight of these(nadītum-)women leased more than two fields as lessor on separate lease contracts in the same year[40] (Chart II).
Thus, Ḫuzālatum, daughter of Sumuraḫ, leased a field of 6 iku to Narām-ilišu (MHET II/2, 260) and another field of 4 iku to Šamaš-muballiṭ (MHE II/2, 261) in Hammurabi’s 35th year. She again leased a field of 4 iku to Sîn-iqīšam (MHET II/2, 283) and a field of mala maṣû to Elmēšum (MHET II/2, 287) in Hammurabi’s 40th year. MHET II/ 2, 261 and MHET II/2, 287 do not give the patronym of Ḫuzālatum, but it is possible that Ḫuzālatum referred to in both of these texts is the same nadītum- woman as in the other two texts. Furthermore, Ḫuzālatum had at least a total of four fields for leasing in four different irrigation districts (a.gàr/ugārum), namely ša-Amkānim (MHET II/ 2, 260), Saškum (MHE II/2, 179, 207 and 287), and Nagûm (MHE II/2, 193, 261 and 283) and Ḫaṣārru (MHET II/2, 295) and additional field in the “land between the canals” (MHET II/2, 237) during the period of Hammurabi’s 15th to 41st year.

Chart II

Name of lessor



Location of Field

Amat-Šamaš, d. of Sîn-iddinam


9 iku



9 iku


Eli-erēssa, d. of Sîn-abušu


4 iku

Birīt nārim


6 iku


Erišti-Aya, d. of Nabī-ilišu


mala maṣû

a.gàr GAL


mala maṣû

Huzālatum, d. of Sumurah


4 iku



6 iku



4 iku



mala maṣû


Masmarātum, d. of Ahušina


mala maṣû



6 iku


Ruttum, d. of Hammurabi


14 iku



mala maṣû

Ruttum, d. Īṣi-Qatar


19 iku



6 iku



12 iku



18 iku


Šāt -Aya, d. of Ikūn-pî


7 iku



3 iku


3 iku


(2) Three different nadītum-women, called Ruttum are attested in our texts. Of them, Ruttum, daughter of Hammurabi[41] appears at least in four field lease contracts. In Hammurabi’s 24th year, Ruttum, daughter of Hammurabi leased 14 iku of field in the irrigation district of Gizanum to Wardum[42], son of Šamaš-rabi (MHET II/2, 209), while leasing another field on the bank of Sippar (or Euphrates?) as well as a threshing site (mala maṣû) to Nirāḫ-bāni in the same year (MHET II/2, 212). She had four fields in four different irrigation districts, namely dGIR (Sumuqan) (MHET II/2, 204), Gizanum (MHET II/2, 209), the bank of Sippar (gú, MHET II/2, 212 [case]) and near the canal Appaya (MHET II/3, 441) during the period from Hammurabi 21st year to Samsuiluna 25th year(?).

(3) However, the most prominent is Ruttum, daughter of Īṣi-Qatar. She appears at least in 11 field lease contracts. This Ruttum also leased a field of 19 iku in the irrigation district of Paḫuṣum to Akšak-iddinam and 6 iku of field in the irrigation district of ša-Amkanim to Ibni-Martu both in Hammurabi’s 38th year. Four years later (Hammurabi’s 42nd year), she leased a field of 12 iku in the irrigation district of Lugal-sagila to Ilšu-bani, head of the merchants (PA dam.gar.meš) and a field of 18 iku in the irrigation district of Pahuṣum to Šamaš-tappê on two separate contracts. Ruttum, daughter of Īṣi -Qatar, is noted to have owned large tracts of field (18~19 iku) in the irrigation districts of Paḫuṣum (MHET II/2, 273, 306, II/3, 368 and 443) and near the canal Appaya (MHET II/5, 612).

(4) The last nadītum-woman I would like to comment on is Šāt-Aya. She concluded two separate field lease contracts with Damiq-Marduk (MHET II/2, 278 [7 iku]) and Aham-nirši (MHET II/2, 289 [3 iku]) respectively as sole lessor and another as co-lessor with Geme-Aya (280 [7 iku]) in Hammurabi’s 40th year with the same tenant, Damiq-Marduk. The field of 3 iku (MHET II/2, 289) and the fields of 7 iku each (MHET II/2, 278 and 280) are located in the same irrigation district (a.gàr Buša). If the acreage of two fields of 7 iku each in a.gàr Buša are indeed two different tracts of field in the same irrigation district, it means that Damiq- Marduk rented out three different fields, all of which were in the same irrigation district (a.gàr Buša), on three separate lease contracts in the same year from the same nadītum-woman except in MHET II/2, 280 where she appears as co-lessor with Geme-Aya. In some of the field lease contracts, more than one person are mentioned as lessees, but it is exceptional that a field lease contract mentions more than one lessor. The relationship of the two nadītum-women is not known.
The strangest thing with MHET II/2, 278 and 280 is the difference in the amount of rent for the fields of the same acreage (7 iku) in the same irrigation district. In MHET II/2, 278 it is stated that the rent is 2 gur (about 600 liters) of barley, while MHET II/2, 280 states that the rent is 8 gur (about 2400 liters) of barley, four times more than that of MHET II/2, 278, although the lessee, the date of the contract, and the terms of lease (“He rented out a field for cultivation at the time of opening of an irrigation ditch [eqlam ana errešūtim ina piti atappim ušēṣi]”) are the same. At the moment, I have no explanation for this difference.


Among the types of the Old Babylonian real estate texts from Sippar published in MHET II/1-6 that of the field lease contracts with a (nadītum-)woman as lessor is by far the most numerous. Of the total of 972 texts 276 belong to this type according to my count. On the basis of the examination of these texts the following observations are made.

            1. The two popular sizes of the fields for leasing are 3 iku and 6 iku, as far as MHET II/2 is concerned, although 18 iku or 19 iku are found in four contracts.

            2. The rent is fixed to one third of the yield in about 22% of the 108 field lease contracts dated to the reigns of Hammurabi and Samsuiluna, but in the other contracts the rent varies greatly. However, it may be noted that in about 28% of the contracts the rent is set higher to 50 to 75% of the yield.

            3. If a nadītum-woman has no income other than rent which is paid in kind and if 720 liters of barley is needed for a person to subsist for a year, as posited by M. Stol, she must have at least 5.4 iku of field under cultivation in any given year on the basis of the yield rate of 400 liters per iku. This would mean that in the alternate fallow system she must have, at least, a total of 10.8 iku (5.4 iku×2 ) of fields in two or more irrigation districts (See the observation No. 7 below).

            4. Normally a lease contract of a field is for one year. Based on the 40 lease contracts in MHET II/2-3 dated to the reigns of Hammurabi and Samsuiluna that contain not only a year name but also a month name, 62.5% (25 field lease contracts) of them are concluded during the period from Month I (March/ April) to Month III (May/June), and the remaining contracts are concluded rather late for the agricultural season in Months IV to VI or early presumably for the coming agricultural season in Months VIII to XII.

            5. Many of the lessees seem to be rather affluent individuals, as noted by R. Harris, Ancient Sippar, Leiden, 1975, p. 223.

            6. There are twenty-two nadītum-women who appear as lessor in three or more field lease contracts published in MHET II/1-6. Strangely only five of them appear in R. Harris’ “Biographical Notes on the nadītum women of Sippar” JCS 16, 1962, pp. 1-12.

            7. The nadītum-women are suspected to have had two or more fields for leasing in different irrigation districts or locations over a period of time, as the cases of Amat-kallātuim(?), Amat-Šamaš (d. of Warad-Šamaš), Aya-tallik(?), Bēlessunu, Eli-erēssa (d. of Sîn-abušu), Erišti-Aya (d. of Nabīi-ilišu), Erišti-Aya (d. of Bununum)(?), Ḫuššutum, Ḫuzālatum, Ina-libbi-eršt, Narāmtum, Ruttum (d. of Hammurabi), Ruttum (d. of Īṣi-Qatar) suggest. This pattern of ownership of fields must have been related with the alternate fallow system that was practiced in ancient Babylonia (See, however, our Excursus below).

            Šāt -Aya, on the other hand, is known to have owned independently or with another nadītum-woman at least three presumably different fields within the same irrigation district of a.gàr Buša and concluded three separate field lease contracts in Hammurabi’s 40th year regarding these fields. It is not known at the moment whether Šāt -Aya had a field or more elsewhere.

An Excursus
Irrigation Districts (a.gàr/ugārum) and the Alternate Fallow System

So far in my discussion I have assumed that the cereal cultivation system in Sippar area was under the alternate fallow system.[43] The fact that fields of a number of (nadītum-)woman were located in two or more irrigation districts, as we have just seen, can be better understood with the alternate fallow system in mind.

I also noted above that in a text from Sippar-Amnānum dated to Ammi-ditana’s year 34 (MHET II/6, 894), 9 out of 10 bā’irum-soldiers were allotted a total of 12 iku of fields each as subsistence allotments (ṣibtu-fields) located in two to four different irrigation districts. It would be easier to allot a total of 12 iku of ṣibtum-fields to each bā’irum-soldier in one batch in one or another irrigation district, but the fact is that the 12 iku of ṣibtum-fields allotted to each soldier were located in two to four different irrigation districts. The practice of alternate fallow must have been one of the reasons that necessitated such a way of allotting ṣibtum-fields,[44] because the alternate fallow system was practiced with an irrigation district as a unit. If one’s ṣibtum-field or fields are found only in one irrigation district, one would have to be idle and thus without harvest in the year following the harvest.

Let me quote Article 58 of the Code of Hammurabi (CH).

If, after the small cattle come up from the irrigation district (ugārum) when the pennants announcing the termination of pasturing have been wound around the main city-gate, the shepherd releases small cattle (ṣēnum) into a field and allows the small cattle to graze in the field—the shepherd shall guard the field in which he allowed them to graze and at the harvest he shall measure and deliver to the owner of the field 60 gur’s (=about 18.000 liters) of barley per 1 bùr (18 iku=about 6.48 ha)[45].

CH 58 and the preceding CH 57 have to be read in connection with the practice of allowing small cattle (sheep and goats) to graze young shoots of barley of 45-60 days old in the field.[46] In the case of CH 58, the shepherd allows his herd to graze “illegally” in a field of one particular field-owner. However, CH 58 seems to indicate that the practice to allow a herd to graze in a barley field or fields is done by the irrigation district (a.gàr/ugārum) as a unit. In other words, fields in this irrigation district are all sown with none in fallow. In my view, CH 53-54 also seem to suggest that farmers who have their fields in the same irrigation district, i.e. members of the irrigation district (mārū ugārim), cultivate their respective fields in the same cycle of cultivation and fallow.

However, some of our field lease contracts pose questions on our assumption. For example, three lease contracts were concluded for two (MHET II/2, 166) or three years (MHET II/2, 142, and 148). Does it follow that the lessees of these contracts cultivated the fields for two or three years continuously possibly because of the poor conditions of the fields they rented?[47]

There are other field lease contracts that pose a more serious question on our assumption of the alternate fallow system. Let us take up seven lease contracts of fields, all located in the irrigation district of Buša, and dated to various regnal years of Hammurabi: MHET II/2, 227 (Ha 27), 265 (Ha 37), 271 (Ha 38-I), 278 (Ha 40), 280 (Ha 40), 289 (Ha 40-IV), 291 (Ha 40-VI). (The Arabic figure in brackets indicates year, while the Roman numeral indicates month.) Of these seven lease contracts, five are dated to Hammurabi’s even regnal years, but two to odd regnal years. If the alternate fallow system was practiced in Sippar, the irrigation district of Buša should have been in cultivation only in even regnal years. However, MHET II/2, 227 and 265 are dated to Hammurabi’s odd regnal years. These contracts might have been written early for the coming year (i.e. Hammurabi’s even year) toward the end of the passing year (for examples, in Month XI or Month XII). However, the possibility cannot be excluded that the two field lease contracts (MHET II/2, 278 and 280) that are dated to Hammurabi’s even regnal years might have been written early for the coming year. So the question must remain unsolved.

Again, there are four lease contracts involving the irrigation district of Mahana, namely MHET II/2, 148 (H 7), 174 (H14-V), 177 (H15) and 185 (H15-XII). One of them is dated to Month V of Hammurabi’s 14th year, thus indicating that the irrigation district of Mahana was sown in Hammurabi’s even years, but the remaining 3 lease contracts involving the irrigation district of Mahana are dated to Hammurabi’s odd years. Thus, these 4 lease contracts do not seem to support the idea that the irrigation district constitutes a unit for the alternate fallow system. However, one lease contract (MHET II/2, 185) is dated to Ha 15-XII. This would mean that MHET II/2, 185 was written early toward the end of the passing year for the agricultural work in the coming year, namely Ha 16. Similarly, the remaining two lease contracts (MHET II/2, 148 and 177) may theoretically also have been written early for Hammurabi’s regnal years 8 and 16 respectively. In that case these 4 lease contracts do not necessarily refute our idea that an irrigation district constituted a unit for the alternate fallow system. To sum up, our data regarding a.gàr/ugārum (irrigation district) do not support nor refute the idea that it was a unit for the alternate fallow system. Unfortunately, I have to let this matter rest unsolved at this point.

[1] This paper is a combined and revised version of my two earlier papers read at the second (June 25, 2013) and third (September 3, 2013) REFEMA workshops.

[2] L. Dekiere, Old Babylonian Real Estate Documents from Sippar in the British Museum, Mesopotamian History and Environment, Texts, Vol. II, Ghent, 1994 (Parts 1-2), 1995 (Parts 3-4), 1996 (Part 5) and 1997 (Part 6). For a review of MHET II, see E. Woestenburg, AfO 44/45 (1997/98), 349-60. See also G. Kalla, “Die Geschichte der Entdeckung der altbabylonischen Sippar Archive,” ZA 89, 1999, 201-226.

[3] L. Dekiere, Introduction of MHET II/5, Ghent, 1996.

[4] The figure in the bracket shows the number of the texts published in each part of MHET II in which a woman leases or purchases a field (a.šà).

[5] R. Harris, Ancient Sippar: A Demographic Study of an Old-Babylonian City (1894-1595 B.C.), 217-220 and 229-233.

[6] “field as much as is found”.

[7] “field as much as his hand can reach”.

[8] MHET II/3, 366 is one exception. Here, Nanna-ibila-mansum apparently rented a field of 1 iku for cultivation from a woman named Amat-Šamaš for the rent of 1 gur (300 liters) of barley.

[9] For example, MHET II/2, 138, 144, $157$, 187, 194, 198, 213, 254, 259, 269, 279, 289, 296, 304, and 309.

[10] For example, MHET II/2, 156, 166, 174, 178, 179, 185, 192, 196, 201, 207, 260, 274, 293 and 310.

[11] MHET II/2, 160, 306, 323 (all 18 iku), and 273 (19 iku).

[12] Joan. Oates, “Land Use and Population in Prehistoric Mesopotamia,” L’archéologie de l’Iraq du début de l’époque néolithique à 333 avant notre ère, Paris, 1980, p. 307.

[13] J. Oates in L’archéologie de l’Iraq, Paris, 1980, p. 307.

[14] C. Clark and M. Haswell, Economics of Subsistence Agriculture, London, 1970, p. 81 (See E. C. Stone and D. I. Owen, Adoption in Old Babylonian Nippur and the Archive of Mannum-mešu-liṣṣur, Winona Lake, 1991, p. 9).

[15] 536 KWE is divided by a conversion rate of 1.33 (1 KWE = 1.33 sìla). This conversion rate is based on the data given in Table 3 in Stone-Owen, Adoption, p. 8 corrected by M. Stol and S. P. Vleeming (eds.), The Care of the Elderly in the Ancient Near East, Leiden, 1998, p. 67, n. 33.

[16] M. Stol in M. Stol and S. P. Vleeming (eds.), The Care of the Elderly in the Ancient Near East, Leiden, 1998, p. 64.

[17] M. Stol in The Care of the Elderly, p. 69, n. 39. However, K. Maekawa says that an expected yield of barley from a field of 1 b­ùr is 30 gur, in other words 500 liters per 1 iku of a field, based on his study of Ur III agricultural texts (see no. 21 below). I will use M. Stol’s figure for calculation, thinking that the yield per iku in the Old Babylonian period dropped slightly due to increased salinization.

[18] Please note that in the alternate fallow system a field produces a yield only every other year.

[19] Some nadītum-women seem to have lived with her slave-woman or women in the cloister (cf. MHET II/5 816).

[20] MHET II/6, 894.

[21] MHET II/6, 894. This text has been studied by K. De Graef. See De Graef, “An account of the redistribution of land to soldiers in late Old Babylonian Sippar-Amnānum,” JESHO 45, 2002, pp. 141-78.

[22] MHET II/2, 150, 151, 155, 177, 179, 185, 195, 207, 208, 228, 237, 262, 270, 272, 283, 285, 287, 295, 296, 304, 309; II/3, 346, 348, 350, 360, 361, 363, 364, 365, 385, 395, 403, 411.

[23] MHET II/2, 174, 192, 193, 194, 213, 247, 279, 289; II/3, 376, 377, 419, 441.

[24] MHET II/2, 157, 187, 196, 201, 229, 232, 235, 236, 244, 249, 259, 260, 269, 274, 288, 302, 307; II/3, 352, 366, 380, 428, 435.

[25] R. Harris says, “The ratio paid to the owner was usually 6 gur of barley per 18 gán (or 18 iku), though the ratio is often slightly higher—8 gur per 18 gán (or 1 bur), or even about 1 gur per gán.”. She adds further, “It appears that the owner was favored at the beginning of the reign of Hammu-rapi, and perhaps slightly before and after. After this the owner’s share became more standardized: one-third of the yield.” (R. Harris, Ancient Sippar, 1975, p. 225)

[26] We even find a field lease contract (MHET II/2, 305) according to which Erišti-Aya, the owner of the field, requires her tenant to give 4 gur (=about 1200 liters) of barley for a field of 50 sar (1/2 iku). This means an impossible rate of 600%!

[27] This requirement is probably related to the compulsory use of measures authorized by Šamaš temple. However, is it possible to conjecture that a parcentage of the rents of nadītum-women’s fields constituted a part of the revenue of Šamaš temple?

[28] I cannot reconcile these two- or three-year contracts with the alternate fallow system that I believe was in practice in Babylonia.

[29] Month I: MHET II/2, 144, 201, 263, 271, 271, 273, 302, 312, MHET II/3, 397 and 404. Month II: MHET II/2, 195, 247, 274, 288, 307, 313, MHET II/3, 350, 351 and MHET II/6, 857. Month III: MHET II/2, 173, 196, 204, 212, 222 and MHET II/3, 443.

[30] R. Harris, Ancient Sippar, 1975, 223.

[31] H27 stands for Hammurabi’s 27th regnal year. Likewise, Si for Samsuiluna, Sm for Sîn-muballiṭ.

[32] This text may be excluded here, because the field of 50 sar (0.5 iku) is leased out for planting vegetable (ana šiknim ušēṣi) and not barley.

[33] MHET II/2, 139 is included here in spite of the lack of her patronym, because the field is in the irrigation district of Gula as in the other two texts.

[34] L. Dekiere transcribes Izi-gatar (MHET II/2, p. 266).

[35] Šāt -Aya appears as co-lessor with another nadītum-woman, Nišī-īnišu in a field lease contract (MHET II/2, 198).

[36] The name of this woman is most often spelled as géme-(d)a-a (MHET II/2, 227, 265, 271, 280 and 291), but gémemeia (MHET II/2, 259 and 310), ge-me-(d)a-a (MHET II/2, 213 and 269) and ge-me-ia (MHET II/2, 293) also appear. It is proble that these variant spellings stand for the name of the same nadītum-woman and that the name was pronounced Geme-Aya rather than Amat-Aya (cf. MHET II/2, 265).

[37] See MHET II/2, 265. However, the name of the father of Geme-Aya is also spelled as nu-úr-ì-lí (MHET II/2, 280).

[38] In “Biographical Notes” of R. Harris, all the nadītum-women that appear in three or more Old Babylonian Sippar texts available at the time of publication of her article are listed.

[39] G. Kalla, “Die Geschichte der Entdeckung der altbabylonischen Sippar-Archive,” ZA 89, 1999, 213.

[40] Lamassi, daughter of Iddin-Sîn is not included in the chart, because one of the two fields she leased in Samsuiluna year 2 was for planting leek (eqlam ana šikni ušēṣi) and not for planting barley(MHET II/3, 362). She again leased two small plots to two different pairs of tenants in Samusuiluna year 3 for planting leek (eqlam ana šikin mušarī/ and šikni ušēṣû) (MHET II/3, 371 and 373).

[41] I presume that Hammurabi here is only a namesake of King Hammurabi.

[42] Wardum is called rá.gab (rakbû) (“messenger”) in this text.

[43] Sh. Yamamoto, “On the Establishment of the ‘Agricultural Year’ through Pre-Sargonic Texts of Lagash,” Shirin 62, pp. 165–214 (in Japanese); Sh. Yamamoto, “The ‘Agricultural Year’ in Pre-Sargonic Girsu-Lagash,” ASJ 1, 1979, pp. 85–97 and ASJ 2, 1980, pp. 169–87; P. J. LaPlaca and M. A. Powell, “The Agricultural Cycle and the Calendar at Pre-Sargonic Girsu,” BSA 5, 1990, pp. 75–82 for Pre-Sargonic period and M. Liverani, “The Shape of Neo-Sumerian Fields,” BSA 5, 1990, pp. 169. As for the alternate fallow system in mid-20th century Iraq, see P. Buringh, Soils and Soil Conditions in Iraq, Baghdad, 1960, p. 71 and p. 249; A. P. G. Poyck, Farm Studies in Iraq, Mededelingen van de landbouwhogeschool te Wageningen, 62 (1), Wageningen, 1962, p. 19 and p. 38; M. P. Charles, “Traditional Crop Husbandry in Southern Iraq 1900-1960,” BSA V, 1990, pp. 47–48 and pp. 60–61 and J. N. Postgate, “A Middle Tigris Village,” BSA 5, 1990, pp. 65–74.

[44] It is possible that there were good irrigation districts with a high yield and poor districts with a low yield. In such a situation, it may have been necessary to avoid unbalance of allotting all the ṣibtu-fields of one bā’irum-soldier either in a good irrigation district or in a poor one.

[45] This translation is based on that of M. T. Roth in her Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, SBL Writings from the Ancient World Series, Atlanta, 1995, pp. 92f.

[46] A. P. G. Poyck, Farm StudieSîn Iraq, Wageningen, 1962, p. 52; M. P. Charles, “Traditional Crop Husbandary in Southern Iraq,” BSA V, Cambridge, 1990, p. 61.

[47] Note the relatively low rates of the rent of the field of MHET II/2, 142 (18.8% of the yield in the first year and 37.5% in the second year) and that of the field of MHET II/2, 166 (only 12.5%). The possible existence of exceptions to the alternate fallow in the Pre-Sargonic period is suggested by Sh. Yamamoto (ASJ 2, 1980, pp. 176f.). For cases of continuous cultivation of the fields because of their poor yield in modern Iraq, see A. P. G. Poyck, Farm Studies in Iraq, Wageningen, 1962, pp. 38f.

The Woman in Marriage as Reflected in the Code of Hammurabi

The Woman in Marriage as Reflected in the Code of Hammurabi

(Professor Emeritus of Chuo University, Tokyo)




I. The women in some Akkadian expressions of getting married

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. Steps to the Consummation of Marriage

II-1. Prior to an Inchoate Marriage

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

II-2. Inchoate Marriage[7]

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

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

II-3.  Consummation of Marriage

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

III. Women in Dissolution of Marriage

III-1. Dissolution of an inchoate marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III-2. Dissolution of a Consummated Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IV. terḫatum, šeriktum and nudunnnûm 

IV-1. terhatum

IV-1-1. What is terḫatum?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IV-1-2. The amount of terḫatum

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

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

IV-2. šeriktum (dowry)

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

IV-3. nudunnûm

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

List of Abbreviations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[27] CAD Š3, p. 103 sub 1b.

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

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

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