Archives de catégorie : Contributions

Le projet “Prosopographie des femmes néo-babyloniennes”/The project “prosopography of neo-babylonian women”

La base de donnée Prosopographies des femmes néo-babyloniennes a été commencé par Yoko Watai dans le cadre du projet REFEMA à partir de 2012. Depuis 2016, le projet est financé par la Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) sous la forme d’un Research Fellowship for Young Scientists de 2016 à 2019 , puis d’un JSPS Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (KAKENHI) 19K13361) depusi 2019.  Ce projet scientifique de base de données informatisée est également associé au site et au corpus numérique des textes babyloniens coordonné par F. Joannès, dans le cadre de la base Achemenet. L’un des buts de la base de données Prosopographies des femmes néo-babyloniennes est de présenter les activités des femmes babyloniennes dans toute leur diversité et d’évaluer leur dynamisme dans la sphère économique de la société babylonienne du premier millénaire ; un autre enjeu majeur est l’analyse paléographique, philologique et socio-historique des noms propres féminins utilisés dans la Babylonie du 6e siècle av. J.-C. et attestés par les textes cunéiformes contemporains. Cette base qui a été établie initialement avec FileMaker Pro et dont l’enrichissement se poursuit va être prochainement transférée dans une nouvelle version logicielle. L’achèvement en est prévu en 2022-2023.

The database Prosopography of neo-Babylonian women was initiated by Yoko Watai within the framework of the REFEMA project starting in 2012. Since 2016, the project is funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) under a Research Fellowship for Young Scientists from 2016 to 2019, and a JSPS Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (KAKENHI) 19K13361) since 2019.  This  computerized database  is also associated with the website and the digital corpus of Babylonian texts coordinated by F. Joannès, as part of the Achemenet database. One of the main objectives of the database Prosopographies of Neo-Babylonian Women is to present the activities of Babylonian women in all their diversity and to assess their dynamism in the economic sphere of Babylonian society during the first millennium BC. Another major issue is the paleographic, philological and socio-historical analysis of the feminine personal names which were used in Babylonia during the 6th century BC and which are attested through the contemporary cuneiform documentation. This base, which was initially established with FileMaker Pro and whose enrichment is still in progress, will soon be transferred to a new software version. Completion is scheduled for 2022-2023.

Final Report / Rapport final pour la JSPS (Tokyo)

On trouvera ci-joint, au format PDF, le rapport final du programme REFEMA (janvier 2015) pour la Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). Avec des contributions (en anglais ou en japonais) de: Laura Cousin, Francis Joannès, Josué Justel, Brigitte Lion, Fumi Karahashi, Bertrand Lafont, Eiko Matsushima, Cécile Michel, Gauthier Tolini, Ichiro Nakata, Yoko Watai, Masamichi Yamada

Attached below is the final report (in PDF) of the REFEMA program (January 2015) for the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). With contributions (in English or Japanese) of: Laura Cousin, Francis Joannès, Josué Justel, Brigitte Lion, Fumi Karahashi, Bertrand Lafont, Eiko Matsushima, Cécile Michel, Gauthier Tolini, Ichiro Nakata, Yoko Watai, Masamichi Yamada



The Women Designated ‘Man and Woman’ in Emar and Ekalte

 Masamichi Yamada

(REFEMA 4th Workshop: June 26–27, 2014, Tokyo)


In a number of Akkadian legal texts from Emar and Ekalte, a woman is designated as ‘Man and Woman,’ i.e., “male and female” or “female and male,” as well as “male” or “son.” This paper extracts some general patterns and basic features of the designation, obligations and inheritance of such women by examining the relevant fifteen texts. In these texts, the designee is usually a daughter of a male family head who has no son. She is to inherit the family estate in place of a son, and her relatives are forbidden to lay claim on it. She owes the same obligations as the (eldest) son to take care of her parents and, after the death of her father, to invoke the family gods and ancestral spirits. Probably she is also given the right to transfer inherited property to another if necessary. Although if her father adopts a son as her husband, the latter can take over the status as heir, her substantial initiative in the family seems to be preserved. The existence of the status of ‘Man and Woman’ indicates that the continuation of one’s own birth descendants had priority over the principle of male centeredness in the society.

I. Introduction

In the Akkadian texts from Emar and Ekalte in its vicinity, we find two kinds of women given both genders. Some are designated as ‘Father and Mother,’ and others as what I shall call ‘Man and Woman.’ In this presentation I treat the latter type of women. In the term ‘Man and Woman,’ I include the designations “male and female” (once “son and daughter”) or “female and male,” as well as also simply “male” or “son.” Since a daughter’s being designated as son is known in the Nuzi texts, the comparable cases in Emar have attracted the attention of several scholars, and recently J. J. Justel and B. Lion have published special studies on the ‘Man and Woman.’ Although many points have already been pointed out by them, I hope that I can show a few new aspects of this issue.

II. Attestation

We have fifteen relevant texts in total, thirteen from Emar and two from Ekalte. Of these, nine are texts of the Syrian type, including the two from Ekalte, and six are of the Syro-Hittite type from Emar. The handout lists them by provenance and tablet type.

III. Designation

The ‘Man and Woman’ is designated variously in the texts, with several kinds of introductory formula, in nominal or verbal sentences. I have shown samples of the expressions and arranged basic data in the handout. In List 1, however, we can recognize some systematic features. Firstly, the terms for ‘Man and Woman’ are different according to the tablet type or, more accurately, the scribal tradition: the Syrian type uses “female and male,” while the Syro-Hittite type has “male and female.” Note also that the use of DUMU/māru is restricted to the latter type. Secondly, several formulas are used. In Emar, although the designation is most commonly expressed in verbal sentences, the verbs are different: in the Syrian type we see šakānu, but epēšu in the Syro-Hittite type. These two points show the contrast between the two contemporary scribal traditions in Emar. Thirdly, as for the texts of the Syrian type, in Ekalte nominal sentences are used, while verbal sentences are used in Emar, as noted above. This reflects a diachronic change within the same scribal tradition.

In these texts, the person who designates a woman as ‘Man and Woman’ is a male family head. To this point we will return later. In general, the designator is a man who has no son for heir, as is explicitly stated in AuOr 5-T 13, and the designee is usually his daughter or daughters. In two cases we see a sister is designated, probably because the designator has no child (and maybe no brother either). In three texts, RE 23 and Sem. 46-T 2 as well as Emar VI 184, the women are established as the contingent heirs in case the existing sons designated heirs should die without offspring. The only exception to the substitutive nature of ‘Man and Woman’ is seen in RA 77-T 1, where a daughter is designated, although her brothers are alive at home. On the other hand, in ASJ 13-T 30, the designator prescribes that if Iddi-ramu, most probably his lost son, later turns up, he will be the heir instead of the designated daughters. This shows that the designation of ‘Man and Woman’ could be tentative.

The designation of ‘Man and Woman’ is made in the presence of other people to be valid. This is particularly the case in the Syrian-type texts, in which the lú.mešaḫḫū, ‘Brothers,’ of the designator are frequently summoned for this legal matter, and witnesses are listed at the end of the texts. Here, it is worth noting that in all the Syrian-type Emar texts but one, those lú.mešaḫḫū are summoned and/or the king of Emar is referred to as the first witness, whereas in the Ekalte texts, the lú.mešaḫḫū are summond, but no king of Ekalte appears as a witness. Although we have only two ‘Man and Woman’ Ekalte texts, the same pattern can be observed in documents that designate ‘Father and Mother.’

The need to summon the lú.mešaḫḫū is understandable, as this term is known to denote one’s relatives in a broad sense. Most probably, since they were potential claimants to the designator’s estate, their agreement on his decision was required. The involvement of the king is also important, since the royal authority would have forced potential claimants to accept the decision of the designator. However, we find that Sem. 46-T 2 was made in the presence of the lú.meššībūtu, not the lú.mešaḫḫū, and the king is not referred to. How can we explain this?

In this respect, we need to look at the diachronic change in the political regime in the land of Aštata. In both Ekalte and Emar, we can recognize two official authorities, i.e., urban and royal. As I discussed elsewhere, in the period of the Ekalte texts, the urban authority was dominant in Ekalte. In Emar after the Hittite conquest, in the early phase both authorities were balanced or the urban authority was still dominant. However, from the reign of Zu-Aštarti on, the royal authority evidently became dominant. Taking account of this historical framework, I think, the lú.meššībūtu of Sem. 46-T 2 denotes the city elders representing the urban authority, since the scribe of this text is Alal-abu, who belonged to the urban authority in the early phase of the Emar texts. If this is correct, we may think that in the early phase, when an official authority intervened in family affairs, it was the urban, not royal, authority. This means that in Emar an official authority was always involved in the designation of ‘Man and Woman.’ Then, what about the Ekalte texts’ lack of reference to any official authority? It seems to me that in Ekalte official intervention had not yet occurred in such a family affair.

The situation is different for the texts of the Syro-Hittite type in Emar. We see no summoning of lú.mešaḫḫū here, and two royal documents of Carchemish, RE 85 and Emar VI 31, lack a witness list. Although TS 74 lacks one too, it has a sealer list. Were these documents enough to force the designator’s relatives to accept the legal decision? The answer must be positive. Probably, the fact that a Syro-Hittite-type document was drawn up was decisive enough for the Emarites, since it reflected the authority of the Hittites, the conquerors of the city.

If so, one may rather wonder why the involvement of the king of Carchemish himself in two of the texts was necessary. In this respect, it is interesting to note that the woman designated as ‘Man and Woman’ in RE 85 is a qadištu-woman. If she was a priestess, Ini-Tešub’s involvement may have been due to her religious importance. In Emar VI 31, although we see no special status for the daughters designated as “sons,” it should be noted that the text also designates as ‘Father and Mother’ another daughter, who is a ḫarimtu-woman, a term usually taken to mean prostitute or independent woman. In any case, since this woman was once cut off from her family, the authority of Šaḫurunuwa was probably required to incorporate her into it again. As for PdA 66 of Prince Ḫešmi-Tešub, unfortunately we have no clue for special status of the designated daughter in the text.

IV. Obligations

We can recognize two obligations which the women designated ‘Man and Woman’ were to perform. The first is the worship of the gods and ancestral spirits for the family after the death of the designator. As shown in List 2, this is attested relatively often, in nine texts of the fifteen. For example, in RA 77-T 1 the father states of his daughter: “She shall invoke my gods and my dead.” It is well known that this obligation was usually performed by the eldest son, who took as his share the main house, to which the family god (or gods) belonged.

In the light of this observation, the abbreviated sentence in TS 72: 10, “Šamaš-laʾi, the god of the main house,” can be understood to indicate (my daughter) “Šamaš-laʾi (shall be in charge of) the god of the main house,” as in the case of Emar VI 201. When plural daughters are designated as ‘Man and Woman,’ the one who inherits the main house will perform the obligation. So, if each nuclear family had its family cult of gods and ancestral spirits, the omission of reference to that obligation in other texts is understandable: because it was taken for granted that the main heiress was to perform it.

The second obligation to be noted is caring. The question is, who is to be cared for. As already pointed out by K. R. Veenhof, the act of ‘caring’ is expressed differently in the texts from Emar (and Ekalte): abālu Gtn is used in the Syrian type, whereas palāḫu is used in the Syro-Hittite type, with only a few exceptions. As shown in List 2, this obligation of ‘Man and Woman’ is attested relatively rarely, in a total of six texts. But in RA 77-T 1, the father orders his sons to take care of the designated daughter, calling her also their “mother” (ll. 12, 15, 17, 24). Actually, she is treated more like a woman designated as ‘Father and Mother,’ who is usually the designator’s wife. This leads us to think that as far as this obligation is concerned, the daughter in RA 77-T 1 is exceptional. Her designation as ‘Man and Woman’ was probably due to her age and the above obligation of worship. In other words, she is to be regarded as a mixture of both types of women given both genders.

In the above six texts, the persons to be cared for are parents, mother, or sister. Except for the first case, the women to be cared for are all designated as ‘Father and Mother.’ Thus, we may recognize here female predominance, and correlation with the designation of ‘Father and Mother.’ What do these features tell us? Did a ‘Man and Woman’ usually take care only of her mother? To clarify this point, it is necessary to examine other legal texts concerning caring for comparison.

Let us look firstly at seventeen adoption contracts of the ‘normal’ type, that is, in which the positions of the father and son before the adoption seem to have been equal, that is, neither subordinate nor dominant. Among these, TS 72 and AuOr 5-T 14 also concern ‘Man and Woman.’ In these, whom is the adopted son to care for? They are his adoptive parents or the like in twelve texts, his adoptive father in three texts, and his adoptive mother in two texts. Note that the last two texts are written by the adoptive mother, who is most probably a widow. Thus, these ‘normal’ adoption contracts show that the adopted son usually takes care of his adoptive parents, or, more accurately, of the adoptive parent or parents still alive at that time.

When looking at other non ‘Man and Woman’ texts in which it is a woman who owes an obligation of caring for a family member, we find only a woman as its object: her mother in three texts and her sister in one text. But there is one case where a female slave is assigned to take care of her master and his wife, with the provision that she will be released after their deaths. In three other texts, it is prescribed that if a man who has the obligation of caring should die, a woman will undertake it as his substitute. In one text we find his sister will take care of his parents, and in two texts, the wife of a debtor will do the same for the creditor and his wife. Here, we may note two points. Firstly, when a woman has this obligation, its object is usually a female member of the family, particularly her mother. But secondly, it is also possible for her to take care of also a male in some circumstances.

In view of the above observations, how should we think about the object of caring by a ‘Man and Woman’? Is it care of mother or sister only, or of both her parents? In other words, is it gender-oriented as women taking care of women, or not because she is a woman substituting for a son? In my opinion, the latter is preferable. Note that the designator has no son and apparently needs caring by someone, and that she, the substitute for a son, can perform this obligation. As seen above, the references to her mother or sister as its object are restricted to the texts in which those women are designated as ‘Father and Mother.’ It seems to me that it is due only to this other matter that the object of the caring is specified. Then, why are both parents referred to in BLMJE 3? Here, it should be noted that the designator was the adoptive father of the designees. Probably, because he was not their natural father, the reference to him was required.

Based on these considerations, I would conclude that it was usually taken for granted that the ‘Man and Woman’ would take care of the designator and his wife, so the obligation did not need to be always stated explicitly.

V. Inheritance

Although the notion of ‘all one’s estate’ is expressed variously in the texts from Emar and Ekalte, the basic expression seems to be bītu mimmû, “house (and) possessions.” This phrase, as well as its abbreviations, and the term used in PdA 66, ḪA.LA/zittu, “(inheritance) share,” are explicitly stated as the inheritance of the ‘Man and Woman’ in seven texts in total, as indicated in List 2.

Among the remaining eight texts, although the case of TS 72 is not clear, in the other seven texts also, it seems evident that they will inherit all the estate of the designator. Let us take RE 15 as an example here. In this text, Irʾib-dIM designates his wife as ‘Father and Mother’ and gives her all his estate. At the same time, he designates his two daughters as ‘Man and Woman.’ Then he states that if these daughters should die without offspring, his wife shall give (the estate) to an offspring of his own father. Now, what will happen if the daughters without offspring are still alive at the time of her death? It seems self-evident that they will inherit all the estate.

Here, it may be noted that there are three other texts, Emar VI 32, 128 and 213, in which it is prescribed that a daughter will inherit all the estate of her parent, although she is not called ‘Man and Woman.’ Why not? Let us note that here the parent who gives the estate is the mother, and she is referred to as the “wife of PN,” most probably his widow. This suggests that only a male family head had the right to designate a woman as ‘Man and Woman.’ Ordinary widows probably did not have this right.

Now let us turn to another aspect of inheritance. Although usually the woman designated as ‘Man and Woman’ is unmarried, several texts deal with her marriage. If the father adopts a son as her husband during his lifetime, does this affect her status as heiress?

In Emar VI 31 and RA 77-T 2 the answer is negative. For example, in the former text, although the father designates his two daughters as “sons,” and marries one of them to his adopted son, he prescribes that (only) those two daughters will inherit all his estate. TS 72 is problematic, however. Here, the adopted son is assigned the task of caring for his adoptive parents, while, as seen above, it seems that the designated daughter will undertake the obligation of worship. Although it is written that the father’s estate will be inherited by the sons born to this couple in the future, it is not clear who inherits it immediately after the death of the father. Since they both have obligations, one may speculate that both husband and wife will inherit it. AuOr 5-T 14 provides still another pattern. In this text, the father assigns all his estate to his adopted son, the husband of his daughter, changing his previous decision in AuOr 5-T 13 that she was the ‘Man and Woman’ who would inherit it.

Thus, we find three possible patterns of inheritance by a ‘Man and Woman’ who has been married to an adopted son. First, she inherits; second, they both inherit; third, he inherits. How are they to be evaluated? For this purpose, let us consult the patterns found in other texts of ‘normal’ adoption, with marriage between the adopted son and a daughter of the adoptive father. When checking the seven relevant texts, one sees that inheritance by the adopted son is normal in these cases; inheritance by daughter only is not attested at all, and inheritance by both is found only once. Therefore, it can be said that inheritance by daughter only is peculiar to the ‘Man and Woman.’ However, one cannot conclude that this was normal for this type of women. Let us note that many of them were unmarried at the time of designation, and their fathers no doubt expected to adopt sons as their husbands later. AuOr 5-T 14 provides a case where a father succeeded in doing so, and changed the inheritance provision to inheritance by the adopted son, which was normal in the ‘normal’ adoption with marriage.

In view of the above, although we do have cases where a daughter alone inherits, I am inclined to think that the fathers usually made the designation with the hope he could later adopt a husband for her who would inherit the estate. In other words, the designation of ‘Man and Woman’ could be usually a tentative measure, as is clear in ASJ 13-T 30.

Here, one may raise several questions. Firstly, if the designation of ‘Man and Woman’ was tentative, why was it necessary at all? I think, it was a precaution against claims to the designator’s estate by his relatives; since without that designation, they might demand that he marry off his daughter so that they might inherit it. Secondly, if the daughter did marry an adopted son, who would have the substantial initiative in the family after the death of the father: the adopted son as his legal heir, or the daughter as his natural offspring? Although it is difficult to clarify this point, the latter case may have been general in reality, as is today in Japan.

In any case, if the father dies without adopting a son as the husband of his ‘Man and Woman’ daughter, she is no doubt established as the sole heiress to his estate. She holds the initiative in her family. Such a woman holding the initiative is occasionally attested in Emar, as shown in the handout. It is interesting to note here that all of them are referred to as “daughter of PN” or by her own PN, but never as “wife of PN.” In view of their independent, socio-economic activities, it seems likely that they are women once designated as ‘Man and Woman.’ Here, it is interesting to note that those activities include the sale of the father’s house, as in Emar VI 113. Also noteworthy are Emar VI 124 and TS 28, which deal with their remarriage, for these texts provide possible, though not definite, support for the substantial initiative of ‘Man and Woman,’ especially if the first marriage of those women was to an adopted son during the lifetime of their fathers.

Finally, the estate which the ‘Man and Woman’ inherits from the designator is, of course, in principle to be inherited by the sons she bears, as is explicitly stated in TS 72.

VI. Closing Remarks

Generally speaking, the woman designated as ‘Man and Woman’ is a daughter of a man who has no son for heir, i.e., a substitute. Although she is expected to be the heiress and family head, the designation may usually have been tentative. Probably it was done as a precaution against claims to the designator’s estate by his relatives. But once that status is established, she has the same rights and obligations as a son. In this sense, we may recognize here gender conversion, as Lion argued. However, does this mean that she abandons her own female work, such as weaving and food preparation? This does not seem likely. If so, it may be better to regard the phenomenon as gender addition, as the full terms for ‘Man and Woman’ suggest. Unfortunately, however, we have few texts from Emar and Ekalte that shed light on women’s domestic activities.

The existence of the status of ‘Man and Woman’ indicates that the continuation of one’s own birth descendants had priority over the social principle of male centeredness, though being greatly restricted by it, as seen in its substitutive nature. As noted above, a major reason would have been the obsession that the estate be kept within the family. However, at the fundamental level, there seems to have been another motivation for the choice of his daughter. It was maintenance of the designator’s own family cult, again as pointed out by Lion. It is easy to speculate that he fears that, if he designates his brother as heir, the brother might neglect to worship his spirit properly. Probably, the only ones he could be certain would be loyal to him were his own blood offspring, in this case, his female offspring. 

< Handout >

I. Introduction

1. The legal texts from Emar (ca. 1275–1175 B.C.)     Syrian type and Syro-Hittite type

from Ekalte (ca. 1400–1325 B.C.)[1]                Syrian type only

2. ‘Man and Woman’ (= M&W): “male and female” or “female and male” (also “male,” “son”)

cf. ‘Father and Mother’ (= F&M); also daughter as “son” in Nuzi

II. Attestation

1. Emar texts

a) Syrian type (S): BLMJE 3: 22; RA 77-T 1 (= ASJ 13-T 25): 7; 2 (= ASJ 13-T 26): 10; RE 15: 11; 23: 14; Sem. 46-T 2: 19; also Emar VI 184: 17′ (NITA-ma ka-lu-šu!-[nu])

b) Syro-Hittite type (H): AuOr 5-T 13: 5; PdA 66: 5 (“son and daughter”); RE 85: 14; also Emar VI 31: 9; TS 72: 3; 74: 2

2. Ekalte texts: Ekalte II 65: 15; ASJ 13-T 30: 15

III. Designation

RA 77-T 1 (S): iš-tu UD-mi an-ni-im 2 mzi-ik-ri-dKUR DUMU ib-ni-dKUR i-na bu-ul-ṭì-šu LÚ.MEŠ. AḪ.ḪÁ-šu ú-še-ši-ib ki-ia-am iq-bi a-nu-um-ma 6 mfú-na-ra DUMU.MÍ-ia a-naù NITA aš-ku-un-ši

RE 85 (H): a-na p[a-ni m]i-ni-dU-u[b] … 5 mzu-aš-tar-[ti] DUMU m[…] ši-im-[ti É-šu] ù [DUMU.M]Í-šu i-ši-im10 a-kán-na iq-bi11 um-ma-a a-nu-um-ma 12 fa-ḫa-am-ma-du4 13 DUMU.MÍ-ia NU.GIG 14 a-na NITA ùe-te-pu-us-si-mi

PdA 66 (H): a-na pa-ni ḫi-iš-mi-dIM-ub DUMU LUGAL [Ø] [mq]í-bi-dKUR DUMU du-ú-da DUMU ia-si-na?-li [ri-i]k-sa ša É-šu ir-ku-uš [a-kán-n]a iq-bi ma-a a-nu-ma [fd30-k]i-mi DUMU.MÍ-ia a-na DUMU.NITA ù-ti [epu-u]š-ši

Ekalte II 65 (S): 1 mdIM-EN DUMU zu-an-na i-na bu-ul-ṭú-ti-šu LÚ.MEŠ.aḫ-ḫe-šu ú-še-ri-ib-ma ši-im-ti É-šu ù DUMU.MÍ-mia-ak-mu um-mi-šu i-ši-im ki-am iq-bi um-ma šu-ú-ma a-nu-um-ma14 fum-mi-na- aḫ-mi-il5 a-ḫa-ti-ia 15 ù NITA ši-i-ma

List 1. Legal Form of Designation of the ‘Man and Woman’

Abbreviations: d(s). = designator’s daughter(s), C = riksu-contract (riksa rakāsu), O = other type, St. = statement (qabû only), T = testament (šīmti bīti (etc.) šiāmu), W1 = the first witness (king/prince), * = F&M doc.

Kings/princes of Carchemish and Emar: CR2 = Šaḫurunuwa, CR3 = Ini-Tešub (son of CR2), CR3x = Hešmi-Tešub (ditto, prince); ER3a = Zū-Aštarti, ER3b = Pilsu-Dagan (brother of ER3a), ER4 = Elli (son of ER3b), ER4x = Yaṣi-Dagan (ditto, prince)

1a. Emar texts: Syrian type











4 ds.

MÍ-ti u NITA

RA 77-T 1






RA 77-T 2*





RE 15*




2 ds.


RE 23




sister (cont.)


Sem. 46-T 2*



ds. (cont.)


Emar VI 184




3 ds. (cont.)

NITA (in nom. sentence)

 1b. Emar texts: Syro-Hittite type







AuOr 5-T 13




PdA 66






RE 85



d. = qadištu


Emar VI 31*



2 ds.


TS 72


eldest d.


TS 74


d. (in retro.)


 2. Ekalte Texts (Syrian type)







Ekalte II 65*





ASJ 13-T 30*



4 ds.


 1. Formula


Syrian type

Syro-Hittite type

Ekalte X sinništu u zikaru šī-ma

Emar Y X ana sinništi u zikari šakānu Y X ana zikari u sinništi (or māri) epēšu

a) Contrasts between the two types: the term (general) and the verb (Emar)

b) Shift in the Syrian type: nominal sentence (Ekalte) → verbal sentence (Emar)

2. Designator: man (family head); see V.1 below

3. Designee (M&W): the designator’s daughter(s)

・In the absence of a male offspring as heir, she is the substitute.

e.g., “I (Aḫu-ṭab) have no son. (So) I have made Alnašuw[a], my daughter, as male and female” (AuOr 5-T 13: 4–6).

“If Abu-Dagan, my son, should die and have no offspring, now I have established my daughters as female and male” (Sem. 46-T 2: 16–20).

cf. (var.) sister (RE 23, Ekalte II 65): probably no child (or brother?)

special case: daughter, though sons are present (RA 77-T 1); see IV.2 below

ASJ 13-T 30: at present the son is lost, so designation of the M&Ws is tentative.

4. Attendee(s) and witnesses (esp. W1): for approval

a) Syrian type: lú.mešaḫḫū and/or the royal authority (Emar) vs. lú.mešaḫḫū only (Ekalte)

lú.mešaḫḫū (‘Brothers’) = relatives of the designator: potential claimants to the estate

・The royal authority: one of the two official authorities in the land of Aštata[2]

cf.               Ekalte                            Emar (early)                    Emar (ER3a on)

urban dominant  →  balanced or urban dominant  →  royal dominant

* lú.meššībūtu (Sem. 46-T 2) = “the (city) elders” (cf. the urban scribe Alal-abu)

* Lack of official authority in the two Ekalte texts

∴Official intervention: Ø (Ekalte) → urban authority → royal authority (Emar)

b) Syro-Hittite type: Ø or the royal authority of Carchemish

・Reflecting the authority of the conquerors

・The royal authority (esp. king) of Carchemish:

qadištu by CR3 (RE 85), ḫarimtu = F&M by CR2 (Emar VI 31), ? by CR3x (PdA 66)

IV. Obligations

List 2. Obligations and Inheritance of the ‘Man and Woman’

Abbreviations (additional): Ca. = caring, f. = M&W’s father, Inh. = inheritance, m. = M&W’s mother, Wo. = worship of the gods and ancestral spirits, @ = given all the estate of the designator

1a. Emar texts: Syrian type



Ca. for





f. & m.


The designator married a woman (widow), adopted her daughters and designated them as M&Ws.
RA 77-T 1




The M&W’s brothers must take care of her as their “mother” to inherit the estate.
RA 77-T 2*



If the M&W and her (future) husband die without offspring, 2 fPNs will inherit them. The mother is designated as F&M.
 RE 15* m. (all fr. m.) If the M&Ws die without offspring, the mother (F&M@) will give (the estate) to any relative of her husband (designator) who takes care of her.
RE 23



To be designated, if the designator’s son dies without offspring. If both the son and the M&W die, mPN will be the heir.
Sem. 46-T 2*




To be designated, if the designator’s son dies without offspring. The mother is designated as F&M.
Emar VI 184


To be designated, if the four sons of the designator die without offspring. The god belongs to the main house.

 1b. Emar texts: Syro-Hittite type



Ca. for



AuOr 5-T 13



Cf. also AuOr 5-T 14.
PdA 66


RE 85



The M&W shall give her estate to anyone who takes care of her. The old document on the designator’s ‘house’ is annulled.
Emar VI 31* sister


The sister (ḫarimtu) is designated as F&M.
TS 72




The father has adopted mPN, designated his daughter as M&W and married her to him. He shall take care of his (adoptive) parents. If she bears sons only after the death of her parents, they will divide the properties. She (and) the god (belong to) the main house.
TS 74


Designated in the past. The M&W’s brothers died, so the ‘house’ was left for her. Now she has adopted mPN, who had repaid her debt. He shall take care of her to take all her estate, but the female slave is given to the sons of her (dead) son.

 2. Ekalte Texts (Syrian type)



Ca. for



Ekalte II 65*



(all fr. m.)

Dictated document. If the M&W does not take care of her mother (F&M@), the latter shall give her estate to anyone who does.
 ASJ 13-T 30* m. (all) If mPN (the designator’s son) turns up, he shall marry his sisters (M&Ws) to receive their bridewealth, and shall take care of his mother (F&M) to take his inheritance share.

 1. Worship of the gods and ancestral spirits

・Relatively often: 8+1 texts

e.g., DINGIR.MEŠ-ya u mētēya lū tunabbi, “She shall invoke my gods and my dead” (RA 77-T 1: 8)[3]

・Obligation of the eldest son (main heir)

e.g., DINGIR-lì É GAL É GAL ḪA.LA mPN DUMU-ia GAL, “The god (belongs to [lit. of]) the main house. The main house is the share of Ḫinna-dIM, my eldest son” (TS 42: 13).

mPN DUMU-ia GAL DINGIR-lì É-ti GAL, “dIM-qarrad is my eldest son. The god (belongs to) the main house,” indicating “dIM-qarrad, my eldest son, (shall be in charge of) the god of the main house” (Emar VI 201: 50f. [H]).

cf. fPN DINGIR-lì É-ti GAL (TS 72: 10)

・Lack of the reference in M&W texts: because it was self-evident (cf. V.1)?

2. Caring: for the mother or parents?

・Vb.: abālu Gtn (Syrian type) vs. palāḫu G (Syro-Hittite type)

・Relatively rare: 5+1 texts

cf. (var.) M&W cared by the brothers as their “mother” (RA 77-T 1): cf. F&M

・Object: parents (1 text), mother = F&M (3+1 texts), sister = F&M (1 text)

note (1) female predominance; (2) correlation with F&M

♢ Comparison 1. Caring by ‘normally’ adopted sons:[4] for (living) adoptive parent(s)

* parents (10+2 texts): AuOr 5-T 14; PdA 67; RE 25, 28, 30, 41!, 87; TS 46!, 72; ZA 90-T 7; also Emar VI 69 (♀); RAI 47-T 1

* father (3 texts): Emar VI 5, Iraq 54-T 1, TS 73

* mother (2 texts): TS 48 (♀), 75! (♀)

♢ Comparison 2. Caring by other women: for woman

* woman (4 texts): mother (Emar VI 32 [♀], 176; TS 69), sister (TS 77 [♀])

cf. man and woman (1 text): master and his wife by his female slave (RE 27)

cf. parents (TS 42 [as the substitute of brother]), creditor and his wife (Emar VI 16 [of husband], TS 40 [of brother])

Q: Caring by M&W: Is it gender-oriented (as a woman), or not (as the substitute of a son)?

A.: The latter is preferable. No ref. to the designator was necessary, because it was self-evident.

* The designator having no son needs caring for, and she can do this!

* The ref. to the mother or sister is due to the topic of F&M in the documents.

* In BLMJE 3, since the daughters were adopted by the designator, a ref. to him is required.

V. Inheritance

1. Object: all the estate

・Direct references: 4+3 texts

e.g.,       The designator has given: É-ya gabba mimmûya, “my ’house’ (and) all the possessions” (AuOr 5-T 13: 7f.); É-ya mimmûya ḪA.LA-ya mala abuya iddinam-mi, “my ‘house’ (and) possessions, i.e., my share as much as my father gave me” (RE 85: 16–19).

・Indirect references: 7 texts

e.g.,       The designator has given his wife (F&M): É.ḪÁ A.ŠÀ.ḪÁ-ya būši bašīti, “my houses, fields (and) goods” (RE 15: 7f.). If the two daughters (M&Ws) die without offspring, the wife shall give (the estate) to anyone who takes care of her among the offspring of the designator’s father (ll. 15–18).

♢ Comparison 3. Other texts in which all the estate is given to a daughter (≠ M&W)

* by fPN wife of PN: Emar VI 32, 128, 213 (all ♀)

∴Designator of M&W: man (family head) only

2. Actual position of M&W

a) When the designator adopts a son as her husband

(1) sole heiress: Emar VI 31 (on one of the two M&Ws), RA 77-T 2

(2) co-heiress with her husband: TS 72?

(3) husband replacing the M&W as the sole heir: (AuOr 5-T 13 →) AuOr 5-T 14

Baṣṣu, the adopted son and the husband of Alnašuwa, shall take care of his adoptive parents. If he does, after their deaths, “whatever ‘house’ (and) everything (mim-ma!) of Aḫu-ṭab will remain with Baṣṣu” (ll. 11–13).

♢ Comparison 4. Other texts of ‘normal’ adoption + marriage with a daughter (≠ M&W)

* pattern (2): TS 75 only

* pattern (3): RAI 47-T 1; RE 25; TS 46, 73; ZA 90-T 7; also Emar VI 69

∴Pattern (1) is peculiar to M&W, but pattern (3) may usually have been desired.

→ designation of M&W could be a tentative measure (cf. ASJ 13-T 30 [III.3]).

* to avoid claims to the estate by the designator’s relatives

* substantial initiative: adopted son as legal heir or M&W as natural daughter?

b) When the designator dies without marrying her

∴Sole heiress and the family head

・The socio-economic activities of the women referred to as ‘daughter of PN’ (= M&W?)

e.g.,       TS 80: two women (2 DUMU.MÍ mPN) divide the house of their father.

                     Emar VI 113: a woman (fPN DUMU.MÍ PN) sells the house of her father.

Emar VI 124: a qadištu-woman (fPN DUMU.MÍ mPN) (re)marries a man.

cf.         TS 28: a woman (fPN only) divorces her husband as a result of (re)marriage.

3. Future inheritance: by the sons whom the M&W will bear (e.g., esp. TS 72)

VI. Closing Remarks

1. ‘Man and Woman’ = daughter as the substitute for a son (heir)

・Tentative nature: for the precaution against claims to the estate by the designator’s relatives

・Gender conversion: the same rights and obligations as son

or gender addition: cf. female works in the domestic sphere

2. Male centeredness vs. family centeredness

・Priority of the latter, though being greatly restricted by the former

・Maintenance of one’s own family cult

Abbreviations: Texts from Emar and Ekalte

ASJ 13-T = A. Tsukimoto, ASJ 13 (1991), 275–333; AuOr 5-T = D. Arnaud, AuOr 5 (1987), 211–241; BLMJE = J. Westenholz, CM 13 (2000); Ekalte II = W. Mayer, WVDOG 102 (2001); Emar VI = D. Arnaud, Recherches au pays d’Aštata: Emar VI.1–4 (Paris, 1985–87); Iraq 54-T = S. Dalley & B. Teissier, Iraq 54 (1992), 83–111, Pls. X–XIV; PdA = F. M. Fales, Prima dell’alfabeto (Venice, 1989); RA 77-T = J. Huehnergard, RA 77 (1983), 11–43; RAI 47-T = W. W. Hallo, in CRRAI 47 (Helsinki, 2002), 203–216; RE = G. Beckman, HANE/M II (1996); Sem. 46-T = D. Arnaud, Semitica 46 (1996), 7–16, Pl. 1.; TS = idem, AuOrS 1 (1991); ZA 90-T = M. P. Streck, ZA 90 (2000), 263–280, Pl. I.


Beckman, G. 1996: “Family Values on the Middle Euphrates in the Thirteenth Century B.C.E.,” in: M. Chavalas (ed.), Emar: The History, Religion and Culture of a Syrian Town in the Late Bronze Age, Bethesda, 57–79.

Ben-Barak, Z. 1988: “The Legal Status of the Daughter as Heir in Nuzi and Emar,” in: M. Heltzer & E. Lipiński (eds), Society and Economy in the Eastern Mediterranean (c. 1500–1000 BC) (OLA 23), 87–97.

— 2006: Inheritance by Daughters in Israel and the Ancient Near East: A Social, Legal and Ideological Revolution, Jaffa.

Grosz, K. 1987: “Daughters Adopted as Sons at Nuzi and Emar,” in: J.-M. Durand (ed.), La femme dans le Proche-Orient antique (= CRRAI 33), Paris, 81–86.

Justel, J. J. 2008: La posición jurídica de la mujer en Siria durante el Bronce Final. Estudio de las estrategias familiares y de la mujer como sujeto y objeto de derecho, Zaragoza.

— forthcoming: “Women and Family in the Legal Documentation of Emar: With Additional Support
from Other Late Bronze Age Syrian Archives.”

Lion, B. 2009: “Sexe et genre (1):
Des filles devenant fils dans les contrats de Nuzi et d’Emar,” in: F. Briquel-Chatonnet et al. (eds.), Femmes, cultures et sociétés
dans les civilisations méditerranéennes et proche-orientales de l’Antiquité (Topoi Suppl. 10), 9–25.

Paradise, J. S. 1980: “A Daughter and Her Father’s Property at Nuzi,” JCS 32, 189–207.

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

Veenhof, K. R. 1998 “Old Assyrian and Ancient Anatolian Evidence for the Care of the Elderly,” in: M. Stol & S. P. Vleeming (eds.), The Care of the Elderly in the Ancient Near East (SHCANE 14), Leiden, 119–160.

Werner, P. 2004: Tall Munbāqa – Ekalte III. Die Glyptik (WVDOG 108), Saarbrücken.

Yamada, M. 2003: “More Ekalte Texts?” Bulletin of the Society for Near Eastern Studies in Japan (= BSNESJ) 46/2, 180–196 (in Japanese with English summary; see

— 2008: “Disinheritance in the Emar Texts: Notes on Its Symbolic Acts,” BSNESJ 51/1, 181–197 (in Japanese with English summary).

— 2012: “The Contracts of Caring by amīlūtus in Emar: In Comparison with Slaves, Adopted Sons and Creditors,” BSNESJ 55/1, 2–21 (in Japanese with English summary).

— 2013: “The Chronology of the Emar Texts Reassessed,” Orient: Reports of the Society for Near Eastern Studies in Japan 48, 125–156.

— 2014: “The Royal and Urban Authorities in Emar: A Diachronic Analysis of Their Relations,” al-Rāfidān 35, 73–108.

— forthcoming: “On Ekalte II 25,” BSNESJ 57 (in Japanese).


[1] Dating of these two text corpuses follows Yamada 2013 and Werner 2004: 23f., respectively. I suggest taking Sem. 46-T 2 as an Emar text (2008: 191 n. 1), and ASJ 13-T 30 as an Ekalte text (2003: 188–190).

[2] In my opinion, the land of Aštata before the Hittite conquest (ca. 1325 B.C.) was a confederation of city kingdoms (e.g., Šatappu, Ekalte) headed by Emar (Yamada 2003: 191f.; forthcoming).

[3] Syrian type: DINGIR.MEŠ mītī nubbû (cf. [var.] redû in Ekalte II 65: 17f.) vs. Syro-Hittite type: DINGIR.MEŠ-ya dIšt[ar.MEŠ-ya] lū tanabbi-mi (AuOr 5-T 13: 6f.); DINGIR.MEŠ-ya eṭemmēya liplaḫ-mi (RE 85: 15f.).

[4] I.e., in a broad sense, the sons whose positions before the adoption seem to have been equal, i.e., neither subordinate nor dominant to those of their adoptive parents due to debt, slavery, etc. See Yamada 2012: 7–10.

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.

(2) State employment of women during the Ur III period

(2) State employment of women during the Ur III period 

Second and third REFEMA workshops, Tokyo (June 2013) and Carqueiranne (September 2013)

Bertrand Lafont (CNRS, Nanterre)

As a huge part of the Ur III documentation concerns the administrative management of state-dependent laborers and the calculation of what was allotted to them, we have of course much more information on women at work in the public sphere and outside their family than inside (cf. previous workshop).


We will start with a brief general “status questionis” on our subject, before having a look at some new evidence on results generated by the recently published archives of Garšana and Irisagrig.

In the written documents concerning the management of state-dependent laborers sustained through the so-called “ration system”, men and women were very often recorded together: thousands of texts record a joint administrative management of guruš and geme2 side by side (in many administrative Ur III texts we can find for example accounts for n geme2 guruš u4 1-šè, “n female and male work-days” counted together). It seems therefore that women contributed in the same way as men to the economic life managed by the state and we can emphasize right away that phenomenon of mixed management of human resources.

Nevertheless, in this regard, we must challenge the usual view according to which men worked for the primary productive sector of the economy (outdoors in the fields and in animal husbandry), while women were mainly occupied in the secondary productive sector (indoor processing activities to produce flour, oil, clothing, etc.)[1]. This gender dimension of labor division does not precisely fit our documentation, as we find in the following:

  • male weavers (guruš-uš-bar) next to female weavers (geme2-uš-bar), as in the tablet Legrain, UET 3, 1449
  • male millers working alongside female millers (Watson, BCT 2, 49)
  • or, on the contrary, many women involved in agricultural activities (passim).

In fact, it seems that we can divide the economic contribution of the female part of the working population between two kinds of activities:

  • Outdoor activities: agriculture, hauling boats, making and carrying bricks, construction projects,  production and food processing. In these activities women contributed in the same way as men for the same kinds of collective work. They were employed in a large number of jobs, sometimes in unexpected sectors, as for example these female workers (geme2) “having built the house of Amar-Suen” (é damar-dsuen-ka dù-a, Sauren, NYPL 138). Perhaps these activities had something to do with the corvée-duty: according to P. Steinkeller[2], only heads of families owed such a service to the state but it is clear that women, needing more salaries and rations, were also involved in the same collective projects.
  • Indoor activities: in this case, the professional specialization of women was most often indicated and three of these were more specifically their own domain: weaving (geme2-uš-bar), milling flour (geme2-kikken2), and extracting oil (geme2-ì-sur).

Concerning these indoor processing activities, as has been thouroughly studied (thanks to the works of Waetzoldt[3], Maekawa[4], Grégoire[5], Englund[6], and others), the real feature that was quite unique to this time is that some of them were clearly organized on an industrial scale. All around the country, some large factories employing female workers were operated especially for producing garments, flour and oil. And it is even possible that in or around the major cities of the kingdom, some individual “industrial” centers combining these various activities did exist:

  • At Ur, female weavers, oil pressers and millers were allotted all together as can be seen in the tablet Legrain, UET 3, 1504, viii 28-29: níg-ba geme2-uš-bar geme2-ì-sur ù geme2-kikken2, “allotments for female weavers, oil pressers and millers”.
  • At Garšana they built a unique triple complex, in the form of a “brewery-kitchen-mill building”: é-lunga é-kikken2 ù é-muhaldim (index CUSAS 4, passim).
  • And at the same place they built another double complex in the form of a “textile mill and craftsmen’s building”: é-uš-bar ù é-gašam-e-ne (index CUSAS 4, passim)[7].

Therefore, these main “industrial” factories employing women were weaving mills (é-uš-bar), places for pressing oil (é-ì-sur-sur), mills producing various flours (é‑kikken2), kitchens (é‑muhaldim), and breweries (é-lunga). The following chart offers a summary.


The work of women in large textile factories (é-uš-bar) was intensively analyzed by Waetzoldt 40 years ago (UNT, p. 91-108) and that study remains the reference synthesis on this subject. As an illustration, let us consider a tablet kept in the British Musem (Maekawa, ASJ 20, 1998, 108 n°7). This enormous accounting text calculates the amount of barley distributed to personnel working in the various public weaving mills in the province of Lagash in the year Šulgi 48.


As analyzed by A. Uchitel[8], this text makes a clear distinction between 1) those receiving monthly rations because they were supposed to work only part-time in the workshop (note that some of them were receiving more than the usual average rations), and 2) those receiving yearly grain rations, likely as they did not belong to families holding allotment plots. In total, the text records more than 10,000 individuals working in the weaving mills of the province of Lagash in Šulgi 48. Almost ⅔ of them were female weavers but men, children and elders were also categorized, divided according to the quota of rations they received (from 100 liters to 10 liters per person and per month). Once again, these are amazing numbers.

And for an example of a mill producing flour and employing female workers, let us have a look at another text from the British Museum (King, CT 3, pl. 19-20, BM 18344). This is a comprehensive list of various workers receiving grain rations, and it can be completed based on other several similar large accounts from Girsu. The text provides a good example of how a millhouse was organized.


This “great millhouse” (é-kikken2 gu-la) of Girsu seems to have employed 658 people in total. Two thirds of them were female millers, counted with their children. But some others were employed as weavers and oil pressers. Those in 1), 2) and 3) represent the workers in charge of producing flour. But the text also records people belonging to the regular staff in charge of maintenance and supervision of the mill, especially craft workers, boat towers, gardeners and specialists in boat constructions: most of them were male, recorded in 4), 5) and 6). We see therefore that, besides female millers who constituted the core of the workshop, a variety of craftsmen supported their activity.

But who were these state-dependents women working in outdoor activities or in these various mills? And what do we know about them or about their origin?


To explore this question, let us start with an important royal inscription of king Šu-Suen, after his victorious military campaign against Šimanum in the Zagros mountains (Frayne, RIME 3/, 129’-145’). It is said there that:

« The king blinded the young men of those cities, whom he had overtaken. And the women of those cities, whom he had overtaken, he offered as a present to the weaving mills ».

As we can see, after this military campaign, male and female prisoners were separated. And whereas the male captives were blinded (probably to avoid any revolt without losing such a labor force), the female ones were not mutilated, but sent off to some textile mills of the inner kingdom. It is therefore clear that the labor force of Neo-Sumerian textile mills consisted in part of prisoners of war, a situation that is not without parallel, as for example at Mari in Old Babylonian time with its « ergasterions » (nepârâtum), that were large prison-workshops where mass productions were organized[9].

In brief, from all the documentation it appears that women working in these Ur III factories included:

  • war-captives (nam-ra-ak)[10],
  • purchased or indebted slaves (geme2 // arad2)
  • donated personnel (a-ru-a)[11],
  • women of the impoverished classes and outcasts of society.

Yet these categories of women certainly did not represent the entire workforce inside the state-run workshops. They would have been an insufficient number to meet the economic needs of the state. In all likelihood, many of the female workers employed in the mills were simply state-dependants, working part-time or full-time for rations and salaries, like their male counterparts.

M. Van de Mieroop[12] calculated that more than 13,000 female weavers were active at a single time in the workshops of Ur. Such a huge number is consistent with a text from Ur (Legrain, UET 3, 1504), where wool is distributed to female workers involved in the factories of that city for a total of 8,542 kg of wool. Waetzoldt calculated that at the rate of 1 mina of wool per capita (likely according to parallels), more than 17,000 female workers could have been concerned, employed as weavers, millers and oil pressers. In the same way Waetzoldt also calculated (UNT, p. 99) that, at Lagaš/Girsu, 15,000 personnel were employed in the weaving industries of the province.

Among them, 6,466 female weavers are explicitly recorded in two Girsu administrative texts dated to the year Amar-Suen 1 (Sigrist, SAT 1, 279 // Hussey, HSS 4, 3). These two tablets inform us that, among the three main urban centers of the province of Lagaš (Girsu, Kinunir and Gu-abba), the greatest weaving mills were situated in the third one, Gu-abba.

In total, thousands of women were therefore involved in every province of the kingdom and this must reflect a significant part of the population. However, it remains impossible to assess what percentage of the total female population was thus employed in these state-run workshops, or to estimate the importance of their contribution to the global economy, even if it may have been substantial. And it is also difficult to differentiate groups of women in terms of social hierarchy.

In several studies (and in a forthcoming article on “Corvée Labor in Ur III Times”)[13], P. Steinkeller has considered that two categories of workers must be distinguished in Ur III society: those belonging to the eren2 class, who received royal land and rations in exchange for part-time service, and those who were semi-free workers (ùg-ÍL, geme2), working all year round as unskilled laborers in exchange for rations. In all likelihood, men and women belonging to both of these categories were employed in the mills.

As for the unskilled workers, it is interesting to find (but not so frequently) in administrative texts some mentions of female menials (geme2 ùg-ÍL) parallel to male ùg-ÍL. Sometimes their occupations are given: geme2 ùg-ÍL mar-tu “menial Amorite women”, geme2 ùg-ÍL amar-e gub-ba, “menial women on duty for the calves”, geme2 ùg-ÍL é-gu4-niga-ka “menial women of the house of fattened cattle”.

Another point can be observed: I. J. Gelb noticed[14] that, in many Ur III administrative texts, women are recorded alone with their children, without any accompanying man. He called these lists of rations for women and their children the “geme2-dumu texts”, and he asked: “where are the husbands?”. We must confess that, 40 years later, this important question remains unanswered. We know almost nothing about the family life of these thousands of geme2 employed in these large weaving and milling factories and working there with their children. Were there dormitories or barracks for them around the factories? Or did they return home every evening to their families and villages nearby? We have no information regarding these questions. But we can consider that, depending on the status of these women, individual situations probably varied: prisoners and slaves were probably confined to barracks, while “free” workers had their own home and family life independently, and came to work every day with their younger children. In any case, general conditions in these factories were harsh and restrictive, as we can see by the need of porters/keepers (ì-du8) to control inputs and outputs, and the frequent mention of fugitives (zàh) that were pursued (the text Legrain, UET 3, 1018 records up to 134 of these geme2-zàh!), or dead (úš) people on many occasions.


For the management of full-year working women, the best and most frequently mentioned example is the one given by the tablet studied some twenty years ago by Robert Englund in his article “Hard Work” (see note 6). Instead of commenting for the umpteenth time on the content of this text, let us consider a parallel document from Umma: Genouillac, TCL 5, 5670. On the same model, it is a balance account written by a man named Ur-Šara, the foreman of a mill.


Over a period of one year, the state allocated to Ur-Šara various amounts of grain and a team of 36 female workers. This was his “debit” (meaning that “this was owed to the state”). The credit column describes all the work performed by these 36 female workers during the year: two thirds of their time was spent producing flour. Yet it is interesting to observe that the remainder of their time was occupied in agricultural work, in weaving, in loading and unloading boats, in producing earthworks, and so on. One sixth of the time was counted as days off (that is 5 days per month, 2 months per year). Finally, all of this was converted in the final balance into equivalents of workdays and of produced flour. Compared to what was expected, there was a deficit, to be reimbursed by these women in the following year.

Here, we can observe that these women were employed full-time, all year long in the mill. But it is noteworthy that they could easily be assigned to occupations besides producing flour, to suit the needs of the economic organization.

We just saw above that, in total, these female workers were counted in the thousands for each province. Consequently, with the Ur III accounting system and its “workdays” equivalencies, some summary administrative texts finally calculated women workforce in tens of thousands of female “workdays” (geme2 u4 1-šè). Below is a chart that shows the greatest numbers of workdays of female workers that can be found in Ur III texts. And one will not be surprised to see, once again, that milling and textile production are principally concerned.


How were these women paid? As it is well known, the “ration system” with its amounts of barley, oil and wool issued to dependents, was a hallmark of early Mesopotamian history and is especially well documented in the Ur III period: it is mainly because of such rations that we have such a huge written documentation. In this system, women were paid distinctly less than men, a phenomenon already attested in earlier periods (Ebla, Lagaš II): while the guruš received an average of 60 liters of grain per month, women usually received only 30 to 50 liters.

But as we just saw, only some people worked full time for the state and we can imagine that many of these women were married or related to members of the eren2 class: they belonged to families that held plots of subsistence land and they could have stayed at home or worked only part-time in public factories. And as a matter of fact, we do find texts in which women could, like men, be “hired” (hun-gá) for some periods of time (an example of a text with geme2 hun-gá, “hired women”, is Ozaki-Sigrist, BPOA 1, 564), and many texts record real “salaries for women” (á geme2) instead of rations.

A last observation will be made about positions of authority that these women could hold in such a context of “public” work. It is not infrequent to find forewomen at the head of teams of workers, as for example in the text Waetzoldt-Yıldız, MVN 16, 727, 11-12. Sometimes women could hold high administrative positions, at the same level as men and could seal tablets, as shown by several seal impressions and the attested title of munus-dub-sar (as in Forde, Nebraska 45). And this situation can now be best observed in the archive of Garšana, where the management of the estate which was located there was greatly between the hands of women.


This leads us finally to the two large new archives that have recently been recovered, gathered, studied and published by David Owen: those of Garšana (published 6 years ago)[15] and those of Irisagrig (just published in Nisaba 15)[16]. In spite of their lack of archaeological context, these archival texts give unique insights into the culture of Sumer in the late 3rd millenium. And they provide, for our REFEMA topic, unprecedented data on the role of women in the Neo-Sumerian economy and society.

Let us illustrate here this new wealth of information with a few brief examples. First, from the Garšana archive: this archive not only offers 1500 additional common Ur III administrative texts but it also provides the unique records of a huge and hitherto unknown private household: during the reigns of Šu-Suen and Ibbi-Suen, this household was the estate of a general (šagina) and physician (a-zu), named Šu-Kabta, and his wife, a princess named Simat Ištaran who was a sister of king Šu-Suen. This archive highlights espacially the role of women, both as heads of the household and in the capacity of supervisors, administrators (some of them have seals), and laborers in many sectors of the estate. And if one takes the point of view of the labor force available or used in this household, it is interesting to see that, in the all archive, working women topped in numbers working men. Finally, thanks to the new evidence of Garšana, we can see that women in Ur III society had more authority and influence than may have been previously recognized and sheds light on a hitherto undocumented aspect of society in the Ur III period.

After Šu-Kabta’s death, his wife, princess Simat-Ištaran, inherited and actively managed the Garšana estate herself. From that time on, several women of the household began to play an important role. As an illustration, let us consider the case of a woman named Aštaqqar who ended up managing the all textile industry at Garšana as supervisor of the weavers (ugula-uš-bar, a function usually occupied by men). She had her own seals, as shown below, with which she sealed tens of tablets (seals drawn by R. Mayr, CUSAS 3, p. 431).


Various other women also supervised construction gangs consisting of both men and women : such positions were until now unattested within the existing Ur III records[17].

As observed in my previous paper for the first REFEMA workshop at Nanterre, a quick look at the occupations attested in the household headed by Šu-Kabta and Simat-Ištaran presents at first the usual list for women : oil pressers, grain millers, or weavers. But it is noteworthy that these women were in fact often performing tasks far from their primary specialty. Consider for example the women who are qualified as weavers (geme2-uš-bar). Even if they were surely mainly employed in the textile mill (é-uš-bar) of Garšana, we can also see them in many other occupations; they are thus employed for :

– Harvesting (CUSAS 3, 262 : 19-22) :

  • 18 geme2 sag-dub 1 geme2 á-⅔ geme2-uš-bar-me-éš (…) u4 105-šè (…) še gur10-gur10-dè zàr tab-ba-dè ù geš ra-ra-dè a-šà Ṣe-ru-um gub-ba
    « 18 full-time female weavers (and) 1 female weaver at ⅔ wages for 105 days (…) employed at the Ṣerum field to harvest barley, stack (its) sheaves (for drying) and flail (them) »

– Demolishing a house (CUSAS 3, 273 : 1-6) :

  • 6 guruš ašgab 8 guruš lú-azlag2 24 geme2-uš-bar u4 1-šè al-tar é A-bí-a-ti gul-dè gub-ba
    « 6 leather workers, 8 fullers (and) 24 female weavers employed for 1 day of construction to demolish the house of Abiati »

– Transporting crops of barley (CUSAS 3, 290 : 1-4)

  • 16 ⅓ geme2-uš-bar u4 10-šè še Ù-dag-gaki-ta GAR-ša-an-naki-šè de6-a
    « 16 ⅓ female weavers for 10 days having brought barley from Udaga to Garšana »

– Lamenting after the death of their master Šu-Kabta (and they are paid for that, CUSAS 3, 252 : 1-7 et 257 : 1-6)

  • 97 geme2 sag-dub 15 geme2 á-⅓-ta geme2-uš-bar-me-éš [n] geme2 [u4] 9 ½-šè [gaba] sìg-dè gub-[ba u4 Šu]-kab-tá ba-úš-a
    « 97 full-time female weavers (and) 15 female weavers at ⅓ wages (and) [n] female spinner(s) employed for 9 ½ [days] to beat (their) [breasts when] Šu-Kabta died »

As we can see, these specialized women were finally employed for many tasks far beyonf their basic specialty and mostly at the same level as men.

But at Garšana, one point is particularly striking: the involvement of women in the construction works sector. This has been recently and extensively studied by W. Heimpel[18] who has gathered especially more than 200 tablets that are the daily records of an ambitious construction project during the three last years of the life of Šu-Kabta, at the end of the reign of Šu-Suen. It seems that this construction has mainly concerned the building of a “ringwall”, of several factories and of private residences. In this context, it appears that women of the household were primarily involved in these construction work and did, for example, almost all the carrying of bricks (such a task was hitherto unattested elsewhere). Note the scheme in the last lines of many of these texts that list female brick carriers by name in groups headed by a foreman or a forewoman (table borrowed from W. Heimpel [19]).


These texts, sometimes having more than 100 lines, give at the end the number of carried bricks, the distance over which they were carried, the work standard in the form of numbers of carried bricks that earned a day’s wage, the amount of the wage, the total of barley required for pay, and the name of the overseer. As an illustration, consider one of these tablets : Owen, CUSAS 3, 352.

7. šu+nigin2 10 ⅓ sar 2 ½ gín sig4 Total 10,…  plots of bricks
8. ús-bi 50 ninda The (transportation) distance is 50 rods
9. á geme2 1-a 216 sig4-ta Work for one female worker: 216 bricks each (day)
10. geme2-bi 34 ½ 5 gín The number of maids (for one day) is 34,5…
11. še 3 sila3-ta ba-hun They are hired at 3 liters of barley each
12. še-bi 0,1.4. 3 ⅔ sila3 5 gín The needed barley is 103,…  liters
13. á sig4 ÍL-gá é-šu-x-[…] Wages for carrying bricks at GN.
14. Me-é-a ugula lú hun-gá ME-ea supervisor of hired persons
15. giri3-bi [dIškur-illat] šabra Responsible : Adad-tillati the administrator
16. ù [Puzur4dnin-kar-kè dub-sar] and Puzur-Ninkarak the scribe.
17. šà [GAR-ša-an-naki] At Garšana
18. iti […] Date
19. (Year Šu-Sîn 8)

Only women were concerned in these texts. Yet finally, what can be learned from the Garšana archive as a whole is the involvement of the women of the estate in all kinds of works: they were employed in the same way as men and even more than them, and these texts show how great was the flexibility in the organization of their work, regulated by bureaucratic authorities. This observation perhaps addresses the question of the supposed scarcity of labor in the Ur III period (an idea put forward by Piotr Steinkeller[20]). We can even ask about the existence of a kind of “labor market”  because of so many people mentioned in this archive as having been “hired” (hun-gá).

But a new archive adds now to this picture: the Irisagrig archive recently published by David Owen in two new volumes of the series Nisaba (volume 15/1 and 15/2)[21]. The 1,200 tablets published and studied there represent another example of a unique archive, this time from a major city of the Ur III kingdom: Irisagrig, not far from Nippur[22], known to have been the seat of a governorship. These texts are part of a large, official archive (probably of the provincial governor, named Ur-mes), and concern the affairs of various officials, mainly during the reign of Šu-Suen.

The identification and recovery of this large body of new data add a significant dimension to our understanding of the historic, religious, political, and socio-economic dynamics of the Ur III state. Like the Garšana texts, they add especially to the picture we can sketch for the role played by women in Ur III society. The number of named women in this archive is substantial and includes many newly attested (mostly Akkadian) female personal names, newly documented princesses, and wives of prominent officials, along with women in positions that are rarely, if ever, attested in other sources.

A more comprehensive study of the data will surely come in the near future. But we can have a quick look at these occupations, which include:

– “Usual” female occupations in the documents of Irisagrig:

  • geme2-àr-ra / geme2-kikken2, “millers”
  • geme2-uš-bar, “weavers”
  • geme2-kar-kíd, “single women, prostitutes” (?)

– “Unusual” female occupations in the documents of Irisagrig (references to the texts in the indices of Nisaba 15/1):

  • geme2-azlag(usually male lú-azlag2, “fuller, washerman”)
  • munus-a-zu (usually male a-zu, “physician”)
  • munus-dub-sar  (usually male dub-sar, “scribe”)
  • munus-gudu(usually male gudu4, “purification priest”)
  • geme2-ì-du8, munus-ì-du(usually male ì-du8, “doorkeeper”)
  • geme2-muhaldim, munus-muhaldim (usually male muhaldim, “cooker”)
  • geme2-nar, munus-nar (usually male nar, “singer, musician”)
  • qadištum (written munusqá-dì-iš-tum)  nu-gig/qadištu, “midwife?”, was only attested until now in the recently published new parts of the Ur-Namma Code[23]

Such an amazing list surely deserves further study. But in the frame of this short paper, we will just examine, to conclude, an emerging Irisagrig batch of tablets that provides new data on the role of a new prominent woman at the head of a large household: this woman was named Ninsaga and was the daughter of the governor (ensi2) of Irisagrig, Ur-mes. She was at the head of a large estate in that city. Three texts deserve attention: the first (Owen, Nisaba 15, 953), is a complete inventory, on twelve columns, of hundreds of named male and female slaves (arad2 and geme2) belonging to the household of Ninsaga in year Ibbi-Sîn 3. Each of them received monthly between 10 and 75 liters of barley rations. At the end, we find recorded: 74 guruš, 48 geme2, 47 dumu-nita2, 56 dumu-munus (122 adults, 103 children, that is 225 men and women). All these dependents of this private household are clearly characterized as “slaves” (geme2-arad2) of Ninsaga.

One year before (Ibbi-Suen 2) another text (Owen, Nisaba 15, 797) shows that a general (šagina) had taken away 50 slaves who had been removed from this household of Ninsaga, probably to bring them to the king, since these slaves are characterized as being assigned to the throne (arad2-geme2 nam-gešgu-za). And it is interesting to find again this same information exactly quoted in another text (Owen, Nisaba 15, 1038), which summarized other withdrawals made over Ninsaga’s household staff.

Finally, it appears that, if 51 slaves were left (si-ì-tum) in the household of Ninsaga after the “removal” carried out by the military officer, the large census that we mentioned at the beginning shows that, one year after (in Ibbi-Suen 3), the staff of the household had increased to 122 slaves.

What we see in the end and for the first time with this small batch of tablets, is the great number of dependents, men and women, that could be found in a private household and how these dependents could be added or removed from the household to be posted elsewhere, according to the will of administrative authorities. And this could maybe makes us reconsider what could have been the exact status of these slaves and dependents in these “private” households during the Ur III period.


Some provisional main points can be summarized:

During the Ur III period, women were not confined to the spheres of family, marriage and household: they were employed along with men in all kinds of indoor or outdoor work and activities.

Milling, weaving and pressing oil were essentially state-run activities, organized on an “industrial” scale and performed by state-dependent women working in large production units to meet the huge needs of the State for its “ration allotment” system. Weavers, millers and oil pressers were often associated. Their installations, perhaps aggregated in unique places, seem to have been managed under the direct supervision of the royal power.

We should beware of ​​a depreciating vision according to which only poverty or enslavement could explain and justify the work of women. Texts show the same intensive use of male and female workers belonging to various categories of the society in the all kingdom.

The pressure put by the state administration and its strong will of control observable through the texts should probably be analyzed in the context of a scarcity of labor during the Ur III period, an idea previously suggested by P. Steinkeller.

Finally, one major gap characterizes our documentation: there is absolutely no information in any of our texts regarding the potential participation of women in market activities. Is it simply because, in this area, written documents were usually unnecessary or outside the administrative sphere?

[1] B. Lion kindly drew my attention to the fact that this is the classical envision developed notably in chapter VII of Xenophon’s Oeconomicus, where it is asserted that women should devote themselves to indoor activities and men to outdoor ones.

[2] Contribution of P. Steinkeller to the “Ur III colloquium” of Madrid in 2013, devoted to the Corvée Labor in Ur III Times. I thank the author for having sent me his forthcoming paper.

[3] Untersuchungen zur neusumerischen Textilindustrie, Rome 1972.

[4] In many articles, notably in the Acta Sumerologica Journal.

[5] “Les grandes unités de transformation des céréales: l’exemple des minoteries de la Mésopotamie du sud à la fin du IIIe millénaire avant notrère ère”, in P. Anderson (éd.), Préhistoire de l’agriculture: nouvelles approches expérimentales et ethnographiques, Paris, 1992, p. 321-339.

[6] “Hard Work, where will it get you? Labor management in Ur III Mesopotamia”, JNES 50, 1991, p. 255-280.

[7] See also for example Legrain, UET 3, 1422, 7-8, where geme2-uš-bar geme2-ì-nun ù geme2-kikken2 are clearly associated. Also Hallo, TLB 3, 71, rev. 1, where geme2-kikken2-na geme2-un-ÍL geme2gešì-sur-sur ù geme2-èš-didli are mentioned all together.

[8] Text studied by A. Uchitel, “Women at work: weavers of Lagash and spinners of San Luis Gonzaga”, in CRRAI 47, p. 621-632, Helsinki, 2002 (a text that can be completed by Waetzoldt, UNT 18).

[9] See J.-M. Durand, Documents épistolaires de Mari tome III, LAPO 18, 2000, p. 250; J. Cooper, “Blind Workmen, Weaving Women and Prostitutes in Third Millennium Babylonia”, CDLN 2010/5.

[10] For the prisoners of war sent to workshops (as to the nêparâtum of Mari), we do have several examples of geme2-nam-ra-ak (see CDLI and BDTNS databases). See also K. Maekawa, “Female weavers and their children”, ASJ 2, 1980, p. 125 n. 63, with the text Reisner, TuT 159, v 5. Three texts quoted by I. J. Gelb in his article “Prisoners of war in Early Mesopotamia”, JNES 32, 1973, p. 70-98, are crucial concerning female prisoners of war, and among them the important text Genouillac, TCL 5, 6039.

[11] I. J. Gelb, “The a-ru-a institution”, RA 66, 1972, p. 1-32.

[12] “Women in the Economy of Sumer”, in B. S. Lesko, Women’s Earliest Records from Ancient Egypt and Western Asia, Atlanta, 1989, p. 64.

[13] See note 2.

[14] In his article quoted above n. 11.

[15] D. I. Owen and R. Mayr, The Garšana Archive, CUSAS 3, 2007, with indices in CUSAS 4, 2009.

[16] D. I. Owen, Cuneiform Texts Primarily from Iri-Sagrig / Al-Šarraki and the History of the Ur III Period, 2 volumes, Nisaba 15, Bethesda, 2013.

[17] See W. Heimpel, Workers and Construction Work at Garšana, CUSAS 5, 2009.

[18] W. Heimpel, Workers and Construction Work at Garšana, CUSAS 5, 2009. The following presentation owes much to that work.

[19] See W. Heimpel, CUSAS 5, p. 31.

[20] P. Steinkeller, “Money Lending Practices in Ur III Babylonia: The Issue of Economic Motivation”, in M. Hudson and M. Van de Mieroop (eds.), Debt and Economic Renewal in the Ancient Near East, Bethesda, 2002, p. 109-137.

[21] See above note 16.

[22] A forthcoming article of M. Molina will suggest a precise localization for Irisagrig.

[23] M. Civil, “The Law Collection of Ur-Namma”, CUSAS 17, 2011, p. 221-286, and especially p. 281-284.

Women who played the role of interceder: Part 2

Women who played the role of interceder: Part 2

Eiko Matsushima

REFEMA 3rd workshop (September 4, 2013, Carqueiranne)

1.     Introduction

In my recent paper, read during the REFEMA Second Workshop on the 24th of June 2013 at Chuo University, Tokyo, I talked about women who played the role of interceder between her husband and other people. The main source of my idea was a number of references to the goddess, who was seen to ask her husband for the benevolence for the king (and/or his family) during the “Divine Marriage Ceremony” in first century Babylonia and Assyria.

It seems significant that the spouse of a divine couple sometimes gave important suggestions to her husband and that the people expected her to be an interceder on their behalf. As well, in the Gilgamesh Epic, the standard version tablet VII shows Uta-Napishti’s wife (marhītu) giving advice to her husband that made him change his mind and enabled Gilgamesh to find the plant of life. Thus, in the religious or mythic sphere, women sometimes played a significant role as adviser to their husbands as well as interceders.

Though this feature is found exclusively in religious and mythic texts, we may perhaps infer some actual roles of women in human societies in Mesopotamia, especially in high society. Looking at some famous royal women in the first millennium Assyrian court, we discover a few queens whose deeds or memories are recorded in written materials. While the documents give no information as to a complete picture of their activities, the following was observed:

In Assyria, from the ninth to the seventh century BCE, eleven names of principal wives (MÍ.É.GAL/ MÍ/KUR=sēgallu) appear in the available records.[1] The women are indicated at times using the title ummi šarri (MÍ.AMA.MAN or AMA.LUGAL), “Queen Mother,” which is always accompanied by the name of the woman’s son, i.e. the actual king, as well as kallātu, which is always accompanied by the name of the father of her husband. For example, Sammuramat, wife of Šamši-Adad V (823-811 BCE) and mother of Adad-nerari III (810-783), is called kallāt Šulmanu-šarru (Shalmaneser: 858-824 BCE), Naquia/Zakutu, wife of Sennacherib (704-681 BCE) and mother of Esarhaddon (681-669 BCE) used the titles sēgallu, ummi šarri and kallātu (MÍ.É.GI4.A) Šarru-ukin. In both cases, the women obtained and maintained power as mother of the king.

We know only a few queens depicted with their husband. In the well-known garden scene on the bas-reliefs from the North Palace of Nineveh, Libbali-šarrat, the principal wife of Ashurbanipal can be found sitting in front of the king as his partner. It is worthy of note that she behaves here as spouse, not as mother. A letter written by a sister of Ashurbanipal, Libbali-šarrat also describes her: “You are a daughter-in-law (kallātu), the lady of the house of Assurbanipal, the crown prince of Esarhaddon.”[2]

Given the available evidence, I observed in my last paper that the system of the household has much to do with women’s status in first millennium Mesopotamia. One keyword was kallātu, which is used not only by Neo-Assyrian queens but also by some goddesses as one of their important epithets. Goddesses use also hīrtu as their title. It seems that a woman’s efficiency to her husband depends on her position as hīrtu as well as kallātu. In the present paper, I try to collect references to both hīrtu and kallātu and build on the earlier research.

2.     Observations

Looking at the two of the main titles of the goddesses, rtu and kallātu, it is important to first define their meaning. These Akkadian words are explained in the Chicago Assyrian Dictionaries as follows:

rtu : wife of equal status with the husband […] In speaking of the wives of gods, hīrtu is preferred to aššatu/altu (CAD H: 200a-201b).

kallātu: daughter-in-law, wife of a son living in his father’s household, bride, sister-in-law […] The word denotes a young woman who was acquired by the master of a household as a wife for his son living in this household (CAD K: 79a-82b).

Let us list these titles with the names of the goddesses. I am going to underline some key words by color pens as rtu, kallātu, etc.


1)     As rtu

Aja hīrtu narāmta-ka
“Aja, your beloved first wife”  BMS 10:23 and duplis., see Ebeling Handerhebung 50:126 (N/I 343a)

ana Aja hīrtu narāmti-šú   BBR No.1-20:104 and 107

[              hī]rtum ina bīt majjāli liqbi-ka
“May [Aja your spo]use say to you in the bedchamber, [“Be appeased”]
Lambert, BWL 138:200 (last line of a long hymn to Šamaš: a manuscript has an Ashurbanipal colophone.

2)     As kallātu

Gilgameš Epic, tabl.III
[š]ī ai idūr-ka dAja kallāt lihassis-ka[3]
“May she not fear you, may Aya the Bride remind you”  (III 56)
šī ai id[ūr-ka dAja kallāt lihassis-ka]
“May she not fear[ you, may Aya the Bride remind you”]  (III 74)
šī ai <i>dūr-ka dAja kallāt lihassis-ka]
“May she not fear you, may Aya the Bride remind you”]  (III 86)

(In the texts from Sippar or mentioning Sippar, we find the followings)
PN ana DN kallātim ana kisalluhhi iddin
“She dedicated (the girl) PN to Aja, the wife, to serve as court sweeper  VAS 8 55:12 (OB)
Šamaš u Aja ka-al-la-tum … liballiţuka  CT 6 27a :4,  wr. É.GI4.A  YOS 2 64 :4(both OB letters)
ana … Aja kallātimltija  CT 32 xi 12 and 32 (NB, Cruc. Mon. Maništušu)
Aja kallātim rabītum narāmmat Šamaš  VAB 4 232 ii 13 (Nbn),

(in other inscris.)
Aja kallātumltum rabītum    Syria 32 17 iv 25 (Jahdunlim)
dAja kallāt ina sissikti(TÚG.SÍG)meš -šú ebbeti pāni(IGI)-ka likpur
mūšab Šamaš bēlu rabû u Aja kallātim narāmti-šu   CT 34 28 i 58
Aja kallātu rabîti ašibat bīt majjāli kajjanāmma panû-ka lišnamir ūmišam damiqta-a liqbi-ku
“Aja, the great bride (=daughter in law) who stays in the bedroom and constantly brighten your face, may she say you favorite (words) for me!”
VAB 4, 258 ii 19-20 (Nabonidus)
[dAja lip]šur É.GI4.A GAL-tum  Iraq 31 176:13 (lipšur-lit)

As for Aja, she is always called only as kallātu, and has no attribution to this title: not kallātu of someone or some temple, but simple kallātu or kallātum rabītum. I wonder if the English translation of this term “daughter-in-law” is convenient or not.


1)     As hīrtu

 [dTaš]tu bēltu rabîtu hīrtu narāmta-ka şabitat abbūti ina mahri-ka ina majjāl taknê ūmišam naparkâ literriš-ka balāţi
“Tašmētu the great Lady, your beloved spouse, who intercedes (for me) [daily] before you in the sweet bed, who never ceases asking you to protect my life.”
H. Hunger, Babylonische und assyrische Kolophone (AOAT 2, Neukirchen-Vlyn, 1968) No. 338

Tašmetum hiīrat Nabium ina pān Nabium hā‘iri-šá lemutta-šú littasqir
“May Tašmētu, the spouse of Nabû, speak unfavourably of him in the presence of her husband Nabû”
SAA XII no.97 (=NARGE 37:ND 6207) 11’-r.1,
also SAA XII no.96 (=Iraq 19 135:ND 5550), r 4-5.

(Tašmētum) [ša]nukkat É.ŠÁR.RA t kiššūti AN [x x x m]alli-tu hīrat Nabû narāmti d[  ]
“Princesse of Ešarra, temple of the universe … she who beseeches, wige of Nabû, the beloved of …”  SAA III no.6 5-6 (=KAR 122)
hiīrti-i narāmte atti …
“You are my beloved wife … ”   ibid. 15

2)     As kallātu

Taštu kallāt Marduk   Biggs Šaziga 76:21 (SB inc.)

Tašmētu kalātum rabītu   Šurpu II 156

Tašmētum kalāt É. SAG.ÍLA   Streck Asb. 286 r. 14

3)     As hīrtu and kallātu

Tašmētum kallāt[u rabī] ina pān Nabû hā’i[ri-šá] amat-su lū tu[lammin] šimtu la ţābtú lu [tašim-šú] lā ţūb libbi ţūb [šīri lutaqbi]
“May Tašmētum, [great] daughter-in-law, vi[lify] him before Nabû, her spouse, may [she decree] an unpleasant fate for him and [grant] him neither peace of mind nor [body].
SAA XII no.95 (= Iraq 19 133:ND 5463) r.2-5.(NAleg.)

Tašmētum hīrat]šarhi Mu’ati apil Tutu kalāt [É. S]AG.ÍLA
“chosen wife of proud Mu’ati (i.e., Nabû), the first-born son of Tutu (Marduk), the daughter-in-law of Esagila  BMS 33:7, see Ebeling Handerhebung 124, cf. Craig ABRT 1 31 r.16)

Tašmētum kalāt É. [SAG.ÍL] hīratr bēl ilī  KAR 362:1 (hymn to Tašmētu)

We find in CTN IV (=D.J. Wiseman and J. Black, Literary Texts from the Temple of Nabû, Oxford 1996) no. 168 the following phrases.

(Taštu) kallāt É.SAG.ÍL É tašilati narāmti É.ZI.DA hīrat Nabû paqíd kiššati bēl gimri  (ii 42-43)
Taštum (iii 25 ……. ) ana Nabû hā’iri-kiru reštî šá É.SAG.GÍL abbūti şab-ti lišme siqria (iii 28-29)
Taštum bēlet hi-[     (iv 19)   ]…. ana Nabû hame‘ri-ki bēlu ašarēdu reš šá É.SAG.GÍL abbūti şab-ti qi-bi ba-ni-tí? liš-me (iv 22-24)
(Nanaja) ana Nabû hā’ir-ki abbūti şabti  (iv 49)

also Nanâja

ana Nanaja….. hīrat DN ….. narāmti (var. narāmat) rubûti-šu
“For Nanaja, …. the spouse of DN, beloved by DN’s royal majesty”  Borger, Esarh. 77 § 49:3

ana Nanaja…..hiīrat dMuzibsâ…narāmti rubûti-šu
“For Nanaja, …. the eminent spouse of the god Muzibsâ ….beloved of his majesty ….
RIMB 2, B.6.31.17, 3

dNanaja …..jâti mAN.ŠÁR-ŠEŠ.SUM.NA…. ina mahar dAG hā’iri-ki tizqar banīti balāţ ū rūti šebē littūtu ţūbi šīri u hu-ud lìb-bi ši-i-mi ši-ma-ti
“Nanaja ….. I am Esarhaddon, the prince who reveres you….. before the god Nabû, your husband, speak well of me, determine as my fate a long life, fullness of old age, good health and happiness’  …  ibid., 16-18

kallat É. SAG.ÍL … hirāt’ati narāmti Bēl AD!-[šú]
“The daughter-in-law of Esagil …[…], the spouse of Mūati, the beloved of Bēl [his] father
SAA III no.4 (= ABRT 1 54) ii 2’-3’ (hymn to Nanâ), cf.  also SBH p. 129 No.84:14f.

[é.g]i4.a dumu.sag.dUraš.a [gašan.z]i.da gašan.ka.téš,a,sì.ga.kex [gašan.g] gaš kal-lat mārtu rēštītu ša Ni[nurta] rubāt rēštītu Tašmētu x [x] rubāt rabītu bēltu dMIN (=Nanâ)
SBH p.65 r.13 and dupl.


 1)    As hīrtu

(Zarpanītu) hīrtu narāmti Marduk  KAR 58 r.25, also ibid. 32,

2)     As kallātu

[] é.gi4.a engur.ra:[ Zarpanīt]u kallāt apsî Weissbach Misc. No. 13:39 f. cf. SBH p. 129 No. 84:6f.

kallāt dEN.AN.KI … hīrat bēl ilī  A.419:1 (unpubl. Asuur text in Istanbul)  (CAD K.82a)

zi nin Nibruki.kex  é  en.dNu.nam.nir. kex : nīšrtika šarrat Nippuri kallātu rabītu ša bēli Nunamnir
“By the life of your wife, queen of Nippur, great daughter-in-law of the lord Enlil   LKA 77 iv 16 (inc.)

3)     As hīrtu and kallātu

kabtat šarrat dannat hamma[t h]īrat ilat bēlat … narāmti dTU.TU
“She(=Zarpanītu) is noble, queen, bride, mistress, (ruing) first wife, goddess and lady
ZA 4 248:13 (=Craig, ABRT 1 31:16) = SAA III no. 2 r.16-17

Zarpanītu… bēltum rabītum(GAL)tumrat dEN.BI.LU.LU kallāt dNU.D [ÍM.MUD]
“The great lady, the spouse of Enbilulu, the daughter-in-law of Nudimmud”
Craig, ABRT I 31 r.22= SAA III no. 2 r.22
cf. (Zarpanītu)… bēltum rabītum(GAL)tunarāmti dAMAR.UD …] ibid. r. 25


Zarpanītu ina urši bīt hammūti lemutta-šu litasqar
“May Zarpanītu pronounce evil (words) against him in the bedroom where (Marduk lives) as master (of the family)!”
K. 2411=J. A. Craig, ABRT I 76-79, col. I 28’)


1)    As hīrtu

 “Mulissu šarrat Ešarra hīrat Aššur banīt ilāni rabûti ša n-ahhê-eriba šar Aššur ūmišam amāt damiqti-šu ina muhhi Aššur liššakin šaptu-ša
Mulissu, the queen of Ešarra, spouse of Aššur, creatress of great gods, who daily pronounce favorite words on the behalf of Sennacherib before Aššur.”
K. 2411=J. A. Craig, ABRT I 76-79, col. II 10-12)

dNIN.LÍL hī-ti nammadi dAššur   cf. hīrtu narāmta-šú  Wiseman, Treaties 417
“Mulissu, the beloved spouse of Ashur”
AKA 62 iv 35, Tigl. I

mahar Ninlil … hīrtu narāmti Aššur
“Before Ninlil, the beloved wife of Assur”
Streck Asb 82 x 27

Ninlil šarrat hīrtu narāmti dEN.LÍL  BE 8 150:5 (NB leg.)

We never find, for now, an example of title kallātu used by Mulissu/Ninlil. 


1) As hīrtu

rat rašbat (said of Gula)  LKA 18:12 and 5

2)     As kallātu

Ninurta … Gula kallāt É.ŠÁR.RA  BBSt. No. 6 ii 39 (Nbk. I) cf. MDP 2 p. 113 ii 13

[nin.É,šu].me.[ša4] kù.mah.kex é.gi4.a dEn.líl.lá.kex ág,gá dU.ux(GIŠGAL).lu.kex : bēl[et É].ŠU.ME.[ŠA4 el]let şīrtu kallāt Enlil narāmtu Ninurta
“Pure ladyof the Ešumeša, exalted daughter-in-law of Enlil, beloves (wife) of Ninurta  KAR 73 r.5f and dups

cf. … é  Nungal, his (Enlil’s) daughter-in-law  PBS 1/2 104:12

mušītu kallā kuttumtu //kallā kuttumtu Gula
Gula the night, the veiled daughter-in-law (is) Gula (because no one may look upon her even from afar)  KAR 94:6 and dulp.(comm. to Maqlu I 2), see AfO 12 240 no. 26,
cf.  mušītu kallāt Anim   KAR 38:13 and r. 23 (inc.).

 (Nininsina/Gula) é.gi4.a  en.dNu.nam.nir.ra : kallātli Nunamnir  BA 5 644 No. 11:5f.

3)    As hīrtu and kallātu

mārāku kallāku hīrāku u abrakkāku   Or. NS 36 120:65 (Gula hymn)


rtultu na-ram-tu (var. na-ra-am-tum) dNIN.ZÍL.LÁ kallāt dNIN.UGU.BÀN.DA be-let Eridu “(Ištar), first wife and lady, beloved of DN, daughter-in-law of Ea, lady of Eridu
AfK I 26 r.i 32 (hymn to Šarrat-Nippuri);

Other goddesses

ana hīrti-šu elletim
“to his (Ea’s) pure spouse”   VAS 1 32 i.9


rtum šinnatka
“the spouse, your (Anu’s) equal ”  TCL 6 51:20) (cf. above??)


šūsumat hīr[tu] rabītu šitruhtu Ištar
the proud Ishtar, the first wife, is beautiful   BBR No. 61:7 (incipit of a hymn)


dNIN.GAL hīrtú nāramta-ka epšēt[i!-ia x x x x x x x x ]
“May Nikkal, your beloved spouse, [ look upon] my deeds [ with favour].
SAA XII no.90 (=Bauer Asb pl.21) r.4 (Asb recovers a stolen village for Sin).

MUL.MAR.GÍD.DA mārat Anim rabītu kallāt É.KUR
“Ursa major, great daughter of Anu, daughter –in-law of the Ekur  STT 73:77


dBa’u kallātum  ZA 45 204 iii 5 (Bogh. rit.)l


hīrti narāmti  SAA III np.32 r.18

said of humans : CAD H 200 : (only OB and lit.)


Anti’kus LUGAL.KUR.KUR …Astarkanikku hīrat-su šarrat
“ Antiochus, the emperor…Statonike, his consort, the queen”   5R 66 No. 2 ii 27.

míTašmētum-šarrat MÍ.É.GAL hīrtu narāmti-ia
“Tašmētu-šarrat, the queen, my beloved wife” ARRIM 4 32:15 (inscription on a lion from the doorway of Room LXV of the South-West palace of Kuyunjik (by Sennacherib):

3.     Instead of a conclusion

Instead of a conclusion, I will offer up some observations.

1)      The title kallātu is generally used with an attribution: either the name of the father of a woman’s husband, or the shrine name of her “father-in-law.” However, as in the case of Aja where we always find kallātu, and not kallātu of someone or some temple. This seems to put into question whether the English translation of the term “daughter-in-law” is in fact accurate.

2)      A lot of goddesses use hīrtu as one of their main titles. The term is understood as “the first wife who has equal status with the husband,” and is sometimes followed by narāmtu as hīrtu narāmtu “beloved wife.” With this qualification, the woman is able to give significant suggestions to her husband or intercede with him on behalf of her devotees.

Given the information available, it seems that the status of women in Mesopotamia depended mainly on the system of the household. Once she got and kept a position as “the first wife” and “kallātu” by marriage, she could make use of her efficiencies in her family. In the religious sphere, we can see this wherein the goddesses, who had the title of hīrtu and/or kallātu were effective in swaying their husband’s opinions, and playing their role of interceder. Perhaps, then, in the human world, a parallel phenomenon could be seen. Unfortunately, no references have been uncovered to substantiate the supposition.

However, in our REFEMA project, a lot of studies about the economic roles and activities of women have been presented, and will be presented during the next two workshops. One day in the very near future, then, we may be able to complete each other’s studies and gain a new view about the status of women in ancient Mesopotamia.

[1] S. L. Macgregor, Beyond Hearth and Home: Women in the public Sphere in Neo -Assyrian Society, SAAS XXI, Helsinki 2012, pp. 71-13.

[2] SAA XVI 28 (=ABL 308). As for diverse interpretations about this letter, see my previous paper (part one of the same title), note 11, as well as the references included in that note.

[3] George,2003: Ninsun, Gilgamesh’a mother, begins her long monologue by blaming on Šamaš her son’s desire for adventure and hopes that Aya will intercede with him on Gilgamesh’s behalf (45-57). Ninsun repeats her plea that Aya remind Šamaš to command her son to the care of the night (74-9). Further,she asks for Šamaš about the Gilgamesh’s journey, seeking Aya’s wifely intercession a third time (80-6)

Women who played the role of interceder: Part 1

Women who played the role of interceder: Part 1

Eiko Matsushima

REFEMA 2nd workshop (June 22, 2013, Tokyo)

1.     Introduction

Today, I would like to talk about one aspect of the roles of women in ancient Mesopotamia, one that I am in fact very interested in.

I recently had occasion to review my previous study on the divine marriage ceremonies in Mesopotamia, which looked specifically at the Assyro-Babylonian world.[1] There exist several sources of written materials on the ceremonies and from them we can understand that the ceremonies were significant religious events. The leading figures of the ceremonies were the main god of a big city (or a country) and his spouse, for example Marduk, the chief god of Babylon and his spouse Zarpanītu, or Nabû, who had a big temple in the city of Kalhu in Assyria, and his spouse Tašmētu, etc. The king and the royal family took care of the ceremony, preparing the furnishings, sacrifices, and banquets. We do not know if the ceremony was held annually or on other occasions, but the fact that there are several mentions on it indicates that it was not a rare event. Many discussions have developed on the subject and some important publications have been generated.[2] I will not talk about the details of the rite, as it is discussed elsewhere, but rather investigate the fact that the goddess, the “bride” of the wedding ceremony, played an important role.

During the ceremony, the goddess stayed for couple of days in a “bedroom” with her husband. Some of the available documents explain that in the course of her stay on the wedding bed, the bride asked her husband for benevolence toward the king (and/or his family).[3] That is to say, she played an intermediary role between the human king and her divine husband, the great god of the country. As a matter of fact, in first century Assyria and Babylonia, the ritual was realized with divine statues, which were identified with the gods themselves understood to live in the temple, thus in a very symbolic way. Given the information, it seems significant that the spouse of the divine couple gives some important suggestions to her husband, and additionally the people expected her to be an interceder on their behalf. I infer from this that similar incidents might occur in human society.

By collecting some examples of “women who intercede” in Mesopotamian society from the written materials, I will analyze them in order to investigate whether my inference is sufficiently reasonable or not.

2.1        Examples of the intercession of the goddesses during the wedding ceremony

Looking first at the goddesses in divine marriage ceremonies in first century Assyria and Babylonia, we can find among the documents mentions of the followings:

1)     Tašmētu to Nabû

 [Taš]tu bēltu rabîtu hīrtu narāmta-ka şabitat abbūti ina mahri-ka ina majjāl taknê ūmišam naparkâ literriš-ka balāţi
“Tašmētu the great Lady, your beloved spouse, who intercedes (for me) [daily] before you in the sweet bed, who never ceases asking you to protect my life.”
H. Hunger, Babylonische und assyrische Kolophone (AOAT 2, Neukirchen-Vlyn, 1968) no.338

2)     Zarpanītu to Marduk

Zarpanītu ina urši bīt hammūti lemutta-šu litasqar
“May Zarpanītu pronounce evil (words) against him in the bedroom where (Marduk lives) as master (of the family)!”
K. 2411 (=J. A. Craig, ABRT I 76-79) col. I 28’

3)     Mulissu to Aššur

Mulissu šarrat Ešarra hīrat Aššur banīt ilāni rabûti ša Sîn-ahhê-eriba šar Aššur ūmišam amāt damiqti-šu ina muhhi Aššur liššakin šaptu-ša
“Mulissu, the queen of Ešarra, spouse of Aššur, creator(ess) of great gods, who daily pronounce favorable words on behalf of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, before Aššur.”
K. 2411 (=J. A. Craig, ABRT I 76-79), col. II 10-12[4]

4)    Aja to Šamaš

 a. [              hí]rtum ina bīt majjāli liqbi-ka
“May[Aya your spo]use say to you in the bedchamber, [“Be appeased”] ”
Lambert, BWL 138:200 (last line of a long hymn to Šamaš: a manuscript has an Ashurbanipal colophone.

b. Aja kallātu rabîti ašibat bīt majjāli kajjanāmma panû-ka lišnamir ūmišam damiqta-a liqbi-ku
“Aja, the great bride (/daughter in law) who stays in the bedroom and constantly brightens your face, may she say you favorite (words) for me!”
VAB 4, 258 ii 20 (Nabonidus)

We see here that Tašmētu intercedes with Nabû, Zarpanītu with Marduk, and Aya with Šamaš, etc, on behalf of each goddesse’s royal devotee. Thus, the goddesses play an intermediary role between a human, generally the king (and/or his family), and the great god of the country.

The intercession of goddesses, as well some gods, between great gods and human beings has already been discussed extensively.[5] Some try to find a common aspect in the role the of goddesses I mentioned here, with the role of the famous goddess Ištar. I am not convinced in this view, since Ištar, from the third to the first millennium, has retained a major position with overwhelming power in the pantheon. She protects the king by her own will, and even if she intercedes for the king, she is standing before the chief gods of the pantheon or before the supreme divine council, that is to say, in a public place.

Other goddesses do not act so publicly. Tašmētu, for example, intercedes with her husband in her bedroom, a very private space. The wedding bed, though entirely private, was the place of her intercession, and so the place of her activities. In Assyro-Babylonian divine marriage rites of the first millennium, gods such as Nabû, Marduk, Šamaš, etc. were the main heroes, whereas the goddess were ranked second, as merely the spouse of a great god. However, the goddess played a significant role in the private sphere.

In examples given here, the main title of the goddesses is either rtu (=spouse: 1) 3) 4)) or kallātu (=bride or daughter-in-law: 5)). In example 2), Zarpanītu is depicted to as ina urši bīt hammūti “in [the] bed of the family master’s house”. These Akkadian words are explained in the Chicago Assyrian Dictionaries (here abbreviated as CAD) as follows:

rtu : wife of equal status with the husband. […] In speaking of the wives of gods, hīrtu is preferred to aššatu/altu (CAD H: 200a-201b).

kallātu: daughter-in-law, wife of a son living in his father’s household, bride, sister-in-law […]The word denotes a young woman who was acquired by the master of a household as a wife for his son living in this household (CAD K: 79a-82b).

hammūtu: a status of head of the family (CAD H 69b-70a).

Using these explications, we can understand that each of these goddesses was considered to be the (main) wife in a big and divine household. Her status might not be exactly equal to that of her husband, but she had her own firm position in the household. Her status was appreciated to a certain degree in the household as well as in the society.

Ancient Mesopotamia, especially in the post-Sumer period, was a male-dominated world. The possibilities for women were limited both in society as well as in the family. However, as the second-ranking person, she was efficient in her private area, especially in the bedroom. A goddess, who was the first wife of a chief god, could offer suggestions to her husband and act as an intermediary between a god and a human being. In particular, she could request of the great god, her husband, much benevolence for the king, his land, and his people.

From this feature which can be seen in the religious sphere, we may imagine the actual roles of women in the mortal societies of Mesopotamia, especially upper classes in the society.

2.2 An episode in the Gilgamesh Epic: standard version, tablet XI.

I would like to add here one more example of a woman who got her husband to change his mind. In the Gilgamesh Epic, the hero, being shocked by the death of his friend Enkidu, went on a long journey in order to meet Uta-Napishti who had survived the Flood and remained alive in a distant place. When he finally found Uta-Napishti, Gilgamesh asked him how to obtain eternal life. However, failing to pass a test (he could not stay awake for six nights and seven days), Uta-Napishti tried to make him go back to his natal city. However, Uta-Napishti’s wife (marhītu), feeling pity for Gilgamesh asked her husband to help once more that unhappy young man. Following her intervention, Uta-Napishti decided to disclose a secret to Gilgamesh: a plant of life that can be found in the bottom of Apsu, i.e. the deep underground water (tab. XI 273 ff.). Gilgameš then went on to find the plant and take it back with him to his city, Uruk. As you well know, however, he lost it just before his arrival due to his own inattention.

 The central point of importance for this episode is that Uta-Napishti suddenly and easily changed his mind, just after his wife criticized his initial decision.

3.   Royal women in Sargonic Assyria

During the long history of Mesopotamia, there were some women whose activities are recorded in written materials. Recent studies on palace women in the Neo-Assyrian period have given us a new view of women in the royal court including queens.[6] For instance, eleven names of principal wives (MÍ.É.GAL/ MÍ/KUR=sēgallu) from the ninth to the seventh century BCE are known, including Sammuramat and Naquia/Zakutu as the most well known. Let us take a brief look at them.

Sammuramat was the wife of Šamši-Adad V (823-811 BCE) and mother of Adad-nerari III (810-783). We know of four public monuments on which the name Sammuramat is clearly inscribed: two statues found in the Nabû Temple at Kalhu, a boundary stone erected in southeastern Turkey, and a large limestone stele placed among the monuments at Assur. On the top of the limestone stele, a text is engraved in which she is called kallāt Šulmanu-šarru, “daughter-in-law” of Shalmaneser (858-824 BCE).[7] All of these four monuments date during the reign of Adad-nerari III.[8] The inscription on the boundary stone explains that Sammuramat accompanied her son on a military campaign, and documents indicate that she was an important and powerful person in the Assyrian government, at least during the reign of Adad-nerari III. It is highly probable that she acted as regent for her son at the beginning of his reign. However, we know almost nothing about her position and power during the reign of her husband. Perhaps she was already appreciated as kallātu of the father of Šamši-Adad V.

In later times myths and legends around her were invented, and Greek and Roman writers composed stories in which classical Semiramis was the heroine.

Another famous royal woman, Naquia/Zakutu, became a wife of Sennacherib (704-681 BCE), probably while he was still the crown prince. Nothing is known about her until 683 BCE when her son Esarhaddon was nominated as crown prince. It is well known that Esarhaddon was the youngest son of Sennacherib, and that there was a serious succession conflict before and after the death of Sennacherib between Esarhaddon and his brothers; we also know that Sennacherib was murdered by one or several of his sons certainly because of that conflict. It seems that during his reign, another palace lady, Tašmetum-šarrat, was the first queen whereas Naquia was just one of other wives.[9] Since the coronation of Esarhaddon (681-669 BCE), however, she became the ummi šarri (MÍ.AMA.MAN or AMA.LUGAL), “Queen Mother,” and was sometimes present in public places, especially during religious activities. The fact that some high-ranked officials sent letters directly to her indicates that she maintained great power and efficiency in the royal court, but we do not know exactly what kind of power she had. Her titles were sēgallu, ummi šarri as we have just seen above, and kallātu (MÍ.É.GI4.A) Šarru-ukin.[10] Naquia/Zakutu was an extraordinary queen, and a unique woman in the long history of Mesopotamia. S. C. Melville has suggested that it was Esarhaddon’s own idea to bring her to power. When Esarhaddon died, she forced all Assyrian high officials to take an oath of loyalty, the so-called Zakutu treaty (ABL 1239 + JCS 39, 189), on behalf of her grandson Ashurbanipal (668-631 BCE), the youngest among his brothers, on his coronation. A woman intervening thus in political affairs using her own name and will was a unique and unparalleled event.

In the cases of both Sammuramat and Naquia, the women obtained and maintained power as the mothers of kings, acting always as “Queen Mother.” One bronze relief shows Naquia depicted with his son Esarhaddon. Indeed, in analyzing her role we see her essentially as a mother loyal to her son, making her able to take advantage of her position.

Libbali-šarrat, the principal wife of Ashurbanipal, on the other hand, is a queen depicted with her husband in a bas-relief, and it is her position as wife and not mother that is of central importance. In the well-known garden scene from the North Palace Nineveh, she is seated facing the king who is reclining on a coach: both are drinking, beer or wine, in order to celebrate the victory over the Elamites. The depicted banquet certainly took place in the queen’s residence, thus in a private domain in the royal palace. In the depiction she is present as a partner of the king, even if the king is above her in the royal family’s hierarchy. It is worthy of notice that she behaves in the image as a spouse, not as a mother. In a letter written some years ago by a sister of Ashurbanipal, Šerua-eţerat, Libbali-šarrat is described: “You are a daughter-in-law (kallātu), the lady of the house of Assurbanipal, the crown prince of Esarhaddon.”[11]

4.   Temporary observations

Having thus seen some examples of the attributes of women in high classes, from goddesses to royal ladies in first millennium Mesopotamia, we can observe that in religious spheres, goddesses were expected to play the role of interceder with her divine husband on behalf of her devotees. This act always took place in a private space. We understand also that her efficiency depends on her position as hirtu and kallātu. In one legendry epic, Uta-Napishti’s wife –marhītu–got him to change his mind. Thus, in the religious or mythic domain, women could play an important role as adviser to her husband as well as interceder on behalf of her devotees.

Then we looked at examples of famous royal women in the Assyrian court of the first millennium: queens whose deeds or memories are recorded. From the available documents and other materials, we cannot construct a complete image of their activities, and cannot understand all of their roles in society. Nevertheless, we have seen that the system of the household has much to do with their status. We found one keyword: kallātu. This Akkadian term is, as we have seen above, understood as “a young woman who was acquired by the master of a household as a wife for his son living in this household.” So, I will turn to an analysis of the meaning(s) and function(s) of kallātu, in order to discern some further aspects of women’s role in the family as well as in the society of Mesopotamia.

[1]  I presented a paper titled ”Ištar and Other Goddesses in the So-called “Sacred Marriage” in Ancient Mesopotamia” at the International Conference on Ishtar/Astarte/Aphrodite: Transformation of a Goddess, at Keio-University, on 25-26 August, 2011. A book with all of the revised papers of this conference is forthcoming. As for my previous work, see 2.2 in this forthcoming article.

[2] A history of these discussions can be found in the recent book edited by M. Nissinen and R.Uro: Sacred Marriages, the Divine-Human Sexual Metaphor from Sumer to Early Christianity, Eisenbrauns, Indiana, 2008.

[3] Or, as we are going to see in section 2.2, asked to pronounce a malediction on the enemy of her devotee.

[4] We are not sure if this example can be related to the wedding rite, but it does depict a goddess who intercedes.

[5] See in particular the work of B. Pongratz-Leisten, in M.Nissinen and R.Uro, Sacred Marriages, 65-66.

[6] We refer for instance to only two books: Melville, S. C., The Role of Naqia/Zakutu in Sargonic Politics. SAAS IX, Helsinki, 1999 (Here abbreviated as Melville, 1999). Macgregor, S. L., Beyond the Hearth and Home: Women in the Public Sphere in Neo-Assyrian Society. SAAS XXI, Helsinki 2012 (Here abbreviated as Macgregor, 2012). There are many useful references in the bibliographies of these books.

[7] A.K. Grayson, Assyrian Rulers of the Early First Millennium BC II, RIM 3, Toronto, 1996, A.104.2001, 6.

[8] On the top of the stele found at Assur, a seven-line text with her name was inscribed. The text reads as follows: “Stele of Sammuramat, queen of Šamši-Adads, king of the universe, king of Assyria, mother of Adad-nerarti, king of the universe, king of Assyria, daughter-in-law of Shalmaneser, king of the four quarters (Macgregor, p. 84).

[9] There is an inscription of Sennacherib in which he expresses a feeling of affection for Tašmetum-šarrat: it is a unique phenomenon in Assyrian history that a king speaks of his personal feelings towards his wife in official inscriptions: ARRIM 4, 1986, p.32; see S. L. Macgregor, 2012, 85, note 173.

[10] Among the two examples of Naquia/Zakutu as kallāt Šarru-ukin, Borger, Asarh, 115-116 (revised in Melville, 1999, 39) and ADD 645, 3. The former is an inscription in which she declares that his son Esarhaddon was to be put on the throne of Assyria with the strong support of great gods. It is written and organized just like a royal building inscription.

[11] See SAA XVI 28 (=ABL 308). There are a few different interpretations of the letter. I prefer that of A. Livingstone, which seems simpler than the others: he understands that Šerua-eţerat was treating Libbali-šarrat with respect, addressing her royal titles: see ZA 97, 2007, 100-105. See also the translation of M. Luukko and G. Van Buylaere (SAA 16, Helsinki, 2002, no.28), which notices an opposite nuance. They understand that Šerua-eţerat blames Libbali-šarrat for not writing to her sister-in-law and finds out that there is a rivalry between two high ranked women in the royal family. From the letter, at least, we understand that royal women sometimes wrote to each other.

Assyrian Women’s Contribution to International Trade with Anatolia

The Assyrian women* living in Aššur during the 19th century BC had own property in their own right, independent of their husbands and also distinct from their dowries.[1] Their capital originated, at least partially, from their contribution to the long distance trade with Anatolia, established by the Assyrians since the end of the 20th century BC. The following presentation is devoted to the involvement of women in this international trade and their income from the sale of their textiles.

Textile production is well-known in large scale manufacturing organised by Ur III or Old Babylonian palaces; archaeological material also documents the private sphere, with discoveries of spindle whorls and loom weights in houses. The Old Assyrian level has not been excavated at Aššur, thus to understand textile production in this city, we rely almost exclusively on written sources. Thanks to the numerous letters sent by women from Aššur to their family members at Kaneš, we can follow the private textile production in Aššur and the conditions of its sale in Anatolia. The sale of women’s textiles in Anatolia generated revenues for them. To estimate the women’s contribution to the international trade it is necessary to evaluate the income per garment and the number of textiles produced by a household.


1. Textile production

The cuneiform documentation excavated at Kültepe, with the help of other corpuses, allow the reconstruction in varying amount of detail of the textile production by Aššur women, from the purchase of wool to the sale of textiles in Anatolia, or their use for clothing family members.

1.1. Purchase of wool

From the letters they sent to Kaneš, we learn that the Assyrian women used large quantities of wool for the production of textiles, both for their households and for the long distance trade with Anatolia.[2] The wool was bought on the market in Aššur or at the city gate. The kutānum-textile, which was the most common type of fabric exported to the West by Aššur women, could be woven with expensive wool from Šurbu located in the Hamrin Mountains, Southeast of Aššur, in an area well-known for sheep breeding.[3]

Women’s letters refer regularly to the lack of wool on the market. According to the Royal archives from Mari dated to the 18th century BC, this could be caused by political tensions.[4] In a letter sent to the king, a high official, proposed that the plucking of the sheep should take place, not as it used to be, in the vicinity of Aššur, but where the flocks used to graze, in the Suhûm, Southeast of Mari: “The plucking (of sheep) from Suhûm must be done here, so that the Aššur people come and it must be here that they take the wool.”[5] This was a way for Mari to control the people of the Suhûm, and their contact with the Assyrians. As herds no longer came to Aššur, wool was lacking on the market.[6]

When they could not find wool at a reasonable price on the market, women wrote from Aššur to their relatives in Anatolia asking them for small quantities of wool: “(Here), in the City (of Aššur), wool is expensive” and “When you send the purse, enclose some wool”.[7] Lamassī complains that she did not receive the wool sent by her husband from Anatolia:[8] “You wrote me as follows: ‘Ahuqar and Ia-šar are bringing you each 5 minas of wool.’ (But) they gave me nothing! Ia-šar (said) as follows: ‘I will myself make one textile for him.’ ” Wool was then carried to Aššur on donkeys together with gold and silver.[9] But these wool shipments to Aššur concern only small quantities of wool, because of the cost of the transport.

1.2. Manufacturing of textiles

If the wool bought on the Aššur market was in the form of raw material, one had to remove from it dust and waste wool. It was aired, disentangled, cleaned by teasing, and could be combed before being spun into a thread.[10] None of these activities are attested by our documentation, but we can imagine that they were time-consuming. An Ur III text indicates that one woman could clean and comb 125g in a day.[11]

It has been presumed that spinning and weaving were the main activity of all the women of the house, including young girls, elderly women and female slaves.[12] Women’s letters sent to Anatolia contain allusions to the making of textiles, but data are scarce and technical details not always clear. The Assyrian merchants marketing the Assyrian products in Central Asia were able to judge the quality of the textiles and to give them technical advice. Puzur-Aššur sent a letter to the lady Waqqurtum insisting on the thinness of the textile and its density: “Add per piece one mina more of wool than you used for the previous textile you sent me, but they must remain thin!”, and giving its size, 4.5×4 metres: “A finished textile that you make must be nine cubits long and eight cubits wide.”[13] This implies that it was not woven in one piece. This letter which was sent to Aššur was found in Kaneš lower city, it could be a copy. Merchants’ remarks about the textile qualities were sometimes quoted by the women while answering back, as in this letter sent by Lamassī to her husband:[14] 

“Why do you write to me every time as follows: ‘The textiles which you keep sending me are not good?’ Who is this man who lives in your house and who is criticizing the textiles when they get to him?”

They also cite some received advice indicating that they followed it. But there could be some misunderstanding. When Lamassī wrote to her husband that she had reduced the size – i.e. put less wool – in her textiles, that was presumably not what Pūšu-kēn intended; he wanted denser, i.e. warmer textiles:[15]

As for the textiles about which you wrote to me as follows: ‘They are (too) small, they are not good!’ Was it not at your own request that I reduced the size? And now you write (again), saying as follows: ‘Process half a mina (of wool) more in each of your textiles.’ Well, I have done so.”

According to another letter, she added half a mina of wool per textile but alerts her husband that those she is sending were made previously:[16]

Those to which I am adding ½ mina (of wool) each, I will send you with Ia-šar. Those that Urani is bringing you, (were made) earlier, before you wrote to me.”

Assyrian women were thus producing textiles to be exported to Anatolia, their production was much appreciated there and it was improved by advice given by merchants aware of the demands of the local market.

1.3. Transport of textiles to Anatolia

Once woven, textiles needed to be finished, i.e. cleaned; this was done by the ašlākum, the “washerman”, usually a male specialist. It is not clear whether the textiles sent to Anatolia were finished in Aššur or not, but when they were sent as garments for the Assyrian merchants there, they were first cleaned in Aššur as we learn from this letter, again from Lamassī to her husband:[17] 

“As for the textile (made of wool) from Šurbu about which you wrote me as follows: ‘Send me a garment for me to wear’, the garment has indeed been made, but (it is) now with the washerman, so I have not yet sent (it) up to you. I will send up to you by a later (caravan) the textile (made of wool) from Šurbu for you to wear.”

Women of Aššur used to entrust several textiles to travellers going along with caravans of merchandise to Kaneš: “I will send to you with later caravans whatever textiles I can manage (to make).”[18] These transporters added the textiles to their own consignment and so would generally not accept more than ten textiles, often less; they also regularly refuse to take textiles as Lamassī complains:[19]

“Kulumaya is bringing you 9 textiles. Iddin-Suen is bringing you 3 textiles. Ela refused to accept textiles (for transport). Iddin-Suen refused to accept 5 textiles more (for transport).”

An average of entrusted textiles could be five pieces according to Pūšu-kēn who writes to his wife: “Give to the servants good quality textiles in lots of five so that they carry (them) to me.”[20] Women usually specified in letters sent separately the number and quality of the textiles they sent: “Abatananum is bringing you 3 kutānum-textiles. Šumī-abia is bringing you 1 heavy textile.”[21] But they could not be always certain that their textiles arrived at the destination. In the following letter, Lamassī asks her husband to acknowledge the receipt of her textiles:[22]

“When you were still here, I gave to Aššur-malik 1 heavy textile, and upon his return, I gave him 1 kamdum-textile (and) 3 kutānum-textiles. Why, though I repeatedly send textiles to you (do you claim that you have not received any)? Send me a message saying if he did or did not bring (them) to you so that I know (about it)!”

We have no idea about the cost of the transport; perhaps the women had some agreements with the transporters, paying their services in kind. But taxes were deduced on the price of the textiles according to the following letter sent by Šūbultum: “Dān-Aššur is bringing you 7 kutānum-textiles (and) a tablet with my seal; they are not liable to dātum-toll and import tax.”[23]


2. An activity paid by piecework

The sale of their textiles by relatives in Anatolia assured an income to these women of Aššur. But only part of their production was commercialized.

2.1. Textile production for exports

In fact, the intensive production of textiles by Aššur women was intended both to dress the household members and for the international trade. We have no data about the existence of a centralized textile production in Aššur, as it is attested for example during the Middle Assyrian period.[24] There is also no mention of the purchase of large amounts of wool by local institutions. Textiles sold by Aššur eponyms could have previously been bought by the House of the eponyms or Town Hall to Babylonian merchants or to Aššur houses.[25] The import of numerous Babylonian textiles supplemented local production, and thousands of textiles were thus exported each year to Anatolia.[26]

It seems clear that the textile production of these Aššur households exceeded their needs; the surplus was sent to Anatolia, thus contributing to the international trade. The Assyrian merchants’ demand in Anatolia was very high as we understand from Ababaya’s letter to Kulia: “What is the purpose of constantly writing me as follows:  ‘Send me five textiles!’ ”,[27] or from Lamassī’s letters to her husband: “I try my best to make and send textiles to you!”.[28] As well, Tarām-Kūbi wrote to her husband Innaya that she could not follow the demand: “6You keep sending me consignments (of silver); but, here, I cannot send you (in return) each time textiles that (are) heavy.”[29]

Production of textiles intended for export to Anatolia was difficult to combine with weaving of textiles for home use.[30] With about a dozen of people to clothe at home, their need for textiles was important as explains Lamassī to her husband:[31]

“If you are my master, do not be angry on account of the garments about which you have written me and (which) I have not sent you. Since (our) girl has grown up, I have made a few heavy textiles for the wagon. And I also made garments for the household personnel and for the children, (this is why) I could not manage to send you some textiles. I will send you with later caravans whatever textiles I can manage (to make).”

Moreover, some of the garments made in Aššur and sent to Anatolia were not for sale but for the Assyrian men to wear, husbands, brothers and sons, and other relatives of the Aššur women. As mentioned earlier, Lamassī made for Pūšu-kēn a garment from expensive Šurbu wool. Some fabrics could even be sent as garment for the local family of the Assyrian traders. The daughter of Aššur-nādā sent a shawl for the Anatolian wife of her father, adding “(…) I shall (so) love your amtum-wife who is with you in Kaneš.”[32]

Wealthy households in Aššur could include about ten women, including the aged ones, young daughter-in-laws, children, and female slaves. A half-dozen or so of small size textiles could be necessary yearly to cloth both these women and their male relatives in Anatolia.

2.2. Payment for the exported textiles

As their textiles were sold on the Anatolian markets, Aššur women received back small amounts of silver.[33] This is quite clear from several letters sent by women who claim the price of their textiles, as, for example, Tarām-Kūbi in a letter to her brother Imdīlum: “Why don’t you send to me the proceeds from my textiles?”[34], or Lamassī to her husband: “Concerning the textiles that Aššur-malik brought with the previous caravan, why don’t you send me the silver?”[35] or “As for me, in order that from each caravan trip at least 10 shekels of silver accrue to your house, I try my best to make and send textiles to you![36]

Some letters give detailed accounts between husband and wife concerning the sale of textiles, as for example this message sent by Pūšu-kēn to Lamassī and for which we have a copy excavated at Kaneš:[37]

“The pri[ce] of your previous textiles has been paid to you. Concerning the 20 textiles that you gave [to] Puzur-Aššur: 1 textile for the import tax, 2 textiles as purchase, 17 textiles of yours remain. Ahuqar brought me 6 textiles, Ia-šar brought me 6 textiles, Iddin-Suen brought me 2 textiles; to these, I added 3 textiles for Puzur-Aššur. I made for him an upqum-packet of 20 textiles and I put (it) at his disposal. The remainder of [your textiles], 11 textiles, (are) on my account.
[For] these, Kulumaya is bringing you under my seal 1 ½ minas of silver – its import [tax] added, its transport tax paid for. You w[rote me] as follows: ‘In[cluded with] the textiles that I sent [you] (are) 2 textiles from Šūbultum.’ (So) of the 1 [½ minas] of silver that Kulumaya is bringing [to you], 1 mina of silver (is) yours (and) give ½ m[ina] to Šūbultum. They will bring me from Burušhattum the price of the heavy textile from Šūb[ultum]. I will get together the 7 shekels of silver from Ilī-bāni that the son of Kuzari has paid and the silver from the sale of the rest of your textiles and will send [(it) to you] by Iddin-Suen.”

Pūšu-kēn explains here to his wife how the 20 textiles she sent him have been sold and details the amount of silver she can expect from their sale. Among these, were some textiles made by Šūbultum who should get back their proceeds.

Letters often quote amounts of silver sent to women in Aššur.[38] Also, several private notices list šēbultum-consignments; these correspond to small amounts of silver or gold meant for women,[39] which could sometimes correspond to the payment for textiles they had sent to Kaniš for sale, even if this is not always indicated. With the silver they received, women of Aššur could buy grain for their household and wool to make more textiles: “The time is now, be sure to send me silver you have in exchange for my textiles, so that I can buy barley, about 10 ṣimdu measures (ca. 300 l.).”[40]


3. Evaluation of their contribution to the international trade

Part of the payment they received for their textiles increased the personal capital of women. It is almost impossible to give an evaluation of the percentage that was spent on food and daily life goods and that which they kept for them or reinvested in financial operations. But we can try to compute the income per garment as well as the textiles produced yearly by Aššur households. 

3.1. Income per garment

Because we lack documentation from Aššur, it is quite difficult to estimate the income per textile. However, some letters sent to Kaneš give indications about the amount of silver women hoped to receive or did receive for the textiles they sent. In a message addressed to her brother, Tarām-Kūbi complains that her textiles have been underpaid:[41]

“Kutallānum brought you 6 textiles in his previous transport. 7-8You sent me 1 mina 10 shekels of silver, 8-11but [si]nce you left, you have never sent me any other consignment. 11-14To whom else but me would you send (only) 1 mina 10 shekels for 6 textiles? 15-16(Now) Kutallānum is bringing you 6 kutānum-textiles. 17-18If you (are) my brother, you should not send me (less) than ⅓ mina per (textile)!”

The 6 textiles transported by Kutallānum were paid 1 mina 10 shekels, thus 11 2/3 shekels a piece, but Tarām-Kūbi claims 1/3 mina per textile (i.e. 20 shekels). In the following letter, Ištar-lamassī received 12 shekels of silver, plus another 5 shekels for a textile, thus 17 shekels: “Enna-Suen is bringing you a textile (…) Enna-Suen brought me 12 shekels of silver, and he also brought me another 5 shekels separately.”[42] As a matter of comparison, a list of expenses made in Anatolia for a wedding feast quote the purchase of 5 kutānum-textiles at a price of 5/6 minas, thus 10 shekels a piece.[43] But we know that such quality textiles could be sold at 15 shekels a piece in Kaneš; thus, after all the taxes deduced, women could hope to get back between 10 and 12 shekels for each textile they sent to Anatolia. Taxes were indeed levied on the textiles sent to Anatolia, and on the silver sent back to Aššur. According to the letter of Pūšu-kēn to his wife quoted above,[44] on an amount of 20 textiles, one piece was given to pay the import tax (5% of the textiles) and two others were bought by the palace at a low price (equivalent to the tithe of 10%). On the silver, proceeds of the textiles, a transport tax was levied by the kārum authorities of 1/60 and an import tax by Aššur Town Hall amounting to 4% of the precious metal. On the 1 ½ minas of silver sent, the transport tax has already being paid, and the import tax has been added. So Lamassī receives 1 ½ minas all taxes deducted for 11 textiles, i.e. a little more than 8 shekels each, which is quite low.

The fine and good quality textiles were more expensive according to a letter sent by Puzur-Aššur to Waqqurtum: “The thin textile you sent me, make (more) like it and send (them) to me with Aššur-idī and I will send you ½ mina of silver (apiece).”[45]

To compute the income per textile exported to Anatolia, we need to know the price of the wool at Aššur. Unfortunately, it is not given by texts from Kaneš. However, a royal inscription of Šamšī-Adad I (18th century BC) gives a list of basic commodities and the quantities that one could buy for one shekel of silver: “When I built the temple for the god Enlil, my lord, the prices in my city, Aššur, (were the following): 2 gur of barley could be purchased for 1 shekel of silver; 15 minas of wool for 1 shekel of silver; 2 bán of oil for 1 shekel of silver, according to the prices of my city Aššur.”[46] A price of 15 minas of wool per shekel of silver seems to be the average for Upper Mesopotamia during the first half of the 2nd millennium BC.[47] This price probably applied to raw material. So with 1 shekel of silver it was possible to acquire 15 minas of wool, which could be used to weave 3 textiles.[48] Indeed, according to a letter from Lamassī already quoted, one needed 5 minas of wool (2.5 kg) to make a textile.[49] During the cleaning of wool before spinning, there could be a waste of 20 to 30% of the original wool;[50] with 5 minas of wool it may have been possible to produce a textile weaving about 4 minas (2 kg).

Thus, with the income of one textile corresponding to 10-12 shekels of silver, a woman could buy wool to produce 30 to 36 textiles if she had no other expenses to make, although this was usually not the case. According to a letter sent by the consecrated woman Ištar-lamassī, a third of the sale price of a textile could be invested in the purchase of wool to make various quality textiles:[51]

“Šū-Anum, son of Hanu, brought me 12 shekels of silver (…) From the silver that the son of Hanu brought, I made 1 Abarnian-textile, 2 fine (textiles) and 4 medium quality (textiles), and they are deposited in the …”

With 12 shekels of silver, it was possible to buy 3 talents of wool. She made altogether 7 textiles. With an average of 5 minas per textile, she needed about 35 minas of wool, thus a little more than one fourth of the 12 shekels of silver available. The remaining silver was used to buy barley for the household – Šamšī-Adad’s inscription indicates that it was possible to purchase 2 gur (600 litres) for 1 shekel of silver – other food products, various utensils for the house, and perhaps some textiles to send to Anatolia.

3.2. Estimated number of textiles produced by a household

It is difficult to evaluate the total number of textiles sent annually by each Aššur household; these were supposedly counted in dozens, each weighing about 4 minas, plus or minus one or a half of mina of wool.[52] In fact, in such estimation, each parameter is based on assumptions. However, thanks to the data given in the Ur III corpus and experiments made at the Centre for Textile Research (Copenhagen), we can present a tentative estimation.[53] Our calculations will be based on pieces of textiles measuring 4 × 4.5 metres and weighing 4 minas (2.5 kg), but prepared from 5 minas of raw wool.

The women had first to prepare and comb the raw wool they have purchased. As seen above, a craftsperson would only prepare for spinning about 125 g of wool a day (op. cit. note 11). Thus, for 5 minas, it would have taken 20 days to prepare the necessary amount of cleaned and combed wool. Perhaps this estimation is a little pessimistic.

As for spinning, depending naturally on the thickness of the thread, it is possible to spin an average of 35 to 50 metres of thread per hour.[54] To weave a square metre of textile, depending on the density of the fabric, one needs about 2 km of thread, and some 2 to 5% more for the setting of the loom; one person had thus to spin for 5 days to obtain this 2 km of thread. For a 18 m2 piece (4 × 4.5 metres), at least 36 km of thread were necessary, thus some 3 months of spinning for a single woman.

The preparation of a loom to weave a 3.5 square metre textile needed, according to Ur III texts, the work of three women during three days, and two women could weave on this loom some 50 cm per day.[55] But according to experiments, one person is able to weave about 50 cm per 8 hours day of work depending naturally on the width of the loom.[56] The Assyrian textile measuring 4 × 4.5 metres would presumably not be woven in one piece and we must suppose that it was woven in at least two, preferably three, pieces which were then sewn together. To set up the looms, one needed at least some 9 women-days. If the textile was made from three strips of fabric of 1.5 metres wide each, a woman would achieve it in a minimum of 24 days (3 × 8 days), a number which needs to be double if women were working on the looms by pairs. Adding the different stages of work, we obtain the following results:[57] 

 Tasks / women-days  One woman per loom Two women per loom
 Cleaning and combing






 Setting of the loom(s)






 Total of working


[4 2/3 months]  


[5 months 1/2]  

We can thus reasonably suppose that, if textile production was performed almost throughout the year,[58] a women was able to weave the equivalent of 2 to 2.5 textiles (of 4 × 4.5 m) a year. A wealthy household such as the one of Lamassī could perhaps house a dozen active girls and women who would then be able to produce some 20 to 25 textiles a year, among which 4 or 5 would have been needed each year to clothe the members of the household.

According to the letters found in Kaneš, the shipments of textiles by Aššur women seem indeed quite regular.[59] Lamassī’s textile shipments to her husband can be summarized as follows:[60]


Shipments of textiles by Lamassī and names of transporters

165 Kulumaya: 9 textiles Iddin-Sîn 3 textiles    
166 Kulumaya: 9 textiles Iddin-Sîn 3 textiles    
163 Done : Kulumaya 3 kamsum + 6 kutānum Done: Aššur-malik 5 kutānum Urani = 8 (before adding wool) Ia-šar (later on + ½ mina)
164   Done : Aššur-malik1 heavy+1 kamdum + 3 kutānum    
167 Aššur-bāšti : 2 textiles      
168 Gave 20 textiles to Puzur-Aššur some from Šubultum Iddin-Sîn 2 textiles Ahu-waqar 6 textiles Ia-šār 6 textiles
169 Aššuriš-takil 1 heavy textile      

The first three texts (165, 166, 163) deal with the same shipment transported by Kulumaya, in the first two letters it is announced, according to the third letter, the shipment has been made. The third and the sixth texts both deal with a shipment by Ia-šar (163,168). Texts three and four refer to the same shipment transported by Aššur-malik (163, 164). It is not impossible that the last text refers to more or less the same period. Adding all these textiles together, we obtain a total of 33 textiles sent by Lamassī to Anatolia in a limited span of time, of perhaps a year or two. 

* * *

 Thousands of textiles were exported each year by the Assyrians to Anatolia; the Aššur women production was complemented by textiles bought from the Babylonians and called “Akkadian” textiles. There is no reference to a possible centralized textile production with workshops belonging to the palace or to temples as attested elsewhere in Upper Mesopotamia or Babylonia. Thus, textile production was a private activity, done by women at home.

For one piece of textile, the expenses of wool amounted to 1/3 shekel of silver, and a woman needed some four two-thirds to five and a half months to prepare the wool, spin the thread and weave a 4 × 4.5 m textile weighing 2 kg. The income per textile, minus the price of its wool, was about 11 shekels per item. A woman was able to produce two to two and a half textiles per year, thus a household of a dozen of women could manufacture between twenty-five and thirty textiles per year, most of them being sold in Anatolia; this corresponded to an income average of 5 minas of silver, which was the price of a small house in Aššur.[61] A few texts from Late Bronze Age Aššur show that such a profitable business also went on during the Middle Assyrian period.[62]



Albayrak, İ.
2002     Kültepe’den Değişik Bir Masraf Listesi, Archivum Anatolicum 5, 1-10.

Andersson Strand, E.
2012     The Textile chaîne opératoire: Using a Multidisciplinary Approach to Textile Archaeology with a Focus on the Ancient Near East. In C. Breniquet, M. Tengberg & E. Andersson (eds), with the collaboration of M.-L. Nosch, Prehistory of Textiles in the Ancient Near East, Paléorient 38, 21-40.

Andersson Strand, E. & Cybulska, M.
2013     Visualising Ancient Textiles – how to make a Textile Visible on the Basis of an Interpretation of an Ur III Text. InM.-L. Nosch, H. Koefoed & E. Andersson Strand (eds), Textile Production and Consumption in the Ancient Near East, Ancient Textiles 12, Oxford – Oakville, 113-127.

Breniquet, C.
2008     Essai sur le tissage en Mésopotamie, des premières communautés sédentaires à la fin du IIIème millénaire avant J.-C., Travaux de la Maison René-Ginouvès 5, Paris.

Charpin. D & Durand, J.-M.
1997     Aššur avant l’Assyrie. Mari, Annales de Recherches Interdisciplinaires 8, Paris, 367-392.

Dercksen, J. G.
2004     Old Assyrian Institutions. Publications de l’Institut historique et archéologique néerlandais de Stamboul 98, Leiden.

Firth, R. & Nosch, M.-L.
2012     Spinning and Weaving Wool in Ur III Administrative Texts, Journal of Cuneiform Studies 64, 67-84.

Garelli, P.
1965     Tablettes cappadociennes de collections diverses (suite).  Revue d’Assyriologie 59, 19-48, 149-176.

Grayson, A. K.
1987     Assyrian Rulers of the Third and Second Millennia BC (to 1115 BC). The Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia Assyrian Periods 1, Toronto.

Günbattı, C.
1987     Ankara Anadolu Medeniyetleri Müzesi’nde Bulunan Üç Tablet, Cumhuriyetin 60. Yıldönümü armaanı, Ankara, 189-199.

Lassen, A. W.
2010     The Trade in Wool in Old Assyrian Anatolia, Jaarbericht van het Vooraziatisch-Egyptisch Genootschap Ex Oriente Lux 42, 159-179.
in press Wool in Anatolia in the Old Assyrian Period. In C. Breniquet & C. Michel (eds) Wool Economy in the Ancient Near East and the Aegean: From the Beginnings of Sheep Husbandry to Institutional Textile Industry, Ancient Textiles 17, Oxford – Oakville.

Michel, C.
1998     Les enfants des marchands de Kaniš. In B. Lion, C. Michel & P. Villard (eds), Enfance et éducation au Proche-Orient ancien, Actes de la table ronde, Nanterre, Décembre 1997, Ktèma 22, 1997, 91-108. (
2001     Correspondance des marchands de Kaniš au début du IIe millénaire avant J.-C. LAPO 19. Paris.
2006     Femmes et production textile à Aššur au début du IIe millénaire avant J.-C. Techniques et culture 46, 281-297. (
2013     Women and Economy in the Family’s Sphere According to the Old Assyrian Sources, First International Workshop of the French-Japanese ANR programme Chorus REFEMA (Rôle économique des femmes en Mésopotamie ancienne), Nanterre, November 2012, online publication (
in press      Wool Trade in Upper Mesopotamia and Syria According to Old Babylonian and Old Assyrian Texts. In C. Breniquet & C. Michel (eds) Wool Economy in the Ancient Near East and the Aegean: From the Beginnings of Sheep Husbandry to Institutional Textile Industry, Ancient Textiles 17, Oxford – Oakville.
to appear      Women in Aššur and Kaniš according to the private archives of the Assyrian merchants at beginning of the IInd millennium B.C., Writings from the Ancient World, SBL, Baltimore

Michel, C. & Veenhof, K. R.
2010     The Textiles Traded by the Assyrians in Anatolia (19th-18th centuries BC). In C. Michel & M.-L. Nosch (eds), Textile Terminologies in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean from the Third to the First Millennia BC, Ancient Textiles 8. Oxford – Oakville, 210-271.

Postgate, J. N.
in press    Wool, Hair and Textiles in Assyria. In C. Breniquet & C. Michel (eds) Wool Economy in the Ancient Near East and the Aegean: From the Beginnings of Sheep Husbandry to Institutional Textile Industry, Ancient Textiles 17, Oxford – Oakville.

Thomason, A. K.
2013     Her Share of the Profits: Women, Agency, and Textile Production at Kültepe/Kanesh in the Early Second Millennium BC. In M.-L. Nosch, H. Koefoed & E. Andersson Strand (eds.), Textile Production and Consumption in the Ancient Near East. Archaeology, Epigraphy, Iconography. 93-112. Ancient Textiles Series 12, Oxford – Oakville.

Veenhof, K.R.
1972     Aspects of Old Assyrian Trade and its Terminology. Studia et  Documenta 10. Leiden.
1977     Some social effects of the Old Assyrian Trade. Iraq 39, 109-118.
2011     Houses in the ancient city of Assur, in B. S. Düring, A. Wossink & P. M. M. G. Akkermans, Correlates of Complexity. Essays in Archaeology and Assyriology Dedicated to Diederik J. W. Meijer in Honour of his 65th Birthday, PIHANS 116, 211-231.

Waetzoldt, H.
1972     Untersuchungen zur neusumerischen Textilindustrie. Roma.
2010     The Colours and Variety of Fabrics from Mesopotamia during the Ur III Period (2050BC). In C. Michel & M.-L. Nosch (eds), Textile Terminologies in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean from the Third to the First Millennia BC, 210-271. Ancient Textiles 8. Oxford – Oakville, 201-209.


* CNRS, ArScAn-HAROC, Maison Archéologie et Ethnologie, Nanterre. I would like to thank very much Richard Firth for his revision of my text.

[1] Michel 2013.
[2] Michel 2006b, 290-293; Michel in press.
[3] TC 2, 7:25-26 = Michel 2001, no. 108: “There is no Šurbu-wool available”. ‘Tablet Rendell’ = Michel to appear, no. 167, to Pūšu-kēn by his wife Lamassī: “As for the textile (made of wool) from Šurbu about which you wrote me (…) I will send up to you by a later (caravan) the textile (made of wool) from Šurbu for you to wear”. For good quality textiles made of this type of wool, see TC 2, 14:6. The location of Šurbu is discussed by Dercksen 2004, 16, note 32; Michel & Veenhof 2010, 221.
[4] Michel in press.
[5] Charpin & Durand 1997, 377 and 387-391, No. 4 (A 2459):rev.3’-6’, ù bu-qú-um Su-hi-im, an-na-nu-um li-ib-ba-qí-im-ma, ù lú-meš Aš-šu-ru-úki li-il-li-ku-nim-ma, an-na-nu-um-ma síg li-il-qú-ú.
[6]Another letter mentions the Assyrians complaining about the Suhûm people who prevented access for their traders, sheep, and wool, see Charpin & Durand 1997, No. 5 (A 4535-bis).
[7] BIN 4, 9 = Michel to appear, no. 163; Garelli 1965, 158, No. 25 = Michel to appear no. 147; BIN 6, 7 = Michel to appear.
[8] BIN 4, 9 = Michel to appear, no. 163.
[9] Prag I 554:9-10 mentions a shipment of silver to Aššur that includes “3 minas of wool for Waqqurtum”. Michel & Veenhof 2010, 216; Lassen 2010. There were important wool markets southeast of Kaneš, Michel 2006b; Dercksen 2004, 273-274; Lassen 2010, 167-170; Lassen in press.
[10] See Michel in press. “One comb” 1 mu-uš-ṭum , CCT 3, 31 = Michel to appear, no. 221:29.
[11] Waetzoldt 1972, T. 32, rev. i6-14, and Waetzoldt 2010, 207.
[12] Veenhof 1972, Michel 2006b, Michel to appear, chapters 3 and 4.
[13] TC 3, 17 = Michel to appear no. 162.
[14] BIN 6, 11 = Michel to appear, no. 165.
[15] BIN 4, 10 = Michel to appear, no. 164.
[16] BIN 4, 9 = Michel to appear, no. 163.
[17] Rendell = Michel to appear, no. 167.
[18] CCT 3, 20 Michel to appear no. 166.
[19] BIN 6, 11 = Michel to appear, no. 165. See also: texts 163 (Lamassī): “Urani is bringing you 8 textiles. Those to which I am adding ½ mina (of wool) each, I will send you with Ia-šar”.
[20] CCT 6, 11a = Michel to appear, no. 168.
[21] CCT 4, 8a = Michel to appear, no. 227 from Abaya to her brother-in-law Innaya.
[22] BIN 4, 10 = Michel to appear, no. 164.
[23]BIN 4, 85 = Michel to appear, no. 222.
[24] However, Dercksen 2004, 16 suggested that centralized and institutional production did exist. For the Middle Assyrian sources, see Postgate in press. It is attested also during the Old Babylonian period at Mari.
[25] Günbattı 1987, 197, and TPAK 1, 143; see Dercksen 2004, 14-15.
[26] Veenhof 1977, 114, note 18
[27] AKT 5, 9 = Michel to appear, no. 133
[28] BIN 6, 11 = Michel to appear, no. 165.
[29] CCT 3, 23b = Michel to appear no. 207.
[30] Veenhof 1972, p. 103-123; Michel 1998, p. 101-102; Michel 2006b; Michel to appear.
[31] CCT 3, 20 = Michel to appear no. 166.
[32] BIN 4, 88 = Michel to appear 172. See also text no. 221 for various textiles sent to women in Anatolia.
[33] Veenhof 1972; Michel 2001 (chapter 7); Michel 2006b; Thomason 2013.
[34] TC 1 5 = Michel to appear.
[35] RA 59 159 = Michel to appear. See also CCT 4, 21b = Michel to appear no. 169 to Pūšu-kēn and Aššur-malik from Lamassī: “Concerning the heavy textile that I sent you with the caravan of Aššuriš-takil, son of Sukkallia, it has arrived, (but) Pūšu-kēn (said) as follows: ‘He did not give (it) to me!’ There, make him acknowledge it and send me silver or the (equivalent of the) merchandise that is (waiting) for years!”
[36] BIN 6, 11 = Michel to appear, no 165. See also TC 3, 17 = Michel to appear, no.162 from Puzur-Aššur to Waqqurtum: “1 mina of silver – its import tax added, its transport fee paid – Aššur-idī brings you under my seal.” Then, it mentions the receipt of textiles.
[37] CCT 6, 11a = Michel to appear, no. 168.
[38] CCT 4, 13b = Michel to appear, no. 218 : Ab-šalim received successively 5 shekels by Ištar-palil, 5 shekels by Ataya and 3 shekels of silver by Nūr-kī-ilī. KTS 1, 2a = Michel to appear, no. Text 201: the same lady received 10 shekels more. See also BIN 4, 88 = Michel to appear, no. 172 written by a woman: “Ennam-Aššur br[ought me] ½ mina 5 shekels of silver. Puzur-Ištar brought me 5 shekels of silver (and) 3 shekels of gol[d]. Ṭāb-ṣilli-Aššur brought me 5 shekels of silver (and) 5 minas of copper.”
[39] See for example CCT 6, 27b = Michel to appear, no. 174, in which Lamassī and her daughter Ahaha receive 13 shekels of siliver, Šūbultum, 1 ½ shekels, Tarīš-mātum and Bēlātum, 1 ½ shekels and Lamassātum, 1 ½ shekels; or KTS 1, 50a = Michel to appear, no. 224 where Ab-šalim and Ahaha receive some silver as well.
[40] CCT 3, 24 = Michel to appear, no. 128.
[41] Or 50, no. 2 = Michel to appear, no. 170.
[42] LB 1201 = Michel to appear, no. 171.
[43] Albayrak 2002, p. 1-10 = Michel to appear, no. 14.
[44] CCT 6, 11a = Michel to appear, no. 168.
[45] TC 3, 17 = Michel to appear, no. 162. Confirmed by AKT 2, 52 = Michel to appear, no. 173, letter to to Mannum-kī-Aššur: thus (says) Šīmat-Sîn: “I gave one fine kutānum-textile to Šū-Enlil asa tadmiqtum-interest-free loan. He promised me ½ mina of silver.
[46] Grayson 1987, A.0.39.1:59-72, i-nu-ma é dEn-líl, be-lí-ia, e-pu-šu, ki-lam a-li-ia A-šur4ki, a-na 1 gín kù-babbar, 2 gur še, a-na 1 gín kù-babbar, 15 ma-na síg, a-na 1 gín kù-babbar, 2 bán ì, i-na ki-lam a-li-ia, A-šur4ki, lu-ú iš-ša-am.
[47] Michel in press.
[48] Rendell = Michel to appear, no. 167, cited above.
[49] BIN 4, 9 = Michel to appear, no. 163; Veenhof 1972, 89.
[50] According to an Ur III tablet, when the raw wool was very durty, the losses in cleaning could go up to 50%, see Waetzoldt Waetzoldt 1972, T. 32, rev. i6-14.
[51]LB 1201 = Michel 2001, no. 363 = Michel to appear no. 171.
[52] Veenhof 1972, 89-90. For the variation of the quantity of wool per textile, see the following texts: TC 3, 17 = Michel to appear, no. 162, “Add per piece one mina more of wool than you used for the previous textile you sent me, but they must remain thin!”; LB 1201 = Michel to appear, no. 163, “Those to which I am adding ½ mina (of wool) each, I will send you with Ia-šar. Those that Urani is bringing you, (were made) earlier, before you wrote to me.”; BIN 4, 10 = Michel to appear, no. 164, “Process half a mina (of wool) more in each of your textiles.”
[53] This research is in progress. It is carried out within the framework of the Projet International de Cooperation Scientifique (PICS) CNRS – DNRF Textiles from Orient to the Mediterranean from the Third to the First millennia BC (2012-2014), coordinated by C. Michel (France) and M.-L. Nosch (Danemark). A more detailed study will be presented in the forthcoming workshop Traditional Textile Craft – an Intangible Cultural Heritage (Jordan, March 2014).
[54] Andersson 2012, 34.
[55] Waetzoldt 1972, T. 32:iii4-rev i14, and Waetzoldt 2010, 205.
[56] Andersson Strand 2012, 35.
[57]As a matter of comparison, Firth & Nosch 2012 have made an estimate for the production of an Ur III túgguz-za fabric, measuring 3.5 × 3.5 metres and weighing 2 kg,  with the data of the text Waetzoldt 1972, T. 32, rev. i6-14: it amounted to 130 days including cleaning and combing. If we scale up to the size of a kutānum-textile, supposing a textile of a similar density, then this would become 192 days. For a different interpretation of the same Ur III text, see Andersson Strand & Cybulska 2013.
[58] According to Breniquet 2008, it was more a seasonal activity.
[59] See for example the two lettres to Innaya from Abaya, BIN 4, 10 = Michel to appear, no. 164, “Ilī-bāni is bringing him 1 namašuhhum-textile from Ahaha for the servant, and later, I will send him 1 nibrārum-textile.” CCT 4, 8a = Michel to appear, no. 227, “. Abatananum is bringing you 3 kutānum-textiles. Šumī-abia is bringing you 1 heavy textile.”
[60] Text numbers are those of Michel to appear.
[61] Veenhof 2011, 226.
[62] Postgate in press.

šu-í “Barber” and šu-í-munus “Female Barber” in the Early Dynastic Lagash Texts*

1.     Preliminary[1]

About 23 names of barbers, both male (šu-i2) and female (šu-i2-munus), occur in the Lagash E2-MI2 corpus of the Early Dynastic period,[2] from Enentarzi year 2 through Lugalanda to the end of Urukagina lugal-year 6.[3] The organization called E2-MI2 was in charge of the three wives of the Lagash rulers around the middle of the 24th century B.C.E. Nearly 1,800 clay tablets, which were unearthed at Girsu, record various different kinds of economic activities undertaken by this organization for about 20 years.[4]

Naturally the professional work of these barbers involved grooming—cutting, shaving, trimming, and coiffuring—of hair. The word for one of their tools, šu-i-gir2 “barber’s knife/razor,” is found in a lexical text from Abu Salabikh (OIP 99 33 vi 11′). Pictorial representations from around the mid-third millennium B.C.E. often depict elite men and especially women wearing elaborate hairstyles, and also men with clean-shaven heads and faces (Collon 1995:507).

What makes the ED Lagash texts remarkable is the occurrence of šu-i2-munus “female barbers.”[5] This contrasts with Ur III times (including the Garšana and Iri-Sagrig documents), in which no female barbers have been identified to date.[6] This paper collects references to male and female barbers in the ED Lagash E2-MI2 corpus, examines their status and functions, and argues that they can be placed in three groups under the E2-MI2 administration. One group consists of landed male barbers who belonged to high socio-economic strata. The other two groups are landless male and female barbers, one group working for the E2-MI2, and the other for the royal children’s households.

2.     Barbers in the Fara Texts

Before going into the Lagash material, it will be helpful to look briefly at barbers (šu-i) in the earlier Fara administrative texts.[7] A quick survey shows that female barbers do seem to occur there, and that the Fara šu-i had some administrative tasks as well as barbering proper, as we will see shortly.

2.1. Munusgeshtin the Barber

Munusgeshtin—the name is most likely female—is identified as a barber in WF 22[8] rev. i 8–9: munus-geštin šu-i; and in TSŠ 558[9] ii 1–3: munus-geštin šu-i sa12-du5 “Munusgeshtin, the barber of/under the chief administrator.”[10]

2.2. Administrative Roles of šu-i in Fara Texts

TSŠ 881[11] is a text concerning the allocation of barley and different types of goods, in which a barber named Lubarasi acted as deputy (x 5′–7′: lu2-bara2-si/ šu-i/ maškim), along with various officials. They seem to have been “responsible for the personnel involved in journeys to and from Šuruppak” (Pomponio and Visicato 1994:186).

It should be noted en passant that, in later texts from Ur (ED IIIb) and Nippur (Akkad period), barbers also acted as deputies (maškim): UET 2, Supp 35 3–4: lugal-dingir-mu šu-i2/ maškim-bi (from Ur); BIN 8 154 (= Edzard SR 91) iii 7–9: lugal-UN-e/ šu-i2/ maškim-bi (from Nippur); TMH 5 159 (= Edzard SR 99) iv 4–6: ur-e2-mah/ šu-i2/ maškim-bi and vi 7–9: šudx(KA׊U)-gal2-la/ šu-i2/ maškim-bi (from Nippur). The last text is a Sammentafel with 17 cases of river ordeals: a deputy/commissioner (maškim) was assigned to each case: in the sixth and the tenth cases, two barbers acted in this role.[12]

3.     References to Barbers in Lagash E2-MI2 texts

 3.1. Formulaic Expression

As has already been mentioned, male and female barbers occur in the ED Lagash texts regularly from the times of E2 through Lugalanda to UL6. In general, the male barber is identified as PN šu-i2[13] andthe female barber as PN šu-i2-munus.[14] However, female barbers are sometimes identified simply as šu-i2, without the gender-specifying sign MUNUS “womam/ female.”[15] In one case, the female barber Ninigigateshmu, which there is written as Ninigigateshbi,[16] is presented bearing no profession name and is simply labeled munus-me along with another woman: DP 119 rev. i 9-ii 3: 0.0.4 ga2-ka-nam-he2-ti/ e2-gal-la/ i3-ti/ 0.0.3 nin-igi-ga2-teš2-bi/ [U2-U2] agrig-da/ e-da-ti/ munus-me “24 sila for Gakanamheti, she lives in the palace; 18 sila for Ninigigateshbi, she lives with agrig-official [U2-U2]; they are women.”[17]

When a male and female pair of barbers is concerned, they are often described as NUM PN/ nita-am6/ NUM PN/ munus-am6/ šu-i2-me.[18] However, sometimes the plural marking -me is not specified, as in DP 115 Rev. i 1–5: 0.1.0 dingir-al-sa6/ nita-am6/ 0.0.3 geme2-du6/ munus-am6/ šu-i2. In some cases, the gender of neither barber is specified, as in DP 231 rev. vi 5′–7′: 0.1.0 dar-da/ 0.1.0 nin-al-sa6/ šu-i2-me “36 sila for Darda, 36 sila for Ninalsa; they are barbers.” This kind of abbreviated writing makes it difficult for us to determine the number and sex of the ED Lagash barbers.

3.2. List of ED Lagash Barbers

The following is a list of 23 names of barbers (by gender, in alphabetical order), attested in about 80 texts, which are mainly various types of ration distribution accounts, but also include records of field-allotment, lease-holding, and obligatory work assignments as part of the duty of the land-holders, as well as other documents dealing with miscellaneous administrative tasks.

Male Barbers

Igi-zi/ Igi-zi-bar-ra

Female Barbers

dInanna-menx-zi-pa4-pa4/ dInanna-menx
Nin-igi-ga2-teš2-bi/ Nin-igi-ga2-teš2-mu

4.     ED Lagash Barbers: Status, Functions, and Structure

4.1. Barbers of Higher Socio-Economical Status

At least seven male barbers, attested in documents dating from E2 to UL6.11b, form a distinctive group. They belonged to higher socio-economical strata, were allocated prebend land (classified as GAN2 šuku), and/or held leased land (classified as GAN2 apin-la2). They often received 72 sila of rations—the largest quantity in the standard ration system of the ED Lagash,[19] and carried out certain administrative functions. We will now briefly examine each of them in turn.

4.1.1. Lugaltemen

Lugaltemen was certainly one of the prominent barbers in the ED Lagash corpus. He is first mentioned in BIN 8 347 (E2), which is the record of barley-emmer rations (še-ba ziz2-ba) distributed to “the palace/E2-MI2 personnel and the core military and labor force” (lu2-igi-nigin2 šub-lugal-ke4-ne) (Maekawa 1973-74:110) for the occasion of the festival of the goddess Baba.[20] There, he was given 36 sila of barley and 36 sila of emmer: 72 sila in total. He is also found in DP 127,[21] recording “barley-emmer rations of the festival of Baba” (še-ba ziz2-ba ezem dba-ba6-ka) dispensed to the elite members of society, starting with the ereš-dingir-priestess of the goddess Baba (possibly the queen herself),[22] Geme’ubkuga (the queen’s mother),[23] and several sisters of the governor (nin ensi2-ka-me). Lugaltemen was listed among these dignitaries, again receiving 36 sila of barley and 36 sila of emmer-flour, or 72 sila in total.

Three documents, VS 25 61 (E3), VS 27 12 (L1), and VS 25 40 (L3), testify that Lugaltemen held parcels of apin-la2 (leased) land. Specifically, more than two and a half iku of taxable newly cultivated land (GAN2 su3-la-maš)[24] was measured out (gid2) for him (VS 25 61 iii 2–3); he paid two goats as tax on the field leased from the governor (VS 27 12 i 1–2)[25]; and also received three iku of ki-uzug5-field from Lugalanda’s land (šuku lugal-an-da) (VS 25 40 i 1–3).[26]

A certain Lugaltemen had a kind of living or working arrangement with some of the barbers of the households of Urukagina’s children for more than two years during the reign of Urukagina (UL2.?b–4.7b): NP1+n lugal-temen-da e-da-ti/se12 (the verb ti is used for the singular subject and se12 for the plural subject).[27] Although this Lugaltemen is not labeled by his profession, it is not unreasonable to identify him with the barber Lugaltemen, especially because those who were assigned to live/work with him were all barbers (see below 4.3.2 for details of living/working arrangements).

4.1.2. Ninmumadaag

A document (DP 199) dating from L4 reports that Ninmumadaag carried out an administrative task: he brought with him (e-da-DU) from the animal fattener (kurušda) two sheep that were meant to be Baranamtara’s offering at the festival of Ninmar.[28] The name Ninmumadaag could be understood to be a woman’s name.[29] Rosengarten (1960:244) translated nin-mu-da-ag2/ šu-i2 as “la coiffeuse N” (DP 199 ii 3-rev. i 1). However, we can deduce that Ninmumadaag was actually a male barber from DP 111, in which this person, first listed with 72 sila (iii 1–2), was counted in the sum section (šu-nigin2) as the only person (1 lu2) who received 72 sila of barley (rev. ii 4). On the other hand, the 17 women (DP 111 iii 5-rev. ii 1) and one woman from Umma (rev. ii 2–3) are counted as 18 female servants, each receiving only 18 sila (rev. ii 7: 20 la2 2 geme2 0.0.3).[30] Hence, the Ninmumadaag in question is most likely a man, although the term lu2 does not always refer to a male, as can be discerned from DP 176, in which a group of women, PNf1–PNf15, are counted as lu2; for the groups of women in DP 111 and DP 176, see 4.2.1 below.

4.1.3. Lugalmatum

RTC 60 (L3) records that three people brought with them various goods as “the offerings of the ruler to the kianag,[31] in the festival of Baba, for Enentarzi.”[32] Lugalmatum was listed as the first of these three people.[33]

4.1.4. Igizi(-bara)

Igizi is the best-attested barber of those discussed in this paper. On one occasion, in DP 624(L3), his name was listed in a longer form, Igizibara.[34] This document, dealing with the work of canal maintenance that was one of šuku-field holders’ duties (Maeda 1984), assigned to him the maintenance work of the length of 4 gi (= ca. 12 m).[35] That he was from higher socio-economical strata is made apparent further by his occurrence in VS 14 173 (L4), DP 226 (L4), and DP 132 (L5), which are documents classified as lu2 igi-nigin2 lu2 ga-ku3 munu4-ku3 ba-me.[36] In this—perhaps a ceremonial gift exchange (Selz 1995:73) or a transfer (Magid 2001:314, n. 6)—pure milk and malt was given from one person to another, and the majority of both givers and receivers seemed to belong to higher social strata.[37] Igizi the barber was listed as eighth among the givers. About the same time, in L5 (BIN 8 353 ii 7–8) and in L6 (VS 25 41 v 3–4), he carried out a crop-related task, another duty of šuku-holders, on behalf of the governor.

From UL3.12b to UL4.10b, Igizi the barber was listed as receiving the “barley rations of the personnel of the princes” (ša-ba lu2-di4-di4-la-ne), and repeatedly received 72 sila.[38] In UL4, he provided 620 sila of barley (DP 563 ii 2–3: 5.0.0 igi-zi/ šu-i2) for the purchase of low quality wool (še siki mug-a sa10-a-am6).

His status as a šuku-holder is again clearly shown by several texts dated to UL6. According to DP 584, a parcel of šuku-field was measured out (gid2) for him (rev. i 3–4: ½(iku) GAN2 igi-zi/ šu-i2).[39] In addition to this, the four texts recording the sixth, ninth, tenth,and eleventh “barley rations of šuku-holders” (še-ba lu2-šuku-dab5-ba) listed him as repeatedly receiving 72 sila.[40]

Although the classification is not preserved, Erm 14349 (rev. ii 5–6: 0.2.0 igi-zi/ šu-i2) and Erm 14346 (rev. ii 8–9: [0.2.0 igi]-zi/ [šu]-i2) may well pertain to the text group of še-ba lu2-šuku-dab5-ba.

4.1.5. Sheshkura

VS 14 72 (L4), whose classification reads GAN2 šuku še mu2-a gid2-da lu2 didli “barley planted šuku-field—measured—of various people” records that a large parcel of land was measured out for Sheshkura (rev. i 1–2: 1(eše3) 3(iku) šeš-kur-ra/ šu-i2).[41] He is found in DP 465 (L6) carrying out a certain administrative task, probably overseeing the transportation of ten beams that Eniggal, the chief administrator (of the E2-MI2), had taken out from the Mesandu-storehouse.[42]

4.1.6. Ursag

Erm 14371 reports that Ursag along with other officials played the role of deputy (maškim) in a business transaction involving barley (transfer of barley?): ii 4–6: 0.1.0(?) ur-sag/ šu-i2/ maškim-bi “36(?) sila (of barley)—Ursag the barber (is) its deputy.”

4.1.7. Enudana

DP 591 records that “Shubur the smith received a parcel of crop planted šuku-field[43] measuring 3½ iku, (previously) held by Enudana the barber” (ii 9–iii 3: 3(iku) ½(iku) GAN2/ GAN2 en-ud-da-na/ šu-i2-kam/ šubur/ simug/ e-dab5).

4.2. Barbers Working for the E2-MI2

4.2.1. Ninuma and Ninalmah

DP 176 (wool rations: siki-ba tur-mah-ba ar3-du2 u2-rum dim3-tur) and DP 110 and DP 111 (both barley rations: še-ba geme2-dumu) contain the lists of 15, 16, and 17 women, respectively.[44] The membership of the groups, over about two years, increases by two but otherwise stays the same. In DP 176 and DP 110, Ninuma is the last name on the list and the profession name šu-i2 “barber” follows immediately afterward, while in DP 111, Ninuma was joined by Ninalmah and their names were followed by šu-i2-me “barbers”:

PNf1–PNf14/ nin-u3-ma/ šu-i2 (DP 176; E3)
PNf1–PNf15/nin-u3-ma/ šu-i2 (DP 110; E3.12b)
PNf1–PNf15/nin-u3-ma/ nin-al-mah/ šu-i2-me (DP 111; E4.6b)

Now, it seems rather inconceivable that all of these women were barbers. Even in Urukagina’s reign, when the E2-MI2 organization has increased its size (Maekawa 1973–74:101), the attested number of male and female barbers is around ten (see below for more details). Therefore, DP 176, DP 110, and DP 111 should have included all female workers with various specializations including barbers. This is also implied by the rubric of DP 176, indicating the women were part of the bigger group labeled “servants/personnel, property of Dimtur.”[45] It is reasonable to think that, in DP 176 and DP 110, šu-i2 refers to Ninuma and, in DP 111, šu-i2-me refers to Ninuma and the newly employed Ninalmah. In this way, the use of the plural marking -me can be explained.

4.2.2. Darda and Ninalsa; Darda and Dingiralsa

A pair of a male and a female barber, Darda and Ninalsa, occurs in DP 231 rev. vi 5′–7′: 0.1.0 dar-da/ 0.1.0 nin-al-sa6/ šu-i2-me “36 sila (of barley) for Darda; 36 sila (of barley) for Ninalsa; (they are) barbers.” The text clearly indicates that they received the ninth ration, while the šuku-field holders (lu2-šuku-dab5-ba-me) received the first ration.[46] So, in contrast to the aforementioned high-ranking barbers, these two were not šuku-holders: in other words, they were landless. As for the date of this text (which is not preserved), Maekawa (1973–74:108) proposes the first half of Lugalanda’s reign, while CDLI, with reservations, proposes L1.

In DCS 8, dated to Lugalanda-nuhunga 1 (= L1), Darda and, rather than Ninalsa, Dingiralsa occur as barbers, both receiving a ration of 12 sila of emmer (rev. iv 9–11) at the festival of Baba, which was the last or penultimate month of a year (Cohen 1993:38).[47] This Dingiralsa is to be identified with the Dingiralsa who repeatedly appears as a barber in the service of the E2-MI2 after L6 (see 4.2.3 below). If we assume that Dingiralsa worked continuously, it would place Ninalsa ahead of him in time, and would thus mean that DP 231 precedes DCS 8.[48]

4.2.3. Dingiralsa and Inannamen(-zipapa)/ Meme/ Gemedu

From L6.9b to UL6.12b, there was a pair of male and female barbers who received 36 (or 48) sila and 24 (or 18, and once 36) sila of barley rations, respectively. The pair was usually registered on the “palace tablet” (ša3-dub-e2-gal) on the ration distribution accounts classified as še-ba igi-nu-du8 (il2) ša3-dub-didli (once, še-ba ša3-dub-e2-gal ša3-dub-didli: P387452 in CDLI).[49] The formula that expresses the entry is:

NUM PNm/ nita-am6/ NUM PNf/ munus-am6/ šu-i2-me

PNm is always Dingiralsa, while PNf changes from Inannamen(-zipapa)[50] (L6.9b–UL2.8b)[51] to Meme (UL3.6b–4.6b)[52] to Gemedu (UL5.3b–6.12b).[53] A document dating from UL3.10b (HSS 3 17) informs us that in addition to the amounts of rations given to Dingiralsa and Meme, some kind of living/working arrangement was made for them with U2-U2.[54]

4.3. Barbers Working for Royal Children’s Households

Barbers are included in the personnel of the households of royal children and their rations are recorded in the lists classified as še-ba lu2/geme2-dumu (lu2) di4-di4-la-ne.[55]

4.3.1 Barber of Munussaga: Lugalmutu

Lugalmutu was the barber belonging to the household of Munussaga, one of Lugalanda’s children. He received 24 sila of barley at the ninth(DP 157 rev. ii 9–10), the tenth(VS 25 37 rev. i 10–11), and the eleventh(VS 25 14 rev. i 7–8) expenditures, all dated to L6.

For the ninth and the tenth rations of L6 and for the seventh ration of UL4, both the ration lists of the personnel of the royal children’s households (še-ba geme2-dumu/lu2 di4-di4-la-ne) and those of the other workers (še-ba igi-nu-du8 il2 ša3-dub-didli) are preserved, thus clearly showing that there were two separate groups of barbers.

4.3.2. Barbers of Gemebaba, Gemetarsirsir, and Aenramugi/Aenekiag

Seven barbers in total are attested to the three households of Urukagina’s children, Gemebaba, Gemetarsirsir, and Aenramugi/Aenekiag,[56] from early UL2 to UL5.7b. There were three to five barbers working at a given time. Barbers of Gemebaba: Lugalenlile, Babadingirmu, and Ninsaggatuku

Lugalenlile repeatedly received 36 sila, which was the second largest ration out of the seven barbers, the largest being that of Igizi (see below). Judging from this quantity of rations (minimum but livable) and also from the lack of a record of a living/working arrangement with anyone else, Lugalenlile seems to have been independent. On the other hand, Babadingirmu received 18 (on one occasion 24 sila) and had a kind of living/working arrangement, at one point, with Lugaltemen,[57] and, the rest of the time, with U2-U2.[58] As I mentioned above, this Lugaltemen and the Lugaltemen the barber whom we have already discussed were most likely the same person; U2-U2 was once identified as an agrig-official. Sometime after UL3.9b and before UL4.10b, Babadingirmu was replaced by Ninsaggatuku, who was likewise given 18 (on one occasion 24) sila.[59] No living/working arrangement is reported for the latter, nor for the other barbers after UL4.10b. Barbers of Gemetarsirsir: Sagmuabtuku, Agilsa, and Igizi

Sagmuabtuku received 24 (on one occasion 30) sila throughout his career. His one-time female partner was Agilsa, who received the same amount of rations (24 sila), and at one point, both of them had a kind of living/working arrangement with Lugaltemen.[60] Sagmuabtuku kept this relationship with Lugaltemen for more than two years[61] (DP 116 [UL4.7b] being the last attestation of this) and continued working as a barber for another year until UL5.7b (Nik 1 20 vii 4–5). After Agilsa’s disappearance, Igizi entered into the service toward the end of UL3. This Igizi, who repeatedly received 72 sila of barley rations, should be identified with Igizi, the high-ranking and šuku-holding barber (see above 4.1.4). Barber of Aenramugi/Aenekiag: Ninigigateshbi/mu

This barber’s name is written either as nin-igi-ga2-teš2-bi or nin-igi-ga2-teš2-mu (see n. 16). She was the only barber of the household of Aenramugi/Aenekiag, received 18 or 24 sila, and presumably had a kind of living/working arrangement with Lugaltemen at one point[62] and, the rest of the time, with U2-U2[63] as the other female barbers did.[64]

5. Concluding Remarks

Although the ED Lagash E2-MI2 corpus does not reveal what the professional duties of the barbers were, we can draw a rough picture of how they might have been organized. At any given time, more than one high-ranking barbers would be at the top of the organization: they were among the elite of Lagash society, received parcels of šuku-field or of apin-la2 field, and in return fulfilled their obligations as land-holders and carried out miscellaneous administrative tasks. Under these, a pair of barbers, nomally a male and a female, was kept on the palace register, and worked for the E2-MI2. This pairing is attested until the end of UL6. Also under the E2-MI2’sadministration, male and female barbers worked among the personnel of the royal children’s households. The last attestation of these barbers is UL5.7b, somewhat earlier than that of the E2-MI2 barbers.


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–, 1999. The “Temples” and the “Temple Personnel” of Ur III Girsu-Lagash. In K. Watanabe, ed., Priests and Officials in the Ancient Near East. Papers of the Second Colloquium on the Ancient Near East—The City and its Life, Held at the Middle Eastern Culture Center in Japan (Mitaka, Tokyo). Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag C. Winter, pp. 59–102.

Magid, G., 2001. Micromanagement in the e2-mi2/dBa-u2: Notes on the Organization of Labor at Early Dynastic Lagash. T. Abush et al, eds., Historiography in the Cuneiform World: Proceedings of the XLVe Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Part 1. Bethesda, Maryland: CDL Press, pp. 313-328.

Molina, M., 2008. New Ur III Court Records Concerning Slavery. In P. Michalowski, ed., On the Third Dynasty of Ur: Studies in Honor of Marcel Sigrist. JCS Supplemental Series Vol. 1. Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research, pp. 125–143.

Pomponio, F., 1983. “Archives” and the Prosopography of Fara. ASJ 5:127-145.

–, 1987. La prosopografia dei testi presargonici di Fara. Rome: Università degli Studi La Sapienza.

Pomponio, F. and G. Visicato, 1994. Early Dynastic Administrative Tablets of Šuruppak. Naples: Instituto Universitario Orientale di Napoli.

Prentice, R., 2010. The Exchange of Goods and Services in Pre-Sargonic Lagash. AOAT 368.

Rosengarten, Y., 1960. Le concept sumérien de consommation dans la vie économique et religieuse: etude linguistique et sociale d’après les textes présargonique de Lagaš. Paris: E. de Boccard.

Selz, G., 1989. Altsumerische Verwaltungstexte aus Lagaš, Teil 1: Die altsumerischen Wirtschaftsurkunden der Ermitage zu Leningrad. FAOS 15/1.

–, 1993a. Altsumerische Verwaltungstexte aus Lagaš, Teil 2: Altsumerische Wirtschaftsurkunden aus amerikanischen Sammlungen, 1. Abschnitt. FAOS 15/2-1.

–, 1993b. Altsumerische Verwaltungstexte aus Lagaš, Teil 2: Altsumerische Wirtschaftsurkunden aus amerikanischen Sammlungen, 2. Abschnitt. FAOS 15/2–2.

–, 1995. Untersuchungen zur Götterwelt des altsumerischen Stadtstaates. Occasional Publications of the Samuel Noah Kramer Fund, 13. Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Museum.

–, 2011. Reconstructing the Old Sumerian Administrative Archives of the É-MÍ – É-dBa-ba6– Institution. In G. Barjamovic et al, eds., Akkade Is King. A Collection of Papers by Friends and Colleagues Presented to Aage Westenholz on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday. Leiden: NINO, pp. 273–286.

Visicato, G., 2011. The Careers of Some Bureaucrats in ED IIIB and Sargonic Girsu. In G. Barjamovic et al, eds., Akkad is King: A Collection of Papers by Friends and Colleagues Presented to Aage Westenholz on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday 15th of May 2009. PIHANS 118, pp. 301-313.

Waetzoldt, H., 1987. Compensation of Craft Workers and Officials in the Ur III Period. In M. A. Powell, ed., Labor in the Ancient Near East. New Haven, Connecticut: American Oriental Society, pp. 117–41.

Yamamoto, S., 1980. “The “Agricultural Year” in the Pre-Sargonic Girsu-Lagash (II),” ASJ 2:169–195.

–, 1981. The lú-KUR6-dab5-ba People in Pre-Sargonic in the é-mí-e2dBa-Ú in Pre-Sargonic Lagash. ASJ 3:93–110.

* I thank Lluis Feliu, Frederick W. Knobloch, and Manuel Molina for their helpful discussion and comments. Gebhard J. Selz kindly provided me with his manuscripts of AWAB 71, 78, and 175.

[1] Abbreviations used: nb = the nth ration; En = Enentarzi year n; ED = Early Dynastic; Ln = Lugalanda year n; NUM = Number; ProfN = Profession Name; UE = Urukagina ensi-year; ULn = Urukagina lugal-year n; E, L, UL are placed in italic (E, L, and UL) when they are inferred.

[2] The texts write the word šu-i2 with the sign I2, which is the sign I turned some 45° clockwise. Cf. šu-i in Fara (e.g., TSŠ 1 v 17; TSŠ 558 ii 2; WF 5 ii 2 and others) and Abu Salabikh (OIP 99 60 iii 10; OIP 99 61 vii 5; OIP 99 74 vi 6; and OIP 99 33 vi 11′). Texts from ED Nippur either have šu-i (TMH 5 2 i 4; TMH 5 67 ii 10; TMH 5 123 2; and TMH 5 136 i 2) or šu-i2 (TMN 5 159 iv 5 and vi 8). Ur III texts mostly use šu-i, with sporadic use of šu-i2: for an example of the Ur III i2, see Molina 2008:130, No. 3, rev. 7 (here the sign I2 is the sign I turned almost 90° clockwise).

[3] Excluded from our discussion are two “barbers” listed among the witnesses in a sale document of a house sold by a woman (Hallo 1973:238, ll. 51-53: Ilugal-igi-tab/ Ie-da-hul/ šu-i2-me) from a slightly earlier period. The sign read by Hallo with an exclamation mark as šu-i(!)-me is the sign I2 according to the current method of transcription. The date of the composition was expressed as “at that time… Dudu was sanga-priest” (ll. 65 and 68: ud-ba… dudu sanga) and can be safely placed during the reign of Enmetena, as CDLI does; RIME1.9.5.27 reads “his (= Enmetena’s) servant Dudu, the temple administrator of the god Ningirsu” (iii 1-3: ir11-ra-ni/ du-du/ sanga dnin-gir2-su2-ka-ke4). See Maekawa 1973-74:137-38, with n. 82, for Dudu and the placing of his tenure as the sanga of Ningirsu just before Enentarzi.

[4] For the most recent update of the text information, see Voxvog 2011:59, n. 2.

[5] In the ED Lagash texts, in addition to the typical women’s jobs related to the textile industry, we find women working as gate-keepers (i3-du8), wailers/cantors (gala), rope makers and braiders (tug2-du8), and in other roles. I will address questions about these women in our September workshop.

[6] M. Molina, personal communication; for barbers of Iri-Sagrig, see Kleinerman 2013.

[7] For its date, see Krebernik 1998:257-259 and Krebernik 2002:5.

[8] Classified as “Registers of equids” in Pomponio and Visicato 1994:4 (18).

[9] Dealing with two strings of apples; classified as “Registers of fruit” in Pomponio and Visicato 1994:3 (6).

[10] The structure “PN ProfN1 ProfN2” can be considered a variation of the type PN1 ProfN PN2, meaning “PN1, the ProfN of PN2,” discussed by Pomponio (1986:64), since the office of sa12-du5 is a “very high office,” which “must have been held by a single person for the period to which the available Fara documentation refers and it would render the addition of his personal name superfluous” (Pomponio and Visicato 1994:208).

[11] Classified as “Registers of various goods” in Pomponio and Visicato 1994:3 (15).

[12] Other people who played the role of maškim were either cupbearers (sagi) (in the first, fourth, and ninth cases), or bore no profession name.

[13] E.g., BIN 8 347 rev. iii 13-14: NUM lugal-temen/ šu-i2.

[14] E.g., Nik 1 22 iv 1–2: NUM dba-ba6-dingir-mu/ šu-i2-munus-am6; HSS 3 25 rev. i 10–11: NUM nin-igi-ga2-teš2-mu/ šu-i2-munus-am6.

[15] E.g., TSA 18 iii 14–15: NUM dba-ba6-dingir-mu/ šu-i2-am6; BIN 8 359 rev. i 10–11: NUM nin-igi-ga2-teš2-mu/ šu-i2-am6; compare them with the examples of n. 14.

[16] Ninigigateshmu (five times); Ninigigateshbi (four times).

[17] Gakanamheti is a female servant (ar3-du2-munus) who lived in the palace together with other people, according to DP 116, rev. iii 2–5: (PN…) ga2-ka-nam-he2-ti/ ar3-du2-munus-am6 e2-gal-la/ i3-se12.

[18] E.g., Nik 1 9 vii 4–8: 0.1.0 dingir-al-sa6/ nita-am6/ 0.0.4 dinanna-menx-zi-pa4-pa4/ munus-am6/ šu-i2-me “36 sila for Dingiralsa, male; 24 sila for Inannamenzipapa, female; they are barbers.”

[19] Rations were issued to individuals; rations for children were recorded along with those of their mothers; for an overview of the ration system in the Ur III period, see Waetzoldt 1987.

[20] Cf. Selz, FAOS 15/2, p. 545: “Gerstzuteilungen (und) Emmerzuteilungen für die Leute (von) ‘Ansehen,’ (und zwar)? die Untergebenen des Königs.”

[21] This text is dated to Lugalandanuhunga (= Lugalanda) but no year number is given. According to Selz 1995:24, lugal-an-da is a short form for lugal-an-da-nu-hun-ga “der König, der sich für An nicht beruhigt.” For more discussion, see Selz FAOS 15/1, p. 544.

[22] Maekawa 1996:179.

[23] VS 27 81 i 3-4: geme2-ub5-ku3-ga/ ama munus.

[24] AWAB 71: “abgabepflichtiges Newbruchfeld”; also see Selz, FAOS 15/1, p. 192.

[25] AWAB 78.

[26] AWAB 71.

[27] Maekawa (1973-74:122, n. 74) translates ti as “work” or “work under the direction of someone (-da-)”; see also Magid 2001.

[28] For the festival of Ninmarki, see Cohen 1993:60 and Selz 1995:258-59, with n. 1243.

[29] According to Foxvog 2011:61-2, nin “lady, sister” is one of the gender-specific name incipits, and is borne by 189 females, 4 males, and 7 unknown people in the ED Lagash corpus of 121 names beginning with nin-. Gelb (1975:72) also observed that a great majority of the names composed with the element nin- are feminine.

[30] According to Ellison 1981:39–40, a monthly diet of 18 sila (= 0.6 sila = 0.50 liters daily) or even 24 (= 0.8 sila = 0.66 liters daily) is not an adequate energy intake for a person, male or female; for more discussion on small ration amounts, see my REFEMA 3 paper.

[31] ki-a-nag “mortuary chapel” (Jagersma 2007:296); the feast in honor of the dead (Brunke 2011:177).

[32] RTC 60 rev. i 5-ii 2: nig2-giš-tag ensi2-ka/ ki-a-nag!-še3/ ezem dba-ba6-ka/ en-en3-tar-zi-ra. Actually, the noun phrase nig2-giš-tag ensi2-ka “the offerings of the ruler” is the object of the predicate mu-na-DU (rev. ii 3).

[33] RTC 60 ii 4–iii 2: lugal-ma-tum2 šu-i2 e-da-DU “Lugalmatum the barber brought with him” (sheep, bread, roasted grain, dairy products, fruits, and beer).

[34] Inannamen(-zipapa) (see 4.3.2 below) is another example of name-shortening (Foxvog 2011:64).

[35] Regarding the šuku-field holders, Maekawa 1973-74:88 says, “[p]laying a central role in collective labor or war, the lu2-kur6-dab5-ba formed the backbone of the city.”

[36] “‘Leute von Ansehen,’ Leute, die (kultisch) reine Milch (und) reines Malz schenken, sind sie” (Selz 1995:74); “the malted-milk offering” dubbed in his class but “not too seriously” (Gelb 1975:72).

[37] Gelb (1975:72-3) schematically described this as offerings “by about 50 men to the wives of 50 other men.” However, neither the givers nor the receivers were exclusively of the same sex. The former included some of the female palace personnel (ar3-tu2-munus-me) such as Altush (um-me), Geme’edam (um-me-da), Gemeshu (nu-gig), and others, headed by Emete. For a recent discussion on um-me, um-me-da, and nu-gig, see Civil 2011:281–84.

[38] HSS 3 27 vi 11–12, Nik 1 16 vi 4–5, DP 116 vii 12–13, DP 117 vii 4–5, and DP 118 vii 11–12; as the date of DP 118, which is not preserved, CDLI suggests UL5(?).

[39] Cf. MLVS 8 rev. iii 7-8.

[40] 0.2.0 igi-zi/ šu-i2 in DP 121 rev. ii 10–11, BIN 8 354 rev. ii 5–6, HSS 3 13 rev. ii 7–8, and HSS 3 12 rev. ii 8–9.

[41] For še mu2-a, gid2, and other šuku-field-related terminology, see Yamamoto 1980.

[42] DP 465 i 1–ii 4: 10 giš-ur3 za3-gu2-la2/ en-ig-gal/ nu-banda3/ ganun dmes-an-du-ta/ e-ta-gar/ šeš-kur-ra/ šu-i2/ ba-DU.

[43] DP 591 iii 4-5: šu-nigin2…GAN2 šuku še mu2-a/ GAN2 šuku-am6.

[44] DP 176, DP 110, and DP 111 have been discussed by Maekawa (1973–74:101–109) in conjunction to the development of the E2-MI2.

[45] Maekawa (1973–74) discusses some of the women (Me-nigar-ta, Nin-al-sa6, Nin-e-an-su, Ama-bi-a-ra2-nu2, Šeš-e-a-na-ak, Nin-šer7-zi, and dBa-ba6-na-nam) on p. 102, n. 30; p. 107, n. 41; and pp. 128–29, with n. 70.

[46] The lu2-šuku-dab5-ba “were given barley for four or five successive months from the eighth or ninth month up to the end of the year” while others were given barley once a month throughout the year” (Maekawa 1987:51); however, during UL6, they were issued barley rations every month of the year (Prentice 2010:20 and 78 with n. 338).

[47] Its bookkeeping rubric reads ziz2-ba surx (ERIM)-ra ezem dba-ba6-ka; for the reading surx (ERIM), see Balke 2013:9 (sub Vs. I i).

[48] The name Ninalsa, which occurs in the lists of the female personnel in DP 176, DP 110, and DP 111, however, is not to be identified with Ninalsa the barber (following Maekawa 1973–74:102, n. 30). On the other hand, the Darda who is listed among eight men (bearing no profession name), receiving 36 sila in DP 110 iv 4 and DP 111 ii 3 might be the same individual as Darda the barber.

[49] Cf., še-ba geme2-dumu igi-nu-du8 il2 ša3-dub-didli dating from UL6.11b (HSS 3 24 iii 11–12) and UL6.12b (TSA 13 iii 15–16), where Dingiralsa occurs alone by himself on the miscellaneous register (ša3-dub-didli-am6).

[50] The name Inannamenzipapa is shortened to Inannamen (UL1–).

[51] VS 25 71 viii 6–10, VS 25 11 viii 2–6, RA 71 102 viii 12–rev. i 2, MVN 3 2 viii 11–rev. i 4, Nik 1 9 vii 4–8, HSS 3 15 vi 14–18, HSS 3 16 vii 1–5, DCS 4 vii 1–5, FAOS 15/2 123 vi 4–8, P387452 viii 2–6, and DP 113 ix 8–12. The pair also received wool rations in DP 171 (rev. v 9–12), a document classified as siki-ba lu2 u2-[rum] dba-ba6.

[52] CT 50 36 rev. i 4–10, HSS 3 17 viii 17–rev. i 6, FAOS 15/2 120 ix 2–6, TSA 14 viii 17–ix 2, and FAOS 15/1 2 ix 1–5.

[53] DP 114 ix 10–14, DP 115 rev. i 1–5, TSA 17 ix 9–13, FAOS 15/2 122 rev. i 2–6, TSA 16 viii 13–17, and HSS 3 18 vii 13–viii 3.

[54] HSS 3 17 viii 17–rev. i 6: 0.1.2 dingir-al-sa6/ nita-am6/ 0.0.4 me-me/ munus-am6/ šu-i2-me/ U2-U2/ e-da-se12.

[55] See Maekawa 1973-73:131–134, especially, n. 74, for the development of this type of ration list.

[56] Aenramugi apparently changed his name at some point to Aenekiag; so Beld 2002:17, but, in p. 78, he regards them as two different persons. In contrast to these three,  Shuburbaba, another child of Urukagina’s, has no barber listed among his personnel.

[57] Nik 1 22 iv 1–4: 0.0.3 dba-ba6-dingir-mu/ šu-i2-munus-am6/ lugal-temen-da/ e-da-ti.

[58] 0.0.3 dba-ba6-dingir-mu/ šu-i2-(munus)-am6/ U2-U2/ e-da-ti (BIN 8 359 iii 15–iv 3, HSS 3 25 iii 15–iv 2, TSA 18 iii 14–17 (0.0.4), HSS 3 26 iii 12–15, and FAOS 15/2 124 iii 12–15; for the name U2-U2, see Balke 2013:10 (sub Rs. I 9, II 2) and Foxvog 2011:61.

[59] DP 117 iv 6–7, CT 50 35 xx–iv 1′, DP 118 iv 12–13, and FAOS 15/1 20 iv 6–8.

[60] Nik 1 22 v 14–vi 6: [sag-mu-ab-tuku]/ nita-am6/ a-gil-sa/ munus-am6/ šu-i2-me/ lugal-temen-da/ e-da-se12.

[61] 0.0.4 sag-mu-ab-tuku/ šu-i2-(am6)/ lugal-temen-da/ e-da-ti in DP 119, BIN 8 359 v 13–vi 1, HSS 3 25, TSA 18, HSS 3 26, FAOS 15/2 124, Nik 1 16, and DP 116.

[62] Nik 1 22 rev. ii 1–4: [0.0.3 nin-igi-ga2-teš2-bi/ šu-i2-munus]-am6/ lugal-temen-da/ e-da-ti.

[63] DP 119 rev. i 9–ii 3: 0.0.4 ga2-ka-nam-he2-ti/ e2-gal-la/ i3-ti/ 0.0.3 nin-igi-ga2-teš2-bi/ [U2-U2] agrig-da/ e-da-ti/ munus-me (UL2.4b) (see above 3.1), NUM nin-igi-ga2-teš2-bi/mu/ šu-i2-munus-am6/ U2-U2/ e-da-ti in TSA 18 rev. iii 16–iv 3 (UL3) and DP 116 rev. iii 11-14 (UL4.7b).

[64] According to Magid (2001:325), when texts talk about, for example, a barber living with another barber, a servant living with another servant, or a miller living with another miller, we are dealing with overseer-subordinate pairings. This might be the case with Lugaltemen and the four barbers: we have seen that Lugaltemen himself was a barber. However, we face a problem with U2-U2 because he is not described anywhere as a barber, but is at one point identified as an agrig-official, provided that the restoration by CDLI is correct. Accordingly, the nature of their arrangement may not have been professional. I wonder whether Lugalanda and U2-U2 were somehow responsible for feeding or compensating for the nutritional shortage of the people who received a less than sufficient ration. This idea, however, is undermined by the fact that Dingiralsa, whose ration (48 sila) was enough to live on, also had an arrangement with U2-U2 (HSS 3 17 viii 17-rev. i 6). So, we are back to the starting point. In any case, this ti/se12 arrangement for the barbers seems to have come to an end sometime during the two months of UL4.7b–10b.

Because She is a Daughter of Emar

Because She is a Daughter of Emar

Masamichi Yamada

(REFEMA 2nd Workshop: Jun 24-25, 2013, Tokyo)


Among the Emar texts, RE 61, a marriage contract of the Syrian type, is noteworthy for two unique expressions concerning women. The first is kīma mārāt Emarki, “according to (the custom for) the daughters of Emar” (l. 11), which shows that there was customary law for female citizens in Emar and that it regulated their marriages. The second is kīma mārat ( šīt, “because she is a daughter of Emar” (ll. 17f., 21f.). An analysis of the text reveals that this clause is parallel to the almattu-azibtu formula attested in the texts of the Syro-Hittite type: its intention is to protect the legal status of free women who are in a socio-economically inferior position. In short, both forbid treating these women as slaves.

 I. Introduction

In several Late Bronze Age Akkadian texts from the great bend area of the Middle Euphrates, we find the phrase kīma āli, literally, “as the city.” This is a technical phrase meaning, “according to the indigenous, customary law of the city.” In the texts from Emar of the thirteenth and the early twelfth centuries B.C., this phrase is attested in a total of eleven texts, six of the Syrian type and five of the Syro-Hittite type. The phrase kīma āli is found also in a text from Ekalte of the fourteenth century B.C., and a variant, uruEkal[t]eki, “according to (the custom of) Ekalte,” is found in another text.

Kīma āli is probably an abbreviated form of kīma paraṣ āli, “according to the custom of the city,” as suggested by an Alalaḫ text from the fifteenth century B.C., AT 17. According to this text, a certain Šaduwe, a man of (the city of) Luba, asked for the daughter of Apra as his daughter-in-law. At that time Šaduwe brought a gift to Apra, kīma paraṣ uruḪalabki, “according to the custom of Aleppo.” We are not sure why there is a reference to Aleppo in a text from Alalaḫ, but perhaps Alalaḫ followed the customs of Aleppo, or perhaps Abra was a citizen of Aleppo living in Alalaḫ

Among the occurrences of kīma āli in the Emar and Ekalte texts, one occurs in a debt contract from Emar, ASJ 13-T 34. The text states that when Šamaš-abu borrows 20 shekels of silver from Ya’ṣi-belu, the interest will be added “according to (the custom of) the city,” without specifying the rate, most probably because the custom of the city was very clear about the rate. All the other cases are found in texts relating to inheritance, in which the sons divide their father’s estate among themselves “according to (the custom of) the city.” In my opinion, this means that the eldest son receives a larger portion than his brothers, probably a double portion. Although the phrase kīma āli is not attested elsewhere, there is no doubt that the customary law of Emar covered also other areas in the social life of the Emarites, such as marriage, as we saw in the above case of Alalaḫ.

Concerning marriages in Emar, at the previous REFEMA workshop, I took up the almattu-azibtu formula, which says that a certain woman “is a widow with widows, (and) a divorcée with divorcées.” I concluded as follows: “(This) formula is concerned with married, free women who are in a socio-economically inferior position. It prescribes directly that they are to be treated like other normal widows and divorcées when they become widows or divorcées. However, its intention is more general, to insure they are treated as free women, not as slaves. In short, it says, they cannot be enslaved.”

The almattu-azibtu formula is attested only in texts of the Syro-Hittite type. But how did the Syrian-type texts intend that those women should be treated? This is the problem I will discuss below, using the Emar text RE 61, a marriage contract.


II. Text: RE 61

In the handout, I provide the transliteration and translation of the main part of the document, omitting the list of witnesses. When reading this text, it should be noted that ll. 16f. are problematic. In view of his handcopy, parts of G. Beckman’s readings of ⸢e?-ru-ub in l. 16 and of u-ta!-ar-ši in l. 17 are difficult to accept, and they do not seem to make good sense in the context. Neither do J.-M. Durand’s recent proposals seem very satisfactory to me. Instead, I suggest reading a-na UGU-[ḫi-ši] 16 lík-ru-ub ú-ul ú⸣-[na]- 17 :ga-ar-ši, “he ought to bless [her] (and shall) not b[la]me her.”

As for the first verb likrub (karābu G prec., I admit that CVC signs are used only occasionally in the Syrian-type texts, and that the phonetic value lík for the ŠID sign, i.e., lak, is late and rare. However, when CVC signs are used, we sometimes find alteration of the central vowel, for example, tàm for tim in Emar VI 185, and ṣár for ṣur in Emar VI 138.

My reading of the second verb as unaggar (nagāru D pres. is more hypothetical. But in the support of this, I would note the following points. Firstly, we would hardly expect any word between the negation ul and the verb in l. 17. Secondly, the third person prefix of the D stem /u-/, is usually not written with u, but with ú. Thirdly, although a Glossenkeil usually consists of double oblique wedges, we find it as a single oblique wedge or Winkelhaken in Emar VI 156 and RE 20, though with an indent, unlike here.

Although the above proposals for the readings are admittedly tentative, it seems likely to me that these lines prescribe that the husband be kind to his wife. In other words, a tyrant was never regarded as the ideal husband, even in the male-centered society of Emar.


III. Discussion

The text RE 61 records two marriages, in which brides are exchanged between two families. Dagan-milki gives her daughter Aḫlamitu to Aḫi-ḫamiṣ as his wife, and in turn, Aḫi-ḫamiṣ gives his daughter Na’mi-šada to Dagan-milki as the future wife of her son Yaḫanni-ili. It is interesting to note that the phrase kīma mārāt Emarki, “according to (the custom for) the daughters of Emar,” is used in l. 11 in reference to the latter marriage, though it probably refers to both marriages in actuality. In any case, this phrase, a variant of kīma āli, indicates that in Emar there was customary law for female as well as male citizens, and that it regulated their marriages.

Although both Aḫlamitu and Na’mi-šada are called “daughters of Emar,” in this text there is found no reference to the “bridewealth” (terḫatu), usually paid by the groom’s side to the bride’s side in marriages between citizens. This is probably because the payment by one side was simply balanced by that of the other. So, it seems reasonable to think that the two families were more or less at the same economic level.

Of the two marriages, that of Na’mi-šada with Yaḫanni-ili is assumed to be in the future. At present, she is given into the hands of his mother Dagan-milki as (her) “daughter-in-law and daughter.” The pair of abstract nouns used here, kallūtu u mārtūtu, indicates that it was a matrimonial adoption. Probably either Yaḫanni-ili or Na’mi-šada or both were still too young for marriage at the time. In my opinion, the text states that when both become mature, if Yaḫanni-ili marries Na’mi-šada, he shall be gentle with her. Then one may ask, if he does not marry her? There is no doubt that Dagan-milki will marry her to someone else, as is usual in matrimonial adoptions. The omission of this stipulation here is probably because their parents thought their marriage was virtually certain.

As observed above, both Aḫlamitu and Na’mi-šada were female citizens of Emar. But if they were normal citizens, one may wonder why it was necessary to designate each one as a “daughter of Emar.” In this respect, it is worth noting that the families of daughters given in matrimonial adoptions were usually in an economically poor position, as it is well attested in the Nuzi texts, our main source of matrimonial adoption contracts. This seems to be true for the Emar texts, too, particularly when we compare Emar VI 216 and 217 as we did at the first workshop. If this is correct, then the family of Na’mi-šada was in a low economic position in society, and since the two families were on about the same economic level, the family of Aḫlamitu was probably in a low economic position as well.

This point may be further supported by the very PN of Aḫlamītu, which means “a female Aḫlamaean.” The Aḫlamaeans are well known as nomads or pastoralists who had a close connection with the Aramaeans, whether or not they were identical with them. So, it is obvious that “Aḫlamitu” is an inappropriate name for a normal, female citizen of Emar. However, her deceased father was undoubtedly an Emarite citizen, since she is designated as a “daughter of Emar.” Is she an adopted Aḫlamaean girl, or was her father from an Aḫlamaean family which had been living in Emar for long time? In any case, it does not seem strange that the family of Aḫlamitu was in a low socio-economic position in Emar.

Now, let us consider the meaning of the clause kīma mārat ( šīt, “because she is a daughter of Emar,” in ll. 17f. and 21f., in light of this understanding concerning the two families. In both cases, it can be understood that the clause is used to protect the legal status of a free woman in a low socio-economic position, when her husband marries or divorces her. The latter case is particularly noteworthy: if Aḫi-ḫamiṣ should divorce Aḫlamitu, he will divorce her, no doubt using due process according to (the custom for) the daughters of Emar. In other words, he has to treat her as other normal divorcées. This immediately reminds us of the meaning of the almattu-azibtu formula in the Syro-Hittite-type texts. If the meaning is the same, is not the intention also? The answer must be positive. In my opinion, the phrase means that she is to be treated as a free woman, not as a slave. This point is supported by a matrimonial adoption contract from Nuzi, AASOR XVI 42.

In this text, Ḫanate, a female slave of (the lady) Tulpun-naya, takes Ḫalb-abuša as her “daughter and daughter-in-law,” so that Ḫanate may marry Ḫalb-abuša to whomever she wishes. However, this contract adds the stipulations as cited in the handout, saying, positively, that Ḫanate will treat Ḫalb-abuša as a female citizen of Arrapḫa, and negatively, that she will not make her a slave. That is, even though Ḫalb-abuša is put under control of the slave Ḫanate, she cannot be enslaved, because she is “a daughter of (the land of) Arrapḫa.” That there was a clear distinction between a female citizen and a slave is evident here.


IV. Conclusion

On the basis of the above considerations, we may conclude that both the clause kīma mārat ( šīt and the parallel almattu-azibtu formula are meant to protect the legal status of free women who are in a low socio-economic position. In short, both forbid treating these women as slaves. Thus, although different expressions are used in texts of the Syrian type and of the Syro-Hittite type, the idea that such women should be protected was a general one in Emarite society.




I. Introduction

1. kīma āli, “according to (the custom of) the city”

a) Syrian type: Emar VI 184: 11’; ASJ 13-T 23: 23; 34: 3; RE 8: 38; 28: 33; 30: 22

Ekalte II 92 (= RE 69): 21; cf. also 25: 6 ( uruEkal[t]eki)

b) Syro-Hittite type: Emar VI 112: 10; 177: 27’; 201: 50; 203: 4’; TS 46: 9[1]

cf. ki-ma pa-ra-aṣ URU.Ḫa-la-ab.KI, “according to the custom of Aleppo” (AT 17: 5)

2. almattu-azibtu formula (Syro-Hittite type)

Protection of the legal status of free women in a socio-economically inferior position (vs. slaves)

→ Then, what about those women in the Syrian-type texts?


II. Text: RE 61 (Syrian type)

1 fdda-gan-mi-il-ki DUMU⸣.MÍ dKUR-ta-ri-iḫ ŠEŠ.ḪÁ ši-bu-titu-še-ši-iba-nu-um-mafa-ḫa(sic)-la-mi-t[a] DUMU.MÍ-ši a-naa-ḫi-ḫa-mi-iṣ DUMU EN-lu-ka a-na DAM-⸢ut-ti⸣ [Ø] ta-an-din a-nu-um-ma <m>a-ḫi-ḫa-mi-iṣ DUMU EN-lu-ka DUMU.MÍ-šu fna-aḫ-mi-KUR a-na dda-gan-mi-il-ki DUMU.MÍ dda-gan-ta-ri-iḫ 10 a-na É.GI.A u DUMU.MÍ-ti 11 ki-ma DUMU.MÍ.MEŠ e-mar.KI 12 id-di-in-ši šum-ma 13 mia-ḫa-ni-DINGIR DUMU ri-x x […][2] 14 fna-aḫ-mi-⸢KUR⸣ DUMU.MÍ [a-ḫi-ḫa-mi-iṣ] 15 i-ḫu-uz a-na UGU-[ḫi-ši] 16 lík-ru-ub ú-ul ú⸣-[na]- 17 :ga-ar-ši[3] ki-ma DUMU.MÍ [Ø] 18 URU.KI.e-mar.KI ši-it šum-m[a] 19 ma-ḫi-ḫa-mi-iṣ DUMU EN-l[u-ka] 20 faḫ-la-mi-ta DAM->šú<-š[u] 21 iz-zi-ib-ši ki-ma DUMU.MÍ e-mar.KI 22 ši-it iz-zi-ib-ši

Dagan-milki, daughter of Dagan-tari’, caused (her) ‘brothers’ to be seated as witnesses. Now she has given her daughter Aḫlamit[u] to Aḫi-ḫamiṣ, son of Belu-ka, as (his) wife. Now Aḫi-ḫamiṣ, son of Belu-ka, has given his daughter Na’mi-šada to Dagan-milki, daughter of Dagan-tari’, as (her) daughter-in-law and daughter according to (the custom for) the daughters of Emar. If Yaḫanni-ili, son of Ri…[…], marries Na’mi-šada, daughter of [Aḫi-ḫamiṣ], he ought to bless [her][4] (and shall) not b[la]me her, because she is a daughter of Emar. If Aḫi-ḫamiṣ, son of Bel[u-ka], should divorce hi[s] wife Aḫlamitu, he will divorce her (using due process), because she is a daughter of Emar.

Notes on ll. 16f.:

・⸢lík-ru-ub — ŠID (= lak) for lík: late (NA, NB, LB) and rare; but cf. ša-ni-tàm(DIM/tim)-ma (Emar VI 185: 22’); ṣár(ZUR/ṣur)-pí (e.g., Emar VI 138: 10)

・⸢ú⸣-[na]-:ga-ar — (1) ul X (not erasure) vb.?; (2) u- as a prefix of the D-stem (cf. ú-)?; (3) a single oblique wedge or Winkelhaken for a Glossenkeil with an indent (Emar VI 156: 8; RE 20: 5a, 19a)


III. Discussion

1. kīma mārāt Emarki (l. 11): customary law for the female citizens of Emar

2. The marriages

a) Two Emarite women are exchanged

・Aḫlamitu and Na’mi-šada: “daughter of Emar” (ll. 17f., 21f.)

cf. bridewealth (terḫatu)

b) Na’mi-šada: in the kallūtu u mārtūtu of Dagan-milki = matrimonial adoption

・If Yaḫanni-ili marries her → to be gentle with her

・(If he does not marry her → Dagan-milki will marry her to someone else!)

3. The two families

a) Emphasis on the “daughter of Emar” → Why?

b) Remarks

・Na’mi-šada: given in matrimonial adoption (cf., e.g., Emar VI 216-217)

・Aḫlamitu: Aḫlamītu, (lit.) “a female Aḫlamaean”

∴ Both families were in a low socio-economic position

4. kīma mārat ( šīt

esp. if Aḫi-ḫamiṣ should divorce Aḫlamitu (by due process)

cf. 1 almattu-azibtu formula

cf. 2 AASOR XVI 42 (Nuzi):      matrimonial adoption of Ḫalb-abuša by Ḫanate, a female slave of (the lady) Tulpun-naya

20 ù fḫa-na-te fḫal-bá-bu-ša 21 ša ki-i mārat [a]r-ra-áp-ḫe i-p[u]-ša-aš-ši 22 a-na amtiti la ú-ta-ar-ši

Ḫanate will tr[e]at Ḫalb-abuša as a daughter of (the land of) [A]rrapḫa. She shall not turn her into a slave.


IV. Conclusion

The intention of kīma mārat ( (Syrian type):

parallel to that of the almattu-azibtu formula (Syro-Hittite type)



Arnaud, D. 1985-86: Recherches au pays d’Aštata. Emar VI/1-3, Paris (= Emar VI).

— 1991: Textes syriens de l’âge du Bronze récent (AuOrS 1), Sabadell (= TS).

Beckman, G. 1996: Texts from the Vicinity of Emar in the Collection of Jonathan Rosen (HANE/M II), Padova (= RE).

Ben-Barak, Z. 2006: Inheritance by Daughters in Israel and the Ancient Near East: A Social, Legal and Ideological Revolution, Jaffa.

Durand, J.-M. 2013: “Quelques textes sur le statut de la femme à Émar d’après des collations nouvelles,” Semitica 55, 25-60.

Grosz, K. 1987: “On Some Aspects of the Adoption of Women at Nuzi,” in: D. I. Owen & M. A. Morrison (eds.), General Studies and Excavations at Nuzi 9/1 (SCCNH 2), Winona Lake, Ind., 131-152.

Justel, J. J. 2008: “L’adoption matrimoniale à Emar (Syrie, XIIIe s. av. J.-C.),” RHD 86, 1-19.

Mayer, W. 2001: Tall Munbāqa – Ekalte II. Die Texte (WVDOG 102), Saarbrücken (= Ekalte II).

Pfeiffer, R. H., and E. A. Speiser 1936: One Hundred New Selected Nuzi Texts (AASOR XVI), New Haven (= AASOR XVI).

Sigrist, M. 1993: “Seven Emar Tablets,” in: A. F. Rainey (ed.), kinattūtu ša dārâti (= Gs. Kutscher), Tel Aviv, 165-187, Pls. II-VIII (= GsK-T).

Tsukimoto, A. 1991: “Akkadian Tablets in the Hirayama Collection (II),” ASJ 13, 275-333 (= ASJ 13-T).

Werner, P. 2004: Tall Munbāqa – Ekalte III. Die Glyptik (WVDOG 108), Saarbrücken.

Wiseman, D. J. 1953: The Alalakh Tablets, London (= AT).

Yamada, M. 1997: “Kīma āli: On the Customary Law of Emar,” Bulletin of the Society for Near Eastern Studies in Japan (= BSNESJ) 40/2, pp. 18-33 (in Japanese with English summary; see

— 2013: “The Chronology of the Emar Texts Reassessed,” Orient. Reports of the Society for Near Eastern Studies in Japan 48, 125-156.

— forthcoming: “Widows and Divorcées as Free Women in Emar: A Study of the almattu-azibtu Formula,” BSNESJ 56/2 (in Japanese with English summary).

        [1]   Not Emar VI 29: 9; GsK-T 2: 7 (ki-i-ma URU-lè-e is to be read as ki-i ma-ṣi-me-e, “as many as”).

        [2]   Probably the deceased husband of Dagan-milki (Beckman). Durand suggests reading: dumu hu-ta⸣-⸢ri.⸣

        [3]   Cf. Beckman: a-na ugu-[ḫi-ši] 16 e?-ru-ub ú-ul x [   ] 17 u-ta!-ar-ši …, (If Yaḫanni-ilī takes Na’mī-šada as his wife) “and goes in to [her], he will not […] (Rather), he will return her according to (the custom for) a daughter of the city of Emar”; also Durand: a-na muh-[hi-ši] 16 e-ru-ub ú-ul {X X} 17 u-ga-ar-ši …, (Si, Yahannel ayant épousé Na’mi-šada) “entre la retrouver, il ne la traitera plus en étrangère: elle est/sera assimilée à une citoyenne d’Émâr.”

        [4]   Otherwise, “to invoke blessings upon [her]” or “to pay homage to [her].”

On amīltūtu in Emar

On amīltūtu in Emar

Masamichi Yamada

(REFEMA 3rd Workshop: Sep. 3-4, 2013, Carqueiranne)


The recently published Emar text, Subartu 17-T, is significant for its attestation of the term amīltūtu, the female counterpart of amīlūtu. An analysis of the amīlūtu contracts, a kind of debt contract, shows that this term indicates a debtor owing silver who himself enters into the household of the creditor as possessory (antichretic) pledge; at the same time another security (hypothecary pledge) is set. Subartu 17-T, which deals with the renewal of an amīltūtu contract, confirms the features of amīlūtu contracts, but is a case in which a surety instead of a hypothecary pledge is set at the time of making that contract.


I. Introduction

In 1981 Prof. Daniel Arnaud described the Akkadian word amīlūtu attested in the Emar texts as a technical term meaning personal “antichretic pledge,” thus neither “mankind, status of (free) man” as is usual in Akkadian, nor “retainer, slave” as is well known in MB and NB, as well as rarely in Nuzi. However, I am of the opinion that its meaning is actually more restricted than just an antichretic pledge. It is interesting to note that its female counterpart amīltūtu is attested in a new Emar text published in Subartu 17, the Festschrift for Prof. Jean-Claude Margueron, the leading excavator of Emar (Meskene-Qadime). I will call this text Subartu 17-T below. Before analyzing the contents of this specific text, however, it is necessary to clarify who the people called amīlūtus in Emar were. So, let us start with making general remarks on the term amīlūtu, as well as on amīltūtu.

II. General Remarks

To my knowledge, the term amīlūtu is attested in ten Emar texts and probably can be restored also in another, ASJ 13-T 38. All of them are of the Syro-Hittite type. As shown in the handout, this term is always written using the unique logogram LÚ.Ú.LU with a phonetic complement; no use of the usual LÚ or LÚ.U18/19.LU for this term has been attested. As MEŠ is put between LÚ and Ú in the plural forms, LÚ seems to have been taken as the determinative. Subartu 17-T is also a text of the Syro-Hittite type, and the term amīltūtu is written using the logogram MÍ.Ú.LU, with MÍ instead of LÚ. The phonetic complement added to it, -tù-ut-ti, indicates that this term cannot be read as sinnišūtu, the abstract noun of sinništu.

Most of the above twelve texts fall into two groups. Firstly, three are amīlūtu contracts, which we will treat in the next section. Secondly, six are contracts of caring, in which an amīlūtu, usually in return for having all his debt remitted, accepts the obligation to take care of his creditor and a family member (mostly the wife) during their lives, to be released after their deaths. Of the other texts, Emar VI 279 is a ration list of barley in Temple M1, in which Abi-Šaggar, an amīlūtu of Awiru, receives 26 parīsus, and RE 39 is a testament of a certain Igmu-X, whose PN is partly broken. In my opinion, in this text, he gives a certain amount of silver, i.e., the right to the debt owed by three amīlūtus, to his wife. However, though Subartu 17-T concerns an amīltūtu contract, it cannot be exactly classified in the first group.

I would note here that, except for the amīlūtu in the ration list, all the amīlūtus are clearly stated to be debtors owing silver, who came under the control of their creditors as possessory pledges of the debts. Though the text does not specifically say so, the amīltūtu in Subartu 17-T seems to be no exception. The amounts of the debts are listed in the handout (§ II.4). Although the debts listed range from 25 to 140 shekels, it seems that around 40 shekels was the norm.

III. The amīlūtu Contracts

To clarify the essence of the amīlūtu in Emar, let us look at the three amīlūtu contracts. I would first take the well preserved RA 77-T 5. According to this text, Itur-Dagan, one of the creditors of Yašur-Dagan, paid off all his debts to other creditors and became his single creditor. As cited in the handout, he then took Yašur-Dagan as his amīlūtu. The fact that at this time Yašur-Dagan’s family and house are set as pledges, indicates that this is a kind of debt contract. The reason why he could avoid being taken as a debt slave as in Emar VI 215 must have been that the value of the pledges was estimated to be at least as much as the amount of his debt. Here, the following two points are noteworthy. Firstly, although the debt is stated to be 47 shekels of silver, there is no reference to the date of repayment or the rate of interest, which are essential elements in ordinary debt contracts. Secondly, actually, two kinds of pledges are set. Since Yašur-Dagan himself is no doubt a possessory pledge, as we shall see on ASJ 10-T A below, his family and house are to be understood as hypothecary pledges. In a contract which lacks concrete conditions for repayment, what does this exact setting of twofold pledges mean? One may well ask also, if the debtor himself is held by the creditor, how does he repay the debt? Keeping these questions in mind, let us look at the other amīlūtu contracts.

Similarly in Emar VI 77, Dagan-kabar became the single creditor of Muḫra-aḫi for 140 shekels of silver, and took him as his amīlūtu. As in the case of RA 77-T 5, no date of repayment and no rate of interest are given, and, besides the debtor himself, his house and son are set as hypothecary pledges. We learn some more about the conditions from ll. 4b-6. Firstly, this is a debt contract with indefinite term, as the text states simply, “on the day when he pays his silver.” Secondly, the “silver” in l. 5 which Muḫra-aḫi is to repay, apparently points to the above-mentioned “140 shekels,” i.e., the capital only.

These points are well confirmed in ASJ 10-T A. Accurately speaking, this document is the renewal of an amīlūtu contract. In the first contract, when Dudu borrowed 105 shekels and 40 grains of silver, he and his two sons entered into the household of the creditor Šei-Dagan as amīlūtus. Now, Dudu has paid 40 shekels and released himself, so he has to pay 65 shekels and 40 grains of silver some day in the future in order to release his sons. This clearly shows that the term is indefinite and that the debtor repays only the capital. No payment of interest is required, since in its stead the amīlūtus undertake to work (šiprī ṣabātu) in the household of the creditor, as ll. 18-20 indicate. Therefore, there is no doubt that these three were antichretic pledges.

As for the wife and daughters of the debtor Dudu mentioned in the defective sentence of ll. 10b-11, in view of RA 77-T 5 and Emar VI 77, it seems reasonable that they were hypothecary pledges in both the first and the second contracts. Although I would not exclude the possibility that they were possessory pledges, it seems less likely, since in that case no one could take care of Dudu’s house and field, though he may have been too poor to own property. Furthermore, it cannot be overlooked that there is no stipulation for the release of Dudu’s wife and daughters in this text.

If amīlūtus were antichretic pledges for paying interest, how did they repay their debts? If the basic means were sales of the surplus production of their fields, which their family members cultivated, it would not have been easy for them to repay, particularly when the debt was heavy. So I suspect that some, if not most, of the amīlūtus did not expect to repay the debt from the beginning. However, ASJ 10-T A provides us with a case in which an amīlūtu did succeed in repaying at least a part of his debt. This text seems to state that Dudu was allowed to work somewhere outside the creditor’s house for nine months and earned 40 shekels of silver. It is possible that the amīlūtu Abi-Šaggar, who was on the ration list of Temple M1 as referred to in Emar VI 279: 4, was on such a temporal work release, but such cases must have been rather exceptional. Because, if there was only one amīlūtu for a debt, it would be meaningless to hold him as a possessory pledge. In this respect, note that Dudu’s two sons remained in the creditor’s household.

To summarize the above analyses, we may recognize the following as features of an amīlūtu contract. It is a debt contract of silver of the Syro-Hittite type, in which the debtor himself enters into the household of the creditor as a possessory pledge. At the same time, another security, i.e., a hypothecary pledge, is set, always including a member of the debtor’s family. Although the above three contracts are all concerned with married men, it is not clear if this feature holds when the amīlūtu was a single man, as was the case in the caring contracts. To this point we will return later. In any case, in these three contracts, the debtor repays only the capital, but instead of paying interest, he is obliged to work for the creditor, probably like a slave of his household, until the debt is paid off. Finally, the term of the contract is indefinite.

If so, what was the merit of the amīlūtu contracts for the debtor? As the term itself indicates, each amīlūtu most probably kept his legal status as a free man, although his substantial position in the creditor’s household must have been more or less the same as a slave. In view of the indefinite term of the contract, however, it is difficult to find here any actual merit for the amīlūtu. On the other hand, we can easily point out the merit for the creditor, the presence of the second security attested as hypothecary pledges in the three amīlūtu contracts treated above. Unlike in a simple slave contract, the creditor was to be compensated for the loss when the amīlūtu died, fled, or became unable to work. The advantage to the protected creditor is obvious.

The above features indicate that amīlūtu does not mean an antichretic pledge in general, but a specific type. To clarify this point, for comparison let us look at other debt contracts of the Syro-Hittite type from Emar, which involve a personal pledge. Of the four such texts, TS 25 is a debt contract of barley — so may be fairly excluded — but the other three are those of silver. Although all of them can be regarded as contracts of indefinite term and with an antichretic pledge in lieu of interest, there is no reference to an amīlūtu. I think, this is because they lack the double securities involving the debtor that we find as in the amīlūtu contracts. To be sure, double securities appear in Emar VI 209, if my reading of the text is correct. But the līṭu, “hostage,” thus a possessory pledge, is a third person, not the debtor himself, and this man is responsible for the debtor’s surety. In TS 34, the debtor becomes a possessory pledge, replacing his family members held as such by the creditor. So, this is not the case of double securities. To be sure, in the second contract in the above ASJ 10-T A, the sons of Dudu are possessory pledges, while he himself is the debtor. However, it should be noted that his sons also were already recognized as amīlūtus in the first contract.

When compared with the well-known tidennūtu, the antichretic pledge in general in Nuzi, the restricted character of the amīlūtu as a personal, antichretic pledge is obvious. Even when we confine ourselves to personal tidennūtu contracts, the variety is astonishing. The objects of debt include silver and other metals, several kinds of livestock, barley and other agricultural products, and slaves. The tidennūtu assigned to the creditor can be the debtor himself, his son or other member of his family, or a slave in his household. As for the term of contract, we see both definite type, the terms for which range from the next harvest time to fifty years and to the lifetime of the tidennūtu, and indefinite type. If the above four comparative Emar texts were from Nuzi, there is no doubt that the pledges mentioned in them would be called tidennūtus.

On the basis of the above discussion, we may conclude that the amīlūtu in Emar is a specific type of antichretic pledge with the above-mentioned features, or conditions. Keeping this in mind, now let us turn to Subartu 17-T, in which the term amīltūtu is attested.

IV. amīltūtu in Subartu 17-T

When A. Cavigneaux and D. Beyer published Subartu 17-T, they read the term as munusú-lu-du-ut-ti for ulūduttu or ulluduttu, meaning “nubilité” rather than “grossesse.” However, it is obvious that their reading does not make sense here. S. Démare-Lafont and I pointed out that it must be taken as MÍ.Ú.LU-tù-ut-ti for amīltūtu, i.e., the female counterpart of amīlūtu. The main text is cited in the handout.

At first glance, one might take Matiya to be the debtor and Al-ummi to be the possessory, thus antichretic, pledge of his debt. However, this interpretation should be rejected in light of the above discussion on the amīlūtu. Rather, we have to regard Al-ummi as both the debtor and the possessory pledge. This is our starting point. Then, how can this text be rationally understood?

The creditor is Belu-malik. Although the amount of her debt is not specified, Al-ummi was taken as his amīltūtu. As observed above, an amīlūtu contract requires another security at the same time. As she was apparently a single woman in this case, this role was performed by a surety, ša qātātiši ilqû, literally “one who took her hands.” Here, the problem is the use of yānu, literally “there is/was not,” in l. 5. Since it seems that amīlūtu contracts required another security as we saw above, Al-ummi must have had a surety at the time she made her amīltūtu contract, but now he was gone because of his death, flight or some other reason.

When the terms of Al-ummi’s contract were not being completely fulfilled, the creditor Belu-malik took her into the presence of the men of authority. As shown in l. 21, Kapi-Dagan was a son of the well-known diviner Zu-Ba‘la. Although it is not certain that “the ‘great (men)’ of Emar” were the same as the city elders, they urged a certain Matiya to repay the debt of Al-ummi. Who was this Matiya? The use of the verb in the imperative tēr, “pay back!” in l. 10 seems to indicate that he was the debtor. However, if Al-ummi was an amīltūtu, it seems from the above discussion that the debt was hers. In this respect, Emar VI 205 is noteworthy.

If my reading of this text is correct, a certain Madi-Dagan borrowed 25 shekels of silver from Ibni-Dagan, another son of the above-mentioned Zu-Ba‘la, giving his two children to the creditor as possessory pledges. But thereafter he died without repaying the debt. Then Ibni-Dagan took the children left with him into the presence of the Hittite dignitary Mudri-Tešub and the city elders as well as the brothers of the debtor Madi-Dagan. The words of Ibni-Dagan to those brothers and the resultant situation are cited in the handout. The brothers are urged to “pay back” the debt of Madi-Dagan, although apparently they were not his co-debtors. This means that the verb turru can be used for other persons than the debtor himself, in this case his brothers, i.e., his closest relatives. Since they refused to pay the money and voluntarily agreed to assign the children to Ibni-Dagan as his slaves, it was legally established that “dead (or) alive, they are slaves of Ibni-[Dag]an.” Thus, Emar VI 205 provides us with a case in which the creditor gives relatives a chance to redeem personal pledges before their enslavement due to the default on a debt contract. After Madi-Dagan’s brothers formally abandoned their right of redemption, it is stipulated in ll. 17-23 that if they later want to redeem the children, they shall give two persons for each of them, i.e., pay double.

In my opinion, a similar situation is to be assumed in Subartu 17-T. Since the amīltūtu Al-ummi no longer had a surety, the men of authority urged Matiya, her closest relative, to pay back her debt and redeem her. But he refused and voluntarily, thus formally, agreed that she should become the slave of the creditor Belu-malik.

However, at this moment Lad-Dagan intervened in the affair by undertaking to be her new surety. He may have been a son of the above Kapi-Dagan, son of the diviner Zu-Ba‘la, although this cannot be proved. In any case, why would he do this? I think, because he was her private creditor. According to ll. 19f., Lad-Dagan once took care of her in the year of famine and war, no doubt out of good will, apparently without making a debt contract. One may say easily that his behavior was natural as a human, and all the more so if he was a man of sacred profession. He probably considered that he had spent 30 shekels on this charity, the amount of silver mentioned in l. 18. Probably, because Lad-Dagan’s expenditure was not legally recognized as a formal loan, he could not prevent her from becoming Belu-malik’s amīltūtu. But money is money, and 30 shekels is not small amount of silver. If Al-ummi were enslaved by Belu-malik, Lad-Dagan would lose any hope of recovering his ‘loan.’ This must be the reason why he stood surety for her so she could keep the amīltūtu contract. Although it is not written in the text, there is no doubt that in the future someone who wants to take her would have to pay the amount of her debt to the creditor Belu-malik. However, Lad-Dagan now adds one condition: such a person should also pay 30 shekels of silver to him. This extrapayment was probably made possible by the formal abandonment of the redemption right by Matiya.

On the basis of the above discussion, Subartu 17-T can reasonably be taken as the renewal of an amīltūtu contract with modification, issued for Lad-Dagan, the new surety. Also, the amīltūtu Al-ummi can well be understood as the female counterpart of an amīlūtu.


V. Final Remarks

Thus, Subartu 17-T confirms our understanding of the amīlūtu in Emar, providing a unique female case. Both the amīlūtu and the amīltūtu are to be regarded as at once debtors and possessory, thus antichretic, pledges. Furthermore, concerning the required additional security, Subartu 17-T provides us with a case of a surety, instead of the hypothecary pledges attested in the three amīlūtu contracts made by married men. This is reasonable, particularly since a single person cannot offer a wife or child as a hypothecary pledge. So, though above I stated that in amīlūtu contracts a hypothecary pledge had to be set, this text indicates that this condition (feature 3) should be modified to: at the same time, another security, either a hypothecary pledge or a surety, is set. Although it was probably as difficult to find a surety as it is today, the existence of one would enable a debtor without enough property for hypothecary pledge to make an amīlūtu contract, as in the case of Al-ummi.

Before closing this study, it may be worth considering the relationship of Al-ummi with her lost surety and Matiya, her closest living relative. The main point we have to consider is whether the woman Al-ummi was independent of or subordinate to a man in her family. In the former case, she would presumably be the single inheritress of her family estate. In Emar a daughter was frequently nominated as the inheritress when her father had no son, but such a woman could be seriously impoverished, as attested in Emar VI 213 and TS 74. If she was an impoverished inheritress, the first candidate for Matiya’s relationship would be her uncle or cousin, though we have no idea of who needed to stand surety for her.

On the other hand, if she was subordinate to a man in her family, it was likely to her father, her brother, or perhaps her husband. Let us take the father as the most likely candidate. If her father was still alive at the time of the first contract, he was most probably her surety. This would mean that he was the substantial debtor who had Al-ummi, his daughter, borrow silver as his substitute. Then the first candidate for Matiya would be her brother. Although this interpretation may be simple, the following problems remain to be answered. Firstly, why did Lad-Dagan, no doubt an outsider to her family, take care of Al-ummi alone? Note that Subartu 17-T does not refer to any other members of her family. Secondly, why did Belu-malik risk taking her as an amīltūtu? If he had lent silver to her father and taken her as possessory pledge, the result would have been the same for him. Then, does the fact that he did not take her father as amīlūtu indicate that for him female labor was more important than the male labor? Lastly and most basically, could a woman subordinate to her father, or other male member of her family, borrow money? To the best of my knowledge, no such case is clearly attested, at least in the Emar texts.

Although the arguments are admittedly indecisive, I would support the interpretation that she was independent, in view of the number of difficulties in the interpretation that she was not. In any case, in view of the above observations, one may reasonably conclude that amīltūtu contract(s), i.e., amīlūtu contracts involving women, must have been rare cases.



I. Introduction

amīlūtu in Emar: “antichretic pledge”[1] (Arnaud); cf. “retainer, slave” (MB, NB, also Nuzi)

amīltūtu: its female counterpart (Subartu 17-T)


II. General Remarks

 1. Tablet type: Syro-Hittite type only

2. Orthography

amīlūtu: <sg.> LÚ.Ú.LU-ti-ia (Emar VI 16: 2; 117: 3; TS 39: 3; 40: 2); LÚ.Ú.LU-tù (Emar VI 77: 2; 279: 4; QVO 5-T 2: 1); LÚ!.Ú.LU-ut-ti (RA 77-T 5: 4); broken (ASJ 13-T 38: 3);

<pl.> LÚ.MEŠ.Ú.LU-te-i[a] (RE 39: 13); LÚ.MEŠ.Ú.LU-ti4 (ASJ 10-T A: 2)

amīltūtu: <sg.> MÍ.Ú.LU-tù-ut-ti (Subartu 17-T: 3).

cf. LÚ.U18/19.LU = amīlu; freq. LÚ.MEŠ = amīlūtu (Borger, MesZL2, 357 [no. 514])

3. Document types

1) amīlūtu contracts: Emar VI 77, ASJ 10-T A, RA 77-T 5

2) Contracts of caring by an amīlūtu: Emar VI 16, 117; ASJ 13-T 38!; QVO 5-T 2; TS 39, 40

3) Others: Emar VI 279, RE 39, Subartu 17-T

4. Amount of debt (shekels of silver)

         Emar VI 16            41                                      QVO 5-T 2            40

         Emar VI 77            140                                    RA 77-T 5              47

         Emar VI 117          40                                      RE 39                     [?] (3 persons)!

         Emar VI 279          not stated                          Subartu 17-T         not stated

         ASJ 10-T A            105 2/9 (3 persons)           TS 39                     25

         ASJ 13-T 38           56                                      TS 40                     30


III. The amīlūtu Contracts

 1. Texts

1) RA 77-T 5 (= ASJ 13-T 35)

(As for) Yašur-Dagan, son of Bada, 2-4 I, Itur-Dagan, son of Iddilli, have taken him (altaqe-šu) as amīlūtu for 47 shekels of silver. 5-6 He has placed his wife Na’ittu with her son, and his house, as (hypothecary) pledges.

2) Emar VI 77

1-3a Muḫra-aḫi, son of Kutta, son of Zadamma, s[on of x]-za, is the amīlūtu for 140 shekels of silver of Dagan-kabar, son of Ḫima. 3b-4a His (hypothecary) pledges are his house and his s[on] Add[a]. 4b-6 On the day when he pays his silver to Dagan-kabar, son of Ḫima, he b[rea]ks his document.

3) ASJ 10-T A

1-4a Dudu, son of Mašru, (and) also (lit. “with”) his sons, Kiri-Dagan and Abdi-ili, were staying (ašbū) as amīlūtus of Še’i-Dagan for 105 shekels (and) 40 (grains) of silver. 4b-6 Now, Dudu has paid back to Še’i-Dagan [4]0 shekels of silver from that silver. 7-10a (Since) Dudu has made himself (able to) leave, Kiri-Dagan and Abdi-ili will stay in the house of Še’i-Dagan for 65 (shekels and) 40 (grains) of silver. 10b-11 Their mo[th]er Ṣariptu (and) their sisters <  >.[2] 12-14 On the day when Dudu pays their silver, he breaks their document.

15-17 When Dudu was staying in the house of Še’i-Dagan, he was released and went away (for) nine months. 18-20a So, on <the day> when Dud[u] pays his [s]ilver, he gives his one son [t]o Še’i-Dagan, 20b so that he (the son shall) take on work (for) nine months.

 2. Features

0)    Text is of the Syro-Hittite type.

1)    The debt contracted is of silver.

2)    The debtor himself enters into the household of the creditor as a possessory pledge.

3)    At the same time, a hypothecary pledge, always including a member of the debtor’s family, is set (but cf. § IV.2.3 below).

4)    The debtor repays only the capital.

5)    But instead of paying interest, he is obliged to work at the house of the creditor until the debt is paid.

6)    The term of the contract is indefinite.

 3. Comparison

1) Other debt contracts in Emar (Syro-Hittite type), involving a personal pledge



F. member



Emar VI 205

poss. pledge

Emar VI 209


līṭu for the surety
TS 25

poss. pledge

debt in barley
TS 34

poss. pledge

poss. pledge

・No case of setting double securities (pledges) involving the debtor himself

2) tidennūtu in Nuzi: antichretic pledge in general

∴ amīlūtu: a specific type of antichretic pledge = a debtor owing silver


IV. amīltūtu in Subartu 17-T

 1. Text

1 ⸢fal-um-mi DUMU.MÍ mzu-ba-la 2 DUMU ḪAR-da a-na le-et mEN-ma-lik DUMU NIR-dKUR a-na MÍ.Ú.LU-tù-ut-ti[3] aš-ba-at ù ša qa-ta-ti-ši il-qu i-ia-nu ù mEN– ma-lik fal-um-mi a-na pa-ni mka-pí-dKUR ù [G]AL.MEŠ URU.e-mar ul-te-li ù GAL.MEŠ URU.e-mar a-na mma-ti-ia i-dáb-bu-bu ma-a KÙ.BABBAR-šú! ša mEN– ma-lik 10 te-er-mi um-ma mma-ti-ia-ma 11 [ma-a] KÙ.BABBAR-šú la-a a-na-din-mi 12 [ma]amal-um-mi-ma li-iṣ-bat-mi 13 [ù] mla-ad-dKUR DUMU ka-pí-dKUR! 14 [(x)] qa- ta-ti-ši il-qè 15 i[n]a EGIR-ki u4-mi šum-ma mma-ti-ia 16 i-ia-nu-mi-eša-nu-um-ma il-la-ak 17 ù fal-um-mi i-la-aq-qè 18 30 GÍN KÙ.BABBAR.MEŠ a-na mla-ad-dKUR li-din 19 fal-um-mi lil-qè i-na MU.KAM dan-na-ti 20 ù i-na MU.KAM ša nu-ku-[r]a-ti ub-tal- <li>-iṭ-ši  /

Al-ummi, daughter of Zu-Ba‘la, son of ḪARda, was staying with Belu-malik, son of Matkali-Dagan, as (his) amīltūtu, but the one who had stood surety for her was gone.[4]

So, Belu-malik brought Al-ummi up into the presence of Kapi-Dagan and the ‘great (men)’ of Emar. The ‘great (men)’ of Emar said to Matiya: “Pay back the silver of Belu-malik!” (But) thus Matiya: “I will not pay his silver. Let him seize Al-ummi (as his slave).”

[Then] Lad-Dagan, son of Kapi-Dagan, stood surety for her. I[n] the future, if Matiya or someone else (should) come[5] and take Al-ummi, he shall pay 30 shekels of silver to Lad-Dagan, so that he may take Al-ummi. (For) he (Lad-Dagan) kept her provided with food in the year of distress (i.e., famine) and in the year of hostility (i.e., war).

 2. Discussion on the people in the text

1) Al-ummi: the amīltūtu

・The debtor and possessory pledge, who had lost her surety

not a case of Matiya = the debtor vs. Al-ummi = the possessory pledge

2) Belu-malik: the creditor, the amount of whose loan is unknown

3) The lost surety (ša qātātiši ilqû)

・The other required security: cf. the (hypothecary) pledges in the amīlūtu contracts

yānu (l. 5), “there (was, but now) is not”: double securities required

4) Matiya and tēr (l. 10)

・The closest relative of Al-ummi, probably not the debtor

cf. Emar VI 205: When Madi-Dagan (debtor) died and his children (possessory pledges) were left with Ibni-Dagan (creditor), Ibni-Dagan took them into the presence of the men of authority and said to the brothers of Madi-Dagan:

9b-11a “If [you would take] the two children of [your] br[other], pay back (terrā) my 25 shekels of silver! 11b-12 [Otherwise], give the[se] two children of your brother into my slavery of you[r own accord]!” 13-14a Then, the brother[s of their father did not a]gree to pay the 25 shekels of silver of Ibni-[Dagan], 14b-16a and (gave in a) sealed (document) the two children of their brother into the slavery [of] Ibni-Dagan of their [o]wn accord. 16b Dead (or) alive, they are slaves of Ibni-[Dag]an.

・He formally abandoned his right to redeem Al-ummi.

5) Lad-Dagan: Al-ummi’s private creditor → her new surety

・Son of Kapi-Dagan (l. 13): cf. Kapi-Dagan in ll. 6, 21 (son of Zu-Ba‘la, the diviner)

・30 shekels: expenditure for taking care of her in the year of famine and war

・No legal debt contract?: so debt ignored when Belu-malik took Al-ummi as his amīltūtu

→ no chance to recover his 30 shekels if Al-ummi is enslaved by Belu-malik

∴1 Subartu 17-T: renewal of the amīltūtu contract with modification, issued for Lad-Dagan

He stood surety for Al-ummi, adding one condition: the one who takes Al-ummi shall pay 30 shekels to Lad-Dagan (besides the amount of the debt to Belu-malik).

∴2 amīltūtu: can be well understood as the female counterpart of amīlūtu


V. Final Remarks

 1. amīlūtus and amīltūtu(s): debtors and possessory (= antichretic) pledges

・Additional security required (feature 3’): hypothecary pledge or surety

 2. Al-ummi

・If independent: single inheritress of her family estate (cf. Emar VI 213, TS 74)

→ surety = ?, Matiya = probably her uncle or cousin

・If subordinate: substitute for a dominant man (esp. father) in her family

→ surety = her father (= substantial debtor!), Matiya = most likely her brother

∴ amīltūtu contract(s): rare



Arnaud, D. 1981: “Humbles et superbes à Emar (Syrie) à la fin de l’âge du Bronze récent,” in: A. Caquot & M. Delcor (eds.), Mélanges bibliques et orientaux en l’honneur de M. Henri Cazelles (AOAT 212), Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1-14.

— 1985-86: Recherches au pays d’Aštata. Emar VI/1-3, Paris (= Emar VI).

— 1991: Textes syriens de l’âge du Bronze récent (AuOrS 1), Sabadell (= TS).

Beckman, G. 1996: Texts from the Vicinity of Emar in the Collection of Jonathan Rosen (HANE/M II), Padova (= RE).

Cavigneaux, A. & D. Beyer 2006: “Une orpheline d’Emar,” in: P. Butterlin, (eds.), Les espaces syro-mésopotamiens (Subartu 17 = Fs. Margueron), Turnhout, 497-503 (= Subartu 17-T).

Démare-Lafont, S. 2010: “Éléments pour une diplomatique juridique des textes d’Émar,” in: S. Démare-Lafont & A. Lemaire (eds.), Trois millénaires de formulaires juridiques (HEO 48), Paris, 43-84.

Di Filippo, F. 2010: “Two Tablets from the Vicinity of Emar,” in M. G. Biga & M. Liverani (eds.), ana turri gimilli (Quaderni di Vicino Oriente V = Fs. Mayer), Roma, 105-115 (= QVO 5-T).

Eichler, B. 1973: Indenture at Nuzi: The Personal Tidennūtu Contract and its Mesopotamian Analogues (YNER 5), New Haven.

Huehnergard, J. 1983 “Five Tablets from the Vicinity of Emar,” RA 77, 11-43 (= RA 77-T).

Tsukimoto, A. 1988: “Sieben spätbronzezeitliche Urkunden aus Syrien,” ASJ 10, 153-189 (= ASJ 10-T).

— 1991: “Akkadian Tablets in the Hirayama Collection (II),” ASJ 13, 275-333 (= ASJ 13-T).

Westbrook, R. 2001:”Introduction” and “Conclusions,” in: R. Westbrook & R. Jasnow (eds.), Security for Debt in Ancient Near Eastern Law, Leiden, 2001, 1-3, 327-339.

Yamada, M. 2010: “On amīlūtu in Emar: As a Type of Antichretic Pledge,” Bulletin of the Society for Near Eastern Studies in Japan (= BSNESJ) 53/2, 55-73 (in Japanese with English summary).

— 2011a: “Notes on amīltūtu and qātātu in Emar,” BSNESJ 54/1, 139-157 (in Japanese with English summary).

— 2011b: “On QVO 5-T 2, a Recently Published Emar Text,” BSNESJ 54/2, 119-122 (in Japanese).

— 2012: “The Contracts of Caring by amīlūtus in Emar: In Comparison with Slaves, Adopted Sons and Creditors,” BSNESJ 55/1, 2-21 (in Japanese with English summary).

[1] Security: (1) pledge – property that the debtor gives or assigns to the creditor by way of security; 1a) possessory, if actually handed over; 1b) hypothecary, if only assigned; (2) surety (guarantor) – a person who assumed liability instead of the debtor in case of default. Possessory pledge was for the most part antichretic, i.e., the income from the pledge was taken by the creditor in lieu of interest, leaving the capital to be repaid in its entirety in order to redeem the pledge (Westbrook 2001, 3, 329).

[2] Probably, they are (hypothecary) pledges as in the first contract. Cf. “(So auch) Ṣāriptu, ihre Mutter, <und> ihre Schwestern” (Tsukimoto). If so, this would mean they are (possessory) pledges.

[3] Cf. munusú-lu-du-ut-ti, “(Mille Al-ummī … est désormais) nubile,” taken as ulūduttu/ulluduttu, “nubilité” (plutôt que “grossesse”), from *wld (Cavigneaux & Beyer).

[4] Lit. “there was no one who stood surety for her.”

[5] Cf. “if Matiya should disappear (and then) someone comes” (Yamada).

Female perfume-makers in neo-Assyrian and neo-Babylonian documents

In the epic of Gilgameš, Uta-napištim recounts the following after the Deluge has ended: “I brought out an offering and offered it to the four directions. I set up an incense offering on the summit of the mountain, I arranged seven and seven cult vessels, I heaped reeds, cedar, and myrtle in their perfume burners. The gods smelled the savor, the gods smelled the sweet savor, the gods crowded round the sacrificer like flies”[1].

 Since P. Faure’s work, Parfums et aromates de l’Antiquité, published in 1987, historians have been able to understand that perfume in the ancient world could cover multiple realities. All ancient people used perfume, the best known are the Egyptians who had workshops in Alexandria for perfumes based on cinnamon or kyphi (a solid perfume in the form of incense). In fact, we know two bas-reliefs dating from 4th centuryBC representing the work of perfume-makers, who only use canvas bags and recipients for their work. Perfume and its use are themes rather well-known in near-eastern documents, but relatively little research has been undertaken on this subject. We can nonetheless cite several studies such as those of F. Joannès for Mari[2] or E. Ebeling on perfume-recipes at Assur[3]. We also find a synthesis about perfume and make-up in the Dictionnaire de la Civilisation Mésopotamienne[4] as well as in l’Histoire Mondiale du Parfum, by B. André-Salvini[5]. If perfume ingredients have attracted the attention of historians, the individuals who made them have been neglected.

 The act of perfuming oneself is an ancient gesture. Perfumes, which were most often found in the form of oil, were kept in small gypsum, chlorite and ceramic vases. The most ancient containers come from Tell Buqras in Syria and date from 7,000 BC, that is Neolithic times[6]. Gypsum was used to make zoomorphic vases (hedgehog and hare). Recipients were discovered at Susa, they date from the 4th and 3rd millennia. Jars and bottles dating from the 3rd millennium were discovered at Ur, Tello and Mari, and contained perfumed oils. Finally, among the better known attestations, zoomorphic rhytons at Ugarit were found. We know several terms for perfume: eliu (MA[7]), narqītu (in Standard Babylonian)[8], riqītu (OB and MA)[9] and riqqu (OB)[10], the verb meaning “to make perfume” being ruqqû. Similarly, the word “perfume-maker” was written in several ways: luraqqû (at Mari)[11], muraqqû (MA, NA, NB)[12] or raqqû (Old Akk, OB, Mari, MB)[13]. If in the current western civilisation, to perfume oneself is an act more associated with one’s personal care, even to personal hygiene, we are well aware that in Mesopotamia perfume was more widely used. Thus, among the furniture of temples and palaces we find perfume-burners and incense-burners, and aromatic products were added to drinks, to give them more flavour. Perfume in the form of fumigation could also present a medical aspect. Throughout this presentation on female perfume-makers, we will attempt to determine in which manner these women appear in the texts studied. We must however point out that the documents we have related to them are rather limited, and this paper can only give a glimpse of the matter.

1.     A few reminders on perfume

1.1. Techniques used to make perfume

Perfume initially appears as a rough texture, that is, it is used as an aromatic substance without being transformed, as in the case of perfume-burners. The use of such substance continues in the first millennium, as two bas-reliefs illustrate. The first is the famous “Garden Party” – the oldest scene we know of a lounging banquet – showing Assurbanipal and his queen Libbali-šarrat after the royal campaign of the Assyrian king in Elam.  The fact that the queen is present is rather rare and therefore notable, and in this garden where the royal couple clearly take their refreshments, we observe two perfume-burners that seem to keep them at bay from the other human beings present[14].  Also, in another well-known bas-relief, the “scene of an audience with the great king” which was visible in the Apadana of Persepolis, we observe king Xerxes I and behind him crown prince Darius, also cut off from other mortals by two perfume-burners. As for perfume preparations, they are rather well attested. As early as the 3rd millennium we see that the essence of plants was extracted so as to make perfumed water, ointments and oils. Two technics were employed in order to proceed to this extraction: it had to either be done cold (rendered by the Akkadian verb rummuku), performed on four types of woods – cypress, cedar, myrtle and juniper – or the extraction had to be done hot (according to the technic called “oil pans”) notably used in Mari with cypress, myrtle, fragrant reed and boxwood. During the neo-Babylonian period, the variety of fragrant products used became wider through accessing resources from the Arabian Peninsula. We thus find lists of “woods”, that is plants whose stems, berries, gums and resins were used. We should remember that in Mesopotamia itself, trees or shrubs necessary to make these aromatic substances for perfumes were rare. They therefore had to be acquired from the West. This is why perfume appears essentially in royal inscriptions or the archives of sanctuaries.

1.2. A place to manufacture perfume: neo-Babylonian sanctuaries

In neo-Babylonian documents, temples constitute the best examples of perfume fabrication. We find for example data on this subject in a study by A.C.V.M. Bongenaar on the archives of the Ebabbar temple[15]. Perfume is added to certain oils that are employed on special occasions, even celebrations. Such oils are called hilu, kiru and siltu[16] and are used during very specific days and for particular female deities. According to A.C.V.M. Bongenaar, the term hilu can designate a perfume or incense, as well as the ceremony for which this oil is made. Furthermore, this substance is only associated to the deity Šarrat-Sippar, and particularly during the ceremony of her sacred marriage[17]. A recipe to make hilu is known from several texts. Thus 6 litres of sesame are needed to which are added aromatic herbs to make hilu[18]. In the prosopography of the sanctuary of Šarrat-Sippar’s prebend-owners, the E-edin-na, A.C.V.M. Bongenaar identified a woman, Kaššā, who bears the title rabītu ša bīt Šarrat-Sippar, and who could be the daughter of Nabuchodonosor[19].  In the texts where we find her, Kaššā receives wool to prepare a cultic objet for the female deity, a imitu ša pišannu [20] and sesame to prepare oil[21]. However, she does not appear in charge of the fabrication of perfumed oil, this seems to instead rest with Sîn-ili’s family, who is the son of Šamaš-iddina and descendant of Bel-ēṭēru, and who is one of the ērib bīti of the temple of Šarrat-Sippar. At Uruk in the Eanna temple, perfumes were made in a house called bit hili. One of the most famous texts concerning this house is UCP 9/2 27, dated to Nabuchodonosor’s reign and studied by F. Joannès[22]. This bit hili is a religious edifice, under the responsibility of the šangû bit hili[23] and associated to the goddesses Uṣur-amâssu and Urka’itu[24].  This document lists the details for the ingredients given to a person named Nabû-mušetiq-uddê for the “work for the bit hili”. He thus gets 22 different aromatic substances (cedar, cypress, myrtle, box wood, fragrant reed, myrtle for example), but also pees, wool and sesame[25].

2. Looking for female perfume-makers

While we know a few male perfume-makers, such as Nur-ili at Mari under Zimri-Lim[26] for example, the names of female perfume-makers in royal palaces during the first millennium remain unknown for now. In the texts I have studied to write this presentation, a female perfume-maker is referred to as a (mí)muraqqītu in Akkadian. We further find references to female perfume-makers during the middle-Assyrian period[27], and often in cultic contexts[28].

2.1.Female perfume-makers in neo-Assyrian documents

First, I would like to come back to female perfume-makers during the neo-Assyrian period with a text that comes from the administrative documents of Nineveh’s palace, SAA 7 24. This document, whose date is probably lost, presents a very detailed list of women officiating in the palace of Nineveh. It was previously studied by B. Landsberger[29], F. Fales and J.N. Postgate[30] and more recently by S. Parpola[31]:

 “36 Aram[ean women] ; 15 Kushite women […] ; 7 Assyrian women, m[aids of theirs] ; 4 replacement[s…]; [x+]3 Tyrian wom[en…]; [x] Kass[ite women]; (break) [x fem]ale Cory[bantes]; 3 women from Arpa[d]; 1 replace[ment…]; 1 woman from Ashd[od]; 2 Hittite women, …[…]. In all, 94 (women and) 46 maids of theirs: total, of the father of the crown prince; in all, 140. The woman Šiti-tabni, 2 maids, ditto; the woman Amat-Emuni, 3 ditto. 8 female chiefs musicians; 3 Aramean women; 11 Hittite women; 13 Tyrian wo[men]; 13 female Cory[bantes]; 4 women from Sah[…]; 9 Kassites women; in all, 61 female musicians. 6 temple stewardesses […]; 6 female …[…] scribes ; 1 woman-… ; 4 women from Dor ; 15 female smiths and seals-borers; 1 hairdresser, in all, 33.Grand total: 194 (women) and 52 maids; (also) 1 female perfume-maker; her 2 maids; in all, 156.”

In his recent article on the neo-Assyrian harem, S. Parpola went back on this unique text from the palace of Nineveh and which dates according to him to the reign of Esarhaddon. Among these women we find 94 court women, whose names we cannot identify, with their 46 servants. According to S. Parpola, these women must have been royal concubines (they are said to be linked to the father of the crown prince, in Akkadian ša abišú ša mār šarri). Among them, only 11 are Assyrians, the others are Arameans, Kushites, Tyrians, Kassites, people from Arpad, Ashdod, or Hittites. Indeed, we note that female musicians are the workers the most represented for the female population of the palace. In this text, only two women are named. The first among them, Šiti-tabni, bears an Akkadian name and appears next to two female servants, who are apparently hers. As for Amat-Emuni, her name is particularly interesting. It is indeed composed of an Egyptian theophorus, Emuni, the combination meaning “Servant of Amon”. She seems to be accompanied by three servants. Data on these two individuals are meagre, considering that they appear in only this one text. However, despite the scarcity of sources for them, given that they are cited by name and that they are accompanied by several servants we could deduce they enjoyed a high position. We also find 33 women who exercised professions other than within the arts, among them a hairdresser and a perfume-maker. The translation of these two professions seems problematic. S. Parpola chose to translate gallabtu as hairdresser, instead of “female-barber” chosen by F.M. Fales and J.N. Postgate. Also, the term mu-raq-qí-tú was translated by F.M. Fales and J.N. Postgate as “spice-bread baker”, not by “perfume-maker”. These women who worked in sectors other than catering, music or dance represented 15% of the Assyrian harem according to S. Parpola from among 249 women (39% are concubines, 21% servants, 25% musicians and dancers and 15% are skilled workers). It is therefore not surprising that these women are found in small numbers as beauty experts in this text. Other items also come to our help to understand these female perfume-makers. These are objects found in royal tombs of Assyrian queens[32], notably tomb II containing the body of Yabâ, queen of Tiglath-Phalazar III, as well as the remains of another woman, probably Atalia, queen of Sargon II. This tomb was discovered by Hussein in 1989, in room 49 of the north-west palace of Kalhu.  In the funerary chamber, a great wealth of objects was found, objects engraved with the names of these two queens, but also with Banitu’s name (meaning Beauty), the wife of Salmanazar V. Among the objects found inside the sarcophagus, we find bowls made of gold, jars made of crystal, a mirror made of electrum (an alloy of gold and silver) and a recipient for cosmetics made of electrum, also inscribed with the queens’ names. For example, we find on the engraved mirror: “Belonging to Atalia, queen of Sargon, king of Assyria”. On the floor of the funerary chamber, a box made of electrum destined for cosmetics was also found equipped with a mirror that served as lid. We easily imagine female perfume-makers employing these objects during the exercise of their work. The other objects (jewels, precious stones, precious dishes) were maybe used for these women’s beauty care and adornment after their death.

2.2.Female perfume-makers in neo-Babylonian documents

If documents that come from the royal Assyrian palace are relatively meagre, the ones that come from the palace of Babylon during the first millennium are perhaps even more so. Only one document gives us information on female perfume-makers, text Bab 28122, part of the lot N1 from the archives of the southern palace of Babylon. This lot of 303 texts was found in the palace part called by R. Koldewey Gewölbebau, or vaulted building, and which he had initially thought to be the emplacement of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. In the text studied by F. Weidner in Fs. Dussaud in 1939 and which it seems has not been utilized since, we find female perfume-makers mentioned twice:

– Firstly on the obverse line 9: “šá 6 mu-raq-qé-e-tú 2 SILA3 ÀM ina ŠU.2 IdNÀ.BÀD-ma-[ki?-i?][33]”.

– And then line 11 on the reverse: “6 mu-raq-qé-e-tú 2 SILA3 ÀM ina ŠU.2 IdNÀ.BÀD-ma-[ki?-i?]”.

This tablet could be dated year 13 of Nbk, that is 593/592[34], and lists the quantity of sesame oil allocated per month either to individuals or to a group of persons, as is the case here (month of Nisanu on the obverse and month of Ayyaru on the reverse). This oil can be used for food consumption, and perhaps also for anointment[35]. People who receive the oil, for example our female perfume-makers here, are placed under the responsibility of an individual bearing a Babylonian name. As for our study, despite my investigations, I have not found more information on Nabû-dur-makî. This text is remarkable on several points. On the one hand, it mentions Joiakin, the king of Juda deported to Babylon by Nabuchodonosor who seems to also receive a ration of oil (Obverse, line 29 : […] a-[n]a Iia-’-ú-DU LU[GAL šá KUR ia-ú-du, and repeated line 32 of the reverse [a-na Iia-’-ú-DU LUGAL šá KUR] ia-ú-du). In this text, princes are also cited and eight individuals that come from the kingdom of Juda like Ur-milki (reverse l. 13), Gadi-ilu (obverse l. 18), Šalamyama the gardener (reverse l.22) and Samakuyama (obverse l. 28). Concerning rations allocated to individuals that came from the land of Juda, the quantities are rather meagre, around half a sila (that is 0,421 l.).  Joiakin receives half a PI, that is 15,156 l. but he shares it with his family. Individuals from Tyr are also cited (obverse 32), as well as people from Parsu (obverse 12, reverse 15 and 18), Egyptians (obverse 17, 20, 23 and reverse 20, 23), Ionian craftsmen (obverse 15, 19 and reverse 12, 16, 21, 27), Lydians (obverse 22 and reverse 25). Among the professions present in these lists we find palace scribes, servants, gardeners, messengers, carpenters, guards.  It is of course interesting to note that the origin of our female perfume-makers for the palace of Babylon remains unknown, but that once more, they appear in a list which places them in contact with people of a foreign origin, and for some coming from the West. We can then ask the following question but which cannot be settled at present: in the same way as certain products destined for perfume-making come from the West, could we also reasonably propose that these women also come from this area? Further, is their coming to Babylon or Assyria due to the fact they are experts in their trade? The other question concerning this text, and which is not fully elucidated, is to know why do individuals on this list receive oil from the palace: do they reside at the palace? Or do they simply receive their rations there[36]? Yet, if they have taken the trouble to record these women and their activity, we could infer that they were sufficiently important because they were experts and as such should be listed and identified in the palatial sphere.


Perfume appears as an element linked to power and which concerns elites, palatial and cultic: the objects found in royal Assyrian tombs and the archives of temples testify to this. It is therefore not surprising that female perfume-makers appear in such contexts, at least according to the sources we have currently.

[1] J. Bottéro, L’Epopée de Gilgameš, Paris, 1992, p. 194.

[2] F. Joannès, “La culture matérielle à Mari (V) : les parfums”, MARI 7, 1993, p. 251-270.

[3] E. Ebeling, Parfümrezepte und kultische texte aus Assur, Rome, Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1950.

[4] Article “Parfums et maquillages” by F. Joannès.

[5] See M-C. Grasse (dir.), Histoire Mondiale du Parfum. Amériques, Afrique, Orient, Europe, Océanie. Des origines à nos jours, Paris, 2007.

[6] M. Casanova, “Les origines de la parfumerie de l’Asie centrale au Levant”, Dossiers d’Archéologie n°337, Janvier-Février 2010, p. 16.

[7] E. Ebeling, Parfümrezepte, p. 50.

[8] Nabonide, OECT 1, pl. 27, iii 29.

[9] For the OB period, see UCP 10 142, and for MA see E. Ebeling, Parfümrezepte, p. 39.

[10] For texts relating to it, see CAD R, p. 369b: notably E. Ebeling, Parfümrezepte, p. 28, 29 and 33.

[11] See for example ARM 2 136.

[12] We will study this term in this paper.

[13] See CAD R, p. 173b et 174a.

[14] A. Benoit, Art et archéologie : les civilisations du Proche-Orient ancien, Paris, 2003, p. 403.

[15] A.C.V.M. Bongenaar, The Neo-Babylonian Temple at Sippar: Its Administration and its Prosopography, PIHANS 80, 1997.

[16] Id., p. 267

[17] See texts Cyr 279 and Camb 152.

[18] See BM 74485 (= Bertin 1816): 14 herbs, for a total weight of 9.4 kg with 42 l. of sesame oil.

[19] A.C.V.M. Bongenaar, The Neo-Babylonian Temple at Sippar, p. 249 and see texts Camb 24 et Nbn 57.

[20] Camb 24.

[21] Nbn 57.

[22] F. Joannès, “Traitement des maladies et bit hilṣi en Babylonie récente” in. L. Battini et P. Villard (éds.), Médecine et médecins au Proche-Orient ancient, BAR International Series 1528, Oxford, 2006, p. 76.

[23] Id., p. 77.

[24] Id., p. 77.

[25] Id., p. 76-77.

[26] ARM 23 470-475.

[27] See KAV 194: l. 9 (= VAT 8862).

[28] As in KAR 220 iv 9.

[29] In “Akkadisch-Hebräische Wortgleichungen”, VT 16 (or Fs. Baumgartner), 1967, p. 198-204: B. Landsberger initially presented this document as a list of women sent by the king of Tyr to Assurbanipal alongside one of his daughters.

[30] In SAA 7 24

[31] S. Parpola, “The Neo-Assyrian Royal Harem”, in. G. Lanfranchi, D.M. Bonacossi, C. Pappi et S. Ponchia, Leggo! Studies Presented to Frederick Mario Fales on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday, Wiesbaden, 2012, p. 613-626.

[32] See M.S.B. Damerji, Gräber Assyrischer Königinnen aus Nimrud, Jahrbuch des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums 45, Mayence, 1999.

[33] This name Nabû-dūr-makî si a personal proposition, but relies on the existence of this patronym during the neo-Assyrian period (see PNA 2/2, p. 823), and would mean “Nabû is a fortress against want”.

[34] O. Pedersen, “Foreign Professionals in Babylon: Evidence from the Archive in the Palace of Nebuchadnezzar II”, in. W.H. Van Soldt (éd.), Ethnicity in Ancient Mesopotamia, CRRAI 48, Leyde, 2005, p. 268.

[35] See E.F. Weidner, Jojachin, König von Juda, in babylonischen Keilschrifttexten, Fs. Dussaud II, Paris, 1939, p. 927.

[36] See on this subject O. Pedersen, “Foreign Professionals in Babylon”, CRRAI 48, p. 271.

The economic activities of Isḫunnatu, a slave woman of the Egibi Family


Within the framework of this second meeting entitled “The Economic role of women in the public sphere in Mesopotamia:  from the workshop to the marketplace”, I tried to find examples of slave women involved in economic activities inside the public sphere, that is to say outside their master’s home. To have enough time to develop my subject, I chose today to present you only one single example: it is about Isḫunnatu, slave of the Egibi family from Babylon, who manages a drinking establishment in Kiš, a city located some 12 km east of Babylon. In the introduction, I would like to give some general information about the context in which slave women are quoted in private archives and especially in the Egibi’s.

 1) On one hand, we notice that in the great majority of cases, women slaves appear in a passive way in private archives:

a) They are mentioned in sale contracts when they are bought or sold. In this first example, Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, chief of the third generation of the Egibi family sold a slave woman named Mizatu at Opis :

Camb. 143 (Opis, 24/xii/Camb 2) [abstract]: (1-5)Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, son of Nabu-ahhe-iddin, descendant of Egibi, has voluntarily sold to Asalluhi-ah-uṣur, son of [Šila’], his slave woman fMizatu for the full price of 1 mina and 25 shekels of silver.

     b) Slave women are also mentioned in family documents such as dowry contracts or testaments. In this second example, Itti-Marduk-balaṭu gave 5 servants as dowry to her daughter Tašmetu-tabni :

 Cyr. 143 (Babylon, 26/xi/Cyr 3) [abstract]: (1-8)Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, son of Nabu-ahhe-iddin, descendant of Egibi, has voluntarily given 10 minas of silver, 5 slave women, household goods, dowry of fTašmetu-tabni, his daughter, to Itti-Nabu-balaṭu, son of Marduk-ban-zeri, descendant of Bel-eṭeru.

  c) They can be also mentioned in promissory notes among pledged properties. In this third example, Marduk-naṣir-apli, chief of the fourth generation of the Egibi family, secures a heavy debt by casting a real estate and a slave family including a mother and her daughters as pledge for the debtor:

 TCL 13, 193 (Susa, 10/xii-b/Dar. 16) [abstract]: (1-4)45 minas of nuhhutu-silver of one-eighth alloy belonging to Šarru-duri, royal officer, son of Edraia, is the debt of Širku, whose second name is Marduk-naṣir-apli, son of Iddinaia, descendant of Egibi. (6-14)Madanu-bel-uṣur, his wife, fNanaia-bel-uṣur, his sons, Zababa-iddin, Madanu-bel-uṣur, Bel-gabbi-Bel-ummu, Ahušunu, and his daughters, fHašdayitu and fAhassunu, a total of 8 slaves from the service of his home (…) are the pledge of Šarru-duri.

2) On the other hand, we notice that slave women do not appear in two types of activities which seem reserved to slave men:

a) First, women never act as agents contrary to some slave men who take care of a part of the economic activities of the Egibi family. For example, in this text, Nergal-reṣua, slave of Itti-Marduk-balaṭu receives the rent of a home belonging to the Egibi family following his master’s order :

Camb 253 (Babylon, 7/viii/Camb 4) [abstract]: (Concerning) 8 shekels of silver, half-yearly rent of a house belonging to Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, son of Nabu-ahhe-iddina, descendant of Egibi, which is the debt of Arad-Bel, son of Kalbaia : Nergal-reṣua, slave of Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, received them according to the instructions of Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, from Arad-Bel, son of Kalbaia, descendant of Šuma-libši.

 b) Second, women are not among slaves who receive a formation for a specific job through apprenticeship contracts. Slaves men could learn various very qualified jobs as weaver, cook, lapidary’s craftsman, potter, sack-maker, carpenter, etc[1]. These contracts were a way for the Egibis to diversify their income. For example, in this text, it is Nuptaia, wife of Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, who sends a man slave belonging to her husband to Bel-etir, the weaver master:

Cyr 64 (Babylon, 20/vii/Cyr 2): Nuptaia, daughter of Iddin-Marduk, descendant of  Nur-Sin, has given Atkal-ana-Marduk, slave belonging to Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, son of Nabu-ahhe-iddin, descendant Egibi, to Bel-eṭir, son of Aplaia, descendant of Bel-eṭir, for five years to (learn) the weaver’s craft (išparūtu).

The great majority of women are used in housework, activities which do not produce the writing of contracts. Beyond domestic activities, rare texts allow us to study the case of women slaves working outside the house. So, the story of Isḫunnatu is an exceptional example.

1. History of the business establishment entrusted to Isḫunnatu

1.1. The creation of the business establishment during Cambyses’ reign (530 – 522)

   The business establishment entrusted to Isḫunnatu is documented by two Babylonian texts belonging to the Egibi Archive found in Babylon : Camb 330 and Camb 331[2]. These texts were drafted the same day of the 6th year of Cambyses in Kiš and more precisely in Hursagkalamma. The name Kiš applies to a range of tells covering a large area. Hursagkalamma corresponds to Tell Ingharra, in the south-Eastern part of the Kiš area[3]. The Egibi texts allow us to study the creation of a business establishment at this place.

1) In Camb 330, a man named Marduk-iqišanni must deliver to Isḫunnatu, slave of Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, an important capital including furniture and dishes:

 Camb 330: (1-2)Equipment which Marduk-iqišanni will give to Isḫunnatu, slave woman of Itti-Marduk-balaṭu : (3-7)5 beds (gišná = eršu), 10 chairs (giš = kussû), 3 tables (gišbanšur = paššuru), 1 lamp stand (ingurēnu), 3 knifes (serpu), 1 iron hoe (marru), 1 axe (qulmû), 1 fermenting vat (namzītu), 1 vessel stand (kankannu), 1 kettle (mušahhinu), 1 vat?giššiddatu, 1 maššânu, 1 chest (arānu), 1 reed ušukullatu(7-8)They own nothing jointly. (8)They will not renew litigation against each other. (9-10)Equipment which belongs to Isḫunnatu, until the end of the month of šabāṭu (xi), Marduk-iqišanni will not make it out. (11-12)Isḫunnatu will pay the rent of the house by herself. (13-15)Witnesses : Remut, son of Aplaia, descendant of Arad-Nergal ; Bel-apla-iddin, son of Remut, descendant of Paharu ; Tukulti-Marduk, son of Iddin-Nabu, descendant of Šangu-Parakki (16-17)And the scribe : Kalbaia, son of Ṣillaia, descendant of Nabaia (17-19)Hursagkalamma, 11th day of kislīmu (ix), year 6th of Cambyses, king of Babylon, king of Lands. (19-21)The promissory note belonging to fLillikanu, Marduk-iqišanni will give it to Isḫunnatu.

 The contract contains three very allusive clauses. The first specifies that “Marduk-iqišanni will not make the equipment go out” from the business establishment during a period of two and half month (l.9-10). The second specifies that “Isḫunnatu will pay the rent of the house by herself” (l.11-12). The last one says that “The promissory note belonging to fLillikanu, Marduk-iqišanni will give it to Isḫunnatu” (l.19-21). We can wonder who is the owner of the house to whom Isḫunnatu now has to pay a rent ? Is it Marduk-iqišanni or Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, descendant of Egibi ? Most of the historians consider that the house belongs to the Egibi family, but we have to confess that there is no evidence in this text for this affirmation. Anyway, we understand that Marduk-iqišanni was the previous owner or the previous tenant of the business establishment simply qualified here as “house”. He managed it, maybe with Lillikanu, who is quoted at the end of the contract. He lends part of his capital including furniture and dishes to Isḫunnatu, the Egibi’s slave woman, during a period of two and half months. If Lillikanu’s share was sold to Isḫunnatu, this transaction would have produced the writing of a promissory note that is the debt of Isḫunnatu. Finally, Isḫunnatu has to give the rent of the house, probably to his owner. So, it seems that the creation of Isḫunnatu’s drinking establishment comes from the rental of an already existing establishment. With the expected profits, Isḫunnatu will be able to return or to buy the equipment belonging to Marduk-iqišanni.

  2) If part of the capital of the establishment comes from Marduk-iqišanni, a second part was supplied by Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, master of Isḫunnatu, as shown in text Camb 331. In this second text, the Egibi chief gives to Isḫunnatu a capital composed of food, furniture and dishes. This capital has a value of 2 minas and 2 shekels of silver. The contract specifies that Isḫunnatu will give to Itti-Marduk-balaṭu an interest during one and half month. If we consider an usual annual interest of 20%, Isḫunnatu will pay 3 shekels of silver for one month and a half. After this period, it is possible that Isḫunnatu will repay to her master a part of the profit of her business establishment.

 Camb 331: (1-8)1 mina of silver, price of 50 vats-dannu of fine beer with (their) haṣbattu ; 40 shekels of silver, price of 10 800 liters of dates, 22 shekels of silver, price of 2 bronze kettles (mušahhinu) weighing 7 minas 1/2, 7 bronze cups (gú.zi = kāsu) and 3 bronze bowl-baṭû as well as 720 liters of kasû which are stored in the house, a total of 2 minas and 2 shekels belonging to Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, son of Nabu-ahhe-iddin, descendant of Egibi, are at the disposal of Isḫunnatu, slave woman of Itti-Marduk-balaṭu. (9)Until the end of the month ṭebētu (x), she will pay an interest. (10-14)Not including : 5 beds (gišná = ešru), 10 chairs (giš = kussû), 1 kettle (mušahhinu), 1 vat-giššiddatu, 1 stand lamp (ingurēnu), 3 knifes (serpu), 1 iron hoe (marru), 1 axe (qulmû), 2 fermenting vats (namzītu), 1 stand for fermenting vat (kankannu ša namzītu), 1 vat of decantation (namhāru), 2 maššânu. (14-17) Witnesses: Remut, son of Aplaia, descendant of Arad-Nergal ; Bel-apla-iddin, son of Remut, descendant of Paharu ; Tukulti-Marduk, son of Iddin-Nabu, descendant of Šangu-Parakki (17-18)And the scribe : Kalbaia, son of Ṣillaia, descendant of Nabaia (18-20)Hursagkalamma, 11th day of kislīmu (ix), year 6th of Cambyses, king of Babylon, king of Lands.

The Isḫunnatu’s business establishment consists of the rent of capital goods belonging to Marduk-iqišanni and maybe to Lillikanu and of capital goods belonging to Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, her master.

3) Another text, OECT 10, 239 (Museum number : 1924/1280), would show that Isḫunnatu obtained goods from a third source[4] :

OECT 10, 239 / 1924.1280): (1)4 beds (gišná = ešru(2) 3 chairs (giš = kussû)  (3)1 table (gišpaššuru(4) 1 vat- giššiddatu for beer (5)1 (vat- giššiddatu) for water (6)1 rack(?)simmiltu (7)1 fermenting vat (namzītu(8-9)They were entrusted to Isḫunnatu. (10-14)In the presence of  : Belšunu, son of Zababa-eriba ; Nabu-ah-ittannu, son of Zababa-šum-ereš(?) ; Ṭabiya, son of Bel-iddin ; Zababa-ana-bitišu, son of [NP] ; [NP], son of [NP].

This text arises numerous problems: First, this text doesn’t belong to the Egibi archive, it was found in Kiš and was drafted in front of Kiš inhabitants if we consider the presence of the god-name Zababa among witnesses. Second, there is no date, this text was just a memento. Third, it quotes a woman, named Isḫunnatu who received furniture and dishes, same kind than texts Camb 330 and 331. So, it’s not clear if this Isḫunnatu is the Egibi’s slave and if this text is connected to the drinking establishment of the Egibis in Kiš. But, we have to admit that it will be an incredible coincidence that the city of Kiš shelters two establishments of the same kind both managed by women with the same name. More, the name Isḫunnatu (meaning “cluster of grapes”) is very rare[5]. This text would show that our Isḫunnatu has received furniture and dishes probably from people who live in Kiš. For Isḫunnatu, this capital from Kiš would have served to develop her business activity or to replace Marduk-iqišanni’s goods which were at her disposal during a limited time.

It is very exciting to imagine that this text was maybe discovered by the archaeologists directly inside Isḫunnatu’s establishment in Kiš. Unfortunately, we have to specify that we don’t have any information about the place of the excavation. Even the date of this discovery (ie 1924) seems to be wrong as McEwan notices: « Some texts in the 1924 series (1924.943 – 1786) are known to have been numbered in 1950 (…) Thus, these tablets may date from excavations seasons other that 1924 »[6]. So, it’s impossible to link this text with a precise archaeological expedition in Kiš and to determine from which tell he comes from.

1.2. Economic activities during Darius’reign (521 – 486)

The economic activities of Isḫunnatu in Kiš continue during the beginning of Darius’ reign as shown in two other texts drafted in Hursagkalamma but probably found in Babylon within the Egibi archive: CTMMA 3, 65 and BM 30948[7]. At this time, the slave woman belongs to a new master: Širku, nickname of Marduk-naṣir-apli, son of Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, descendant of Egibi, leader of the fourth generation of the family. So, Marduk-naṣir-apli inherited Isḫunnatu among his father’s possessions.

1) In CTMMA 3, 65 dated from the second year of Darius, Isḫunnatu receives 1800 liters of dates from Nabu-reu’šunu, son of Nabu-eṭir, descendant of Sin-tabni. This creditor probably comes from the city of Babylon, where his ancestor’s name is the most attested:

CTMMA 3, 65: (1-6)(Concerning) the full (payment of) 1 800 liters of dates, Isḫunnatu, slave woman of Širku, on the instructions of [PN], son of Nurea, has received them from Nabu-re’ušunu, son of Nabu-eṭir, descendant of Sin-tabni. (7-10)Witnesses : Bel-lumur, son of Iddin-Marduk, descendant of Šigua ; Nabu-ah-remanni, son of Remut, descendant of Rab-šušši. (10-11)Scribe : Bel-šakin-šumi, son of Iddin-Nabu, descendant of Eppeš-ili. (12-14)Hursagkalamma, 25th day of kislīmu (ix), year 2nd of Darius, king of Babylon, king of Lands. (15)They have taken one (copy) each. (16-17)Dates which for 1 reed vat for decantation (namhāru) … were given.

The contract specifies that the dates were used to buy a reed vat of decantation (namharu). We shall see later that this kind of dishes was necessary for the functioning of an establishment as Isḫunnatu’s one.

2) In the last text, Isḫunnatu borrows 10 800 liters of dates. She has to give them back in Babylon, on a canal and she has to pay the transportation costs (gimru). The use of the dates is not specified: to buy furniture or to make beer ?

BM 30948 / Bertin 2780): (1-5)10 800 liters of dates […]Hursagkalamma [belonging to?] Bel-apla-iddin, son of Remut, descendant of [NP], is the debt of Isḫunnatu, slave woman of Širku, descendant of Egibi. (6-8)The 20th day of kislīmu (ix), she will pay the 10 800 liters of dates on the canal // according to the mašīhu-measure of [PN] // and the transportation costs. (8-11)[Broken lines] (12)A previous promissory note of […] (13-17)Witnesses : Kalbaia, son of Nabu-ahhe-iddin, descendant of Egibi ; Balaṭu, son of Marduk-šum-iddin, descendant of Sippe ; Iqišaia, son of Zababa-iddin, descendant of lú-dugsila3.bur (18-19)Scribe : Tu[kulti]-Marduk, son of [PN], descendant of [PN]. (20-23)Hursagkalamma, 3rd day of [NM], year [xth of] Darius, king of [Babylon], king of lands.

These two last texts show that part of the capital including dates necessary for Isḫunnatu’s establishment in Kiš comes from Babylon, so we can suppose that Egibi’s family members were involved in those supplies. So, it seems that Isḫunnatu was still dependent on Babylon and on her master.


The various goods from Babylon or Kiš at the disposal of Isḫunnatu can be classified in two big categories and can help us to qualify the business establishment and the role of Isḫunnatu[8].

2.1. What are the characteristics of Isḫunnatu’s establishment ?

1) First, we notice that Isḫunnatu’s establishment is a place of consumption : Both texts from the Egibi archive quote various furniture including 3 tables, 10 chairs and lamp stands (Camb 330 & 331). Various dishes are quoted too: cups and bowl. At these tables, customers consumed especially beer. In Camb 331, Isḫunnatu receives a total of 50 vats-dannu of good quality beer. According to the different mentions, one vat-dannu could contain 1 kurru of beer or wine, that is to say 180 liters[9]. Isḫunnatu so has already 9 000 liters of liquids ready to be served.

A place of consumption

Furniture :– 3 tables (paššuru / gišbanšur)– 10 chairs (kussû / giš– 1 lamp stand (ingurēnu)
Dishes :– 7 bronze cups (kāsu / gú.zi)– 3 bronze bowls (baṭû)
Beer :– 50 vats-dannu of good quality beer

2) Second, the Isḫunnatu’s establishment is a place of production too. Indeed, Isḫunnatu also received 10 800 liters of dates and the material necessary for their transformation into alcohol: Fermenting vat as well as their wooden support and vat of decantation. 720 liters of kasû (mustard / cuscuta?) which enter the manufacturing of beer from dates, probably to perfume it. The presence of a hoe could be related to the exploitation of a kitchen garden near the business establishment. The various products of which could be prepared in a kettle[10].

A place of production

Beer :– 10 800 liters of dates– Fermenting vat (namzītu)– Stand for fermenting vat (kankannu)– Vat for decantation (namhāru)

– 720 liters of kasû (mustard or cuscuta)

Kitchen garden? :– Hoe (marru)– Kettle (mušahhinu)

3) Finally, the Isḫunnatu’s establishment is a place of accommodations, this being supported by the presence of 5 beds among the inventory.

A place of accommodation:

 – 5 beds (eršu / gišná)

So, the Isḫunnatu’s business establishment was a place of consumption of beer and also other food, a place of production and a place where people could sleep.

1.2. How to qualify this business establishment? What was the exact role of Isḫunnatu ?

There are at least two terms naming drinking establishments in Mesopotamia  : bīt sabi and bīt aštammi. The last term indicates more specifically an inn, a place where people can find accommodation as in the house of Isḫunnatu. These two sorts of drinking establishments are especially attested during the 2nd millenium BC[11]. Some historians consider them as places of prostitution. The house entrusted to Isḫunnatu does not escape this image. About the Isḫunnatu’s establishment, the presence of a woman, beds and alcoholic drinks – and the erotic images associated with – has probably excited the imagination of some scholars who connected these three elements automatically with prostitution. Indeed, in his article about “Prostitution in Ancient Mesopotamia”, J. Cooper gives only one example in the paragraph dedicated to brothels, madams and procurers: the case of Isḫunnatu. The question of her establishment as a place of prostitution is clearly asked : « Although beds can be used for lodgers as well as for prostitution, these texts at least show that sexual relations could easily be accommodated ». And the role of Isḫunnatu as procuress is evocated too: « Whether the proprietress was a madam, that is, whether she hired prostitutes or simply provided the venue, is unknown »[12].  These hypotheses about the nature of Isḫunnatu’s establishment and the woman’s role are not based on textual evidences but seem to be supported on a topos. Indeed, the link between drinking establishment and prostitution was strongly disputed by Julia Assante in various articles. She considers that « The tavern prostitute is a scholastic invention »[13] ; « These are just topoi, yet scholarship has been so sure of tavern prostitution that the tavern, éš-dam, bīt aštammi or bīt sabîm/sabîtim, has been all too often easily translated as bordello or brothel. Within this schema, the sabîtu(m), the female tavern keeper (…) becomes synonymous with the brothel madam »[14]. The author speaks about the scholarship’s misunderstanding of Mesopotamian texts and images. Now, I’m going to try to summarize three examples from Julia Assante’s studies :

1) First, Julia Assante considers that the link between drinking establishment and prostitution finds his main source inside the Inanna/Ishtar’s literature. In the Ancient literature, the goddess is a tavern-goer who is looking for sexual companionship. Assante remarks that “This common and spirited literary motif never once includes payment and it would be odd indeed if this powerful goddess of sex and love were financed by her favors”. The author also adds that “Furthermore, to base the brothel hypothesis on such texts ignores others versions of the tavern in which Inanna appears as a young bride or virginal sister”[15].

2) Second, about the following lines from the Code of Hammurabi : “If a nadītu or a ugbabtu, who does not reside within the gagû, should open (the door of) a tavern or enter a tavern for some beer, they shall burn that woman” (§ 110); some scholars have understood these lines as an attempt to prevent the nadītu from mixing with the tavern’s low life, especially prostitution, or from committing sexual offenses there. But, in this case, the prohibition seems to be more ritual than moral. These women were vulnerable of becoming impure because of contacts with elements in the tavern such as fermenting vats[16].

3) Third, the various explicit terracottas called “drinking scenes” were interpreted as realistic scenes of Tavern. Julia Assante considers that these objects representing the divine couple Inanna and Dummuzi bears a magic utility : “Since the constellation of Inanna’s erotic plaques and poems reverses the negative application of mating, marriage and seizure found in other magical literature, its potential as apotropaia seems to be more than a reasonable hypothesis. Plaques may be the physical remains of counteractive measures a householder might have taken to prevent the disastrous occurrence of “mating” with evil, in whatever form it might arrive”[17].

So, after taking into account contributions from the gender Studies, I’d rather attribute a neutral definition for Isḫunnatu’s establishment and I shall follow the definition given by Jacobsen and Kramer, more objective and less focused on supposed sexual aspects, who likened the éš-dam to a modern coffee-house or village-inn, a social center where people came to relax[18]. Indeed, I think that we have to consider the creation of Isḫunnatu’s inn as a part of a large plan managed by the Egibi to create new social relations in Kiš.


The main economic activities of the Egibi family take place in Babylon and in Borsippa. But, it seems that since the end of Nabonidus’ reign, members of the family tried to develop their business activities towards the city of Kiš. The family archive allows us to distinguish two periods.

1) First, during Nabonidus’ reign, the family possesses some properties in Kiš or in the area. For example, the dowry of Qibi-dumqi-ilat, sister of Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, contains a farmland located on the way from Babylon to Kiš (Nbn 760). The family owns a house in Hursagkalamma which belongs to Itti-Marduk-balaṭu. He rents it to his brother Kalbaia during the 16th year of Nabonidus (Nbn 967). Kalbaia seems to manage a part of the economic activities of the Egibis in Kiš through a harranu-partenership with the other members of the family : “Kalbaia was operating a harranu-enterprise in Hursagkalamma, with personnel hired from Itti-Marduk-balaṭu and on property rented from him, and with financing provided by Iddin-Marduk [= father-in-law of Itti-Marduk-balaṭu]”[19].

2) During Cambyses’ reign, Itti-Marduk-balaṭu, leader of the Egibi family managed himself a new business plan in Kiš. We notice an important activity of investment in Kiš during the 6th year of Cambyses :

a) First, Itti-Marduk-balaṭu opens a city-inn for Isḫunnatu, his slave, the 11th day of kislīmu (ix) (Camb 330 & 331).

b) Second, he buys a home near the home of the “Chariot-driver” (bīt mukīl appāti) the 28th day of addaru (xii) (Camb 349). As Yoko Wataï notices in her PhD dissertation : “The Chariot-driver” occupied an important position in the army but also in the civil administration in Assyria. However, we cannot determine his function in the babylonian administration[20]. So, if the Chariot-driver kept an important function in Babylonia, it would seem that Itti-Marduk-balaṭu tried to get closer to important persons of Kiš.  We notice that Itti-Marduk-balaṭu led the same building policy in Babylon in the TE.Eki district where we find members of the royal administration among its neighbors[21]. The appropriation of a city-inn in Kiš for one of his slaves and the acquisition of a house next to an officer could be part of the same plan. As a place for meetings, the city-inn can be a way for the Egibi to create or to strengthen links of sociability with the inhabitants of Kiš. The inn can be a manner of being in the heart of the city and to know all the rumors and the free speech which is ran in this kind of place. It is maybe a place to meet people and the members of the city elite. The plan to develop the family’s business activities and to be closer to the Kiš elite seems to have been a success :

1) First, in a contract drafted in the 6th year of Darius, an inhabitant of Kiš must go to Babylon to find an arrangement with Marduk-naṣir-apli about a tax on his bow-land (Abraham 2004 : n°17). So, it seems that the chief of the Egibi family became a tax collector from some tax-payers living in Kiš.

2) Secondly, Marduk-naṣir-apli bounded links with the governor of Kiš. Indeed, the chief of the Egibis lent to him an important quantity of silver in Susa during the 16th year of Darius (Abraham 2004 : n°78). So, the leaders of the Egibi Family managed to create business links with the authorities of Kiš.

In the same time, at a lower level, Kalbaia continues his own economic activities in Kiš. Kalbaia seems to live most of the time in Kiš where he owns various lands. His implication earned him the nickname of “Kalbaia of Kiš” (CTMMA 3, 73). Present in Kiš, he maintains relations with Isḫunnatu’s establishment. And indeed, appears as the first witness in text n°5.


Isḫunnatu enjoys a large part of freedom in managing her business, appearing as debtor in text CTMMA 3, 65 and BM 30948. In these contracts, she acts by herself and she is the only one responsible for the repayment of the loans. But two facts shows that the members of the Egibi family exercise an attentive control over her economic activities :

1) Except text OECT 10, 239, all the other texts belong to the Egibi Archive found in Babylon. The Egibis keep and control all the transactions contracted by Isḫunnatu.

2) The presence of Kalbaia among witnesses in BM 30948 shows that Egibis attends the transactions involving Isḫunnatu. Their presence can be used as guarantee for the creditor.




Assante, J.

1998        « The kar-kid / harimtu, Prostitute or Single Woman ? A Reconsideration of the Evidence », UF 30 : 66.

2002        “Sex, Magic and the Liminal Body in the Erotic Art and Texts of the Old Babylonian Period”, Sex and Gender in the Ancient Near East, Actes de la XLVIIe Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale (Helsinki, 2-6 July 2001), Simo Parpola and Robert M. Whiting, eds., Helsinki, 2002: 27-51.

 Cooper, J.

2006        « Prostitution », RlA 11 (1/2) : 12-21.

 Dandamaiev, M.

1984        Slavery in Babylonia. From Nabopolassar to Alexander the Great (626-331 B.C.). Northern Illinois University Press, Detroit.

 Gibson, McG.

1980        « Kiš », RlA : 613-620.

 Hackl, J.

2010        « Apprenticeship contracts », in : M. Jursa (dir.), Aspects of the Economic History of Babylonia in the First Millennium BC, AOAT 377, Münster : 700-715.

2011        « Neue spätbabylonische Lehrverträge aus dem British Museum und der Yale Babylonian Collection » (New Late Babylonian Apprenticeship Contracts from the British Museum and the Yale Babylonian Collection), AfO 52 : 77-97.

i. p.          « Frau Weintraube, Frau Heuschrecke und Frau Gut – Untersuchungen zu den babylonischen Namen von Sklavinnen in neubabylonischer und persischer Zeit », To be published in: Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 101. Pre-paper available on

 Jacobsen, T. & Kramer, S. N.

1953        « The Myth of Inanna and Bilulu », JNES 12 : 160-188.

 Joannès, F.

1992a     « Inventaire d’un cabaret » NABU 1992/64.

1992b     « Inventaire d’un cabaret (suite) » NABU 1992/89.

 Jursa, M. (dir.)

2010        Aspects of the Economic History of Babylonia in the First Millennium BC. Economic geography, economic mentalities, agriculture,  the use of money and the problem of economic growth (with contributions by J. Hackl, B. Janković, K. Kleber, E.E. Payne, C. Waerzeggers and M. Weszeli) (AOAT 377), Münster.

 Lion, B.

i. p.          « Les cabarets à l’époque paléo-babylonienne », in : C. Michel (éd.) L’alimentation dans   l’Orient ancien, de la production à la consommation, actes du Séminaire d’Histoire et d’Archéologie des Mondes Orientaux (SHAMO).

 McEwan, G.

1984        Late Babylonian Texts in the Ashmolean Museum (OECT 10), Oxford.

 Spar, I. & von Dassow, E.

2000        Private Archive Texts from the First Millenium B.C. (CTMMA 3), New York.

Watai, Y.

2012        Les maisons néo-babyloniennes d’après la documentation textuelle, thèse de doctorat, Université de Paris 1.

 Wunsch, C.

2000        « Neubabylonische Geschäftsleute und ihre Beziehungen zu Palast- und Tempel- verwaltungen : das Beispiel der Familie Egibi », dans : A. C. Bongenaar (éd.), Interpendency of institutions and private Entrepreneurs (Mos Studies 2 ; PIHANS 87), Leiden : 95-118.

[1] About apprenticeship contracts, cf. Hackl 2010 & 2011.

[2] These two texts were published and discussed in Joannès 1992a. The unpublished text BM 35140 kept in the British Museum which mentions Isḫunnatu (quoted in Hackl in press) could give additionnal information about the economic activities of the Egibi’s slave woman.

[3] For a summary of the excavations of Kiš, cf. Gibson 1980 : 613-620.

[4] Text published and discussed in Joannès 1992b.

[5] Hackl in press.

[6] McEwan 1984 : 1.

[7] Copy Bertin 2780.

[8] See the comments of F. Joannès about these goods (Joannès 1992a. & b).

[9] CAD, D : 98b-99a.

[10] Joannès 1992a.

[11] Lion in press.

[12] Copper 2006 : 20.

[13] Assante 1998 : 65.

[14] Assante 1998 : 66.

[15] Assante 1998 : 66.

[16] Hypothesis of S. Maul followed and developed by J. Assante (Assante 1998 : 67-68).

[17] Assante 2002 : 43.

[18] « We have assumed that the éš-dam represents the social center of the estate or village, a place in which the inhabitants would typically gather for talk and recreation after the end of work as in a modern coffee-house or village-inn » (Jacobsen & Kramer 1953 : 185a). In this case, one can wonder if it is not in this kind of establishment that the travelers could stay in Kiš (About journeys of Babylonians in Kiš, cf. Jursa (dir.) 2010 : 213-124).

[19] Spar & von Dassow 2000 : 123.

[20] Wataï 2012 : 301-302.

[21] Itti-Marduk-balaṭu hold several houses in the TE.Eki district. One of them is nearby the house of the Crown-prince (bīt-mār-šarri) (Nbn 50), another near a house belonging to a slave of Neriglissar and then Balthazzar (Nbn 9 & Nbn 50) and a third probably near a sepīru of prince Cambyses. Indeed, text Dar 379 enumerates the real estate property of the Egibi family in Babylon and Borsippa. The text specifies that Marduk-naṣir-apli, the representative of the fourth generation of the Egibis, possesses, among others, “a house situated in the TE.Eki district and which is nearby of Hašdaia, son of Gabbi-ili-šar-uṣur” (l.7 ). He is probably the son of Gabbi-ili-šar-uṣur, the scribe on parchment of prince Cambyses evoked in text Cyr 177 (this identification was proposed by Wunsch 2000: n. 23 p. 103-104).

The economic role of women in neo-Babylonian temples

1. The position of women in the religious hierarchy

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

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

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

 2. The female workforce: the question of status

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

 a) the distinction between dependants and oblates  

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

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

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

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

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

 c) under whose authority do oblates fall?

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

 d) what recovery action can the temple take?

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

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

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

e) cases of single women: the zakîtu

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

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

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

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

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

 f) the situation of children

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

 3. The economic activities of the female workforce

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

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

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

 b) milling activities

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

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

c) textile work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

d) the temple’s property income

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

In conclusion…

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

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

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

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




Arnaud D.

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

Beaulieu P.-A.,

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

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

Bongenaar, A. C. V. M.

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

Cağırgan G./Lambert W. G.

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

Czechowicz N.,

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

Dandamaev, M. A.

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

De Jong Ellis, M.

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

van Driel, G.

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

Frame, G.

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

Jankovic, B.

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

Joannès, F.

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

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

Jursa, M.

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

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

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

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

Kleber K.

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

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

MacEwan, G. J. P.

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

MacGinnis, J. D.

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

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

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

Magdalene, R. et Wunsch, C.

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

Payne, E.

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

Ragen, A.

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

Roth, M.

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

San Nicolò, M.

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

Scheil, V.

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

von Soden, W.

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

Waerzeggers, C.

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

Weisberg, D. B.

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

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

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

Wunsch, C.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11] van Driel 1998.

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

[13] Jursa 1999, p. 152.

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

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

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

Women and Economy in the Family Sphere According to the Old Assyrian Sources

Women and Economy in the Family Sphere
According to the Old Assyrian Sources

Cécile Michel*


The Old Assyrian private archives, mainly of commercial nature, include a higher proportion of documents related to women and their economic activities than the majority of cuneiform sources. Letters sent from Aššur reflect the preeminent role of the Assyrian women in the domestic economy as well as their participation to the long distance trade. Contracts and other legal texts excavated at Kaneš attest Assyrian and Anatolian women as party in marriage contracts, last wills, loan or sale contracts.

In this presentation, we will try to offer a relative estimation of womens’ possessions, as well as of their use; we will study the role of women in the management of the household and define the economic relationships existing between women and other members of the family group.


 The Old Assyrian private archives, excavated at Kültepe (Central Anatolia, ancient Kaneš), and dating to the 19th and 18th centuries BCE, mainly of commercial nature, include a high proportion of documents related to women and their economic activities.[1] They show that wives and daughters of the Assyrian merchants at Aššur and Kaneš have enjoyed considerable independence in family life.

The letters sent from Aššur by the wives and female relatives of merchants who had gone off to live in Anatolia reflect the preeminent role of the Assyrian women in the domestic economy as well as their participation to the long distance trade. Various types of family records, such as marriage and divorce contracts, as well as testaments found at Kaneš reflect the status of Assyrian women there.

This paper focuses on Assyrian women living in Aššur, but also in Kaneš, and their role in the domestic economy. After giving a relative estimation of women’s property, I will analyze the women involvement in purchase and loan contracts. The role of women in the management of the household will allow defining the economic relationships existing between women and other members of the family group.

1. Women’s property

1.1. Inventory of a woman’s house

The recognized status of the adult woman was as a wife. In marriage contracts, she was the legal equal of her husband. When they married, daughters received a dowry consisting of an amount of silver and household goods. Texts are quite silent about dowries perhaps because marriages between Assyrian men and women were celebrated in Aššur. However, an inventory of bronze vessels belonging to a Assyrian woman living in Kaniš, as well as some last wills give us an idea of the nature and importance of women’s property.[2]

10 grooved stands, 1 stand for a sieve, 2 duck-shaped figures with lamp wicks, one stand for sappum-bowls, 2 ṣurṣuppum-containers, 3 supānu-bowls of Kaneš-type, a measuring cup of 2 liters, a measuring cup of 1 liter, 9 haburrum-vessels, one among them is a sappum-bowl with a handle, 18 šāhum-pitchers, 4 large and 4 small hublum-vessels?, 6 sappum-bowls with metal band, 5 kunakkium, 2 zuršum-cups, 5 hutūlum-vessels, 2 ašhalum-vessels, 2 mirrors?, 3 sappum-bowls stripped, 1 agannum-large bowl, 1 šakanum, 1 spoon; in total 1 talent 40 minas of bronze (objects) . 14 talents (420 kg) of interest-bearing copper, 14 tables, 7 urunsannum-tables, 6 qablītum-containers, 3 cauldrons of 30 minas each (from) the stock of cauldrons in my kitchen. 1 lurum, 2 qablītum-containers of 15 minas each, 3 tables, 2 chests, she received since Aya died. All this is with Šāt-Aššur.

This inventory concerns predominantly bronze and copper items – mainly vessels – in Šāt-Aššur’s house in Kaneš. Most of the vessels and other quoted objects are not identified; they weight a total of 50 kg of bronze. Few items presumably made of wood are listed at the end of the text: tables, chests and unknown objects. Unfortunately, we do not know the origin of these assets: inheritance share, dowry, etc.

1.2. Women in last wills

When the father had died leaving his daughter unmarried, his sons had to organize and finance their sister’s marriage from their shares of the inheritance.[3] In some instances, merchant daughters inherited along with their brothers; this seems to concern eldest daughters who had been consecrated to a deity and remained single.[4] In fact, without a fixed rule concerning inheritance, Assyrian merchants drew up testaments that often demonstrate their concern for protecting the financial interests of the female family members. The goods that they left over consisted of one or more pieces of real estate, notes of debts due to them, amounts of silver or gold, various bronze objects, male and female slaves, and their personal cylinder seal.

According to these last wills, the widow received a share in the estate or her support was provided by her children. The eldest son could get a larger share of the inheritance, comprising the family home where his mother lived, but had to support her.[5]

Ilī-bāni drew up a will concerning his household.
(Description of 3 tablets of credit in tin, copper and silver) these tablets (of credit) belong to Ahātum, my daughter, the gubabtum-consecrated girl. My remaining tablets (of debts owed me), in both Aššur and Anatolia, go to my sons, and to my daughter, the gubabtum-consecrated girl, as one [share. The house i]n Kaniš [is the property of Lama]ssī, my wife. None of my [children shall rais]e a claim against [Lamassī. Among] my [ta]blets at Kaniš, [are some] concerning 1 ½ minas of [si]lver, Nabutum shall give those tablets to Lamassī. Iya and Ikuppiya shall give 6 minas of copper a year to Ahātum, my daughter. All my sons are responsible for my debt. None (of them), without the others, shall open any of my tablets (of debt owed me), either in Aššur or in Anatolia. From their (meat) offerings, they shall give breast cuts to Ahātum. Ia shall take my seal. (…)

Ilī-bāni left the family house in Kaneš to his wife Lamassī as well as some credit tablets preserved in his archives. He also left three tablets of credit to his consecrated daughter Ahātum. She shall share the other credit tablets with her brothers Iya and Ikuppiya who will also give her an annual allowance of copper and some meat.

As well, in his testament, Agūa provided first for his wife, who received his assets and the use of the house she was living in at Aššur, next his daughter, Ab-šalim – presumably a consecrated girl –, who inherited gold, silver, and a servant.[6]

Agūa drew up his will as follows. The house of Aššur is the property of my wife. Of the silver, she shall share with my children. She is father and mother over the silver (that is) her inheritance share. The house and silver (that) she (shall leave) behind, and everything that she owns, (shall afterwards be) the property of Šū-Bēlum. The house of Kaniš is the property of Šū-Bēlum. My sons shall pay back my investors, and of the silver that will remain belonging to me, Ab-šalim shall be the first to take ⅓ mina of gold, 1 mina of silver and a girl. Then, from what remains, my sons who did not receive houses shall each take 4 talents of copper instead of their (share) of real estate. Of the remaining silver and male and female slaves, my wife, Šū-Bēlum and my sons shall share in equal parts. (…)

By constituting his wife “father and mother” (abat u ummat) over the money that she received, Agūa granted her full ownership. She may use her money as she wished, on the condition that it remained in the family so that, at her death, the eldest son would inherit it, along with the family home in Aššur. Drawing up of wills with the intention of providing female family members with shares, shows that women enjoyed important socio-economic status within the family’s sphere.

Moreover, unlike sons, daughters inherited only assets, such as obligations due the family, and were not held responsible for debts – presumable commercial in nature – left by their deceased fathers. These had to be paid by the male heirs before any division of the estate as we learn from Ilī-bāni’s testament: “All my sons are responsible for my debt”. Next the women of the family, mothers and daughters, received their shares; they were, moreover, often the first to do so. Such a legal protection of women assests is also implied by one of Alāhum letters. After his father’s death, he made the inventory of his house in which several women of the family were still living. It turned out to be empty and he suspected the women to have helped themselves: “You (are) women, but he (is) a man, and they will bring action against him for his father’s debts.”[7]

1.3. Last wills of women

When their mother died, the children naturally inherited her goods. Some widows drew up their own wills to distribute their belongings as they wanted. But it is not clear which goods belonged to them and which were inherited from their husbands.[8] Lamassātum, widow of Elamma, whose archives were found in 1991, made a list of her goods which, after her death, were to be taken to Aššur and divided among her consecrated daughter and her sons.[9]

3 cups and toggle pins, their weight: 1 mina of silver, under my seal; separately ⅓ mina 6 shekels of silver under my seal, votive offerings of Elamma; 2 tablets of 2 minas 15 shekels of silver referring to the debt owed by an Anatolian; 1 tablet of 1 ½ mina of silver referring to the debt owed by Naniya; 1 tablet of 1 mina 6 shekels of silver referring to the debt owed by Būr-Sîn; 1 tablet of ⅓ mina 4 shekels of silver referring to the debt owed by Il(ī)-tappa; I gave 1 mina of silver to Irma-Aššur for making purchases; I gave 1 mina of silver to Ah-šalim for making purchases; I gave 9 pirikannum-textiles and 1 Abarnian textile to Pilah-Ištar for making purchases; 5 slaves and 5 slave girls, of which 1 slave girl, named Iantalka, belongs to Ilina, daughter of Aššur-ṭāb. All this, Lamassātum, wife of Elamma left (at her death). Ištar-pālil, Enna-Sîn and Maṣi-ilī, representatives of Lamassātum, shall entrust it to a licensed trader and to her sons, they shall bring it to the City (of Aššur), and, in accordance with the testamentary dispositions applying to them, my daughter, the gubabtum-consecrated girl and my sons shall act.

This inventory includes valuable vessels, jewelry, silver from votive offerings, credit tablets in her favor, merchandise, and slaves.

The status of daughters mentioned in Old Assyrian wills and who inherited portions of their fathers’ estates is not always specified. They seem to have been unmarried and it is most likely that in every case they were consecrated daughters.[10] As they themselves had no heirs, their paternal family apparently received their goods when they died. Married daughter had left their own family and belonged to the family (bētum) of their husband.

Beside goods that they received when getting married or when they had a share in an inheritance, women earned themselves money by producing textiles and participating to the long distance trade to Anatolia.[11]

 2. Head of the household in Aššur

The internal structure of the Assyrian merchant families cannot be reconstructed in detail because their archives were kept at Aššur, and have not been discovered. The expression “the house of the father” (bēt abim) can refer to various realities, from the building itself to the “family” over three generations.[12]

In the absence of their husbands, merchants’ wives found themselves alone, at the head of their households (bētum). Besides children, it could include aged family members,[13] a young daughter-in-law or other members of the family without their proper home, and domestics, especially female slaves. These were part of the household, so women had to see to their support, both clothing and food. Thus, certain households could contain more than a dozen people.

 2.1. Food provisioning

In the absence of their husbands, women in Aššur raised their youngest children, who grew up in an environment dominated by women. They had to care for their food and clothes. Lack of means to buy barley, the basic food item, was one of their principal worries. At Aššur, they could buy grain after the harvest with silver sent by their husbands or with the proceeds from their sale of textiles. They had to estimate the quantities needed to feed all the members of their household and could come up short as we learn from this letter sent to Innaya by his wife.[14]

You wrote me as follows: “Keep the bracelets and rings that are there. Let them serve to provide you with food.” Certainly, you had Ilī-bāni bringing me ½ mina of gold, but what bracelets did you leave me? When you left, you did not leave me silver, not even a single shekel! You emptied the house and took (everything) out! After you had gone, there was a severe famine in the City (of Aššur and) you did not leave me barley, not even a single litre! I keep having to buy barley for our sustenance. And, as to the goods for the temple collection, I gave an emblem in/among […] and I spent all my own possessions. Moreover I just paid to the City Hall for [what] the house of Adada owed. What complaints do you have to keep writing me about? There is nothing for our sustenance so we are the ones to keep making complaints! I scraped together what I had at my disposal and sent it to you. Now, I am living in an empty house. The time is now, be sure to send me silver you have in exchange for my textiles, so that I can buy barley, about 10 ṣimdu measures (ca. 300 l.). (…)

Grain, ground into flour, was used to make various kinds of bread. It was also the main ingredient of beer prepared daily by the women.

2.2. Textile production

Women had also to provide their children and domestics with a wardrobe. All the women of the household took part in the production of textiles.[15] They bought the needed wool and organized the production, but an important part of their production went for long distance trade. In a letter addressed to her husband, Lamassī explains that she trouble combining the production of textiles to clothe the children and servants with the textiles she has to make for export to Anatolia.[16]

(…) If you are my master, do not be angry on account of the garments about which you have written me and (which) I have not sent you. Since the girl has grown up, I have made a few heavy textiles for the wagon. And I also made garments for the household personnel and for the children, (this is why) I could not manage to send you some textiles. I will send you with later caravans whatever textiles I can manage (to make). (…)

2.3. Managing the domestic staff

Some women complained in their letters about the high cost of having domestics. Assyrian women owned personally one or more female slaves, and bought or sold them as they liked: indeed, various slave sales were initiated by women. Ahatum, for example, bought in several instances a girl from her parents:[17]

Ahatum bought the daughter of Hana. She paid ½ mina 1 ½ shekels of silver. If Hana takes her daughter (back), Hana shall pay 1 mina of silver, (then) she shall take her daughter back. If anyone takes her (away), Ahatum shall take Hana.  If she commits an offense or an act of insolence, Ahatum may sell her wherever she wishes.

In this example, the girl was pledged and could be redeemed. The Assyrian women disposed of their maids as they wished; they could decide to sell them if they were no longer useful and keep the proceeds for themselves: “(…) If the slave girl is unsatisfactory to you (fem.), sell her and keep the price you receive for her.”[18] It is difficult to estimate the number of slaves, men or women, per household at Aššur and Kaneš, but wealthy families could clearly maintain a whole staff.

2.4. Maintenance of the house building

The housewife, in her husband’s absence, had to keep up the family house and keep an eye on everything inside it: furnishings, utensils, documents, and merchandise. Houses were built of unbaked clay brick, a material frequently in need of repair. The roof was held up by wooden beams which had to be replaced regularly and the plaster roofing redone. Women who lived alone at Aššur bought bricks and timbers to strengthen the walls and redo the roof, but waited for their husbands’ return to carry out work as we learn from Tarīš-mātum’s letter:[19]

Concerning the house in which we live, I was afraid because the house has fallen in disrepair, so, in the spring, I had mud bricks made and I stacked (them) in piles. Concerning the beams about which you wrote me, send me the necessary amount of silver so that they [will buy] beams [for you] here (…)

The house was the woman’s domain. She wanted to own as large a house as possible, to symbolize the social success of her family.[20]

Since you left, Šalim-ahum has built two houses; when will we be able to do (the same)? As for the textile(s) which Aššur-malik brought you previously, could not you send the silver?

The archives found at Kaneš contain contracts for the purchase of real estate in which women sometimes appear, either as buyers or sellers. The woman Šalimma bought the house of a couple for 2 ½ minas of silver; the house was previously owned by an Anatolian:[21]

The house of Ištar-lamassī and Aššur-ṭāb, for 2 ½ minas of silver, they sold to Šalimma and with the silver, price of their house, Aššur-ṭāb and Ištar-lamassī are satisfied. The house belongs to Šalimma. If anyone raises a claim against her for the house, Aššur-ṭāb and Ištar-lamassī shall clear her.
Aššur-ṭāb gave to Šalimma the contract recording the sale of this house, with the seal of the Anatolian, its previous owner.

Women who lived alone had to protect the family’s assets kept in their house against bankers and angry associates tempted to come and take away goods.

3. Women as debtors and creditors

3.1. Women as debtors

Several loan contracts, found in the houses of the lower town at Kaneš, show Assyrian women borrowing silver, with or without interest, from a man or another woman. These texts almost never state the reason for the loan – necessity or business loan. Loan contracts involving women as debtors are very similar to those concerning men; the default interest is the same in both cases (30% per year):[22]

Pūšu-kēn has loaned 12 shekels of silver to Šāt-Ea. From the week of Aššur-taklāku, she shall pay in 5 weeks. If she has not paid, she shall add 1 ½ shekels per mina (and) per month as interest.
Month allānātum (xii), eponym Ilī-dān (KEL 97/122).

Loans in which women appear as debtors often deal with small amounts of silver, or sacks of cereals, so seem in general to be for their own subsistence and that of their children in time of shortage, as shown by the repayment dates, sometimes fixed to the harvest.

Women were of course responsible for repaying their loans. Some creditors required of them some sort of guarantee: pledge of an object or a person or designation of a guarantor, man or woman. For example, women could put up as pledge their house. Women’s debts seem to have been incurred on their own, independently of their husbands, and any line between individual and common property, if ever common fund existed, does not seem always to have been clearly drawn.[23]

3.2. Women as creditors

With the silver they owed, Assyrian women took part in various transactions and invested their silver in interest-bearing loans. Numerous women appear as creditors in loan contracts. The amounts loaned by women were generally slightly smaller than those loaned by men, often a few shekels of silver, though occasionally much more. Some women’s loans exceeded a mina of silver. Assyrian women made loans to men as well as to women. In the following sample, a woman has loaned half a kilo of silver to another woman.[24]

Ištar-lamassī has loaned 1 mina of litum-silver to Šāt-Ea. From the week of Amurru-bāni and Aššur-nādā, she shall add as interest 2 shekels per month. Month Allānātum (xii), eponym Ṭāb-Aššur (KEL90).

3.3. Women as guarantors

Some women’s personal circumstances allowed them to stand as guarantors for debtors, especially for members of their own family; they were thus executrixs for creditors.[25]

(Concerning the) 15 shekels of silver that Iddin-Suen owes the Anatolian (creditor and for which) Musa, his sister, (is) guarantor, as the equivalent to the 15 shekels of silver he gave to Musa and the Anatolian (creditor) his plots of land that are behind the house. If anyone raises a claim against the Anatolian (creditor) and Musa about the plots of land, Iddin-Suen shall clear them of liability.

Musa, an Assyrian woman stood as guarantor for her brother for a debt of 15 shekels of silver. When he was unable to repay, he gave a small piece of land to the creditor and to his sister; perhaps it was she who paid her brother’s debt to the creditor.

4. Economic relationships between women and the other members of the family

Besides managing their own property and their house, women were involved in their husbands’ business and financial affairs. The Assyrian women who lived alone at Aššur represented their husbands’ interests while they were absent for long stays in Anatolia. Since they were in regular contact with their husbands’ local agents, they sometimes got copies of letters addressed to them so they could follow ongoing transactions, check on how instructions were being carried out, and were supposed to keep them informed about various matters going forward.

4.1. Paying the debt of her brother

The were sometime asked to advance the necessary funds to pay off overdue debts; in which case they made sure to note the amount to be repaid to them and even charge an interest on it as suggest Puzur-ilī to his older sister Ahatum:[26]

You (are) my mother, you (are) my lady. There, pay the silver of Mannukkīya and, as much silver you pay, charge (to me) the silver and interest on it, (then) write me so I can send you (the equivalent) silver.

4.2. Accounting between family members involving women

Women had sometimes to deal with their brothers or husbands’ financial obligations to the authorities, such as unpaid taxes or fines. The city authorities could exert pressure on them by taking away their slaves. They did not, however, always agree to take on this task and defend their ownership of these slaves. These women would then require their brothers or husbands to pay the amount due so they could get their slaves.[27]

The eponym is frightening me, and he keeps seizing my slave-girls as security. Send me silver, about 10 minas, and let your representatives offer (it) to him and pay for the amount that has been declared to me.

Ahaha asks her brothers to pay the debt due to the eponym in Aššur.

Many of these women were good accountants, keeping records documenting their expenses, and claiming what was due them. Letters exchanged between husband and wife contained accounting of what they owned each:[28]

The pri[ce] of your previous textiles has been paid to you. Concerning the 20 textiles that you gave [to] Puzur-Aššur: 1 textile for the import tax, 2 textiles as purchase, 17 textiles of yours remain. Ahuqar brought me 6 textiles, Ia-šar brought me 6 textiles, Iddin-Suen brought me 2 textiles; to these, I added 3 textiles for Puzur-Aššur. I made for him an upqum-packet of 20 textiles and I put (it) at his disposal.
The remainder of [your textiles], 11 textiles, (are) on my account. [For] these, Kulumaya is bringing you under my seal 1 ½ minas of silver – its import [tax] added, its transport tax paid for. You w[rote me] as follows: “In[cluded with] the textiles that I sent [you] (are) 2 textiles from Šūbultum.” (So) of the 1 [½ minas] of silver that Kulumaya is bringing [to you], 1 mina of silver (is) yours (and) give ½ m[ina] to Šūbultum. They will bring me from Burušhattum the price of the heavy textile from Šūb[ultum]. I will get together the 7 shekels of silver from Ilī-bāni that the son of Kuzari has paid and the silver from the sale of the rest of your textiles and will send [(it) to you] by Iddin-Suen.

4.3. Separate accounts for spouses

There is no clear evidence of commun founds in the family or in the couple, but it is clear that women owned personal assets that they could use as they wished. A father writes to his son making a clear distinction between his own assets and his wife’s assets:[29]

For each shekel of silver that I gave you, as well as what I gave you that belongs to your mother, I gave the equivalent to your mother.

The funds belonging to each spouse were clearly identified and if a third party erroneously used a wife’s funds to pay her husband’s debts, the matter could be brought to court.[30]

(Concerning) ½ mina of gold and 1 ½ minas of silver, belonging to Qannuttum (…) That silver and gold have been paid to the Town Hall for Ilī-bāni’s debt. There, wherever goods ordered by Ilī-bāni are available, (then) seize to an amount of ½ mina of pašallum-gold and 1 ½ minas of silver or goods bought for (that amount) and take them under your own reponsibility. I hold a binding tablet from the City (of Aššur) stating that the silver and gold belong to Qannuttum.

This did not prevent a husband from making a purchase in his wife’s name, nor a wife from representing her husband in a transaction.


This study intends to show that Assyrian women had multiple tasks inside the family and in the household, several of these having an economical impact. They had their own property, independent of their husband’s or of their joint assets if it existed, and also distinct from their dowry. They took part in all sorts of financial transactions, purchasing slaves and real estate, loaning money at interest, investing in various commercial undertakings long or short term, buying goods for export, etc.

Although financially independent of their husbands, Assyrian wives acted as their representatives to their associates and to the Assyrian authorities. Their husbands for their part represented them in certain transactions in Anatolia, selling their textiles and goods and acting in their interest to secure what was due them. The social position and reputation of Assyrian men and women were determined by the success of the family firm (bēt abini, “our father’s house”), the profile of which might be hard to define, but in any case its resources were individually owned. There was no clear demarcation between family connections and the commercial network. Assyrian women enjoyed important social status and showed it by living in large houses in Aššur.


All the texts presented in this paper are edited in a book in hand Women in Aššur and Kaniš according to the private archives of the Assyrian merchants at beginning of the IInd millennium B.C., Writings from the Ancient World, SBL, Baltimore, (Michel Women).

  • Albayrak, İ.
    2000     Ein neues altassyrisches Testament aus Kültepe, Archivum Anatolicum 4, p. 17-27.
    2010     The Understanding of Inheritance in Ancient Anatolia According to Testaments from Kültepe, in F. Kulakoğlu & S. Kangal (eds.), Anatolia’s Prologue, Kültepe Kanesh Karum, Assyrians in Istanbul, Kayseri Metropolitan Municipality Cultural Publication 78, Istanbul, p. 142-147.
  • Dercksen, J. G.
    1996     The Old Assyrian Copper Trade in Anatolia, PIHANS 75, Istanbul.
  • Eisser, G. & Lewy, J.
    1930     Die altassyrischen Rechtsurkunden vom Kültepe, MVAG 33.
  • Ichisar, M.
    1981     Les archives cappadociennes du marchand Imdīlum, Paris.
  • Kienast, B.
    1984     Das altassyrische Kaufvertragsrecht, FAOS B, Bd. 1, Wiesbaden – Stuttgart.
  • Larsen, M. T.
    2007     Individual and Family in Old Assyrian Society, JCS 59, p. 93-106.
  • Matouš, L.
    1982     Zur Korrespondenz des Imdīlum mit Taram-kubi. In G. van Driel et alii (eds.), Zikir šumim. Assyriological Studies Presented to F. R. Kraus on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday, Leiden, p. 268-270.
  • Michel, C.
    1991     Innāya dans les tablettes paléo-assyriennes, Paris.
    1997     Propriétés immobilières dans les tablettes paléo-assyriennes. In K. R. Veenhof (ed.), Houses and Households in Ancient Mesopotamia, CRRAI 40, Istanbul, 1997, p. 285-300.
    2000     À propos d’un testament paléo-assyrien: une femme ‘père et mère’ des capitaux, RA 94, p. 1-10. (
    2001     Correspondance des marchands de Kaniš au début du IIe  millénaire av. J.-C., Littératures du Proche-Orient ancien, n˚19, Editions du Cerf, Paris (chapter 7 : La correspondance féminine).
    2003a    Old Assyrian Bibliography of Cuneiform Texts, Bullae, Seals and the Results of the Excavations at Aššur, Kültepe/Kaniš, Acemhöyük, Alişar and Boğazköy, OAAS 1, Leyde.
    2003b     Les femmes et les dettes: problèmes de responsabilité dans la Mésopotamie du IIe millénaire avant J.-C., Méditerranées 34-35, p. 13-36. (
    2006a    Old Assyrian Bibliography 1. (February 2003 – July 2006), AfO 51, p. 436-449.
    2006b     Femmes et production textile à Aššur au début du IIe millénaire avant J.-C. In A. Averbouh, P. Brun et alii (eds.), Spécialisation des tâches et sociétés, Techniques & culture 46, 2006, p. 281-297.
    2008      ‘Tu aimes trop l’argent et méprises ta vie’. Le commerce lucratif des Assyriens en Anatolie centrale. In La richessa nel Vicino Oriente Antico, Atti del Convegno internazionale Milano 20 gennaio 2007, Centro Studi del Vicino Oriente, Milano, Collana “Origini” n. 8, p. 37-62. (
    2009a     Femmes et ancêtres : le cas des femmes des marchands d’Aššur. In F. Briquel-Chatonnet, S. Fares, B. Lion & C. Michel (eds.), Femmes, cultures et sociétés dans les civilisations méditerranéennes et proches-orientales de l’Antiquité, Topoi, Suppl. 10, p. 27-39. (
    2009b     Les filles de marchands consacrées. In F. Briquel-Chatonnet, S. Fares, B. Lion & C. Michel (ed.), Femmes, culture et société dans les civilisations méditerranéennes et proches-orientales de l’Antiquité, Topoi, Suppl. 10, p. 145-163. (
    2011     Old Assyrian Bibliography 2. (July 2006 – April 2009), AfO 52, p. 396-417.
  • Rosen, B. L.
    1977     Studies in Old Assyrian Loan Contracts, Unpublished Diss. Brandeis University, Ann Arbor, 1977, UM Microfilms 77-22-827.
  • Thomason, A. K.
    2013     Her Share of the Profits: Women, Agency, and Textile Production at Kültepe/Kanesh in the Early Second Millennium BC, in M.-L. Nosch, H. Koefoed & E. Andersson Strand (eds.), Textile Production and Consumption in the Ancient Near East. Archaeology, Epigraphy, Iconography. Ancient Textiles Series 12, Oxford – Oakville, p. 93-112.
  • Veenhof, K. R.
    1972     Aspects of the Old Assyrian Trade and its Terminology, Studia et Documenta ad Iura Orientis Antiqui Pertinentia 10, Leiden (chapter devoted to textile production).
    2003     Three Unusual Old Assyrian Contracts, in G. J. Selz (ed.), Festschrift für Burkhart Kienast zu seinem 70. Geburtstage dargebracht von Freuden, Schülern und Kollegen, AOAT 274, Münster, p. 693-705
    2008     The death and Burial of Ishtar-Lamassi in karum Kanish. In R. J. van der Spek (ed.), Studies in Ancient Near Eastern World View and Society Presented to Marten Stol on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday, 10 November 2005, and his retirement from the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, p. 97-119.
    2011     Houses in the Ancient City of Assur. In B. S. Düring, A. Wossink & P. M. M. G. Akkermans (eds.), Correlates of Complexity. Essays in Archaeology and Assyriology dedicated to Diederik J. W. Meijer in Honour of his 65th Birthday, PIHANS CXVI, Leiden, p. 211-231.
    2012     Last wills and inheritance of Old Assyrian Traders with Four Records from the Archive of Elamma, in K. Abraham & J. Fleishman (eds), Looking at the Ancient Near East and the Bible through the Same Eyes. A Tribute to Aaron Skaist. Bethesda, p. 169-201.
    In press             Families of Assyrian Traders. In L. Marti (ed.), La famille dans le Proche-Orient ancien : réalités, symbolismes et images, Actes de la 55ème Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Paris 6-9 juillet 2009, Paris, in press.
  • Von Soden, W.
    1976     Ein altassyrisches Testament, WO 8, p. 211-217.
  • Wilcke, C.
    1976     Assyrische Testamente, ZA 66, p. 196-233.

* ArScAn-HAROC, UMR 7041, CNRS, Maison de l’Archéologie et de l’Ethnologie, Nanterre; cecile.michel…at…

[1] For an overview, see Michel 2001, p. 417-511.

[2] Kt h/k 87 = Michel Women, no. 135. Lines 1-28 and 32-33 are cited by Dercksen 1996, p. 77. The text was collated in Ankara in May 2011. Text discoveries at Kültepe are detailed in Michel 2003a and supplements Michel 2006a, Michel 2011.

[3] For Old Assyrian testaments, see Von Soden 1976, Wilcke 1976, Albayrak 2000, Michel 2000, Albayrak 2010, Veenhof 2012.

[4] Michel 2009b.

[5] ICK 1, 12 = Michel Women, no. 56. This text was first edited and studied by von Soden 1976, p. 212-216 and Wilcke 1976, p. 202-203.

[6] Kt o/k 196a-c = Michel Women, no. 54. This text was first published by Albayrak 2000 and commented by Michel 2000 and Albayrak 2010.

[7] Michel Women, no. 70. See also Michel 2003b.

[8] Veenhof 2008, Veenhof 2012

[9] Kt 91/k 421 = Michel Women, no. 61. Text first published by Veenhof 2012, 196-197.

[10] Michel 2009b.

[11] This aspect will be the subject of a contribution during the 2nd International meeting of the French-Japanese ANR Chorus REFEMA project to be held in Tokyo in June 2013.

[12] Larsen 2007, Veenhof in press.

[13] For the aged members of the family and ancestors, see Veenhof 1997, Michel 2009a.

[14] CCT 3, 24 = Michel Women, no. 128. Letter to Innaya from Tarām-Kūbi also edited by Michel 1991, no. 3, and translated by Michel 2001, no. 348. For the correspondence between Innaya and Tarām-Kūbi, see Matouš 1982, Michel, 1991, p. 77-88, Michel 2001, p. 464-470.

[15] Veenhof 1972.

[16] CCT 3, 20 = Michel Women, no. 166. Letter to Pūšu-kēn from Lamassī also translated by translated by Michel 2001, no. 307. For the role of women in the long distance trade, see Michel 2006b, Thomason 2013.

[17] ICK 1, 27 = Michel Women, no. 94. Text edited by Kienast 1984, no. 10.

[18] ICK 1, 69:7-12 = Michel Women, no. 140. Letter from Laqēpum to Hutala also translated by Michel 2001, no. 389.

[19]AAA 1/3, 1:4-11 = Michel Women, no. 146. Letter to Enlil-bāni from Tarīš-mātum translated by Michel 2001, no. 320. Concerning houses, see also Michel 1997, Veenhof 2011.

[20] RA 59, 159 = Michel Women, no. 147. Letter from Pūšu-kēn from Lamassī translated by Michel 2001, no. 306. About wealth in the Old Assyrian society, see Michel 2008.

[21] Kt 91/k 522 = Michel Women, no. 148. Text published by Veenhof 2003, p. 693-695.

[22] CCT 1, 8c = Michel Women, no. 74. Text edited by Eisser & Lewy 1930, no. 60.

[23] About individual property, see Larsen 2007.

[24] ICK 2, 11 = Michel Women, no. 183. Text edited by Rosen 1977, p. 155.

[25] VS 26, 97 = Michel Women, no. 194. Text edited by Eisser & Lewy 1933, no. 215.

[26] CCT 4, 15a = Michel Women, no. 204. Letter to Ahatum and Mannum-kī-ēniya from Puzur-ilī translated by Michel 2001, no. 394.

[27] TC 2, 46 = Michel Women, no. 141. Letter to Aššur-mūtappil, Buzāzu and Ikuppaša from Ahaha translated by Michel 2001, no. 315.

[28] CCT 6, 11a = Michel Women, no. 168. Letter from Pūšu-kēn to Lamassī translated by Michel 2001, no. 300.

[29] KTS 1, 2b:7-10.

[30] AKT 5, 30 = Michel Women, no. 175. Letter to Atata and Qannuttum from Anah-ilī.