► Second REFEMA workshop (Tokyo, June 2013)

REFEMA Second Workshop

The economic role of  women in the public sphere in Mesopotamia:
from the workshop to the marketplace (1)

Le rôle économique des femmes dans l’espace public en Mésopotamie:
de l’atelier au marché (1)

公共の場における女性の経済的役割:職人工房から市場まで (1)

June 2013 24 & 25

at Chuo University (Tokyo, Japan)



Monday 24th June

12h45 – 13h00    Welcome address (F. Karahashi)

13h00 – 13h30    F. Joannès, Women at work in Babylonian temples during the First Millenium B.C.

13h30 – 14h00    E. Matsushima, Women who played the role of interceder

14h00 – 14h30 Coffee Break

14h30 – 15h00    G. Tolini, Femmes, apprentissage, voyage

15h00 – 15h30    L. Cousin, The female perfume-makers in the Neo-Assyrian & Neo-Babylonian documentations

15h30 – 16h00    Y. Watai, Project of a Prospographical Study of Neo-Babylonian Women (2)

16h00 – 16h30    Discussion (First Millennium)

17h00 – 19h00 Buffet

 Tuesday 25th June

10h00 – 10h30    J. Justel, The Active Role of Nuzi Women in Loan Contracts

10h30 – 11h00    M. Yamada, Because She is a Daughter of Emar”

11h00 – 11h30    Discussion (Nuzi & Emar)

11h30 – 12h00 Coffee Break

12h00 – 12h30    C. Michel, Assyrian Women’s Contribution to International Trade with Anatolia

12h30 – 13h00    I. Nakata, A Preliminary Report on nadītu’s in the Old Babylonian Sippar Documents

13h00 – 13h30    Discussion (Second Millennium) 

13h30 – 15h30 Lunch

15h30 – 16h00    B. Lafont, Women at work and economic life during the Ur III period 

15h30 – 16h00    F. Karahashi, šu-í «barber» and šu-í-munus «female barber» in the Early Dynastic Lagash Texts

16h00 – 16h30    Discussion (Third Millennium)

16h30 – 17h00    General Discussion + Coffee

18h00 – Dinner


Contact in Paris: laura.cousin2(at)wanadoo.fr

Contact in Tokyo: wataiyoko(at)gmail.com

(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]u.la gašan.mu dNa.na.a: 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

[dPap.nu]n.an.ki 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 nidlam.a.ni nin Nibruki.kex  é.gi4.a.gal  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. dNun.gal.la … é.gi4.a.ni  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.