Archives par mot-clé : slave

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.