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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter July 8, 2022

Hard Times for Sippar Women: Three Late Old Babylonian Cases

  • Seth Richardson EMAIL logo


Despite important work on issues of gender and representation with regard to women’s history in Mesopotamia over the past generation or two, less direct attention has been devoted to the hard reality of women’s socio-economic inequality in this starkly patriarchal culture. The present contribution takes up three examples of groups of women living in varying degrees of hardship and deprivation in the Late Old Babylonian period: slave, poor nadītums, and dependents. I analyze small corpora of evidence about these women to make two basic points: first, Mesopotamian women were subject to structural inequities which manifested themselves in repeatable ways (without requiring that we call them “weak” or “powerless”); second, despite consistent and persistent inequality, women’s histories were yet as mutable and subject to change as those of men. It is no more effective to write the histories of only “strong women” than it is to write them of only “great men.” Intersectional issues such as socio-economic difference must be taken into account to arrive at a better working picture of this or any society.

1 Introduction

I take up three stories about women living in conditions of hardship (or at least relative deprivation) in the Late Old Babylonian period (1726–1595 BCE; hereafter, often abbreviated as “Late OB”). The first of these three episodes proceeds from the observation that a clear majority (two-thirds) of Babylonian slaves during this era were women. The second story concerns the declining living conditions of the Sippar nadītums. Since this community is known to have been relatively well-to-do in previous times, it may be counterintuitive to think of them in economic distress; but as we shall see, their economic position had deteriorated substantially by the seventeenth century. The third story has to do with a group of administrative texts documenting the disbursal of small amounts of rations to large numbers of dependent women residing in a temple household.

These three stories are not directly related to each other, nor can one be certain that they were even situations unique to or different in this time. Accidents of evidence may simply here make visible durable social problems for women which were otherwise common to many other times and places as well. I will thus consider along the way the possibilities to read these stories for two kinds of historical facts: one, that Mesopotamian women were subject to structural social and economic inequities which manifested themselves in repeatable ways; two, that even given the consistency of those inequities over time, women’s histories were also mutable and subject to change, if often (depressingly enough) mostly to the effect that when things got bad for men (as they generally did in the Late OB), they got twice as bad for women.

Work in social history is often based on methods of quantification. This is difficult for historians of ancient cultures, for whom critical demographic data is often lacking. There are therefore two imperatives behind the analysis of Mesopotamian texts for insights into socio-economic marginality: latterly to interpret and understand evidence, but first simply to identify and describe it. This contribution leans substantially toward this primary goal in simply presenting some bodies of textual evidence for communities or groups of socially-marginal women in northern Babylonia of the Late OB: more that they existed than why, why then, or how. This is therefore unabashedly a project of description (in the manner of a “notes-toward” contribution) and introduction of new evidence rather than of theorization and explanation.

To present and interpret basic evidence about socio-economic marginality in Mesopotamia is an exercise in “reading against the grain,” in the sense that even for periods when relevant documents are plentiful and historians have been inclined to publish them, qualitative information about marginality is not given by the texts. Why, how, and for how long people have been “down and out” can rarely be established. Most of the people referred to in economic and administrative texts of this period were people who belonged to more literate and economically stable urban households, and the matters discussed in such documents unsurprisingly tend to concern the doings of those same people and households. This cuneiform record was largely the precipitate of an administrative culture set up to account for the activities and lives of wealthy urban elites, only reflecting on the lives of the poor and disenfranchised in secondary and happenstance ways. Since a core discursive or generic condition of most cuneiform texts is that they take little interest in commenting on topics beyond their immediate concerns, it is often only stray bits of information which tell us anything about the lives of people living in social and economic precarity. This lack of “thick description” stands in the way of studying historical problems which we know existed, such as social violence, poverty, and inequality. Thus it is all the more important that we sit up and pay attention when consistent data, even in small amounts, can be identified.

Nor is it a small intervention to focus on the economic history of women in cuneiform antiquity. For one thing, women’s history requires serious attention to the economic roles of wives, daughters, slaves, priestesses, and professionals in finance, production, and household labor. These topics need to be forefronted. As Päivi Setälä (1989: 61) wrote already a generation ago of the economic opportunities and conflicts of Roman women, “it is no longer permissible to write about women in the ‘obligatory’ last chapter on hairstyles and dress.” And it is also important, as Zainab Bahrani has argued, to go beyond scholarly reconstructions in which women, often invisible in the record, are depicted without agency and “reduced to signs of exchange in a social economy which is essentially masculine.”[1]

But feminist imperatives to fund women’s history with examples of the achievements of “strong women” can never provide a complete analysis of ancient Near Eastern society, from which source material is often limited to reports on queens and other high-status women. The reality remains that most women’s lives, just as for other subalterns, are vastly underrepresented by the cuneiform record generally, and what there is of it cannot honestly be said to reflect a history of power in the aggregate. The last generation’s attention to issues of gender and representation, while important topics in their own right, has led away from a focus on work about the socio-economic inequalities which indelibly mark patriarchal cultures. To take but one example, the five workshops and publications of the ongoing “Gender, Methodology, and the Ancient Near East” project feature dozens of paper titles reflecting interest in women’s agency, representation, gender identity, and (mostly successful) roles in social, political, and economic activity. To be sure, these are important topics in their own right, much wonderful scholarship appears there, and (as one of the anonymous reviewers aptly put it) these perspectives were themselves “pushing back against an earlier narrative that saw Mesopotamian women as lacking any agency.” But there is little in these volumes about the experience of women suffering hunger, violence, poverty, or social exclusionor or inequality as such.[2] We cannot say (much as we might prefer to) that the subjective experience of Mesopotamian women was primarily about power and identity when deprivation and oppression are what is so amply demonstrated in our sources.

We must resist the temptation to think of either of these approaches as requiring priority or exclusive importance; it is important to attend both to the fact of structural inequalities as well as the (exceptional) examples of the people who defied their terms. And indeed they are related: we can give serious attention to intersections of class and gender, and especially the role of gender in constructions of disempowerment. In short, our work requires us to recognize both agency and oppression; both power and immiseration; giving scholarly attention to these topics are not opposing but complementary goals. This is much as Katrien De Graef (2018) has said in a recent analysis of the Sippar nadītums. She argues that their economic roles were originally constrained by social structures but secondarily developed into at least temporary agency and empowerment:

[T]he nadītu priestesses of Šamaš acted within the existing social structure or bounded circle of their Old Babylonian society, but as free agents took over economic roles usually filled by men. Although their agency was not the result of their own free choice—their family decided to invest them with these roles—the unintended result was the empowerment of this specific class of women as first-rank economic players.[3]

The effort I pursue here, then, is to look at when instances of women’s advantages and agencies diminishing or evaporating; to temper stories of success by putting them in historically-particular contexts.

2 Slavewomen

Women were enslaved more frequently than men in ancient Babylonia—as I will show, at up to twice the rate. If this seems an unsurprising postulate or conclusion, it is nevertheless important to quantify and demonstrate rather than merely assume, as well as to state it in an unqualified way.

In a recent article, I showed that more than two-thirds of foreign slave-women sold to Babylonian owners in the Late OB were female (73%).[4] Since the role of sex in enslavement has not received much direct attention,[5] an explanation for this imbalance remains wanting; more attention has gone to the question of “foreign” versus “native” slaves than to sex per se. It seems logical to propose that a greater incidence of enslavement for women was a result of the structural orders of the patriarchal households in which women were held to be less socially (and therefore economically) valuable than men.[6] Because women were normally under the patriarchal authority of men, they were more likely to be sold as debt slaves in hardship situations, both because the financial decision-making power lay with men and because women were considered more economically expendable. Vulnerability to enslavement would be especially true for women who had lost or endangered their positions in paternal households, by virtue of becoming widows, unmarried mothers, or otherwise unmarriageable daughters.[7]

As sensible as this explanation might seem, it is unfortunately difficult to prove. Few documents describe the original conditions of status formation for slaves, and I suspect that most mentioned in letters and contracts had already long been in status as slaves. Thus, we lack some of the corroborating evidence we might want to have, such as letters describing original sales into slavery for reasons internal to household economies, or a high proportion of contracts identifying male family members as the sellers of female slaves.[8] It is not, therefore, a testable hypothesis.

I return, then, to give more evidence for the original contention—that women were more frequently enslaved than men—and see if it permits us any further insights into the conditions under which that occurred. Was the imbalance of slaves by sex particular to the situation of foreign slaves in the Late Old Babylonian period, or did it pertain in other times as well? A brief survey of some sub-corpora of Old Babylonian documents about slaves suggests that this gender distribution among slaves was not uncommon. Let us first compare the distribution by sex of foreign slaves to the admittedly smaller sample of non-foreign slaves in the same period (i.e., 1726–1595 BCE), where I find 34 contracts documenting the sale of 38 persons; of these, 13 were men (34%)[9] and 25 were women (66%).[10] To compare with a larger sample, all Babylonian slaves sold prior to 1726 BCE,[11] I find 61 contracts of sale for slaves with a roughly similar gender distribution when the sex of the slave is identifiable in the text:[12] 66 persons were sold; of these, 25 (38%) were male and[13] 41 (62%) were female[14]—once again close to a one-third/two-thirds divide. In a third sample, the slave documents from the Diyala studied by Claudio Saporetti, I count 70 persons called slaves (i.e., as [sag].geme2/ir3) in all types of documents; of these, 40 were women (57%) and 30 were men (43%).[15] For a fourth and final sample, I looked at all letters in the series Altbabylonische Briefe in which mention specific numbers of slaves fewer than ten. Here the imbalance was smaller, but still with a pronounced difference: 140 letters mention a total of 198 slaves, of which 110 were women (55%), and 88 were men (45%).

This “test-trenching” of the evidence indeed seems to suggest that women were more commonly enslaved than men, although a complete study of all the available evidence would be needed to confirm that. For the moment, we are at least invited to think about the specific choices made in households about who was to be sold into slavery. Usually the sold person was a more “expendable” woman, but occasionally circumstances demanded the sale of a more “valuable” man (as reflected in the generally higher prices paid for male slaves).[16] The hypothesis that a widowed or otherwise unmarried woman might have been considered a financial liability and therefore more easily saleable is supported by the greater frequency with which children, when sold with slaves, were more likely to be sold with a woman than a man. Of the nine Old Babylonian slave sales from the first and second sample groups above in which children or infants were sold with an adult, that adult was a woman in seven cases.[17]

If foreign women were more commonly enslaved than men in the Late OB, this seems only to have been consistent to proportions by sex attested in other places and times. This tells us nothing about absolute numbers, although the slender amount of surviving evidence suggests some increase in the slave population. The tentative conclusion here: the data suggests that we have a window onto a social inequality for women which was broadly true during this era in Mesopotamia.

3 The Hungry nadītums (Again)

In 1991, Caroline Janssen identified that the residential district (the gagûm) in which the Sippar nadītums lived no longer appeared in real estate documents after the year Samsuiluna 30. Sales of houses and land prior to this time had routinely identified properties either located in or adjacent to the gagûm. Janssen made this observation in an analysis of copies of a royal letter in which Samsuiluna tasked Sippar officials with making sure that the nadītums who lived there were properly financially supported by their families; the order was occasioned by reports that the women had run out of food and were hungry. Based on this and an apparent decline of related gagûm titles in this time, Janssen postulated that the gagûm was foundering by the time of Samsuiluna, and perhaps altogether abandoned at some point thereafter.[18]

In a 2010 study, I re-examined the question based on the availability of new and unpublished texts. I found that Janssen’s core contention remained broadly convincing but required modification in potentially important ways. First, the absence of mentions of the gagûm in Late OB real estate documents has to be balanced with two factors: one, the general abeyance of textual production of all kinds in the reign of Abi-ešuḫ; two, the disappearance of all house and land sale documents after Ammiditana 9 (i.e., the last 70 years of the dynasty). That is, we cannot be surprised if the gagûm does not show up in real estate sale documents because there basically were none to begin with. These facts would not explain the absence of gagûm properties in, say, rental texts, but they do go some way towards mitigating the wholesale “disappearance” of the gagûm, as well as towards erasing the impression that women were less active in land sales than men in the Late OB.[19] Second, a variety of new evidence might lead one to better conclude that the district might have been diminished in size in the Late OB but was not altogether abandoned. This evidence includes new attestations of titles of overseers, scribes, and doorkeepers of the gagûm,[20] some texts indicating the corporate activity of the gagûm [21] virtually the only expression of social or economic collectivity for women in the Late OBand several new references to properties there.[22]

Yet even if the gagûm-district itself was shrinking, the population of nadītums remained numerous, and their range of business activities relatively unchanged. Aside from real estate sales, the nadītums continued to produce income from their real properties and crops as creditors and lessors, as well as from hiring out or selling slaves. They generally do not appear in texts as borrowers, lessees, or witnesses, or in connection with palace business, all of which is largely consistent with their activity earlier in the OB. Dozens of new attestations of previously unknown nadītums show that the title remained vigorously attested in the time of Ammiditana, Ammiṣaduqa, and Samsuditana.

But there is a stark shift in the distribution of texts. Whereas in the time of Hammurabi and Samsuiluna we see a large number of texts belonging to a relatively small number of wealthier nadītums, the Late OB shows us the opposite: many apparently less well-to-do women with only a few texts each. The majority of textual appearances of women called lukur d utu in the Late OB are single attestations. This seems to suggest a diffusion of nadītu activity out of their institutional residential district and into a community of more numerous but economically weaker actors. This suggests not so much an impoverishment of the gagûm, but a dispersal of the nadītum class—a change not only to their economic power overall, but a thinning out of what economic power there remained; less wealth, and divided between many more actors.

What do we know about these women in the Late OB? Since the many single attestations of unique individuals are not particularly helpful to establishing their status, I turn to the evidence for the Late OB nadītums who appear more frequently. In a separate study (as yet unpublished), I have catalogued all persons who appear in texts dated from the year Ammiditana 1 to Samsuditana 26 (i.e., the 84 years from 1683 to 1600 BCE) and who act as principals to contracts or who play some active role in administrative texts (e.g., as deliverers of goods or principal recipients[23]), rather than in passive roles (e.g., as witnesses or rationers). To date, I have identified more than 940 such individual actors.

Of these 940 persons, only forty-seven (5%) were women.[24] These women and their texts are profiled in Appendix 1. Thirty-five of these 47 women were titled nadītum, all but five devoted to Šamaš.[25] From this alone, it seems clear that although the share of independent economic activity being carried out by women in this century was small, the larger share still belonged to the nadītums of Šamaš. A comparison of the textual profiles of the nadītums and all contemporary textual actors shows a broad congruence in terms of the level of activity. The 35 Late OB nadītums appear in a total of 128 texts, an average of 3.7 texts each; the total number of years these nadītums were active comes to 578 years, an average of 16.5 years of activity each. If we compare this to all 940 textual actors, we find something very similar: an average of 4.2 texts per actor, and a timespan of activity averaging 13.1 years. Thus, the individual nadītums for whom we have more than one textual datapoint appear to keep pace with the 904 attested male actors in frequency of appearance and longeivity of activity, which must complicate De Graef’s view that “whereas male economic activity clearly recovered in the later Old Babylonian period, this seems not to have been the case for women,” at least in terms of volume of activity.[26] If anything, the “recovery” for male actors in the Late OB may be chimerical. It seems impossible to try to assess the wealth of the nadītums in any absolute or even relative terms. But if we recall that the nadītums mostly appear as creditors and lessors, rather than borrowers or lessees, and put this fact in conversation with their textual incidence and longeivity, it seems safe to conclude that the few nadītums with any substantial textual material remaining appear at least to have remained economically competitive with men.

How does this compare with previous times? One could make a comparison with the nadītums profiled by Rivkah Harris in 1962. The comparison cannot be exact: nine of the 39 women studied must be excluded from our comparison for various reasons.[27] Further, the fact that so many earlier texts are datable only by oaths makes it methodologically problematic to assess the longeivity of the dossiers.[28] But we can say with confidence that these earlier nadītums (many of whom clearly lived across several reigns) on average had larger dossiers of texts than their Late OB counterparts: the 30 earlier women appear as principals in a total of 225 texts for an average of 7.5 texts per nadītum, just about double the number of texts for the nadītums of the Late OB.[29] Especially given that texts of the later time might be expected to survive in greater numbers, closer to an end-of-archives event, it seems fair to state that the business affairs of the nadītums in earlier times were more robust. It is also likely that the proportion of active women not bearing religious titles had dramatically shrunk compared to Early and Middle OB times. On the basis of this evidence, at least, it does seem that not only do we see a more dispersed class of votary women for whom an institutional home seems to have become less relevant to their social and economic function, but whose economic status had declined overall.

4 Ration Accounts for Dependent Women in Sippar-Amnānum (Aṣ 10–Aṣ 17)

Some of the least well-preserved texts among the Late OB Sippar material held in the British Museum are ten burned and broken ration accounts documenting grain given out on a monthly basis in the latter half of Ammiṣaduqa’s reign (Aṣ 10–17). Undoubtedly, these texts belong to (as it has been uncharitably described to me) the “trash” of Sippar: texts too unlovely and fragmentary to make them good candidates for publication. But despite the many breaks, burned patches, and accretions, what remains legible on these tablets gives substantial information on a community of dependent women, many with children (usually girls), probably living at subsistence level under the protection of the Annunītum temple in Sippar-Amnānum. The women appear to not be associated with (m)any men, and one may assume they did not belong to any other household. The amounts of grain given are relatively small, typically 10–30 L for an entire month; in one case (BM 80067), the grain is called “stale” (šê lābīri). The amounts of grain disbursed remain consistently low in all of the texts. These amounts are both substantially less than the amounts received by men in related Annunītum ration texts (see below), who sometimes also received also wages (á) and meat (uzu).

Transliterations of these texts are given in Appendix 2; Table 1 gives a quick sense of their date and subject matter. Eight of the tablets belong to the BM collection 89-10-14; two others to the collection Bu. 88-5-12. Although the texts display some variety in their formats (both tabular and columnar, in both “portrait” and “landscape” orientation), several formal features unite them as a group. Six of the tablets are burned (B, C, E, G, H, J) and five are substantially broken (C–E, I–J). Six have check-marks near disbursed amounts, typically set atop the numbers (C–F, H, J). Five have an identifiable pillow shape (A, C–F) characteristic of other Annunītum temple ration lists.[30]

Table 1:

Ration texts in the Annunītum temple.

Text Inventory/collection nos. Date Description
A BM 79959 (89-10-14, 508) Aṣ 10/10/01 Account of šuku-rations given mostly to women.
B BM 78444 (Bu 88-5-12, 349) Aṣ 14/08/01 Distribution of grain rations to a household and its servants over a four-month period.
C BM 79951 (89-10-14, 500) Aṣ 14/08/01 Distribution of barley rations to household servants and children.
D BM 80066 (89-10-14, 613) Aṣ 14/03/03 Account of rations given to household servants and their children.
E BM 80067 (89-10-14, 614) Aṣ 14/05/01 Account of rations of stale grain given to household servants and their children.
F BM 79930 (89-10-14, 478) Aṣ 14?/06/-- Account of grain distributed as rations to women.
G BM 79785 (89-10-14, 333) Aṣ 17/04/12 Rations distributed to temple dependents and workers.
H BM 79485 (89-10-14, 26) Aṣ 17/05/-- Distribution of three months’ rations to temple servants, mostly women.
I BM 78881 (88-5-12, 67) Aṣ 17/08/04 Account of grain rations distributed to temple personnel, mostly women.
J BM 79765 (89-10-14, 313) OB --/--/-- Ration account for women.

More to the point, the texts document much the same things and in the same manner. Seven bear a header identifying them as accounts of grain rations (qāti [šê] šuku) (A–F, H), and two of those that do not include a later total or subscript identifying the grain as such (šuku é, G:51 and I:22–23). Seven identify the ration recipients as the servants of the household (sag.ìr ù sag.géme.ìr.meš [=aštapirū]): B–F, H, and I.[31] Three texts use two different measures of grain, both of Šamaš and Marduk (giš.bán d utu and d amar.utu), though the purposes for this distinction are not clear (C, G, I);[32] again, this feature probably is to be restored for some of the other broken texts.

A few other tablets, both published[33] and unpublished,[34] may also belong to this group of texts focused on women receiving small amounts of barley, but specific evidence linking them together is lacking at this time. The ten texts presented here are reminiscent of ration texts for women at Sippar-Amnānum[35] and for better-provisioned male Annunītum temple staff and their wives,[36] but an overall system of provisioning is hardly clear.

In the ten texts under discussion here, the recipients are almost exclusively women. This conforms to the segregation of men from women in ration lists generally. Four texts include rations for the children of individual women, usually daughters (Texts C–E and H). Text G differs in including a substantial number of men (esp. ll. 1–12, 26, 49–53), and a few other men’s names appear here and there, but their roles are rarely clear.[37] All of the texts except the summary Text B include some of the same overlapping women’s personal names, making it clear that the rations are given to the same population of dependents:

Aḫatani/Aḫatini (G, I)

Aḫatum (E, H, J)

Alanîtum (A, F)

Aliya-aḫati (G, I)

Amat-kubi (H, I)

Aya (A, C, D?, E, H)

Ebūritum (A, G)

Eliyatum (C?, H)

Ištar-bītum (A, F, G, H, I)

Ištar-gāmiltu (G, I)

Ištar-tukulti (A, E, F, H, J)[38]

Kubatum (C, D)

Kunnutum (A, C)

Kuritum (G?, H)

Mati-libluṭum (C, D)

Palê-[x] (H, J)

Puṣê (G, I)

Silakkum-ummi (C, D)

Šubartum (G, I)

Wašṭu (G, I)

We may assume that the incidence of overlapping names would be higher if the texts were not so broken, with so many names missing. Having said that, we should also note that the great majority of personal names appearing in these lists, even when legible, do not reappear in other lists; a good proportion of the dependents who appear here seem to be part of a shifting cast of characters, with a good deal of fluctuation among the population. None of these women is identified as the daughter or wife of any man (this differs even from other Annunītum ration texts in which the wives of officials are identified), and it almost goes without saying that, absent such information, none of these women can be identified in any text outside of this dossier of texts.

A few short notes on onomastics and prosopography are in order, although in general the number of names is too long to be treated completely here. First, it should be clear that some names which in some (but not all) contexts are certainly men’s names are here clearly the names of women, including those of the type theophoric element plus -bītum, -tukulti, ummī, and -balāṭu. They are clearly identified as women by the mí determinative before their names in all texts where their names appear except for Texts G and I, where the determinative is not used for any name (for whatever reason); in Text A, three women are titled ugula. That is, if we only had Texts G and I at our disposal, we might have mistaken many of these women for men.

We see also some unusual names pointing towards affinities for the cults and institutions of women—Eulmaš-balāṭu (G), Gagûm-ummī (G), Annunītum-ummī (I), Itti-Ištar-[x] (H), Nadītum (D, as a personal name), Ṣarpanitum-ṣillī (G)[39]—along with a variety of more familiar forms of bēltu and aḫātu names (Aḫātum, Aḫātani, Bēltiya, Bēliyatum, etc.). Along with the other associations to Annunītum as the cult of Ištar local to Sippar-Amnānum, we may then point to three entries which refer to Annunītum by her epithet as Šarrat-Sippar (D:III,4, G:40, I:17). Other somewhat unusual hypocoristic names in the corpus include Pūṣê (“pale/laundress”), Ebūritum (“Summer”), Ārittum (H, prob. “brought downstream”), Ḫanûsunu (C, “their kin”?), Wašṭu (“difficult”[40]), Maḫûtum/Maḫḫûtum (H, ma-ḫu-tum, perhaps “ecstatic”[41]).

The termination of this dossier, mostly burned and broken, seems likely to have coincided with the abandonment and destruction of Sippar-Amnānum attested for the end of Ammiṣaduqa’s reign; the conflagration that devoured Ur-Utu’s house also engulfed and destroyed the home of these dozens of dependent women.

5 Conclusion

As I stated at the outset of this contribution, there is no primary evidence which makes clear why any of these three situations came to be; whether they were typical or unusual; or had any connection to each other. This leaves us with speculation, which I will offer, but without burdening the evidence beyond what it may support. I would hazard only that if the three stories are to be explained as consequences of any larger general phenomenon, I think of the long-term effects of war as a primary cause. It may be no accident that we find this high incidence and broad range of women—slaves, nadītums, and dependents—all living in economic distress and without households in the long century following the intense warfare of the period c. 1914–1727 BCE. A long era of warfare across the entire region had produced the deaths of husbands and sons, in turn impoverishing and displacing households; we may note as well the high incidence of men in fortresses in this same period, mostly living without women (as far as the texts allow us to know). These background conditions of warfare and militarism may lie behind the range of disruptions to women’s lives we see in our texts. This kind of difference may speak to the potential for restoring a history of women as one requiring an account of changes, which should be no different from how we write the history of men. At the same time, the marginality of these women in social and economic terms seems similar in kind, if not degree, to positions of disadvantage visible in other Babylonian times and places. It is my hope that these modest notes on different bodies of evidence can help serve towards a future evaluation of such questions.

Corresponding author: Seth Richardson, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA, E-mail:

I thank Evelyne Koubková and Klaus Wagensonner for their help with reading unpublished NBC 11472 and YBC 10834.

Appendix 1: Dossiers of Women Active in the Late Old Babylonian Period

The women listed here are attested as principals in more than one text in the reigns of Ammiditana, Ammiṣaduqa, and Samsuditana.

Aja-rišat d. Ilšu-ibni ugula dam.gàr lukur d utu.

Text count: 12. Attested activity: 45 years (Ad 4–Aṣ 11). Texts: MHET II 4 493 (Ad 29), 486 (Ad 6), 496 (Ad --), 528 (Aṣ 12), 496 (Ad --), CT 6 6 (Aṣ 11), CT 45 45 (Ad --) and 50 (Ad 24), CT 50 4 (Ad 24), BDHP 18 (Ad --) and 19 (Ad 29); unpublished: BM 80307 (Ad 4). Sippar.

Amat-bēltim/bēleti d. Ipqu-Annunitum lukur d utu.

Text count: 2. Attested activity: 44 years (Ad 5–Aṣ 11). Texts: MHET I 4 (Aṣ 11), BBVOT 1 111 (Ad 05). Sippar-Amnānum.

Amat-bēltim d. Nūr-Šamaš lukur d utu (si. Sîn-išmeanni).

Text count: 3. Attested activity: 3 years (Aṣ 17–Aṣ 19). Texts: MHET II 4 552 (Aṣ 17), VS 29 15 (Aṣ 19); unpublished: BM 79873 (Aṣ 17). Sippar.

Amat-Mamu d. Awīl-Nabium lukur d utu .

Text count: 2. Attested activity: 1+ year (Aṣ 6). Texts: MHET II 509 (Aṣ 06), CT 8 19 (Aṣ). Sippar.

Amat-Mamu d. Ipqu-Adad lukur d utu .

Text count: 3. Attested activity: 1 year (Aṣ 14). Texts: CT 47 70 and 73?, MHET II 4 522 (all Aṣ 14). Sippar.

Amat-Mamu d. Ipqu-Annunitum lukur d utu .

Text count: 4. Attested activity: 21 years (Ad 2–Aṣ 11). Texts: MHET II 4 521 (Aṣ 11) and 522 (Aṣ 11), VS 29 53 (as d. Ipqatum) (Ad 28), TLOB 1 22 (Ad 02). Sippar.

Amat-Šamaš d. Ibni-Marduk gala.maḫ Inanna lukur d utu .

Text count: 2. Attested activity: 1 year (Sd 13). Texts: VS 29 84 and 109 (both Sd 13). Sippar.

Amat-Šamaš d. Marduk-mušallim lukur d utu .

Text count: 8. Attested activity: 5 years (Ad 15–Ad 19). Texts: BE 6/1 89 (Ad 19), CT 8 30a (Ad 18), YOS 13 8 (Ad), VS 29 17 (Ad 17) and 118 (Ad 14); unpublished: BM 78807 (Ad 15), BM 81571 (Ad), Columbia F125 (Ad 25+). Sippar.

Amat-Šamaš d. Sîn-nadin-šumi máš.šu.gíd.gíd lukur d utu .

Text count: 6. Attested activity: 12 years (Sd 10–Sd 21). Texts: unpublished: BM 97872 (Sd 10), 97651 (Sd 11), 97828 (Sd 21), 97223 (Sd 10), 97399 (Sd 12?), 97857 (Sd 10). Sippar.

Awat-Aja d. Nabi-Šamaš/Nabi-ilīšu lukur d utu .

Text count: 3. Attested activity: 10? years (Ad 4?–Ad 15). Texts: BE 6/1 119 (Ad), YOS 13 470 (OB), YOS 13 12 (Ad 15). Sippar-Amnānum.

Awat-Aja d. Warad-Sîn lukur d utu .

Text count: 2. Attested activity: 4 years (Ad 2–Ad 5). Texts: BBVOT 1 111 (Ad 05); unpublished: BM 96982 (Ad 02). Sippar.

Azzanitum d. Nabi-iliš lukur d Marduk Babili.

Text count: 2. Attested activity: 30 years (Ad 18–Aṣ 11). Texts: VS 22 172 (Ad 18) and 17 (Aṣ 11). Babylon.

Bēlessunu d. Gimil-Marduk lukur d utu .

Text count: 2. Attested activity: 30 years (Ad 24–Aṣ 16). Texts: TCL 1 169 (Aṣ 16), CT 45 50 (Ad 24). Sippar.

Bēlessunu d. Ilī-iqīšam [lukur? x].

Text count: 2. Attested activity: 1+ year (Aṣ 13). Texts: unpublished: BM 13179? (Ad/Aṣ), 17568 (Aṣ 13). Sippar.

Bēlessunu d. Ilšu-bāni lukur d utu .

Text count: 3. Attested activity: 2 years (Aṣ 12–Aṣ 13). Texts: BDHP 15 (Aṣ 12), BAP 75 (Aṣ 13); unpublished: BM 13179 (Ad/Aṣ). Sippar.

Bēlitum d. Ipquša lukur d utu .

Text count: 5. Attested activity: 42 years (Ad 5–Aṣ 9). Texts: BBVOT 1 102 (Ad 06), 111+112 (Ad 05), MHET II 558 (Aṣ); unpublished: BM 79189 (Aṣ 09), 79907? (Aṣ 03). Sippar.

Bēlitum m í lú.kurú

Text count: 2. Attested activity: 2 years (Aṣ 13–Aṣ 14). Texts: unpublished: BM 17146? (Aṣ 13), 81483? (Aṣ 14). City uncertain.

Bēlitum w. Ili-Zababa.

Text count: 2. Attested activity: 35 years (Ad 6–Aṣ 3). Texts: VS 18 31 (Aṣ 03) and 32 (Ad 6). Kiš.

Bēltakunu si. Ilassunu.

Text count: 4. Attested activity: 1 year (Sd 14). Texts: YOS 13 464, 465, 515, and 516 (all Sd 14). City uncertain.

Bēltani d. Ilšu-nāṣir lukur d Marduk Babili.

Text count: 3. Attested activity: 23 years (Ad 1–Ad 23). Texts: VS 22 11 (Ad 1) and 16 (Ad 23); unpublished: BM 96973 (Ad 10). Babylon.

Bet(t)akunu d. Ina-palêšu.

Text count: 8. Attested activity: 2 years (Sd 13–Sd 14). Texts: YOS 13 467 (Sd 13) and 389, 391, 392, 394, 395, 398, 463 (all Sd 14). City uncertain.

Dan-eressa d. Marduk-lamassašu lukur d Zababa.

Text count: 3. Attested activity: 27 years (Ad 31–Sd 1). Texts: TJA G59 (Ad 31) and H62 (Aṣ), YOS 13 242 (Sd 1). Kiš.

Erišti-Šamaš d. Ilšu-ibni si. Eribam-Ištar lukur d utu .

Text count: 7. Attested activity: 45 years (Ad 8–Aṣ 15). Texts: YOS 13 376 (Aṣ 1), 385 (Aṣ 10), 402 (Ad 8), 484 (Aṣ 9), MHET II 542 (Aṣ 15) and 523 (Az 11), BE 6/1 83 (Ad 31). Sippar.

Ḫanbatum d. Ibni-sag.kud lukur d utu .

Text count: 2. Attested activity: 12 years (Aṣ 5–Aṣ 16). Texts: MHET II 508 (Aṣ 5) and 546 (Aṣ 16). Sippar.

Ilša-ḫegalli d. Bitum-māgir nu.gig.

Text count: 2. Attested activity: 1+ year (Ad 34). Texts: MHET II 657 (Ad) and 895 (Ad 34). Sippar.

Iltani d. Ibbatum lukur d utu .

Text count: 2. Attested activity: 2 years (Aṣ 17–Aṣ 18). Texts: Schiel, SFS 107 (Aṣ 17); unpublished: BM 17381 (Aṣ 18). Sippar.

Ina-lalêšu d. Pirḫi-ilīšu lukur d utu .

Text count: 4. Attested activity: 42 years (Ad 1–Aṣ 5). Texts: CT 8 11b (Aṣ 05), CT 48 95 (Ad 1), BDHP 8 (Ad 28) and 47 (Ad 2). Sippar.

Ina-libbi-eršēt d. Pirḫi-ilīšu lukur d utu .

Text count: 9. Attested activity: 57? years (Ae 14?–Aṣ 5). Texts: CT 8 1b (Ae “n” [=14?]), 11b (Aṣ 5), CT 48 95 (Ad 1), BDHP 8 (Ad 28) and 47 (Ad 2), ZA 58 167, MHET II 487 (Ad 7), 508 (Ad 5); unpublished: BM 81497 (Ad 13). Sippar.

Ina-libbi-eršēt d. Warad-ilīšu lukur d utu .

Text count: 8. Attested activity: 24 years (Ad 32–Aṣ 18). Texts: BDHP 2 (Ad 36), CT 8 40 (Ad 32), MHET II 555 (Aṣ 18), 514 (Aṣ 8), 702 (Ad/Aṣ), 506 (Aṣ 4), 736 (Ad/Aṣ); unpublished: BM 80458 (Aṣ 5). Sippar.

Lamassani d. Awīl-Sîn lukur d utu .

Text count: 2. Attested activity: 5 years (Ad 11–Ad 15). Texts: YOS 13 12 (Ad 15), BDHP 18 (Ad 11). Sippar.

Lamassani d. Ilšu/Ilum-dāmiq lukur d utu .

Text count: 3. Attested activity: 14 years? (Ae 19?–Ad 4?). Texts: BE 6/1 119 (Ad 4?), MHET II 656 (Ae “o” [=19?]); unpublished: BM 78672 (OB). Sippar-Amnānum.

Lamassani d. Sîn-iddinam lukur d utu .

Text count: 2. Attested activity: 17 years (Ae 27–Ad 15). Texts: YOS 13 12 (Ad 15), MHET II 470 (Ae 27). Sippar.

Liwwir-Esagila(-Marduk) d. Awīl-Sîn (s. Imgur-Sîn) lukur d Marduk

Text count: 2. Attested activity: 15 years (Ad 31–Aṣ 6). Texts: BE 6/1 84 (Ad 31), 104 (Aṣ 6). Sippar.

Melulatum d. Ipquša/Ipqu-Annunitum* lukur d utu .

Text count: 4. Attested activity: 18 years (Ad 4–Ad 21). Texts: BE 6/1 90 (Ad 21), MHET II 483 (Ad 4), JCS 16 10 (Ae/Ad), BAP 68* (Ad 02). Sippar.

Naramtani d. Etel-pī-Marduk s. Lipit-Ištar lukur d utu .

Text count: 2. Attested activity: 1+ year (Ad 15). Texts: YOS 13 12 (Ad 15) and 470 (post-Si 30). Sippar.

Narubtum d. Marduk-lamassašu abi erén.

Text count: 3. Attested activity: 7 years (Ad 1–Ad 7). Texts: AbB 7 48 (Ad 1), CT 33 27 (Ad 4), OLA 21 14 (Ad 7). Sippar.

Nīši-inīšu lukur d utu .

Text count: 2. Attested activity: 1 year (Sd 18). Texts: BBVOT 1 121 and 138 (both Sd 18). Sippar.

NN w. Pejâ.

Text count: 3. Attested activity: 1+ year (late Aṣ). Texts: YOS 13 176, 179, 184 (all late Aṣ). Sippar.


Text count: 3. Attested activity: 1 year (Aṣ 15). Texts: BE 6/1 100, TLOB 1 60 and 61 (all Aṣ 15). Sippar.

Ruttija d. Išme-Sin išib/nin.dingir d Zababa.

Text count: 2. Attested activity: 1 years (Aṣ 14–Sd 5). Texts: TJA H58 (Aṣ 14), YOS 13 192 (Sd 05). Kiš.

Saʾilatum d. Galdanu.

Text count: 3. Attested activity: 3 years (Aṣ 13–Aṣ 15). Texts: TIM 4 53 (Aṣ 15), TLOB 1 83a (Aṣ 12), CT 8 10a (Aṣ 15). Sippar-Amnānum.

Sābītum d. Ibbatum, wi. Warad-Kubi, and ēmiqu of Pirḫi-ilišu.

Text count: 2. Attested activity: 1+ years (Ad). Texts: CT 48 50 (Ad), TJA H24 (Ad?). Sippar.

Šamuḫtum d. Ibbi-Šamaš .

Text count: 2. Attested activity: 27+ years (Ad 12–Aṣ). Texts: TCL 1 170 (Aṣ); unpublished: BM 55961 (Ad 12). Sippar.

Šāt-Aja d. Marduk-muballiṭ lukur d utu .

Text count: 2. Attested activity: 1+ year (Ad 4). Texts: BE 6/1 119 (Ad 4); unpublished: BM 78672 (OB). Sippar-Amnānum.

Šerikti-Aja d. Marduk-nāṣir lukur d utu .

Text count: 2. Attested activity: 4 years (Aṣ 4–Aṣ 7). Texts: ArDer 39 (Aṣ 7), MHET II 503 (Aṣ 4). Sippar-Amnānum.

Ṭāb-Esagil d. Marduk-muballiṭ (s. Ipqu-Ištar) lukur d Marduk Babili.

Text count: 3. Attested activity: 17 years (Ad 7–Ad 23). Texts: VS 22 16 (Ad 23), YOS 13 91 (Ad 33), 93 (Ad 7?). Babylon/Kiš.

Taribatum d. Warad-Sîn lukur d utu .

Text count: 5. Attested activity: 1 year (Aṣ 16). Texts: CT 2 8, CT 4 31a, MHET II 544, 545 and 549 (all Aṣ 16). Sippar.

Appendix 2: Ration Texts for Dependent Women in the Annunītum Temple, Aṣ 10–Aṣ 17

Text A. BM 79959 (89-10-14, 508) 85 × 63 × 26 mm Aṣ 10/10/01

Account of šuku-rations given mostly to women.


The tablet is tabular, pillow-shaped, and unsealed. The reverse is largely illegible due to obscuration by salts; but is perhaps uninscribed anyway. As in other texts of this group, the checkmarks are generally inscribed on top of the amounts rather than after them; the checkmarks cease with line 4.

  1. The persons by these names who appear in later texts do not bear the ugula title, nor any other.

  2. These lines slope together, partially overwriting the end of line 3.

Text B. BM 78444 (Bu 88-5-12, 349) 37 × 40 × 19 mm Aṣ 14/08/01

Distribution of grain rations to a household and its servants over a four-month period.


The tablet is burned, especially the obverse.

This is the only tablet in the archive that is sealed; the identity of the owner unfortunately cannot be reconstructed.

  1. Because the text accounts for four months of rations (from Month 4 to Month 7, totaled in line 5), and because it is clearly dated to Day 1 of some month, the best guess is that the text dates to the first day on which those four months were retrospective, namely Month 8.

Text C. BM 79951 (89-10-14, 500) 84 × 63 × 20 mm Aṣ 14/08/01

Distribution of barley rations to household servants and children.


The tablet is pillow-shaped and landscape-format, with check-marks (here and following denoted by the (•) symbol).

The tablet is so thoroughly burned on its reverse that carbonized residue adheres in substantial quantities; when held in hand, the burned smell of the object is still sensible.

The obverse has a three-column format at least through l. 10; from l. 20 on the reverse, it follows a two-column format.

  1. sag.géme.ìr.meš = aštapīru, “household servants.”

  2. The use of the two measures (giš.bán d utu and giš.bán d amar.utu) is also a feature of BM 79785 and 78881.

Text D. BM 80066 (89-10-14, 613) 80* × 57 × 23 mm Aṣ 14/03/03

Account of rations given to household servants and their children.


This pillow-shaped tablet is broken on either end, essentially thus the middle 2/3 of a tablet.

The tablet has a four-column format, but the fourth column on the reverse is blank.

  1. Presumably this refers to 2 dumu.[munus].ni.

  2. The first broken line of this column is the header, which spans both columns.

  3. The check-mark here is impressed directly on the še sign.

  4. Note the total amount of grain is very close to the 4.2.3 gur total on BM 80067.

Text E. BM 80067 (89-10-14, 614) 53* × 62 × 22 mm Aṣ 14/05/01

Account of rations of stale grain given to household servants and their children.


The fragment is the left-half of a burned pillow-shaped, columnar-format tablet, probably originally close to 100 mm in total width. The tablet is badly abraded overall. Like BM 80066, it has four columns.

Note that the burning of the broken edge suggests that the burning occurred after the tablet was broken.

  1. See CAD L sub. lābiru mng. 3c (p. 31), “stale” grain.

Text F. BM 79930 (89-10-14, 478) 80 × 60 × 23 mm Aṣ 14?/06/--

Account of grain distributed as rations to women.


The format of this pillow-shaped tablet is tabular, with a header and then three columns, ruled by both row and column. Check-marks ll. 18 and 21.

The tablet is very broken and extremely hard to read.

  1. This PN seems unlikely, as there are no attested names for women beginning with Marduk.

Text G. BM 79785 (89-10-14, 333) 57 × 112 × 27 mm Aṣ 17/04/12

Rations distributed to temple dependents and workers.


The tablet is burned on the obverse and has fingernail-impressions along the right edge. The format is similar to that of BM 78881 and 79485.

  1.   The onomastic form Ina-tajjar-DN has few parallels; DN-tajjar is perhaps the closest in this period (e.g., Šamaš-tajjar).

  2.   Nice name: “Šamaš-is-the-physician.”

  3.   ud.du perhaps to be read as wāṣītum, an expeditionary soldier.

  4.   Perhaps similar to the common OB feminine name Ruttum (“companion”).

  5.   As with ll. 36–37 and 50–51, here the tablet has a two-column format.

  6.   Perhaps hypocoristic for a woman from GN Ḫabḫu (a MA toponym); cf. adjective ḫabḫaja.

  7.   Probably from pūṣû, “whiteness”; cf. NA/NB puṣāya, “laundress.”

  8.   Probably in error for Aḫatani.

  9.   é = bīt abi, “paternal estate”; the ki determinative is unusual.

Text H. BM 79485 (89-10-14, 26) 46 × 73 × 22 mm Aṣ 17/05/--

Distribution of three months’ rations to temple servants, mostly women.


The text is written in an extremely tight, small script, with check marks interspersed; in a tabular format, with all lines ruled except the header (lines 1–2). The tablet shows evidence of burning.

  1. Note here and following the general scheme for doubled rations in Month 7.

  2. It is unusual to find a writing (“her daughter”) preceded by a determinative; perhaps it is simply convention to the list format.

  3. It is possible this is a hypocoristic form of either (w)ārittu (“brought downstream,” said of a slave) or (less likely) arītu (“pregnant”).

  4. I.e., the slave of Annum-pî-ša.

  5. This may refer to a quantity of pulses (chick pea?) called appannu.

  6. Note the mistaken substitution of the alan sign for the urudu determinative; it may be that both alan+urudu are hidden in the break.

Text I. BM 78881 (88-5-12, 67) 55 × 89 × 25 mm Aṣ 17/08/04

Account of grain rations distributed to temple personnel, mostly women.


The tablet is in a columnar format, with the left edge entirely broken away.

  1. wašṭu = “unyielding.”

  2.   No visible fragmentary signs in the left column, probably a shared entry with line 9. Note the strange (possibly archaized) dumu, with the “flying” wedges proceeding from the end of the sign.

  3.   Regarding the é gašan-zimbirki (Šarrat-Sippar), cf. Bongenaar (1997) and Joannès (1992a).

  4. = maṣṣar(t)u; see CAD M/1, 341ff., where the most common uses of EN.NU.UN are followed closely by the name of a temple, gate, city or quay.

  5.   I.e., “From yesterday to today.”

  6.  The lú.diri also appear in BM 80067; = “x amount given for extra men, ‘killed’.” The total amount of grain that is visible comes to 11.4.1, 1 še.gur, at least 3,551 L of barley.

Text J. BM 79765 (89-10-14, 313) 53 × 67* × 23 mm OB --/--/--

Ration account for women.


CBTBM VIII:203: “account; check-marks”

This text is burned and broken; it is not pillow-shaped. The obverse has a five-column format; it was likely tabular, but if there was a header, it is now broken away. It is not clear that the format on the reverse continues the same columns. There is a checkmark after every visible entry on the obverse, and these have only been omitted here for the sake of clarity; there are no checkmarks on the reverse.

No total or date is visible.

  1. The beginnings of these lines are obscured by accreted material.


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Published Online: 2022-07-08
Published in Print: 2022-11-25

© 2022 the author(s), published by De Gruyter, Berlin/Boston

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