Slaves or not, Babylonians were like us, says book

Slaves or not, Babylonians were like us, says book
This is one of the cuneiform tablets that Jonathan Tenney, assistant professor of ancient Near Eastern studies, addresses in the new book, "Life at the Bottom of Babylonian Society: Servile Laborers at Nippur in the 14th and 13th Centuries, B.C." With the permission of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

(PhysOrg.com) -- They got married, had children, made beer. Although they lived 3,500 years ago in Nippur, Babylonia, in many ways they seem like us. Whether they were also slaves is a hotly contested question which Jonathan Tenney, assistant professor of ancient Near Eastern studies, addresses in the newly released "Life at the Bottom of Babylonian Society: Servile Laborers at Nippur in the 14th and 13th Centuries, B.C." (Brill).

The book is based on Tenney's dissertation at the University of Chicago, for which he received the 2010 Dissertation of the Year Award by the American Academic Research Institute in Iraq.

Some previous scholars identified the 8,000-strong group of government workers as temple employees. "But the problem is the records included food for little babies, which didn't make much sense," says Tenney, who joined the Cornell faculty this past fall. "And sometimes the workers ran away, and when they were captured they were put in prison."

Tenney translated more than 500 in his hunt for the truth about these weavers, musicians, "water sprinklers" and others in service to the governors of Nippur. By using quantitative measurements to create , he was able to look at , family structure and the legal status of this population. He then compared the Babylonian group's demography with other better-studied groups, such as those in Roman Egypt, medieval Tuscany and on American slave plantations.

"Whether they're slaves is not what's valuable to me about this work," Tenney says. "The point is we don't have an historical demography of Babylonia at all. We don't even know how many people were living there at any given time." His book is the most detailed study yet done of any population group in Babylonia.

The picture Tenney draws of family life in this servile population is surprising in its mundanity. By far the majority of households were nuclear, husband-wife-children or a with children, usually a widow, instead of slaves living together or in groups. Tenney was able to track some families for as long as 32 years.

"As you start to work with slavery you realize how many misconceptions we have," he says. "Being a slave doesn't necessarily mean you can't have a family life and raise children and develop your own individual culture and identity. I think that slavery and freedom exist on a continuum of varying degrees." He left it to his readers to decide where the Babylonians about whom he wrote fit on that continuum.

The tablets Tenney translated were excavated by scholars from the University of Pennsylvania in the 1890s in what is now Iraq; they are some of the earliest Babylonian texts ever found. Tenney will publish the raw data from his research in the forthcoming "Middle Babylonian Administrative and Legal Documents Concerning the Public Servile of Nippur."


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Xbw
Jan 06, 2012
During "bible times" there were different levels and understanding of slavery. Indentured servants were referred to as "slaves". Often times, someone whose family was living on the land and working off a debt were referred to as slaves.

I'm not saying it was right of course. We have such a black and white view of slavery nowadays but it was a different time back then and it is fascinating to discover the differences and the parallels to our culture today. Remember - a great man once said, "If we do not remember our past, we are condemned to repeat it."

Jan 06, 2012
We now have state sponsored slavery: food stamps, unemployment, ....

Jan 06, 2012
We now have state sponsored slavery: food stamps, unemployment, ....

NOT working and being supplied with the means to live at the existential minimum is not slavery.

Slavery is when people are treated as property and are forced to work.

Jan 06, 2012
Noam Chomsky notes that those who were against the abolition of slavery in the US used an interesting argument. He brings it into a modern prospective by comparing the treatment of a rental car versus a car you own. We all know which car you likely take better care of.

Which follows that slave owners argued because they own a the property (a slave), they are more likely to treat them better than someone who rents them as wage earners, essentially viewing them replaceable parts of a machine.

He was not defending slavery, merely stating how easily crude arguments can be twisted into being rational for one's own ends.

Jan 06, 2012
Becuase the bible says so and the bible is always true. Who makes up these titles?

Jan 06, 2012
We now have state sponsored slavery: food stamps, unemployment, ....


This would appear to be the opposite of slavery...

Jan 06, 2012
We now have state sponsored slavery: food stamps, unemployment, ....


This would appear to be the opposite of slavery...

They become dependent upon the state and must do what the state demands to live.

Jan 06, 2012
We now have state sponsored slavery: food stamps, unemployment, ....


This would appear to be the opposite of slavery...

They become dependent upon the state and must do what the state demands to live.


Oh, now I understand what you meant.

Jan 06, 2012
A draftee is a slave of the state until he serves his "military obligation".

A taxpayer could be considered a slave of the state for a fraction of her time, based on her tax rate.

In North Korea, most of the population could be considered slaves of the state.

Jan 06, 2012
They become dependent upon the state and must do what the state demands to live.

No. They have the right to look for a job, leave the country, or xercise any and all rights that all other citizens have. Ther is no force here.

You are equating charity to slavery. Not even in the most twisted way does this make any sense.

Jan 07, 2012
The title of Hayek's book "The Road to Serfdom" was intentional.

You are equating charity to slavery.

Charity is FREELY given not coerced by the state. Most people who receive charity understand they are not entitled and there is usually someone for them to thank.

Jan 07, 2012
The only difference between a penalty and a fine is conviction.
If you fail to pay the penalty, you may be prosecuted and if convicted ordered to pay a fine.

Jan 07, 2012
They had children? Ye Gods! I wonder if they also ate food. Come on, it's possible!

Jan 08, 2012
They had children? Ye Gods! I wonder if they also ate food. Come on, it's possible!


Likely, but not conclusive.

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