Ur III, the collective




Cradle to grave welfare state!


The Girsu messenger texts often show rations of beer, bread, and oil given to messengers on their way to and from different regions in the realm of the Ur III state.The Kelsey tablet translated above mentions Sabum, an area that lay east of southern Mesopotamia and is today part of Iran.The tablet is interesting because it mentions Ur-Ninsun, one of the sons of Amar-Su’en (2046–2038 BCE), the third king of the Ur III dynasty.The prince’s rations are much larger than the 3 to 5 liters of beer and bread an ordinary messenger would receive.

A comprehensive study of messenger texts from Girsu is still wanting and would greatly enhance our understanding of Mesopotamian diplomacy and relations with the East.The one messenger text published here and other Sumerian tablets in the Kelsey Museum collection will soon become available online, in digital images and in transliteration, as part of a larger project, the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI) at the University of California at Los Angeles.5 It is to be hoped that the transliterations will contribute to future studies of this important group of documents.

BCT1, 134 = 1982A1150

Here is an example of the scope of bureaucratic oversight

2 third-quality nilam-garments, their wool 31⁄3 minas each, their female workers 4, working for 2 months;
14 fourth-quality shaggy garments,
their wool 8 minas each,
their female workers 4 (working for 1 month); 7 woven garments,
their wool 3 minas each,
their female workers 1 (working for 1 month); 4 ordinary-quality linen (garments),
their thread 20 balls each,
their female workers 4,
working for 1 month;
11⁄2 female workers PA.URU
2 female workers, ill.
Total: 11 third-quality [nilam-garments],
their wool 36[2⁄3] mi[nas];
total: 154 [fourth-quality] shaggy garments, their wool 20 talents 32 [minas];
total: 77 woven garments,
their ……. wool 3 talents 51 [minas];
total: 44 ordinary quality linen (garments),
their thread 880 balls.
Grand total: 286 (wool) and linen garments;
grand total: 21 talents 82⁄3 minas of ……wool;
grand total: 3 talents 51 minas of …….wool;
grand total 880 balls of thread;
total 901⁄2 female worker-(months).
Weaving work over 11 months,
(and) 4 talents 38 minas 8 shekels of poor quality wool, brought to the palace
(as) tribute textiles on the account of the city
(by) Ea-Bani, governor of Eresh.
Intercalary month of cutting barley (month 12bis),
Year after Simurrum was raided for the third time (Shulgi 33). Verified by Mashgula, the officer.


The accounting maths used in this text may need some explanation.
Interpret the first four lines as: it takes a team of 4 women 2 months to make 2 nilam- garments using 31⁄3 minas of wool for each garment.
Line 31 tells us that the weaving work was done over 11 months.
Therefore in 11 months this team of 4 women would make 11 garments (as per the total in line 18) and use 362⁄3 minas of wool (as per the total in line 19).
The rest of the totals follow this same pattern and are correct.
The grand totals in lines 26-29 are simple summations of the relevant materials.
The total for the female workers however is incorrect as this should be 143 for the amount of work done. The scribe seems not to have used the 11 month period to calculate the total but rather seems to have multiplied the size of the team by the monthly production, respectively 16, 56, 7 and 16 (i.e. 95) minus 11⁄2 and 2 for the PA.URU and those who were ill which would leave 911⁄2 as opposed to the scribe’s 901⁄2. Thus he seems to have made a mathematical error as well as an accounting error!

Comments on the above document

1. Women were engaged and employed.
2. There existed a scale of measure of quality of textile.
3. Records were kept of the actual output of these weavers.
4. Somewhere else, someone else span the linen and wool thread to be used by these women.
5. By some means, these bureaucrats acquired this thread which they then supplied to these women.
6. These bureaucrats took possession of the textile woven by these women in return for food rations.
7. Presumably, these women shared their rations with others. Who?
8. These bureaucrats passed this textile on to other bureaucrats who were charged with distributing it to others on some basis, and eventually to its end users.
9. Some of the thread was tribute carried to “the palace” by some subordinate entity. This thread was introduced by administrative means into the commerce of the city.
10. I don’t understand the reference to the raid(s) on Simurrum. But these military actions were sufficiently memorable to explain the weaving activities of the women in question.
11. Mashgala “the officer” was responsible for verifying and reporting these transactions.


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