Front Page Titles (by Subject) XXII: SALES - Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters
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XXII: SALES - Rev. Claude Hermann Walter Johns, Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters 
Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1904).
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Their importanceAlienation of property in perpetuity was a matter for serious consideration, where all property was as much that of the family as of the individual. A change of ownership, particularly in the case of land or house, also directly concerned the neighbors. Hence the deeds of sale are imposing documents. Whether the object sold was a piece of land, a house, or a slave, the same general treatment was accorded to it.
The formal preliminariesThere were the same formalities as in all deeds. First the purchaser approached the vendor and there was an interchange of ideas, often through a third party, prolonged over a considerable space of time. When etiquette had been satisfied and all the preliminary haggling was over, the parties agreed upon a scribe, who was made acquainted with the terms of the sale, already verbally agreed upon, and he set down in the imperishable clay the legal instrument which should bind the parties to their contract forever.
The registration of titlesUndoubtedly both parties took a copy, and it seems clear that a third was deposited in the temple archives as a sort of registration of title. It seems probable that each party sealed the copy held by the other, but this surmise awaits confirmation. As a rule, the same seal seems to have been used for all copies, and the witnesses in early times also affixed their seals. A more exhaustive study must be made before this can be regarded as certain. Even where duplicates exist in our museums, it has been usual to publish only one.
The method of identifying the property transferred and the parties concernedAs a rule, the scribe followed a very definite plan. First he made clear the identity of the property. This was the specification. In the case of land, neighbors were set down, boundaries given, in some cases the size of the plot. In each sale the specification is very important. The personal identity of the parties was usually sufficiently fixed by appending to their names those of their fathers. In many cases, the office or rank held by a party is added. Occasionally the name of the grandfather, or clan-father is added. When either party was a stranger, his nationality, or city, or tribe, is given. As a rule, the same information is attached to the names of witnesses. These notes of personal identity are very valuable, for they furnish means for reconstructing long genealogies, and they throw much light on the intercourse of varied peoples. Babylonia seems always to have had a very mixed population.
Means of protecting the buyer from fraudHaving made it impossible for any mistake to arise as to the property sold or the parties concerned, the scribe proceeded to guard against errors regarding the nature of the transaction. The house or other property “was sold,” “the money paid,” “in full,” and so on. Then he sought to make it clear that there could be no withdrawal from the bargain, nor after-claims raised. There was danger that the family might put in a claim to the property. An illustration of this is a suit brought to reclaim a house sold, which was the claimant’s reversion—an actual redemption of ancestral property. From such perils the buyer was protected by heavy penalties on the seller, who in fact engaged to indemnify him.
The legal verbiageThese and many other complicated questions must have long been the subject of consideration in Babylonian legal circles. As a consequence, the scribe usually drew up the deed, in set terms, with a formula consecrated by long use, every turn of which was important.
The following is a good example of the way a scribe drew up a deed of sale:1
A specimen deed of saleTappum, son of Iarbi-ilu, “has bought two gan of field, in the Isle, next to the field of asri-kuttim, and the field of Sin-abushu, son of Ubar-Ishtar, from Salatum, daughter of Apilia, the gi-a-gi(?) and has paid its full price in silver. The business is completed, the contract is valid, his heart is content. In future, man with man, neither shall take exception. By the name of Shamash, Marduk, Sin-mubaliṭ and the city of Sippara, they swore.”
Then follows a list of about twenty witnesses, the names of whose fathers are also given. Usually the date is added. Here, however, it is either omitted or has been lost.
The body of the document in SumerianIn this particular case the words within quotation marks are written in Sumerian. The variations are slight as a rule, but enough to show that the scribe understood what he wrote and could make correct changes when needful. The use of such a large amount of Sumerian in these deeds, along with Semitic names and specifications, has often been compared to the retention of Latin words in the body of legal documents in European countries, almost to the present day. It will be noted that this portion constitutes the formal body of the document, and might well have been kept ready written, blanks being left to fill in the names and specifications. It is not, however, easy to find proof that this was done in early times.
Later deeds often in Semitic onlySomewhat later, in the time of the First Dynasty, a number of these Sumerian words and expressions are replaced by their Semitic equivalent. Indeed, some deeds are Semitic only. We can by comparison make a fairly complete study of Sumerian legal terms. To some extent this was already done by the scribes who drew up the series of phrase-books called ana ittišu. But many new forms occur in these deeds.
The specifications of the deeds the items of permanent interestTo translate all the contract-tablets would be useless, for all the deeds of sale are exactly alike, except the names of parties, witness, or neighbors, and the specification of the property. The repetitions were necessary, for each deed required an exact statement. But it is sufficient, having once noted the style of document, to call attention to the peculiarities of the specifications.
The earnest moneyVery interesting are the references to earnest money, or the gift presented to close the bargain. As early as the time of Manistusu1 we find not only a price paid, but also a present given to the seller as a good-will offering. These are of a most varied and valuable nature.2 As already pointed out by Meissner,3 in the purchase of a slave for four and a half shekels, a little present of fifteen še, or one-twelfth of a shekel, was thus added. Likewise when another slave and her baby were sold we find that in addition to the price of eighty-four shekels, one shekel is thrown in as a present.4Common in later Babylonian deeds I do not recall the occurrence of this custom in Assyrian times, but in the later Babylonian documents it is common. There it is often referred to as the atru, or “over-plus.” Thus we find that in the sale of a house in the time of Nebuchadrezzar III.,5 besides the “full agreed price,” šîmu gamrûtu, of half a mina of silver, the buyer gave one shekel of silver, kî atri, “as an addition,” and “a dress for the lady of the house.” The whole payment thus made of thirty-one shekels was called the šibirtu. So in the time of Darius (?) we find that, in addition to the full price of three minas, five shekels of silver, the buyer adds, kî atri, six shekels of silver and a dress for the lady of the house, making three minas, eleven shekels of silver as the šibirtum,6 or simply to a price of two minas of bright silver he adds two shekels, kî pî atar, making a šibirtu of two minas, two shekels of bright silver.1
The notary’s feeEqually interesting are the sums charged as fees to the scribe. This was paid to him expressly for obtaining the seller’s seal or nail-mark as a conclusion of the contract.2 Thus at the end of a deed or sale of a single male slave, executed by three owners by affixing three impressions of the same seal, and drawn up by one scribe, we read “Seven shekels of silver for their seal.” The price was about one hundred and forty shekels. Thus the scribe received a fee of five per cent. on the sale price.3 The ratio was not constant. It might be as low as two per cent. Thus in the case of a sale of a slave by two owners, who made four nail-marks in lieu of seals, we read “one mina of bronze for their nail-marks.” There was but one scribe, and the price was fifty minas of bronze.4 Hence we cannot think that this fee was paid for the scribe’s seal, as some have done. The seal, or nail-mark, was not “the authenticating subscription by the notary,” but by the seller.
Assyrian deeds of greater lengthIn Assyrian times the deed of sale was a much longer document. The same general form is observed, but the document starts with a heading giving the information that the seller had sealed the document, or, in the absence of a seal, had impressed his nail-mark. No one but the seller ever seals or impresses his nail-mark. The seller is usually described as the bêlu, or “legitimate” owner of the property made over. Then first after the seal, or in a space left for it, comes the specification of the property. Next it is stated that the buyer has made a bargain and taken the property for so much. But the bulk of the document is devoted to a contract that the seller, his representatives, heirs, and assigns, shall never rescind the sale, or bring any suit to recover possession, under specified and heavy penalties. The wording of these passages recalls most strikingly the imprecations of the kings in their charters upon those who, in after times, should dare to render their gifts inoperative. This grand style is one of the many indications that for the Assyrian period most of the deeds we have were drawn up on behalf of the king’s household.
Various interests regarded as having claims which must be distinctly metIt is usually stated that the purchase is complete, the full price paid and delivery of possession made. But in some cases this was a mere conventional statement, and both payment and delivery were delayed. There was to be no return of the goods, no turning back from the bargain; the pleading of a suit of nullity of sale is expressly barred. It is of interest to notice who were regarded as competent, or likely to take action to recover the property. Sons, grandsons, brothers, brothers’ sons, are all named. The enumeration clearly included females of the same nearness of kinship. Sisters are actually named. All these relatives are included in the term “his people.” In some cases the šaknu, or governor of the district, is named, especially where slaves are sold, or the estate involved the transfer of serfs. The šaknu clearly had rights over lands and slaves within his district. The transfer of property might act injuriously to his rights. It was usual to stipulate that he had no such rights. How they had been annulled we do not know. Perhaps by some previous charter conferring exemption. The azânu also appears to have had the right to intervene. The country seems to have been split up into districts which were called on to furnish fifty units, each consisting of an archer and a spearman or shield-bearer. Hence, the rab anšâ, or “captain of fifty,” was really in command of a hundred men. Whether this obligation lay on a group of a hundred families or not, it is clear that the transfer of ownership of land might lead to embarrassment of the official. Hence, the rab anšâ was likely to intervene also. There was service on public works also concerned in the matter. Whatever official was bêl ilki, or had right to “the levy,” might intervene. The chief of a certain district was called a rab kiṣir; he was also commander of a section of the army, and he had the right to intervene. Other officials as the šâpiru, urbu, are named, but in all cases the nature of the claim must have been similar. The object of the buyer was to stipulate that the seller should hold him exempt from such claims. How this could be done does not appear.
Occasional use of the oath of confirmationThe oath to observe the contract made between the parties still appears, but is not common. As before, these oaths are of interest, for the light which they throw upon local cults. The gods were invoked as being the avengers of wrong. The decision of the king was also still regarded as a source of vengeance, since he was bound to see right done.
Penalties for the failure to carry out a contractThe penalties most commonly invoked were payments to the treasury of a temple. These were in the nature of forfeits. The sum set down in the deed rarely bears any exact relation to the value of the property, but is merely a large amount. Usually, a sum in both silver and gold is stated, but no relation between the relative worths of the metals can be deduced. The forfeit might take the form of presenting two or more white horses to the god. In a few cases, the penalty consisted in the devotion of a child, usually the eldest son or daughter, to a god. The verb used for “devoting” a child literally means to “burn.” This seems to point to an earlier sacrifice of children by fire. But variants show that it was now used in a more general sense of dedication. The “cedar wood of Ishtar” is named as the spot where a daughter was to be dedicated. Further, other objects might be dedicated as a forfeit. A great bow of bronze to Ninip of Kalu is named.
A deterrent penalty was to return the price “tenfold” to the seller. Once or twice the penalty is “twelvefold.” A further penalty was to pay a talent of lead to the governor of the city or state. Very curious is the penalty of being required to eat a mina of some food, possibly a magical compound, and drink an agannu pot of some drink. That this drink was taken from a bowl inscribed with magical formulæ seems to be the best way of reading the signs. The penalty was, therefore, an ordeal. Then, if the contention was right, the plaintiff would be immune; if he was merely litigious, perhaps he would be sick or even die.
Rights of the purchaserFinally, it is often laid down that, if either party (especially the seller) shall attempt to bring a suit about the property, the judge shall not hear him, or if he insists, he shall lose the action. Throughout it is clear that the buyer tries to make the seller contract to waive all rights to recover his property, but he holds to certain rights of his own. Thus, in the sale of slaves, a clause is frequently inserted which claims a hundred days within which to set up a claim to repudiate the purchase, on the ground that the slave is afflicted with certain diseases, the ṣibtu and bennu, the character of which is not exactly known. Also he bargains that a blemish may be at any time an excuse for annulling the bargain. These really amount to demanding a guarantee from the seller that the slave was free from disease or other undisclosed weakness.1
Late tablets include the details of bargainingThe later Babylonian tablets do not illustrate much that is of great interest. They often record the initial verbal discussion. Thus we find that when A bought of , some phrase like the following is recorded: A said thus to B: “Give me thy property and I will give thee so much silver.” Then we read that “B listened to him and gave A his property and A gave him so much silver.” It is a curious little touch of verisimilitude.
Deferred paymentsSales usually were for the full price, or the agreed price, paid down at once. This is expressly stated. But in the later Babylonian times we have some examples of deferred payment, which may also have been common during earlier periods. Thus, a man sold a slave for fifty shekels and received twenty-five shekels as advance price. The rest was to be paid later.1 The payment was probably made soon. Thus we find a lady selling four female slaves to a certain man and taking a bond of him to pay four shekels, the balance of the price, on the second of Kislev, a week later.2 The interval might be two days only;3 but sometimes a much longer period of grace was allowed—as much as two months and seven days—although the purchase was taken away at once.4
Return of purchase on failure to payIt is occasionally stipulated that if the purchase-money is not paid by a certain date, the object purchased shall be returned. Thus S, having sold some slaves, took a bond of him that, if did not pay in a week, he would return them.5
Retention of purchase without settlementA long retention of the thing purchased—especially when it was profitable—without payment, was of course a loss to the seller. Hence, we find the seller of a slave taking a bond of the buyer that, if he did not pay on the date fixed, he should return the slave and his mandattu, or the income which a slave paid to his master.6
FraudA distinct case of fraud occurs7 in the sale of a slave belonging to A by his brother without A’s knowledge. To make the matter worse, had the contract drawn up in A’s name. This was doubtless represented to be a case of agency, but there is no conclusive evidence.
The records of sales found at an early dateOne of the earliest inscriptions, the stele of Manistusu, records the purchase of large estates to form a possession for his son Mesalim, afterwards King of Kish. The whole inscription is splendidly published in photogravure in the Mémoires de la Délégation en Perse, Tome II., pp. 1-52. It is divided into a number of sections each recording a separate purchase. One example will suffice as characteristic of all:1
A field of seventy-three gan, its price being two hundred and forty-three and seven-fifteenths gur of corn, at the rate of one shekel of silver a gur of corn; price in silver, four minas, three shekels, and one “little mina,” the price of the field, and half a mina, six shekels and a fraction of silver, as a present to close the bargain; one garment for A, son of , in presence of C, priest of Zamama (god of Kish); one garment for D, son of E. Total, two garments present for the field. Total, two men serfs of the field and food and money for the sons of C, priest of Zamama.
Their varied informationHere are many noteworthy pieces of information. The price of corn is fixed with relation to silver. It remained the same down to late Babylonian times. A present was given in addition to the price, as in many sales even to the latest times. The serfs go with the land. Certain food and money allowances are reserved to the priest C and his descendants. This was probably a territorial charge. Many other points of interest are furnished by the other sections. Thus, among the presents given are numerous vessels of gold, silver, and copper. The garments are of various kinds. The men who receive presents do not appear to be merely the sellers, but also elders of the city or district. This indicates a tribal or district right of control over the alienation of land. The boundaries of the estates are often given and are of great interest for topography. A number of persons are named as witnesses to the separate sales. In one way or another some five hundred persons and about forty places are named. Over forty titles or names of professions are given. Among them we note many familiar in later times, the abrakku, nagiru, patêsi, Šakkanak, as well as a king. We see already judges, merchants, scribes, irrigators, boatmen, carpenters, singers, shepherds, seers, branders, as well as slaves. We read of sheep, asses, goats, oxen. And all this from one inscription. It is a fine example of the kind of information this class of documents may afford. Not least in importance is the fact that many Semitic, as well as Sumerian, names and words occur.
Method of legally describing real estateIn the case of landed property the deeds of sale usually specify its position. In the case of fields and gardens four neighbors are often specified. Their plots of land then completely enclosed the plot concerned. What rights of access to such a plot existed does not appear, but where the boundaries were low mounds or ridges, it may be assumed that the tops of these were common to all for access and carriage. In towns, more usually three neighbors are named, the fourth side is often said to be on the street. Sometimes four neighbors are given for a house, but then an exit, mûṣû, is specified, which doubtless means a right of way through, or past, another house to the street. When more than four neighbors are named, it is probably the case that on one side the plot was conterminous, at least partly, with two of them. Very commonly only two neighbors are given, one each side. We may then presume that there were streets or lanes both front and back. If we could press the term bîtu to mean “house,” we might conclude from many cases that the old Babylonian cities contained streets of houses, which were one conterminous block of buildings. But they seem in very many cases to have had some open ground, and often gardens were attached.
These boundaries are of great interest both from the point of view of population and geography.Importance of these boundary inscriptions Were we able to consult all the documents which were once stored in the archives of one great temple, we might map out a city and assign each plot to its owner; and then extend our map and the names of owners to the fields and plantations which lay around the city. For outside the city walls the ugaru or town-land extended to a considerable distance from the city walls. We may even soon be able to determine what was the approximate extent of this margin about the city, a belt of land often called a ablu or “girdle.”
Many of the details puzzlingUsually the plots are said to be in a city whose name is given. Thus we conclude the close proximity of Laî, Ishkun-Ishtar, Malgia, alalla, to Sippara. Indeed, they were probably conterminous with it. Often the plot is stated to be in some quarter, or ward of the city. For the most part the names of these wards, as for example Gagim, Karim, are difficult to understand. Why or how they obtained these names we cannot tell. It is noteworthy that one ward was called Amurru, “the Amorite land.” Much has been made of this by Professors Hommel and Sayce, but we are still far from clear ideas on the point. With respect to other indications of locality, it must be noted that they are usually at the end of the first line at the right-hand top corner of the tablet, and have suffered defacement more often than any other detail, so that they are often illegible.
Plots often, but not invariably rectangularFrom many considerations it appears that most of these plots were rectangular, but it is curious to note that many plans of houses and fields exist which show that this was not always the case. Perhaps it was the irregularity of the outline which made plans necessary and they may be an indirect witness to the rarity of such a feature.
Plans of housesAs a rule the private houses seem to have been small and to have had a few small rooms. The palaces, or mansions of the great, had much more extensive conveniences. One reads of several specially defined rooms, but their names do not as a rule tell us much of their use. Wash-houses, shops, stables, granaries, and vacant plots, as well as gardens and orchards, are often attached. Apparently one had to leave the house to enter these. The houses were built of brick and their roofs were supported by strong beams. In many plans, while the doorways for internal communication are carefully marked, there seems to be no access from the street. Perhaps this is a peculiarity of the architect’s ideas of a plan, the door to the street being understood. At any rate, doors, bolts, posts, and a lintel are frequently named. These were often put in by the tenant and, like the beams, taken away by him. A door might be pledged alone. But it is possible that some houses had no door proper, being entered by steps leading to the roof. This may be the explanation of the oft-mentioned mûṣû or right of way out, either between, through, or over, other house property. When a house had other houses touching it on each of four sides, something of the kind was necessary.
Probably the house did not usually have an upper story; but, perhaps, as a remarkable exception, an “upper house” is occasionally mentioned. There is reason to think that some were in the form of a quadrangle, around an inner court; as there are wells, or fountains, mentioned as being “within the house.” In some parts of the city, at any rate, the block of buildings was continuous. But there were many streets, and canals also, in the cities. The streets, suê, were as a rule only narrow lanes or passages. As shown by the excavations at Nippur, houses stood for a long time. When first used, the floors were above the street level, but after the footpaths had been some time in use, they rose to the level of, and finally above, the floor, so that there were steps leading down into the house.1
It seems evident that great efforts were made to provide drains for the foundations; and perhaps other sanitary appliances were found in the better class of houses. But we must await more extensive exploration, not necessarily in the more important mounds, before we are able to give a clear account of an ancient Babylonian house.
Description of houses in the contracts of saleIn the sale of a house it was often stated that the house was in good condition.2 In this respect many particulars might be recited, or the whole summed up in one concise phrase. In the early Babylonian documents no good example is yet published in which all the points are mentioned. We must refer to an example of Assyrian times,3 where all the chief points occur together. Early Babylonian tablets mention nearly all of these items, but only one or two at a time. Thus we have a note that the beams and doors are sound. Wood was scarce, and a tenant usually stipulated to take away the beams and doors, if he put them in. The fact that a man might pledge a door4 suggests that the modern theory of interchangeable parts was anticipated in Babylonia, so that a door would as a rule fit any house. What the beams were for is far from clear. To carry screens or curtains of skins over a central court seems most likely. Actual roof-beams were probably included in the “roof” itself, which is mentioned separately from the beams. The threshold, or perhaps, rather, the lintel of the doorway, may be meant; and, with the door-posts, be included under beams. The bolt or crossbar of the door is often associated with these beams.
The streets mentioned as boundariesStreets are more frequently named as boundaries of a house than in any other connection. The “great street,” or “wide street,” occurs continually. Whether this was the main street of Sippara, or only one principal thoroughfare, is not always clear. Streets are often named after a god; thus the street of Lugal-amgaba, of Ishtar, of Bunene, of Bêlitnushir occur. They were named after people; Immerum the king, or Kât-Ninsa, whose house adjoined the street named after him. The gate of Sin and his garden are named. Canals, especially the Nâr tupsarrûti, the Nâr Bilîa, are named. Roads, as that to Ishkun-Ishtar, are sometimes given.
A deed of the First Babylonian DynastyThe following is a good example of a deed of sale at the time of the First Dynasty of Babylon,1 translated literally and illustrating the usual order of words:
Then follow the names of five witnesses, but there is no date given.
Its interesting historical informationThe house was in Sippara, since it is known that Nabiilishu resided there.1 The “exit,” that is to say, the front door, opened on the road to the house of Immarum. The scribe means to say that aiabni-ilu, who was a neighbor, owned the house of Immarum. It appears that Immarum was šar irbitim, “king of the four quarters,” a title often borne by Babylonian kings. There is a great probability then that Immarum was no other than the Immerum, once King of Sippara, in the reign of Sumu-lâ-ilu. It is not necessary to suppose him still alive. This deed was executed in the reign of Apil-Sin, whose father, Ṣâbum, had reigned fourteen years after the death of Sumu-lâ-ilu. Further, one of the witnesses, Sin-ublam, is said to be a son of Immerum.
Thus we may conclude that Immarum, or Immerum—the difference in spelling is slight for these times—King of Sippar, bore the title of “king of the four quarters,” and as such was still remembered in Sippara. The exact meaning of the term has been disputed, but Sippara was a fourfold city: Sippar the great, Sippar Amnânu of the goddess Anunitum, Sippar Edinna, and Sippar Irurum are named in the tablets of this dynasty. Perhaps the four quarters of Sippara are meant.
Lamazi, the buyer, daughter of Kasha-Upi, votary of Shamash, bought another house in the nineteenth year of Sinmubaliṭ,1 borrowed a quantity of lead in the first year of ammurabi,2 and bought a female slave in a year of ammurabi’s reign, the date of which is not yet fixed.3 The name Lamazi is common and was borne by several votaries of Shamash whom we know to be daughters of other men than Kasha-Upi. But she may well be the same as the lady who figures without such marks of identity in several other documents. For example, she is named as being a neighbor of Ilushu-ellatzu.4
Mention of the business agentThe phrase ina šapiriša, “by her order,” occurs often. It implies that Lamazi acted through an agent, when she borrowed the lead, she acted through a mâr šipri, a messenger and agent. She bought her other house in the same way. This does not imply any disability on the part of women to enter into business, for they were as free and competent to act as men. Nor does it arise from her being a votary of Shamash, for these ladies are concerned in by far the larger part of the transactions recorded at Sippara. It is merely the fact that on these occasions, as was frequently done, Lamazi employed a business agent, who is not named. Her father, Kasha-Upi, is referred to again as buying a house from the sons of Nabi-ilushu,5 where we learn that the latter was a son of Shamash-ina-mâtim and brother of Kasha-Upi. Lamazi was therefore a niece of Nabi-ilushu.
Mention of the price of a houseIt will be noted that the price paid for the house is not given. This is often the case. But more commonly the price is named. As Dr. Meissner has already pointed out, prices varied greatly. Houses in a small provincial town like Tell Sifr naturally did not bring the same price as those in Sippara. But variation was probably even more due to situation and size. The lowest price per sar was four shekels, the highest thirty shekels. This gives a wide margin.
An Assyrian deed for sale of a houseWhile there are many examples of the sale of houses in Assyrian times, they do not as a rule exhibit any important peculiarities. The best example comes from Erech1 and may be taken as a representative specimen:
The house of Ina-êshi-eṭir, son of Nabû-eṭir, a well-built house, furnished with door-frames, a roofed house, the door and crossbar of which are firm, in the quarter of Bît Kuzub-shamê-erṣiti, which is in Erech; upper side next Sulâ, Nabû-nâṣir and Bêl-aê-erba, sons of Eṭeru; lower side next Ereshu, son of Shama; upper end next Ṣillâ, son of Nabû-aiddin; lower end next Ereshu, son of Nabû-bêlâni; on each side the house of Ina-êshi-eṭir, son of Nabû-eṭir, more or less, so much as there is, for one mina fifteen shekels of silver, as price, he has intrusted to Ereshu. It is given, received, paid for, freed. An exception to the sale cannot be taken, there is no going back, neither shall implead the other. Hereafter, in future, in days to come, neither brothers, sons, family, relations on either side of the house of Ina-êshi-eṭir shall arise and lay claim or cause claim to be laid on this house, shall alter or complain saying [the usual pleas are understood here but omitted]. If so, he shall pay twelvefold. At the sealing of this tablet were present [then follow the names of five witnesses]. Dated in the twentieth year of Ashurbânipal. Ina-êshi-eṭir has impressed his nail-mark in lieu of a seal.
Various parts of the houseThis example contains a full description of a house. The specification is rarely so full. But doors are always named, as many as six, in one case. Most of the Assyrian deeds of sale mention various adjuncts of the house. Thus the tarbaṣu or “court” is named. This was perhaps an attached walled enclosure.
It is the name given in the Code to the fold where sheep and oxen are kept.2 Vines might grow in it,3 and butter was kept there. A bît kutalli, or out-house, is named. Often bît rimki, or “wash-house,” is also mentioned. This was a chamber within the house, and may be rather meant for lustration, than for ordinary washing. One house had three of these rooms.1 Sometimes there was a bûru, a “well,” or cistern, within the house.2 A “shop,” or bît âtâti, was often attached.3 Stables, bît abusate, are named.4 What is meant by bît irši is difficult to determine, perhaps some chamber fitted with beds and couches.5 The bît akulli had a well in it, but what it was is not clear.6 The bîtu elîtu7 may be an “upper story.” If so, most houses were one-storied only.
The burial-vaultAnother interior apartment is called a kimau. This has usually been taken to be a “tomb.” We know that the old Babylonian kings were buried in the palace of Sargon. But this was when the palace was no longer the abode of the living. Ashurbânipal’s charter to his faithful general and tutor-in-arms, Nabû-shar-uṣur,8 seems to contemplate that general’s being buried in the palace, though this is not certain. However, the explorations of Nippur demonstrate the existence of vaults for burial, built over with brickwork. It may be that such vaults did exist within the house, and were sold with it.
A “portico,” bît mutirrêti, is named once.9 Beside the “great house,” bîtu dannu, or bitannu, a “second house,” bît šanû, is mentioned. The exit from the house, mûṣû, a way to the street, was often named, being very important where the house was bounded on four sides by others.
Block houses in NinevehMost of the houses, of which we have deeds of sale, were situated in Nineveh itself. Occasionally, the house is shut in by more than three others, most often only by three. Then the fourth side is said or implied to be on the street. Hence, we may be sure that in parts of Nineveh, there were continuous blocks of houses, on each side of a street. Sometimes, however, we have a garden, or orchard, as one boundary.
Size not mentionedContrary to the practice in Babylonia, the size of the house is rarely given. We have the size of the bîtu akulli given, in one case,1 as forty-three cubits long and twenty cubits broad. What seem to be the dimensions of an ordinary house were twenty-two by fourteen cubits.2
The usual costHouses in Assyria sold for from half a mina up to twelve minas; but as long as we are so ignorant of the form, nature, and dimensions of the house and its adjuncts, the information is of very little interest.
Side buildingsA number of other buildings or parcels of land were sold with houses or separately. Thus, we read of a papau, or chamber, which was beneath an adjoining beer-shop.3 The beer-shop is often mentioned, and was a state-regulated institution.
Unimproved landA term which was long somewhat of a puzzle, the kigallu, usually written ê-ki-gal, or ê-ki-dan, is shown definitely by the Code4 to be a plot of uncultivated land. This might be rented for cultivation and was not necessarily poor land, for it was expected to yield ten gur per gan. But it might also lie in a city bounded on four sides by houses,5 or, as often, by three houses and the street. It was then, of course, a building site. Its price was usually about two shekels per sar, but might be as high as eight shekels per sar.6
GranariesAnother common object of sale was a building called ê kisla, shown by the Code7 to be really a “granary,” or barn, read maškanu. These are usually in the city, and the prices paid for them varied from one-third of a shekel8 to fifteen shekels1 per sar. They might be surrounded by houses on all four sides, or by a canal, road, and street.2
The term bîtu means not only “house,” but “field”These examples serve to show that bîtu as often denoted a “plot” of land as a “house.”3 In Assyrian times we find the same usage. A fairly common object of sale is what I take to be a “fuller’s field,” or a “bleaching ground,” bîtu airi pûṣê. It was usually in the city, of small size, given in cubits each way, or a trifle over a homer in area. It was near a stream. It sold for a very high price. Once we find half of it used as a garden. It seemed to have been fenced in. Unfortunately, no one example is perfectly preserved; and the deeds are of no special interest beyond the peculiar nature of the plot.4
Sales of gardensThe gardens in the time of the First Dynasty of Babylon are generally said to be planted with dates, and sold for “full” price. Once two shekels are given for a garden of fifteen sar.
These sales less frequent in Assyrian timesThere are not many examples of these sales in Assyrian times, but they give some welcome information. There is nothing peculiar about the sale formula. The only interest is in the specifications. The garden is usually said to be planted with the iṣu tillit, almost certainly “the vine.” Hence, we may regard them as “vineyards.” The number of plants in them is often given, being as high as two thousand four hundred.5 Of other plants grown in a Babylonian garden we can recognize with more or less certainty in The Garden Tablet,6 garlic, onion, leek, kinds of lettuce, dill, cardamom, saffron, coriander, hyssop, mangold, turnip, radish, cabbage, lucerne, assafœtida, colocynth.
Other gardens are said to be kirû urîtu, “vegetable gardens.” In later times the date-plantations are continually in evidence. Beyond the specification, “planted with dates,” and certain obscure references to the condition of the crop at the time of sale, there is nothing to be noted.
Sales of fields: in First Dynasty of BabylonThe sales of fields are very numerous. They were usually situated outside the city walls, in the ugaru, or townland. They were not, however, reckoned outside the “town.” For the town extended beyond its walls, like a parish in England; and was bounded, as a rule, by adjoining towns. In the case of Sippara, many of these ugarê are named; but as a rule, the names do not explain themselves. Thus, Azarim, iganim, and Shikat Malkat may be named after persons or temples. Other names, like Shutpalu, Nagû, Iblê, Tapirtum, may well be significant. Certainly, Ebirtim appears to mean “across” the Euphrates. Once the field is said to be in Sippara,1 once in alalla,2 but we cannot press these statements to mean “within the walls” of those cities. Usually, the boundaries of a field are four other fields, with now and then a road, or canal. The price per sar varied from one-thirtieth of a shekel3 to more than a mina. Very frequently, indeed, the price is simply said to be “full.”
In Assyrian timesThe fields in Assyrian times are often mentioned. Nearly always when a field, elu, is sold, it is somewhere else referred to as bîtu, or plot, usually of so many homers in size. There is nothing distinctive about the sale formula. The specifications give most interesting and valuable data as to the topography of the land around Nineveh.4 The accessories of a field may be named. Sometimes it was corn-land, šê zêr, part was tabrû, “open land,” part adru, enclosed by a wall or fence. Pits or wells, canals or ditches, courts or folds, occur frequently as adjuncts of a field.
Great estatesLarger estates are built up of the simple elements which we have noted. Sometimes the estate was so large as to be styled a “city,” alu šê. These “cities” are generally called after the name of some one, probably a former owner. But the number of people sold in them does not justify the use of any larger designation than “hamlet.” A large estate, with a few people on it, obviously its bailiffs and the serfs of its landlord, constituted the alu. Hence, this term, like bîtu, must have a wider signification than that usually given it. Such hamlets were, doubtless, the germs of future cities, but the term evidently denotes simply a settled abode of a group of people.
Plans of estatesFrom very early times the Babylonians drew plans of estates, which are in many ways very instructive. The seated statue of Gudea, found by De Sarzec at Telloh, has a plan of his city upon a tablet on his lap, accompanied by a scale of dimensions or a standard of length.1
Professor Oppert, Dr. Eisenlohr, M. Thureau-Dangin, and others have discussed at length the plan of a field,2 which has the sides of several plots given in linear measure and the areas in square measure. From this was obtained a great variety of results regarding the relations between the measures.3
[1 ] M. A. P., p. 37.
[1 ] , ii., p. I—f.
[2 ] See p. 236.
[3 ] M. A. P., p. 96.
[4 ] B. 320.
[5 ] , IV., p. 298 f.
[6 ] , p. 168.
[1 ] , p. 48.
[2 ] , pp. 35 ff.
[3 ] , No. 173.
[4 ] , No. 176.
[1 ] For details see , iii., pp. 288-368.
[1 ] Page 104.
[2 ] 807.
[3 ] 114.
[4 ] 103.
[5 ] 165.
[6 ] 103.
[7 ] L. 19.
[1 ] Col. 8, l. 5.
[1 ] One such plan is published by King (L. ., ii., p. 242) and discussed by him later (L. ., iii., p. 255 f.). There are many others in our museums, several of which have been published (Receuil de Travaux, xvii., pp. 33 ff.; Saison de fouilles a Sippar, pp. 125, 126, 128). The plans of the buildings excavated at Khorsabad form our most perfect specimen of an Assyrian city and palace. Besides the original sketches and plans in Botta’s Nineve, excellent studies of them will be found in Perrot and Chipiez, Assyrian and Babylonian Art. There are also many plans of the early cities and palaces in De Sarzec’s Découvertes en Chaldés; also, Receuil de Travaux and Revue d’Assyriologie passim.
[2 ] Good examples of deeds of sale of this class of real property will be found in Dr. Meissner’s A. P., pp. 31-35. The principal terms used in such conveyances are well discussed and for the most part correctly explained in his commentary (pp. 119-23). In all these cases we have the phrase, bîtu epŝu. Dr. Meissner also regards as “houses” the plots of land called ê ki-gal and ê kislah; they are, however, mentioned later with some other plots of land where ê denotes a “plot,” not necessarily a “house.”
[3 ] Page 244.
[4 ] K. 1297.
[1 ] 476.
[1 ] 476.
[1 ] 332.
[2 ] 1058.
[3 ] 331.
[4 ] 2192.
[5 ] 2190.
[1 ] , iv. p. 170 f.
[2 ] § .
[1 ] , 320.
[2 ] , Nos. 325-40.
[3 ] , Nos. 341, 342.
[4 ] , Nos. 326-34.
[5 ] , Nos. 326-32.
[6 ] , Nos. 340-49.
[7 ] , Nos. 329-40.
[8 ] , No. 646.
[9 ] , No. 340.
[1 ] , No. 349.
[2 ] , No. 345.
[3 ] M. A. P., 25.
[4 ] § .
[5 ] 377.
[6 ] 446.
[7 ] § .
[8 ] S. 67.
[1 ] 2192.
[2 ] 2518.
[3 ] A plot of land or house called Ê burbalum is sold ( 280, 838, 2462), but there is no information given as to its special nature; so also a bît kidim ( 2444a), but there is no means of deciding what it was. A term applied to land which may be read irubû is perhaps to be taken as “arable land” (M. A. P., p. 122). But the occurrences are not sufficient to fix the meaning clearly. It was bounded by a house and the street.
[4 ] , Nos. 350-58.
[5 ] , No. 362.
[6 ] , vi., pp. 291 ff.
[1 ] 43.
[2 ] 330.
[3 ] 194.
[4 ] , Nos. 359-413.
[1 ] This plan is published in Découvertes en Chaldés, plate 15 ff.
[2 ] Published best in , iv., p. 13 f.
[3 ] Much earlier plans will be found, pp. 21 ff. They are ascribed to the age of Sargon I. and Naram-Sin. A plan, or rather map, of Babylon was also published by Dr. Peiser. [ , iv., 361 ff.] This is rather geographical than cadastral, and, perhaps, mythical, since it refers to the king Shamash-napishtim-usur, who may be the Shamash-napishtim of the flood story.
A number of other plans are given, or referred to, by Father Scheil in Rec. des Trav., xvii., 1 and 2, pp. 33 ff. A good many more appear in Une Saison de fouilles a Sippar. There are many others in the great museums and in private hands. For conclusions regarding linear and square measures, cf. Appendix III.