Front Page Titles (by Subject) XXVI: LEASE OF PROPERTY - Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters
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XXVI: LEASE OF PROPERTY - 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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LEASE OF PROPERTY
Form of house-rentalIn case of lease, the specifications of the house are usually the same as in a sale. But this is often not so full, since the identity of the house is less in evidence. A very interesting text referring to the sale or lease of a house next to the palace, in the district of Tirḳa, a house belonging to gods Shamash, Dagan, and Idur-mêr is published by M. Thureau-Dangin in Revue d’Assyriologie.1 It belonged to the King of ana, whose seal it bears. His name was Isarlim, son of Idin-Kakka. The receiver was Kaki-Dagan’s son. The oath was by Shamash, Dagan, Idur-mêr and Isarlim the king. The names are very interesting—Igid-lim, an official of the god Amurrû; Idin-abu, king’s son; Ili-esu, a judge; Idin-Nani, son of Idin-Marduk; Sin-ukûr, son of Amur-sha-Dagan; Iazi-Dagan; Ṭuri-Dagan; Ṣilli-Shamash. These prove that the land of ana, already known by a votive offering of one of its kings, Tukulti-mêr, was largely Semitic. The names are either of the Babylonian or Aramaic type. It is, of course, not easy to date, as the style of writing in ana may have been different from that in Babylonia at the same epoch.
The rental variableMeissner estimates the average rent of a house to be one shekel per annum. But there are noteworthy variations which, with our available data, cannot be explained. Perhaps the best way is to take account of the size of the house, usually given in the Babylonian fashion by the area of its ground-plan. Rents were often paid in corn, but are so variable that a value for corn in money cannot safely be deduced.
The usual conditions of tenancyA small part of the rent was usually paid as earnest-money to close the bargain. In the case of short leases the rest was paid on quitting the house, in longer leases half-yearly. Usually the term of tenancy was carefully stated. It was most commonly one year. The cost of repairs fell on the tenant, according to the Code,1 but he was forbidden to make any alterations until he had paid over the earnest-money. The Code perhaps only means to forbid his closing the door and fastening it, until the deposit was made. The landlord, in fact, preserved the right of free entry until then.
Fields rented for a limited termThe usual term of lease for fields was three years. It is not possible as yet to explain why three years was stipulated, but it was probably due to something more than an accident of custom. Possibly a rotation of crops or an alternation of crop and fallow may have been in vogue.
Usual conditions of tenancyAccording to the Code the tenant was bound to keep the land in good condition. His duties included the ploughing or trenching, sowing the seed, snaring or driving off the birds and stray beasts, weeding, watering, and harvesting. Gardens he had to fence. The watering-machines were of great importance and had to be kept in order. They were worked by oxen—often as many as eight oxen were required to work them. A certain amount of stock was frequently leased with the land. It is not clear that oxen were used for the plough; they may have been kept for the watering-machines.
Land often taken on sharesThe landlord was in a very real sense a partner with his tenant, though he may be described as a “silent partner.” In the case of the great temple landowners it seems to have been the custom to supply a very large amount of the tenant’s necessities. Seed-corn was frequently furnished, also corn for food for farmer and men, until the crop was gathered. The stock and farm implements were also provided by the landlord. This metayer system of leasing land probably accounts for loans without interest. It is not clear that such a system was already in vogue in early times.
Stipulations regarding improvementsIn hiring a field it might be stipulated that the lessee should place a dwelling upon it,1manatu ana elim išakkanu. Here the field was at a distance from the city, “beyond the upper stream.” If the crop was to be properly looked after, protected from birds, stray beasts, and robbers the farmer must live there some part of the year. There was no dwelling. The lessee was therefore called on to erect a dwelling. Probably a simple edifice sufficed. At the end of the tenancy the tenant was called on to resign this building.
Varying rentalsThere were two sorts of land. That called ab-sin or šeru’, seems always to have paid six to eight gur of corn per gan. The other sort, ki-dan, probably read kigallu, and certainly meaning land, not cultivated but to be brought into cultivation, was exceedingly variable in quality. It is set down for a rent of from three up to eighteen gur per gan, but some land is rented at seventy-two gur per gan.2
Allowances for maintenance sometimes a part of the agreementOn account of the hire, some deposit was usually made, which seems to bear no direct relation to amount of rent. But while this was in many cases money—one to three shekels—a number of cases exhibit a list of quantities of food and drink. What these were it is difficult to say, as the terms are written ideographically. But joints of meat, pieces of flesh, drinks, bread and oil, seem to be intended. The custom is obscure. Possibly these are set down as weekly or monthly rations secured on the whole rent and to be set off against it later. That the quantities are in some sense distributive is certain, “so much each,” but whether “each person,” “each day,” “each month,” or “each year” is not stated. One plausible suggestion is that the landlord, like the votary in the Code whose brothers do not content her, let the farm to a man who covenanted to support or maintain him. The contention is strengthened by the fact that the cases known to us are all female landlords, and may actually be examples of what the Code contemplates. Having only a life interest in the property and being without capital, they could not afford to wait until harvest to receive the rent, but needed a frequent allowance for maintenance.
Life leases rareThe lease of an estate for a term exceeding a few years was always rare. One is found on a tablet which is one of the most interesting of all those supposed to be of the First Dynasty of Babylon.One such tablet known, but difficult to localize The script and the language recall Assyrian types most vividly and it is full of non-Babylonian names, which suggest Hittite, or even Armenian, origin. Unfortunately, it is not dated. It might well have been found at Kala, or Asshur, and belong to somewhat early Assyrian times, perhaps before Assyrian independence of Babylonia. Not one person named in it occurs in the other tablets of the Bu. 91-5-9 Collection—a thing which cannot be said of another of them. If this was really found with them, we can only suppose that centralization was carried to such a pitch that important legal documents, even when executed as far away as Assyria, or Mesopotamia proper, had to be sent in duplicate to the capital of Babylonia. Or was it possible that the principal party came to the capital with this document in his possession, deposited it in the temple archives there, and died, leaving no one to reclaim it.
Dr. T. G. Pinches gave a transcription and translation of the text in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1897, pp. 589 ff., with many interesting and valuable comments:
Six homers of corn [land] belonging to Ishtar-ki-til-la, son of Teip-til-la, Kibîa, son of Palîa, Urîa, son of Itip-sharru, and Irishenni, son of Iddin-pu-si, have taken for three homers of land, to harvest and transport. As long as Ishtar-ki-til-la lives, Kibîa, Urîa, and Irishenni shall transport the crop of three homers of land and shall deliver the same in caldrons. If Kibîa, Urîa, and Irishenni do not harvest and transport and deliver the same in caldrons, and the corn perish, they shall pay in full one mina of silver and one mina of gold to Ishtar-ki-til-la. Each is surety for the other. Before Ali-Têshup, son of Taishenni; before Ukuia, son of Geshai; before Shellu, son of Wantia; before Kushshu, son of uluḳḳu; before Durar-Têshup, son of Gil-Têshup; before Ali-Babu, the azânu, son of Nubananu; before Zinu, son of Kiannibu, the scribe.
The names of the witnesses seem to be North SemiticThe names of the witnesses are here given in full because of their exceptional interest. Until we are sure of his nationality it is scarcely safe to suppose the principal’s name was really pronounced Ishtar-kitilla—the latter part of the name may well be an ideogram. The name of his father ending also in til-la suggests that that group of signs is separable. If so, the signs read Ishtar-ki may perhaps be ideographic also. It is evident that Teip is from the same root as Itip, and the form looks Semitic.
Kibîa, Palîa, Urîa are Semitic, but Irishenni and Taishenni remind one of the Erisinni, of the son of U’alli, King of the Mannai in Ashurbânipal’s time. Still, neither can be said to be non-Semitic with certainty, when we recall the many names ending in enni or inni formed from verbs and compare the names formed from erêšu, erêsu. Names containing the name of the god Teshup were known long ago, as u-Teshup, Kali-Teshup, Kili-Teshup, where the other element of the name does not seem to be Semitic. Egyptian records give us other compounds of the name of this god, who was the sky-god among the pre-Semitic peoples of Mesopotamia.
Here we have Ali-Teshup, Gil-Teshup, and Durar-Teshup. With the former, Professor Hommel compares Alib-shar. With the next compare the Mitanni name Gilîa, also Gilûa. Ali-Babu is a closer parallel.
Of the other names, Shellu, Kushshu, uluḳḳu, and Zinu seem to be Semitic; at any rate they occur frequently, or in cognate forms, well known among the Assyrians and Babylonians. The others are all very unfamiliar. We are as yet so imperfectly acquainted with the onomastics of the nations surrounding the Semites that it is hazardous to attempt to locate these people. Supposing them to be all of one race, they may belong to a colony settled near Sippara, but the whole style of the language is so unlike the Sippara documents that we can hardly suppose that to be the case.
[1 ] IV., p. 85 f.
[1 ] .
[1 ] 361.
[2 ] 797.