Front Page Titles (by Subject) XXIX: ACCOUNTS AND BUSINESS DOCUMENTS - Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters
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XXIX: ACCOUNTS AND BUSINESS DOCUMENTS - 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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ACCOUNTS AND BUSINESS DOCUMENTS
AccountbooksThere are lists which are not formal contracts, but may have been used as legal evidence. The stewards of the great temples, of the palaces, and even of wealthy men in business, kept most careful accounts. These lists have some features peculiar to themselves and are not without considerable interest.
Those of the first epoch mainly temple accountsThe tablets which have reached our museums from Telloh, Nippur, and elsewhere, belonging to the ages before the First Dynasty of Babylon, are for the most part temple accounts. They often concern the offerings made by various persons, often officials of high standing, and some may well have been the notes sent with the offerings. But many were drawn up as records of the receipts for a certain day, month, or year. Interesting as they are for the class of offerings, for the names of offerers, or of priests, and for the cult of particular gods, or the localities near Telloh and Nippur, and often containing valuable hints for the history and chronology of those times, they do not give us the same insight into the daily life of the people that the longer legal documents do, in later periods.
Receipts for loansAn important class consists of receipts for loans. Those drawn up at full length and witnessed, have already been considered. But the majority may only contain a list of articles delivered, with the name of the receiver, the lender being the holder as a temple official, while the receiver is a subordinate. These may have been as effective as the fuller bonds, but they furnish little information, except regarding the current prices of articles.
Accounts of repairs or expensesSome tablets are concerned with hire. The amounts paid by the temple for repairs, fresh robes for gods and officials, even maintenance of the workmen, are all set down with their totals for a week, or a month.
Records of measurementsAn important class consists of the records of the measurements, length, breadth, and area of fields, together with the amounts of corn which they were expected to produce. Were these available for a widely extended area, we might be able to map out the district round the temple from whose archives they come.
The conditions of service with flock and herdsThe temples and large landowners had great flocks and herds. Consequently, there is much evidence concerning the pastoral occupations of the people of Babylonia. The Code regulates the relations of the shepherds and herdsmen to the flock-masters.1 Thus an owner might hire a shepherd, nâkidu, for his sheep or cattle, at the wages of eight gur of corn per annum. The shepherd or herdsman took out the flock or herd to the pasture and was responsible to the owner for them. They were intrusted to him, and if sheep or ox were lost through his fault, he had to restore ox for ox and sheep for sheep. If he was hired and had received satisfactory wages, he had no power to diminish, or abstract from, the flock or herd for his keep or private use. He entered into a contract with the owner, and that stipulated for the restoration of the entire flock or herd, together with a proper increase due to the breeding of the flock or herd. He had to make any deficiency good, by statute.2 This applied also to the stipulated profit in wool or other produce. It seems clear that his own profit was any excess above the stipulated return. Otherwise it is difficult to see what source he had from which to make good the loss to his master. He was forbidden to alter the agreement into which he had entered in any particular, or to sell any of the flock, under penalty of a tenfold restitution. He was, however, protected from liability for loss by wild beasts or accident. But, if the loss was due to his fault, by neglecting to keep the fold secure, he had to make up the loss.
Herdsmen’s accountsIt is obvious that he gave a receipt for what was intrusted to him and made his account on return from the pastures. These accounts are plentiful among the temple accounts in the earliest periods, but being written for the most part in Sumerian, have still many obscurities for us. As a rule, each deals with the liabilities of one man, whose “account,” nikasu, it is said to be. At the beginning are recounted the details of his trust, so many oxen, cows, sheep or goats, of varied ages and qualities. Here it is very difficult to translate. Anyone who knows the variety of names which are given to an animal by agriculturists according to its age, sex, and use, need not be surprised to find that the Babylonians had many names for what we can only render by “sheep.” As a rule, we know when the ram, ewe, or lamb is intended. But this by no means exhausts the variety. Anyone who glances through an Arabic lexicon must notice how many different names the Arabs have for the camel in its different aspects. But in our case we often have no clew to what was meant by the signs beyond some variety of sheep, ox, or goat. At any rate, the first section enumerates the cattle or sheep delivered to the herdsman. Then follows a section devoted to those “withdrawn,” taken back by the owner, or exacted as some due from the flock. Others are noted as taken for sacrifice, used for the wages or support of the herdsman, or else dead or otherwise missing. These the herdsman was allowed to subtract and then had to return the balance. There are similar lists of asses or goats. The tablets hardly lend themselves to connected translation because of the absence of verbs. The following is an example:
Forty-three ewes, forty-three rams, seven ewe-lambs, seven he-lambs, three she-goats, one sucking kid, to start with. Expended in ewes and rams, none; six ewes, seventeen rams, snatched away; no lambs lost: no ewes, one ram, no lambs. Total: one hundred and four to start with. Total expended: none. Total: twenty-three snatched away. Total: one lost. Namâni, shepherd. Overseer: Duggazidda. At Girsu. The year after the king devastated Kimash.
The meaning of the words is somewhat conjectural. “Expended” may mean used for the shepherd’s own maintenance. “Snatched away” means probably deducted for revenue purposes, about one in five. The scribe did not write “none.” He merely left a blank.1
Lists of second epoch unavailableThe similar lists for the second epoch are not yet available for study. Only one2 appears to have been published,3 but there are many still unpublished. It is not easy to translate them, because, though many Semitic names occur, there is still a tendency to use the old Sumerian, or ideographic writings. Such a list as:
Eight oxen, twenty-three work-oxen (for watering-machines), eleven milch cows, sixteen steers, sixteen heifers. In all seventy-four oxen (or cattle) belonging to Marduk-uballiṭ in the hands of Bêlshunu, fifth day,
may serve as an example, but does not convey much information to us. These lists are chiefly valuable for the means of comparison they afford. A three-year-old ox was worth half a mina of silver.4
The Assyrian lists indicate new varieties of animalsFor Assyrian times we have a few interesting examples, just enough to show that the same customs survived. There are no less than thirty-five kinds of sheep and goats, and fifteen kinds of cattle named in the lists; also eleven kinds of birds. Here is a specimen list of asses which gives some prices:1
One male working ass for one and a half minas seven shekels, one she-ass for thirty-seven shekels, a second she-ass for one mina, a third she-ass for one royal mina, a fourth she-ass for thirty-two shekels, in all five and a half minas two shekels.
There is nothing to show for whom or why the list was drawn up, but if the total is correct, we learn that a royal mina was worth one mina forty-six shekels of the ordinary standard. The lists of horses are now very numerous, some dozen varieties being distinguished. Many of these lists give the numbers of horses of different kinds which entered a certain city on a certain day.2 The horses are often distinguished as coming from certain countries, being called Kusai, or Mesai, horses. The camels are frequently mentioned, and we learn that one was worth a mina and a third.3 Dromedaries are also named4 and seem to have been worth three minas apiece.
Memoranda regarding woolWool accounts play an important part in documents of the early times. They may be regarded as of two kinds. The first are shearers’ accounts returned by the shepherd of a flock; the second are concerned with the amounts of wool given out to weavers.
The four kinds of woolShearers’ accounts enumerate four sorts or qualities of wool. The best was called royal wool, that which was of the highest quality. The others were second, third, and fourth quality. Poor wool and black wool are also named. Sometimes we are told from what part of the sheep’s body it was taken. Other terms applied are less easy to recognize. This wool was received by weight.
Black wool very highly valuedThe weavers’ accounts give a list of quantities of wool, with the same distinctions as to quality, and the price at which it was assessed. This was doubtless the sum to be paid by the weaver, if the wool was not returned made up. The values attached show very clearly the difference in quality. Thus, while two looms of royal wool were worth thirty minas, seven looms of second quality went for the same value, eleven looms of third quality for a talent, and thirty-two looms of fourth quality for one talent, one loom of another sort for one talent, and the same amount of black wool for the same value.1 It is evident that the black wool was highly valued. The loom, literally, “beam,” of wool, was some measure, perhaps what would occupy one weaver. The price was probably fixed in silver. The price of the same quality varied from time to time.
Sheep-shearingIn the letters of ammurabi and his successors there are frequent references to the shearing, and orders for the inspection of flocks and herds.2 The Code does not refer to sheep-shearing, though it mentions wool. The shearing was concluded by the New Year feast in Nisan. In the contemporary contracts there are several wool accounts. As a rule, one talent, or sixty minas’ weight, of wool was served out to several men who were to pay for it, to the palace, at the rate of one shekel of silver per mina.
The weaving accountsIn Assyrian times we have great wool and weaving accounts. Some deal with the huge amounts of wool received as tribute from the great cities of the empire and then served out to bodies of weavers in various palaces with specifications of the species of cloth or sorts of garments which were to be returned. In the later Babylonian times we have a large number of wool accounts recording the amounts given out from the temple to various persons to weave or make up into garments.1
Memoranda regarding skins of animalsSkins are also named in the accounts. They are distinguished as the skins of certain kinds of animals. Various amounts are credited to different persons, but whether as giving or receiving, and in what capacity, is not clear. Sheep and goat skins are most common, but ox and cow hides are named.
LeatherThe Code does not refer to these, nor the letters of ammurabi and his successors, but we have lists of skins and carcasses of animals.2 The purpose of the lists is not clear. In Assyrian times there are frequent references to hides. There was a distinct grade of official called a ṣârip tašê, “dyer of skins.” Large quantities were bought in the markets of Kala and arrân. The price was about two shekels of silver for a skin.3 The articles made of leather are very numerous; shoes, harness, pouches, even garments, are named. It was used for buckets, baskets, bottles, shields, and many other things not clearly recognized.
Amounts allowed for the food of animalsFairly frequent also are accounts of the quantities of corn expended for the keep of flocks and herds. The amounts allowed per diem are the chief items of interest. Sheep were allowed from one to one and a half a a day, lambs half a a, oxen six to eight a.4 In the Code we find allowances for the keep of animals. There are very frequent lists in Assyrian times of amounts of corn given to various animals. These also occur at later times. The amounts allowed per day are various and by no means uniform. A very good example gives as the allowance of corn for a full-grown sheep two a per diem, for a young sheep, one a, for a lamb one-half a.1
Acknowledgment of advancesAcknowledgments of advances, or loans, occur in the first epoch. As a rule, we are not told what was the ground of the loan. The fact that these loans were to be repaid is not stated, and we may take the tablets to be merely receipts for things given out to officials who had a right to them. The substances were corn of different kinds, wine, beer, sesame-wine, butter, flour and other food-stuffs, wool, and other supplies. We sometimes learn prices from these tablets. Thus a gur of corn cost one shekel.2
Stewards’ accountsLong lists of accounts are very common at all epochs. They relate what sums or amounts were paid out to various officials for certain goods or for wages, keep, and the like. In fact, they are stewards’ accounts. Unfortunately, the way in which most collections have been formed, and even more the way in which they have since been preserved, renders it impossible for us to make the use of them which has often been made of mediæval accounts. Otherwise we could obtain from them many interesting items. They are, however, most valuable for prices and names.
The earliest mention of ironThus, in such lists we find mention of articles which would otherwise remain unsuspected. The first reference to iron is in the ammurabi period,3 whence we learn that a shekel of silver would buy eight times its weight of iron. Sometimes we get an important contribution to chronology. It is well known that there is no certainty as to the order of the Eponyms after bc 648, but we know their names for at least forty years later. Any contribution to the order of these names would be welcomed with avidity. Thus, one scribe writes: “Income from the Eponymy of Sagab to the Eponymy of Nabû-shar-aêshu, for six years, which was paid in as maintenance, eleven talents . . . besides twenty-seven plates of silver.” We cannot say whose income it was, but the previous section dealt with the income of the crown prince, and this may be only a résumé of the last. But we now know that from Sagab to Nabû-shar-aêshu was six years in all.
Thus, from the most varied and often most unpromising sources are derived those important details which make it possible to attain an exact and realistic conception of Babylonian and Assyrian history and life.
BABYLONIAN AND ASSYRIAN LETTERS
[1 ] §§ -67.
[2 ] § .
[1 ] E. A. H., 14. For fuller details the reader should consult Radau’s Early Babylonian History.
[2 ] 447.
[3 ] In , vi., p. 24.
[4 ] 448.
[1 ] , No. 732.
[2 ] They are published by Professor R. F. Harper in his Assyrian and Babylonian Letters, passim.
[3 ] , p. 690.
[4 ] , No. 117.
[1 ] E. A. H., 50.
[2 ] , pp. xlvi. ff.
[1 ] These have been discussed by Dr. R. Zehnpfund, , i., pp. 492-536. He has striven to identify the garments as far as possible; but when we recall that over eighty such garments are named in these lists, most of which are merely names, with no indication of their uses, it is clear that a translation is generally out of the question. We know something of their material and often of their color, but nothing further. It is curious that in many cases these names are the same for Assyrian and later Babylonian times.
[2 ] 406, 611.
[3 ] , No. 872.
[4 ] E. A. H., 152.
[1 ] 250; 841.
[2 ] E. A. H., 100.
[3 ] 405.