Author: Kleinerman, Alexandra
Date published: October 1, 2010
The Growth of an Early State in Mesopotamia: Studies in Ur III Administration. Proceedings of the First and Second Ur III Workshops at the 49th and 51st Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, London July 10, 2003 and Chicago July 19, 2005. Edited by STEVEN J. GARFINKLE and J. CALE JOHNSON. Biblioteca del Próximo Oriente Antiguo, vol. 5. Madrid: CONSEJO SUPERIOR DE INVESTIGACIONES CIENTÍFICAS, 2008. Pp. 234.
This collection features twelve articles on state administration and the organization of knowledge in the Ur UI period presented at the inaugural and second Ur ?? workshops held in conjunction with the 49th and 51st Rencontres Assyriologiques Internationales. As such, the volume represents the efforts of the conference organizers and volume editors, Steven Garfinkle and Cale Johnson, to bring together specialists in a continually evolving discipline in order to showcase new data and share new approaches. In addition the workshops provide a forum for graduate students and recent PhDs to present their work and receive feedback. Now, thanks to the generous support of Manuel Molina and the series Biblioteca del Próximo Oriente Antiguo, the continued publication of future workshops is assured (p. 9).
The articles present the current state of research on a wide array of topics within Ur DT studies, such as new cylinder seal motifs (Claudia Fischer) and the Umma workforce (Natalia Koslova), and each contribution also offers questions and comments suggesting tantalizing possibilities for future research. Indeed, several articles are focused on the presentation of statistics and the direction of ongoing projects. In "The Corpus of Neo-Sumerian Tablets: An Overview," Molina draws from BDTNS to set forth an array of such data regarding the composition of the Ur IU corpus, including current whereabouts of tablets as well as contents of the texts themselves "that have not been made available before due to the overwhelming size of the corpus" (p. 19). This reviewer was especially interested to see that of all the main sites from which we have Ur DT archives, GarSana has the largest percentage of envelopes as well as the second largest percentage of seals, only surpassed by Umma. Whether these trends reflect bureaucratic practice or simply the accident of discovery awaits further investigation. Similarly, Pietro Mander in "The 'Messenger Texts' from Girsu" and Franco D'Agostino and Francesco Pomponio in "The Umma 'Messenger Texts'" provide statistical data for the Girsu and Umma messenger texts and outline an on-going research project on this genre.
In addition, many of the contributions challenge certain assumptions that have often been taken for granted. In "The Workforce at Umma: Some New Questions," Benjamin Studevent-Hickman surveys the previous terminology used to classify male workers and questions how accurately we can expect to define these terms given that they are not "mutually exclusive" and that "their usage is relative" (p. 145).
In Tonia Sharlach's study, "To Everything There is a Season, Turn, Tum, Turn," a hypothetical reconstruction of two years of the bala roster - the rotation of core provinces responsible for bala payment throughout the year - allows her to demonstrate that there were three tiers of provinces, those that paid multiple months, those that paid one month per year, and those with limited obligations. However, she questions the assumption that the discrepancy in the bala obligations of the core provinces was the result of disparities in their size and wealth. Instead, while more research as to the wealth and resources of some of the lesser known provinces is necessary in order to determine the rationale behind the roster, Sharlach highlights the fact that the core was not a "monolithic entity" but instead that the provinces certainly "maintained their own regional identities" (p. 88). Finally, as an intriguing counter position, she cites a suggestion of Walther Sallaberger that "Girsu's anomalous bala obligations may be a reflection of the former political importance of this area in the very early Ur DT period" (p. 87 n. 26).
Similar to Sharlach's challenge to our established understanding of the baia, in "Was the Ur ?? State Bureaucratic? Patrimonialism and Bureaucracy in the Ur ?? Period," Garfinkle argues that the Ur III state was not a rational bureaucracy. Although the state could set many of the terms and conditions under which work was performed, it could not choose who performed the work, but relied heavily on existing local networks of power. The extent to which Ur HI policies to counter this (e.g., the "Reichskalendar") were effective remains to be demonstrated.
Although the aforementioned articles stress the limits of our current knowledge, other contributions are more forthcoming with immediate conclusions. Magnus Widell's contribution, "The Ur ?? Metal Loans from Ur," uses available documentation to contradict the previous assumption that money lending south of Nippur was entirely under the control of the state. Instead, even evidence from the capital shows that "the motives of the creditors from Ur was (sic) private profit from accrued interest or collected delay charges" (p. 220). Likewise, in "Rest in Pieces: The Archive of Igibuni," Katrien De Graef debunks the notion that loans were not intended to be repaid but were granted to create a class of debt slaves, an idea based primarily on the large number of extant loan documents. Instead, De Graef demonstrates that completed loan contracts did not have to be destroyed upon repayment, thus illustrating that Ur III loans were for profit.
As a final note, some comments may be added to the discussion begun by William Hallo in "Day Dates in Texts from Drehem." Here, Hallo brings to light the "wealth of details about historical, legal, diplomatic and religious procedures" (p. 110) provided by the so-called Drehem "day-date" texts, which contain relative clauses that offer the circumstances surrounding a disbursement. As one example, Hallo offers a new translation of the phrase U4 PN nam-gala-se3 i3-in-ku4-(ra) "on the day that PN entered mourning" or "on the day that mourning for PN was entered." Now, however, Piotr Michalowski (JCS 58 : 49-61) has demonstrated that the person in question cannot be dead, because in certain cases we "can trace the further careers of these individuals" (p. 54). Instead, Michalowski further nuances Hallo's first translation, postulating that since many of the individuals involved were military men, perhaps this phrase represented ceremonies honoring fallen comrades. Alternatively, these instances may be connected with marriage ceremonies. Like much else in the volume under review, the multiple solutions suggested here present one more avenue for future investigation. It will perhaps be of relevance that among more than two-hundred new "day dates" offered in the Iri-sagrig archive, to be published by David I. Owen, this phrase does not occur, although there are many other references to important personages, both from the royal family and the military establishment.
The contributions assembled here provide material to encourage additional research, the results of which will be represented in future volumes of Ur HI workshop proceedings.