The Year: “Nissen returns joyous from a distant island”: Notes

1     H. Nissen offers in H. J. Nissen, P. Damerow and R. K. Englund, Frühe Schrift und Techniken der Wirtschaftsverwaltung im alten Vordern Orient (2nd edition, Bad Salzdetfurth 1991) 11-12, a short sketch of the history of the December 1988 auction in London.


2     Erlenmeyer no. 155 in R. Englund, “Hard Work: Where Will it Get You?,” JNES 50 (1991) 255-280; nos. 93, 94, 112, 118 and 158 in id., “Ur III Sundries,” ASJ 14 (1992) 77-102.


3     The tablet measures 161×166×36mm. It was a part of a Charlottenburg Palace exhibit organized by H. and M. Nissen, P. Damerow and myself in 1990, and appeared in the catalogue Frühe Schrift in chap. 11, figures 92-93, 11a. The entire Erlenmeyer holdings of the Land of Berlin were put on permanent loan to the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin, on 1 July 1999. We have been unable to ascertain whether the tablet was fired in antiquity, or in the course of its conservation by the Erlenmeyers. The text is well preserved; however, a previous owner repaired a damaged lower left corner, and in so doing filled several small gaps with clay and, apparently following optical criteria, impressed a number of cuneiform-similar, but meaningless signs on the fresh surface. These fabrications are noted in the transliteration and translation. Thanks are due to Director B. Salje and Curator J. Marzahn of the VAM for their continued support in keeping the entire Erlenmeyer collection accessible for further inspection and imaging by CDLI staff.


4     The catalogue of the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative counts currently over 60,000 tablets, of which ca. 49,000 are published. When Struve proclaimed in the 1948 that he had at his “disposal the primary documentation which served as immediate sources in the compilation of the two reports of Lugalgude ...” (I. Diakonoff, ed., Ancient Mesopotamia, 156), he had access to ca. 12,000 published Ur III texts. In 1960, that total had climbed to 14,000, in 1980 to 23,000 and in 2000 to 41,000. Specialists, and through the internet increasingly non-specialists can today search electronic files of nearly twice as many texts, with text annotations and standardized transliterations that allow targeted searches across the full data set. It is therefore not surprising that we are seeing greater numbers of fits between secondary accounts and the primary records from which they were written, including in the present case a primary coverage of more than half of the entries  within the credit section of the account.


5     M. van de Mieroop, “An Accountant's Nightmare: the Drafting of a Year's Summary,” AfO 46-47 (1999-2000) 111-129, has diagrammed the unparalleled case of UET 3, 1498. Such an account is not likely to ever be rivaled in the number of primary document hits it contains, yet the highly monotonous accounting structure of the Ibbi-Sin text from Ur makes it of limited interest beyond the confirmation it gives us of the concrete way that Ur III accounts were compiled. Somewhat more complex in their bookkeeping structure are the accounts from Drehem; M. Hilgert in OIP 121 (forthcoming), pp. 57-60, presents the compelling case of a text (no. 248) linked to 41 receipts, documenting just over a third of the total of the animals mentioned in the account.


6     See, for instance, his treatment of OBTR 254 and corresponding BM fragments in ASJ 10 (1988) 37-94, esp. 53-55. The Sumerian phrase ugu2 PN ba-a-gar indicates the booking into an account debit of goods or services transferred  from the credits sections of other accounts.


7     The number of tablets within a tagged basket were never recorded, probably because accounting in the Ur III period was fluid, with old or incorrect tablets removed, and missing tablets added to the group. Unfortunately, early regular excavations of Ur III settlements were conducted with a level of attention paid to find locus that makes it fairly impossible to reconstruct the position of groups of tablets within the presumed archive rooms of central households. Obviously, irregular excavations have eliminated all hope of such archaeologically justified reconstructions.


8     M. Fitzgerald has remarked upon the technique of tagging such baskets in CDLB 2003:2.


9     See JNES 50, 267-268 + n. 15.


10    Based on the attestations of these qualifications in administrative texts, it is simply not possible to judge the social status of these workers (since F. Kraus, Sumerer und Akkader, 58, and C. Wilcke, Le palais, 230, most have considered this is a privileged class of “native” workers [“freie Bürger”, etc.] distinguished from foreign slaves). While one might imagine that the complex system of work-norm categories mirrored in some way methods of compensation for dependent laborers of varying levels, for instance requiring  of some dependents less real labor than of others, still it is important to remember that they did remain charges of central households assigned the most difficult of unskilled labor tasks.


11    R. Englund, “Administrative Timekeeping in Ancient Mesopotamia,” JESHO 31 (1988) 121-185.


12    The fraction 1/3 represents the porter assigned to the crew for just four of the twelve months.


13    Mr. Hand first contacted me by email in August 1999 with information about this text, that he reported to have been in his family more than sixty years (and thus possibly one of the “Banks” tablets; see my contribution to the Pettinato Festschrift, forthcoming).


14    The only other mention of the bala service in this account occurs immediately before the summation in rev. iv 4-6. Cp. MVN 21, 199, with rev. v 3-6: 10 guruš ug3-ga6  6 guruš dumu-gi7 a2 šeš-tab-ba bala-a gub-ba ib2-ta-zi / u4-35-še3 / bala-a gub-ba bala-še3 gen-na u3 bala-ta gur-ra / a2-bi u4 9.20 (and thus  with 35 days the same period of service as noted rev. iv 3).


15    sag = sag-nig2-gur11-ra-kam.


16    R. Englund, JESHO 31 (1988) 172-173 n. 46 and JNES 50 (1991) 277 n. 34. To Ea-lubi (variant -lu2-bi) as agricultural hand, cp. for instance Princeton 1, 440, SANTAG 6, 380 (?; both texts date to the reign of Amar-Suen and describe this person as ugula, “foreman”), MVN 2, 178, UTI 5, 3271, etc.


17    Compare the translation below, and the more detailed treatment of the production entries of this text in N. Vanderroost's dissertation on the administrative organization of Umma agriculture, forthcoming.


18    The location of many of the toponyms in this text, above all those describing field names and irrigation installations, is unknown. In an article treating the likely course of the ancient Tigris, P. Steinkeller, “New Light on the Hydrology and Topography of Southern Babylonia in the Third Millennium,” ZA 91 (2001) 22-84, presents a comprehensive review of waterways and their settlements in the province of Umma based on these sorts of texts that record water transportation between two settlements, qualifying the trip according to the number of days required and the direction the barges took (upstream or downstream, assuming a general waterflow in southern Mesopotamia of northwest to southeast).


19    Although this receipt is otherwise a perfect fit for this passage of Erlenmeyer 152 (received from Lu-Šara by Lu-Haya [Erl. 152 rev. iii 11] via Lu-Suen the fattener), its numerical notation is 3 guruš u4-6-še3 and thus well off the 128 workdays recorded in our text. It is therefore likely that the scribe of Erl. 152 had one or more additional receipts from Lu-Haya that had moved through the office of Lu-Suen, multiple receipts that he had forgotten, or for some reason chosen not to register in rev. iii 11 (altogether at least nine receipts).


20    As a rule, the date will consist of only the year name; there is an occasional inclusion of the month during which the work was done, for instance in the case of Erlenmeyer 152 the primary documents  MVN 16, 865 (=rev. i 1-3; iti šu-numun), and MVN 16, 1071 (=rev. ii 6-8, 16, iii 11; iti ddumu-zi).


21    Translation:  “195 workdays, from the water installation at the Šulpa'e (field) earth excavated, irrigation work in the Šulpa'e field, water installation of the Audatur (field) cut off (?) and cleaned. Sealed tablet of Lugal-hegal.”


22    The administrative role of this person is unclear to me. Although an important Umma šabra official (explicitly in Princeton 2, 421 [M. Sigrist, forthcoming]), Agugu seems never to have used a personal seal, but rather seals of other officials, including that of Ur-emah (UTI 3, 1630, and for instance MCS 3, 87 BM 105514, MVN 14, 351, and UTI 3, 2299) and of Ur-emah's brother Lugal-ezim (passim, but note the pisan-dub-ba text SAT 3, 2167, that records sealed tablets of Agugu and Lugal-ezim together in rev. 4).


23    Note the variant additional information in Erlenmeyer 152 that must result from either the existence of a fuller duplicate text of MVN 15, 20, or the lively memory of a young scribe. MVN 15, 20, records the reality of a group of 15 workmen occupied over two days, simplified in Erlenmeyer 152 to 30 guruš u4-1-še3, “30 workdays”. The second of the two tablets mentioned contained a receipt corresponding to the preceding entry in Erlenmeyer 152: 2.00 guruš u4-1-še3 / ki-sura2 nin12-nu-du3-a-ta  a-pi4-sal4ki-še3 in-u im-la2.


24    For a review of the lexical evidence, see S. Liebermann, “Of Clay Pebbles, Hollow Clay Balls, and Writing: A Sumerian View,” AJA 84 (1980) 339-358.


25    An asterisk (*) indicates sign disturbed by recent repair work.


26    The remains of some of the original signs are visible. When the tablet was repaired in recent times, the break along this case was filled with clay, and some cuneiform impressions were made on the fresh surface. See the text copy in figure 1 and its CDLI page for an overview of the damaged and repaired sections of the text.


27    G. Selz, RA 87 (1993) 29-45, has demonstrated the widespread and productive use of singular cohortatives in Sumerian nominalization; thus gab2-us2 (our “herding apprentice”) means literally “I will follow it”, gab2-ra literally “I will drive it along”.


28    The initial horizontal wedges of lugal were erased by the scribe, suggesting a correction to lu2. The sign ama/dagal is unclear.


29    It appears that this and the sign immediately below it in the following case were reconstructed over  a filled-in gap in the tablet. If so, then the substantially correct sign forms would point to its reconstruction by a specialist, although we would expect rather iti 12-kam in l. 16, consistent with the majority of Ur III accounts, and with rev. v 7 of this text. The reconstructive work done on the lines obv. iii 11-13, however, is of a decidedly amateurish quality.


30    That is, of the workmen qualified as “halftime”.


31    The case presumably served as a sexagesimal “scratch pad”. Top row 12,30, bottom row 7,17,30.


32    The two fields Igi-emah-še3 and Nin-ura (full name Nin-ura-an-ne2-ga2-ra, see Umma Ist. 4, 2962, obv. 2) were often attested together in our Ur III accounts, for instance in Umma Ist. 4, 2546 (SS 1), Umma Ist. 4, 2598 (SS 1), Umma Ist. 4, 2665 (SS 1), Umma Ist. 4, 2850 (AS 8), Umma Ist. 4, 2861 (AS 8), Umma Ist. 4, 2911 rev., Umma Ist. 5, 3019, MVN 21, 80 (SS 3).


33    The final sign -da here and in other contexts suggests the sign DUN requires a reading of final /d/. Possibly /zehda/, “young pig (sty)”, is meant. Cp. CTNMC 27, Princeton 1, 498 (=Princeton 2, 144; in en-du8-du), etc.


34    It is not evident where the scribe might have found this line; it is not included in the receipt MVN 18, 397, from which this subsection was copied.


35    The seal impression of the receipt which formed the basis of this entry found on MVN 18, 397, suggests that this is the son of the following sealing official Šakuge.


36    sic, cp. MVN 14, 312, obv. 5-6.


37    Is this the father of Lu-Šara, and the son of Lugal-nesage (s. Princeton 1, 518)?


38    The field is described with sketch in the text Or 47-49, 509 (there called a-ša3 u2-du-lu2-sa6-ga). Compare UTI 4, 2400, rev. 1.


39    The receipt MVN 16, 865, implies that this is the son of the preceding, sealing official Lugal-iti-da, and is therefore together with the remarks above to obv. v 1 to be added to the list of possible organizing principles of posting receipts into larger accounts.


40    Full name of the field is Šara-gugal-an-ne2-ga2-ra, see Nik 2, 142 obv. 3, SAT 3, 1546, rev. 1, and above, n. 32.


41    This passage probably partially corresponds to the receipt Princeton 1, 380.


42    The entire passage rev. i 17 - iii 11 is evidently sealed by Lu-Haya.


43    This assumes that the min sign in text is not another “repair”. “Ditto” would refer to the returning of the barge.


44    There are some possibly recent traces of signs at the beginning of this case. The reconstruction derives both from the partial total at the bottom of this column (6.10 - 1.10 = 5.00) and from the calculated work norm of the porters from the debits section of the text above, obv. ii 21, based on a “free time” allowance of 1/10. The work of the dumugi is not similarly rewarded in this account.