Cuneiform Digital Library Journal
§1.2. There is not much doubt that, normally, ancient Mesopotamian agriculture produced a surplus. Agricultural production by Sumer’s institutions was organised to exceed its redistribution to dependent labour and administration, not only to buffer poor harvests but also to support cult offerings to temples, to finance and otherwise provision internal and external trade via merchants, and to fulfil the taxation requirements of the state.
§1.3. Given that the overwhelming majority of cuneiform texts from third millennium Mesopotamia are administrative texts from the accounting systems of temple, palace and state, we are confronted with largely insurmountable difficulties in attempts to construct a much different model of the Sumerian economy. Most of the texts tell us that we are dealing with a highly centralised and centrally controlled economy, especially during the Ur III period; indeed, Englund (2012a: 427) has labelled it a “command economy.”
§1.4. However, although the redistributive model is the prevailing theory of the structure of the Sumerian economy, there remains substantial variation in interpretations of the embedded processes which allocate resources between various activities within production processes. Disputation is due mainly to differing conceptions of how prices, whether of commodities or factors of production, are determined, and largely reduces to whether prices result from the interaction of “supply and demand” in a market economy, are fixed by some central authority, or are a mixture of both. The notion that “markets, defined... as a system of exchanging and allocating resources by means of a price mechanism - with prices determined primarily by supply and demand”- were much in evidence in commodity and factor markets of Sumer, even accepting the co-existence of administrative means of resource allocation, enjoys enduring traction (van Bavel 2014:145, 157-158).
§1.5. Scholars who largely reject Polanyi’s paradigm of the redistributive and so-called “marketless” economy, though they may acknowledge the economic dominance and distributional system of the governing institutions of the third millennium argue a central role for price making markets in the allocation of resources. Powell (1999:11), for example, suggested “there is good reason to believe that both market places and markets in the sense of economic mechanisms existed in Babylonia and that they were shaped by supply and demand like contemporary markets in Anatolia.” Powell’s rejection of Polanyi is partly motivated, as is that of other Assyriologists, by evidence from the Old Assyrian trade of the early second millennium, and partly by a philological analysis of Old Babylonian terms for “market” and its surrogates. Neither indication is from the third millennium, but as regards the latter, he argues that semantic developments like that of the word kārum from a Sumerian loan into Akkadian would not have occurred if a similar community of merchants engaged in commerce had not been present in Sumerian cities in the third millennium. Powell also points to other Akkadian terms suggesting market places which may have Sumerian prototypes. The philological and archaeological evidence together with pottery typology argue against any radical hiatus between the Ur III and Old Babylonian periods assumed from the texts (Powell 1999: 10). We are to assume therefore, that markets existed in third millennium Sumer, at least during the neo-Sumerian period.
§1.6. Polanyi, of course, specifically distinguished market place from market as in “price-making market system.” The first is the location where people meet to transfer or exchange goods, the second includes “the aggregation of such sites into a system, involving repeated exchanges of commodities; and a mechanism that determines the production and distribution of resources through supply-demand feedback.” To confuse the two is to make a categorical error. The first can be unearthed by the archaeologist the second cannot. Polanyi accepted that market places may have existed as early as the Neolithic whereas the price-making market system only arrived in the 1st millennium BC, in Greece (Dale 2013: 162ff.). Although there is no written evidence of barter or local markets in the Ur III economy they must have existed. How else would ordinary people obtain their household goods and foodstuffs? This was structurally essential for the distribution of perishables and commodities produced within non-institutional households. These local markets were for exchange not redistribution (Steinkeller 2004: 95-96)
§1.7. Snell (1982:188), on the other hand, concluded from his study of prices, predominantly from the Ur III “silver accounts,” that variations in commodity prices arising from different transactions over very short time periods and sometimes even in the same merchant text, made it highly improbable that “Polanyi’s theories have any application to Ur III trading systems, ... .”
§2. Equivalencies and prices
§2.2. A polar opposite conclusion is arrived at by Englund from roughly the same data. He perceives the state imposition and monitoring of silver value equivalencies as accomplished by institutional household accountants who employed, “with almost dizzying accuracy, a broad palette of equivalencies as part of their means of control of production” (Englund 2012a: 427). The shekel of silver was the basis of valuing all commodities in the Ur III accounts with the prescribed norm of 1 shekel = 300 sila3 (“liters”) of barley as the basis from which all other equivalencies were derived.
§2.3. The silver to “quantity of a commodity” equivalencies, are sometimes thought of as analogous to “transfer prices” in modern business corporations, fixed by administrative systems and only reflecting real market prices, applied to “in-house” flows of resources as essential for accounting and forward planning (Hudson 2004: 99,102). The use of the silver shekel to quantity equivalency in order to standardise comparisons of value in respect of a variety of different commodities in accounts thus became pervasive in the Ur III accounts and was not restricted to the silver/merchant accounts from Umma.
§2.4. In this view, the Ur III pseudo-prices were not determined by the interaction of supply and demand in a market, but were normative prices, set and administered by the institutions, and the value of a given weight or quantity of a commodity was commonly ku3-bi (“its silver”). However, silver and barley with one shekel of silver set at a value of one gur (300 sila3) of barley “became equal standards of value against which other commodities were measured, creating a bi-monetary price ratio that was the first step in administering prices.” (Hudson 2004: 112).
§3. Money and price
§3.2. It is essential to recognize the Ur III economy as a commodity money economy because it circumscribes direct barter as the principal mechanism determining prices in the economy. Such delimitation does not exclude the role of barter in local markets, but does point to its almost certain absence as a mechanism determining many of the so-called prices witnessed in the administrative texts from institutional households.
§3.3. To what extent commodities other than silver, and specifically barley, were capable of fulfilling all of the economic functions of money may be uncertain. Since Jevons (1875: chapter 3), economists have defined four functions of money. Firstly, money provides a unit of account and a standard of value. In the neo-Sumerian both barley and silver were used for this purpose. Secondly, money most obviously functions as a medium of exchange. Again, both barley and silver, predominantly, performed this role. Thirdly, money functions as a store of value. For this purpose, money needs to be capable of being kept for long periods of time. Silver and other metals were the most obvious candidates for this purpose. The precious metals of gold and silver have mostly performed this role, not only in history, but even today are regarded as investments and a store of value. However, gold was not so widely available as silver in the Ur III period, so that silver prevailed as the standard and store of value. Though, to state the obvious, barley could be stored for a while in granaries, it is much less obvious that it could serve as a store of value in money terms for very long. On the other hand, perhaps as much as, if not even more than silver, barley fulfilled the fourth function of money as a standard of deferred payment. Debts were repaid with both barley and silver for reasons which are examined later.
§3.4. All prices are ratios, whether or not they are measured with commodity money or, as today, with fiat money. In the modern economy we calculate prices as a ratio between the quantities of commodities and money values measured in whichever currency is appropriate (nominal price). In the Ur III economy, the value of a commodity is expressed as a ratio between its quantity and the quantity of another commodity (relative price). Theoretically, the “dizzying array” of relative prices envisaged by Englund and which confronted the Ur III scribe, was extremely large in that as many price ratios could exist as the number of pairs that could be formed from the number of commodities in the system. In reality, the scribe would not have had to consider such a great number of price ratios. The quantity of each of all other commodities as a ratio of one commodity only, the shekel of silver or alternatively the gur of barley, was known. Therefore, the price of each commodity in relation to any other could be computed in a much smaller number of calculations. It is conceivable that with the increased complexity of the Ur III institutional economy and its accounting systems, the bi-monetary standard of 1 gur of barley to 1 shekel of silver became an essential device to reduce the dimensions of relative price structures to manageable proportions.
§3.5. Be that as it may, whether we are considering relative or nominal prices, intrinsic to the definition of price is the process of commodity exchange. First and foremost, administered or market, price is “the quantity of one thing that is exchanged or demanded in barter or sale for another” (Merriam-Webster). Whether or not the apparent price ratios in the Ur III corpus, especially of barley:silver, arise out of a process of exchange or potential sale is questionable. Their merit as a price and even as a measure of “equivalent value” requires a much more focussed analysis than we have seen hitherto.
§3.6. Snell’s 1982 study of the Ur III prices of a wide variety of commodities remains the basis of information from which much Sumerological opinion and analysis regarding the measurement of value and commodity exchanges in the neo-Sumerian economy proceeds. Much of Englund’s data on silver equivalencies in his study of value in the Ur III state relies on Snell’s study (Englund 2012a: 443). In his analysis of wool bought and sold by the institutional economy in Ur III Umma, for example, Sallaberger (2014: 97 table 6.1) estimates prices from Snell’s median wool price of ten minas of wool per shekel of silver and regards this as the standard price relationship of wool. Although their own study of the prices of aromatics examines data added to the corpus since the texts available to Snell, the most recent data which Brunke and Sallaberger can consult to augment their own on aromatic product quantities and prices is also from Snell’s study (Brunke & Sallaberger 2010: 71 n. 39).
§4. Fluctuating prices
§4.2. The Umma merchant accounts, though relating to a relatively short period in the middle of the Ur III period, display noteworthy variations in the measures per shekel of silver for several of the same commodities. The value in silver of the staple barley, for example, varies by 180 per cent in these particular accounts. A number of credible reasons can be proposed for these fluctuations, “including exchange pressures generated by bumper harvests or a major influx of silver, conflict, drought, degradation of the fields through salinization, or other processes endemic to alluvial agriculture in antiquity” (Englund 2012a: 443). Fluctuations in prices established by such influences may suggest their determination in exchanges in an early form of market system rather than one in which prices or equivalencies were “administered” or set by the administration.
§4.3. Producers may have made pricing decisions in response to these influences and this was reflected in both “debits” and “credits” in the merchant accounts; in both the prices/values of the “capital” provided to the merchants by the administration and in the prices of the goods supplied to the administration by the merchants (Snell 1982: 191). If these prices had displayed stability it would suggest price control by the administration.
§4.4. However, price fluctuations may well have been tolerated and even inherent in the administrative system of acquiring commodities not produced by the central institutions themselves. Merchants or “trade agents” may even have been required to obtain set amounts of the products needed by the provincial administration regardless of price. The “capital” with which merchants were resourced was sufficient to allow whatever expenditure was necessary. “The prices in the silver accounts may therefore be as regular or as irregular as the price setters wanted.” Expenditure by the merchants would always be covered (Snell 1982: 189-190). Clearly, if such was the practice, recorded prices or equivalencies were unlikely to be centrally administered. On the other hand, few of these determining factors may apply if the barley:silver ratios turn out not to be market prices.
§5. The barley:silver price ratio
§5.2. The Appendix comprises a list of 157 attestations of the barley:silver price ratios extracted from the approximately 72,000 transliterated Ur III administrative texts in the CDLI database. Each text ID is compiled from its year (name=) date, provenience, and text siglum. Access to the CDLI transliteration of each text identified can be had by following the hyperlink of each siglum. In some texts there is more than one occurrence of a price. Each occurrence is recorded in the list even if each has the same value. Multiple occurrences of a price in a text usually arise from several transactions and are therefore separate examples of the barley:silver ratios. Sometimes, the same text records different values from separate transactions.
§5.3. About half of the 157 price ratios were also included in Snell’s table 6. “Grains” s.v. “še “grain” (Snell 1982: 138-143). Most of Snell’s entries in his table were recoverable from the CDLI database. A few could not be found and the additions to Snell’s list in the Appendix for the most part have been published since his book.
§5.4. For want of a better terminology and pro tem, the column headed “unit” is the “unit of account.” “še-bi” in an entry denotes those transactions in which a transfer of silver has an associated (perhaps equivalent) value in barley, generically “n gin2 ku3(-babbar), še-bi n gur” as in Nisaba 7, 21 obv. 3-4. Conversely, “ku3-bi” denotes those transactions in which a transfer of barley has an associated (perhaps equivalent) value in silver, thus “n še gur, ku3-bi n gin2,” see MVN 1, 240 obv. i 8-9. In many interpretations in Sumerology, “še-bi” is thought of as the barley equivalent value or barley price of silver and “ku3-bi” as the silver equivalent value or silver price of barley. However, the notion of equivalent value is not readily apparent in very many examples particularly in silver loan documents. Snell (1982) used these terms to define “price” and in a more recent study of the monetary role of silver in Ur III Umma, Ouyang (2013: 64) prefers to regard these price ratios simply as a conversion rate rather than a price on the probably dubious grounds that Snell (1982: 189) found it difficult to set up a typology of Ur III texts that use various pricing formulae.
§5.5. Nevertheless, “ku3-bi” is customarily considered the pre-eminent unit of account or measure of equivalent value in exchanges of many different commodities recorded by the Ur III accounting system. In those employing a barley:silver ratio, however, this is clearly not so. Of the 157 occurrences listed in the Appendix, some 100 (64%) have “še-bi” as their unit of account and only 45 (29%) “ku3-bi.” The remaining 12 entries express the relationship of barley to silver as nig2-sa10-(am3)-(bi) (3) or via a terminative (-še3) (2) or ablative/distributive (-ta) suffix (7). The column in the Appendix headed “ratio” converts all of these to values of n sila3 of barley per shekel of silver.
§5.6. Which way round the barley:silver ratio is expressed, whether as “n gin2 ku3(-babbar), še-bi n gur” or as “n še gur, ku3-bi n gin2” may be a significant indicator of how barley and silver prices were determined. The first formulation occurs in transactions which indicate a payment in silver, while the second is in those which are indicative of a payment of barley. In his table 6 on grain (še) prices, Snell, however, appears to consider both forms to be identical as an indicator of price in that all prices except for twelve different formulae given above are identified in his table only by the suffix –bi, which he defines as “silver, its value in (a product) ... ,” Snell (1982: 120). The commodities in this present study are also še “barley or grain” and ku3-(babbar) “silver.”
§6. A contextual typology of barley:silver price ratios
Texts analysed in each of these categories are excerpted in seven tables below and the account type defined by each of the tables into which an occurrence of the barley:silver price ratio is assigned is incorporated in its list entry in the Appendix. A glossary of the Sumerian words and phrases used below to indicate these account types is included here to promote a fuller understanding of the tables.
§6.2. Glossary of Sumerian terms used in tables
§7. Accounts of barley deliveries to institutional households
§7.2. There are broadly two kinds of these accounts. The first comprises accounts subscribed nig2-ka9-ak si-i3-tum “account of remaining deficit” while the second encompasses those subscribed nig2-ka9-ak PN. Both types of text describe similar processes and are characterised by several typical transactions and phrases. The deduction of deliveries from either quotas or arrears is indicated by sa3-bi-ta “therefrom” immediately after the entry of the quantity of barley required by the institution. The delivery of barley into the institution to offset arrears is given by su-ga mu-kux(DU) “replaced (with) delivery” and the delivery to offset other debits by mu-kux(DU) “delivery.” Quantities of barley may also appear in these accounts as contra entries, identified as a deduction (zi-ga).
§7.2.1. nig2-ka9-ak si-i3-tum with silver paid in lieu of barley delivery
The barley:silver price in this excerpt from MVN 8, 179, is 1 gur (300 sila3) barley = 1 shekel silver. Altogether, five transactions are recorded in this text, the mean price ratio from which is 317 sila3 “liters” (1 gur 1 ban2 7 sila3) to each shekel of silver. The barley:silver ratios from each of the individual transactions are set out in the Appendix. Three of the five price ratios are the supposed standard 1 gur = 1 shekel of silver. Eleven transactions which describe the payment of silver in lieu of the delivery of barley occur in Nisaba 7, 7, the mean ratio from which is 1 gur = 1 shekel since all the barley:silver prices are close to this standard value. The price ratios given for the summary accounts in Table 1 are all averages, with the exception of CT 7, pl. 5-6, BM 12934, in which text there is only a single transaction in silver. As before, the individual ratios for all occurrences of the ratios are given in the Appendix.
Table 1. nig2-ka9-ak si-i3-tum with silver paid in lieu of barley delivery
§22.214.171.124. CT 9, pl. 44, BM 19038> a Girsu account dated Šulgi 47, differs from the other nig2-ka9-ak si-i3-tum in this group not only in its lack of explicit credits of deliveries (mu-kux(DU)) to settle individual deficits, but also in its overall structure. It is more evidently structured as a “balanced account” similar in form to the more widely discussed “merchant” or “silver” accounts examined later. As in these and other balanced accounts all of the credits against the arrears brought forward are bracketed by ša3-bi-ta—zi-ga, the difference between the credits and debits being the arrears carried forward to the next period. An analysis of this text may be constructed as follows (and see the tablular analysis offered below).
§126.96.36.199. Although the account is dated to Š 47, the principal quantity of barley arrears is carried forward from Š 43. The quantity of barley required to be delivered is subsequently added to by deficits in barley due from two named persons. These three quantities comprise the total “debits” in this account. From these are to be deducted the six payments enumerated a) to f). These in fact are defined as repayments (su-ga), three of which are made in silver in lieu of barley. These repayments are in the process of being debited to the account (su-ga ugu2-a ga2-ga2), so too was the later debit to the account of a PN. This contrasts with the occasional charges or debits made to the accounts of PNs in other accounts of this genre listed in Table 1, where the debits have already been made. A comparable account also dated Šulgi 47 is MVN 12, 175.
§188.8.131.52. The subscripts to several of the texts in Table 1 indicate accounts kept of the activities of officials engaged in different functions of the provincial government. Two thirds of the nig2-ka9-ak si-i3-tum are accounts concerning the activities of lu2 nig2-dab5-ke4-ne who in these texts are incontrovertibly “storekeepers” at institutional facilities such as threshing floors and milling houses. The administration’s proprietorship of these barley delivery accounts is also witnessed by CT 7, pl. 5-6, BM 12934 in which the arrears of barley carried forward are via an official, giri3 nig2-u2-rum gu-za-la2 and in which the subscript nig2-ka9-ak si-i3-tum še kin-ga2 means “the account of the remainder of harvested barley.”
§184.108.40.206. Accounts listed in Table 1, with the exception of CT 9, pl. 44, BM 19038, are each a collection of summarised accounts of individual “primary” transactions, an example of which may be provided by Nisaba 7, 21. This text could equally well have been included in Table 2, but has been retained in Table 1 in deference to its subscript nig2-ka9-ak si-i3-tum.
§220.127.116.11. Nisaba 7, 21, dated Šulgi 39, reads:
In this text the silver payment replaces barley at a ratio of 299 sila3 per shekel. The ensi2-gal, Bazi, received the payment of silver, presumably from Datimu, and also authorised the carrying forward of his arrears of barley. Datimu may be the scribe in MVN 2, 192 obv. 10, a text from Šulgi 40, a year later than this account, although we cannot guess that he acts in the capacity of scribe here.
§18.104.22.168. These accounts of individuals could also be in surplus as well as arrears. Thus MVN 9, 96, is perhaps one of these and reads:
In this instance more silver was paid in lieu of the barley than the amount due required. It may be that Nasilim deemed the amount due to be 1 gur and therefore the standard value of 1 shekel of silver was sought in lieu of barley, though clearly the makers of the account did not consider it so. In CT 7, pl. 46, BM 17774 ga-sa6-ga is a cook (muḫaldim), while na-silim has a seal, both of whom, since they appear together, may be identified with the same two persons named here.
§7.2.2. nig2-ka9-ak PN with silver paid in lieu of barley delivery
Table 2. nig2-ka9-ak PN with silver paid in lieu of barley delivery
§22.214.171.124. In HSS 4, 24, balances of barley owing (si-i3-tum) from two separate years totalling 18,817 liters are the responsibility of (giri3) two officials, Gudea and Nigurum. Set against these deficits are firstly a quantity of barley and a payment of silver in lieu of barley received by Nigurum and secondly several deliveries of barley including a second payment of silver in lieu together with a quantity of barley debited to the account of a granary supervisor. These total some 15,522 liters of barley including the barley equivalents of the silver payments. This total amount of barley is to be replaced (su-su-dam) via Gudea and Nigurum and is recorded as a delivery. The account is made in respect of ur-nig2 ugula kikken2 “Urnig the overseer of mill-workers.” The barley deficit was probably owed to the mill therefore. The account was apparently established in Šulgi 37, but dates settlements of the account and particularly the silver payments to the later years of Šulgi 42 and 43. It may be that these silver payments were required once barley due was deemed to be not forthcoming. Both of the other accounts with several transactions, CT 7, pl.46, BM 17774 and MVN 6, 507, suggest a similar process.
§126.96.36.199. TLB 3, 150 is paradigmatic of the more numerous texts where only one transaction delivered barley and silver in lieu of barley in part defrayal of a barley deficit. Its explanatory qualities merit a more detailed examination, hence the transliteration and translation of the short text included here.
The account held by the official Lu-Ušgina records a barley deficit of some 11,560 liters in the year Šulgi 38. A second official, Urbaba, is to replace this with barley plus a payment of silver in lieu of barley he has received as a delivery in the year Š 43. The silver is equivalent to 5,730 liters of barley. The total delivery of 9,100 liters of barley (actual barley plus silver equivalent) still leaves a deficit of 2,460 liters remaining from the original deficit of 11,560 liters. The delivery plus the remaining deficit are to be replaced in Lu-Ušgina’s account via Ur-Baba. Interestingly, the date of the receipt of barley together with the silver payment by Urbaba is apparently some five years after the beginning date of the account, perhaps indicating that silver was paid in lieu after several years of failure to deliver a required quantity of barley. Significantly, the barley:silver price ratio used to convert the silver payment to barley in this instance is 300 sila3 barley to 1 gin2 silver.
§8. Accounts of barley expenditures by institutional households
§8.1.2. Although two of them are balanced accounts of remaining deficits (nig2-ka9-ak si-i3-tum) of barley, all of the accounts in table 3 on the other hand primarily deal with the expenditure by provincial institutions of probable barley surpluses. They do not describe deliveries (mu-kux(DU)) of barley or silver in lieu into these institutions to offset the deficits of barley. Elaborations of their structure aside, the overriding syntax of these particular balanced accounts ((sag-nig2-gur11-ra-kam), ša3-bi-ta—zi-ga-am3) indicates expenditure from “capital” or “available assets” of barley - often translated less definitively as the debits. The phrase sag-nig2-gur11-ra-kam is amissible in the Ur III balanced accounts. Traditionally, “capital” seems to be most frequently used in the context of the merchant accounts. Whether or not the Sumerians would have regarded the goods totalled at the head of these accounts and often termed sag-nig2-gur11-ra-kam as “capital,” or simply as an accumulation of stored barley to be expended or otherwise distributed is moot. The etymology of the term could perhaps stem from the agricultural processes of an agrarian economy where the gur11 sign in the phrase is synonymous with guru7 “grain heap” or “silo.” sag-nig2-gur11-ra-kam is probably related to e2-nig2-gur11-ra “storehouse or treasury” which is attested from ED IIIb through the Old Babylonian periods, though not in administrative texts after the Old Akkadian.
§8.1.3. CT 7, pl. 21, BM 13165, provides the most penetrable example. A total of 857 gur + 2 barig + 1 ban2 of barley is the sag-nig2-gur11-ra-kam, supplied by the managers (sanga) of the temples of Nindara, Dumuzi and Ningirsu and a fourth official. From this 794 gur + 2 barig + 1 ban2 is received by a PN1 (kišib3 PN1) to ship to Nippur (nibruki nigin2) and a further 61 gur is received by (kišib3 PN2) a chief boatman, as wages of a boat of hirelings to go to Nippur (a2 ma2 ḫun-ga2 nibruki-še3). These two amounts are to be debited to the accounts (ugu2-a ga2-ga2) of the aforementioned PNs, who had issued two sealed documents (kišib3-bi 2-am3), one each, to receipt the expenditure. Separately from the Nippur transactions a further 4 barig + 4 ban2 of barley were debited to the account of PN3 and of significance for this study ur-sa6-ga nu-banda3 received 2 minus ⅙ shekels of silver worth 1 gur + 2 barig + 2 ban2 of barley (240 sila3 per shekel). The total of barley expended (zi-ga) amounts to 857 gur + 4 barig + 1 ban2 including the barley equivalent of the silver received by ur-sa6-ga. This level of expenditure exceeds the sag-nig2-gur11-ra-kam by 1 ban2, which is the diri.
§8.1.4. ASJ 13, 230 74 is a Girsu “seed and fodder” text for the demesne fields managed by ur-dlamma dumu nam-maḫ (Maekawa 1991: 211). It is formulated as a balanced account and is subscribed nig2-ka9-ak, GAN2 uru4-a, ur-dlamma, dumu nam-maḫ “balanced account of fields in cultivation by Ur-Lamma, son of Nammaḫ.” Barley “assets” (sag-nig2-gur11-ra-kam) from various sources are disbursed to seed both the fields in cultivation (GAN2 uru4-a) and other fields in rotation (GAN2 bala-a), the latter being brought into cultivation from the fallow. The barley to remunerate hired labour (a2 ḫun-ga2) to seed these fields is also counted among the expenditure as is barley redistributed as rations to the cultivator’s agricultural workers (še šuku-ra engar dumu-da-ba). In addition to these barley expenditures, 60 shekels of silver is received by the governor (kišib3 ensi2) for which barley at the rate of 240 sila3 per shekel of silver, in total 48 gur, is expended and debited to the account. What this payment of silver to the ensi2 is in respect of, is not immediately obvious. A possible explanation is that it represents the silver portion of a rental payment for land leased from the state demesne managed by ur-dlamma. Such payments were required to be partly in silver and partly in barley (de Maaijer 1998: 57).
§8.1.5. CTNMC 53 is defined by its subscript as an account of barley remaining (nig2-ka9-ak še si-i3-tum) in the management of the granary supervisors and scribes of the flour. The account records the institutional expenditure of barley “assets” (sag-nig2-gur11-ra-kam) for a variety of purposes (zi-ga didli inim gu3-de2-a ša13-dub-ba-ta “various expenditures under the instructions of Gudea, the chief accountant”) and via a variety of personnel. Three only of the many expenditures/withdrawals involve a transfer of silver and record its barley equivalent (še-bi). The first of these is a transfer of one and a half minas plus one shekel of silver in lieu of barley together with 60 gur and three barig of barley to Uršugalamma, a šabra (major domo) of a temple. The barley:silver ratio in this transfer is 300 sila3 per shekel. The institutional household in Girsu of which Uršugalamma was šabra at the time of Šulgi may have been the palace, e2 šul-gi “the household of Šulgi,” though since the household is also attested throughout the reign of Amar-Suen, it was more likely to be a temple. The combined payment of silver and barley to a šabra is also suggestive of a field rental payment. The two other transfers of silver recorded and which involve an expenditure (zi-ga) of barley are on the face of it quite different. Perhaps uniquely in these Girsu texts, barley may have been directly exchanged to acquire large amounts of silver currency. In this particular instance, and if so, it is possible to think of the barley:silver price ratio as a barley price of silver.
§8.1.6. CTNMC 53 obverse ii 17-22 reads 1 gu2 3 ⅔ ma-na 7 gin2 ⅔(NINDA2×ŠE.2) 12 še ku3-babbar / še-bi 1 guru7 227 3(barig) 4(ban2) gur / e2-gal-la ba-an-kux(KWU147) / giri3 šeš-kal-la / dumu ur-dba-ba6, “3827.73 shekels of silver, its barley 1,148,320 sila3, were delivered into the palace via Šeškalla, son of Urbaba.” The barley:silver price ratio here is also 300 sila3 per shekel. This transaction is dated to Š 33.
§8.1.7. CTNMC 53 obverse iii 17-20 record a second smaller delivery of silver into the palace also subject to a similar exchange with barley via Šeškalla. This is dated to Š 34 and in this transaction 81,055 ⅚ sila3 of barley are exchanged for 270 shekels of silver, so that the barley:silver price ratio is again 300 sila3 per shekel.
§8.1.8. šeš-kal-la dumu ur-dba-ba6 was probably a scribe, and thus an official of the provincial administration, identifiable from the seals in MVN 11, 44, and PPAC 5, 1559, both of which are also from the late Šulgi period (Š 46 and Š 48 respectively). In both of these texts, distributions of barley, in the first instance via a barley loan, are authorised under his seal. Further confirmation of his association with some of the activities described in CTNMC 53 may be given by MVN 7, 534, and ASJ 3, 158 122. The subscript in CTNMC 53 rev. 11-12, nig2-ka9-ak še si-i3-tum / ka-guru7 u3 dub-sar zi3-da-ke4-ne, could even be one of the tablets in the tablet store of which MVN 7, 534 is the undated pisan-dub-ba. This basket of tablets contained accounts charged to the granary supervisors and kišib3 šeš-kal-la dumu ur-dba-ba6 i3-gal2 “is under the seal of Šeškalla son of Ur-Baba.” ASJ 3, 158 122 suggests that in Š44 šeš-kal-la dumu ur-dba-ba6 may be the subordinate of the ugula of a grain store/silo (i3-dub).
§8.1.9. In all, CTNMC 53 records that a large quantity of silver was delivered to the e2-gal in exchange for an equally large volume of barley. That the silver of obv. ii 17 has been acquired with a disbursement of barley is evidenced by the fact that še-bi 1 guru7 227 3(barig) 4(ban2) gur of obv. ii 18, is paralleled by obv. iii 14, šunigin 1 guru7 227 3(barig) 4(ban2) gur še ku3 “Total: 114,8320 sila3 barley for silver.” Similarly, it is certain that the še-bi 270 5(ban2) 5 ⅚ sila3 gur of obv. iii 18 enables obv. iii 23 to be restored as šunigin 270 5(ban2) 5 ⅚ sila3 gur [še ku3]. A reasonable reconstruction would suggest that the barley disbursed from a granary, perhaps administered on behalf of the province by a Girsu temple, was actually exchanged for silver to be delivered by Šeškalla to the provincial governor, the ensi2 of Lagash, whose administration resided in the e2-gal. In all, in this one text, some 4108 shekels of silver were delivered to the e2-gal via Šeškalla in the two years of Š33 and 34.
§8.1.10. CTNMC 53 is structured so that after expenditure is totalled and deducted from the sag-nig2-gur11-ra-kam a substantial amount of barley remains unspent. This remainder is then appropriated in three ways. A proportion of the debit (“capital”) is set aside to be investigated/checked (ugu2-e tak4-a en3-bi tar-re-dam); a large quantity of barley is assigned as loan barley in a “sealed document of extended debt repayment periods” (še ur5-ra kišib3 gid2-da). A proportion of the remainder of the unspent barley is allotted to scribes of the flour and Uršugalamma, the šabra. The final remainder (la2-ia3) is then carried forward in the account of the granary supervisors and the flour scribes.
§8.1.11. In CT 1, pl. 4-5, BM 17744, nam-maḫ dumu ur-gešgigir, probably an official of temple or state, has received nearly six minas of silver, seemingly in lieu of barley, from the expenditure of sag-nig2-gur11-ra-kam which is composed mainly of the remaining balance of loan barley and barley from a granary (i3-dub). The barley:silver ratio is again 300 sila3 per shekel. The silver so received is to be debited to his account. The great majority of the expenditure in the account is of barley, a major part of which was debited to the account of a šabra “major domo” of a sanga “temple administrator.” The balanced account is a remainder account (nig2-ka9-ak ka-la2-a) of ur-dlamma, the ensi2 of Lagash dated Š 35.
§8.1.12. Loan barley (še ur5-ra) with and without interest added, deficits of barley not yet issued as loans (la2-ia3 še ur5-ra nu-ta-e3-a) and arrears of barley registered in audited sealed documents (la2-ia3 kišib3 dib-ba) are accumulated as the sag-nig2-gur11-ra-kam of SNAT 434, a balanced account. Small amounts of wheat (gig and ziz2), are also included with the barley as “capital.” The expenditure out of these available assets includes the payment of two probable field rents, one of four gur of barley, a-ša3 gešma-nu-ta “(rent) from the willow field,” and a second much larger payment, half of which was 20 gur of barley and half was 20 shekels of silver, a-ša3 la2-maḫ-ta “from the Lamaḫ field.” The barley equivalent (še-bi) of the silver is also 20 shekels and thus the barley:silver price ratio is 300 sila3 = 1 shekel. The difference between the assets and expenditures, la2-ia3-am3, is the remainder in nig2-ka9-ak še ur5-ra kišib3 dib-ba ku3-ga-ni “balanced account of loan barley and audited sealed documents of Kugani, who was probably also responsible for paying the field rents recorded in the account.
§8.1.13. Three documents in Table 3 account wholly or partly for barley expenditures for the Girsu bala. One tablet is from Lagash’s early season (bala dub-sag) and two are subscribed bala-bi 1-am3. Each of these texts contains relatively small transfers of silver, one of which replaced a small deficit (la2-ia3 su-ga). They were all receipts of silver in lieu of barley and the barley:silver ratio in each case was 300 sila3 per gin2.
Table 3. Expenditures from barley assets on the bala and other
§8.2. Expenditure via Merchants/Trade Agents
§8.2.2. Table 4 outlines the main features of only those few merchant accounts which contain barley to silver equivalents and therefore allow the calculation of the barley:silver price ratio. Unlike all of the texts discussed to this point and the silver loan documents examined later, these texts deal with the provision of barley as “capital” converted to equivalent values in silver for accounting purposes, perhaps rather than the physical transfer of silver in lieu of barley. Fifteen of the sixteen merchant texts studied here and summarised in Table 4 are from Umma. MVN 11, 101, is the only one that originates from elsewhere - Girsu. Between them, the sixteen texts contain 22 separate attestations from which the barley:silver ratio can be computed and these are all listed in the Appendix.
Table 4. Barley expenditures in merchant accounts
§8.2.3. The Umma administration supplied a substantial range of so-called capital goods (sag-nig2-gur11-ra-kam) to the Umma merchants to disburse in acquiring commodities on its behalf. Ranked in order of their silver values, they were grain (often barley), silver, wool, dates, fish, sheepskin and leather goods, flour, resins, smoked fish, and fish oil (Ouyang 2013: 117-118). The most substantial in quantity and value was grain (36%) followed in value by silver (22%), which was nevertheless not much greater in value than wool (20%). Grain, silver, wool and dates comprised almost 90% of the “capital goods” received by the merchants from the Umma administration. Other than silver, therefore, the assets or capital which the governing institutions made available to the merchants for exchange were primarily the accrued surpluses of staples produced by their own organisation.
§8.2.4. Silver as capital was supplied to the merchants exclusively by four major recipients of silver revenues, all members of the family of the ensi2 (Ouyang 2013: 96-97). Other forms of capital such as barley were supplied by a variety of administrators including the ensi2, but perhaps the most important supplier of barley was the ka-guru7 “chief granary officer” of the Umma administration also a member of the governor’s family. Yet other kinds of capital were chiefly issued by the four officials, various scribes and people with occupations such as gardeners and fishery inspectors.
§8.2.5. Compared with the limited variety of their capital goods, the products acquired for and supplied to the different departments of the provincial administration by the merchants were far more diverse. Barley, however, hardly features in these accounts other than as “capital” supplied to the merchants by the provincial administration. Of the sixteen texts listed in Table 4 only JRAS 1939, 32, an account of Šeškalla the merchant, can categorically be said to attest to the supply of barley from a merchant to some function of the governing institutions. Obverse ii 17-20 identifies the withdrawal from the merchant of 30 liters of barley equivalent to 20 grains of silver by Ḫulibar, as fodder for a mule (anšekunga2) and received by (under the seal of) Lugina. The barley:silver ratio in this instance is 1 gur (300 sila3) barley per shekel of silver.
§8.2.6. A second Umma text, SNAT 276, may be argued to be a merchant account in which, though still relatively small, more substantial quantities of barley are supplied to the administration of the province. This a small balanced account of nig2-u2-rum which records the expenditure of silver “capital” on lard and two quantities of barley, 2 gur and 6 gur. The silver equivalents were 3 shekels and 6 shekels, respectively giving barley:silver ratios of 200 sila3 per shekel and 300 sila3 per shekel. Since the supply of silver to the merchants as “capital” with which to acquire various commodities was monopolised by the Umma administration, which was also the predominant destination of lard supplied by the merchants, and although the text does not say so, it is as likely as not that the account records transactions made with the administration by nig2-u2-rum dam-gar3. He is possibly identified as a merchant in one text only, namely MVN 13, 864.
§8.2.7. The sixteen texts of Table 4 represent a total of 22 entries in the Appendix. Deviation from the “standard” 300 sila3 of barley per shekel of silver is markedly more common in the Umma merchant texts than Girsu institutional texts. The sole Girsu merchant text suggests that the Girsu administration may have supplied barley “capital” at the price of 1 gur of barley per shekel more consistently; cf. the valuation evident in the texts discussed earlier. Figure 1 illustrates the range of values of barley:silver ratios from all 22 entries. The mean value of the ratios in Figure 1 is 293 sila3 per shekel, while the median value is 300 sila3 per shekel as is the mode value. One standard deviation in the distribution is 57 sila3 per shekel. The vertical bars in Figure 1 represent one std.dev. on both sides of the mean of 293 sila3, so that for all intents and purposes and allowing for a relatively small sample, all but two three outliers exhibit barley:silver ratios in the range of 1 gur ± 1 barig per shekel.
Figure 1. Barley:silver ratios in Ur III merchant accounts
§8.3. Loans of silver with repayment in barley
§8.3.2. Table 5 summarises the content of 25 such texts, twelve of which are from Nippur, eleven from Umma and one each from Girsu and Puzriš-Dagan. The delineating syntax of these texts is n gin2 ku3-babbar / še-bi n gur / ki PN1-ta / PN2 šu ba-ti / either su-su-dam “to be replaced” or ag2-e-dam “to be measured out.” The month dates of when the loan is received and of when it is to be repaid are usually but not always included. There are variations in the terminology used in the loan documents, though these do not alter much their fundamental meaning. A frequent variant is n gin2 ku3-babbar / še n gur-ta “n gur of barley for each (shekel of silver).” su-su-dam or ag2-e-dam also have variants, gi4-gi4-dam “to be returned,” šum2-mu-dam “to be given” and ga-ag2 bi2-du11, “‘I (will) measure out,’ he promised.” Other variants appear to be largely orthographical such as ag2-da < ag2-(e)-da. In two texts in Table 5, both from Nippur, nig2-sa10(-am3)-bi is written where še-bi might be expected and have a meaning which excludes that of price.
Table 5. Loans of silver with repayment in barley
§8.3.3. Six of the Nippur texts in Table 5 explicitly affirm that barley is expected in repayment of the silver loan. n gin2 ku3-babbar / še-bi n gur / ab-ši-gar in these texts translates as “n shekels of silver, (with) n liters of barley is being replaced. None of the remainder of the 25 loan texts contains this phrase and it is clear that it was not essential to the loan contract in which for whatever reason repayment in barley was required to redeem the debt. It does occur in three of the texts in Table 6, distinguished as receipts. Though these documents do not contain any specific promise to repay the loan with barley, the barley:silver ratios in most of them suggest that the silver received could be a loan, the repayment of which may be documented elsewhere.
§8.3.4. Redemption of these silver loans is invariably to be made during or after the harvest. Two texts are explicit about repayment at the barley harvest. NYPL 387 assesses the barley required to repay the silver loan as še buru14 a-na-ag2-bi n še gur-ta “its measured to him at the harvest barley, n liters for each (shekel of the loan).” The loan of four and a half shekels is to be repaid at the rate of 1 gur and 1 barig of barley per shekel of silver or 360 sila3 per shekel. The loan is made in month 8 (October-November), which is a late sowing/end of ploughing period, and is scheduled to be replaced (su-su-dam) in month 1 (March-April) which is apparently at the beginning of the harvest in Girsu. In the Umma text SANTAG 7, 172, on the other hand, the loan period is not dated. It is merely specified that the loan of 15 shekels of silver su-su-dam “is to be replaced” with 30 gur of barley (i.e. 600 sila3 per shekel) egir buru14 “after the harvest.” In several instances redemption of the loan is to occur when the harvested barley is measured out on the threshing floor (kislaḫ/ki-su7) NATN 17, YOS 4, 27 and YOS 4, 48. In none of these is the redemption date otherwise specified. However, threshing probably occurred during months 4 to 5, June-July to July-August (Potts 1997: 73).
§8.3.5. Further explicit attestations that the repayment of debts mainly took place at harvest time is indicated in several texts by the phrase buru14 ama-bi gi4-gi4 “the harvest will remit this debt.” The phrase primarily appears in those few Ur III texts which suggest that the cancellation of debts may also have occurred around harvest. Borrowers could on occasion be released from their debts on the grounds that their harvest had failed due to a natural disaster such as an inundation from the river in spate or a storm, either of which had laid waste their crop of barley. At least, this appears to have been the case in Nippur and Puzriš-Dagan. I am not aware of evidence for the remission of this kind of debt from other provinces in the Ur III state. MVN 13, 881 & 882, in Table 5, perhaps from Puzriš-Dagan, is the only text directly relevant to this price analysis, that is, in which a loan of silver is to be repaid by barley and which may be subject to this provision. It reads obv. / 2 gin2 ku3-babbar / še-bi 2 2(barig) gur / buru14 ama-bi gi4-gi4 su3-su3-da / ba-a-mu / rev. / mu lugal-bi in-pa3 / ki dnanna-i3-gi-ta / ba-a-mu / šu ba-ti / iti me-gi8-gal2 / [mu en] dnanna maš2-e i3-pa3, “2 shekels of silver, its barley 720 liters. The debt will be cancelled at harvest time, should (the harvest) be inundated. Ba’amu has made an oath in the name of king. Ba’amu received (the loan) from Nanna-igi in the month Mekigal of the year when the en priestess of Nanna was chosen by omens.” The crucial indicator that the text describes a loan which is to be repaid is given by the phrase buru14 ama-bi gi4-gi4. In each of the texts containing this phrase and discussed here, it is evident that the borrower’s obligation for the debt incurred will be discharged by repayment from the borrower’s barley harvest. The loan in this instance was again to be repaid at the rate of 360 sila3 per shekel although the text is obscure with regard to whether it will be repaid or not. There is no repayment term to which Ba’amu’s oath refers. Nor does the oath verify his receipt of the silver. The fact that Ba’amu has made an oath actually precedes the recording of the receipt of the silver. It immediately follows, however, the statement of the remittable aspect of the debt.
§8.3.6. Debts redeemable with barley at harvest time may well have been incurred by cultivators to finance agricultural operations. This is arguably so for at least some of the loans which were made at times of sowing or irrigation. The maximum loan period in Table 5 is from ploughing to mid-harvest, about nine months and the shortest period is only 1 month during harvest, cf. NUL 6 from Umma in which Alla has borrowed ⅓ shekel of silver for 1 month during the harvest period. The debt was to be repaid in barley in month 5 (iti dal) at the end of the harvest, thus the loan was for 1 month during the harvest. Short duration loans, especially harvest loans, were usually made to provide for the immediate subsistence of the borrower’s household and almost always in barley. However, although rarer, these kinds of loans could also be made in silver and both were usually interest bearing (Garfinkle 2004: 5ff.). Alternatively, it is possible that Alla needed to borrow silver to hire labour to complete his harvest. One third of a shekel would hire one guruš for 20-30 workdays (Englund 2012b: 129). Alla is required to repay the loan at the rate of 420 sila3 of barley to 1 shekel of silver, which may be evidence of a customary rate of interest.
§8.3.7. Some repayments of silver with barley at harvest probably embodied a penalty incurred by defaulting on repayment in silver. NATN 266 in Table 5, which Garfinkle (2004: 4) defined as a “productive” loan perhaps to be regarded as a fictitious arrangement, can be interpreted in this manner. The penalty was frequently a duplum, a repayment double the value of the loan. In NATN 266, a silversmith was loaned 25 shekels of silver in month 6, the silver principal to be returned to Nippur in month 8, possibly, Garfinkle suggests, as a worked object. If he failed to return it when agreed, the silversmith was to measure out two gur of barley for each shekel of silver after the harvest, double the amount of barley normally considered equivalent to one shekel. In this event, the barley:silver ratio was 600 sila3 barley to one shekel of silver rather than 300 to 1. The repayment of a duplum on default of a loan is explicit in NRVN 1, 49. As is apparent from the table 5 texts, and of significance to this discussion, it was quite usual in the Ur III period that a contractual penalty for default was to pay barley to redeem a loan made in silver. The penalty payments increased the rate of interest considerably and at its harshest doubled the value of the loan, though even harsher penalties such as imprisonment (cf. NRVN 1, 49) were available for non-payment (Lafont & Westbrook 2013: 214).
§8.3.8. NATN 266 is unequivocal about the penalising nature of doubling the repayment of the principal if made in barley. The repayment after the harvest is explicitly contingent on a default no doubt because the loan period would be extended by some five or six months. It is not obvious however, that other texts in Table 5, which indicate that repayment in a harvest month is to be made with barley at a rate of two gur to one shekel of silver, double the amount borrowed, infer a contingent penalty payment. There a four other texts with repayment at this barley:silver rate; two from Nippur, NATN 437 and NATN 312 and two from Umma, PPAC 5, 956, and SANTAG 7, 172. All of these are formulaic and structured as straightforward short-term loans of silver to be repaid in barley. The first three comprise loans of relatively small amounts of silver—¼ shekel, 1 shekel, 1 ⅙ shekels—to be replaced or measured out, after a few months, in barley at harvest time.
§8.3.9. SANTAG 7, 172, is an exception recording the loan of a substantial weight of silver (15 shekels), to be repaid with 30 gur of barley after the harvest (egir buru14). It would be usual for this text to follow an oral contract and even an earlier document which contained a requirement that the debtor double the amount he repaid in barley should he default. The text, however, does not record an oath to repay, is not witnessed, but is sealed by the debtor, who is a nu-banda3 “captain,” subordinate of the military governor (egir šagina).
§8.3.10. If NATN 266 is left out of consideration as a “fictitious arrangement in which goods were ‘loaned’ to a craftsman for production” (Garfinkle 2004: 4), the Table 5 texts may be considered to be “harvest loans” - those for a short duration which were required to be repaid, with interest, out of the next harvest (Garfinkle 2004: 6). Repayment was usually made with barley but could also be made with silver.
§8.3.11. The notion that these loans were to be repaid with interest, immediately raises an issue as to what value should be assumed as the barley equivalent of a shekel of silver. What is the barley:silver price ratio and what rate of interest can we assume? It is evident from Table 5, that with the exception of the ratio in MVN 13, 246, the amount of barley to be repaid at harvest for each shekel of silver borrowed varies between 360 sila3 and 600 sila3. Most discussions of interest rates in the Ur III period conclude that the usual interest rates were 33% for barley loans and 20% for silver loans. Whether these texts should be regarded as barley loans or as silver loans is moot. Although it describes a silver loan Steinkeller (2001: 56), for example, judges that NATN 17 is effectively a barley loan with a 33% interest rate. Clearly, if the widely accepted barley equivalent of 300 sila3 per shekel is assumed, those loans of silver to be repaid at a rate of 360 sila3 per shekel bear a 20% interest rate as for silver loans and those to be repaid at 400 sila3 per shekel bear a 33% rate as for barley loans.
§8.3.12. Out of 25 texts in Table 5 only six fall into this category; 19 replace the silver on loan with barley at rates varying from 420 sila3 per shekel to 600 sila3 per shekel. The mean barley:silver ratio in this range is 491 sila3 per shekel, the median is 451:1 and the most frequently occurring (mode) ratio is 600:1. If we were to make the usual assumption that in the Ur III period, the barley equivalent of a shekel of silver was 300 sila3 and the further assumption that all of these loans were interest bearing, the average interest rate in these 19 texts would be approximately 63%. Alternatively, an assumption that silver loans carried an interest rate of 20% would mean that the barley:silver ratio varied between 340 and 540 sila3 per shekel. A 33% interest rate would mean a variation in the ratio between 300 and 500 sila3 per shekel.
§8.3.13. We could only imagine these to be variations in price or equivalents with the greatest difficulty. The variations in the rates at which barley is to replace silver in these loans is probably as much related to the motivations for the lenders to provide credit and the borrowers to need it as to variations in the price of barley or silver. These are discussed at length by Steinkeller (2002) and Garfinkle (2004) and vary from the willingness to provide short term interest free harvest loans to an extended family to schemes by lenders to acquire labour or land to support their own agricultural operations. The notion that varying penalty rates of interest on default have been imposed, though not explicit, is probably also an explanation. They also vary according to whether they are institutional or non-institutional loans. These variations compound the difficulties of using loan documents to provide evidence of the price of either barley or silver.
Table 6. Silver receipts with barley
§8.4. Receipts of silver with barley equivalent
§8.4.2. The phrase ab-ši-gar also suggests the quintessential meaning of nig2-sa10-am3 is something other than price. NATN 554 obv. 1 ½ gin2 ku3-babbar nig2-sa10-am3 / 2 še gur ab-ši-gar translates to “1 ½ shekels of silver is being exchanged with 2 gur of barley,” literally “1 ½ shekels of silver, the thing exchanged, 2 gur barley is replacing it.” The barley:silver ratio in this receipt is 400 sila3 per shekel and is therefore unlikely to represent the price of barley. The phrase nig2-sa10-am3 in this text functions as še-bi in the comparable formula in TMH NF 1-2, 99, in which the barley:silver ratio is 450:1. NRVN 1, 194 a much broken text from Nippur, dated ŠS 3, apparently employs nig2-sa10-bi where we might expect še-bi and similarly may translate as “its equivalent” rather than “price” since the barley:silver ratio in this instance is 600 sila3 per shekel. A meaning of “price” would suggest that barley was around half price with respect to silver, which could either imply a glut of barley or doubling in the price of silver. The penalties related to defaulted loans discussed earlier may be more relevant.
§8.4.3. The texts with a Girsu provenience in Table 6 however, are clearly receipts with no apparent connection to loans. MVN 9, 11, is an account debited with silver acquired from a number of people but principally from two officials, ur-dnanše dumu ur-dba-ba6 and nam-ḫa-ni, which under the seals of the same two officials is to be transferred (ugu2-a ga2-ga2-dam) to an account which is the responsibility (giri3) of ur-ab-ba dumu ba-zi, as ku3 a2 zi3-KA nu-ar3-ra “silver of the labour of un-milled KA-flour.” The silver expended in the account presumably represents the cost of barley (še-bi) to remunerate the labour in the form of barley rations. The barley:silver ratio is 270 sila3 per shekel. This small account is almost certainly related to the institutional accounts of labour (geme2 and gurus) days required to mill flour and groats, cf. TIM 6, 4, and Atiqot 4, pl. 2 7 both of which are nig2-ka9-ak a2 zi3 ar3-ra “balanced accounts of the labour (to produce) milled flour.” Labour both to mill flour and to load it into boats for transport is accounted for in these two documents.
§8.4.4. JMEOS 12, 41 3488, on the other hand, receipts ⅚ mina of silver, by “a farmer of (the temple of) Ningirsu” and two others, in exchange for 50 gur of barley at the rate of 300 sila3 per shekel.
§8.4.5. Similarly, it seems certain that at least five of the six Umma texts that document receipts of silver are not associated with loans or loan documents. Three of them certainly, or four probably, document the receipt and administration by senior officials of silver revenues of the Umma provincial government. Nebraska 44 is a final accounting of payments of silver to Dadaga which can be matched with the same payments in an earlier receipt document (Ouyang 2013: 48-50). Dadaga is one of several such officials who include Akala, Lukalla, Gududu, Ur-e’e and others among whom is the ensi2 of Umma. These officials may exclusively be the managers of both the silver revenues and expenditures of the Umma province. Revenues encompass the payment of taxes to the province, payments of silver from grain cultivation, from animal husbandry, from the production of cash crops and from the hiring out of labour and other factor rents. The Umma texts of Table 6 are receipts of some of these revenues.
§8.4.6. In Nebraska 44 Dadaga is the ultimate recipient of seven payments of silver (ugu2 da-da-ga ba-a-gar “debited to the account of Dadaga”) which is silver either for the year “when Kimaš was destroyed (Š 46) or the following (us2-sa) year. Three of these payments are associated with animal products - sheepskins, sheep’s innards (sa udu) and sheep’s carcasses (ad7 udu) - and the equivalent value of the silver in terms of the quantities of these products is given. Each payment is made via a shepherd. A fourth payment of silver is made in respect of a crop of sesame seeds and its equivalent value in this commodity is also given. Three of the payments of silver received by Dadaga of most concern to us here are averaged in Table 6. Ur-e’e, Lukalla and Kuli the governor also officiated in Nebraska 44. A further payment of 18 ⅔ shekels of silver with a barley equivalent of 5300 sila3 (284 sila3 per shekel) is recorded in the account and is acquired via (giri3) ku-li ensi2 as ku3-bi mu si-[mu-ru-umki] lu-lu-buki a-a [...] ga [...], perhaps “its silver for the year when Simurum and Lulubum [were destroyed/smashed…] Š 45. Another official of the administration, Ur-Šara son of Basag also receives a payment of silver of 1 ⅓ shekels of silver from purchases made by yet another official, Ikalla. This silver is equivalent in value to 400 sila3 of barley, a barley:silver ratio of 300 sila3 per shekel. The five payments in silver with a barley equivalent, entered in the Appendix and averaged in Table 6 have a mean of approximately 1 gur of barley per shekel.
§8.4.7. A(ya)kalla, the scribe and son of Ur-nigar who became ensi2 of Umma, as did his brother Dadaga (Dahl 2007), was one of the major recipients of the Umma administration’s silver revenue. The receipt Aleppo 457 records that he received 60 shekels of silver with a barley equivalent of 60 gur via Dadaga in Š 45. The barley:silver ratio is again 300 sila3 per shekel. A different a-kal-a, also a scribe but son of Lugal-nesage, a tax collector (en-ku3), received 22 ¾ shekels of silver equivalent to 5460 sila3 of barley in Š 40 at a rate of 240 sila3 per shekel cf. MVN 3, 186. This Akalla may well have been acting for his tax collector father in an official administrative capacity and the silver received would have been tax revenue.
§8.4.8. It is less feasible to identify the silver received by Lukalla in AUCT 3, 334, as revenue of the Umma province since Lukalla in this instance is the son of Ulu-di rather than the well attested son of Ur-e’e and member of the governor’s family, who was also one of the major recipients of Umma’s silver revenues. Further, the barley:silver ratio is 504 sila3 per shekel suggesting that as in the case of some of the Nippur receipts this may be the precursor of a loan document imposing a penal replacement rate on default of repayment. The silver received by Ur-Šara a scribe and chief accountant (ugu2 ur-dšara2 ša13-dub-ba-ka ba-a-gar) in SAT 2, 669 on the other hand, is clearly a payment to the provincial administration in respect of animal husbandry. Ur-Šara is debited with one shekel of silver with a barley equivalent of 300 sila3 in repayment of arrears by Dagi an animal fattener (la2-ia3 su-ga da-gi kurušda). The barley:silver ratio in BPOA 6, 560 is 288 sila3 per shekel and the Umma document appears to be a somewhat laconic version of a simple receipt. In respect of what is unclear, however.
§8.5. Miscellaneous silver or barley disbursements with barley or silver equivalent
Table 7. Miscellaneous Silver or Barley Disbursements with barley or silver
§8.5.2. The small and laconic Girsu text, MVN 6, 151, is most probably a commitment to repay the interest on a barley loan, which, however, is to be repaid in silver. Nearly 75 gur of barley is to be replaced (su-su-dam) at a rate of 2 ½ shekels of silver per gur (i.e. 120 sila3 barley per shekel) with 187 ⅓ shekels. If we suppose the barley equivalent of one shekel of silver to be the standard 300 sila3, a payment equal to 120 sila3 per shekel could represent an interest rate of 40% which compares with the usual interest rate on “customary” barley loans of 33% (Garfinkle 2004 :10). Since it was usual to repay customary loans in the same currency as the loan, repayment in silver may account for the higher interest rate. This notion may be supported by the equally small and laconic Nippur text, NATN 381, which in this instance is a receipt of barley in Nippur month 11 of Šulgi 40. Like other Nippur receipts discussed in Table 6, it is feasible that it represents a precursor to a barley loan document. Four gur of barley is perhaps to be loaned, but its gur-measure has to be checked (4 še gur / gur-bi kab2 di-dam) (Civil 1994: 156), following which Aba-Enlilgin received a lesser amount from Ur-Nuska; only three gur and two barig (1020 sila3 compared with 1200 sila3) and its silver equivalent was ten shekels. Its barley:silver ratio was therefore 102 sila3 per shekel, which possibly looks like an interest rate of 34% on a barley loan.
§8.5.3. Each of the remaining five texts from Girsu, regardless of whether it expresses an equivalency of barley with silver or silver with barley, equates one gur of barley to a shekel of silver. Nevertheless, although each of them arose out of activities of the provincial administration, only two may be said to share the same context.
§8.5.4. LB 557 is “a balanced account of Madga barley” (nig2-ka9-ak še ma2-ad-da-ga) from Š 47 and has a related text from the same year, Nisaba 7, 10, which text is analysed and discussed at length by Heimpel (2009: 33ff.). Heimpel’s analysis proposes that this latter text is a summary of the receipts of barley rations by their supervisors (ugula) from the Girsu administration for workers on mission to Madga. That document is compiled by a “scribe of the dock” Ur-Igalima, son of Atu. About 20% of the total barley received by the ugula remained unspent—as a “deficit” (la2-ia3). LB 557 probably complements Nisaba 7, 10, and possibly other similar but unknown texts as well. It is subscribed nig2-ka9-ak še ma2-ad-da-ga (and explicitly) giri3 ugula erin2-na-ke4-ne “a balanced account of Madga barley via the overseers/supervisors of the workers” and records the return, via the ugula, of the barley previously unspent, in this case by each of them, to two persons who are officials of the provincial administration, nig2-u2-rum and ur-dlamma. The two texts share several of the names of nine ugula and so may be complementary. Ur-Lamma receives two of the allocations in silver in lieu of barley, even though it is assigned from unspent barley. The barley:silver ratio in the one undamaged entry is 300 sila3 per shekel. These are clearly accounts of the Girsu administration which paid each ugula the rations for their workers on a monthly basis, whether the workers were away on an assignment or not (Heimpel 2009: 33). Rations which remained unpaid to workers were restored to the administration.
§8.5.5. ASJ 8, 111 29, much destroyed on the reverse, is “a balanced account of barley removed” (nig2-ka9-ak še kar-ra). 136130 liters of “barley removed from the Marsh field” (še kar-ra a-ša3 ambar) via (giri3) Ur-Nanše plus a much smaller “unspent” (la2-ia3) quantity of 837 ⅔ liters is nearly all distributed (zi-ga) among a number of officials of the administration. One of these is the ensi2 who receives (under his seal) 22 shekels of silver in lieu of 22 gur (6600 liters) at a barley:silver ratio of 300 sila3 per shekel.
§8.5.6. ITT 5, 6760, and ITT 5, 6776, are both receipts of barley for the bala and have a barley:silver ratio of 300 sila3 per shekel: the first for 134 gur equivalent to silver of 134 shekels replaces a deficit and the second is for 60 gur equivalent to 60 shekels of silver.
§8.5.7. BBVO 11, 257 4N-T197, is an annual account of the Inanna temple in Nippur for a specialised activity and possibly distributes available assets (sag-nig2-gur11-ra-kam) of silver, barley and other commodities as cultic expenditure. Its function and content is discussed at length by Van Driel (1998: 398) with some difficulty due to the extensive destruction of the obverse of the tablet. After the major expenditure of the assets, extra expenditure of commodities with a silver value of 60.03 shekels (ku3 nig2-diri-ga “silver of the excess”) was made. 32.06 shekels were taken away (diri de6-a) and replaced with 12,826 ⅔ liters of barley at a barley:silver ratio of 400 sila3 per shekel (1 gin2 ku3-babbar-a / 1 1(barig) 4(ban2) še gur-ta / ab-ši-gar / še-ta ab-ta-zi, “400 liters barley to each shekel of silver has replaced it, it (the barley substitution) was deducted from the barley (component of the sag-nig2-gur11-ra)”).
§8.5.8. The Nippur text, NATN 605, is more of a curiosity. It records nine assignments of a total of 6610 liters of barley to nine separate individuals in Nippur month 12, perhaps just prior to the harvest. Four of these allocations are recorded with a silver equivalent (ku3-bi) equal to 150 sila3 of barley per shekel of silver. “Šeššešmu received the silver” (šeš-šeš-mu-ke4 / ku3 šu ba-ti). A possible interpretation of the document is that it is an account of nine “harvest” barley loans with four of them bearing interest of 50% paid in silver, which Šeššešmu collected.
§8.5.9. One of the ten Umma texts in Table 7 is explicit that barley is actually exchanged for silver, providing an unequivocal indication of the price of silver in terms of barley, indeed it is almost unique among all the texts collected in this study, in its relative unambiguity in this respect, with its sole companion being the Girsu text CTNMC 53 which arguably witnesses an equally unequivocal description of an exchange of silver for barley. The Umma example, YNER 8, 13, is a “balanced account of silver of the governor” (nig2-ka9-ak ku3 ensi2-ka), one of the accounts kept by the major administrators of the province’s silver revenue and expenditure. The “debits” are revenues of the Umma administration and show silver incoming to the account from four transactions in three different years in which barley has been exchanged for silver (še ku3-še3 sa10-a). The barley:silver ratio in each of these transactions is 350, 340, 300 and 255 sila3 per shekel of silver respectively, with a text average, entered in Table 7, of 311 sila3 per shekel. In addition to the silver from these four transactions, the revenue includes silver from an ugula of a mill which has replaced arrears in a tithe of the governor. Approximately two-thirds of this revenue is expended to pay for a copper standard under the seal of the governor. The unspent balance of silver (la2-ia3) remained to the account of the governor. The account was managed via Lukalla, who as we have noted already was one of the four principal administrators of the province’s silver revenue and expenditure.
§8.5.10. RA 9, 158, may also record the receipt of silver revenue by an official of the Umma administration. As in Nebraska 44, this text may register the collection of revenue by Dadaga, already identified as another of the principal administrators of the province’s silver. “Ten shekels of silver is placed in the account of Dadaga at Umma to be verified, its barley is ten gur” 10 gin2 ku3-babbar ugu2 da-da-ga / ummaki-a gar-ra DU igi kar2-[kar2]-dam / še-bi 10 gur-am3. The barley:silver ratio is clearly 300 sila3 per shekel. The silver perhaps received by Dadaga is possibly a payment to the administration in respect of grain products (Ouyang 2013: 62). The document is “an account of groats on hand” nig2-ka9-ak ninda nig2-gal2-[la] / “(of the temple) of the Lady of Zabala (Inanna) in Apisal” dnin-zabala3ki a-[pi4-sal4ki]. Supposing that the extensive blank spaces on both the obverse and reverse of the tablet do not impact on the interpretation of the text, it would seem that 540 liters of groats on hand per annum were accumulated for a period of 17 years 5 months to provide “available assets” (sag-nig2-gur11-ra-kam) from which (ša3-bi-ta) the silver was placed to the account of Dadaga. Should the blank spaces be assumed to be significant, it might then be possible that this is an exercise tablet with the assignment of silver to Dadaga having no relation to the first six lines or the subscript. Either interpretation has no bearing on the valuation by the temple managers that one gur of barley is equivalent to one shekel of silver.
§8.5.11. YNER 8, 21, is an Umma silver account of the province administration which contains two quantities of barley each with a silver equivalent value. The first of these is 108,700 liters of barley and its silver (ku3-bi) is approximately 543 ½ shekels giving a barley:silver ratio of 200 sila3 per shekel. This barley with a smaller quantity of emmer wheat was delivered to a granary (guru7 kux-ra). A smaller quantity of barley 9300 liters with a silver equivalent of 31 shekels, and therefore a barley:silver ratio of 300 sila3 per shekel, together with 9000 liters of dates comprise the rations of potters (bahar3 ma-da). These rations and the barley entered into the granary will be debited to the account of the supervisor of the granary. The silver value of these “credits” are expended from (ša3-bi-ta—zi-ga) the silver capital in the debit at the head of the account, the numbers of which are mostly destroyed.. Other items on the credit side of the account record provisions of silver for purchases of sesame oil, copper, various goods, and onion seeds together with purchases from Apisal by several of the Umma merchants.
§8.5.12. A possible non-institutional Umma text which contains a barley:silver ratio of one gur per shekel of silver is MAOG 4, 188 2, which is the receipt for the purchase money from the sale of a person. The price was paid in barley. The price (nig2-sa10-am3) of the person is given as 15 gur of barley, equivalent to 15 shekels of silver (15 še gur lugal / ku3 15 gin2-še3).
§8.5.13. TCL 5, 6051, is an institutional account from Umma verifying a barley:silver ratio of 300 sila3 per shekel, though the quantities involved in the account are almost too small to merit a mention. Arrears or a deficit of 8 ⅓ sila3 of barley have a silver equivalent (ku3-bi) of 5 grains of silver at obv. i 1-2, which is the same as one gur of barley is equal to one shekel of silver. However, what is significant here is the context within which the ratio arises. The text is a collection of several surpluses and deficits of silver which emanate from acquiring a wide variety of commodities almost certainly via trade through a merchant. The subscript of the text reads diri la2-ia3 ku3 ga2-ra / lugal-nig2-lagar-e dumu lugal-saga / giri3 ur-dšara2 ša13-dub-ba “accumulated silver surpluses and deficits (of) Lugal-Niglagare son of Lugal-saga via/under the authority of Ur-Šara, the chief accountant.” Although we don’t have an attestation that lugal-nig2-lagar-e was a merchant, his father lugal-saga possibly was and that the merchants both received from and paid silver to the Umma administration out of their trading, is well established. Nisaba 26, 2, purportedly some 15 years later than TCL 5, 6051, is a silver account of one of the main administrators of the province’s silver, Gududu, (nig2-ka9-ak ku3-ga / gu-du-du). In Nisaba 26, 2 obv. ii 15-16, lugal-nig2-lagar-e dumu lugal-saga is attested as repaying arrears of 15 shekels of silver which Gududu collected. The account lists silver payments Gududu received in respect of various taxes, to replace deficits in cash crops and animal husbandry, the provision of a gift of silver rings for a statue of the king in the temple of the god Šara and expenditure on cultic objects such as standards of Guedena in Umma and Apisal.
§8.5.14. With the exception of the much broken and indecipherable UTI 5, 3497, which has a barley:silver ratio of 260 sila3 per shekel, the remainder of the Umma texts in table 7 exhibit ratios which vary between 120 and 155 sila3 per shekel, a half or less of the assumed Ur III average. All are small texts. Two of them are identifiable as receipts but offer no possibility of suggesting why the ratio is what it is.
§8.6. Variations in barley:silver price ratios
§8.6.2. Of primary importance is to note the limited geographic coverage of the sample as well as the limitations imposed by its size. In total, there are merely 157 observations of the ratio in the data and these are witnessed in texts from only three proveniences, Girsu (71 or 45%), Umma (59 or 38%) and Nippur (27 or 17%). The Nippur statistics, for convenience include the single observation from nearby Puzriš-Dagan. Given that the Ur III state may have had some 19 core provinces covering a relatively large geographical area (Sharlach 2004: 7-8), pretence that our data has any valid application statistically in discussing prices in the neo-Sumerian economy generally tends to the heroic.
§8.6.3. The statistics at the foot of the Appendix list are equivalent to those derived by Snell (1982: 147) for the whole distribution of prices for his “Grains.” The doubling of the sample produces small differences from his results but only in the mean of the distribution. In Snell’s terms, the overall mean of my distribution is 0.57 še of silver per sila3 of barley (316 sila3 per shekel) compared with his 0.62 (290 sila3 per shekel). The median values of barley remain the same, 0.60 še per sila3 or 300 sila3 (1 gur) per shekel. The statistics also illustrates that the mode or most frequently occurring value is also 300 sila3 per shekel increasing the probability that one gur of barley is equal in value to one shekel of silver. Of equal note, however, is the variability in the distribution of about 95 sila3 per shekel as measured by the standard deviation. On the reasonable assumption that the real mean of the population of barley:silver ratios, as opposed to the sample mean, is equal to one gur per shekel, one standard deviation is equal to nearly a third of a gur.
§8.6.4. The variability in the barley:silver ratio is significantly different in the sub-samples from each of the three Ur III provinces for which we have data. The sample mean in the Girsu data is 293 sila3 per shekel, though the median and the mode values are both still equal to 300 sila3 per shekel. However, the variability in the sample as measured by the standard deviation is much less at 33 sila3 per shekel. The Umma data more closely reflects the overall statistics. The Umma mean is 312 sila3 per shekel with a standard deviation of 99 sila3 per shekel, again nearly a third of a gur. The median and mode values are both equal to 300 sila3 per gur. On the other hand, the Nippur data presents a quite different picture from either Girsu or Umma. The mean is 387 sila3 per shekel with a standard deviation of 150 sila3 per shekel while the median and the mode are both 400 sila3 per shekel, so that the Nippur distribution peaks at a point a third of a gur above the overall population mean.
§8.6.5. The differences are best illustrated by the diagram in Figure 2. The bar chart compares the normalised distributions of the barley:silver price ratios for Girsu, Umma and Nippur by plotting the standardized or z-scores of each of the ratios. Such a distribution has a zero mean and one standard deviation above the mean is +1 and below the mean is -1. The zero mean is equivalent to a mean of 300 sila3 (one gur) of barley per shekel (gin2) of silver. It is evident that the distribution of the Girsu price ratios peaks at this average value. The majority, 65%, of the Girsu ratios are 300 sila3 per shekel compared with only 31% in the Umma data, the distribution of which nevertheless peaks at this average. The rather fewer Nippur ratios have none at this population mean. The Nippur distribution peaks with 41% of cases at one standard deviation above the mean, which in the Nippur data is equivalent to 400 sila3 per shekel; a significant 33% above the zero mean. The Nippur distribution can also be seen to have much greater variability than that in either the Girsu or Umma data, with as many as 19% of cases at two standard deviations above the zero mean and some 15% at about one and a half standard deviations below the mean. It is evident from the diagram that the next most and still substantially dispersed distribution is that of Umma, with the Girsu data showing much less variability.
Figure 2. Variation in barley:silver ratios in the Ur III period
§8.7. The influence of context on variability
§8.7.2. Tables 1 and 2 excerpt balanced accounts which record deliveries of barley from individuals, possibly farmers or sharecroppers among others, owed to an institution of government. The deliveries reduce deficits in barley remaining from previous years or are remittances required in the current year. Deliveries are often recorded as deliveries to replace arrears. The large majority of such deliveries are of barley, but a few repayments are made with silver in lieu of barley. Some of the accounts in Table 1 relate to deficits remaining and incurred by the activities of storekeepers of institutional facilities such as a flour mill, while in Table 2 the balanced accounts are related to the activities of named individuals or in one case those of the household of a major-domo. The latter also record deliveries of barley to the institutions and some of silver in lieu. 22 of the 23 texts in these two tables are from Girsu, the odd one out has a provenience of Umma. Only 6 of these texts do not register an average barley:silver ratio of 300 sila3 per shekel, and of those only two are as much as a barig (60 sila3) less than this, while the remainder are half that amount away from the one gur per shekel mean. It is particularly noteworthy that the sole text from Umma in this category also records a barley:silver ratio of one gur per shekel. The institutional context for most if not all of these texts suggests that where barley was required to be delivered to the provincial administration and silver was accepted in lieu, the quantity of barley to be set against the deficit may have been fixed at this ratio. If so, it is likely that this “administered price” or equivalency was set by the provincial government.
§8.7.3. An equivalency of 300 sila3 of barley per shekel of silver is also largely supported by the accounts detailed in Table 3. For the most part, these are accounts of allocations or “expenditures” from barley assets of the provincial institutions for a wide variety of purposes including the payment of taxes, interest on barley loans and field rents. Eight out of ten of the texts originate from Girsu and two are from Umma. Six out of ten record a barley to silver equivalency of 300 sila3 per shekel including one of the Umma texts. However, the remaining four texts indicate more variability in the barley:silver ratio, for which in most cases it is difficult to offer an explanation.
§8.7.4. Barley is the principal staple commodity supplied as “capital” or “available assets” by the provincial administrations to merchants, to acquire via them those commodities required by but not produced by the temples or other state institutions themselves. All but one of the sixteen “merchant accounts,” which supply barley to merchants as capital, emanate from Umma. The sole exception from Girsu, values the equivalency between barley and silver in a ratio of 300 sila3 per shekel. Even though the balanced merchant accounts record only the expenditure of barley “assets” from surpluses produced by Umma institutions, considerably more variation exists in the barley to silver equivalencies in these texts. The values assigned to barley components of the sag-nig2-gur11-ra in the Umma merchant accounts vary from 225 sila3 per shekel to 420 sila3 per shekel. Only eight out 22 of the Umma values are equal to 300 sila3 per shekel. If we assume that the “administered” mean value of barley relative to silver was one gur equals one shekel in Umma as in Girsu, perhaps evidenced by the median value in the statistics, the barley:silver ratio in the merchant texts varies from 1¼ barig per shekel below this population mean to two barig per shekel above the mean although if outliers in the distribution are ignored it is evident from Figure 1 that the standard deviation is one barig per shekel. Thus, in the merchant texts the barley:silver ratio could have been equal to 1± ⅕ gur per shekel. The Umma merchant accounts from which these data were extracted are from a 30-year period dated from Š 33 to ŠS 7 and it is also noticeable from Figure 1 that variations in the ratio are largely unsystematic.
§8.7.5. The magnitude of these variations in the silver values of barley in the capital sections of the merchant accounts is not sufficiently large as to infer that the administration did not pursue a norm of one gur per shekel in its internal accounting systems. It may be that disbursements and acquisitions in the merchant accounts are valued in silver to iron out fluctuations in the staple surpluses expended to acquire commodities from the merchants. If the barley surplus available to exchange for other commodities, after internal institutional needs are satisfied in any one accounting period, was plentiful, the additional amount of silver required as “capital” would be lower and the barley per shekel would appear higher than 300 sila3. Thus, the so-called price of barley would appear low. And vice versa, if the available surplus of barley was smaller than required to balance the silver value of commodities for which “capital” was exchanged, the balancing amount of silver required would be higher, the amount of barley per shekel would appear less than 300 sila3 and the price thus higher. These variations might readily be administrative adjustments around the standard one gur per shekel and not determined in a market. Resources available to satisfy institutional demands for non-staple commodities can in this manner be stabilized. For such a mechanism to be effective, silver as well as barley needs to circulate as money as between institution, merchant and producers of commodities. But then we can readily assume it did, as proposed by Steinkeller (2004: 108), so that transfers of silver and commodities took place to “private” individuals, leaving them in possession of liquid funds to spend in local markets.
§8.7.6. Frequent variations in surpluses probably depended more on shifting demands for rations to remunerate workers employed by institutions than on the occurrence or not of natural disasters. The overall level of demand for rations (wages) varied as a function of seasonal and other periodic changes in the level of labour requirements for different agricultural and other operations whereas the remuneration per person was unlikely to vary. The notion of the use of silver as a stabilizer to support the activities on behalf of the institutions by the merchants is credible in such circumstances.
§8.7.7. Even allowing that different institutional organisations may have existed in Girsu and Umma, it is usually inferred that they standardised administrative and accounting systems. This inference is partly supported by the small Umma account Ontario 2, 442, in Table 1 and unequivocally by the exactly Umma-like balanced merchant account, MVN 11, 101, from Girsu in Table 4. However, there is a marked contrast in the nature of the accounts from the institutions of Girsu and Umma in our available data sample. The primary focus of the texts of Tables 1 and 2 is to register the deliveries of barley quotas due from their agricultural activities exacted by the institutions. These provide the barley incomes of the institutions for redistribution in rations and in other expenditures. Almost all of these texts are from Girsu. The majority of texts recording expenditures of barley and some silver in lieu of barley by institutions on state taxation and the cultivation of fields in Table 3 are from Girsu with only a couple from Umma.
§8.7.8. It is only after the barley and other staples needed to satisfy these essential functions of the administration have been allocated that surpluses arise which can be used to acquire the variety of other luxury and day-to-day commodities required by the temples, palaces and other institutions of the Ur III state. An administered barley:silver price ratio of one gur per shekel may be much more visible in the categories from Girsu defined by Tables 1-3, but exhibit more variability in the “capital” section of the merchant accounts from Umma for the reasons suggested.
§8.7.9. The variability introduced into the distribution of price ratios by the Umma merchant accounts is substantially accentuated if ratios from silver loans to be repaid with barley and from receipts of silver with a barley equivalent are also included. This is not so of the Umma receipts, however. The majority of these are not associated with loans, but record silver received by the governing administration mostly at a barley:silver ratio close to 300 sila3 per shekel. These loan and receipt documents are excerpted in Tables 5 and 6. Most of the loan documents originate in both Umma and Nippur, equal numbers of which stem from each place. The likely impact of these ratios on the overall variability in the complete sample is highlighted by the Nippur data. The distribution of the Nippur barley:silver ratios, even including four in the miscellaneous group (Table 7), has no observation at a mean of 300 sila3 per shekel and exhibits a much greater dispersal in the ratios than either of the Umma or Girsu distributions.
§8.7.10. Figure 2 clearly illustrates the dispersal created by the loan documents and receipts in the distribution of barley:silver price if it is assumed that the barley repayment is equivalent in value to the loaned silver. In other words, that there is no interest on the loan. A more reasonable assumption is that the loans in Table 6 are mostly “harvest loans” which incur a rate of interest. The average of the Nippur data is 400 sila3 per shekel, a third higher than one gur is equal to one shekel, which is the 33% interest rate on a barley loan. However, the dispersal around this mean in the data is considerable and in some records the ratio suggests an interest rate of 20% appropriate to a silver loan. We noted earlier that penalty repayments of up to double the capital loaned may also contribute to the variability. For these rates of “interest” to apply, however, it has to assumed that the real barley to silver equivalent value or price ratio was the standard one gur per shekel, which contradicts the miasma of the low Nippur “grain” prices suggested by Snell’s analysis in his Table 6.
§8.7.11. The miscellany of texts in Table 7 also shows wide variations in the barley:silver ratio. Except for one, the Girsu texts which are accounts from the institutions, produce a ratio of 300 sila3 per shekel. The variability in the price ratio is greater in the Umma texts and is again more marked in the Nippur texts. Three of these texts perhaps merit further observations. The Nippur text from the temple of Innana, BBVO 11, 257, 4N-T197, values the barley:silver ratio at 400 sila3 per shekel. Figure 2 shows this to be the same as the mean of the Nippur ratios, which gives pause for thought that the Nippur population average may actually be 400 sila3 per shekel rather than 300, partially negating some of the arguments put forward in respect of the Nippur loan documents.
§8.7.12. A second text of interest, MAOG 4, 188 2, is a receipt for 15 gur of barley paid to purchase a person. Its silver equivalent is given as 15 shekels. The document may flow from a transaction of a non-institutional household but nevertheless assumes a price ratio of 300 sila3 per shekel.
§8.7.13. Noteworthy in a discussion of the barley:silver price is the Table 7 text from Umma, YNER 8, 13, a balanced silver account of the ensi2. This is possibly a second example among the 157 texts examined in this study, which explicitly describes quantities of barley from three successive years as “barley exchanged for silver,” though CTNMC 53 more laconically defines the exchange simply as “barley for silver.” The four barley:silver ratios are 350, 340, 300 and 255 sila3 per shekel or 1 gur ± 5 ban2 per shekel.
§9. Some preliminary conclusions
§9.2. However, this was simply a statistical measure of central tendency in a widely dispersed distribution in the light of which Snell disputed Maurice Lambert’s proposal that there was a fixed ratio between silver and barley. He was unconvinced that, in view of the many deviant prices even in official documents, such a ratio was either promulgated by the state or sanctioned by tradition (Snell 1982: 185). Nonetheless, that the institutional implementation of a fixed bi-monetary price ratio or equivalency of one gur of barley per shekel is essential to the administration of the Ur III state economy as a foundation to most commodity prices, remains the view of scholars such as Englund and Hudson inter alia. Significant misgivings surround this view nonetheless, even among those who espouse it. These are generated by the variability in the barley:silver ratio in many documents and, like Englund, we can often only speculate as to its causes. However, it is evident from this study that much of this variation is inculcated by the incompatible geneses of the source data.
§9.3. An initial constraint in all Ur III data related to commodity values or prices is that imposed not only by the limited size of the data samples which can be collected, but also by bias built in by the distribution of tablet proveniences and of their purposes in the whole of the Ur III corpus. Compounding the difficulties of the small size of a geographically skewed sample, the most explanatory source of the variability in the barley:silver ratio derives from the differing contexts in which they occur. These contexts are different with regard to the function of the accounts and other documents in which transactions in barley and silver are recorded and to whether or not either barley or silver is a unit of account or a payment in lieu. Texts can be assembled into a contextual typology of the barley:silver prices into which all but a minority can be classified. This categorisation of the texts reveals further biases in the sample of price ratios. The asymmetrical contexts of the sample are broadly coincident with its geographical skewness.
§9.4. Three groups of texts have proveniences almost entirely from Girsu. These are concerned with either the delivery of barley to institutions or the disbursement of barley from them. Each contains either a delivery or an expenditure of silver in lieu of barley. In these accounts the unit of account is barley. Payments are in silver, the barley equivalent (še-bi) of which is used to convert the silver to barley for accounting purposes. Only two or three texts are from Umma. No other province of the Ur III state is represented in these texts. In the first two of these groups the barley:silver ratio, with few exceptions, is 300 sila3 per shekel. In the third, 300 sila3 per shekel is again predominant, although there is some fairly insubstantial variation from it.
§9.5. In contrast, the merchant accounts, excepting one from Girsu, emanate from Umma. Since these accounts are balanced in silver, the unit of account is silver (ku3-bi) and is used in the valuation of the commodities acquired from the merchants as well as in the conversion to a silver value of surpluses of staples expended to acquire these commodities. The variations in barley surpluses remaining after the demand for barley within the internal institutional economy had been met, probably explains the departures from what may have been an administratively fixed norm of 300 sila3 of barley per shekel, a ratio which certainly did occur in the merchant accounts. It might be asked whether this value would appear randomly from market feedback in such a small sample of these texts, in one, let alone in eight out of 22 observations.
§9.6. The loan documents are also lumpily distributed geographically. Their proveniences are almost equally shared between Umma and Nippur. All of these describe silver loans to be repaid in barley. In these še-bi does not represent a unit of account but indicates that the loan is to be redeemed with a payment of barley. The widely dispersed values of barley per shekel may reflect different rates of interest and penalty payments. The loan documents are best omitted from the data as a barley:silver ratio estimated from them is unlikely to be a measure of barley prices or equivalencies. We can only make sense of them if we assume that the value of barley is 300 sila3 per shekel. It then is possible to compute interest rates and penalty payments. To assume that the data measures a barley:silver ratio or a price introduces a great deal of unlikely variance into the overall distribution. Similar arguments apply to receipt documents, though not to the institutional receipts from Umma, and even though we lack the obvious reassurance in those that barley is to repay silver. Their geographical distribution largely replicates that of the loan documents.
§9.7. Perhaps twelve from 20 texts in the miscellaneous set of texts are accounts from institutions and of these some seven testify to barley:silver ratios of 300 sila3 per shekel. The majority of these are accounts of Girsu institutions. Seven of the remaining eight texts have very low ratios, which if interpreted to be prices would suggest very high barley prices indeed. Most of these texts were beyond my construal but it remains doubtful that these ratios represent prices. Such prices are even less likely when a possible non-institutional text of uncertain provenience records the purchase of a person for a quantity of silver with a barley equivalent of 300 sila3 per shekel. The majority of the texts in this miscellany reinforce the probable existence of administered prices at this fixed rate.
§9.8. In summary, there are several general conclusions to be drawn from this study. Although as scholars have observed, there is no apparent evidence in the Ur III texts of an explicit decree that a barley:silver price ratio was fixed at one gur per shekel, it seems clear from the barley accounts which comprise the large majority of Girsu texts, that barley primarily functions as the unit of account and where silver was paid in lieu of barley it was valued at one gur for each shekel. This ratio was a barley:silver equivalency no different from that argued by Polanyi or Hudson’s bi-monetary price ratio, fixed and administered by the Girsu institutions.
§9.9. How far the governmental use of this equivalency can be asserted to extend beyond the Girsu institutions is almost another argumentum ex silentio. The bulk of the texts from Umma in this collection are a quite different animal from the Girsu barley accounts. The Umma texts are divided between the merchant texts and silver loan documents and receipts. While the merchant texts are obviously accounts kept by the Umma provincial administration the price ratio can only be computed from the barley surpluses via a silver unit of account entered in the “debits” or “capital” section. The loan and related receipt documents should be discounted from consideration. Evidence from receipts of silver by the Umma institutions, however, indicates ratios compatible with a decreed barley:silver price ratio.
§9.10. There is little evidence at all in these texts for the direct exchange of barley and silver, let alone in a manner which would testify to the determination of barley or silver prices in a market. Only two texts, one from Girsu and one from Umma, record transactions which involve the direct exchange of barley for silver. In both instances these describe the acquisition of quantities of silver by the palace for quantities of barley. The consequent barley:silver ratios might be deemed prices but it remains difficult to argue that they were determined by the laws of supply and demand. The Girsu price ratio is consistent with the notion of a standard administered price, while the Umma range suggests that even if barter produced some variation in the settled price, the target price in such exchanges was the standard price ratio.
§9.11. The data we do have, though skewed and partial, would suggest that the Ur III administrations may indeed have adopted a bi-monetary price ratio as a norm with which to value transfers in internal systems. How much the possibility of such a norm helped influenced the level and structure of prices of other staple and non-staple commodities is a subject for further study.
Appendix: list of referenced texts
Version: 26 December 2017