Cuneiform Digital Library Notes
2014:12        «              »
Girsu Labor Assignments Revisited

Lance Allred
University of California, Los Angeles

Several years ago, I published a group of texts belonging to a larger series that recorded labor assignments for teams of workers from the city of Girsu (Allred 2008). At the time of publication, one of those texts, Fs Sigrist 16, no. 4, was available to me in transliteration only. This transliteration was highly problematic, however, as it featured a number of mistakes including both internal computational errors, as well as inconsistencies in relation to the other texts belonging to the series.

As noted in Englund 2010, however, a hand copy of the tablet has appeared in the recently-published YOS 15 as number 105. According to the volume’s catalog, the text belonged to a Robert Garrett of Baltimore, MD. This was almost certainly the former Olympic medalist (he won gold for the shot put and discus, and silver for the high jump and long jump in Athens in 1896) and investment banker who was a well known collector of Middle Eastern manuscripts (Special to the New York Times 1961). The tablet’s current whereabouts remain unknown.

The copy of this text and a corrected transliteration, as well as a commentary on this text, are presented below:

Fs. Sigrist 16, no. 4

transliteration translation
1. 1(geš2) 3(u) 7(diš) guruš nu-banda3
97 workers (under) the overseer Ur-Gigir
2. 1(geš2) la2 2(diš-tenû) nu-banda3
60 minus 2 (under) the overseer
3. 3(u) 6(diš) [nu]-banda3 ur-nigargar36 (under) under the overseer Ur-Nigar
4. 6(diš) [nu-banda3] lu2-dba-ba66 (under) [the overseer] Lu-Baba
blank line
5. |ŠU+LAGAB| 3(geš2) 1(u) 7(diš)
Total: 197 workers
6. ša3-bi-taFrom it:
7. 3(u) lugal-ra us2-sa30 royal followers
8. 1(u) e2 uz-ga10 at the E’uzga
9. 5(diš) e2 gu4-gaz5 at the slaughterhouse
10. 5(diš) duḫ-il25 bran-carriers
11. 5(diš) gu2 gir5 for processing (bitumen)?
12. 3(diš) gu2 gir ma2 lugal3 for processing (bitumen)? for a “royal”
13. 5(diš) gu2 gir murgu gur83 for processing (bitumen)? for the back
       of a barge
14. 3(diš) sipa anšesi2-si23 for the horse herders
15. 2(u) la2 2(diš-tenû) muḫaldim ki
20 minus 2 cooks with Ur-Nigar
16. 2(u) la2 2(diš-tenû) muḫaldim ki
20 minus 2 cooks with Ur-Nanše
17. 5(diš) e2-lunga ki lugal-an-na-tum5 for the brewery with Lugal-annatum
18. 2(diš) e2-lunga ki ur-mes2 for the brewery with Ur-Mes
19. 1(diš) e2 ur-dnammu1 for the Ur-Nammu temple
20. 1(diš) gu2 tul2 sag-da-na1 at the edge of the Sagdana well
21. 1(diš) zi3-il2 ki ur-dba-ba61 flour-carriers with Ur-Baba
22. 1(diš) zi3-il2 ki lugal-KA-gi1 flour-carriers with Lugal-KA-gi
23. 1(diš) zi3-il2 ki nam-maḫ1 flour-carriers with Nammaḫ
24. 2(diš) im-il22 clay-carriers
25. 2(diš) ga2-nun-da tuš-a2 dwelling at the storehouse
1. 1(diš) dub-sar [geš-kin]-ti1 for the workshop scribe
2. 1(diš) dub-sar i3 zu2-lum1 for the oil-and-date scribe
3. 1(diš) dub-sar in-bul5-bul51 for the chaff scribe
4. 1(diš) dub-sar ar-za-na1 for the groats scribe
5. 1(diš) dub-sar zi3 nig2-ar-ra imgaga31 for the flour-groats-and-emmer scribe
6. 1(diš) dub-sar ku6 nisig1 for the fish-and-greens scribe
7. 1(diš) ur-dnin-a-zu1 for Ur-Ninazu
8. 1(diš) ur-sa6-ga tuš-tuš?1 for Ur-saga ...
9. 1(diš) ki nam-maḫ1 for Ki-nammaḫ
10. 1(diš) ur-dba-ba6 gaba-ri?1 for Ur-Baba, copy?
11. 1(diš) ka e2-gal1 at the opening of the palace
12. 2(diš) ma2 gukkal unuki-še32 for the boat (carrying) sheep
       (destined) for Uruk
13. 5(diš) ma2 gešma-nu5 for the boat (carrying) willow-wood
14. 1(u) ma2 gi-la210 for the boat (carrying) wood
15. 1(u) e2 ensi210 for the governor’s palace
16. 3(diš) gi-il2 ša3 nibruki3 for carrying reeds in Nippur
17. 3(diš) ma2 i3-si-inki3 for the Isin boat
18. 7(diš) |ZI&ZI|.ŠE3 ki dsuen7 ... at the place of the moon-god
19. 2(u) la2 3(diš-tenû) im-du8-a20 minus 3 for mud-wall (work)
20. 1(diš) du2 al-la1 sick: Alla
21. 1(diš) du2 lu2-e2-a1 sick: Lu-Ea
22. 1(diš) šutug dmes-lam-ta-e3-a1 in the reed hut of Meslam-ta’e’a
23. |ŠU+LAGAB| 3(geš2) 8(diš) guruš
Total: 188 workers assigned
24. 4(diš) iri-ta nu-banda3 igi-zu-bar-ra4 from the city (under) the overseer
25. 3(diš) iri-ta la2-ia3 2(diš) nu-banda3
3 from the city; remainder 2 (under) the
       overseer Ur-Gigir
26. u4 3(u) la2 1(diš-tenû)-kamthe 30th day minus 1
27. iti ezem-dli9-si4Month, “Lisi-festival” (Girsu month 3)


Despite the improvements made from having this copy, some problems remain. In the summary given in line 48, the number provided, 188, is still one shy of the actual total of workers tasked out, 189. The error is due to scribal or, more likely, copyist error. Similarly, a number of expressions remain problematic. For instance, in the Ur III corpus, the term gaba-ri, meaning “(tablet) copy,” is not otherwise attested following a personal name as it does in line 35 of this text.

The section following the second total (lines 49-52) is peculiar (Allred 2008: 17). Normally, the tablets in this group conclude with several la2-ia3 entries, listing the remaining workers from each overseer (nu-banda3) not assigned a task. Some tablets will also list workers qualified as “having not gone out from the city” (iri-ta nu-e3), but in most cases this number is not linked to a particular overseer (e.g., ASJ 18, 224 [HSM 6434] and MVN 11, 85, but cf. Fs. Sigrist 17, no. 5). Our tablet, however, has two iri-ta entries (without the nu-e3), and but a single la2-ia3 entry.

The meanings of the terms la2-ia3 and iri-ta nu-e3 are difficult to understand. It is easy to presume that the la2-ia3 workers were simply those remaining workers who, for whatever reason, were not assigned to a particular task. For instance, the total workers in Fs. Sigrist 16, no. 3, is 141. From those, 116 were assigned to tasks while 25 others are qualified as la2-ia3; presumably these 25 were not assigned tasks that day, but still had to be counted for administrative reasons.

Curiously, though, a number of texts include being sick (du2 or du2-ra) among work assignments. For instance, in the above text both Alla and Lu-Ea were qualified as such. If la2-ia3 workers represented those remaining workers who were not assigned a task, then why were sick workers not included among them and instead placed among the assigned workers? While the answer remains unclear, one possible solution is to speculate that sick workers were still compensated in some way, while remaining (la2-ia3) workers were not (some evidence for this is seen in Heimpel 2009a: 59-63).

More vexing is the case of the workers qualified as iri-ta nu-e3. As is clear from the above text, the expression iri-ta nu-e3 cannot simply be a synonym for la2-ia3; when added together, the seven workers called iri-ta nu-e3 along with the two labeled as la2-ia3 and the 188 who were given work assignments totals exactly the 197 workers given at the beginning of this text. Nevertheless, it seems certain that the iri-ta nu-e3 workers, like the la2-ia3 workers, were not assigned tasks. Maekawa (1988: 70) suggested that the workers who had not gone from the city were “a kind of reserve labor force” but it is unclear why such a force would be needed.


Allred, Lance
2006Cooks and Kitchens: Centralized Food Production in Late Third Millennium Mesopotamia. PhD Dissertation, Johns Hopkins University.
2008“Labor Assignments from the City of Girsu”. In: Piotr Michalowski (ed.) On the Third Dynasty of Ur: Studies in Honor of Marcel Sigrist (JCSS 1; ASOR: Boston):11-19.
Englund, Robert K.
2010“Recently Published Catalogues of Cuneiform Collections”. CDLN 2010:4.
Heimpel, Wolfgang
2009b“Blind Workers in Ur III Texts”. KASKAL 6:43-48.
Maekawa, Kayuza
1988“New Texts on the Collective Labor Service of the erín-people of Ur III Girsu”. ASJ 10:39-94.
Oppenheim, A. L.
1948Catalogue of the Cuneiform Tablets of the Wilberforce Eames Babylonian Collection, AOS 32. American Oriental Society: New Haven.
Special to the New York Times
1961“Robert Garrett, Collector, Dead”. New York Times April 26.
Studevent-Hickman, B.
Forthcoming“Labor Assignments from Girsu and the 'erin2 of Various Shrines’ Revisited”. .
ISSN 1546-6566    © Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative | Archival: 2014-07-15