Cuneiform Digital Library Notes
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Some notes on a Middle Assyrian letter

Klaus Wagensonner
University of Oxford

The collection of the Manchester University Museum holds two letters dating to the Middle Assyrian period (ca. 1500-1000 BC), one of which shall be presented here. This well-preserved example belongs to the private archive of the official Bābu-aḫa-iddina and was edited by H. Freydank and C. Saporetti (Freydank & Saporetti 1989: 74; but published earlier by Fish 1952: 14, No. 2). Bābu-aḫa-iddina is a well-known figure and features prominently in the texts from Assur. Although his title is not known, it is rather likely that he served the king as a high-ranking official and most likely a vizier (Jakob 2002: 58). The text at hand belongs to his private archive, which offers many insights into the procedures and functions of this official, who was in office during the reigns of the Middle Assyrian kings Shalmaneser I and Tukultī-Ninurta I (Jakob 2002: 282). The tablet is registered as MMUM 35346 in the collection and belongs to the find context Ass. 14410. The only noteworthy damage is the upper left corner, which luckily does not pose any difficulties for the reconstruction of the missing pits and pieces. The surface suffers from minor salt encrustations, which need to be treated in the near future.

Regarding its content the text can be categorized as a letter order (see Llop 2012: 300, No. 45), of which currently 105 examples are known (Llop 2012: 294). It follows the usual format of letters dating to this period, which has been thoroughly discussed by Eva Cancik-Kirschbaum in her edition of the letters from Tall Šēḫ Ḥamad (Cancik-Kirschbaum 1996). The main body of the letter is separated by rules from both the address formula and the date. In the manner of “library” texts from that period, the date formula is moved to the very bottom of the reverse. An intriguing feature on Middle Assyrian letters is the indentation of lines adjacent to and on the bottom edge. For this phenomenon, which is not attested in other periods, a satisfactory explanation has still not been found. Cancik-Kirschbaum proposes that the text in this area might have been indented to prevent obstruction of the text when turning the tablet and writing on the reverse (Cancik-Kirschbaum 1996: 52).

The present text was written on behalf of Bābu-aḫa-iddina (lines 5-6) and deals with wax (eškūru), which Bābu-aḫa-iddina obviously wants to be inventorised. Unfortunately the letter provides no clues as to the purpose of the wax. It is known that wax was used to fashion figurines, but this is rather unlikely in this case. Another text in the private archive of Bābu-aḫa-iddina contains the amounts of wax in the possession of various individuals (KAJ 242). This text states that Bābu-aḫa-iddina gave it to the king (lines Rev. 1-4). But wax had other applications as well in this period. Bābu-aḫa-iddina employed all kinds of specialists (see Jakob 2002: 58) and several texts attest to preparing perfumes and ointments, such as KAV 194, lines 23-24: lusbû ištu aḫāiš šamna luraqqi’ū, “let them be on hand, let them make perfumed oil together” (see CAD R, 420 s.v. ruqqû). Wax, though in later texts, occurs as a carrier of medicinal substances (see CAD I/J, 251 s.v. iškuru).

In what follows I present a hand-copy and new edition of the text, which has been digitized for CDLI by the author in March 2012. For the most recent translation (mainly based on Freydank & Saporetti 1989: 34-35) see Hecker 2006: 107. In the course of the re-edition several new readings and collations came to light, which are marked with an asterisk (*).

MMUM 35346

(Click on image to enlarge)
transliteration translation
1 [a]-na mda-šur-en-šal-lim To Aššur-bēla-šallim
2 u3 m ⌜d*⌝a*-šur*-zu-qup-pa-ni and Aššur-zuqqupāni
3        qi2-bi-ma         speak,
4 um-ma mdag-en-sig5-ma as follows Nabu-bēla-daʾiq:
5 i+na a-bat mdba-bu-šeš At the command of Bābu-aḫa-iddina
6 al-tap-ra-ku-nu I wrote to you:
7 du8.lal3 lu-u2 ša pi-ti Wax, be it that under the responsibilty
8 ša ugu e2 of the administrator of the household,
9 lu-u2 ša na4kišib-ki be it that, which is under the seal
10         ša mdba-bu-šeš         of Bābu-aḫa-iddina,
Bottom edge
1         u3 lu ša ki-am-ma         or be it that, which is otherwise
2         ša-ak-nu-u2-ni         available,
1 am-mar šu-ut-ni about how much of it (i.e., wax)
2 ṭe2-ma šu-up*-ra-ni send me a report!
3 ma-a a-ku-ki-a du8.lal3 (Saying:) “So-and-so much wax
4 i*-na* a-ku-ki-a gi(-)gu-ši-e* in so-and-so many ...-baskets(?)
5 ta-u2-ru was put back.”
blank space
6 [itiḫi]-bur u4 9(diš).kam2 li-mu [Month] Ḫībur, 9th day, Eponymy
7 [m]tukul-dmaš ugula Tukultī-Ninurta, the waklu.


9-10. For the various seals Bābu-aḫa-iddina used see Freydank 1974, who refers to fragments of letter envelopes bearing seal impressions (see ibid.: 8, plate I, Nos. 6-8). These envelopes also come from the same find context Ass. 14410 as our letter. The expression ša kunukki Bābu-aḫa-iddina clearly refers to some container, which is sealed by a seal of this official. The expression ša kunukki ša PN here does not refer to a sealed document, but most likely to a storage (container). The texts from Bābu-aḫa-iddina’s archive give ample evidence for chests and other containers; see, for instance, KAV 98, lines 14-15: lubulta ša <<ša>> libbi tupninnāte ša kunukkīya (...), “textiles that are in the chests under my seals (...)”.

Rev. 2. For ṭēma šapāru, “to send a report,” see Cancik-Kirschbaum 1996: 67-69, II.4.3. Fish’s hand copy (1952: 14, No. 2) omits the small slanted wedges of the sign UB in šu-up*-ra-ni, which led to the previous reading PA. Note that Cancik-Kirschbaum 1996: 68, based on this misreading, normalizes “ṭēma šuparanni,” which in any case would pose problems, since the letter is addressed to two individuals and therefore a plural form of the imperative is expected (šuprāni). CAD A/I, 285 s.v. akūkia already suggests “šuprani”, which can now be confirmed.

Rev. 4. Freydank & Saporetti 1989 read ma!-a, which is not supported anymore. The sign(s) resemble the ligature i+na, whose configuration can be compared to line 5. More problematic is the end of this line. The term gi(-)gu-ši-e might be interpreted as synonym to eškūru, “wax” (see CAD I/J, 251 s.v. iškuru). Reading the preposition ina at the beginning of the line makes it rather likely to see in this term a kind of container to store or transport the wax. Therefore the sign GI might be interpreted as classifier for objects made of reed (see also AHw 300 s.v. gušû). The thematic series Ura, which contains on tablets VIII-IX designations for reed (gi) (Landsberger 1959: 3-70), does not attest to any suitable receptacle.

Rev. 5. For the parallel to the stative ta’’urū, “they were returned,” see KAJ 245, 18. Hecker 2006: 107 (following Freydank & Saporetti 1989: 35) translates “sind zurückgelegt” (they are reserved). Although this translation makes sense, I prefer here the more literal meaning “to put back” (see CAD T, 269 s.v. târu 9a with further evidence).

Rev. 6. For a recent discussion of the month name Ḫībur (XII) in the Middle Assyrian calendar see Cancik-Kirschbaum & Johnson 2011-2012: 102-103.

Rev. 7. Further attestations of this eponymy, which probably dates to the accession year of the Middle Assyrian king Tukultī-Ninurta I (1243-1207) are collected in Freydank 1991: 175-176. Hecker 2006: 107 translates “city governor”.


Cancik-Kirschbaum, Eva
1996Die Mittelassyrischen Briefe aus Tall Šēḫ Ḥamad, BATSH 4. Reimer: Berlin.
Cancik-Kirschbaum, Eva and Johnson, J. Cale
2011-2012“Middle Assyrian Calendrics”. SAAB 19:87-152.
Fish, Thomas
1952“Manchester Texts”. MCS 2:14-15.
Freydank, Helmut
1974“Zu den Siegeln des Bābu-aḫa-iddina”. Forschungen und Berichte 16:7-8 (1 plate).
1991Beiträge zur mittelassyrischen Chronologie und Geschichte, Schriften zur Geschichte und Kultur des Alten Orients 21. Berlin.
Freydank, Helmut and Saporetti, Claudio
1989Bābu-aḫa-iddina. Die Texte. Rome.
Hecker, Karl
2006“Mittelassyrische Briefe”. In: (ed.) Briefe (TUAT NF 3; Gütersloh):106-113.
Jakob, Stefan
2002Mittelassyrische Verwaltung und Sozialstruktur: Untersuchungen, CM 29. Leiden.
Landsberger, Benno
1959The Series ḪAR-ra = Ḫubullu. Tablets VIII-XII, MSL 7. Rome.
Llop, Jaume
2012“Middle Assyrian Letters: a New Survey”. AuOr 30:289-306.
ISSN 1546-6566    © Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative | Archival: 2014-07-15