Monday, September 28, 2009

Marriage in Babylonia

Marriage between a man and a woman was arranged by the respective fathers, often while the couple were still children. Marriage was usually monogamous, although under certain circumstances a man could take a second wife or concubine.

The bride's father sent a dowry to the new home of his daughter, while the groom's father paid a "bride's price". The dowry was often in the form of furniture and clothes rather than silver or gold. The bride price was typically paid in silver. Both the bride price and the dowry were sometimes paid in installments until the couple had their first child, at which point both families were required to make payment in full. After the marriage a feast was often held to celebrate the event.

Legal documents were drawn up to make the marriage "legal". One ancient text says, "If a man marries the daughter of another man without the consent of her father and mother, and moreover does not conclude the wedding feast and contract for her father and mother, even if she lives in his house for a full year, she is not a wife!" (see: Nemet-Nejat, Karen R., "Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia", Westport: The Greenwood Press, 1998, p. 133). A fairly typical wedding contract follows:

"Rimum, son of Shamhatum, takes Bashtum, daughter of Usibitum, in marriage (literally as husband and wife). If Bashtum says to Rimum her husband, 'You are not my husband', Bashtum shall be thrown into the river. If Rimum says to Bashtum, his wife, 'You are not my wife', he shall pay (a certain amount of) silver. They shall swear by the name of (the god) Shamash and (the King) Shamsu-iluna". A list of witnesses then followed (translated by myself from a transcription published in: Huehneraged, John "A Grammar of Akkadian", Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2000, p. 166)

Notice the much more severe penalty the bride would pay for renouncing her husband. This is typical in Akkadian marriage contracts.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mysteries of the Ancient World

Smithsonian Magazine has just published a special edition magazine entitled "Mysteries of the Ancient World". The magazine consists of thirteen articles dealing with different aspects of ancient history. The articles are written for a lay audience and are not meant for experts in the field.

There are several articles on Ancient Egypt, including one on Hatshepsut, another on the underwater archaeology being done at Alexandria and another discussing the recent CAT scan done on King Tutankhamen's mummy in an attempt to determine the probable cause of his death.

The most interesting article in the magazine (to me anyway) is one describing the ongoing excavation of the funerary temple of the Eighteenth Dynasty Pharaoh Amenhotep III. When I was last there, the only portion of the temple that was visible were the huge "Colossi of Memnon" statues that originally stood at the front entrance of the temple. The article describes the finds that have been made there, including the discovery of numerous statues of the goddess Sekhemkhet (as if there were not already enough of these statues in museum collections around the world!). The article also has a well done computer reconstruction of what the temple probably looked like in ancient times.

The magazine also includes articles on Petra (in modern Jordan), Machu Picchu (Peru), Easter Island, The Parthenon (Athens), the vikings and the Anasazi (southwest United States).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

New Tomb in the Valley of the Kings?

Zahi Hawass has posted the results of some recent excavation work in the Valley of the Kings which includes what MAY be a new tomb. There is an interesting video on this topic on Dr. Hawass' website at this link.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Prince Khaemwaset, the World’s First Archaeologist

Prince Khaemwaset was a son of the Egyptian King Ramesses II and Queen Isetneferet[1]. He acquired a reputation as a scholar that lasted until Greco-Roman times, when he was made the hero of a cycle of stories[2].

Ramesses II took Khaemwaset on a military campaign in Nubia early in his reign[3]. The Prince later became the High Priest of Ptah and was crown prince at the time of his death.

As High Priest of Ptah, Khaemwaset was responsible for the burial of the sacred Apis bulls in the Serapeum at Saqqara[4]. At Saqqara, the Prince restored a number of Old Kingdom monuments, including the Pyramid of Unas[5].

Mariette, the famous French archaeologist, found a chamber in the Serapeum that held two huge coffins, four canopic jars and a tall wooden statue of the god Osiris. It also contained two wooden shrines with scenes of Ramesses Ii and Khaemwaset making offerings to an Apis bull (the Serapeum is the burial place of the Apis bulls). Two large ushabtis of Khaemwaset were found in a niche in the South wall[6]. Some archeologists believe that the burial of Khaemwaset has been found in the Serapeum, but most archaeologists no longer accept this idea.

Khaemwaset’s work in restoring the monuments of the Old Kingdom have led to some referring to him as the world’s first archaeologist.

[1] Shaw, Ian. Ed., The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

[2] Dodson, Aiden and Dyan Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, London: Thames and Hudson, 2004, p. 171.

[3] Shaw, p. 302

[4] Shaw, p. 302

[5] Dodson, Aiden and Salima Ikram, The Tomb in Ancient Egypt, London: Thames and Hudson, 2008, p. 56.

[6] Reeve, Nicholas, Ancient Egypt: The Great Discoveries, London: Thames and Hudson, 2000, p. 43

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Nabonidus, Babylonian King and Archaeologist

Nabonidus (556 – 539 B. C.) was the last of the Neo-Babylonian Kings. He was the son of a nobleman named Nabu-balatsu-iqbi and a votress of the god Sin from the city of Harran[1]. His predecessor, Labashi-Marduk, was overthrown by a group of conspirators who placed Nabonidus on the throne in his place[2].

Nabonidus spent a large portion of his reign restoring temples and collecting antiquities found during the course of this restoration work. Bertman has called him “the world’s first archaeologist”[3] (although the Egyptian Prince Khaemwaset would probably be a better claimant to that title). Near a wall built at Ur by Nebuchadnezzar, one of Nabonidus’ Neo-Babylonian predecessors, Leonard Woolley found a headless diorite statue from a much earlier period in history. Woolley speculates that this may be one of the antiquities collected at Ur by Nabonidus[4] in the home of his daughter, who was a priestess there.

Woolley also found hidden in the brickwork of Ur’s ziggurat some clay cylinders with inscriptions from the reign of Nabonidus. The inscriptions stated that Nabonidus had completed the Ziggurat, which had been started centuries earlier by Ur-Nammu and his son Shulgi[5]. There is also a record of Nabonidus finding the foundation deposit of Naram-Sin while restoring the ziggurat[6]. Another text relates how Nabonidus, while restoring a shrine, found the foundation deposit of Nebuchadnezzar (604 - 562 B. C.)[7].

Nabonidus had the misfortune to rule at the same time as Cyrus II of Persia. Nabonidus allied himself with Cyrus against the Medes and soon found his ally was every bit as dangerous as the Medes. For some reason Nabonidus spent most, if not all of the years three through eleven of his reign outside of Babylon, possibly as far away as what is now Saudi Arabia[8]. During this time Cyrus gathered his strength and Nabonidus soon saw Babylon incorporated into the Persian Empire.

[1] Roux, Georges. Ancient Iraq, New York: Penguin Books, 1992, p. 381

[2] Roux, p. 381

[3] Bertman, Stephen. Handbook to Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, New York: Facts on File, 2003, p. 47

[4] Woolley, Leonard, and E. R. S. Moorey. Ur of the Chaldees, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, revised 2nd
edition, 1982, p. 123

[5] Woolley, p. 142

[6] Woolley, p. 228

[7] Woolley, p. 223

[8] Roux, p. 385