K 309a: sale contract for a slave woman, from Nineveh

K 309A: sale contract for a slave woman, with Aramaic label; reign of Assurbanipal (Neo-Assyrian period, 636 BC). Photograph by Karen Radner; reproduced with permission of the British Museum. View large image.

This tablet documents Kiṣir-Aššur's purchase of the slave woman Arbail-šarrat. It was found in the royal archives of Nineveh PGP , the capital of Assyria throughout the 7th century BC, but would have been originally stored in the house of Kiṣir-Aššur, a member of the crown prince TT 's military entourage (not to be confused with the exorcist TT  from Assur PGP  with the same name PGP ). It is one of hundreds of private legal texts that were transferred to the state archives at some point in the late 7th century. Why and when exactly this happened is unknown to us. But as the state archives also contain copies of many of these tablets, written by just two scribes, it is clear that the incorporation of the private documents into the archives was not an end in itself but part of a more complex administrative process.

The tablet is sealed with a stamp seal, impressed three times by the slave woman's previous owner. By the 7th century BC, stamp seals were much more commonly used than the traditional cylinder seals (whose impressions can be seen on second-millennium legal documents such as BM 026280). While the sealing was necessary to make the document legally valid the Aramaic label incised on our tablet's left hand side was surplus to formal requirements, although a very common practice at the time. By the 7th century BC, the ability to read and write cuneiform was increasingly the preserve of a minority of dedicated professionals and the Aramaic label 'Deed of Arbail-šarrat' would have enabled the much larger group of people, who knew only the alphabetic script, to gauge the tablet's contents.

A transliteration and translation of the text can be found in Mattila, State Archives of Assyria 14 (2002), no. 29 and at State Archives of Assyria online.

Content last modified on 10 Jan 2017.

Karen Radner

Karen Radner, 'K 309a: sale contract for a slave woman, from Nineveh', Knowledge and Power, Higher Education Academy, 2017 [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/saao/knpp/cuneiformrevealed/tabletgallery/k309a/]

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