The Copper Gutter
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Categories: Ancient

The Copper Gutter

A photo of a stone bell tower with a corroded copper roof and rain-gutters shaped like fish
In later millennia, architectural copper could still impress

Last week I mentioned that one Hittite document tells the commander of a frontier post how they are to guard, build, and maintain their post. While the section on the curtain wall is badly damaged, the section on the watchtower is mostly intact:

Let the ?[watc]h? tower be 4 cubits around the top, but around the bottom let it be 6 cubits, and let it be encircled with a copper rain-gutter and a ?gallery?. Let the gallery be 6 cubits in circumference, and let it protrude 5 spans.

The word URUDḫeyawallit is not known elsewhere, but because it is proceeded with the determinative for copper and begins with the word for rain it fairly clearly means “copper rain-gutter”. The measurements of length and the word translated as “gallery” are not as well understood (the later could be more like “battlements” or “palisade”). I am not sure that the scholar who excerpted this text noticed what I did, because he didn’t translate the determinative.

Even today, copper rain-gutters, rain-spouts, and roofs are impressive, both for their colourful appearance and their proof that the owners can keep away thieves. Public displays of bronze sculpture tend to shrink in the night, and every so often a thief is electrocuted while salvaging copper wire from someone else’s property. How more impressive it must have been when a kilo of copper was enough to support a family for a month, and a prosperous worker’s estate could be worth 10 kilos.* If Hittite border posts didn’t have their own goldenes Dachl, their watch-towers must have been just as impressive. And looking impressive is an important function of any fortification.

* A mina is generally estimated as circa 500 grams, and 60 shekels make a mina; 60-100 shekels of copper cost 1 shekel of silver in New Kingdom Egypt per Janssen; the expectation that a working family could live on 1 shekel per month is found throughout Mesopotamian literature, although as time passed it became less and less realistic. For the wealth of one community of prosperous craftsmen, see Janssen pp. 533-535; the workers who dug and painted the Valley of the Kings seem to have had food, housing, and movable goods similar to poor hoplites, craftsmen and small merchants in a late medieval city, etc.

Further Reading: Itamar Singer, “On Siege Warfare in Hittite Texts,” in Mordechai Cogan and Dan’el Kahn, Treasures on Camel’s Humps (Magnes Press: Jerusalem, 2008); Jac Janssen, Commodity Prices from the Ramesside Period (E.J. Brill: Leiden, 1975). I have paraphrased Singer’s translation, and recommend that anyone seriously interested check the version by him or another specialist in Hittite.

Jared L Miller and Mauro Giorgieri, Royal Hittite instructions and related administrative texts (SBL Press, 2013)

Edit 2023-08-16: block editor

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