This is Not a Translation of the Gadal-iama Contract
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This is Not a Translation of the Gadal-iama Contract

Although respectable German and French translations of the Gadal-iama contract were available by 1952, they were published in journals for specialists. As a result, many English-speaking readers first encounter this text as quoted or paraphrased in books on other topics. One of the most widely read versions was published in a life of Alexander by Robin Lane Fox and quoted by Paul Rahe in his article “The Military Situation in Western Asia on the Eve of Cunaxa.” But as with some other things in Lane Fox’s life of Alexander, this version is not exactly what it leads readers to think it is:

In one remarkable document, the problems are set out in detail. In 422 King Artaxerxes had summoned his colonists to attack the city of Uruk, but the summons had caught the Jewish owner of a land grant off his guard. Probably because of financial embarassment, the Jew’s father had been forced to adopt a member of the Murasu bank as his son, so that the banker could inherit a share in the family allotment, and as the land grant could only be owned by members of the family, adoption was the one means of evading the king’s law and endowing an outsider. When the father died, the adopted banker held one part of the farm, the true male heirs the rest. … Fortunate in his banking ‘brother,’ the Jew had struck an advantageous bargain; the wild cat bankers would not fancy fighting and so their adopted agent would finance the armour, silver tax, horse and, very probably, the groom, while the Jew would ride out at the risk of his life.

In the joy of his heart, Gadal-Iama the Jew has spoken thus to the son of the Murasu: the planted and plowed fields, the horse land of my father, you now hold because my father once adopted your father. So give me a horse with a groom and harness, a caparison of iron, a helmet, a leather breastplate, a buckler, 120 arrows of two sorts, an iron attachment for my buckler, two iron spears and a mina of silver for provisions, and I will fulfill the service-duties which weigh on our lands.

As the horseman owned no bow, the arrows were presumably to be handed in to the cashier and then distributed to owners of bow and chariot land.

– Robin Lane Fox, Alexander the Great, The Dial Press n.p. 1974 ch. 11 p. 159

Robin Lane Fox seems to have composed this version on the basis of the French and German translations which he cited. However, it is missing things in both of them, and contains things which neither does.

“to attack the city of Uruk”: to attend a muster/review/waffenschau/assaying/… at the city of Uruk. Any attacking would only take place once all of the soldiers and their equipment and horses had been inspected and enrolled, according to a system which Xenophon mentions twice.

“Gadal-Iama the Jew”: The Akkadian text never once assigns any of the individuals mentioned an ethnic title, so what is this doing here? Lane Fox does not explain, but he had read in the article by E. Ebeling that Gadaljâmas Name ist westsemitisch, er gehört währscheinlich zu den jüdischen Exulanten der jerusalemitischen Gola, die in den Tafeln aus Nippur in der Zeit des Artaxerxes I. und Darius II. häufig zu finden sind (“Die Rüstung eines babylonischen Panzerreiters” p. 203) The first element is the adjective g-d-l “great, to become great” (= Sumerian gal, Akkadian rabû) and the second seems to be the Babylonian pronunciation of Jahweh. Babylonians had trouble pronouncing soft “h” sounds and turned /w/ into /m/ in this period, so the name most likely means “Jahweh is great.” So we can deduce that whoever gave Gadal-iama his name was probably a worshipper of Jahweh and a speaker of Hebrew or Aramaic. But the composers of the contract have no interest in assigning any one of the parties an ethnic or religious title. What matters to them is the names of the parties involved, their fathers’ names, and the ḥatru in which they are enrolled. Rather than respect that, and the ambiguity of the evidence, Lane Fox chose to add “the Jew” to his translation and say “the Jew” instead of Gadal-iama’s name four times in his gloss.

“to the son of the Murasu”: Lane Fox has cut out the banker’s name.

“the horse land of my father”: The original, and both of the translations which he read, said “of Rahim-Ilē.”

“because my father once adopted your father”: Lane Fox has simplified a complex group of clauses and made the causal relationship clearer.

“a horse with a groom and harness”: The last two words in this list are hard to interpret, but I do not know anyone who looked at the Babylonian and suggested that one of the words meant ‘groom’ (a servant) rather than a piece of tack.

“a caparison of iron, a helmet, a leather breastplate”: This section has two problems. First, Lane Fox has deleted four or five items in the original (and both of his source translations) to shorten his version. Second, while the French translation has un capacaçon de fer, the German translation and commentary makes it clear that the first item is a body armour for a man not a covering for a horse.

“I will fulfil the service-duties which weigh on our lands”: Lane Fox has cut out several clauses explaining that this kit and money is in order to perform a particular service at Uruk and another short clause which is hard to understand. The French which he was working from said pour l’approvisionnement sur l’ordre du roi en vue d’une mission à Uruk, donne-moi, et j’accomplirai le service grevant le bît-sisî, toute ta parte (du bît-sisî) (Cardascia, Les Archives des Murasû p. 180)

“As the horseman owned no bow, …”: Lane Fox argues that if Gadal-iama asked for something, he did not already own an equivalent. Using his failure to ask for something as proof that he lacked it really takes the cake! Are we supposed to imagine that Gadal-iama was barefoot and had no jewelry or eating utensils or spare clothing because he did not ask for shoes or a mess kit?

When a young Paul Rahe needed an English version of the Gadal-iama contract to quote, he explained that ”I have adopted the English translation of Robin Lane Fox.” But this is not a translation at all. Instead, it is a retelling which drops out some things (the personal names and the legal details and most of the specific items of kit) and inserts others (Gadal-Iama’s ethnicity).

Further Reading: Ran Zadok, The Jews in Babylonia During the Chaldean and Achaemenian Periods According to the Babylonian Sources. University of Haifa: Haifa, 1979, Paul A. Rahe, “The Military Situation in Western Asia on the Eve of Cunaxa,” American Journal of Philology 100.1 (Spring 1981) pp. 91, 92 and n. 30 (paywalled JSTOR link). For a bibliography on the Gadal-iama contract, see the earlier posts in this series.

Edit 2016-05-08: s/Babylonian/Sumerian;
Edit 2016-06-16: Clarified why I placed a (!) after “to attack the city of Uruk” and removed the second (!)

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0 thoughts on “This is Not a Translation of the Gadal-iama Contract

  1. Pavel Vaverka says:

    Thanks for post Sean, so when You release your translation with comments? It would be intresting and it’s need, when I see previous attempts.

    1. Sean Manning says:

      Hi Pavel, I am working on it. I want to make sure that I understand every nuance of the original rather than just getting ‘the gist.’ Maybe I can include an appendix in the thesis?

      The translations which were made directly from the original tend to be closer, but usually simplify some things.

  2. Pavel Vaverka says:

    A translation as appendix in the thesis would be great, I’m sure it will be helpful for many students and historians (not just military ones). Get well soon, I send my regards from freezing Czech Republic.

    1. Sean Manning says:

      Thank you. Most of the translations published since the 1990s are not bad, but some of the English versions are based on earlier translations into French, and the translators assume that their readers are not interested in the details of arms and armour or the family relationships.

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