Snark or Piety on an Assyrian Muster Roll
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Categories: Ancient

Snark or Piety on an Assyrian Muster Roll

Carving of two bare-headed scribes, one beardless with a scroll and one bearded with a writing boardin several leaves, in a grove of date palms.
Scribes take notes as an officer rewards a soldier for taking enemy heads. An Assyrian relief from Nineveh, late 7th century BCE. British Museum, Number 124955. Image courtesy of the British Museum here.

Tel Halaf 23 = Aaron Dornauer, Das Archiv des assyrischen Statthalters Mannu-kī-Aššur von Gūzāna/Tall Ḥalaf. (Harrasowitz Verlag: Wiesbaden, 2014) no. 21 Truppen vor Hūˀa-dīdu pp. 53, 54

This little, undated tablet is a list of names with a note every dozen lines. It was written sometime around the 8th century BCE. Texts like this are rarely exciting, but if one pays attention details sometimes leap out.

Meˀīsu, his son
Hannān, his son
2 son (sic) of Zannānu
Adda-sakā, 2 sons
(5) “God as my witness, she’s really a daughter”: Sîn-iprus
Saˀīlu, 5 sons
Kuwayni, 2 sons
Manānu, his brother
Qatarā, 2 sons
(10) Nanî, Igilu
Total: 25 troops
who are before Hūˀa-dīdu

In the words of the editor, “at first glance the administration accidentally tried to conscript a daughter of Sîn-iprus [‘the moon god bestowed’] for military or civil service, so that her father needed to certify her gender with an oath.” He backs this reading up with two arguments. For one thing, military service in the Assyrian empire was strongly gendered: when men were fulfilling their service obligation (ilku), women in their household received a ration. For another, lines 1-4 and 6-10 contain a total of 25 people (9 and 16 people respectively), so anyone on line (5) who was conscripted would have to be the same as one of the people mentioned on another line. I am not a specialist in Neo-Assyrian social history, and I wonder if line (5) could be a sarcastic comment about one of the sons of Adda-sakā instead. Greek writers enjoyed witticisms contrasting numbers of soldiers and numbers of men, and maybe Assyrians did too. But I think that just as this tablet does not fit the bureaucratic order of the archive, something about that muster did not fit the Assyrian gender order either.

(Readers who like languages might enjoy how the noun panûm/IGI “face, front” plus a noun in the genitive functions like a compound prepositional phrase in English “before, in the sight of”).

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