They got married, had children, made beer. Although they lived 3,500 years ago in Nippur, Babylonia, in many ways they seem like us. Whether they were also slaves is a hotly contested question which Jonathan Tenney, assistant professor of ancient Near Eastern studies, addresses in the newly released Life at the Bottom of Babylonian Society: Servile Laborers at Nippur in the 14th and 13th Centuries, B.C., published by Brill.
The book is based on Tenney’s dissertation at the University of Chicago, for which he received the 2010 Dissertation of the Year Award by the American Academic Research Institute in Iraq.
Some previous scholars identified the 8,000-strong group of government workers as temple employees. “But the problem is the records included food for little babies, which didn’t make much sense,” says Tenney, who joined the Cornell faculty this past fall. “And sometimes the workers ran away, and when they were captured they were put in prison.”
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