A virtual event at the University of Helsinki, hosted by the Centre of Excellence in Ancient Near Eastern Empires (#ANEE_Helsinki).
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Ancient Near Eastern studies are marred by an overzealous belief in the existence and proliferation of prostitutes in the ancient world. An absurd number of terms are still translated as some type of “prostitute” in the ancient texts (e.g. harimtu, shamhatu, kezretu, KAR.KID) which not only gives the illusion of a world where women have only two roles to play—wife or whore—but which also gives the impression that the institution of prostitution is “natural” and innate in human societies. That is to say, no one doubts that prostitution has always existed, that men have always, inevitably had access to female sexuality for payment (aka: “the oldest profession”). It is never assumed that males are primordial prostitutes, or that women have pecuniary access to sex. This brief presentation considers the fact that there is no evidence for the sale of sex in Mesopotamia and that the institution may not have existed there at all. Not only does this mean that all those so-called “prostitutes” were, clearly, something else, but that prostitution itself is a human institution with historic origins and social contexts. Prostitution is not inevitable, but the result of historic forces and must be studied as such.
The Sumerian “Love Songs” describe the romantic and erotic relationships between a female and male character, often the god Dumuzi and the goddess Inanna. Unlike the ways in which Inanna transgresses gender boundaries, shifting between feminine and masculine identities, the construction of her seemingly ‘normative’ sexual relationship with the male god Dumuzi has received relatively little attention. The ‘invisibility of heterosexuality as a normative category of identity’ means that the construction of different-sex relationships have been taken for granted, considered as naturally occurring, and therefore theoretically overlooked (Carroll 2012: 1). Heterosexuality is often conflated with reproductive sexuality and marriage (Carroll 2012: 16; Ingraham 2004: 3-4), and it is within these frameworks that the Sumerian “Love Songs” have usually been discussed. Recognising, however, that heterosexuality is not a given norm, but that it is ‘an extensively organized social arrangement or means for distributing power and wealth for male to female behaviour’ (Ingraham 2004: 3), this paper will ask how our modern lens of normative and hegemonic heterosexuality has tinted our understanding of the relationships within the Sumerian “Love Songs”, and will ask how might post-modern ideas about heterosexuality as a social construct be useful in our study of these relationships?
Feminist and gendered analyses of Judean Pillar Figurines have moved beyond the biological essentialism that labelled them “fertility” figurines in the past. Many interpretations of JPFs, however, remain rooted in presentist assumptions about embodiment that continue to limit the interpretive horizon. Because the significance of women in the Hebrew Bible is largely restricted to their portrayals as wives and mothers, interpretations of artistic portrayals of female bodies from biblical regions are often limited to generic functions of biological females. In order to move beyond fixations on gender, sex, and physical functions of the female body, I propose to incorporate insights from semiotics into a gendered iconographical analysis in order to expand our range of potential meanings of JPFs and other symbolic embodiments. A semiotics of gender provides us with a theoretical basis for evaluating the plausibility of potential interpretations, encourages us to think about a variety of potential synchronic meanings of these figures for their viewers, and does not assume that an object’s materiality is predicated on it having a ritual function.
The site of Persepolis presents a set of apparent binaries. Upon the Apadana, the king is distinguished from his subjects, as delegates are distinguished from ushers, and animals from humans. Within such a system, men appear to dominate, with the lioness appearing within the Elamite delegation standing as the sole female representative. Yet, through the interaction of visitor and relief, adornment and architecture, these binaries are deconstructed, until even that between animate and inanimate, in modern terms, disintegrates. Instead, the site highlights slippages between categories, and in so doing generates productive connections rather than bounded distinctions. Through a juxtaposition of PFS 38, which provides insight into the seal and sealing practices of Irtashduna, daughter of Cyrus and wife of Darius I, extant Achaemenid personal adornments, and the reliefs at Persepolis, this contribution argues that in Achaemenid contexts bodily mediation focuses more upon sensorial substantiation than upon the construction of gendered distinctions, with mutually reinforcing similarity of greater interest than binary divisions. Through references to realia and multi-sensorial engagements, the site of Persepolis problematizes binaries and boundaries alike, providing and opportunity both to reconsider gender distinction in Achaemenid Persia and to reframe terminologies in the present.
This presentation explores the issues and limitations of equating the English term “queen” with the Hittite title MUNUS.LUGAL. Hittite royal women held the office of MUNUS.LUGAL until they died or were deposed, and thus a MUNUS.LUGAL could be the wife of the king, the mother of the king, or even a stepmother of the king. Furthermore, the wife of the current king was not necessarily a MUNUS.LUGAL, nor had the mother of the king necessarily been a MUNUS.LUGAL.
This raises a number of questions about the relationship between the title MUNUS.LUGAL and Hittite queenship. Are there differences in power and authority between a MUNUS.LUGAL who is the wife of the king and a MUNUS.LUGAL who is not? What terms or titles were used for the wife of a king if she were not the MUNUS.LUGAL? Are comparisons between the Hittite MUNUS.LUGAL and other “queens” such as the Egyptian Hmt-nswt appropriate?
It is often argued that the application of modern terms for diversity to the ancient world is anachronistic and should be avoided. However, the people making those arguments generally have a very limited understanding of modern trans identities, relying instead on a narrow definition of “trans”. If your definition of trans rests upon the use of medical techniques that were unavailable to the ancients, then obviously its use is anachronistic.
However, modern trans communities are much more diverse in their attitude to gender than the model developed by Magnus Hirschfeld and his successors. They need to encompass a wide range of non-binary identities, and also many culturally-specific identities local to non-Western societies.
This presentation will look at the terminology that is used to describe gender diversity in the modern world, and show how it can help understand the variety of gendered behaviours that we see in the ancient world.
The ancient Near Eastern tradition of love poetry is known to us through poems written in Sumerian, Akkadian, and Egyptian. Even the Song of Songs, a collection of ancient erotic poetry known to the modern reader as a part of the Jewish and Christian Bible, belongs to the same tradition. While the Song of Songs has been studied intensively for a long time, other ancient Near Eastern love poetry, especially those written in Akkadian, are seriously understudied. However, love poetry should form an indispensable part of the study of the ancient constructions of gender. My project will analyze critically the structures of desire and agency in the ancient love poems, opening a new window to the gendered language and ideology of love in the patriarchal world of the ancient Near East. It will reveal unconventional love relationships, disclose fractures in the patriarchal gender matrix, and demonstrate the interpretive potential of love poetry for both religious and political life. It will show that love relationship is not all about mutual emotions but emerges from a multifaceted network of gender, desire, and agency, within which it is upheld, lived, and interpreted.
This brief paper will focus on the last question posed by this panel, “What are some of the challenges and possibilities of using an intersectional approach to the study of gender in the Ancient Near East?” In studying women of the ancient African society of Kush (2600 BCE – 300 CE), we must engage indigenous African concepts of gender in order to properly describe the roles, respect, and power accorded to women in Kush. I will discuss two Kushite queens from the Meroitic period (1st century CE): Amanishakheto and Amanitore, both of whom held the Meroitic royal titles qore “ruler”, an ungendered term, and kandake “queen mother”, which was highly gendered and referred to the woman who would birth the next legitimate ruler. I will use two recent publications to explore unique African concepts of female gender: Nwando Achebe’s Female Monarchs and Merchant Queens and The Invention of Women by Oyèrónké Oyewùmi.
The issue of succession to the throne in the Ancient Near East is an important element for the researcher. In our paper, we explore the role of women in the transfer of royal power. A striking example is provided by the history of Elam, where inheritance was carried out through the mother. Later, power passes from father to son, but also through the king's sister. Than power was inherited only through the sister line, and later the throne was passed mainly from father to son. Attention should be paid to the duration of the confrontation between the two systems of succession to the throne in Elam, as well as to the fact that in some periods of the history of this state the matrilineal principle again became dominant.
In many ways, the situation was similar in the ancient Hittite kingdom: among the legal heirs to the throne were not only the children of the king, but also the children of the royal sister.
We will conclude our study with the role of women in Assyria and the influence of women on the ascent of King Ashurbanipal.
In Old Babylonian society, nadītu women were not allowed to bear children — nadītu meaning ‘the fallow (woman)’. The same went for other priestesses (and/or female temple personnel) such as ugbabtu, entu, igiṣītu, kulmašītu and qadištu women and even for (male) priests such as the galamāhu if Barberon’s (2005) interpretation is correct.
Traditionally the taboo on childbearing has been interpreted as a taboo on sex: these women were expected to remain sexually pure and lead chaste lives (see most recently Stol 2016). There is, however, no evidence for the existence of such a ‘vow of chastity’ in the cuneiform sources, as Finkelstein already noted in 1970. On the contrary, methods of intercourse that would avoid pregnancy as well as unwanted pregnancies (followed by the so-called šilip rēmim adoptions) — not to mention the contraceptive drugs of botanical or mineral nature they probably knew — prove that these women were certainly able to have sexual relations without the risk of pregnancy. Sexuality was not frowned upon, on the contrary, as Lambert (1992) explains “the sexual act and the organs were unambiguously extolled” and “the sexual act was itself considered sacramental”.
That these women were subjected to a ban on reproduction rather than on sex is also evident from the Atra-hasīs myth in which, apart from barren women and infant mortality, childless priestesses (and/or female temple personnel) are mentioned as a way of controlling mankind’s numbers. It is noteworthy that the author(s) understood birth control to be the original motivation for this cultic practice (in particular given the Old Babylonian date of the myth).
Unlike celibacy, common in various cultures and religions, imposed childlessness is exceptional in both ancient and contemporary cultures. The origin of the practice remains in large measure obscure. Apart from birth control, a possible motivation for this ban on reproduction might lie in a form of “othering”: by depriving these women from giving birth and raising children within a familial context, they are excluded from the normal life of a woman in a patriarchal society and as such they are marginalized.
However, their “otherness” adds greatly to their social status as a privileged group within society: dispensed from social reproduction, the very raison d’être of the common female population, they were free to engage in other, more valued pursuits, both cultic and economic — not to mention the exemption from the risk of dying in childbirth. As such, their childlessness can be seen as an important part of their social (group) identity.
Recent years have shown an increasing interest in the study of the Hellenistic period, and most particularly Hellenistic Egypt. Much has been written about the Ptolemaic dynasty and its rulership in a still pharaonic Egypt.
First a queen in Thrace, Anatolia, she was quickly married to her brother Ptolemy II, the next pharaoh of Egypt. Such practice was not well-seen in Greek, but common in Ancient Egypt among pharaohs to ensure their power.
Her particularity goes well beyond marrying her brother; she was given the Egyptian title "King of Upper and Lower Egypt", marking her a full pharaoh. Her role as queen was unprecedented and soon became the norm for all later Ptolemaic queens. Her figure was so strong that she had multiple images dedicated to her, including coinage, sculptures and wall-reliefs. She had towns dedicated to her and, after her death in 270-260 b.C, a cult, as inscribed in the Mendes stele. She was the first of many empowered Ptolemaic queens who ruled until Cleopatra VII. Her persona has been the interest of many scholars.
In the limestone funerary portraiture from the first several centuries CE in Palmyra, many women display attributes that are interpreted as references to the domestic sphere. The spindle and distaff are by far the most common objects that are displayed, but some women display keys, cradle children, or hold other unusual objects, such as a round object that might be a calendar. Most men hold a book roll in their left hand, but others display items that highlight special status in the community: a jug and incense bowl for priests, and a sword and whip for men associated with the caravan trade. Men also occasionally hold a palm leaf. These items displayed by both men and women were presumably intended to communicate information about the deceased, but their interpretation is not straightforward, particularly since most of the female attributes drop out of use at the end of the second century. It seems unlikely, as has been argued, that this change in fashion correlates with a change of role in the household: the “ideal housewife” experiencing emancipation. The funerary portraits were the means by which wealthy families advertised their identity and, as a result, they are not reliable windows to gendered roles in Roman Palmyra.
Some activities carried out exclusively or mainly by women in most cultures, such as child rearing, are often naturalized and thus not considered work in studies of the past. In ancient Near Eastern studies an avatar of this assumption is the conceptualization of work songs and lullabies as two distinct genres. According to this conceptualization, the need to define two genres lies in the task the songs accompany: agricultural tasks for work songs, the soothing of a child’s crying for lullabies. In this scenario, while the former is perceived as productive work, the latter is presented as a reproductive duty developed in the framework of family relations.
In this communication we propose that it is anachronistic to consider work songs and lullabies as completely different texts as it prevents scholars to grasp the contact points among them. Moreover we question this standard division between work songs and lullabies as it perpetuates binaries such as public/private or productive/reproductive work, which have been amply contested from a gender studies perspective.
The study of Phoenician-Punic beauty practices is still a fresh subject that deserves more attention. Indeed, in the previous Gemane 3 held at Ghent in 2019, we have already explored this topic shedding light on the heterogeneity of materials from the East to the West Mediterranean that conform a rich and complex panorama. Generally speaking, the Levantine normative feminine beauty based on women in fertile age, with soft, smooth skin, a curvilinear body is also followed by these communities. In this session, we would like to continue analysing this theme by adding an intersectional approach. More specifically, we would like to focus on the beauty practices affecting hair through the analysis of different hairstyles in the visual repertoire as well as the presence/absence of objects related to hair among the grave goods of feminine tombs. Is this a good methodology to investigate age differences embodied in hair? Are beauty practices exclusively related to young women in their fertile age? Through this analysis we want to infer how hair participate in the construction and representation of different kind of women in fertile age, as well as in the statement of different stages of maturation.
The aim of this presentation will be to analyze the practices of resistance from two cases of marriage dissolutions that involve the daughters of Zimrî-Lîm, king of Mari. From the analysis of the political and social context at the end of the reign we believe to be able to address the way in which political and gender subordination operated in the cases of marriage dissolutions of the elite women. The end of a marriage can encompass multiple situations that result in the separation of the spouses. Here we are interested in the cases of marriage dissolutions that take place due to differences between spouses, a figure that, using an anachronism, many authors define as "divorce". Our hypothesis is that the king's daughters and sisters found in the figure of marriage dissolution an interstitial space of "resistance" in the face of subordination. For the more traditional studies, which could be considered neo-positivist, female resistance is not possible, only compliance with the norm of male domination. On the other hand, the gender perspective has taken resistance as open opposition to patriarchy, as a result of an empowered gender consciousness that can produce counter-hegemonic practices. These approaches raise the question: What kind of female resistance is possible in the societies we are investigating?
Queen Ku-Babu stands out as the only ruling woman in ancient Babylonian historiography. It is thus not surprising that she has attracted considerable attention in modern scholarship; she has been understood as an anomaly, her womanhood as a stain. This perspective manifests in the modern understanding of her former profession. Her description as an “alewife” (f^lu2-kurun-na) would imply that she worked as a madam, running some kind of a brothel. Her figure would be sexualized and her rise to kingship would represent an American Dream-like story, from rags to riches. In this reading though, modern ideas mingle with ancient texts.
Ku-Babu is first attested in the Sumerian King List and all other sources depend on this one. Accordingly, this paper argues that her story needs to be understood within the framework of this text. It will be shown that her description runs largely parallel to that of another outstanding ruler, king Sargon of Agade. Exploring this relationship suggests that her former profession as an alewife is equivalent to Sargon’s origin as a cupbearer. In conclusion, Ku-Babu is not rendered as a person rising from a sexual milieu, but as one who possesses significant experience in a major royal task.
Often perceived as passive and considered as being the properties of their husbands in Antiquity, women may have been more visible and active in Roman Judaea. The papyrology of the region (the Murabba'ât archive), indeed, presents a few female tax-payers, suggesting that they owned lands and managed herself their properties. This picture coheres with what is now known in Roman Arabia, thanks to the Babatha archive.
The most dangerous trap for historians is the assumption that our vantage point is somehow neutral, that we can view the cultural landscape of the past uninfluenced by the culture we find ourselves in. This trap is particularly pertinent to the history of gender. Historians (especially male historians) are wont to think that they live in an enlightened present, assessing the patriarchal structures of premodern cultures at a distance, as if no connection existed between those structures and the present day. As a corrective to this assumption, I discuss three products of contemporary culture that explicitly draw on ancient Mesopotamian material to promote sexist and heteronormative agendas: Jordan Peterson’s analysis of Enuma Elish, Boris Johnson’s film script Mission to Assyria, and the YouTube vlog of the self-styled “Sargon of Akkad.” These examples present us with two lessons. First, our contemporary cultural position is far from neutral, and the patriarchal structures we find in our texts are not restricted to those texts—on the contrary, they can inspire new forms of sexism in the present. Second, Assyriologists have a responsibility to refute politicized, reductive misreadings of the cultural material we study, and to make more nuanced and complex interpretations of the past widely available.
The allure of Ancient Near Eastern archaeology spread with Woolley’s discovery of the Royal Graves at Ur. Reflecting decades later, is it possible Woolley’s 1920’s-era gender bias left a gap in the understanding of this Early Dynastic royal cemetery? Did his decided interpretation of Puabi’s identity as queen to a King (Woolley 1934) diminish the role of Queen Puabi herself? Penn Museum (2020) notes, text on cylinder seals found in her grave do not reference any males. It was not uncommon for women of status to own seals, but text often referenced a male relative. Queen Puabi’s unprecedented seals suggest she led with independence. Evidence indicates various females ruled independently throughout Egyptian antiquity under specific circumstances. In Ur, archaeological evidence shows “…a king had been buried, and some years after his death a queen has to be buried in her turn” (Woolley 1934, p. 72). It seems feasible Queen Puabi may have ruled in similar circumstances after the death of her King. The existing archaeological record supported by textual evidence on cylinder seals suggests Queen Puabi may have ruled on her own. This project aims to identify the archaeological evidence that further pushes this theory into the realm of possibility.
The paper discusses Ancient Egyptian evidence for feminization of enemies in texts and pictorial representations. By utilizing the concept of gender as a ‘frame of war’, evidence for feminization of enemies is analysed as an ideological strategy for legitimization of war and domination of enemies. Feminization of enemies relied on the idea that just as the passivity and subordination of women were considered to be ‘natural’ and expected, so was the dominion over back-turners (passive males in sex) and enemies, who are not ‘real men’ like the Egyptian king and his army. In this process, the pharaoh juxtaposed to feminized enemies acquires an ideal hypermasculine gender. Since, according to Ancient Egyptians, the loss of the phallus was considered as the loss of masculinity, the military custom of cutting off the phalli of Libyan enemies is discussed as a possible actual physical intervention on the bodies of enemies related to discursive feminization in texts and images.
Ancient Assyrian sources make reference to a group of men known as ša rēši. Most Assyriologists maintain that this term refers to eunuchs, that is, men whose reproductive abilities were interrupted through castration. In Assyria, eunuchism may have served to ensure loyalty to the sovereign, and as a strategy for the crown to maintain its assets in regional areas where issues of succession were problematic. Eunuchism could then be better understood as an aspect of the state’s technologies of expansion and territorial maintenance through the necropolitical management of the bodies of men. In curating this new class of persons, the imperial apparatus set up a binary within the norms of masculinity (bearded and beardless) that blurred the line between gendered personhood and administrative identity. This binary, orbiting around the intact body of the sovereign, was displayed in the written and the visual sources with equal frequency and casualness. Bearded men, however, remain unmarked in the studies of the Neo-Assyrian empire, with no investigation into what norms this configuration actually practiced. Ša rēšis, on the other hand, have been subject to much scrutiny and debate. Often termed gender liminal, ša rēšis are placed at the threshold of masculinity and femininity and at the interzone of the gender binary. Such retrojected ‘gender liminalising’ of past bodies is not only methodologically unsound, but it masks the individual lived experience. It also raises ethical issues in gender studies. This work in progress will address precisely these points.
The study of the private houses of the Ancient Near East is a very interesting and sometimes neglected subject: on the one hand, it might help in better understanding the daily life of the peoples of a vast region, which for many aspects influenced the cultures of the Mediterranean, but, on the other hand, it has been affected by biases and misunderstandings. Biases and misunderstandings affected the analysis of palace and temple architectures, too, but in the course of time, more in depth and refined studies largely amended most of the misinterpretations. Unfortunately, private houses did not attract much interest, at the beginning of the archaeological explorations, whereas recently very useful studies were produced, mainly, but not only, on houses structures and plans (see Pfälzner 2001, 2012, 2015). Yet, it is sometimes difficult to elaborate on data from old excavations, where not everything is properly recorded, particularly the findings and their positions, which is a basic element for the analysis of the use of individual spaces. A house is, or should be, the place where persons feel free from social constraints: this belief led to apply feelings and patterns of behaviour of the modern researcher or inferred from ethnographic comparisons. A famous case is the interpretation of the Old Babylonian private houses of Ur: Woolley’s interpretation is strongly marked by both biases, but even the more recent analysis by Brusasco, taking into account also the written evidence from the houses, still kept one of Woolley’s main assumptions, namely female segregation, based on a doubtful interpretation of the function of some rooms. In my presentation, I will argue that an in-depth study of private houses should take into account the mobility patterns within the house, the distribution of artefacts, the hierarchical level of settlements, the placement of the houses within the settlement and, eventually, also data provided by cuneiform texts from the same contexts. I will use as case studies the Old Babylonian houses of Ur and the Late Bronze age houses from the Syria Jezirah. My aim will be to try and demonstrate the following points:
1) A private context is not a place of complete freedom and of the absence of social constraints, but rather a place where rules apply, which are sometimes different from those adopted in public contexts.
2) A private house is not a static context; it is usually more “mobile” and “evolutive” than official contexts, like palaces or temples, precisely for the absence of specific functions for the individual spaces.
3) There is no evidence for female segregation.
The investigation about domestic space in Egyptology usually focused on house unities, highlighting object assemblage and architectural features. This approach was not questioned by scholars interested in gender. The house was then established as the privileged space for women and their activities. By examining the evidence of the Amarna Workmen’s Village, I challenge the concepts of domestic space, expanding the scope of analysis to the village itself to understand how ancient Egyptians conceptualised and experienced the domestic environment. With a new understanding about what was an Egyptian house, I hope to shed light to a new dynamic of social relations in which gender emerges.
The illustration in the excavation report shows a hefty man using a seal tied around his wrist to lock the door of a storeroom filled with jars and sacks. The implication is clear; this man controls access to these resources. Yet, the evidence in the excavation report itself tells a different story, one where it was the women at the site who owned and used most of the seals and utilized them to lock doors and seal jars. This short talk uses administrative materials excavated at the Iranian site Shahr-i Sokhta to discuss the ways in which 19th and 20th century views of financial and economic power have colored our understanding of the past, and how the close analysis of archaeological materials can counter these understandings.
Gender does not exist in isolation, but interacts with other aspects of a person’s identity. One such aspect is age. The societal role and expectations of a young man differ from that of an old man, even if every other aspect of their identities are the same (ethnicity, status, geographical and temporal location, etc.). We can see this intersection in the Neo-Assyrian period in the vast amount of texts which have been preserved, and many of these texts have now been digitised. This now allows for a computational linguistic analysis of the relationship between words relating to masculinities and those relating to age. The application of Social Network Analysis can greatly improve interpretations of the results from computational linguistic inquiries. Simply graphically rendering these results can help our understanding of how the meanings of words could overlap and interact with one another. This aspect makes it a promising new avenue to investigate intersectional identities, and in this “oral poster” I will focus on the intersection between age and masculinities in the digitised Neo-Assyrian corpus.
At the beginning of the second millennium BCE Assyrian traders were organized into family enterprises. Some individuals of these families engaged in long-distance trade and lived for long periods in Anatolia. The geographical distance involved between members of the same family led to a rearrangement of the kinship dynamics in which people had to deal with other kin groups to keep their business functioning. Kinship networks are essential to include women in the trade activity and to expand their social roles beyond the domestic sphere. In this paper, I will examine the lives of Assyrian women participating in the interregional trade between Assur and Kanesh through some letters exchanged by those women with their kin members and business partners. To understand how women’s activities impacted the Assyrian social fabric in this period, I will explore the concept of gender regimes and gender relations using an intersectional perspective in the analyses of these documents. I hope to highlight how gender differences vary according to specific social settings.
During recent years, Assyriologists increasingly explore the toolbox of social network analysis. The applications range from the identification of dossiers in large data (e.g. Pagé-Perron 2018) through the analysis of the social relations between the priests of Borsippa (Still 2019) to the analysis of literary corpora (Alstola et al. 2019), to give some examples. This contribution explores the possibilities of administrative files containing large amounts of repetitive administrative data, for network analysis. Each administrative entry is a quantified relation between a number of units. The analysis can be visualized in two-mode network graphs with weighed edges, a method that has not yet been tested in the field of Assyriology. These visualizations allow us to view the data with fresh eyes, and to see larger quantitative patterns. In the case of the central redistributive household of Nippur, the analysis shows that the role of women has been really underestimated.
The female seals in the ancient Near East, especially in Syria and Mespotamia, seem to mediate gendered ideas about female roles in the society. Their significance in the political, economic and social structures are probably related to the impact of the female life cycle within a gendered construct of the authority: the women’s power, in fact, is constructed through the family in their role as daughter, wife, or mother of the heir. At least, during the 3rd and 2nd millennium BCE, some women appear as significant individuals who wielded power and authority: their marital status, in addition to the female life cycle, underpinned their power which is rooted in social status and familial connections. Through texts and artefacts (cylinder seals in primis), this presentation tries to explore the relationship between family and individuality, social ties and specific female roles.
This paper aims at analysing the criteria that are usually used by academia to attribute the ownership of specific examples of cylinder-seals to women and which information the inscription provides about the owner. I will base my analysis on Neo-Sumerian cylinder-seals that are related in some way or another to women. Although iconography and the materiality of objects are equally important, in this paper I will limit my analysis to the inscriptions that are engraved on the seals. I will discuss methodological matters, i.e. what and how we can define a woman’s seal, and relevant aspects related to the titles the owner uses to identify himself, mainly family relationships and political/administrative/cultic functions. In the conclusions, I will discuss the image and role of women within the Ur III central administration and networks of power.