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Slavery at Hanni’s Workshop

Kar Shalmaneser was an important provincial capital in the network that was the Neo-Assyrian Empire and it became a bustling commercial centre; perhaps providing goods to Assur, as well as participating in trade with other regions. Not much is known about the identity of the merchants but it is possible that at least some of the trade was in private hands.

Some of the wealthier families of Assur in the Neo-Assyrian period followed the palace in maintaining their own industrial workshops. Dr Nicholas Postgate suggests that “It would not be an innovation: in Old and Middle Assyrian Assur a large household might employ a number of weavers – probably mostly female slaves – producing their own cloth for commercial purposes, and there is no obvious reason why this should not have continued into the first millennium as well”.

Is it possible that the production of textiles in Hanni’s workshop represents a commercial enterprise?

In the baked clay tablets found at Tell Ahmar, Hanni does seem to be a person with significant wealth, is engaged with business dealings and in contact with the Assyrian administration. Three of the documents indicate that he acts as a creditor, lending silver with interest. He has a number of workers at his disposal, slaves both male and female which he purchased, and the texts which describe a list of rations may refer to these people.

Two of the texts from Til Barsib are standard Neo-Assyrian contracts referring to the sale of slaves (geme). In one a woman is transferred to Hanni’s household; another describes the purchase of a man or group of persons. In tablet 8 the slave-girl is mentioned by name, Nannaya. Another text records a register of goods rationed to the workers, who presumably lived within the complex, and fed and clothed themselves from these rations. A hearth was found in Room XI, Hanni’s workshop, while large quantities of cooking and simple wares were recovered from this area. It seems probable that the status of the textile workers had limited freedom and property of their own. Instead, they lived and worked in the workshop.

Slave hands Slaves at Hanni's workshop Til Barsib

No details are known from the texts of the identity or ethnicity of the workers at Hanni’s establishment. They may be victims of war (or the descendants of such). They may have been born into slavery and purchased by Hanni from other slave holders. Or they may have been sold into slavery by their families. Unfortunately there is no explicit information about their origin.

The figurine makers must have had access to a source of clay. As clay is the predominant fabric for loom weights, it is clear that the textile workers, who, it must be assumed, produced their own unbaked clay loom weights, were able to use the clay sources for the figurines. Likewise, the plainer cooking-pot wares found in concentrated quantities in Rooms I and II of Hanni’s house and in those rooms of Hanni’s workshop where textile manufacture took place, were probably made by slave workers who lived and operated in these parts of Hanni’s establishment. The numerous ovens found in the main courtyard and within many rooms may have been utilised for firing of both the ceramics and the figurines, as well as in the processing of foods.

slaves at Til Barsip Hanni's slaves textile workshop

Although the texts found at Tell Ahmar do not explicitly state that the women bought and owned by Hanni were engaged in weaving, it is very probable that the textiles produced in buildings associated with him were the product of female labour. Female slaves were often assigned this task. It is possible, though speculative, that the elite ladies of Hanni’s household (if any were present) were responsible for the production of certain household textiles particularly those for interior decoration or personal use. It is very plausible that the female slaves in the workshop were used in the textile manufacturing process, perhaps on an industrial rather than domestic scale.

So, if my conclusions are right, that the female, enslaved textile workers were making the figurines, why would they?

What do you think?

Postgate, N. 1987. “Employer, employee and employment in the Neo-Assyrian Empire”, in MA Powell (ed) Labor in the Ancient Near East, New Haven: American Oriental Society Series 68, pp.257-270.

 

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Filed under Slavery, Textile workers, Til Barsib, Trade and merchants, Women and weaving