Amat Mamu – c. 1750 BCE – Sippar, Babylonia

Mesopotamia

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Amat Mamu lived an unusual life by the standards of her era. She was a nadītu priestess in Babylonia who worked as a scribe.

It is likely that Amat Mamu was from a noble or even royal family. As women were not able to receive inheritance from their fathers, their only income was from their dowry which, if they became nadītu, they were not allowed to pass on to another man.

We do not know if nadītu were expected to remain unmarried and celibate, but the word nadītu means ‘the fallow’, indicating they were not expected to have children. These women inhabited convent-like enclosures called Gagum’s, where they lived apart from men.

The freedoms afforded to Amat Mamu in this position were significant. The nadītu lived unlike any other women of their time; they did not marry and were financially independent. They were granted the ability to enter into business contracts, borrow and lend money as well as own property. As a result, many of these women were active merchants and tradeswomen.

“Sumerian MS2272 2400BC” Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Amat Mamu herself chose to become a scribe (writer) for her temple, which was a popular vocation among the nadītu; she was one of eight scribes in her gagûm. It is from the records kept on cuneiform tablets that we know her name. Also, we know that she had a long life and her career as a writer spanned the reign of three kings.

Ancient Babylonians attributed the gift of writing to a goddess and the earliest writing tablets (4th millennium BCE) come from a temple where nadītu lived – suggesting that Amat Mamu was part of a lineage traceable to the origins of the written word.


References:

Order, Legitimacy and Wealth in Ancient StatesJanet Richards & Mary Van luren

Who’s Who in the Ancient Near East – Gwendolyn Leick

Sacred Prostitutes – Johanna H. Stuckey

On Wikipedia:


In Fiction:

She Wrote on Clay by Shirley Graetz: a historical fiction novel about a young woman who becomes a Nadītu in ancient Sippar with the ambition to be a scribe – Amat Mamu is a minor character.

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