Ennigaldi – fl. 547 BCE – Ur, Mesopotamia

Mesopotamia

The ultimate career woman, Ennigaldi devoted her life to no less than three full time occupations, including archaeologist and curator of the world’s first museum – “For the marvel of the beholders”.

20150629_191039

A day in the life of Princess Ennigaldi:

The Mesopotamian princess would have woken and eaten breakfast in her private quarters within the Palace at Ur, known as E-Gig-Par (now in Iran). Ennigaldi might then have gone to oversee the Priestess School which she administrated as High Priestess. The upper class women who were educated there were literate and learned a dialect known as Emesal, which was a special women’s language.

Ennigaldi was a beloved educator, spending less time than her predecessors had on the corporal punishment of her students. She herself loved to learn, and had a particular passion for history. Her father, King Nabonidus took an interest in antiques and restoration – in fact he is considered the first serious archaeologist, undertaking a number of excavations during his reign. The King clearly passed this fascination on to his daughter, who was inspired to create the first museum known to history.

The museum was built in the Palace complex, close to Ennigaldi’s living quarters. It contained artefacts excavated by her father, and some originally collected by famous Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. Many of them were centuries old by Ennigaldi’s time and she used them to educate others on the history of Mesopotamia and her dynasty’s heritage.

The antiquities were arranged neatly side by side, as in many modern day museums. Each individual piece was labelled with a description– carefully translated into a number of languages. Ennigaldi’s name is also inscribed throughout the museum as ‘Bel-Shalti-Nannar’, which is the title she was given after her ascension to High priestess. King Nabonidus shows an obvious affection and pride for his daughter, with whom he shared this common interest, writing:

I built anew the house of Bel-shalti-Nannar, my daughter, the priestess of Sin. And: May Bêl-shalti-Nannar the daughter, the beloved of my heart, be strong before them; and may her word prevail.

In her evenings, Ennigaldi would attend to her duties as High priestess. She worshipped Nanna (also known as Sin) the moon god in the Great Ziggurat of Ur, an enormous pyramid shaped Temple. She carried out her religious rituals and prayers in a small temple at the top of the Ziggurat known as the giparu, which her father had restored especially for her.


References:

The story behind the world’s oldest museumAlasdair Wilkins

Ur Excavations vol. IX: The Neo-Babylonian and Persian Periods Sir Leonard Woolley

On Wikipedia:


Notes:

Emesal – Meaning “fine tongue” or “high-pitched voice”, though often translated as “women’s language.” It is used exclusively by female characters in some literary texts. In addition, it is dominant in certain genres of cult songs.

Advertisements

Tomyris – fl. c. 530 BCE – Eastern Iran

Ancient Iran

“Now hear what I advise, and be sure I advise you for your good. Restore my son to me and get you from the land unharmed… Refuse, and I swear by the sun, bloodthirsty as you are, I will give you your fill of blood.”

20150629_191014

Queen Tomyris ruled over the Massagetae, a nomadic warrior tribe in what is now Eastern Iran. We know little of her life outside of one major military campaign in which she defeated Persian ruler Cyrus the Great. The Massagetae were famous for their skills in battle. They fought both on foot and on horseback, and were particularly adept with battle-axes. They worshipped the sun and wore armour made of gold and brass.

Tomyris had ruled alone since the death of her husband. Elsewhere, Cyrus the Great had been ploughing his way through ancient Mesopotamia. After conquering the Kingdom of Babylon which neighboured Tomyris’ lands, he was looking to expand his territory further. He sent an ambassador to Tomyris, asking for her hand in marriage. The Messagetae queen was no fool, and refused to give up her power to the Persian emperor. At once, Cyrus declared war and began building a bridge to cross the river into Tomyris’ territory.

Tomyris soon became bored of Cyrus’ building project, and sent a letter asking to move things along. She gave Cyrus the option of leaving in peace, or picking a side of the river to fight on. Cyrus was ready to call Tomyris over into Persian territory to do battle there, when one of his advisors, Croseus, chimed in with some advice that proves chauvinism is never a useful tactic. He told Cyrus that it would be a disgrace to give a woman any ground. They should take the fight to her.

Croseus also had a plan to lure the Messagetae armies into a trap – by cooking them dinner. Once they were on the other side of the river, the Persians made sure there was plenty of food laid out – as well as gallons of wine, which the Messagetae did not produce and were not used to drinking (preferring to imbibe in hashish and fermented mare’s milk, naturally). When the rival army arrived, they found not the Persians, but a delicious feast!

Unable to believe their luck, the army sat down and gorged themselves until they were too full and drunk to move. Cyrus took this opportunity to swoop in and take the incapacitated men prisoner. Among these was General Spargapises – Tomyris’ son.

When the Queen heard what had happened she was furious. She considered it a poor success to capture an army of drunken men, and threatened Cyrus that if she did not get her son back then she would give the Persians their ‘fill of blood’. When Cyrus simply ignored her, Tomyris gathered all of her forces and attacked.

The Massagetae won, destroying the Persian army. Cyrus was killed, ending his twenty-nine year reign. Once the battle was over, Tomyris commanded that Cyrus’ body was found and brought to her. Triumphant, she filled a skin with blood, sliced off her enemies head and dunked it in.

"Tomiris" by Peter Paul Rubens. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Tomiris” by Peter Paul Rubens. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“I live and have conquered you in fight, and yet by you am I ruined, for you took my son with guile; but thus I make good my threat, and give you your fill of blood.”


References

Herodotus: Queen Tomyris of the Messagetai and the Defeat of the Persians Under Cyrus

On Wikipedia:

Amat Mamu – c. 1750 BCE – Sippar, Babylonia

Mesopotamia

20150412_153833

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.

Puabi – c.2600 BCE – The City of Ur, Sumer

Mesopotamia, Sumer

Puabi of Ur

Between 1922 and 1934, renowned British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley was working on the most important dig of his career. The excavation project took place in southern Iraq, which was once the heart of ancient Mesopotamia and the cradle of civilisation.

Under the blazing heat of the desert, Woolley worked in the ruins of the Sumerian City state of Ur. There he would uncover every archaeologists’ fantasy; a previously untouched tomb, the likes of which had not been seen since the treasures of Tutankhamun.

An artists' impression of a Sumerian woman's beauty regime

An artists’ impression of a Sumerian woman’s beauty regime

The tomb of Puabi had not been disturbed like so many others nearby, and so still contained everything she had been buried with – a fortune.

It was clear that Puabi had been an extremely wealthy woman in life. There were piles of gold jewellery, elaborate gold leaf headdresses, beads of carnelian and lapis lazuli, rings, earrings, golden dinnerwear, a beautiful silver plated lyre, jewelled hairpins, bracelets and pots of cosmetics.

On top of this, Puabi had been buried with no less than fifty-two attendants; ritual sacrifices to serve her in the afterlife, each dressed as elaborately as their mistress.

Today, Puabi’s headdress is an iconic and visceral connection to the lady herself. It would have been supported by a very large, black wool wig, giving us a clear idea of how Puabi looked when she was alive – dressed in the height of Sumerian fashion.

Puabi was approximately forty when she died and a Semitic Akkadian rather than a native Sumerian. Other than these sparse facts, we know very little about who Puabi was. Her cylinder seal tells us that her title was Puabi Nin – which might mean she was either a Priestess or a Queen.

A headdress from the tombs of Ur on display at the British Museum (taken by me)

A headdress from the tombs of Ur on display at the British Museum

What is interesting about Puabi’s seal is that it does not refer to any man. Usually we would expect to find reference to a woman’s father or husband in burials from this time.

The absence of male presence indicates that whoever Puabi was, she had wealth and status in her own right.


Notes

  • A cylinder seal is a small round cylinder, typically about one inch in legnth, engraved with written characters or figurative scenes or both, used to roll an impression onto a surface – usually wet clay. This acted as a signature for high status people.
  • Some sources refer to Puabi as Shub-Ad based on an earlier mistranslation.
  • I am very grateful to Leonard Woolley’s wife, Katherine Woolley, who is responsible for creating the model head of Puabi which served as the inspiration for my embroidered portrait.

References:

The cylinder seal of Puabi at the British Museum

Penn Museum – Dressing Queen Puabi (with video)

Ur of the Chaldees – Sir Leonard Woolley

On Wikipedia:


Other media:

The Take Back Halloween Project has an excellent page on dressing up as Puabi!