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Ur headdress belonging to Queen Puabi

Source: Barber, Elizabeth Wayland (1994). Women´s work - the first 20,000 years. Women, cloth and society in Early Times. W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London.


"One haavy cloth to Ashur-Malik previously for his caravan-trip I gave; but the silver from it he has not yet brought me... When the purse you dend, include some wool: wool in the city is costly" - Cuneiform letter from an Assyrian businesswoman to her merchant husband, ca. 1900 Before Common Era.

The realisation that domestic animals could be exploited for wool, milk and muscle power while alive, not just for meat when killed, revolutionised human society as profoundly as domestication itself. By 4,000 BCE in the Near East we see major changes occurring as a result. The advent of plowing with large animals, as we have seen, permanently removed women, especially those with children, from the mainstream of food production. Draft animals were big and dangerous, but the sowing of large fields of grain provided such an efficient source of food that there could be no going back to the old ways. Full-scale agriculture was largely a male occupation.

On the other hand, women had new things to occupy them. For some, this probably included small-scale dairy farming, since the making of yogurt and cheese from the milk of domestic animals increased the variety of storable foods and got around the problem that most adult humans can´t disgest fresh milk. The ability to produce the enzymes that break down milk sugar (lactose) in the stomach, before it gets to the intestines and causes major trouble, is controlled by a dominant gene, but has to be selected for. Long-time pastoral populations, like the Masai of Africa and the people of Northern Europe, have developed that trait. The Masai consume much milk, while northern European cooking relies heavily on fresh cream and milk. Mediterranean and steppe peoples, however, developed their cuisines around yogurt, cheese and koumiss (fermented milk). In these products, nontoxic strains of bacteria (which are carefully preserved and transmitted from one batch to the next) have been introduced to break down or predigest the sugar, thereby functioning also as a short-term preservative. Thus, the French consume the largest amount of milk per capta of any nation in the world today - almost entirely in the form of cheese. Most Chinese adults, on the other hand, cannot tolerate milk, yogurt or cheese in any form. Their civilization did not use milk and generic selection moved in other directions.

In areas where milk did become important, the work became so great that men and women divided it. Thus, in Mesopotamia in the Third Millennium Before Common Era, where the milk herds were large, sculptures show that men tended the flocks and milked them, but cylinder seals depict women doing a task that resembles churning.

As the reliance on grain increased, another related task grew up that fit very well with child rearing: grinding the grain for use, once it came in from the fields. Thus, the equipment for spinning and weaving lies side by side with the grinders in archaeological excavations throughout the Near East - for example, at the little Minoan village of Myrthos (see Chapter 4), or the Iron Age palace of Gordion in central Anatolia. At Gordion, the servingwomen lived in special quarters. Each of these houses yielded scores of spindle whorls, hundreds of loom weights - approximately six hundred in one case - and long rows of grindstones. Our earliest European author, Homer, repeatedly yokes the two occupations to each other and to females, as we have seen in the Odyssey (7.103-5):

"Fifty servingwomen belonged to the house, some of whom grind on the millstone the ruddy grain, while others weave at the looms and twirl their spindles..."

Ordinary housewives daily ground the flour and worked on cloth for the household, while the rich bought slaves to do these tiresome jobs for them. Slavery now flourished - and indeed lasted until self-powered machines became available to do the tasks instead.

Using animals for muscle power solved yet another problem: it made far easier to move goods about, especially after the invention of the axled wheel, which made a load-bearing cart possible. In a sense, the wheel had already been in use for some time, in the form of a spindle whorl, and log rollers had probably been in use since the Palaeolithic. The trick ws to figure out how to attach the rolling part to a nonrotating load bed. Of course, carts needed roads - a new concept in the Neolithic - not just narrow foothpaths. People had to construct such roads, or at least beat them flat, little by little. (Many a road in use today in Europe and the Near East was first laid out in the Bronze or Iron Age.) Furthermore, the earliest type of wheel (the solid slice-of-a-log kind we see so clearly in Sumerian representations of 2500 Before Common Era) was cumbersomely heavy. As a result, both of both of these factors - cumbersome vehicles and few roads - pack animals were far more effective than wheeled transportation for a long time, for both great distances and difficult terrain. They still are in remote regions.

The ability to transport large quantities of goods with animal power (however harnessed) meant that trade could blossom and women´s textiles with it. Trade in small luxury goods like shells from the seacoasts, amber from the Baltic, lapis lazuli from easter Iran, and obsidian from scattered volcanic sites (such as parts of Armenia, central Turkey and the island of Melos) had been trickling across the continents for a long time. Early in the Neolithic, people had discovered that obsidian (volcanic glass) made particularly sharp stone knives, and explorers hunted ever further for sources of these precious modules. In fact, one of the first large towns, Çatal Hüyük in south-central Turkey (see chapter 3) grew up shortly before 6000 BCE, near the foot of a great volcano that in eons past had spewed quantities of obsidian onto the flatland ground. The local inhabitants grew rich, it seems, from trading this volcanic glass. Among the crafts that flourished in the leisure provided by this relative wealth was weaving. Fine textiles of several types (both wide and narrow plain-weave fabrics, weft-twining of two sorts, fringed edges, rolled and whipped hems, and reinforced selvedges) have survived where they lay buried under the house floors, wrapped around the excarnated bones of ancestors. Unfortunately the portion of the town in which people carried out their crafts has not yet been excavated, so we know nothing of that aspect of this society´s organisation.

The size, wealth and complexity of this very early town, however, show the powerful effects of trading an important raw material, in a way strongly parallel to towns later involved in metal trade. As with obsidian, the advent of metal triggered a search that took people far and wide. They sought most especially for the tin with which to harden copper into bronze, as well as for gold and silver for jewelry and tableware. Luxury goods such as fancy textiles and ornate metal vessels, manufactured in the growing cities, often paid for the new raw materials with which to make more, in a never-ending cycle. All these goods traveled along the ever-extending trade routes by means of another invention, the pack-animal caravan.

An archaeologist excavating in central Turkey in 1925 located the end point of one of the most important of the ancient Near Eastern caravan routes, at a city known in early times as Kanesh. Its modern name, Kültepe, simply means "ash mound" - a frequent name-place in Turkey, where people have lived, warred, and burned one another´s cities down for thousands of years. Kanesh was no exception. Enemies burned it to the ground around around 1750 BCE, about 200 years after the Assyrians, trekking westward across 600 miles in pursuit of metals, had established a trade colony, or karum, there. We know from the cuneiform records that nine such karums eventually grew up, of which Karum Kanesh was the largest. It also functioned as the centre of the network. A second of the nine was recently discovered at Acemhöyük, a little further west.) The city of Kanesh, inhabited by the native people, sat atop a high mound composed of the accumulated debris of many centuries of living there. Near Eastern houses were commonly built of mud brick, which lasts at least a few decades, and each time a house needed rebuilding, the remains of the previous dwelling were simply leveled and the new house was constructed on top. As a result, such city mounds grew rather quickly, and they can still be seen all over the landscape in the Near East today. Being high up was an advantage to defense, moreover, especially when the man-made cliff was enhanced by a city wall.

At Kanesh the Assyrian karum lies just outside the parapets of the native town. There the foreign merchants lived, did their business and kept their records - written, fortunatelly for us, in cuneiform on clay tablets, which survive millennia very well. We have accounts of their transactions with the local king and his deputies, who inspected the goods from each incoming caravan and took hefty portion as import tax before allowing the merchants to start selling the rest on the open market. Even so, the 100$ profit available clearly made such taxation bearable.

We also have many of the letters that the traders´wives wrote to them from far away in Ashur, the capital of Assyria - letters about how the family was getting along, but also business matters. For at least some of the wives, daughters and sisters were in business for themselves, acting as textile suppliers to their menfolk six hundred miles away in Anatolia and taking considerable profit therefrom to use for their own purposes.

The men´s trade efforts revolved principally around metals. Anatolia was rich in silver and gold, as well as in copper. But to alloy copper into bronze tough enough for tools and weapons, the local people needed tin as a hardener. The Assyrians had access to sources of tin far to the east of Assyria, and this they transported westward across the continent, first to Assyria and then in part on to Syria and Anatolia.

Tin is heavy, however - too heavy to load much of it onto a donkey´s back. But mixed with textiles, which are bulky (too bulky to put enough of them on an animal for a profitable trip), the load is well balanced. Tin the textiles. That´s what the Old Assyrian traders carried for nearly 200 years from Ashur in Northern Mesopotamia to their trade colonies in central Anatolia. The tin belonged to the merchants, but many of the textiles were the produce and property of the womenfolk, as we larn in circumstantial detal from the little clay tablets.

Assyrian textiles found a ready market in Anatolia, and the women scrambled to get a few more woven before each packtrain departed, negotiating directly with the caravan dirvers to carry the merchandise. Lamassi, the wife of the merchant Pushu-ken, is the woman about whom we know the most. She writes to her husband such business information as: "Kuluma is bringing you 9 textiles, Idi Suen 3 textiles; Ela refused to accept textiles (for transport); Idi Suen refused to accept (another) five textiles".

These drivers had to load their donkeys carefully for the long trip over the mountains; one letter writer warns the arecipient not to pile too much on his donkeys. The cloths were put into protective bags or wrappers, roughly five to a bag, but sometimes more. The cloths might be sorted by quality (ordinary or expensive), and the package might be sealed by the woman sending it. Most of the tin, too, was sealed, after being wrapped in special cloths that were also sold at the other end. Then thee was usually some loose tin, purposely left unsealed so the driver could trade it as needed along the way for his travel expenses. It was so much in demand that it could function as ready cash. (Coins, the first true money, were not invented for another 1500 years.) The records tell us that one particular donkey heading for Kanesh carried twenty-six cloths of two sorts, 65 units of sealed tin, and nine units of loose tin. Usually the goods were grouped into two side packs, carrying 10 or 12 textiles each and/or some tin, plus a smaller pack across the top carrying half a dozen cloths or some loose tin the the driver´s personal belongings.

At the other end the merchants sold the textiles and the tin for the best prices they could get, afte paying the import taxes in kind to the local rulers. Then they sent the profits on the textiles back well and what poorly. A letter from Puzur-Ashur to Waqartum (apparently Lamassi´s daughter) says that he is sending her one mina of silver (about one poud), and please to make more fine textiles like the one he had just received from her, preferably sending them back with the same driver bringing her the payment. But, he says, put more wool into it, and "let them comb one side of the textile; they should not shear it; its weave should be close". And don´t send more "Abarnian" textiles, he instructs her; it must be that he can´t sell them readily because Anatolian tastes differed from Assyrian ones. That does not mean, however, not to keep weaving. In fact, he concludes, "if you don´t manage to make fine textiles in time for the caravan, as I hear it, there are plenty for sale over there. Buy them for me and send them to me."

From such little remarks we glean that, unlike the women of later times who were strictly confined to the harems, these women were free to go out to the market places and buy textiles from other women or buy the wool to make more cloths. They also dealt directly with the donkey drivers and sometimes were asked to attend to legal matters for their absent men.

The women´s rights were still far from equal to those of their husbands. Contemporary dowry contracts from farther South in Babylonia show that if a woman refused to stay married to her husband, she could be drowned, whereas if he refused ther, he merely paid her a fine. But women owned their own property and coujld engage in business for themselves. One woman´s dowry tablet lists a set of weights and a cylinder seal in its own box among her possessions; she was all set up for some sort of commerce. Another Old Babylonian dowry included four slaves or servants, gold and silver earrings and bracelets, "one shekel of gold as a ring for the front of her nose, one blanket, two coats, one leather bag". Other gear included a huge cauldron, two grindstones for flour, four chests, a bed, five chairs, a basket, two trays and two jars of oil, one of them scented.

Not every girl was so well equipped. Of the 10 dowry tablets collected and published by Stephanie Dalley (Old Babylonian Dowries, Iraq 42, 1980, 53-74, quotations from page 61), only two mention looms. The poorest girl received "two beds, two chairs, one table, two chests", plus two grindstones and two empty jars. The tem shekels of silver earnest money put down by the groom´s family, we are told, had been duly tied to the hem of the girl´s dress. Thus, according to the custom, when the girl was delivered and accepted, the earnest money was automatically returned and the marriage deal complete. The dowry list, however, ensured that if the man divorced her or left her a widow, she would get back everything that belonged to her personally, without his relatives being able to cheat her of it.

The particularly rich lady with the nose ring, a priestess, was supplied not only with the homekaing equipment listed above but also with "one ox, two three-year-old cows, 30 sheep, twenty minas (10 kg) of wool" plus "two combs for wool, three hair combs, three wooden spoons, two wooden asu-looms (?), one wooden container full of spindles, one small wooden pot-rack". What with two looms, spindles and all those sheep, she was set up to carry on the kind of home-based business that Lamassi was engaged in. Indeed, among the cloths regularly transported to Anatolia from Assyria are specifically "Akkadian ones", that is, cloths from central Babylonia.

If however, like Lamassi and Waqartum, one had no sheep of one´s own, getting the wool to make the next textiles was sometimes a problem. In three different letters, Lamassi asks her husband to send her wool all the way from Anatolia, compaining that in Ashur it is very expensive at the moment. (In one of these she even asks him to hide her silver in the middle of the wool, to avoid the attention of a tax collector who is after her.) Sending wool from Anatolia was unsual but not difficult. In general, the men expected to buy up godl and silver in Anatolia to send home, but when the silver was scarce, or when something else profitable offered itself, such as particularly nice Anatolian cloths (some of them are mentioned as red), that would do, too. Since the silver and gold were rather smaller than the tin and textiles of equivalent value, manyu fewer donkeys went home to Assyria than caravaned out to Anatolia (some were sold off at the karum), and even those might be more lightly laden. So there was plenty of room for the wool. Sometimes the men even included presents such as jewelry for their wives. The women, for their part, occasionally sent other "good buys" to their husbands. A letter to Pushu-ken from someone else mentions that Lamassi had just arranged to send her husband 10 textiles with one caravan, and with another driver a bundle of minerals.

The money these women earned was not for playing around with, however. They used it chiefly to run their households, to pay taxes, and as capital to buy raw materials for the next textiles to be woven. As a result, they complained bitterly when the men delayed payment. Waqartum writes to her brother that he told her not to go to a solicitor and that she trusted him and did as he said. "But to-day I mean even less to you than a pawned (?) slave-girl, for to a slave-girl you at least measure out food rations; but here I have to live from my debts." She complains that he has swiped the mina of gold that her husband dispatched to her as her profit from various cloths, which she enumerates at length, totaling "in all 15 textiles of good quality. All this is my production, my goods entrusted for sale with profit... My gold you have taken! I beg you...., send it to me with the first caravan and give me courage!"

We get tantalizing glimpses of the households they ran. Lamassi had several children. The older sons went off to join their father at Karum Kanesh, while the daughters stayed in Ashur and undoubtedly learned to weave by helping their mother. Waqartum seems to have been the oldest daughter, doing weaving for her own profit, as we have just seen, apparently in her own household. She was also a priestess, and one gathers that her husband, like her brothers, joined her father´s firm in Anatolia. But there were others in Lamassi´s house, as we see from the following letter she composed to her husband, Pushu-ken: "About the fact that I did not send you the textiles about which you wrote, your heart should not be angry. As the girl has become grown-up, I had to make a pair of heavy textiles for (placing/wearing) on the wagon. Moreover, I made some for the members of the household and the children. Consequently I did not manage to send you textiles. Whatever textiles (literally, my hand) I can manage I will send you with later caravans." Klaas R. Veeholf, the scholar who has translated and analysed many of these letters, remarks that Lamassi is occupied by some important event in the family - mentioned in several of her letters... apparently a religious ceremony involving a daughter... In view of these ceremonies the family had to be provided with garments and "textiles for the wagon"... Unfortunately, we do not know who the nisi bitim [members of the household] were, but it is possible that these people co-operated in the production of textiles in Lamassi´s house. It is also conceivable that part of the profit at one time or another went to purchase slave girls who could help with the weaving and thus expand the business. Capital then as now can beget capital.

I shall take many garments with my tribute to Babylon; I have collected together all the garments that are available here, but they are not sufficient. (Letter to a Mesopotamian queen from her husband after the neighboring city was sacked by Hammurabi of Babylon circa 1820 BCE.)

Women of the merchant class were not only the ones running the textile establishments. Queens did it, too, but for the state rather than directly for themselves. The caravans for which these textiles were destined carried royal gifts from one court to another, na important part of ancient diplomacy which the kings arranged and the queens, to some extent, provided for. Again we learn it from cuneiform letters, in this case letters to rather than from the women.

Iltani was the daughter of King Samu-Addu of Karana, a small city-state on the caravan route betwen Assyria to the east and Anatolia to the west. She lived a couple of generations after Lamassi and Waqartum , and became queen of Karana when her husband, Aqba-hammu, usurped the throne from her brother. Times were tough. Samu-Addu had lost his throne to na earlier usurper and his son had gotten it back only to lose it to Iltani´s husband when political alliances shifted again. Assyria was losing its grip on trade routes, while Hammurabi of Babylon - he of the famous law code - was on the rise, and Aqba-hammu seems to have seen what was coming. History proved him right. Iltani´s brother fled to the great city of Mari, on the Euphrates River in the South, and when its ruler, Zimri-Lim, the strongest man in Northern Mesopotamia refused to become Hammurabi´s vassal, Hammurabi sacked the city ruthlessly. Aqba-hammu took heed and lost no time in paying tribute to the great Babylonian prince - better safe than sorry.

Compared with the great palace operations at Mari, the royal workshops at Karana were small (although officials reported the Karana palace to be especially beautiful). Iltani had at her disposal only about 25 textile workers in comparison to 87 in one of the five textile-related workshops at Mari. Because Karana was fairly a small state, the king could not afford the luxury of a man paid to manage the palace and its business, as Zimri-Lim could at Mari, and his queen took over much more of this work than her Mari counterpart, Queen Shibtu. According to Stephanie Dalley, Iltani had

Some 15 women who spun and wove (2 of them brought a child) and 10 male textile workers. In addition, she employed 2 millers and a brewer called Samkanum, and six girls who worked (unknown capacity). 13 more women, 3 of them each with a child worked for Iltani, again with uncertain tasks; she had a doorman called Kibsi-etar and a man called Anda in charge of pack-asses, also 4 other men".

A man named Kissurum supplied her with wool and did her textile accounts, which had to be checked and sealed by Iltani. The men involved with textiles - to judge from nearly contemporary archives at other Mesopotamian sites - were most likely employed in such ancillary crafts as dyeing the wool or finishing the woven cloth in some way (cleaning it, putting in sizing, fluffing or shearing the nap, etc. ) Men elsewhere were also assigned the arduous job of making felt for pads, covers and linings out of sheep´s wool or goat hair.

Palace workers seem to have come largely from the spoils of war, from inheritance, or occasionally from gifts. While on campaign, Zimri-Lim wrote to his queen: "To Sibtu say, thus say your lord: I have just sent you some female weavers. In among them are some ugbabatum priestesses. Pick out the ugbabatum priestesses and assign them (the rest) to the house of the female weavers". He then instructed her to select the most attractive ones from both this group and the previous batch of captives to send them to a particular overseer (apparently to become religious singers), and to be sure that all of them got enough rations "so that their appearance does not worsen." Slaves were valued for their work, so it behooved one to feed them. They might even be blind, but if they could still work, they merited their keep. A blind woman who ground grain is listed among the recipients of rations in another city, and her rations were as big as anyone else´s. The children of slaves could grow up to become valuable slaves, too, adding to the state. We know that women who spun and wove in the palace and had children were issued extra rations to feed them.

Iltani, on the other hand, had to live with the fact that her husband was no small vassal to do very much plundering and far from being supplied with lots of extra slaves, the queen was constantly being importuned for slaves she felt she could not spare. For example, one of her sisters, a priestess, writes: "The slaves whom my father gave me have grown old; now I have sent half a mina of silver to the king; allow me my claim and get him to send me slaves who have been captured recently and who are trustworthy. In recollection of you, I have sent to you five minas of fist-rate wool and one container of shrimps". A little bribery there. Presents of slaves were not uncommon among the rich, but Dalley mentions several letters showing that giving away slaves who had served faithfully for a lifetime "was regarded as insensitive". She cites a plea to Zimri-Lim from a woman who begs him not to give away her ageing mother as a present. On the other hand, one wonders whether very old and very young slaves were sometimes given away as a means of satisfying a request for a slave while getting rid of a liability. Apparently Iltani once sent as a present a serving boy who was so young that the recipient complains that he has to take care of the boy rather than the other way around!

Other glimpses of daily life through these archives show us that most of the women working in the palaces were either making cloth - spinning and weaving - or helping with the food. The latter involved grinding grain, drawing water, cooking, baking and making beverages (iced fruit juices and wines were among the summer favourites). In Iltani´s palace, however, Dalley points out that the "millers were men, probably for heavier work on a much larger scale." Women singers and musicians of both sexes entertained, a woman doctor was available at Mari, and no fewer than nine of the Mari scribes were women. The women who were most comfortably fixed, after the queen, seem to have been the priestesses. One of Iltani´s sisters was a priestess in a nearby city, while another oversaw some type of weaving at Ashur.

The raw wool from which Iltani´s workers made the palace textiles came mostly from a regular supplier, the accountant named Kissurum - presumably from palace-owned flocks out in the countryside. Occasionally, as in the case just quoted, wool came in as a personal gift and may have been used by the queen for her own dresses. In one case she herself sent wool to a less fortunate friend living in a city that had just been plundered. Sometimes, too, her husband sent her wool directly, especially when he was in a hurry for gifts to distribute. One letter from him says: " Now, I have sent you 25 kg of wool for 50 garments. Make those garments quickly, I need those garments." Large though it may seem, the size of Aqba-hammu´s requisition differs radically from those made by Zimri-Lim in Mari - in one case, six hundred garments at once, in five different colors!

Most often the king needed the cloth and garments for gifts, not only for the formidable Hammurabi himself but also for minor vassals. One letter to Iltani reads:" The king of Shirwun has arrived; he asked of the caravan that was going out to Karana, but it had no garments fit for presents available. Now send me quickly any garments that you have available, whether of first-rate or second-rate quality, for presents." Some of the textiles were used, however, simply to clothe the palace personnel. Zimri-Lim received a rather comical letter from his trusted overseer of palace business, who finally turned to the king to solve a dispute between two obstinate heads of departments. It seems that the four hundred palace workers were due new sets of clothes, but only 100 had actually received them. When the manager looked into the matter, each of the two functionaries insisted that it was the other´s job to provide the remaining clothes and neither would budge from his position.

The types of cloth provided were quite varied and clothing was not entirely new in the 19th century BCE. Two kings of the Sumerian city of Lagash, who lived just after 2400 BCE were already setting up for big business. Lugalbanda, the earlier of the two, employed 12 spinners and weavers. Year by year the number increased, until a dozen years later his successor, Urukagina, had 114, divided into several workshops or weaving houses, each under na overseer.

The people making the textiles at this earlier date are all women, mostly designated as weavers, with a few extra women called spinners. But four spinners cannot supply 37 weavers (these are the figures we have for Year 6). Spinning by hand takes much longer than weaving, so one has to assume that the weavers in these shops normally spun what they then wove. On the other hand, the craft of spinning is quicker to learn and requires far less equipment than weaving, so perhaps women with less skill were assigned to help out with the spinning, perhaps even while learning weaving as apprentices. At the beginning, a man known to be involved in other palace departments functioned as overseer of the textile while, and by the beginning of the Year 6 of Lugalanda´s reign, two more men had been added as group overseers. But the rapid expansion in the next few years apparently made it necessary to promote some of the women weavers to the rank of overseer. Unfortunately, for them the title carried no known tangible benefits, only the extra responsibilites, because they still got 1/6 of a measure of rations, like the other senior weavers, instead of 1/2 measure, like the male overseers.

Among the ration list for these workshops (our chief source of information here), we see a few children listed, both boys and girls - clearly the children of the women. They are assigned a twelfth of a unit of grain each. In addition, however, there are a small number of orphans, also both male and female and also they were assigned for apprenticeship (but then, why boys?) or for the women in the shop to act as their wet nurses or foster mothers - a second job in addition to weaving.

Although we do not know what products these particular women were making, we know from excavation that royalty was already splendidly arrayed. The sumptuous burial of a lady known in the literature as Queen Shub-ab (or Puabi), which are displayed in the British Museum in London, UK, astonished the world when Sir Leonard Woolley published the Ur excavation reports in 1934. Some 74 retainers, male and female, had been drugged and killed in the great Death Pit surrounding her tomb. Guards fell beside their weapons, cart attendants by their animals, musicians next to their great inlaid harps. Each lady-in-waiting departed this world wearing na ornate headdress of gold and silver, huge gold earrings and necklaces of precious stones. The queen herself wore na even larger headdress over what must have been a huge bouffant wig (the picture shown in the beginning of this texty). The garments of all the ladies radiated splendor. Woolley says of them:

In the case of two or three bodies... a stray fragment of cloth was preserved... a thick but closely woven fabric the dust of which still retained a bright ochrous colour. Very many of these had around their wrists beads of gold, carnelian, and lapis lazuli which had not been strung together as loose bracelets but had been sewn to the edges of the sleeves of a garment. ... Around her waist, Queen Shub-ab had a row of gold rings pendant from a heavy band of beads which were sewn to a cloth background.

After citing much more evidence for the positions of durable things like beads, he concludes:

It would seem, therefore, that the costume of ladies of the court, at least, included a coat reaching only to the waist and having long .... sleeves; the cuffs and bottom hem of the coat might be enriched with beads, or along the hem there might be a row of pendant rings in shell or metal. It is likely that the coat was fastened in front and the border with its ring pendants did not hang loose but formed a belt in one piece with the garment. ... Of skirts and undergarments, no traces were discovered.

Such are the problems of trying to learn about something as perishable as cloth. In another spot, however, Wooley had better luck:

[T]here lay round the legs and feet of the skeleton a great quantity of cloth; it was all reduced to fine powder but did, so long as it was undisturbed, preserve the texture of the original sufficiently for three varieties of material to be distinguished. One stuff was rather coarse with a plain over-and-under right-angle weave; the second was a finely woven cloth with a diagonal rib; the third was a loosely woven ight-angle weave fabric on one side of which were long trheads forming either a very deep pile or else "tassels" like those on the skirts of the figures represented on the monuments.


Clearly the palace weavers and seamstresses of Mesopotamia were far down the road to producing sumptuous clothing by 2500 BCE, the approximate time of these burials. The labor may have been increasingly that of slave women - hapless captives of the incessant wars that had srung up over water rights, territorial disputes and the fun of owning sheer material wealth. But in some places, at least, na independent-minded middle class of free women continued for centuries to create handsome, salable textiles for the busy commercial caravans run by their equally business-oriented menfolk.


Even millennium after the Old Assyrian caravans ceased to ply their routes to Anatolia, in another corner of the Near East we get a glowing picture of the last chapter of Proverbs (31.10-25) of the Hebrew woman who still worked industriously at home for the household good:


Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her... She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants´ ship: she bringeth her food for afar. She riseth also while it is yet night and giveth meat to her household and a portion to her maidens. She considereth a field and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard... She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh herself coverings of tapestry and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant. Strength and honour are her clothing, and she shall rejoice in time to come.