A.1.1.04 – Work in Sesame Fields in Ur III Ĝirsu

This dossier highlights some aspects of sesame cultivation in Ĝirsu[geogr=Ĝirsu], namely the monitoring of sesame cultivation as well as its harvest and transportation, particularly in seeding and harvesting time. Transport by boat was used also with threshed sesame, very likely due to its reduced volume. Before harvest, sacrifices were performed in Ĝirsu sesame fields to invoke a fruitful season.  Furthermore, we learn that sesame was harvested by uprooting the entire plant, as is usually done with traditionally farmed sesame. The farmers deployed in the cultivation of sesame were called „men of sesame“, but also hirelings appear. As in Umma, the cultivation of sesame was tied to obligations toward the provincial administration, in form of a fixed amount of sesame production and as corvée labour. Two brothers, Urabba [individual=Urabba]and Lu-Ninĝirsu[individual=Lu-Ninĝirsu], functioned as central managers in this regard.

1. Messenger Texts

Messenger texts are daily receipts for an „expenditure“ (zi-ga) of foodstuffs by the institution that supplied travellers, i.e., individuals employed in dispatching information throughout the kingdom or in diplomatic activities. These individuals were entrusted with various official missions, i.e., tasks (from the rescue of fugitives to the inspection of fields, the transfer of small livestock, etc.) related to the complex management system of the Ur III kingdom. The individuals moved along the communication routes (roads and waterways) stopping at „guesthouses“ (e2-kaš4) distributed throughout the provinces (Notizia 2009: 21). Among these travellers were those entrusted with the task of taking care of sesame1Notizia 2009: 131-132 D.1.13,15-16. 152-153 I.1.8-12; add also Studies Owen 174 L. 5441.

The official missions document the escort of ships loaded with sesame by soldiers and various individuals, e.g. “soldiers who went/came with the boat of the sesame” (lu2-ĝeštukul ma2 ĝeš-i3-ka-da ĝen-na, MTBM 161). A workforce was sent to sesame fields to supervise sesame cultivation (e.g., „who went to go around the sesame plot“ ki ĝeš-i3[glossary=ki ĝeš-i3] ni10-ni10-de3 ĝen-na, RA 19 042 85) and escort its transportation (e.g. MVN 11 L: “who came/went with the sesame  seeds” ĝeš-i3-da ĝen-na). According to Maekawa 2016b: 59, a certain Šār-ilī was responsible for sesame transportation in the province of Ĝirsu during the third and fourth decades of Šulgi (e.g. TLB 3 145 o. ii 5-7, Šu.35.02.00 and ITT 4 8150, These official missions involving sesame are very often mentioned in the same texts documenting the messengers‘ trips along the Ur[geogr=Ur]Susa[geogr=Susa] route through the Kinunir district (Notizia 2009: 82 - 90). Hence, they are very likely linked to the transportation of sesame that was cultivated in Susa [geogr=Susa]by the branch of the Ĝirsu provincial administration established there (see Archive Ur III Susa, Ur III Ĝirsu and Dossier A.1.1.06).

The texts cluster around two periods of the year, months II/May and III/June, and months VI/September to VII/October, respectively the seeding, and the „beginning of harvesting“ season of sesame (see graph and chart below).

Errands Related to Sesame.

2. Field Work and Harvest of sesame in comparison with flax

Despite the paucity of data on the workforce employed for harvesting in Ĝirsu, we can still outline a scenario comparable to that in Umma [geogr=Umma](see Dossier A.1.1.05).

In month II/May, sesame plots were cleaned of weeds and reeds, very likely in preparation for seeding: „(barley amount) as wages (for) removing reeds and weeds (in) the sesame plot“ (a2 ḫuĝ-ĝa2 ki ĝeš-i3-ka ĝeš-ge u2 zi2, MVN 12 015, Šu.46.02.00, see Waetzoldt 1985: 80-81).

In months VI/September and VII/October, workers (“men” ĝuruš ) were appointed to work on sesame plots very likely for harvesting (TCTI 2 03419, AS.08.06.00; TCTI 2 03451, AS.08.06.00; TCTI 2 03432, AS.08.07.00).

For harvest, sesame plants were uprooted as whole plants (“to tear out, to uproot” bu3-r[glossary=bu3-r]2ASJ 09 329 06 o. ii 9-10, ŠS.09.00.00; Bedigian 2011: 9-10, 335, 357, 378. This verb bu3-r occurs only this one time in connection with sesame; otherwise, it is mainly attested for the uprooting of various types of „weeds“ (u2) and for the harvesting of „flax“ (gu[glossary=gu])3weeds: e.g. CST 611, AS.01.00.00, Ĝirsu; Syracuse 146, Šu.48.00.00, Umma; flax: e.g. CUSAS 16 079, AS.08.11.00, Ĝirsu; AnOr 01 164, ŠS.02.01.00, Umma. Compared to flax, the activity of „uprooting“ is attested only exceptionally for sesame, since the later harvesting of its seeds was of relevance for the administration and not the previous step of the „uprooting“. It was not necessary to document each single work step of the sesame harvest. In Irisaĝrig (Dossier A.1.1.10) one used the verb ur4, literally „to pluck, grab“, instead. Neither the harvesting of flax nor that of sesame is associated with a verb for „cutting“ (zi2); there is only one attestation of harvesting flax by „cutting“ it (ku5-dr)4MVN 07 095 r. 2, 0000.12.00: “who went to cut flax” gu ku5-de3 ĝen-na; see Sjöberg 1984: 162-166 and Molina/Such-Gutiérrez 2004: 6. During months XI/February-I/April, flax was harvested (“to tear out” bu3-r, “to cut” ku5-dr) and then bundled („flax bundles“ sa gu) by „female workers“ (geme2)5e.g. in Umma: Santag 6 135, AS.05.01.00; Rochester 127, ŠS.09.01.00; PPAC 5 0916, ŠS.02.01.00; in Ĝirsu: CUSAS 16 079, AS.08.11.00; MVN 07 095, 0000.12.00. Flax, a winter crop like barley, has a vegetation period of three to four months, hence it had to be sown around month VII/October-IX/December. So far there is no evidence for linseed oil made from “flax” (gu) in the documents of the Ur III period (Waetzoldt 1985: 77-78). „Flax seeds“ (še gu) are rarely documented; in Umma about 83 litres are recorded in month VIII/November, probably for seeding (OrSP 47-49 244, Šu.44.08.00). Fields cultivated with flax are termed “flax plots” ki gu (e.g. Aleppo 148, Šu.42.08.00) whereas sesame fields are called “sesame plots” ki ĝeš-i3[glossary=ki ĝeš-i3]. Hence gu “flax” as a winter crop and še-ĝeš-i3 “sesame” as a summer crop are clearly two distinct crops.

3. Transport of Sesame

Sesame was „threshed“, i.e. the plants with their capsules were „pounded“ to obtain the seeds (tub2[glossary=tub2] „to thresh“, lit. „to pound, to hammer“). This threshed sesame was transported on boats as indicated by two references: (1) “(PN) going to the ships with threshed sesame seeds” ma2 še-ĝeš-i3 tub2-tub2-še3 du-〈ni〉 (TCTI 2 04179 […].08.00); (2) “(PN) gone in order to transfer the threshed sesame seeds across the river” ĝeš-i3 tub2-tub2[glossary=ĝeš-i3 tub2-tub2] i7-de3 bala-e-de3 ĝen-na (SAT 1 180, 0000.01.00). The transport of sesame by boat is also well attested, though unfortunately without indication of the origin or the destination of the transportation (PPAC 5 1578, IS.01.10.00; AAS 177 o. 4-r. 1, 0000.00.00; MVN 07 460 o. 1-2 0000.00.00).

According to Maekawa 2016b: 58 - 59, Šār-ilī – likely a „soldier“ (lu2-ĝeštukul) (TCTI 2 03522, […].11.00) –­­ was responsible for sesame transportation, very likely between Ĝirsu and Susa, though this is not explicitly stated in the documents and thus the direction of transport remains unknown (ITT 4 08150, 0000.00.00; TLB 3 146 o. ii 17-19, Šu.35.02.00; TLB 3 145 o. ii 5-7, Šu.35.02.00; Maekawa 2016b: 58 - 59).

4. Urabba and His Family as Central Managers of Sesame and Sesame Oil in Ĝirsu

The cultivation of sesame in Ĝirsu was tied to obligations toward the provincial government in form of a fixed amount of sesame production and as corvée labour (like in Umma, Dossier A.1.1.5 § 4). The provincial government supervised it by means of drawing up annual balanced accounts of production and expenditures.

According to the „balanced account on the management of oil“ (niĝ2-ka9-aka i3), various individuals provided more than 59,714 litres of sesame to Urabba[individual=Urabba], son of Bazi in the year Amar-Suena 1 (HSS 04 003, AS.01.12.00). 99.2 % of this sesame (59,272.5 litres) was provided by Lu-Ninĝirsu[individual=Lu-Ninĝirsu], son of Bazi and brother of Urabba.

Urabba[individual=Urabba] received 3,000 litres of sesame as repaid arrears (TÉL 070, ŠS.03.00.00) from Lu-Nadua, otherwise attested as a “man of sesame” (lu2 ĝeš-i3[glossary=lu2 ĝeš-i3], ASJ 09 329 06 o. ii 9, ŠS.09.00.00). Urabba and his son Seskala 1[individual=Seskala 1] also managed up to 5,440 litres of „sesame“ (še-ĝeš-i3) as their „workload“ (a2-ĝeš-ĝar-ra) and/or for the „oil allotment for female weavers“ (i3-ba geme2 uš-bar[glossary=i3-ba geme2 uš-bar])6TÉL 065, AS.08.00.00; CTPSM 1 140, ŠS.07.00.00; RA 58 105 90, ŠS.09.09.00. According to the balanced account about the management of sesame by a certain Kudamu, Urabba received 15,450 litres of sesame in the year Amar-Suena 8 (TCTI 1 00846). Eventually, numerous tablets of expenditures by Urabba document the usage of sesame oil, mostly for the treatment of textiles, but also, e.g., to anoint individuals, lubricate doors or to apply to the king’s crown (see Urabba[individual=Urabba] and Dossier B.x.x.x).

5. “Men of Sesame” and “Ploughmen of Sesame”

The term for sesame cultivators is usually “men of sesame” lu2 ĝeš i3[glossary=lu2 ĝeš i3] in Ĝirsu[geogr=Ĝirsu]. “Men of sesame” received „food provisions“ (ša3-gal lu2 ĝeš-i3) for their service7OrSP 17 58 IB 045, Šu.45/AS.02.10.00; Nisaba 18 098, Šu.45/AS.02.11.00; CDLN 2015/3 2.22 o. i 1ˈ-7ˈ, r. vii 14’-36’, Šu.45.00.00 and textiles as a „wage“ (a2 lu2 ĝeš-i3-ka-〈ke4〉-ne-še3, TCTI 2 04331, AS.07.11.00). This occurred mostly during months X-XI. They, or their supervisors for them, could reimburse (su-g) their outstanding workload with silver (SAT 1 429, Šu.43.00.00; ASJ 09 329 06 o. ii 9-10, ŠS.09.00.00). Up to 74 “men of sesame” (lu2 ĝeš-i3-me) are documented in Ĝirsu (CTPSM 1 099 o. 1’-2’, 0000.00.00) as belonging to the „house of the  temple administrator“ (e2 šabra e2), though the text is fragmentary and offers no additional details on their role. „Men of sesame“ were also included in inspection lists from various institutions („temple, house“ e2; „shrine“ e š3) in Ĝirsu. These inspections included various professions like „cult priests“ (gala), „merchants“ (dam-gara3), „weavers“ (uš-bar), „scribes“ (dub-sar) and were collected in „tablet baskets“ (bešeĝ dub-ba)8„tablet basket (of the) passed on inspections of men of sesame” bešeĝ dub-ba gurum2 aka dib-ba lu2 ĝeš-i3-ke4-ne: ITT 5 06981, IS.01.00.00; „tablet basket (of the) passed on inspections of (…) men of sesame“ bešeĝ dub-ba gurum2 aka dib-ba (…) lu2 ĝeš-i3: HSS 04 125, AS.03.00.00 ; „tablet basket (of the) inspections“ bešeĝ dub-ba gurum2 aka: MVN 22 131, Šu.43.00.00; OTR 162, AS.02.00.00; [N.B.: the reading of „men of sesame“ lu2 ĝeš-i3 remains doubtful in Aegyptus 10 265 15 r. 4, […].07.21 Umma].

Only rarely one finds other terms for sesame cultivators, especially “ploughmen of sesame” (engar ĝeš-i3[glossary=engar ĝeš-i3]), as in Umma. Field work in the sesame plots was carried out by „ploughmen of sesame“ (engar ĝeš-i3) (MVN 07 488, Šu.32.00.00) and by hirelings („work of hirelings on sesame plots“ a2 lu2 ḫuĝ-ĝa2 ki ĝeš-i3-še3, TCTI 2 03450, ŠS.08.00.00), the ploughmen receiving 60 litres barley each (MVN 07 488, Šu.32.00.00; HLC 1 246 (pl. 030) o. 1, Šu.48.11.16).

6. Sacrifices on Sesame Fields and Sesame Boats

As in Irisaĝrig (Dossier A.1.1.10 § 5) also in Ĝirsu sacrifices were offered in the sesame fields mostly before harvest in months V/August-VI/September9in month V/August: TCTI 2 04268,; MTBM 272, AS.04.05.00; in month VI/September: STA 08 r. v 26, AS.05.10.00. The texts from Ĝirsu also document sacrifices shortly before seeding in month I/April (PPAC 5 1227, 00.00.01-02.00) and for „three months“ (iti 3-kam) from month IV/July to VI/September, that is, the period between seeding and harvesting (PPAC 5 0149, Šu.48.00.00). Such sacrifices in the fields are known for various crops in Ĝirsu and Umma in the Ur III period (Sallaberger 1993: 264-270, 301-303).

„Sacrifices (on) sesame boats“ (siškur2 ma2 ĝeš-i3) were also performed in month VIII/November and XI/February (Nisaba 22 162,; TCTI 2 02631, […].11.00; TCTI 1 00875, […].00.00).


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