National Geographic : 1951 Jan
A Prosperous Babylonian Matron Shops for a Slave Girl BABYLONIAN LAW, as represented by the famous Code of Hammurabi, recognizes slaves as the third class in con temporary society, together with the two upper groups who correspond to the patricians and plebeians of the Romans. Always an economic asset under that system, slaves were the victims of capture in war or of hopeless indebtedness in their own community. They could also be acquired through purchase in the open market. Especially sought after for servitude were the men and women from the mountains to the north and northeast of Babylonia, the region of ancient Subartu and Lullu. Numer ous letters and business documents of the second millennium make special mention of Subarian and Lullu slaves, a tribute to the sturdiness and other desirable qualities of these moun taineers, though one hardly enjoyed by the victims. So widespread was their reputation that the cuneiform symbol for "male slave" is made up of the signs for "male" and "eastern mountains," while the symbol for "female slave" is similarly composed of the signs for "woman" and "eastern mountains." Clearly, then, this situation is as old as cuneiform writing itself. Interestingly enough, the highly competent porters of mod ern Baghdad are members of a special ethnic group, not Arabs or Kurds, but Lurs, from the Iranian district of Luristan-an area adjacent to that which provided the favorite slaves of the third and second millenniums B. c. Possibly the Lurs are descendants of the ancient Lullu. The cost of slaves was subject to variation from place to place and from period to period. Prevailing political and economic conditions also had their effect on theslave market. The average price was between 30and 40 shekels of silver, or as much as the cost ofthree orfour ordinary bulls. The Code of Hammurabi allows surgeons for aserious operation, successfully performed, 10shekels from apa trician, five from a plebeian, but only two from aslave. In Hammurabi's times (end ofthe18th and beginning of the 17th century B. c.), one ofthebest known slave centers was based at Eshnunna, about 20miles northeast of modern Baghdad, between the important cities inthe south and the hill country. The background ofourscene isasection of that city, reconstructed by theAmerican excavators from the Oriental Institute of the University ofChicago. The prospective buyers include one (with the grooved cap) from as far west as Mari.Tothe left isseen aprosperous slave merchant extollingthe qualities ofaSubarian girl to an even more prosperousBabylonian woman. The letter from which the quotation under thepicture was taken was addressed to awoman. That thewomen of Mesopotamia often achieved considerable success inbusiness is indicated by records dating from thethird millennium. To the right, a male Lullu slave ismade todisplay his strength by carrying on hisback atrussed-up bullock. This particular demonstration may never have been attempted in ancient times. Modern counterparts oftheLullu, however, have transported grand pianos inthe same fashion. It is doubtful whether their prodigious feats ofstrength will remain on display much longer, for notafewofthe Lurs of Baghdad have been sending their sons toOxford.