of women's lives and status in ancient times is a very complicated task
and needs time and space. This very brief article intends to provide much
needed basic information based on archaeological evidence and will primarily
deal with women in Achaemenid times. The material is based on Fortification
and Treasury texts discovered at Persepolis (509-438 BC) and documents
recovered at Susa Babylonia and other major Mesopotamian cities of the
period. These texts provide us with a unique insight into the social and
economic situation of both the royal and non-royal women at the time. In
the texts individual women are identified, payments of rations and wages
for male and female workers are documented and sealed orders by the royal
women themselves or their agents gives us valuable information on how these
powerful women managed their wealth.
The documents clearly
indicate distinctions of status between different members of the royal
household. The titles used by the royal women are determined by the relationship
between these women and the king. For example the King's mother had the
highest rank and seems to be the head of the female members of the household.
The next was the Queen (mother of the crown prince or the principal wife)
followed by the kings' daughters and sisters. They all had titles with
recognized authority at the court, and had their own administration for
managing their considerable wealth. Funerary customs and inscriptions commemorating
the death of royal women also reflect the official recognition of these
women, particularly the king's mother and wife. The king was the ultimate
source of authority and the royal women acted within a clearly defined
spectrum of norms and standards set by the king. However within the spectrum
they enjoyed economic independence, were involved in the administration
of economic affairs, traveled and controlled their wealth and position
by being active resolute and enterprising.
and the ordinary workers are mentioned by their rank in the specific work
group or workshops they were employed. The rations they received are based
on skill and the level of responsibility they assumed in the workplace.
The professions are divided by gender and listed according to the amount
of ration. Records indicate that some professions were undertaken by both
sexes while others were restricted to either male or female workers. There
are male and female supervisors at the mixed workshops as evident by the
higher rations they have received with little difference in the amount
of rations between the two sexes. There are also occasions where women
listed in the same category as men received less rations and vice versa.
Female managers have different titles presumably reflecting their level
of skill and rank. The highest-ranking female workers in the texts are
called arashshara (great chief). They appear repeatedly in the texts, were
employed at different locations and managed large groups of women children
and sometimes men working in their units. They usually receive high rations
of wine and grains exceeding all the other workers in the unit including
and pregnant women received higher rations and sons were clearly preferred
over daughters. If they delivered boys both the mother and the nurse or
the physician received higher rations. The extra payments were given out
for one month only. Consistently mothers of boys received twice the amount
compared to mothers of baby girls. There is no evidence of infanticide
for girls as the number of births of male children only slightly exceeds
the number of girls born.
The most striking
evidence of workers in the texts is for Irdabama. Her workforce appears
at several locations. The range of her personnel extends from smaller units
to groups of several hundred workers of both sexes adults and children
alike. She owned property and had her own private seal. The fact that she
had her own seal indicates that she might have been related to the royal
family. However she is not referred to as a royal and does not belong to
the royal household. She controlled her workforce directly and the number
of officials working for her emphasizes her independent economic status.
Other prominent female managers are also mentioned with relatively large
workforces at several locations. The texts demonstrate that these work
units headed by female managers were found throughout the regions covered
by the archives. It is also clear that ration scales varied according to
the qualifications of laborers in the same profession and that within this
differentiated scheme male and female workers received equal rations. However
in cases where the labor is not specialized it appears that men received
more rations compared to women. In the records numbers of male and female
workers are well balanced a clear indication of women's active and healthy
participation in the economic life of the period.
The texts dealing
with the royal and aristocratic women provide a remarkable picture of the
lives of the people and the workings of the ancient Empire. These documents
clearly identify royal women but also give us a glimpse into the lives
of others involved in the royal circle. We learn about Artim the nanny
for a royal daughter receiving rent for a property she owns. The
tax paid by Madamis another female employee in the royal court indicates
that the land ownership by women was not exclusive to the royal women and
must have been a lot more widespread than anticipated. Such information
indicates a level of independence and recognition of women as legal entities
that could own sell or lease their properties.
The documents recognize
the biological descent of the royal offspring and the significance of the
natural mother. Cambyses and Bardiya are described as descendants of the
same father and the same mother. This implies that there were other children
not born from the same mother. Full and half brothers and sisters are mentioned
plus other women of the king who held a status other than the king's wife.
There is also a remarkable extension of parental terms where non-related
people were called sons or daughters and the elderly were referred to as
father or mother expressing respect and affection.