Cuneiform Digital Library Notes
2014:009        «              »
A note on Ur III administrative procrastination*

Christina Tsouparopoulou
University of Heidelberg

In my forthcoming article on Gula the healing goddess and the dog handlers from the Drehem texts, I observe that one of the overseers of the dog handlers related to Gula, Nawir-ilum the medical practitioner (for whom see Wu Yuhong 2008), was dead for nearly a year (he died in Šu-Suen 8 x; see CUSAS 3, 251 rev. 3, and possibly also CUSAS 3, 250, on tablet Rev. 1; for offerings to the libation place of Nawir-ilum, the sa2-du11 ki-a-nag Na-wi-ir-ilum, see CUSAS 3, 982, 4, dated to Ibbi-Suen 2), while the scribes continued to include his name in the texts designating him the overseer of the handlers of Gula’s dogs (MVN 13, 89, dated to Šu-Suen 8 xii; UDT 171 dated to Šu-Suen 9 iii; PDT 1, 7, dated to Šu-Suen 9 ix). It evidently took the scribes (or rather their administration?) quite some time to correctly identify the new overseer and acknowledge the change in office; Nawir-ilum was only ‘officially’ succeeded a year after his death by a certain Šu-Mamitum in Šu-Suen 9 x (AUCT 1, 224).

This delay raises two possibilities: either there was a communication problem within the administrative sphere, and news circulated slowly, or the succession took longer, and there was no immediate replacement to take over. In both cases, there is an apparent procrastination in the administrative network, of the scribes and their overseers, of the administrators, or of the administrative machinery generally. Explaining the delay as a result of late replacement would indicate that for the continuing functioning of government the overseers were not so important. The accounting machinery could operate without them for a year or perhaps longer.

In both cases we should reconsider our belief in the rigorousness of the Ur III state administration, and welcome Steinkeller’s suggestion that administrative texts were written to document a bureaucratic reality rather than to provide an accurate version of the actual events that took place within it (2004: 68). The need to record an overseer in such transactions shows the stiffness of the Ur III bureaucracy; on the other hand the fabrication of an overseer - a dead one in this case - shows the route administrators chose to circumvent this bureaucratic hurdle.


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ISSN 1546-6566    © Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative | Archival: 2014-04-15