A legal text at the Russell Library, Maynooth University

CDLN 2015:6

Cuneiform Digital Library Notes (ISSN: 1546-6566)

Published on 2015-04-15

© Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License except when noted otherwise and in the case of artifact images which follow the CDLI terms of use.

Klaus Wagensonner


Yale University

Legislation and jurisdiction form an important area of research in ancient Near Eastern studies. Textual sources for the legal systems emerging in Mesopotamia and beyond are manifold. Several major law collections dating to the 3rd through 1st millennia BC have survived in the cuneiform record. Those allow for analyses of legal matters such as inheritance, marriage, crime, and punishment. However, our perception of the legal systems is largely enriched by the everyday documentation, which is known from legal texts, court procedures, and even letters. The major law collections such as the Codex Ur-Namma or the Codex Hammurabi belong to the realm of royal inscriptions and do not necessarily represent common law (Roth 1995: 13). The rules and regulations collected in them usually do not even mirror the situation in the contemporary legal texts and therefore they represent another kind of dataset.

The dense documentation in the Ur III period, which allows for reconstructing the economic processes in the central and peripheral administrations, testifies to an extensive amount of legal texts as well. A great number of these texts was studied by Adam Falkenstein in his Neusumerische Gerichtsurkunden (NG; Falkenstein 1956-1957). Nonetheless, since then many new texts have become available, which help to shed more light on various aspects of the legal system in Mesopotamia at the end of the 3rd millennium BC. One of these texts shall be the topic of this short contribution.

The amount of cuneiform artefacts collected in Ireland is comparatively modest. Its largest collection, the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, holds 142 artefacts inscribed with cuneiform, whose core forms the acquisition of the former Berens collection. Smaller collections of cuneiform artefacts are frequently the result of gifts and donations to institutions. St. Patrick's College Maynooth, just outside of Dublin, was endowed with a considerable number of artefacts. The tablets were brought to the College by an Irish army chaplain shortly after WW I in a straw basket. They were later re-housed in a wooden box with six drawers. A complete study of the collection is currently in process. The texts were numbered at an initial survey by Wilfred G. Lambert and Kevin Cathcart. In the process of digitising the collection new numbers were assigned to the text using the specific location of a tablet in the box (RLM 4I, for instance, is located in drawer 4, compartment I). The texts in this collection dating to the Ur III period provide a good glimpse of various aspects of the administration, such as labour management, animal husbandry, and agriculture. Their state of preservation is rather good. In summer 2014 the texts kept at the Russell Library, St. Patrick's College Maynooth, were digitized within the framework of CDLI. This work was carried out with the assistance of librarian, Barbara McCormack. The collection kept there contains 64 cuneiform artefacts as well as one stamp seal dating to the pre-writing period. An additional cylinder seal has currently not been located. Maynooth is therefore the second-largest collection of cuneiform texts in Ireland, followed by the National Museum of Ireland (publication in preparation by the author), the Weingreen Museum in Trinity College, Dublin, and the Trinity College Library. All collections except for the last-mentioned have been catalogued and digitised by CDLI.

The tablets kept at the Russell Library can be neatly categorized into two corpora. Sixteen artefacts date to the Early Old Babylonian period and deal with a well-known inscription by king Sîn-kāšid of Uruk. The remainder of the collection contains documents deriving from the complex and vast administration drawn up in the last century of the 3rd millennium, the so-called Ur III-period.

Fig. 1: Hand copy of RLM 4I

RLM 4I (Fig. 1) is a partly broken document. Its obverse is fully preserved except for a large section at the lower left corner. The first three or four lines on the reverse are chipped off; the last line divider is still visible and the remainder of this side was left blank. There is no indication whether this tablet was dated or not. One would expect a date at the bottom of the reverse. (Testimony to its more recent history is a piece of straw still sticking in one of the cracks in the reverse, which quite likely originates from the basket in which the tablets were brought to the library [indicated in the hand copy].)


1. mur-ge6-par4
2. lugal-ra gaba i3-in-ri
3. ama-gi-na nin9-gu10 geme2-ni nu
4. ensi2-ke4 in-hul bi2-in-du11
5. igi {NAM2 GEME2 NI} -še3
6. ama-gi-na nam-geme2-še3 ba-gi-in
7. u3 ga-za-mu ama-ni [nam]-geme2-še3 ba-gi-in
8. [x (x)]-ni-še3
9. [x x (x)]
10. [x x x] AK
  (not more than one line broken)
  (three or four lines broken)
  (remainder uninscribed)
  Ur-gepar confronted the king (and) stated:
“My sister Amagina is not(?) a slave-girl! The city governor treated her badly.”
Earlier(?)/Before (them/him), Amagina was confirmed in (her) status as slave-girl,
and her mother Gazamu was confirmed in her status as slave-girl (as well).
For her [status as slave-girl] the shepherd(?) [PN] [...]
(remainder broken)


(1) A personal name Ur-gepar is well known from sources dating to the Ur III period. However, without patronym an identification of this individual is impossible. Nonetheless, most evidence for this name can be found in texts from Umma (modern Tell Jokha). A certain (quite possibly unrelated) Ur-gepar is also mentioned in the unpublished legal text MS 1946, lines 1-3 in column ii:

1. mu ur-ge6-par4-ka-še3
2. en3-bi tar-re-dam
3. inim-dinana ib2-gi-ne2

(2) Maybe lugal needs to be understood here as the owner of the slave girl and not the king. However, Ur-gepar is complaining about a city governor, who treats his sister Amagina badly. Therefore the meaning “king” is retained here. The verb gaba--ri is not ambiguous in this sentence. It means “to oppose” or rather “to face” someone. In legal documents this expression is not well attested. It appears, however, in the Old Babylonian text YBC 9839, which was interpreted as “model court case concerning inheritance” by William Hallo. There, lines 6-8 state the following (Hallo 2002: 146-147):

6. man-ne2-ba-ab-du7-e?
7. pu-uh2-ru-um nibruki-ka
8. gaba i-in-ri
12. (...) bi2-in-du11
  Anne-babdu confronted the assembly of Nippur (...) (and) declared: (...).

Adam Falkenstein discussed an hitherto singular occurrence of the verb gaba--ri in combination with lugal: lugal-e gaba i-ib2-ri-eš igi-ne-ne in-gar-eš-ma, “They confronted the king, appeared before him” (Falkenstein 1956-1957: I, 609 and see Kraus 1951: 189). RLM 4I now provides a new attestation for this intriguing phrase.

The king's (or: in “city states” the steward's) role as supreme judge is not directly attested in court documents. It may be inferred from non-legal sources, on the basis of general considerations and because oaths by the king's name or life are sworn in litigation and in contracts from the Sargonic period onwards. (Wilcke 2007: 36)

(3-4) This and the subsequent line deal with the testimony of Ur-gepar, presumably before the king or his court. His statement ends with the finite verbal form bi2-in-du11, “he said”. Ur-gepar's statement consists of two parts. The second sentence is rather clear. It deals with a mistreatment of Ur-gepar's sister Amagina by the city governor (ensi2). The verbal base hul is relatively well attested in legal texts of the Ur III period. Usually this verbal base is used for objects such as, for instance, gardens or fields. However, in two texts it is used referring to individuals. ITT 2, 3547 (= NG 169) reads as follows:

20. mu nin-hi-li-su3 e2-ab-ba-na-ka ab-da-tuš-a
21. lu2-dnin-šubur nam-lu2-la ga-ba-a-hul-a-še3
22. nam-dam-ni-ta nin-hi-li-su3-ke4
23. tug2 ib2-da-an-ur3
  Because Ninhilisu (wanted) to remain in the house of her father (and said): “I could damage Lu-Ninšubura in (his) status”, Ninhilisu renounced her status as wife.

The interpretation of the first sentence rests on the sign NU which is just squeezed on the right edge after geme2-ni. Recently Gábor Zólyomi collected instances of the “negated copular clauses”, which are written just with the negative particle in the 3rd person Sg. (Zólyomi 2014: 24-25; see also Jagersma 2010: 717, “Negative declarative clauses”; personal communication G. Zólyomi). This instance in RLM 4I is another attestation of this quite rare writing. Negated forms of the verb me are quite well attested in the Ur III legal texts dealing with matters of slavery. Usually the slave him- or herself states that he or she is not the slave of a certain individual such as in ITT II, 744 (see Falkenstein 1956-1957: II, 53):

2. mšeš-kal-la dumu ur-dlama-ka-ke4
3. ir3 ur-dšuš3-dba-ba6-ka nu-u3-me-en3
4. bi2-in-du11
  Šeškalla, son of Ur-Lama, said: “I am not the slave of Ur-šuš-Baba.”

Apart from these plene writings there are also attestations with much shorter spellings, such as nu-me in ITT II, 3810, line 4.

(5) This line was partly erased by the scribe. The sign remains point to *nam-geme2-ni-še3>, “for her status as slave-girl”. Line 8 ends with the element -ni-še3. It is therefore likely that the scribe started with this whole section already in line 5. For a similar construction see CDLJ 2002/2 (Widell 2002b):

18. igi-bi-še3 nam-ARAD2
19. i3-in-[gi]-in
  Before them, the servant status (of PN) he has made (legally) firm.

It is difficult to say, whether the erasure engulfs the first sign as well. In that case the whole line is meant to be erased. This is, however, in light of the above mentioned parallel unlikely.

(6-7) Both lines contain the phrase PNf nam-geme2-še3 ba-gi-in, “PNf is confirmed in (her) status as slave”. For attestations see Falkenstein 1956-1957: III, 146 s.v. nam-gemé. For attestations of the verbal base gi-in see Falkenstein 1956-1957: III, 114-115. The PN ga-za-mu is rarely attested. In TUT 159 Gazamu is mother of a certain Geme-Baba (col. i, 16'-17').

(8-9) As mentioned above, the erased phrase nam-geme2-ni-še3, “for her status as slave-girl”, in line 5 is to be expected in this line. However, the subsequent text is too broken to give any judgement regarding its exact content. The sign IŠ at the end of line 9 might indicate the frequently attested occupation šuš3, “shepherd”. In this case, one expects a PN preceding it. If the identification of the sign AK in the subsequent line is correct, it most likely is a verbal base, but compare the following attestation in UET 3, 43:

5. igi di-ku5-ne-še3
6. nam-ARAD2-ni-še3
7. ba-gi-ne-[eš]
  Before the judges they confirmed his status as slave.

The individuals, which are present in court cases were discussed by Manuel Molina. Among bystanders there are also those, whose occupation suggests otherwise. There is, for instance, a certain [Lu(?)]-Suen, whose occupation is fattener (kurušda).


If the court in the Ur III state concluded a legal case, a document was drawn up, which contained the header di-til-la, “concluded case”. This header usually occurs on court protocols, which originate from Girsu. Similar texts from Umma, as the text edited in this contribution, lack this expression (Sallaberger 1999: 224-225+292).

Recently Manuel Molina published a study on the responsible court officials in legal texts that originate from Umma based on internal criteria. Based on 132 legal texts Molina mentions that the examples from Umma are not as consistent in terms of the involved court personnel as similar evidence from Girsu. The latter usually include a commissioner (maškim) directly before the responsible judges (see, for instance, ITT II, 920 [= NG 106], which includes two commissioners and three judges). The highest official in the court cases is the governor, but there are also a selection of various other high officials involved (Molina 2013: 125-126). In her PhD thesis about dispute resolution in the legal texts from the Ur III period Laura Culbertson refers to the scant information that is available on the king in court cases (Culbertson 2009: 156-158).

The court documents drawn up by the central administration were archived together and tagged by a label called pisan-dub-ba, “tablet basket”. These small documents were attached with a string to the basket, which contained the respective tablets. There are several examples, which concern concluded trials (di til-la), such as ITT 2, 810 (= NG 221), which mentions four judges responsible for the cases enclosed in the basket (Sallaberger 1999: 215, text 5 and Lafont 2000: 382). A large group of legal texts from Umma came to the British Museum in one lot (collections 1913-04-16 and 1914-04-04), which were sold by the well-known antiquities dealer I. Elias Gejou and originate presumably from the same findspot (Molina 2008: 127; Molina 2013: 125).

Culbertson, Laura E.
  2009 Dispute Resolution in the Provincial Courts of the Third Dynasty of Ur. PhD Dissertation, University of Michigan.
Falkenstein, Adam
  1956-1957 Die neusumerischen Gerichtsurkunden, vols. I-III. München.
Hallo, William Wolfgang
  2002 “A Model Court Case Concerning Inheritance”. In: T. Abusch (ed.) Riches hidden in secret places: ancient Near Eastern studies in memory of Thorkild Jacobsen (Eisenbrauns: Winona Lake):141-154.
Jagersma, Abraham Hendrik
  2010 A descriptive grammar of Sumerian. PhD Dissertation, Universiteit Leiden.
Kraus, F. R.
  1951 “Nippur und Isin nach altbabylonischen Rechtsurkunden”. JCS 3:iii-xiv, 1-228.
Lafont, Bertrand
  2000 “Les textes judiciaires sumériens”. In: F. Joannès (ed.) Rendre la justice en Mésopotamie. Archives judiciaires du Proche-Orient ancient (IIIe – Ier millénaires avant J.-C. (Presses Universitaires de Vincennes: Saint-Denis):35-68.
Molina, Manuel
  2008 “New Ur III Court Records Concerning Slavery”. In: Piotr Michalowski (ed.) On the Third Dynasty of Ur: Studies in Honor of Marcel Sigrist (JCSS 1; ASOR: Boston):125-143.
  2013 “Court Officials at Umma in Ur III Times”. ZA 103:125-148.
Roth, Martha T.
  1995 “Mesopotamian Legal Traditions and the Laws of Hammurabi”. Chicago-Kent Law Review 71:13-39.
Widell, Magnus
  2002b “A Previously Unpublished Lawsuit from Ur III Adab”. CDLJ 2002:2.
Wilcke, Claus
  2007 Early Ancient Near Eastern Law: A History of Its Beginnings. The Early Dynastic and Sargonic Periods. Eisenbrauns: Winona Lake.
Zólyomi, Gábor
  2014 Copular Clauses and Focus Marking in Sumerian. De Gruyter.
* I would like to thank the Russell Library and, in particular, Barbara McCormack for the support in studying the collection.
Cite this Article
Wagensonner, Klaus. 2015. “A Legal Text at the Russell Library, Maynooth University.” Cuneiform Digital Library Notes 2015 (6). https://cdli.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/articles/cdln/2015-6.
Wagensonner, Klaus. (2015). A legal text at the Russell Library, Maynooth University. Cuneiform Digital Library Notes, 2015(6). https://cdli.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/articles/cdln/2015-6
Wagensonner, Klaus (2015) “A legal text at the Russell Library, Maynooth University,” Cuneiform Digital Library Notes, 2015(6). Available at: https://cdli.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/articles/cdln/2015-6 (Accessed: April 23, 2024).
	note = {[Online; accessed 2024-04-23]},
	address = {Oxford; Berlin; Los Angeles},
	author = {Wagensonner,  Klaus},
	journal = {Cuneiform Digital Library Notes},
	issn = {1546-6566},
	number = {6},
	year = {2015},
	publisher = {Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative},
	title = {A legal text at the {Russell} {Library}, {Maynooth} {University}},
	url = {https://cdli.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/articles/cdln/2015-6},
	volume = {2015},

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