Watch and Review – Dr Susanne Paulus | Debts, Crime, and Prison: Daily Life in Babylonia CA. 1200 BC

Archaeological Remains of the city of Ur, modern Iraq. Image from Wikimedia Commons by M. Lubinski CC BY-SA 2.0

This next task was to review a lecture given by Dr Susanne Paulus, given at the Oriental Institute of Chicago in April 2018.

The subject of this lecture is the side of the ancient world that is often obscured from us, the dark backstreet deals, the crimes and the punishments. Paulus’ aim is to open the door and examine the gritty reality of living hand to mouth in the Mesopotamian cities of Nippur and Ur. As there is little evidence of this from the surviving texts and archaeology from Ancient Egypt, it makes for a welcome comparative and allows us to ask lots of board questions about these large kingdoms from this period of the Near-Eastern Bronze Age.

Paulus’ argument was about the lack of large granaries, and how evidence from cuneiform tablets suggests that this is due to a culture of investing and debt, with barley as the currency.  It can be summed as not wanting to leave the barley lying around when you can be investing it and getting more out of it. However, it is pointed out that borrowing from private households is not authorised by the governors. This led to the lecture discussing the role of borrowing, debt, crime and punishment that can arise during this process, a great insight into the private lives of real people in the ancient Near-East.

This content is what the Oriental Institute do best, clear content for informed listeners that are then presented, for free, on YouTube. A question I would ask if I were there would have been, how likely was this kind of debt-bondage a common occurrence across the ancient Near-East?

2 thoughts on “Watch and Review – Dr Susanne Paulus | Debts, Crime, and Prison: Daily Life in Babylonia CA. 1200 BC

  1. Hi! Thanks for watching and reviewing my lecture. To answer your question, yes, debt-bondage is a common occurrence in the Near East. In times of crisis, this could get out of control. Kings had the possibility to reverse the consequences by issuing “decrees of justice” cancelling non-commercial debts and freeing debt slaves!

    Liked by 1 person

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