AGRICULTURE, CROPS, IRRIGATION AND LIVESTOCK IN MESOPOTAMIA

AGRICULTURE IN MESOPOTAMIA

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People on the Tigres and Euphrates learned how to domesticate plants and animals about 10,000 years ago. The world's first wheat, oats, barely and lentils evolved from wild plants found in Iraq. Mesopotamia was ideally suited for agriculture. It was flat and treeless. There was lots of sun and no killing frosts and plenty of water from two mighty rivers that flooded every spring, depositing nutrient-rich silt on the already fertile soil. Major crops included barley, dates, wheat, lentils, peas, beans, olives, pomegranates, grapes, vegetables. Pistachios were grown in royal gardens in Babylonia.

Morris Jastrow said: “The population was largely agricultural, but as the cities grew in size, naturally, industrial pursuits and commercial activity increased. Testimony to brisk trading in fields and field products, in houses and woven stuffs, in cattle and slaves is furnished by the large number of business documents of all periods from the earliest to the latest, embracing such a variety of subjects as loans, rents of fields and houses, contracts for work, hire of workmen and slaves, and barter and exchange of all kinds. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 <>]

Claude Hermann and Walter Johns wrote in the Encyclopedia Britannica:“Landowners frequently cultivated their land themselves but might employ a husbandman or let it. The husbandman was bound to carry out the proper cultivation, raise an average crop and leave the field in good tilth. In case the crop failed the Code fixed a statutory return. Land might be let at a fixed rent when the Code enacted that accidental loss fell on the tenant. If let on share-profit, the landlord and tenant shared the loss proportionately to their stipulated share of profit. If the tenant paid his rent and left the land in good tilth, the landlord could not interfere nor forbid subletting. [Source: Claude Hermann Walter Johns, Babylonian Law — The Code of Hammurabi. Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1910-1911]

“Waste land was let to reclaim, the tenant being rent-free for three years and paying a stipulated rent in the fourth year. If the tenant neglected to reclaim the land the Code enacted that he must hand it over in good tilth and fixed a statutory rent. Gardens or plantations were let in the same ways and under the same conditions; but for date-groves four years' free tenure was allowed. The metayer system was in vogue, especially on temple lands. The landlord found land, labour, oxen for ploughing and working the watering-machines, carting, threshing or other implements, seed corn, rations for the workmen and fodder for the cattle. The tenant, or steward, usually had other land of his own. If he stole the seed, rations or fodder, the Code enacted that his fingers should be cut off. If he appropriated or sold the implements, impoverished or sublet the cattle, he was heavily fined and in default of payment might be condemned to be torn to pieces by the cattle on the field. Rent was as contracted.” <^>

See Climate and Weather

Development of Agriculture

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Clay sickle model from Sumer
Agriculture began around 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. Considered the most important human advance after the control of fire and the creation of tools, it allowed people to settle in specific areas and freed them from hunting and gathering. According to the Bible, Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve, developed agriculture and domesticated animals, “Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground,” the Bible reads.

The first documented agriculture occurred 11,500 year ago in what Harvard archaeologist Ofer Ban-Yosef calls the Levantine Corridor, between Jericho in the Jordan Valley and Mureybet in the Euphrates Valley. At Mureybit, a site on the banks of the Euphrates, seeds from an uplands area---where the plants from the seeds grow naturally--- were found and dated to 11,500 years ago. An abundance of seeds from plants that grew elsewhere found near human sites is offered as evidence of agriculture.

Early agriculture is most famously associated with the Fertile Crescent, an arc of land that extends from southern Turkey into Iraq and Syria and finally to Israel and Lebanon. Seeds of 10,000-year-old cultivated wheat have been discovered at sites in Iraq and northern Syria. The region also produced the first domesticated sheep, goats, pigs and cattle.

Around 10,500 years ago agriculture began developing in the Middle East and China and to a lesser extent in Mexico, the Andes and Nigeria. The is also evidence that bananas and taro were cultivated in the highlands of New Guinea at least 7,000 years ago.

See Early Agriculture, First Villages

Impact of Agriculture on Development

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The development of earliest villages in the Middle East coincide with first domestication of grasses like wild barley and wheat. Large fields with these wild grains are still found in Anatolia. Seeds from wild grains ripen over a period of three weeks. A individual using a flint-blade sickle can harvest about two pounds of grain an hour. Grain harvested by a group of people over a three week period can last them a year. Additionally, grain is easier to store than other foodstuffs because it can be dried and preserved and doesn't rot like some kinds of potatoes and vegetables.

Agriculture freed humans from the natural productivity of the territory they occupied and allowed them to manipulate their environment to meet their needs. This in turn allowed them expand their communities and meant they had to spend less time in the pursuit of food, freeing them to do other things.

Agriculture also allowed the birthrate to become significantly higher than the death rate. Many patterns of genetic variation come from population expansions spurred by the development of agriculture.

First Crops, Einkorn and Emmer Wheat

The earliest crops were wheat, barley, various legumes, grapes, melons, dates, pistachios and almonds. The world's first wheat, peas, cherries, olives, rye, chickpeas and rye evolved from wild plants found in Turkey and the Middle East.

Scientists have found genetic evidence that the world's four major grains---wheat, rice, corn and sorghum---evolved a common ancestor weed that grew 65 million years ago.

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The first domesticated crop is believed to have been einkorn wheat, a kind of nourishing grass adapted from a wild species of grass native to the Karacadag mountains near Diyarbakir in southwestern Turkey first cultivated around 11,000 years ago. Scientists deduced this by examining the DNA of modern strains of einkorn wheat and found the were more similar to einkorn wheat grown in the Karacadag mountains than in other places. [Source: John Noble Wilford, New York Times, November 20, 1997]

Collecting seeds from wild grass is not an easy matter. If you pick the seeds before they are ripe they are too small and hard to eat. If you wait so long they fall from the stem and you have to pick them up one by one. With some grasses the period in which the seeds are feasible to collect is only a few days a year. If one wants to get a long term food supply it makes sense to collect as much as you can and take it back to your cave and store it.

Emmer wheat, rye and barley were cultivated around the same time, and is difficult to say which was cultivated first. Emmer wheat and another wheat strain from the Caspian Sea are thought to be the first bread wheats. Emmer wheat is a wild grass. It is thought to have been singled out because its seeds stay attached to the stem significantly longer than that of other grasses.

Cereals were being cultivated in what is now Syria. Lebanon, Israel and Palestine around 10,000 years ago in the 8th millenniums B.C. Barley was first grown in the Jordan valley about 10,000 years ago. The earliest levels of excavations at Jericho indicate that the people that lived there collected seeds of cereal grass from rocky crags flanking the valley and planted them in the fertile alluvial soil.

“How Grain Came to Sumer”

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eikorn Triticum
The story “How Grain Came from Sumer” goes: “Men used to eat grass with their mouths like sheep. In those times, they did not know grain, barley or flax. An brought these down from the interior of heaven. Enlil lifted his gaze around as a stag lifts its horns when climbing the terraced ...... hills. He looked southwards and saw the wide sea; he looked northwards and saw the mountain of aromatic cedars. Enlil piled up the barley, gave it to the mountain. He piled up the bounty of the Land, gave the innuha barley to the mountain. He closed off access to the wide-open hill. He ...... its lock, which heaven and earth shut fast , its bolt, which .....[Source: J.A. Black, G. Cunningham, E. Robson, and G. Zlyomi 1998, 1999, 2000, Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, Oxford University, piney.com]

“Then Ninazu ......, and said to his brother Ninmada: "Let us go to the mountain, to the mountain where barley and flax grow;...... the rolling river, where the water wells up from the earth. Let us fetch the barley down from its mountain, let us introduce the innuha barley into Sumer. Let us make barley known in Sumer, which knows no barley."

Ninmada, the worshipper of An, replied to him: "Since our father has not given the command, since Enlil has not given the command, how can we go there to the mountain? How can we bring down the barley from its mountain? How can we introduce the innuha grain into Sumer? How can we make barley known in Sumer, which knows no barley? "Come, let us go to Utu of heaven, who as he lies there, as he lies there, sleeps a sound sleep, to the hero, the son of Ningal, who as he lies there sleeps a sound sleep." He raised his hands towards Utu of the seventy doors.”

Irrigation in Mesopotamia

Mesopotamians developed irrigation agriculture. To irrigate the land, the earliest inhabitants of the region drained the swampy lands and built canals through the dry areas. This had been done in other places before Mesopotamian times. What made Mesopotamia the home of the first irrigation culture is that the irrigation system was built according to a plan, and an organized work force was required to keep the system maintained. Irrigation system began on a small-scale basis and developed into a large scale operation as the government gained more power.

Mesopotamia was originally swampy in some areas and dry in others. The climate was too hot and dry in most places to raise crops without some assistance. Archaeologists have found 3,300-year-old plow furrows with water jars still lying by small feeder canals near Ur in southern Iraq.

The Sumerians initiated a large scale irrigation program. They built huge embankments along the Euphrates River, drained the marshes and dug irrigation ditches and canals. It not only took great amount of organized labor to build the system it also required a great amount of labor to keep it maintained. Government and laws were created distribute water to make sure the operation ran smoothly.

Claude Hermann and Walter Johns wrote in the Encyclopedia Britannica:“Irrigation was indispensable. If the irrigator neglected to repair his dyke, or left his runnel open and caused a flood, he had to make good the damage done to his neighbours' crops, or be sold with his family to pay the cost. The theft of a watering-machine, water-bucket or other agricultural implement was heavily fined. [Source: Claude Hermann Walter Johns, Babylonian Law — The Code of Hammurabi. Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1910-1911]

The Mesopotamia kingdoms were ravaged by wars and hurt by changing watercourse and the salinization of farmland. In the Bible the Prophet Jeremiah said Mesopotamia’s “cities are a desolation, a dry land, and a wilderness, a land wherein no man dwelleth, neither doth any son of man pass thereby." Today wolves scavenge in the wastelands outside of Ur.

The early Mesopotamian civilizations are believed to have fallen because salt accruing from irrigated water turned fertile land into a salt desert. Continuous irrigation raised the ground water, capillary action---the ability of a liquid to flow against gravity where liquid spontaneously rises in a narrow space such as between grains of sand and soil--- brought the salts to the surface, poisoning the soil and make it useless for growing wheat. Barley is more salt resistant than wheat. It was grown in less damaged areas. The fertile soil turned to sand by drought and the changing course of the Euphrates that today is several miles away from Ur and Nippur.


Mesopotamian irrigation


Early Mesopotamia Mathematics and Irrigation

J J O'Connor and E F Robertson wrote: Under the Sumerians, “writing developed and counting was based on a sexagesimal system, that is to say base 60. Around 2300 B.C. the Akkadians invaded the area and for some time the more backward culture of the Akkadians mixed with the more advanced culture of the Sumerians. The Akkadians invented the abacus as a tool for counting and they developed somewhat clumsy methods of arithmetic with addition, subtraction, multiplication and division all playing a part.[Source: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson, St. Andrews University, December 2000 ==]

On the use of mathematics in the irrigation systems of the early civilisations in Mesopotamia, Kazuo Muroi wrote: “It was an important task for the rulers of Mesopotamia to dig canals and to maintain them, because canals were not only necessary for irrigation but also useful for the transport of goods and armies. The rulers or high government officials must have ordered Babylonian mathematicians to calculate the number of workers and days necessary for the building of a canal, and to calculate the total expenses of wages of the workers. ==

“There are several Old Babylonian mathematical texts in which various quantities concerning the digging of a canal are asked for. They are YBC 4666, 7164, and VAT 7528, all of which are written in Sumerian ..., and YBC 9874 and BM 85196, No. 15, which are written in Akkadian .... From the mathematical point of view these problems are comparatively simple”. ==

Neolithic Fertile Crescent Farmers Took Their DNA to Europe

According to a genetic study published in PLoS Biology, ancient DNA evidence suggests that immigrants from the Ancient Near East brought farming to Europe, and spread the practice to the region’s hunter-gatherer communities, perhaps as early as 8000 years ago. The study leader was Dr Wolfgang Haak, genographic project senior research associate at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide.[Source: Rebecca Jenkins, ABC ( Australian Broadcasting Corporation), November 20, 2010, abc.net.au]

Rebecca Jenkins of ABC wrote: “An international research team, led by University of Adelaide experts, compared ancient DNA from the remains of Early Neolithic farmers at a burial site in central Germany with a large genetic database of European and Eurasian populations. They found that these early farmers had a unique and characteristic genetic signature, suggesting “significant demographic input from the Near East during the onset of farming”. The revolutionary element of this study was the addition of ancient DNA , explains Professor Alan Cooper, director of the Centre for Ancient DNA, as previously researchers could only use genetic data from modern populations to examine this question. “We have never had a detailed genetic view of one of these early farming populations – there’s been a lot of inference around it… but it’s all been guesswork” he says. Migration from Anatolia and near East

“Using the new high-precision ancient DNA analysis, researchers were also able to determine a possible migration route the farmers took from the Near East and Anatolia into Central Europe. Farming first originated about 11,000 years ago in the Near East and then spread across Europe during the Neolithic period, the researchers explain. “Whether it was mediated by incoming farmers or driven by the transmission of innovative ideas and techniques remains a subject of continuing debate in archaeology, anthropology, and human population genetics,” they write in PLoS Biology. “[This] really answers this long-running debate about whether people picked up ideas or picked up and moved”, says Cooper.

“Haak says these latest findings might not completely settle the debate on the origins of farming in Europe, but they would “push it in a certain direction”. Haak is keen to see other research teams build on this proof of concept study, building a picture about this transitional period in other regions and helping to put the pieces of the jigsaw together globally.

Meanwhile, Haak and colleagues at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA want to discover how communities in this region in central Germany evolved over the next 3000 to 4000 years leading up to the Bronze Age. “The early farmers are still quite different to modern day populations from the same region,” he says, “so that means something must have happened after that.” The project involved researchers from the University of Mainz and State Heritage Museum in Halle, Germany, the Russian Academy of Sciences and members of the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project.


Mesopotamian map of canals


Farmers Instructions, Gods and the Agricultural Seasons of Mesopotamia

The Sumerians produced a 111-line text called The Farmer´s Instructions. consisting of instructions on annual agriculture duties addressed by a farmer to his son. D. T. Potts (1997) has argued that there are many similarities between traditional, pre-mechanized agriculture in Iraq and the agricultural cycle and the recommendations found in "The Farmer´s Instructions". [Source: Lishtar based on the first part of the excellent chapter on the Akitu Festival by Mark Cohen´s “The Cultic Calendars of the Ancient Near East,” CDL Press, Bethesda, Maryland, 1993]

Generally, fallow land was followed flooded and leached in spring and summer, and ploughed and sowed in the autumn and winter, while cultivated fields were harvested and threshed in the dry and hot spring and summer, following the relatively wet fall and winter. The Spring Equinox marked the beginning of the season when fallow land was washed to cleanse the soil of salt and impurities. The Autumn Equinox marked the beginning of harvest. For cultivated fields, the Spring Equinox marked the beginning of harvest, whereas the Autumn Equinox marked the fallowing season.

Morris Jastrow said: “Festival days sacred to a deity were numerous and formed another important feature of worship. As was to be expected of an agricultural people like the ancient Babylonians, these festivals were connected originally with the seasons of the year. The most important was the spring festival. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 <>]

“The Babylonians and Assyrians must have had harvest festivals, marked like those of other people by rejoicings and thanksgivings to the gods, but as yet we have not unearthed these rites and ceremonies. We are, however, fortunate enough to know a good deal about a festival that forms a complement to the new year’s celebration and, because of its antiquity and wide bearings on the general religious ideas of the Semites, commands a special interest. <>

“The sun-god of the spring was pictured as a youthful warrior triumphing over the storms of winter. The goddess of vegetation—Ishtar, under various names—unites herself to this god, and the two in unison—sun and earth—bring forth new life in the fields and meadows. But after a few months the summer season begins to wane, and rains and storms again set in. The change of seasons was depicted as due to the death of the youthful god; according to one tradition he was deserted by the goddess who had won his love; according to another, he was slain by a wild boar. An old Sumerian designation of this god was Dumu-Zi, abbreviated from a fuller designation, Dumu-Zi-Ab-zu, and interpreted as “the legitimate [or “faithful”] child of the deep.” The allusion is apparently to the sun rising out of the ocean, which was supposed to flow about and underneath the world. The name passed over to the Semites of Babylonia, and thence spread throughout and beyond the borders of Semitic settlements under the form Tammuz. With the name, went the myth of the youthful god, full of vigour, but who is slain, and condemned to a sojourn in the lower world, from which he is released and revivified in the following spring. <>`

“Farmer's Instructions on Ploughing and Preparing the Fields


sickle blade set in bitumen from Akkad

In the Sumeria text “Farmer's Instructions,” Ud-ul-uru (Old man cultivator) advises his son: “When you have to prepare a field, inspect the levees, canals and mounds that have to be opened. When you let the flood water into the field, this water should not rise too high in it. At the time that the field emerges from the water, watch its area with standing water; it should be fenced. Do not let cattle herds trample there. [Source: J.A. Black, G. Cunningham, E. Robson, and G. Zlyomi 1998, 1999, 2000, Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, Oxford University, piney.com]

“After you cut the weeds and establish the limits of the field, level it repeatedly with a thin hoe weighing two-thirds of a mina (approx. 650 g). Let a flat hoe erase the oxen tracks, let the flied be swept clean. A maul should flatten the furrow bottoms of the area. A hoe should go round the four edges of the field. Until the field is dry it should be smoothed out.

“Your implements should be ready. The parts of your yoke should be assembled. Your new whip should hang from a nail -- the bindings of the handle of your old whip should be repaired by artisans. The adze, drill and saw, your tools and your strength, should be in good order. Let braided thongs, straps, leather wrappings and whips be attached securely. Let your sowing basket be checked, and its sides made strong. What you need for the field should be at hand. Inspect your work carefully.

“The plough oxen will have back-up oxen. The attachments of ox to ox should be loose. Each plough will have a back-up plough. The assigned task for one plough is 180 iku (approx. 65 ha), but if you build the implement at 144 iku (approx. 52 ha), the work will be pleasantly performed for you. 180 sila of grain (approx. 180 litres) will be spent on each 18 iku area (approx. 6 1/2 ha).

“After working one plough's area with a bardil plough, and after working the bardil plough's area with a tugsig plough, till it with the tuggur plough. Harrow once, twice, three times. When you flatten the stubborn spots with a heavy maul, the handle of your maul should be securely attached, otherwise it will not perform as needed.”

“Farmer's Instructions” on Planting


plowing in ancient Egypt

The “Farmer's Instructions” continue: “When your field work becomes excessive, you should not neglect your work; no one should have to tell anyone else: "Do your field work!". When the constellations in the sky are right, do not be reluctant to take the oxen force to the field many times. The hoe should work everything. When you have to work the field with the seeder-plough, your plough should be properly adjusted. Put a leather sealing on the kacu of your plough. Provide your beam with narrow pegs. Your boards should be spread. Make your furrows. [Source: J.A. Black, G. Cunningham, E. Robson, and G. Zlyomi 1998, 1999, 2000, Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, Oxford University, piney.com]

“Make eight furrows per ninda of width (approx. 6 m); the barley will lodge in more closely spaced furrows. When you have to work the field with the seeder-plough, keep your eye on the man who drops the seed. The grain should fall two fingers deep (approx. 3 1/2 cm). You should put one gij of seed per ninda (approx. 3 ml/m). If the barley seed is not being inserted into the hollow of the furrow, change the wedge of your plough share. If the bindings become loose, tighten them.

“Where you have made vertical furrows, make slanted furrows, and where you have made slanted furrows, make vertical furrows. Straight furrows will give you edges that are wide enough and nice . Your crooked furrows should be straightened out. Make the furrows clear. Plough your portion of field. The clods should be picked out. The furrows should be made wide where the soil is open, and the furrows should be narrower where the soil is clogged: it is good for the seedlings.

“After the seedlings break open the ground, perform the rites against mice. Turn away the beaks of small birds. When the plants overflow the narrow bottoms of the furrows, water them with the water of the first seed. When the plants resemble a ...... reed mat, water them. Water the plants when they are heading. When the plants are fully leafed out, do not water them or they will become infected by leaf rust. When the barley is right for husking, water it. It will provide a yield increase of one sila per ban (approx. 1 litre in 10).”

“Farmer's Instructions” on Harvesting


The last part of the “Farmer's Instructions” goes: “When you have to reap the barley, do not let the plants become overripe. Harvest at the right time. One man is to cut the barley, and one to tie the sheaves; and one before him should apportion the sheaves: three men should harvest for you. Do not let those who gather the barley bruise the grain. They should not scatter the grain when it is in the stacks. [Source: J.A. Black, G. Cunningham, E. Robson, and G. Zlyomi 1998, 1999, 2000, Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, Oxford University, piney.com]

“Your daily work starts at daybreak. Gather your force of helpers and grain gatherers in sufficient number and lay down the sheaves. Your work should be carefully done. Although they have been having stale coarse flour, do not let anyone thresh for your new bread -- let the sheaves have a rest. The rites for the sheaves should be performed daily. When you transport your barley, your barley carriers should handle small amounts .

“Mark the limits of a vacant lot of yours. Establish properly your access paths to it. Your waggons should be in working order. Feed the waggon's oxen. Your implements should be ....... Let your prepared threshing floor rest for a few days. When you open the threshing floor, smooth its surface . When you thresh, the teeth of your threshing sledge and its leather straps should be secured with bitumen. When you make the oxen trample the grain, your threshers should be strong. When your grain is spread on the ground, perform the rites of the grain not yet clean.

“When you winnow, put an intelligent person as your second winnower. Two people should work at moving the grain around. When the grain is clean, lay it under the measuring stick. Perform the rites in the evening and at night. Release the grain at midday. Instructions of the god Ninurta, son of Enlil -- Ninurta, faithful farmer of Enlil, your praise be good!”

Mesopotamian Laws Related to Agriculture


cuneiform tablet with flour and bread distributions

Morris Jastrow said: “The farming of lands for the benefit of temples or for lay owners, with a return of a share of the products to the proprietors, was naturally one of the most common commercial transactions in a country like the Euphrates Valley, so largely dependent upon agriculture. Complications in such transactions would naturally ensue, and it is interesting to observe with what regard for the ethics of the situation they are dealt with in the Code. If a tenant fail to produce a crop through his own fault, he is obliged, of course, to reimburse the proprietor, and as a basis of compensation, the yield of the adjoining fields is taken as a standard. If he have failed, however, to cultivate the field, he is not only obliged to compensate the owner according to the proportionate amount produced in that year in adjoining fields, but must, in addition, plough and harrow the property before returning it to the owner, besides furnishing ten measures—about twenty bushels—of grain for each acre of land. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 <>]

“In case of a failure of the crops, or a destruction by act of God, no responsibility attaches to the tenant, but if the owner had already received his share beforehand, and then through a storm or an inundation the yield is spoiled, the loss must be borne by the tenant. In subletting the tilling of fields as part payment for debt, it is stipulated that the original proprietor must first be settled with, and after that the second lessee, who shall receive in kind the amount of his debts plus the usual interest. The ethical principle is, therefore, similar to that applying in our own days to first and second mortgages. <>

“The owner of a field is responsible for damage done to his neighbours’ property through neglect on his part—for example, through his failure to keep the dikes in order, or through his cutting off the water supply from his neighbour. A shepherd who allows his flocks to pasture in a field without permission of the owner is fined to the extent of twenty measures of grain for each ten acres. What is left of the pasturage also belongs to the owner. The same care, with due regard to the ethics of the situation, is exercised in regulating the relation between a merchant and his agent. The latter is, of course, responsible for goods entrusted to him, including damage to them through his fault, but if they are stolen or forcibly taken from him—after swearing an oath to that effect—he is free from further responsibility. Neglect to carry out instructions in connection with a commission entails a fine threefold the value involved, but, on the other hand, if the merchant tries to defraud his agent, he pays a fine of sixfold the amount involved.” <>

Hammurabi's Code of Laws: 40-50: Agricultural Land

The Babylonian king Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.) is credited with producing the Code of Hammurabi, the oldest surviving set of laws. Recognized for putting eye for an eye justice into writing and remarkable for its depth and judiciousness, it consists of 282 case laws with legal procedures and penalties. Many of the laws had been around before the code was etched in the eight-foot-highin black diorite stone that bears them. Hammurabi codified them into a fixed and standardized set of laws. [Source: Translated by L. W. King]

40. He may sell field, garden, and house to a merchant (royal agents) or to any other public official, the buyer holding field, house, and garden for its usufruct.


41. If any one fence in the field, garden, and house of a chieftain, man, or one subject to quit-rent, furnishing the palings therefor; if the chieftain, man, or one subject to quit-rent return to field, garden, and house, the palings which were given to him become his property.

42. If any one take over a field to till it, and obtain no harvest therefrom, it must be proved that he did no work on the field, and he must deliver grain, just as his neighbor raised, to the owner of the field.

43. If he do not till the field, but let it lie fallow, he shall give grain like his neighbor's to the owner of the field, and the field which he let lie fallow he must plow and sow and return to its owner.

44. If any one take over a waste-lying field to make it arable, but is lazy, and does not make it arable, he shall plow the fallow field in the fourth year, harrow it and till it, and give it back to its owner, and for each ten gan (a measure of area) ten gur of grain shall be paid.

45. If a man rent his field for tillage for a fixed rental, and receive the rent of his field, but bad weather come and destroy the harvest, the injury falls upon the tiller of the soil.

46. If he do not receive a fixed rental for his field, but lets it on half or third shares of the harvest, the grain on the field shall be divided proportionately between the tiller and the owner.

47. If the tiller, because he did not succeed in the first year, has had the soil tilled by others, the owner may raise no objection; the field has been cultivated and he receives the harvest according to agreement.

48. If any one owe a debt for a loan, and a storm prostrates the grain, or the harvest fail, or the grain does not grow for lack of water; in that year he need not give his creditor any grain, he washes his debt-tablet in water and pays no rent for this year.

49. If any one take money from a merchant, and give the merchant a field tillable for corn or sesame and order him to plant corn or sesame in the field, and to harvest the crop; if the cultivator plant corn or sesame in the field, at the harvest the corn or sesame that is in the field shall belong to the owner of the field and he shall pay corn as rent, for the money he received from the merchant, and the livelihood of the cultivator shall he give to the merchant.

50. If he give a cultivated corn-field or a cultivated sesame-field, the corn or sesame in the field shall belong to the owner of the field, and he shall return the money to the merchant as rent.

Hammurabi's Code of Laws: 51-65: Rules for Farmers and Shepherds

51. If he have no money to repay, then he shall pay in corn or sesame in place of the money as rent for what he received from the merchant, according to the royal tariff. [Source: Translated by L. W. King]

52. If the cultivator do not plant corn or sesame in the field, the debtor's contract is not weakened.

53. If any one be too lazy to keep his dam in proper condition, and does not so keep it; if then the dam break and all the fields be flooded, then shall he in whose dam the break occurred be sold for money, and the money shall replace the corn which he has caused to be ruined.

54. If he be not able to replace the corn, then he and his possessions shall be divided among the farmers whose corn he has flooded.


55. If any one open his ditches to water his crop, but is careless, and the water flood the field of his neighbor, then he shall pay his neighbor corn for his loss.

56. If a man let in the water, and the water overflow the plantation of his neighbor, he shall pay ten gur of corn for every ten gan of land.

57. If a shepherd, without the permission of the owner of the field, and without the knowledge of the owner of the sheep, lets the sheep into a field to graze, then the owner of the field shall harvest his crop, and the shepherd, who had pastured his flock there without permission of the owner of the field, shall pay to the owner twenty gur of corn for every ten gan.

58. If after the flocks have left the pasture and been shut up in the common fold at the city gate, any shepherd let them into a field and they graze there, this shepherd shall take possession of the field which he has allowed to be grazed on, and at the harvest he must pay sixty gur of corn for every ten gan.

59. If any man, without the knowledge of the owner of a garden, fell a tree in a garden he shall pay half a mina in money.

60. If any one give over a field to a gardener, for him to plant it as a garden, if he work at it, and care for it for four years, in the fifth year the owner and the gardener shall divide it, the owner taking his part in charge.

61. If the gardener has not completed the planting of the field, leaving one part unused, this shall be assigned to him as his.

62. If he do not plant the field that was given over to him as a garden, if it be arable land (for corn or sesame) the gardener shall pay the owner the produce of the field for the years that he let it lie fallow, according to the product of neighboring fields, put the field in arable condition and return it to its owner.

63. If he transform waste land into arable fields and return it to its owner, the latter shall pay him for one year ten gur for ten gan.

64. If any one hand over his garden to a gardener to work, the gardener shall pay to its owner two-thirds of the produce of the garden, for so long as he has it in possession, and the other third shall he keep.

65. If the gardener do not work in the garden and the product fall off, the gardener shall pay in proportion to other neighboring gardens. [Here a portion of the text is missing, apparently comprising thirty-four paragraphs.]

Hammurabi's Code of Laws: 253-260: Farm Labor

253. If any one agree with another to tend his field, give him seed, entrust a yoke of oxen to him, and bind him to cultivate the field, if he steal the corn or plants, and take them for himself, his hands shall be hewn off. [Source: Translated by L. W. King]

254. If he take the seed-corn for himself, and do not use the yoke of oxen, he shall compensate him for the amount of the seed-corn.

255. If he sublet the man's yoke of oxen or steal the seed-corn, planting nothing in the field, he shall be convicted, and for each one hundred gan he shall pay sixty gur of corn.

256. If his community will not pay for him, then he shall be placed in that field with the cattle (at work).

257. If any one hire a field laborer, he shall pay him eight gur of corn per year.

258. If any one hire an ox-driver, he shall pay him six gur of corn per year.

259. If any one steal a water-wheel from the field, he shall pay five shekels in money to its owner.

260. If any one steal a shadduf (used to draw water from the river or canal) or a plow, he shall pay three shekels in money.

Hammurabi's Code of Laws: 268-278: Hiring Livestock, Labor and Boats


268. If any one hire an ox for threshing, the amount of the hire is twenty ka of corn. [Source: Translated by L. W. King]

269. If he hire an ass for threshing, the hire is twenty ka of corn.

270. If he hire a young animal for threshing, the hire is ten ka of corn.

271. If any one hire oxen, cart and driver, he shall pay one hundred and eighty ka of corn per day.

272. If any one hire a cart alone, he shall pay forty ka of corn per day.

273. If any one hire a day laborer, he shall pay him from the New Year until the fifth month (April to August, when days are long and the work hard) six gerahs in money per day; from the sixth month to the end of the year he shall give him five gerahs per day.

274. If any one hire a skilled artizan, he shall pay as wages of the . . . five gerahs, as wages of the potter five gerahs, of a tailor five gerahs, of . . . gerahs, . . . of a ropemaker four gerahs, of . . .. gerahs, of a mason . . . gerahs per day.

275. If any one hire a ferryboat, he shall pay three gerahs in money per day.

276. If he hire a freight-boat, he shall pay two and one-half gerahs per day.

277. If any one hire a ship of sixty gur, he shall pay one-sixth of a shekel in money as its hire per day.

Cumunda Grass

The story of Cumunda Grass goes: 1-13 The abba instructed, the abba instructed: When the rain rained, when walls were demolished, when it rained potsherds and fireballs, when one person confronted another defiantly, when there was copulation -- he also copulated, when there was kissing -- he also kissed. When the rain said: "I will rain," when the wall said: "I will rain (scribal error for 'demolish' ?)", when the flood said: "I will sweep everything away" -- Heaven impregnated , Earth gave birth, she gave birth also to the cumunda grass. Earth gave birth, Heaven impregnated , she gave birth also to the cumunda grass. [Source: J.A. Black, G. Cunningham, E. Robson, and G. Zlyomi 1998, 1999, 2000, Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, Oxford University, piney.com]

“14-28 His luxuriant reeds carry fire. They who defied it, who defied it, the umma who had survived that day, the abba who had survived that day, the chief gala priest who had survived that year, whoever had survived the Flood -- the cumunda grass crushed them with labour, crushed them with labour, made them crouch in the dust. The cumunda grass is a fire carrier, he cannot be tied into bundles, the grass cannot be shifted, the grass cannot be loosened, the grass cannot be loosened. When built into a booth, one moment he stands up, one moment he lies down. Having kindled a fire, he spreads it wide. The cumunda grass's habitat is among his bitter waters. He butts about (saying): "I will start, I will start a fire".

“29-49 He set fire to the base of the E-ana; there he was bound, there he was fettered. When he protested, Inana seized a raven there and set it on top of him. The shepherd abandoned his sheep in their enclosure. Inana seized the raven there. When the rain had rained, when walls had been demolished, when it rained potsherds and fireballs, when Dumuzid was defied -- the rain rained, walls were demolished, the cowpen was demolished, the sheepfold was ripped out, wild flood-waters were hurled against the rivers, wild rains were hurled against the marshes. By the ...... of the Tigris and Euphrates, of the Tigris and the Euphrates, long grass grew, long grass .......

“50-59 He tied him into bundles, he shifted him, he ...... cumunda grass, the fire-carrier. He bundled up the cumunda grass, the fire carrier, bundled up the fire carrier. The launderer who made her garments clean asks her, Inana -- the carpenter who gave her the spindle to hold in her hand (asks her), Inana -- the potter who fashioned pots and jugs (asks her), Inana. The potter gave her holy drinking vessels, the shepherd brought her his sheep, the shepherd brought her his sheep -- he asks her. He brought her all kinds of luxuriant plants, as if it were the harvest.

“60-66 Her voice reached Heaven, her voice reached Earth, her resounding cry covered the horizon like a garment, was spread over it like a cloth, she hurled fierce winds at the head of the cumunda grass (saying): "Cumunda grass, your name ....... You shall be a plant ....... You shall be a hateful plant ....... Your name ......."”


cow images from Uruk


Livestock in Mesopotamia

People on the Tigris and Euphrates learned how to domesticate animals about 10,000 years ago. Sheep, goats and cattle were the predominate domesticated animals in southern Mesopotamia. Cattle were given a high place and bulls were worshiped as religious idols. Nanna the moon god was seen as the protector of the cowherders. Cattle were employed as draft animals for ploughing and pulling carts, and were essential for agriculture and transporting goos. Meat or milk products were not consumed as part of the regular diet in part because cattle were too valuable to be slaughtered. Sheep and goats were kept principally for the fleece and hair used to make clothes and other textiles. Sheep and goat meat appears in texts mainly as temple offering during sacrifices and festivals. [Source: Lishtar based on the first part of the excellent chapter on the Akitu Festival by Mark Cohen´s “The Cultic Calendars of the Ancient Near East,” CDL Press, Bethesda, Maryland, 1993]

Claude Hermann and Walter Johns wrote in the Encyclopedia Britannica: “There were many herds and flocks. The flocks were committed to a shepherd who gave receipt for them and took them out to pasture. The Code fixed him a wage. He was responsible for all care, must restore ox for ox, sheep for sheep, must breed them satisfactorily. Any dishonest use of the flock had to be repaid ten-fold, but loss by disease or wild beasts fell on the owner. The shepherd made good all loss due to his neglect. If he let the flock feed on a field of corn he had to pay damages four-fold; if he turned them into standing corn when they ought to have been folded he paid twelve-fold. [Source: Claude Hermann Walter Johns, Babylonian Law — The Code of Hammurabi. Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1910-1911 <^>]

Hammurabi's Code of Laws 241-252: Livestock

The Babylonian king Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.) is credited with producing the Code of Hammurabi, the oldest surviving set of laws. Recognized for putting eye for an eye justice into writing and remarkable for its depth and judiciousness, it consists of 282 case laws with legal procedures and penalties. Many of the laws had been around before the code was etched in the eight-foot-highin black diorite stone that bears them. Hammurabi codified them into a fixed and standardized set of laws.

241. If any one impresses an ox for forced labor, he shall pay one-third of a mina in money. [Source: Translated by L. W. King]

242. If any one hire oxen for a year, he shall pay four gur of corn for plow-oxen.

243. As rent of herd cattle he shall pay three gur of corn to the owner.


Elamite bull

244. If any one hire an ox or an ass, and a lion kill it in the field, the loss is upon its owner.

245. If any one hire oxen, and kill them by bad treatment or blows, he shall compensate the owner, oxen for oxen.

246. If a man hire an ox, and he break its leg or cut the ligament of its neck, he shall compensate the owner with ox for ox.

247. If any one hire an ox, and put out its eye, he shall pay the owner one-half of its value.

248. If any one hire an ox, and break off a horn, or cut off its tail, or hurt its muzzle, he shall pay one-fourth of its value in money.

249. If any one hire an ox, and God strike it that it die, the man who hired it shall swear by God and be considered guiltless.

250. If while an ox is passing on the street (market) some one push it, and kill it, the owner can set up no claim in the suit (against the hirer).

251. If an ox be a goring ox, and it shown that he is a gorer, and he do not bind his horns, or fasten the ox up, and the ox gore a free-born man and kill him, the owner shall pay one-half a mina in money.

252. If he kill a man's slave, he shall pay one-third of a mina.

Hammurabi's Code of Laws: 261-270: Herdsmen

261. If any one hire a herdsman for cattle or sheep, he shall pay him eight gur of corn per annum. [Source: Translated by L. W. King]

262. If any one, a cow or a sheep . . .

263. If he kill the cattle or sheep that were given to him, he shall compensate the owner with cattle for cattle and sheep for sheep.

264. If a herdsman, to whom cattle or sheep have been entrusted for watching over, and who has received his wages as agreed upon, and is satisfied, diminish the number of the cattle or sheep, or make the increase by birth less, he shall make good the increase or profit which was lost in the terms of settlement.

265. If a herdsman, to whose care cattle or sheep have been entrusted, be guilty of fraud and make false returns of the natural increase, or sell them for money, then shall he be convicted and pay the owner ten times the loss.

266. If the animal be killed in the stable by God ( an accident), or if a lion kill it, the herdsman shall declare his innocence before God, and the owner bears the accident in the stable.

267. If the herdsman overlook something, and an accident happen in the stable, then the herdsman is at fault for the accident which he has caused in the stable, and he must compensate the owner for the cattle or sheep.

Three Ox-Drivers from Adab

“Three Ox-Drivers from Adab” goes: “There were three friends, citizens of Adab, who fell into a dispute with each other, and sought justice. They deliberated the matter with many words, and went before the king. "Our king! We are ox-drivers. The ox belongs to one man, the cow belongs to one man, and the waggon belongs to one man. We became thirsty and had no water. [Source: J.A. Black, G. Cunningham, E. Robson, and G. Zlyomi 1998, 1999, 2000, Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, Oxford University, piney.com]


Assyrian cart

“We said to the owner of the ox, "If you were to fetch some water, then we could drink!". And he said, "What if my ox is devoured by a lion? I will not leave my ox!". We said to the owner of the cow, "If you were to fetch some water, then we could drink!". And he said, "What if my cow went off into the desert? I will not leave my cow!". We said to the owner of the waggon, "If you were to fetch some water, then we could drink!". And he said, "What if the load were removed from my waggon? I will not leave my waggon!". "Come on, let's all go! Come on, and let's return together!" " "First the ox, although tied with a leash , mounted the cow, and then she dropped her young, and the calf started to chew up the waggon's load. Who does this calf belong to? Who can take the calf?"

” The king did not give them an answer, but went to visit a cloistered lady. The king sought advice from the cloistered lady: "Three young men came before me and said: 'Our king, we are ox-drivers. The ox belongs to one man, the cow belongs to one man, and the waggon belongs to one man. We became thirsty and had no water. We said to the owner of the ox, "If you were to draw some water, then we could drink!". And he said, "What if my ox is devoured by a lion? I will not leave my ox!". We said to the owner of the cow, "If you were to draw some water, then we could drink!". And he said, "What if my cow went off into the desert? I will not leave my cow!". We said to the owner of the waggon, "If you were to draw some water, then we could drink!". And he said, "What if the load were removed from my waggon? I will not leave my waggon!" he said. "Come on, let's all go! Come on, and let's return together!" ' "

" 'First the ox, although tied with a leash , mounted the cow, and then she dropped her young, and the calf started to chew up the waggon's load. Who does this calf belong to? Who can take the calf?" ' [35 lines missing, The cloistered lady continues her reply to the king:) "Well now, the owner of the ox, ...... his field ....... After his ox has been eaten by a lion ......, his field ......." "The hero....... Like a mountaineer ....... A dog ...... the ox ....... A strong man ...... in his field......."

"Well now, the owner of the cow ...... his wife. After his cow has gone off into the desert ......, his wife will walk the streets ....... After the cow has dropped its young ......, the hero, walking in the rain ....... His wife ...... herself. The ox's food ration which he has turned to his ......, ...... hunger. His wife dwells with him in his house, his desired one ...... "

"Well now, the owner of the waggon, after he has abandoned his ......, and the load has been removed from his waggon, and ...... from his waggon, and after he has brought his ...... into his house, ...... will be made to leave his house. His calf that began to chew up the waggon's load will be ...... in his house. When he has approached ...... the open-armed hero, the king, having learnt about his case, will make his ...... leave his dwelling. ...... the ox, ...... has partaken of my wisdom, shall not oppose it. His load, ......, will not return ."

“When the king came out from the cloistered lady's presence, each man's heart was dissatisfied. The man who hated his wife left his wife. The man ...... his ...... abandoned his ....... With elaborate words, with elaborate words, the case of the citizens of Adab was settled. Pa-nijin-jara, their sage, the scholar, the god of Adab, was the scribe.”

See Abraham and the Ox Cart travel to Canaan

Herds Of Nanna

Nanna is the Mesopotamian Moon good and patron of herdsmen. “The Herds of Nanna” story goes: “1-13 The lord has burnished the heavens; he has embellished the night. Nanna has burnished the heavens; he has embellished the night. When he comes forth from the turbulent mountains, he stands as Utu stands at noon. When Acimbabbar comes forth from the turbulent mountains, he stands as Utu stands at noon. His father, whose word is true, speaks with him day and night. Enlil, whose word is true, speaks with him day and night, and in decision determines the fates with him. [Source: Babylonia Index, piney.com]

” 14-25 His lofty jipar number four. There are four platforms which he has established for him. His great temple cattle pens, one ece in size, number four. They play for him on the aljarsura instrument. The cows are driven together in herds for him. His various types of cow number 39600. His young cows and calves number 108000. His young bulls number 126000. The sparkling-eyed cows number 50400. The white cows number 126000. The cows for the evening meal are in four groups of five each . Such are the various types of cow of father Nanna.

“26-36 His wild cows number 180000. The ...... cows are four. Their herds of cattle are seven. Their ...... herdsmen are seven. There are four of those who dwell among the cows . They give praise to the lord, singing paeans as they move into the jipar. Nisaba has taken their grand total; Nisaba has taken their count, and she is writing it on clay. The holy cows of Nanna, cherished by the youth Suen, be praised!

“37-45 He is ever able to increase the butter of abundance in the holy animal pens of ...... and goats. He is able to provide abundantly the great liquor of the mountains, and syrup, and alcoholic drink for the king on his lofty pure platform. Mighty one, trusted one of Enlil, youth, god of living creatures, leader of the Land, and Ningal, lady of the jipar -- O father Nanna, be praised!”

Journey of Nanna to Nippur


Nanna

Thorkild Jacobsen wrote in “The Treasures of Darkness”: The “Journey of Nanna to Nippur” “myth is closely connected with the spring rite of the first fruits which were taken from Ur to Nippur, stopping over all sacred cities on the way to the temple of Enlil, the Ekur in Nippur. The meaning of this ritual act was a religious celebration and sanction of the exchange of products between the cities of the Southern marshes and the farmers in the North [Source: Jacobsen, Thorkild, The Treasures of Darkness, 1976, Yale University).

“To go to his city, to stand before his father,
Ashgirbabbar (Nanna) set his mind:
"I, the hero, to my city I would go, before my father I would stand;
I, Sin, to my city I would go, before my father I would stand,
Before my father I would stand."
(then he proceeds to load his boat with a rich assortment of trees, plants and animals. On his journey from Ur to Nippur, Nanna and his boat stop at five cities: Im, Larsa, Uruk and two cities whose names are illegible; in each of these, Nanna is met and greeted by the representative tutelary deity. Then he arrives at Nippur:) [Source: Kramer, Samuel Noah (1988) “Sumerian Mythology,” University of Pennsylvania Press, West Port, Connecticut].

At the lapis lazuli quay, the quay of Enlil, Nanna-Sin drew up his boat,
At the white quay, the quay of Enlil,
Ashbirbabbar drew up his boat,
On the ....... of the father, his begetter, he stationed himself,
To the gatekeeper of Enlil he says:
" Open the house, gatekeeper, open the house
Open the house, O protecting genie, open the house
Open the house, thou who makest the trees come forth, open the house,
O ...... who makest the trees come forth, open the house,

“Gatekeeper, open the house, O protecting genie, open the house",
Joyfully, the gatekeeper joyfully opened the door,
The protecting genie who makes the trees come forth, joyfully
The gatekeeper joyfully opened the door
He who makes the trees come forth, joyfully
The gatekeeper joyfully opened the door,
With Sin, Enlil rejoiced.
Then Nanna feasts with Enlil and afterwards addresses his father Enlil as follows:
" In the river give me overflow,
In the field give me much grain,
In the swampland give me grass and reeds,
In the forests give me...
In the plains give me...
In the palm-grove and vineyard give me honey and wine, In the palace give me long life,

To Ur I shall go".
Enlil accedes to Nanna’s request:
He gave him, Enlil gave him,
To Ur he went,
In the river he gave him overflow,
In the field he gave him much grain,
In the swampland he gave him grass and reeds,
In the forests he gave him...
In the plain he gave him...
In the palm-grove and vineyard he gave him honey and wine,
In the palace he gave him long life.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia sourcebooks.fordham.edu , National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, especially Merle Severy, National Geographic, May 1991 and Marion Steinmann, Smithsonian, December 1988, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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