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WOMEN'S LIVES IN ANCIENT PERSIA
By Massoume Price
 
Any analysis 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.

The non-royals 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 the males.

 New mothers 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.
 
 

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