Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Daily Grind

Most ancient literature was written by elites for elites. The concerns of the typical peasant does not enter into the question. The peasants were normally not noticed. It comes as something of a pleasant surprise when a mention does appear, such as this one, from a tamitu text that has a lot of Old Babylonian (ca. 2000-1600 BC) material though the tablet seems to be Neo-Assyrian (ca. 900-650 BC) in date (at earliest it dates to the time of the patriarchs, at latest it dates to just before Jeremiah's time):
the oxen, the sheep, the donkeys, the people, the ploughing oxen, the oxherds, and their supervisors, the bird-catchers, the look-outs, who leave this city daily, and in the environs of this city, moving about for one league, a half, or two-thirds, by day-time perform the duties assigned to them, by night entering this city for their rest:
(W. G. Lambert, Babylonian Oracle Questions [Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2007], 29.)
A number of things is interesting about this ancient description of the daily commute. The modern commute is generally from the suburbs to the city. This commute is from the city to the fields outside. Both the people and the domestic animals live and sleep within the city and work in their fields outside the city walls, and these could be up to more than ten kilometers away on foot. This gives some indication of what daily life was like for the poorer classes of people in ancient Mesopotamia.