Chapter 2, Section 1
City-states of Mesopotamia
PRIMARY SOURCE Assyrian Letters
The following letters were etched on clay tablets in Akkadian, a language of ancient Mesopotamia. As you read, think about the worries and hopes of everyday life that each letter reflects
A message from Silla-Labbum and Elani:
Tell Puzur-Assur, Amua, and Assur-samsi:
Thirty years ago you left the city of Assur. You have never made a deposit since, and we have not recovered one shekel of silver from you, but we have never made you feel bad about this. Our tablets have been going to you with caravan after caravan, but no report from you has ever come here. We have addressed claims to your father but we have not been claiming one shekel of your private silver. Please, do come back right away; should you be too busy with your business, deposit the silver for us. (Remember) we have never made you feel bad about this matter but we are now forced to appear, in your eyes, acting as gentlemen should not. Please, do come back right away or deposit the silver for us.
If not, we will send you a notice from the local ruler and the police, and thus put you to
shame in the assembly of the merchants. You will also cease to be one of us.
Tell the Lady Zinû:
Iddin-Sin sends the following message:
May the gods Samas, Marduk, and Ilabrat keep you forever in good health for my sake.
From year to year, the clothes of the (young) gentlemen here become better, but you let my clothes get worse from year to year. Indeed, you persisted[?] in making my clothes poorer and more scanty. At a time when in our house wool is used up like bread, you have made me poor clothes. The son of Adad-iddinam, whose father is only an assistant of my father, (has) two new sets of clothes [break] while you fuss even about a single set of clothes for me. In spite of the fact that you bore me and his mother only adopted him, his mother loves him, while you, you do not love me!
from A. Leo Oppenheim, trans., Letters from Mesopotamia,
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), 76–77, 84–85.
Determining Main Ideas:
What is the merchants’ complaint in the first letter?
What will the debtors’ punishment be if they fail to pay the debt?
What is the complaint of Iddin-Sin to his mother in the second letter?
Comparing and Contrasting:
How would you compare the mood of the two letter writers?
Based on your reading of these letters, what conclusions can you draw about everyday life in ancient Mesopotamia?