Slavery in Third-Millennium Mesopotamia: An Overview of Sources and Studies
KeywordsMesopotamia – cuneiform – Sumerian – Neo-Sumerian period – manumission – forced labor – chattel slavery
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AbstractThird-millennium Mesopotamia has provided an impressive quantity of sources for the study of ancient slavery, among them a collection of standards (the so-called Laws of Ur-Namma). Despite the volume of documents, Mesopotamian slavery remains elusive in its general traits. This is partly due to the nature of the sources, but also to the approaches and interpretations of modern scholars. Slavery in ancient Mesopotamia has been the focus of several studies in the 1960s and 1970s that interpreted the sources using comparative approaches and Marxist analyses. Since then, the topic has seldom been revisited. In this article, I present the status quaestionis with an overview of the available sources and related studies, together with a sketch of the different types of bonded and forced labor in the Neo-Sumerian period (21st cent. bce).