Women Involved in Daily Management in Achaemenid Babylonia

Watai, Yoko. 2023. Women Involved in Daily Management in Achaemenid Babylonia: The Cases of Rē’indu and Andiya. In: icole Maria Brisch and Fumi Karahashi (eds.), Women and Religion in the Ancient Near East and Asia, 63-79. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter.

Babylonia from the seventh to the fourth century BCE, in the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid periods, has provided us with an abundance of cuneiform tablets: according to the estimate of M. Jursa (2005: 1 and 2010: 6), more than 16,000 legal or administrative documents have been published, with tens of thousands of unpublished texts housed in museum collections around the world. Most of these documents deal with everyday practical matters, and can be classified as economic texts, familial documents (marriage contracts, documents of division of succession and of transfer of properties, testaments, etc.), administrative records, and letters, mostly drafted in the “long sixth century” (Jursa 2010: 4–5) that lasted about 140 years between the fall of the NeoAssyrian Empire (620 BCE) and the “end of archives” in the second year of Xerxes (484 BCE). Although far fewer women appear in these texts than men, we estimate that at least several thousand women are mentioned. Most of them were inhabitants of Babylonian cities like Babylon, Borsippa, Uruk, and Sippar, and they represent various social strata: women of free status from urban families, slaves, and oblates at temples. The corpus constitutes, therefore, a good basis for discussing the role, status, situation, and activities of women in the social, economic, and familial frameworks.


The Goddess on Lion at Hasanlu

Letteria Grazia Fassari & Raffaella Frascarelli. 2022. Embodying the Past: The Case of the Goddess on Lion at Hasanlu. In: Katrien de Graef et al. (eds.), The Mummy Under the Bed . Essays on Gender and Methodology in the Ancient Near East, 253-287. Münster: Zaphon.

Rooted within the Central Asian iconography of the sacred from the 3rd millennium BCE until the arrival of Islam, also related to the mixed pantheons that combine Central Asian, Iranian, Buddhist, Hindu and Chinese divinities, the image of the goddess riding a lion in the Hasanlu bowl offers the chance to investigate its origin. Posture, attire, lion, divine emblems mark her belonging to a cultural horizon that seems to allude to the nomadic peoples of the Eurasian steppe. The Iranian, Assyrian, Syro-Hurrite, Elamite, Hurro-Urartian, Transcaucasian influences make Hasanlu a privileged observatory to analyze the regulatory apparatus affecting gender hierarchies. Eluding the boundaries imposed by the binary vision, the nomadic lifestyle seems to free the body in favor of fluid strategies necessary to deal with harsh natural conditions. Indeed, some iconographic details of the Hasanlu bowl might reveal a social dimension related to an unconventional gender performativity caused by the mobilization of cultural resources that identified nomadism. Furthermore, the presence of the riding goddess at Hasanlu suggests scrutinizing the cyclical infiltration of nomadic cultures within Anatolia and Mesopotamia. Exploring gender, questioning its epistemic boundaries, enquiring how gender stereotypes have crystallized over time, this paper proposes an inception towards a different history whose traces may have been lost in the unwitting binarism of expertise.


Women in Western and Eastern Manichaeism

Scopello, Madeleine. 2022. Women in Western and Eastern Manichaeism (Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies, 101). Leiden: Brill.

The exceptional place women held in Manichaeism, in everyday life or myth, is the object of this book. Relying on firsthand Manichaean texts in several languages and on polemical sources, as well as on iconography, the various papers analyze aspects of women’s social engagement by spreading Mani’s doctrine, working to support the community, or corresponding with other Manichaean groups. Topics such as women’s relation to the body and elect or hearer status are also investigated. The major role played by female entities in the myth is enlightened through occidental and oriental texts and paintings discovered in Central Asia and China.


Three Women from Elam

Rafiei-Alavi, Babak, Faranak Bahrololoumi & Sabine Klein. 2022. Three women from Elam: A revision of the Haft Tappeh metal plaque. BASOR 387, 171-180.

Top: new drawing of the metal plaque of Haft Tappeh, bottom: old drawing. (Drawings by B. Rafiei-Alavi, bottom drawing after Negahban 1991: Ill. 4)

The metal plaque of Haft Tappeh was found more than 60 years ago, and except for a few scenes on terracotta plaques and cylinder seals from both Elam and Mesopotamia with similar but not identical settings, it still has no known parallels in metal and remains a unique example of Elamite art. The present article is a study of this object from the heartland of the Elamite kingdom in the Khuzestan Plain. It revisits the scenic plaque and attempts to correct some of the misunderstandings regarding the identification of its iconography and symbology based on new photos, X-ray images, and lab analysis. The article also tries to place the plaque in its proper spatial and temporal context, using comparative methods and chemical and isotope analysis.


The Notion of Harem and its Irrelevance to Women of the Persian Court

Lenfant, Dominique. 2020. The Notion of Harem and its Irrelevance to Women of the Persian Court. Ancient Society 50, 13-27.

It has become controversial to use the word ‘harem’ to designate the wives and concubines of the Great King of the Persian Empire, but differing attitudes may be observed among scholars, from rejecting this term to claiming it for use, most often without a detailed justification. Although it seems at first sight to be helpful, the present paper argues against using the word ‘harem’ by highlighting its major interpretative drawbacks: (1) its definition is unstable and unclear; (2) it creates confusion between the different categories of women who are distinguished in our evidence; (3) it is misleading, since it imposes on antiquity western representations mainly linked with Ottoman sultans; (4) it has strong modern connotations, and implies value judgments which are not suitable for a sound historical analysis; (5) it feeds a form of orientalism, since it fosters the idea that the Orient does exist, that it is the opposite of the Occident of the western speaker, and that it has not changed for more than two thousand years. It is lastly argued that this notion of a Persian ‘harem’ does not date back to the Greeks, who had neither a similar word nor similar representations and value judgments, nor the same feeling of otherness in respect to the Persians.


Semiramis: From Antiquity to the Modern Times

Droß-Krüpe, Kerstin. 2020. Semiramis, de qua innumerabilia narrantur: Rezeption und Verargumentierung der Königin von Babylon von der Antike bis in die opera seria des Barock (Classica et Orientalia, 25). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Semiramis, die legendäre Königin von Babylon, gehörte bis in das 20. Jahrhundert hinein zu den bekanntesten und am stärksten rezipierten Gestalten der antiken Welt. Als Frau, die von Babylon aus das Großreich der Assyrer regierte und erfolgreiche Eroberungskriege führte, wurde sie in einer Vielzahl antiker Quellentexte teils mit Bewunderung, teils mit tiefer Abscheu beschrieben. Schnell avancierte sie so zum Paradigma – einerseits für das weibliche Geschlecht, andererseits für die Ausübung von Macht, aber auch für den antiken ‚Orient‘ im Allgemeinen. Semiramis findet sich in der Folge in nahezu allen Literatur- und Kunstgattungen der Spätantike, des Mittelalters, der Renaissance und der Frühen Neuzeit und erhielt so einen festen Platz im kulturellen Gedächtnis der westlichen Welt. An ihr wurden über die Epochen hinweg Weiblichkeit und Herrschaft miteinander verknüpft, Transgressionen von weiblichen Handlungsräumen thematisiert, Geschlechterordnungen und Geschlechternormen verhandelt und Handlungsspielräume für das weibliche Geschlecht reflektiert.

Kerstin Droß-Krüpe folgt den Spuren der Semiramis durch die Jahrhunderte – von der griechischen Historiographie des 5. Jahrhunderts v.Chr. bis auf die Opernbühnen des Barock. Sie kombiniert so eine historisch-kritische Aufarbeitung des in den antiken Quellentexten präsentierten Semiramisbildes mit der späteren Wahrnehmung, Aneignung und Verargumentierung der Semiramis als Figur der Erinnerung.

For the table of contents, click here.


The Sin of the Woman

Sadeghi, Fatemeh. 2020. The Sin of the Woman: Interrelations of Religious Judgments in Zoroastrianism and Islam (Islamkundliche Untersuchungen, 336). Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag.

Since the 1920s, the so-called “return to the roots”, has become a hegemonic discourse in Iran. Whereas the Pahlavi regimes (1925–1979) propagated the myth of the lost idyll of pre-Islamic Iran representing themselves as the true inheritors of those monarchies, the Islamists adopted a respective approach in regard to Islam. As a result, a similar fairytale was made about the early Islamic community. Such claims, as it were, are not so much about the past as they are about the present. So is this study. By delving into the past, it questions the widespread nostalgic notions considering the pre-Islamic era as a lost utopia, wherein women were free from the restrictions “imposed by Islam”. In point of fact such past is a fabrication. In the majority of cases, therefore, the revival projects invent traditions to legitimize current political agendas.

Table of Contents:

A Note on Persian and Arabic Transliteration and Translation
Chapter I:
Women in the Sasanian Zoroastrianism
Chapter II:
Zoroastrian Dadestan: From Sasanian Era to Islam
Chapter III:
Chapter IV:
Islam and Menstruation
Chapter V:
Sexual Relations in Zoroastrianism and Islam


Orientalism and the Reception of Powerful Women

Carlà-Uhink, Filippo & Anja Wieber (eds.). 2020. Orientalism and the reception of powerful women from the ancient world. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

This volume investigates how ancient women, and particularly powerful women, such as queens and empresses, have been re-imagined in Western (and not only Western) arts; highlights how this re-imagination and re-visualization is, more often than not, the product of Orientalist stereotypes – even when dealing with women who had nothing to do with Eastern regions; and compares these images with examples of Eastern gaze on the same women. Through the chapters in this volume, readers will discover the similarities and differences in the ways in which women in power were and still are described and decried by their opponents.


Interrelations of Religious Judgments in Zoroastrianism and Islam

Sadeghi, Fatemeh. 2018. Sin of the woman. Interrelations of religious judgments in Zoroastrianism and Islam (Islamkundliche Untersuchungen 336). Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag.

Since the 1920s, the so-called »return to the roots«, has become a hege­monic discourse in Iran. Whereas the Pahlavi regimes (1925–1979) propa­gated the myth of the lost idyll of pre-Islamic Iran repre­sen­ting them­selves as the true inhe­ri­tors of those monar­chies, the Isla­mists adopted a respec­tive approach in regard to Islam.
As a result, a similar fairy­tale was made about the early Islamic community. Such claims, as it were, are not so much about the past as they are about the present. So is this study.
By delving into the past, it ques­tions the wide­s­p­read nost­algic notions cons­i­de­ring the pre-Islamic era as a lost utopia, wherein women were free from the restric­tions »imposed by Islam«. In point of fact such past is a fabri­ca­tion. In the majo­rity of cases, there­fore, the revival projects invent tradi­tions to legiti­mize current political agendas.


Achaemenid Women: Putting the Greek Image to the Test

Safaee, Yazdan. 2016-7. Achaemenid Women: Putting the Greek Image to the Test, Talanta 48-49, 101-132.

The historians of ancient Greece, as part of the elite of Greek communities, of their own time. By studying the works of these historians one can become familiar with these traditions and the common view on the world in Greek culture regarding various issues and concepts. The purpose of this paper is to study and analyze the Greek approach to women and the effect of this approach on the way the history of the Achaemenid Empire (ca. ((550 – ca. 330 BC) was written. Our central theme in this paper is the question of the connection between the Greek perspective on women and the reliability of narratives related to women in the accounts of Achaemenid history by Greek historians.