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The organization of manual labor in Ur III BabyloniaBenjamin Studevent-Hickman
The Ur III state of the late third millennium B.C.E. marked the real heyday of Sumerian civilization. At its peak the state's geopolitical borders extended from the city of Ur in southern Babylonia to what is now western Iran and southeastern Turkey. The military and political accomplishments this represented were complemented by equally impressive advances in the arts and sciences, above all in the areas of economic organization and record keeping. While the major cultural achievements of the Ur III state have been studied extensively, the very system of manual labor that made them possible has remained poorly understood. This dissertation examines the organization of manual labor in Ur III times. Owing to the nature of the evidence, its scope is limited to the southern-Babylonian provinces of Ummaki and Lagaški/Gir2-su ki, whose capital cities have yielded thousands of legal and administrative records bearing on the topic. This study identifies the major industries within the two provinces, deriving their organization through a combination of toponymic and prosopographical analyses. The data clearly reveal an overarching system that applied to worker and supervisor alike. That system was based on the presence of half-time individuals whose status was determined by the possession of subsistence land (Sum. šuku). While the connection between the half-time individual and the šuku holder has been known for some time, this study shows that the basic half-time arrangement permeated the entire workforce, even its lowest strata. The affect of this arrangement, it is argued, was to ensure that the province would have the labor power necessary to support its population, serve its deities, and pay its taxes to the central government. This study further argues that the major industries---especially agriculture---were centrally controlled and planned by the provincial authorities, leaving virtually no room whatsoever for a private sector in the traditional sense of that phrase. Both conscription and hired labor were incorporated into the overall approach to labor management. Hirelings came primarily from the provinces, themselves, and, while it cannot be proven, it appears that they stemmed from those workers and managers at half-time status. Moreover, it appears that the workers at half-time status were members of smaller, patrimonial households that reflected the structure of the state as a whole. According to the data from Umma ki and Lagaški/Gir2-suki, this study argues, the Ur III state was essentially a peasant society, its core provinces operating as a heavily subsidized agribusiness.
Social sciences; Babylonia; Iraq; Labor; Manual labor; Ur III; Ancient civilizations; Economic history; Labor economics; Manual workers; Part time employment; Supervision; Agribusiness; Studies; 0579:Ancient civilizations; 0509:Economic history; 0510:Labor economics
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