So the time has finally come for us to talk about the role of women, in particular, in ancient Assyria. And I think it would be smart to start by simply revisiting some of the things that you have already said about women within the context of family life so far. >> Okay, well we've mainly talked about women and their roles as mothers, spouses, and daughters. We've emphasised the typically, considerable age difference between a husband and a wife. We said that this would have been about 15 years, typically. We said that if a woman managed to survive her child-bearing years, she could outlive her husband by a considerable span of time. And that means that we are talking about a society where we have young wives, young mothers, lots of widows, relatively speaking. We do have old women, but many, many women would have died fairly young, because bearing children would have been, as it would be today without medical intervention, is a dangerous business. And many women would have died during pregnancy, especially during birth or afterwards, as would have their children. So, child mortality would definitely be a huge factor, shaping Assyrian society, and shaping, especially, women's lives, yeah. So, of course we are talking also about a context where women's fertility would have been prized enormously. This is with a high child mortality. We are talking of course about a society that needs to produce a greater number of children because many of them would die. And that would mean that a married woman would spend a considerable time of her life being pregnant, yeah. So that's very far away for us, perhaps, but it's something that would've been recognisable to many people today, of course, to many women today, of course. And, of course, to the generation of our, possibly not grandmothers, but certainly great grandmothers. Okay, women's looks would have been shaped a great deal by this, and there's one set of documents about, it's a slave woman who gets sold twice in her life. Once as a young girl, so young that she is qualified as a girl in contrast to a woman, so she's not yet grown up. And then really only a few years later, she's sold again, and now she is referred to as an old woman. And if you make the calculation, then she can't have been much older than 32, yeah. So that's quite tough, really. So, on the whole, we have to say women's lives peaked early. There was the chance of having a wonderful life as a widow bossing around your young daughter-in-law and, yeah, that's that. But when we talk about women's lives in the family context, then a lot of it would not immediately sound very appealing to women like you and I. >> So we've talked a lot about women and their roles of mothers. What about women who can't become mothers? How does infertility fit in to all of this? >> Well if a married woman can't have children, there are several options. This is simply her most important role within the marriage, of course, is to be the mother of the children of her husband. If you can't do that, a lot depends on the social standing of this woman and her family, and the size of her dowry. The couple can get divorced - both the husband and the wife can initiate a divorce. When that happens, however, the woman would take her dowry back. And if it's the husband who initiates the divorce and if this has been agreed at the time the marriage is made, he might have to double the dowry. So this is something that, of course, becomes much much more important, the wealthier the partners are; this might not have been a huge concern in a relatively modest household. But if we're talking about our wealthy, urban families, this would have stopped people from getting divorced even if they can't naturally have children. There is adoption in Assyria. And we've already talked about the fact that a wealthy household would typically have all these slaves living with them. And we said that really, the likelihood that the slaves are blood relatives is very high. So, that's an obvious choice of child to adopt then. Adoption required the okay of the wife, that's very important. The other way of doing it would be to go for a birth mother, who then is required to give up the child once it's born, and declare that child legally the wife's child, yeah. So that's a very modern concept, very modern really. So that again, requires the explicit okay of the wife and it's the wife who typically can select the birth mother. And there are parallels for this, in the Bible, for example. So, again this is really nothing that is specifically Assyrian. That's, in a way, the product of a wealthy society where it's very important to be able to pass on inheritance in a family and where you try to keep the wealth of the family intact. So you don't want to sort of give it up to an outsider; you want to, if it's not your own child, you want to at least be able to shape that child's childhood, and their growing up, and make that child as much your own as you can. And again, the role of the wife is very, very important here, yeah. So that's basically the scenario when it comes to infertility in a married woman. In an unmarried woman, depending on her social status, you wouldn't even know about it, because an unmarried Assyrian woman was not meant to have children or have sex, let's put it like that. And in a slave woman, it would probably be quite unwelcome. Because we are talking, of course about pre-industrial society where every pair of hands is wealth. There is no greater factor to work and to labour than human labour at that time. So, being an infertile woman in Assyrian times would not have been great at all. And depending on one's social status, that would have been mitigated by one's personal wealth and one's family's wealth. So it could be remedied. >> Okay, so stepping aside from wives, adult women who successfully get themselves married, whether they are fertile or not, how about single women. What's the story with single women in ancient Assyria? >> Well again, of course we are talking about this context of the urban wealthy families, in a way. Slaves could get married with the permission of their owner but typically were not, because it just makes everything more complicated. So we are really talking about these women that are part of an urban family with some income. So there are definitely women who are not married, but who have children And who sort of live with their father's household or with their brother's household and whose children or who's child then also falls under the authority of that woman's birth family. We don't know very much about such scenarios. What we do know is largely from legal documents, when the family for whatever reason, gives up the child. We don't have very many texts that document it, it's a legal affair, and therefore Assyrians write contracts on clay tablets. And those are the sources I'm referring to. So we don't have very many contracts where a family gives up a child. That happens very rarely because they are, as I said, they are good value. Okay, so, but it does happen and among these not very many cases, a high proportion concerns children of women that are called “ḫarimtu” and it's the big question is how to translate this word. Traditionally this word has been translated as “prostitutes” but it has also been suggested that means “unmarried woman”, “unmarried woman who still has a child”. And it, of course, shifts the meaning and the context of what is going on here dramatically. Typically, when a child of such a ḫarimtu woman is given up, then the father or her brothers give up the child to a temple. And that's a particular scenario of course, and it suggests on the one hand, that it's seen as an act of worship because you've gave a family member up to be part of the temple household. So you don’t… you don't put them out of the city and hope that they die. No, that's not what you do; you try to care for them, but you still don't want them with you. So it's tricky. So, in a way, who might be the father of such a child? How would the ḫarimtu, the single woman, have come to bear a child? Is this shameful to the family, to her or not? That’s quite tricky. The whole issue is made much more complicated because the Greek historian Herodotus wrote in his histories about the custom of temple prostitution in Babylonia, by which he basically means all of the ancient Middle East with a focus on Iraq really. And so that may be linked really to our scenario there, yeah? And he says that it's a custom among the urban families of Babylonia that the women make themselves available at the temple. And that's where this idea of temple prostitution comes from, and that's what people sort of refer to when they translate this term “ḫarimtu” as prostitute. So it's very, very complicated. It's very clear that we don't really understand much of the roles of women in Assyrian society, who were not married, who did not have this typical career, from daughter to wife to widow. This we sort of understand reasonably well, but everything beyond that, it's very tricky. >> Okay so we've talked about women as mothers. >> Mm-hm. >> We've talked about women as married but infertile, and this very interesting information about these ambiguous women who are adult, sexually active, but not married. >> Mm-hm. >> What about outside of the family, outside of family life, is there any role for women that exists outside the realm of the family? >> Yeah, just like men could enter palace service, so could women. So that women could also enter the palace. And then they wouldn't be administrators or bureaucrats or scribes or something like that. They would provide colour and entertainment in a way to palace life, which you also need of course. So, in palaces we have huge quantities of singers and female musicians who'll seem to live together, so very unclear where they are coming from. Quite often they are grouped in ethnic groups, but in any case these women clearly live outside of a, at least, traditional family context, as part of palace society, of court life. And that brings us to the royal women of Assyria. In many ways their lives are also mirrored in a way by traditional family life. But they are in various ways different from what we've discussed. So the royal court had various royal women. Some had borne children who were then daughters and sons of the king. And one of these royal women would be the queen, and only one of them would be the queen as we said, and this queen would be in charge of all the other royal women. The king's mother could play a particular role, sometimes even overshadowing the role of the queen, but on the whole, the queen was in charge. And the queen did not just lead a social group, but also really a sizable economic part of the palace, because the women of the palace, the royal women didn't sit in the palace and spend their days doing nothing. But they, like women living in other houses, they would have been producing things, most importantly textiles. They would be spinning and weaving, and that would create assets for the household or the palace. And in the case of the palace, so important was the queen's domain, that she had her own seal in order to authorise what was going on. And that official seal of the queen, which, like the royal seal that we've discussed in another context existed in numerous copies, had an emblem that stood for what the Assyrian queen was. We've already discussed in another context that the Assyrian royal seal showed the king killing a lion, a rampant lion. Now the seal of the queen showed a scorpion. [LAUGH] >> [LAUGH] >> Does that strike you in any way as strange? >> Well, I admittedly only see the negative aspect of scorpions. It's like, the queen is poisonous. Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's fair enough. But in Assyria the scorpion, although of course it was a deadly animal, was seen as inherently very positive, because the scorpion, a female scorpion, takes care of its young, of her young I should say. The young scorpion babies sit on the back of the scorpion mother. And the scorpion mother fiercely protects her young with her poisonous sting. And the Assyrians therefore associated with the scorpion the role of the mother who defends her young, yeah, who defends her own. So basically something that probably you and I might associate with the female lion. >> Or a bear, I think, yes. >> A mother bear, yeah, or the lioness with her young. But in Assyria this would be the scorpion. So for them it's strong, a strong female, a strong mother, a woman who protects what is her own. And that's a very good symbol for the queen, who is the lady of the palace. >> Okay, my head is reeling with all this. Onne last question for you - I mean, you have introduced the idea, obviously, of Assyria as being a multicultural place. And I think all of the women that we have talked about so far, the types of women, are all particularly Assyrian women. But what about in other cultural groups in Assyria? >> Yeah, yeah sure, of course. We've talked about the fact that by the time that the Assyrian heartland becomes this multicultural region due to the massive relocation of people from all over the Middle East. We don't only find traditional Assyrian families in the cities of heartland, but also others. For example, Egyptians. In the 670s, the Assyrian King Esarhaddon leads a successful military campaign to Egypt. And that results in the deportation of a great many well-to-do, well-educated Egyptian people, specifically from Memphis. That's in the region of modern-day Cairo. And most of these people were then settled in central Assyria, and we have found their documents, and in some cases even their houses in the cities of Nineveh, and in Assur, again in Assur. And in Assur, we have family archives that document the lives of these families from the moment that they were settled there. That's in the late 670s til 50 years later, roughly when the Assyrian heartland was conquered when the city of Assur was conquered. Okay, so for about 50 years we've got good information about Egyptian families. And the interesting thing is that they live not in a ghetto, but their houses are in various parts of the city of Assur. And the women of these families are, legally speaking, much more present, much more visible, than their Assyrian counterparts. Typically in documents you never encounter an Assyrian woman as a witness or as a buyer, as a seller, no, that's always men. When they give up a claim or when they enter an obligation, they have to be represented by a man of their family. Not in these Egyptian families, we see women from these Egyptian families in all these roles. We see them entering various business transactions, we see them in business, we see them in legal proceedings. And that seems to be due to the fact that in Egypt, women have a much greater legal presence than typically in Assyria. And that apparently doesn't change once these people have been brought into the Assyrian heartland. So that's a very, very important reminder that sometimes our documentation, we've emphasised that on the whole, we are reduced to discussing the affairs of urban well-to-do Assyrians. But sometimes the documentation is quite misleading, because due to the fact that most of these well-to-do families coming from a particular social segment, we don't really see other scenarios. And the Egyptian case is a good reminder that we shouldn't generalise too much. Having said that, the way that the life of these Egyptian women in Assur works is not very different overall from the way that we've discussed it before. It's just their involvement in business affairs, in public life in a way, that is much more visible.