Thursday, September 15, 2022

Amanda H. Podany's "Weavers, Scribes, and Kings"

Amanda H. Podany is Professor Emeritus of History at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and the author of Brotherhood of Kings: How International Relations Shaped the Ancient Near East and The Ancient Near East: A Very Short Introduction. She is also the author and instructor of an audio and video lecture series for Wondrium called Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization.

Podany applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, Weavers, Scribes, and Kings: A New History of the Ancient Near East, and reported the following:
When you reach page 99 in Weavers, Scribes, and Kings, you are immersed in the life of Baranamtara, queen of the Mesopotamian city-state of Lagash, who lived in the early 24th century BCE. You will have already read about her role as the administrator of a large estate, called the “House of Women,” where she oversaw hundreds of workers, and about her diplomatic relationships with queens of other city-states, along with her ritual journey around the kingdom during the largest annual festival. Page 99 starts with the statement that, in leading the festival this way, “She was reminding the people of the kingdom of her legitimacy as queen and bringing her subjects together in a shared celebration.”

The page moves on to a statue that Baranamtara commissioned of herself. “The royal statues must have taken up considerable space in a temple. Eight are mentioned by name as receiving individual offerings… After Baranamtara’s death, her statue joined this group, along with a statue of her husband Lugalanda.” Lugalanda was the king who ruled Lagash at this time, but we know much less about him than about Queen Baranamtara, because her archives have been excavated, and his have not.
Although these dead royals were not called gods, in the minds of the people of Lagash, the distinction between immortal gods and mortal monarchs might have been a little hazy. Statues of royal family members stood in temples, just like statues of gods. Both the statues of dead monarchs and those of gods needed food, drink, and clothing.

It is often argued that most Mesopotamian royals were not divine, in contrast to Egyptian kings who were, but the hard-and-fast line between god and human that we perceive now was probably a lot more porous in the mind of an ancient Mesopotamian. The average person might have had trouble distinguishing between the divinity of deities and deceased royals. It’s clear that queens were in the same category as kings in this regard—both required offerings. In fact, there were almost as many queens as kings among the venerated statues.
I’m pleased to report that the Page 99 Test works well; you would get a good idea of the spirit of the book from this page. Throughout the book I have included microhistories of men and women from all walks of life to explore the culture and events of the ages in which they lived. Some are of “Big Names” of ancient Near Eastern history, such as Sargon of Akkad, Enheduana, Hammurabi, and Ashurnasirpal II. Others are of powerful people who are less well known, like Queen Baranamtara, Shamash-hazir (a high official working for Hammurabi), and Adad-guppi (a 100-year old priestess). Many others are of people who were not powerful at all, like child laborers who worked for a temple, Zum, a weaving woman who oversaw one of Baranamtara’s workshops, and an enslaved couple named Nabu-utirri and Mizatu who ran a brewery.

On page 99, my discussion of the statues of gods and kings underlines one theme of the book: religion was not something the Mesopotamians recognized as a concept, or even had a word for. The world was teeming with deities, whose actions were inextricable from the rest of experience. The Mesopotamians saw no clear lines between the divine and the secular. The royal statues, which were believed to contain some part of the spirit of the person represented, provide an interesting example of this.

One way in which the page is not typical, however, is that it includes no quotes from ancient texts, which are found throughout the book.
Follow Amanda Hills Podany on Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: Brotherhood of Kings.

--Marshal Zeringue