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Ancient Mesopotamian Assemblies-An Addendum

Author(s): Geoffrey Evans

Source: Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 78, No. 2 (Apr. - Jun., 1958), pp. 114-
Published by: American Oriental Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/595445
Accessed: 20/11/2009 16:23

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Ancient Mesopotamian Assemblies-an addendum 1

Since this paper was written, there has come to From the use of the words sid and minutum in
my attention a piece of evidence which, in my view, association with these assemblies, it would appear
considerably increases the possibility that voting that they reached decisions by a process of count-
was employed in certain Mesopotamian assemblies ing; at any rate counting and an assembly of
as a procedural technique. Taken with one or two craftsmen occur in the closest association in our
other scraps of information, it may also suggest text. While it is conceivablethat these words carry
the circumstances in which the practice arose. The some other significance, much the most probable
text is brief enough to be quoted in full. It is from would appear to be that there was some system of
the second tablet of HAR-ra = hubullu, as trans- voting which involved counting. Perhaps it is per-
lated by Landsberger: 2 missible to suggest a parallel with the division into
three of the assembly of the "great" at Kanes,
13 um-me-a um-man-nu master of the which I have already discussed.
scribal craft
14 URUxBAR If this line of reasoning is not too far astray, a
pu-uh-ru assembly (of further conclusion may be drawn, that the tech-
(=unkin) masters)
15 sid mi-nu-tum number, vot- nique of voting would appear to have arisen not so
much in a political context, as our own experience
ing board would lead us to assume, but in a social or judicial
16 sid um-me-a mi-nu-tum number, or
um-ma-ni-e voting board one.5 There the environment may have been more
of a master- favourable both to its appearance and survival, in
craftsman that the groups involved would generally be small
and homogeneous in their interests, functions and
The next few lines go on to enumerate various status. In this connection, it is interesting to find,
types of judges. as Landsberger observes, that "the dignity of
The considerations which led Professor Lands- rabidnum (of the village of Supur-subula) rotated
6 This rotation
berger to translate sid/minitum by "voting year by year among the elders."
board" are unknown to me.3 Even without this may have been effected by the vote-we cannot say.
exact term, however, the context seems clear Whether it was or not, the practice strongly sug-
enough. Scribes, and probably other craftsmen as gests a liberal and democratic spirit among
well, held assemblies, no doubt to discuss matters small group of local dignitaries. In such an atmos-
of mutual interest, appoint officers and so on.4 phere, democratic procedures within the group
might easily arise.
1 Between the submission and the appearance of the
main part of this article, Professor Jacobsen published a
Voting among the Mesopotamian peoples, there-
further long study, "Early political development in fore, may have been a social and judicial usage,
Mesopotamia," ZA, n.f. 18 (52) 1957, p. 91-140. Some
of this is in a neighbouring field, especially pages 99-104. issue of the existence of trade gilds in Babylonia, and if
I am most gratified to find that in a few instances where the interpretation proposed is correct would undoubtedly
Professor Jacobsen and I have discussed the same text, support their existence. See I. Mendelsohn, "Gilds in
we are in agreement upon its significance. On the other Babylonia and Assyria," JAOS, 60 (1940), p. 68-72.
6 It will be recalled that the assembly of the
" great"
hand, he has not modified his position upon the composi-
tion of the assemblies of Uruk and Kanes, merely re- at Kanes was a judicial body. It is well known that
ferring to his earlier remarks on the subject. there were boards of judges in Babylonia, and these
2MSL, Vol. V, p. 51. may have reached a verdict by vote; at any rate I
3 For an earlier discussion of the meaning of sid by cannot help wondering if the fact that our text is im-
Landsberger, see JAOS, 69 (1949), p. 214, apud Kramer, mediately followed by lists of judges is altogether
"Schooldays-A Sumerian composition relating to the coincidental.
6 "On the archive of Ubarum," JCS, 9 (1955), p. 127,
education of a scribe."
This text seems also to be relevant to the disputed note 44. Cf. ibid. p. 126.

Brief Communications 115

rather than a political one. Given the character of the Council of the Gerousia of the ultra-conserva-
their civilisation, this is not surprising; centuries tive and oligarchic state of Sparta employed the
later, in Hellenistic times, innumerable clubs and vote and based decisions upon a simple majority.7
societies of every kind were run upon democratic At least it can be claimed that such evidence as
principles long after the triumph of autocracy in we possess supports this view, for these bodies, like
the political field. If voting was employed politi- the assembly of scribes, were small in numbers and
cally in the ancient Near East, it seems likely that composed of men whose interests and status were
it was by bodies which the Greeks would have re- closely similar.
garded as oligarchic rather than democratic in GEOFFREY EVANS
complexion, such as the abba uru, or the assembly
of the "great" at Kanes. There is nothing para-
7I have already pointed out that the Spartan popular
doxical in this: to take another instance from assembly did not vote, except by acclamation, and was
Classical Antiquity, the board of the Ephors and always liable to be overruled by the Gerousia.

Stress Continuity in Iranian

In addition to an excellent descriptive account ward (134) the attractive suggestion that three of
of Word stress in Persian,1 Ferguson has put for- the features discussed by him are inheritances in
detail from Indo-European. These three features
Lg. 33 (1957), 123-35. While the bulk of Ferguson's are: 1. recessive stress and lack of stress in voca-
article is, as the title suggests, a descriptive account of
the incidence of distinctive stress in important categories tives; 2. stress on preverb and frequent absence of
of modern Persian words, certain interesting phrase and stress in verb forms; 3. pitch and stress on inter-
sentence types are also treated in respect of their stress rogative words.
patterns. From Ferguson's treatment we learn that the By carefully inspecting earlier attestation within
incidence of stress in modern Persian is by no means the
Iranian and correlating these facts with features
simple automatic matter that standard handbooks by
assertion or by silence would have us believe. assumed on other evidence for Indo-European, this
My present note should be taken neither as implying list of features can be extended. Numbering will
that Ferguson's article covers his topic incompletely nor be continued from the points recapitulated above;
as supplementing his main subject. At the end of his in each case, reference is made to the relevant
article, as a sort of appendix, Ferguson happily took
the opportunity of suggesting the Indo-European back- paragraph number in Ferguson's article.
ground of a few of the features just described by him.
It is from that portion of his work that the present satisfied, consist of a single phoneme, or even of zero.
note took its course. The reader is referred to Fergu- It is convenient, then, to call a morpheme which is mani-
son's article for the descriptive facts. fested by segmental phonemes a SEGMENTAL MORPHEME.
For convenience, and, most of all, for clarity and to Though it may seem a trifle strange at first, it is quite
avoid ambiguity, certain terms and concepts are intro- common in most known languages for us to encounter
duced below which may usefully be briefly defined here morphemes that are manifested entirely by supraseg-
for the benefit of those readers whose daily tasks do not mental phonemes, i. e., by sequences of stresses, pitches,
justify their keeping up a running familiarity with the junctures, etc. Since such SUPRASEGMENTAL MORPHEMES
neologisms occasioned by the rapidly changing field of have never yet been observed to behave as bases or
linguistics: Phonemes, the basic sound units of lan- stems, it is reasonable and compact, on the analogy of
guages, are often spoken of as SEGMENTAL (vowels, affixes (i.e., prefixes, infixes, suffixes), to call them
consonants, semivowels, and the like) or SUPRASEG- SUPERFIXES. In this way, we can in our discourse dis-
MENTAL; the latter term of the dichotomy is more or tinguish unambiguously between a superfix, which is a
less equivalent to accentual or prosodic, and includes such morpheme just as a suffix is, and the separate accents
items as stress, pitch, tone, length, juncture. This may be or stresses through which it is manifested.
regarded as an arbitrary, but highly useful, analytic The term CLITIC is a handy cover-term for the familiar
dichotomy whose precise reflection in nature has not yet proclitic and enclitic: A base (and, thus, not an affix)
been demonstrated, but whose reality and power to which attaches to an adjacent word without intervening
generate new and productive statements cannot be juncture and with no independent accentuation. For
doubted. Morphemes are most easily identified by ob- such terminology generally, see Hamp, A Glossary of
serving and grouping together recurrent sequences of American Technical Linguistic Usage 1925-1950
phonemes; such sequences may, if certain conditions are (Utrecht/Antwerp 1957).