On the Road, and Home Again


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stone tablet

Look how tiny the writing on this tablet is! It lists rations for each of seven men: they get 3-5 pints of beer, 3 pints of porridge, and a few ounces of condiments (onion, oil, and seasoning) apiece. These amounts are totaled up at the end of the list, which concludes with its date. There are altogether 28 lines written on the front, lower edge, and back of this tablet!

State employees whose jobs required them to travel were entitled to eat at the inns which were maintained at way stations on the Ur III state's road system. Tablets like this one served as vouchers for food and drink at such inns. Maybe these tablets were made so small because couriers had to carry many of them at a time.

man carrying big bag over his shoulder

At the end of every month, the vouchers redeemed at each way station were collected in a sack, the quantities of food and drink recorded on them were stone tablet totaled up, and the sack was labeled with a clay tag. The totals from the vouchers in the sack were written on the clay tag, and two officials sealed it with their cylinder seals. Here is one such sealed clay tag:

A courier took the sealed bag of clay tablets back to the administrative office at the provincial capital where the records were stored. Tablets were sometimes stored in baskets, which were labeled with clay labels identifying their contents – like this one:

stone tablet

“Basket of tablets:
tablets of accounts within Umma,
(belonging to) Ur-e-e.”

Next: Map of Mesopotamia

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