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A trove of newly translated texts from the ancient Middle East are revealing accounts of war, the building of pyramidlike structures called ziggurats and even the people's use of beer tabs at local taverns.
The 107 cuneiform texts, most of them previously unpublished, are from the collection of Martin Schøyen, a businessman from Norway who has a collection of antiquities.
The texts date from the dawn of written history, about 5,000 years ago, to a time about 2,400 years ago when the Achaemenid Empire (based in Persia) ruled much of the Middle East.
The team's work appears in the newly published book "Cuneiform Royal Inscriptions and Related Texts in the Schøyen Collection" (CDL Press, 2011).
When a female tavern keeper gives you a beer ...
Another newly translated document is the oldest known copy of the law code of Ur-Nammu, a Mesopotamian king who ruled at Ur about 4,000 years ago. He developed a set of laws centuries before Hammurabi's more famous code from 1780 B.C., which includes the "an eye for an eye" rule.
In some ways, Ur Nammu's code is more advanced. For instance, it prescribes a fine for someone who takes out another person's vision, rather than an eye for an eye. Scholars are already aware of much of the code from later versions.
However, the fact that this is the earliest known edition allows researchers to compare it with later copies and see how it evolved. For instance, the copy sheds light on one of the oddest rules governing what you should pay a "female tavern-keeper" who gives you a jar of beer. [10 Intoxicating Beer Facts]
Apparently, if you have the female keeper put the beer on your tab during the summer, she will have the right to extract a tax from you, of unknown amount, in winter.
"If a female tavern-keeper gives [in] summer one beer-jar to someone on credit its nigdiri-tax will be [...] in win[ter]..." (Translation by Miguel Civil)
The lesson? If you live in ancient Mesopotamia don't put the beer on your tab.