Female Agency by the Dead Sea: Evidence from the Babatha and Salome Komaïse Archives

In: Dead Sea Discoveries
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  • 1 School of Education and Humanities, University of Gloucestershire

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Abstract

The Babatha archive contains thirty-five legal papyri dating from 94 to 132 CE. They belonged to a Judean woman Babatha, from Maoza on the south-eastern shore of the Dead Sea, where date cultivation was a valuable cash crop. The Salome Komaïse archive, also concerning a family of date farmers from Maoza, consists of six papyri dated from 29 January 125 to 7 August 131. Both archives were deposited by their owners in the same cave in Wadi Ḥever at the end of the Bar Kokhba revolt. Maoza formed part of Nabatea until the kingdom became the Roman province of Arabia in 106. These papyri provide a rich array of evidence relating to the life of Babatha, Salome Komaïse and her mother Salome Grapte, and of other women, Judean and Nabatean, in this context. Particularly noteworthy is that women possessed considerable wealth, in cash and real property, and regularly acted as business-women, including by loans to their husbands. The papyri also reveal seizure of assets and frequent recourse to litigation by these women in defence of their rights. Although this was a patrilineal and patrilocal culture, the papyri provide striking examples of potent female agency, as women deployed and protected their wealth by every legal means.

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