Slavery in Achaemenid-period Babylonia: the social world of Rībat, son of Bēl-erība

Rhyne King, Reinhard Pirngruber*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper argues for a historically grounded view of slavery in Achaemenid-period Babylonia by examining the life of one particular individual, Rībat son of Bēl-erība, an ardu of the Murašû family (whose archive spans c. 454–404 BCE). In contrast to other studies which focus on the terminology or legal aspects of slavery, we examine the lived experience of Rībat. We do this in two ways. First, we study all of Rībat’s attested business ventures and demonstrate that, although Rībat occasionally acted under the direct orders of his masters, he more often pursued activities ancillary to those of the core Murašû business. Secondly, we use social network analysis of over 700 Murašû texts to demonstrate that, although Rībat was crucial in linking distinct individuals to the Murašû business, he lay outside his masters’ group of core associates. We then compare Rībat’s social position to that of other known Murašû subordinates to argue that Rībat’s experience was representative of that of other Murašû subordinates. We conclude by arguing for more social-historical studies of Babylonian servitude in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-145
JournalJournal of Ancient Near Eastern History
Issue number1
Early online date3 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 25 May 2022


  • Slavery
  • Achaemenid Empire
  • Babylonia
  • Social networks
  • Nippur


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