Les suidés au Proche-Orient ancien : de la domestication au tabou


Frans van Koppen (Université de Munich) : Pigs and pig products in Old Babylonian sources from Lower Mesopotamia

Archaeological evidence for Sus scrofa domesticus from ancient Mesopotamian settlements is ample and suggests that the domestic pig was a major source of meat and animal products. However, textual references to the possession and consumption of same animal are relatively few in all periods of Mesopotamian history, and this dearth of evidence reflects the fact that the pig was an inexpensive commodity, while the habitual forms of pig breeding – the raising of a few free-ranging animals at or near the owner's residence – did not require written documentation.

In the Old Babylonian period (ca 2000-1600 BC), there is almost no evidence from Lower Mesopotamia that hints at the breeding of large herds of pigs by professionals, as is attested in the third millennium BC and in contemporary Upper Mesopotamia, but the available textual evidence– the scattered remains of a large variety of private 'archives' from many sites and diverse social backgrounds – allows to perceive some aspects of pig keeping and pork consumption at the level of the individual household. It is the purpose of this symposium contribution to update the reference collection found in the article šahű, "pig", of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary Š/I (1989), to situate this evidence in its archival context and to elaborate its socio-economic background. It will be shown that, as can be expected, textual evidence for pig keeping is limited, but more can be said about pork consumption. Whenever possible, the consumption of pork will be compared with the use of meat of other animals: The best evidence for this enquiry is found in the piqittum-clauses in the lease contracts of the Šamaš-nadītums. The Old Babylonian evidence does not allow to assign the consumption of pork to any particular 'class' or 'sector' of society, and instead pork appears to have been generally favoured; its absence from the offering table, however, is noteworthy. Finally, a few professions occurring in connection with pigs, notably the lú-šah-sum-ma, need to be discussed.

The results of this reading of the evidence in Old Babylonian economic and epistolary sources will then be confronted with the images of, and attitudes towards, pigs and pork in Old Babylonian literary sources and in the later literary tradition.