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Testing the middle ground in Assyro-Anatolian marriages of the kārum period

Heffron, Y; (2017) Testing the middle ground in Assyro-Anatolian marriages of the kārum period. Iraq , 79 pp. 71-83. 10.1017/irq.2017.10. Green open access

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Central Anatolia in the Middle Bronze Age is marked by an extremely well-documented Assyrian presence during the kārum period (20th-mid 17th c. B.C.),1 a dynamic time of long-distance trade and cultural contact.2 Many Assyrians settled here on a permanent or semi-permanent basis, some marrying locals and raising children in their Anatolian homes, but also maintaining close contact with their home city of Aššur, following business interests and family affairs there. One of the idiosyncrasies of the social history of this period is a special bigamous arrangement which allowed Assyrian men to enter second marriages on the condition that one wife remained at home in Aššur, and the other in Anatolia. So far unattested for other contemporary or later Mesopotamian societies, this appears to be a custom peculiar to Old Assyrian society, designed to accommodate the needs of its travelling men (Michel 2006: 163). The potential role of Anatolian agency3 in the formation of this new custom, however, is seldom considered, despite numerous marriage contracts featuring mixed Assyro-Anatolian couples. This is partly due to the nature of the textual record, which offers very little of the kind of information one would require for reconstructing default conditions for Anatolian marriage practices, or gauging the extent to which these may have differed from Assyrian customs. While it is inevitable that discussions of kārum period marriage rely mostly on the Assyrian perspective, it would be a mistake to accord to it full explanatory capacity for how marriage practices took shape in mixed Assyro-Anatolian communities. Arguably certain aspects of long-distance bigamy cannot be explained as prioritising Assyrian needs, but instead suggest compromise. In other words, in generating a new legal mechanism of second marriages, Assyrians were not simply adapting to the logistics of long-distance life, but also to a new set of social expectations. As already noted by Lumsden (2008) and recently reiterated by Larsen and Lassen (2014), the nexus of intermarriage and cross-cultural compromise aligns Assyro- Anatolian marriage with R. White’s (2011) model of the ‘middle ground.’ This article tests the extent to which a middle ground may be recognisable in Assyro-Anatolian marriage practices, and how the peculiar terminology of bigamous arrangements can be interpreted as the crucial element of misunderstanding (White 2011) in middle ground formation.

Type: Article
Title: Testing the middle ground in Assyro-Anatolian marriages of the kārum period
Location: UK
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1017/irq.2017.10
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1017/irq.2017.10
Language: English
Additional information: This article will be published in a revised form in IRAQ. This version is free to view and download for private research and study only. Not for re-distribution, re-sale or use in derivative works. Copyright © The British Institute for the Study of Iraq 2016.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of History
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1512613
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