Other than Mother

On Childlessness as Part of the Social Identity of Nadītu Women


  • Katrien De Graef Ghent University




Childlessness, nadītu women, Old Babylonian period, otherness, social identity


In Old Babylonian society, nadītu and other women who held religious offices were not allowed to bear children. Traditionally, this taboo on childbearing has been explained as a taboo on sex (chastity) or a taboo on blood (cultic impurity). I believe these traditional explanations to be faulty and inadequate, and suggest an alternative approach based on the concepts of alterity and constructed social identity. By not fitting the norm of their social group, viz. women, by definition birth giving beings, they are ‘othered’ as non-birth-giving-beings, which indeed is the literal meaning of nadītu: ‘the fallow (woman).’ However, their ‘otherness’ is not conceived as negative or problematic, on the contrary, it added greatly to their social status as a privileged group within society. As such, their childlessness was an important part of their social identity.


Metrics Loading ...




How to Cite

De Graef, K. (2023) “Other than Mother: On Childlessness as Part of the Social Identity of Nadītu Women”, Avar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Life and Society in the Ancient Near East . London, UK, 2(1), pp. 9–30. doi: 10.33182/aijls.v2i1.2094.