The Iltani Archive and the Messiness of Spousal Violence


  • Noam Cohen New York University



Spousal Violence , Intimate Partner Violence, Tell Al-Rimah, Feminist Criticism


The Old Babylonian archive of Iltani, a royal woman living in Qaṭṭara (Tell Al-Rimah), offers a glimpse into the messiness that often surrounds gendered violence. The archive attests to two distinct cases of spousal violence against women – namely, Iltani and her acquaintance Belessunu. When only her case is considered, Iltani may appear uncomplicated, a righteous victim. However, this neat and flat narrative is greatly complicated by her demonstrated resistance to helping Belessunu leave her abusive husband, despite Iltani’s personal history and unique ability to intervene. Letters from Belessunu and a mutual friend of the two, Azzu, offer a rare opportunity to read conversations between ancient West Asian women in response to gendered violence, and these relationships too are messy. The correspondence demonstrates that spousal violence could alternatively strengthen or strain female friendships, and offers the possibility of studying spousal violence in a way that decenters the violent (male) spouse. Despite the remarkable attestation of a women’s support network in the Old Babylonian period, it appears that the network failed to achieve its aims, whereas Yarim-Lim, a man who identifies as Belessunu’s ‘brother,’ succeeded in meeting their initial goal.


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How to Cite

Cohen, N. (2024) “The Iltani Archive and the Messiness of Spousal Violence”, Avar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Life and Society in the Ancient Near East . London, UK, 3(1), pp. 45–72. doi: 10.33182/aijls.v3i1.2838.