Sal-Zikrum
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Sal-Zikrum from the Code of Hammurabi

The' epicene' (Having the characteristics of both sexes) (Sum. SAL-ZIKRUM)

The SAL-ZIKRUM, who occurs in §§ 178-80 as well as in § 187 and §§ 192-3, is rarely found outside the Laws, and this lack of information makes it impossible to decide what the term precisely denotes; moreover, it appears to be either a Sumerian word of which the Babylonian equivalent is still uncertain or a pseudo-ideogram[i] formed from an Accadian root. In contemporary documents it occurs apparently only twice, once in reference to an amount of corn supplied to such a person,[ii] and again in an account which sets out the amount of corn required for the support of certain persons, including weaving-women and a SAL-ZIKRUM, and for the perfor­mance of a sacrifice.[iii] This suggests perhaps that she may have been supplied with food from a temple; but no sure inference can be drawn, as this last document refers to a number of different classes of persons on a single occasion.

As SAL-ZIKRUM seems literally to denote 'woman-man', it has been thought to suggest either a male disguised as a woman[iv] or a female as a man[v]. Incidentally either theory would explain why wearing the clothes of the opposite sex was disapproved by the marriage (Strabo Geogr. XVII i 46); but, however suggestive this passage may be, no safe inference can be drawn from it in the present state of knowledge regarding Babylonian practice. Hebrew reformers as I an abomination unto the Lord';[vi] for, as Robertson Smith[vii] has remarked, the prohibition I is not a mere rule of conventional propriety but is directed against those simulated changes of sex which occur in Canaanite and Syrian heathenism'.[viii]

So Macrobius[ix] relates that in Cyprus, an island strongly influenced by the East, the Greek 'Afrodith was called ' Afrodit$; and that ei sacrificium facere viros cum veste muliebri, mulieres cum virili; ("men in clothing of a woman, women in that of a man, made [lit. 'to make'] sacrifice to him [or to it].") but there is no evidence connecting the SAL-ZIKRUM with any such custom.

In the Laws the SAL-ZIKRUM is regarded as a woman; for in § 180 she is called the daughter of her father and in § 192 the mother of her adopted child, and in § 178 she receives a “eriktum (After marriage, the bride’s father gave her a dowry (seriktum) or settlement (nudunnum) which was administered by the husband for her benefit) to be like other daughters from her father and her inheritance belongs to her brothers. Whereas, however, the other priestesses mentioned in the Laws, if they have no seriktum, receive one-third of an heir's share in their father's estate in place of it,[x] the nadīt gāgīm and the SAL-ZIKRUM receive the full share of one heir.[xi] On the supposition that the nadīt gāgīm remains there for her natural life, the presumption is that the gagum requires this gift for her support; and the same argument applies to the SAL-ZIKRUM, who in one contemporary document seems to have been fed from the cloister.[xii] The next question is why the SAL-ZIKRUM and the girseqūm receive special privileges in the matter of adoption.[xiii] The reason must be sought in their offices, of which the duties must have been in some respects similar.

 If they are in the lifelong service of respectively the cloister and the palace, they do not so much as the nadītum require a son or a daughter to support them in their old age. It may be that these privileges are not conferred wholIy for personal benefit but are designed to recruit a special class of servant for these institutions; the child[xiv] is adopted 'for bringing up' (Bab. ana tarbītim) as an apprentice to assist and eventually to take the place of the adopter. Further the SAL-ZIKRUM, though classed in §§ 178-9 with various priestesses, is mentioned last; it would seem therefore that such a person, though connected with these women, was not of them and was not even a priestess. Again, the SAL-ZIKRUM is not included in § 180 amongst the priestesses whom their fathers are said to offer to a god and seems therefore to be rather an officer of the cloister than a dedicated woman, possibly an officer in charge of the women in the temple ­harem just as the girsēqūm may have been the officer in charge of the women of the palace-harem. She would then be called' woman-­man', because her duties corresponded to those of the eunuch ­chamberlain. [xv] 


[i]  An ideogram is in origin a Sumerian sign read as an Accadian word; a pseudo-ideogram is a false Sumerian word coined from an Accadian word.

 [ii] 3 Scheil in RA. XIV 153 xxxi B 1-2.

 [iii]  Kohler & Ungnad HG. III 7733-6

 [iv]  Driver & Miles in . Iraq' VI 66-70, where a suggestion is put forward which is here given up.

 [v] Landsberger in ZDMG. LXIX 519-21

[vi] Deut. xxii 5.

[vii] In · OTJC.'2 365.

[viii] The practice of transvestiture is well attested in the ancient East. Thus

the assinnu and kurgarū put on female attire in certain rites at Uruk (Thureau­Dangin RitAcc. 1157; s. Oppenheim in' JAOS.' LXIII 325); and the Kóμβαβo$, who was perhaps connected with Humbaba of Babylonian mythology, was represented by a statue of female form but in male dress at Hierapolis (Lucian De.Syr. 26), and the eunuch-priests of Cybele, called indifferently galli and gallae (Catullus Carm. lxiii 12), worshipped the goddess dressed in the clothes of the opposite sex (Lucian De.Syr. 15-17, 27).

[ix] In Saturn. III viii 2-3; cpo Servius in Verg. Aen. ii 632

[x] CH. 180.

[xi] CH. 180

[xii] Kohler & Ungnad HG. III 773.

[xiii] CH. 187, 192-3.

[xiv] I.e. a girl in the case of a SAL-ZIKRUM (s. p. 339 n. 1 and p. 392 n. I).

 [xv] The suggestion that the SAL-ZIKRUM may have been, une virago qui, parmi les prźtresses, tient la Place de l'homme; sorte d'amazone, elle peut revźtir le costume masculin en harmonie avec ses goūts et ses fonctions     "a man like woman/female warrior who, among the priestesses, holding the place of the man; [a] sort of Amazon,  she could put on the masculine costume in harmony with her tastes and her functions."

 (Dhorme RBA. 212-3) goes too far.

Last modified: 12/24/13