What an Ancient Bottle of Wine Has to Do With Feminism


Next time you open a bottle of wine or (pu pu pu) receive a summons, take a close look at the seal.  It may not seem so important, but turns out those little markers can tell us quite a bit about power and privilege—not just in our time, but in ancient times as well.

One particular wine jug tells a story about women’s authority and independence in a time and place where women were more often sold than selling. Discovered in the Temple Mount/Haram Ash-Sharif area of Jerusalem in 1976, a stamped jar handle bearing the name “Hannah,” indicates that at least some women (there are perhaps a dozen such seals bearing women’s names) were allowed to sign legal documents, and played a much larger role in public life than you might expect.

Like Glueckel of Hameln after her, Hannah may have been a widow who took over her husband’s business. We can’t know for sure. What we can assume, though, is that Hannah was literate and numerate, and perhaps able to control her own affairs. With so few ancient non-textual sources remaining, it’s easy to see why this is no measly piece of clay.

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