Nadītu,[pronunciation?] or Naditu, is the designation of a legal position for women in Babylonian society and for Sumerian temple slaves. The latter were primarily involved in business activities and were allowed to own property.
Nadītu were mainly particular women not living in the patriarchal family relations that Babylonian society regarded as normal. Nadītu lived in monastic buildings, but in general did own their home within these complexes, and were independent. They could engage in contracts, borrow money and perform other business transactions normally denied to women; records show that they were very active. Usually these women were part of the elite, often from royal families.
Their financial independence was based on their dowry, which they were not allowed to pass on to a man; the dowry was the compensation for not being included in the inheritance, as this was passed on through the patriarchal line. It is not exactly clear whether the nadītu were allowed to marry, or whether this right was only reserved for the nadītu that belonged to the Marduk temple. According to some sources celibacy was required in the Shamash temples, or at the least they had to remain childless, which is reflected in the meaning of the word nadītu - the fallow. When the nadītu died, the dowry fell to her brothers or other relatives.
There were a lot of writers among the nadītu. According to the epic of Gilgamesh, writing is attributed to a goddess. In the temple of Inanna in Erech the earliest writing tablets are found, dating back to the 4th millennium BC. Many nadītu lived there as priestess.
Along the rivers Tigris and Euphrates many temples are still found in worship of Inanna and where these nadītu resided in active service. The 5000-year-old temple in Uruk (biblical Erech) is the largest of these, being regularly rebuilt and expanded. A sculpture of a woman's head and the well-known Warka Vase (now in the museum of Baghdad) have been discovered there, showing reliefs of archaic Mother goddess culture: images of sacred properties and forests, men harvesting produce and goats indicating the symbols of social order of that time.
- Elisabeth Meier Tetlow (2004), Women, Crime and Punishment in Ancient Law and Society: Volume 1, p. 80-85