MARRIAGE IN MESOPOTAMIA
In 2000 B.C. the bride of King Shu-Sin sang:
” Bridegroom, death to my heart
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet.
Lion, dear to my heart.
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet...
Bridegroom, let me caress you...”
The Code of Hammurabi outlines ruled of marriage and divorce. Claude Hermann and Walter Johns wrote in the Encyclopedia Britannica:“Marriage retained the form of purchase, but was essentially a contract to be man and wife together. The marriage of young people was usually arranged between the relatives, the bride- groom's father providing the bride-price, which with other presents the suitor ceremonially presented to the bride's father. This bride-price was usually handed over by her father to the bride on her marriage, and so came back into the bridegroom's possession, along with her dowry, which was her portion as a daughter. The bride-price varied much, according to the position of the parties, but was in excess of that paid for a slave. The Code enacted that if the father does not, after accepting a man's presents, give him his daughter, he, must return the presents doubled. [Source: Claude Hermann Walter Johns, Babylonian Law — The Code of Hammurabi. Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1910-1911 ]
“Even if his decision was brought about by libel on the part of the suitor's friend this was done, and the Code enacted that the faithless friend should not marry the girl. If a suitor changed his mind, he forfeited the presents. The dowry might include real estate, but generally consisted of personal effects and household furniture. It remained the wife's for life, descending to her children, if any; otherwise returning to her family, when the husband could deduct the bride-price if it had not been given to her, or return it, if it had. The marriage ceremony included joining of hands and the utterance of some formula of acceptance on the part of the bridegroom, as "I am the son of nobles, silver and gold shall fill thy lap, thou shalt be my wife, I will be thy husband. Like the fruit of a garden I will give thee offspring." It must be performed by a freeman.
“The marriage contract, without which the Code ruled that the woman was no wife, usually stated the consequences to which each party was liable for repudiating the other. These by no means necessarily agree with the Code. Many conditions might be inserted: as that the wife should act as maidservant to her mother-in-law, or to a first wife. The married couple formed a unit as to external responsibility, especially for debt. The man was responsible for debts contracted by his wife, even before her marriage, as well as for his own; but he could use her as a mancipium. Hence the Code allowed a proviso to be inserted in the marriage contract, that the wife should not be seized for her husband's prenuptial debts; but enacted that then he was not responsible for her prenuptial debts, and, in any case, that both together were responsible for all debts contracted after marriage. A man might make his wife a settlement by deed of gift, which gave her a life interest in part of his property, and he might reserve to her the right to bequeath it to a favourite child, but she could in no case leave it to her family. Although married she always remained a member of her father's house — she is rarely named wife of A, usually daughter of B, or mother of C.
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Wives, Concubines, Vestal Virgins and Slaves in Mesopotamia
Morris Jastrow said: “The prevailing custom in Babylonia at the time of Hammurabi was monogamy, but it was still permissible, as a survival of former conditions, for a man to take a concubine, or the wife could give her husband a handmaid—as Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham (Genesis xvi., i, 2), in order that he might have children by her. The Code endeavours, while recognising conditions that are far from ideal, so to regulate these conditions as to afford protection to the legitimate wife. It is provided that, in case the maid-servant has borne children, the husband may not take an additional concubine. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 ]
“It would, furthermore, appear that a second wife may be taken into the home only in the event that the marriage with the first spouse is without issue. Even then, the first wife is protected by the express stipulation that she shall retain her place at the head of her husband’s household. The manifest purpose of such regulations is to pave the way for passing beyond former crude conditions, such for example as are described in Genesis as existing in Hebrew society in the days of the patriarchs. Old laws are rarely abrogated—they are generally so modified as to lose their original force.”
Claude Hermann and Walter Johns wrote in the Encyclopedia Britannica:“A childless wife might give her husband a maid (who was no wife) to bear him children, who were reckoned hers. She remained mistress of her maid and might degrade her to slavery again for insolence, but could not sell her if she had borne her husband children. If the wife did this, the Hammurabi Code did not allow the husband to take a concubine. If she would not, he could do so. [Source: Claude Hermann Walter Johns, Babylonian Law — The Code of Hammurabi. Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1910-1911 ]
“The concubine was a wife, though not of the same rank; the first wife had no power over her. A concubine was a free woman, was often dowered for marriage and her children were legitimate. She could only be divorced on the same conditions as a wife. If a wife became a chronic invalid, the husband was bound to maintain her in the home they bad made together, unless she preferred to take her dowry and go back to her father's house; but he was free to remarry. In all these cases the children were legitimate and legal heirs.
“There was, of course, no hindrance to a man having children by a slave girl. These children were free, in any case, and their mother could not be sold, though she might be pledged, and she was free on her master's death. These children could be legitimized by their father's acknowledgment before witnesses, and were often adopted. They then ranked equally in sharing their father's estate, but if not adopted, the wife's children divided and took first choice.
“Vestal virgins were not supposed to have children, yet they could and often did marry. The Code contemplated that such a wife would give a husband a maid as above. Free women might marry slaves and be dowered for the marriage. The children were free, and at the slave's death the wife took her dowry and half what she and her husband had acquired in wedlock for self and children; the master taking the other half as his slave's heir.”
Hammurabi's Code of Laws: 144-153: Concubines, Wives and Debt
If a man take a wife and this woman give her husband a maid-servant, and she bear him children, but this man wishes to take another wife, this shall not be permitted to him; he shall not take a second wife. [Source: Translated by L. W. King]
If a man take a wife, and she bear him no children, and he intend to take another wife: if he take this second wife, and bring her into the house, this second wife shall not be allowed equality with his wife.
If a man take a wife and she give this man a maid-servant as wife and she bear him children, and then this maid assume equality with the wife: because she has borne him children her master shall not sell her for money, but he may keep her as a slave, reckoning her among the maid-servants.
If she have not borne him children, then her mistress may sell her for money.
If a man take a wife, and she be seized by disease, if he then desire to take a second wife he shall not put away his wife, who has been attacked by disease, but he shall keep her in the house which he has built and support her so long as she lives.
If this woman does not wish to remain in her husband's house, then he shall compensate her for the dowry that she brought with her from her father's house, and she may go.
If a man give his wife a field, garden, and house and a deed therefor, if then after the death of her husband the sons raise no claim, then the mother may bequeath all to one of her sons whom she prefers, and need leave nothing to his brothers.
If a woman who lived in a man's house made an agreement with her husband, that no creditor can arrest her, and has given a document therefor: if that man, before he married that woman, had a debt, the creditor can not hold the woman for it. But if the woman, before she entered the man's house, had contracted a debt, her creditor can not arrest her husband therefor.
If after the woman had entered the man's house, both contracted a debt, both must pay the merchant.
If the wife of one man on account of another man has their mates (her husband and the other man's wife) murdered, both of them shall be impaled.
Herodotus on Babylonian Marriage
Herodotus wrote in 430 B.C.:“Of their customs, whereof I shall now proceed to give an account, the following (which I understand belongs to them in common with the Illyrian tribe of the Eneti) is the wisest in my judgment. Once a year in each village the maidens of age to marry were collected all together into one place; while the men stood round them in a circle. Then a herald called up the damsels one by one, and offered them for sale. He began with the most beautiful. When she was sold for no small sum of money, he offered for sale the one who came next to her in beauty. All of them were sold to be wives. The richest of the Babylonians who wished to wed bid against each other for the loveliest maidens, while the humbler wife-seekers, who were indifferent about beauty, took the more homely damsels with marriage-portions. [Source: Herodotus, “The History”, translated by George Rawlinson, (New York: Dutton & Co., 1862]
“For the custom was that when the herald had gone through the whole number of the beautiful damsels, he should then call up the ugliest — a cripple, if there chanced to be one — and offer her to the men, asking who would agree to take her with the smallest marriage-portion. And the man who offered to take the smallest sum had her assigned to him. The marriage-portions were furnished by the money paid for the beautiful damsels, and thus the fairer maidens portioned out the uglier. No one was allowed to give his daughter in marriage to the man of his choice, nor might any one carry away the damsel whom he had purchased without finding bail really and truly to make her his wife; if, however, it turned out that they did not agree, the money might be paid back.
“All who liked might come even from distant villages and bid for the women. This was the best of all their customs, but it has now fallen into disuse. They have lately hit upon a very different plan to save their maidens from violence, and prevent their being torn from them and carried to distant cities, which is to bring up their daughters to be courtesans. This is now done by all the poorer of the common people, who since the conquest have been maltreated by their lords, and have had ruin brought upon their families. I.197: “
Mesopotamian Marriage Contracts
An Old Assyrian marriage contracts from the , 19th century B.C. reads: Laqipum has married Hatala, daughter of Enishru. In the country (i.e., Central Anatolia) Laqipum may not marry another (woman)—(but) in the City (i.e., Ashur) he may marry a hierodule. If within two years she (i.e., Hatala) does not provide him with offspring, she herself will purchase a slavewoman, and later on, after she will have produced a child by him, he may then dispose of her by sale wheresoever he pleases. Should Laqipum choose to divorce her (text: "him"), he must pay (her) five minas of silver- and should Hatala choose to divorce him, she must pay (him) five minas of silver. Witnesses: Masa, Ashurishtikal, Talia, Shupianika. [Source: Translator: J.J. Finkelstein]
Contract for Marriage, Reign of Shamshu-ilu-na, c. 2200 B.C.: RIMUM, son of Shamkhatum, has taken as a wife and spouse Bashtum, the daughter of Belizunu, the priestess of Shamash, daughter of Uzibitum. Her bridal present shall be _____ shekels of money. When she receives it she shall be free. If Bashtum to Rimum, her husband shall say, "You are not my husband," they shall strangle her and cast her into the river. If Rimum to Bashtum, his wife, shall say, "You are not my wife," he shall pay ten shekels of money as her alimony. They swore by Shamash, Marduk, their king Shamshu-ilu-na, and Sippar. [The bride was a slave, and gained her freedom by marriage, and hence the penalty imposed upon her in case she divorced her husband is greater than that imposed on him in case he divorced her.] [Source: George Aaron Barton, "Contracts," in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature: Selected Transactions, With a Critical Introduction by Robert Francis Harper (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1904), pp. 256-276]
Contract for Marriage, Thirteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar II, 591 B.C. is an example of marriage by purchase — a form of marriage which had practically fallen into disuse at this time: “Dagil-ili, son of Zambubu, spoke to Khamma, daughter of Nergal-iddin, son of Babutu, saying: "Give me Latubashinni your daughter; let her be my wife." Khamma heard, and gave him Latubashinni, her daughter, as a wife; and Dagil-ili, of his own free-will, gave Ana-eli-Bel-amur, a slave, which he had bought for half a mana of money, and half a mana therewith to Khamma instead of Latubashinni, her daughter. On the day that Dagil-ili another wife shall take, Dagil-ili shall give one mana of money unto Latubashinni, and she shall return to her place — her former one. (Done) at the dwelling of Shum-iddin, son of Ishi-etir, son of Sin-damaqu.”
Contract of Marriage, Sixth year of Nabonidus, 549 B.C. is a good example of marriage with a dowry: “Nabu-nadin-akhi, son of Bel-akhi-iddin, son of Arad-Nergal, spoke to Shum-ukin, son of Mushallimu, saying, "Give as a wife Ina-Esaggil-banat, your daughter, the virgin, to Uballit-su-Gula, my son." Shum-ukin hearkened to him, and gave Ina-Esaggil-banat, his virgin daughter, to Uballit-su-Gula, his son. He gave to Nabu-nadin-akhi one mana of money, Latubashinni, Ina-silli-biti-nakhat, Tasli-mu, and the outfit for a house with Ina-Esaggil-banat, his daughter, as her dowry. Shum-ukin has given to Nabu-nadin-akhi Nana-kishirat, his slave toward the one mana of money of the dowry, instead of two-thirds of a mana of money, at the full price. Shum-ukin will pay to Nabu-nadin-akhi one-third of a mana of money, the balance of one mana, and he shall receive his dowry completed to one mana in what it lacks.”
Marriage of Martu to the Daughter of a God
The Marriage of Martu is a story that dates back to Sumerian times, around 2000 B.C.. It goes: “When the city of Inab already existed, but the city of Kiritabdid not yet exist, when the holy crown already existed, but the holy tiara did not yet exist, when the holy herb already existed, but the holy cedar did not yet exist, when holy salt already existed, but holy alkali did not yet exist, when intercourse and kissing already existed, when giving birth in the fields already existed — I was the grandfather of the holy cedar, I was the ancestor of the mes tree, I was the mother and father of the white cedar, I was the relative of the hacur cedar. At that time there was a princely land among the cities; Inab was this princely land among the cities. The ruler of Inab was Tigi-cem-ala. Now, he had a wife whose name was Cage-gur (Desired-by-the-heart)...[Source: piney.com]
“The people living around the city hung up nets, the people living around Inab hung up nets, hung up nets, chased gazelles and killed the gazelles as one kills humans. One day, as the evening came, and they had reached the place of rations, they established the rations before the the god.... The ration of a married man was established as double, the ration of a man with a child was established as triple; the ration of a single man was established as single; but the ration of Martu, though being single, was also established as double. Martu went home to his own mother, and spoke to her: "In my city I am among my friends and they all have already married wives; I am there among my mates, and they all have already married wives. Unlike my friends in my city I am single, I am single and I have no children. Yet the imposed share exceeds that of my friends; over and above that of my mates, I received half of theirs....My mother, find me a wife to marry and I will bring you my ration." His own mother replied to Martu: "Su-henuna, my son, I will give you advice; may my advice be heeded. I shall say a word to you; you should pay attention to it. Marry a wife of your choice, marry a wife of your heart's desire, give me thus a companion, ...... me a slave-girl. Having built the houses of your people living around the city, and ...... gardens, you will dig the wells of your mates."
“At that time a festival was announced in the city; a festival was announced in the city of Inab. (Martu said:) "Come, friends, let us go, let us go there, let us visit the ale-houses of Inab, let us go there." The god Numucdaparticipated in the festival; his beloved daughter Adjar-kidugparticipated in the festival, his wife Namrat, the lovely woman participated in the festival. In the city, bronze cem drums were rumbling, and the seven ala drums resounded as strong men, girdled champions, entered the wrestling house to compete with each other for Numucdain the temple of Inab. There were many coming to Inab, the city where the festival was taking place, to marvel at this.
“For Numucda, because he was holy, Martu too strode around the great courtyard to compete in wrestling at the gate of Inab. They kept looking for strong fighters for him, they kept offering him strong fighters. Martustrode around in the great courtyard. He hit them with a destructive ...... one by one. In the great courtyard, in the battle he caused them to be bandaged; in the great courtyard of Inab he lifted the bodies of the dead.
“Rejoicing over Martu, Numucdaoffered him silver, but he would not accept it. He offered jewels, but he would not accept them. Having done so a second time, having done so a third time (Martu says): "Where does your silver lead? Where do your jewels lead? I, Martu, would rather marry your daughter, I would rather marry your daughter Adjar-kidug." [7 lines missing] [Numucda says:] "You ...... the wife with calves, as a marriage gift. Milch cows shall feed the calves. In the byre the calf and the cow shall lie down. Milch cows shall live in the ....... Suckling calves shall stay at their right side. You must give your word thus and only thus, and then I will give you my daughter Adjar-kidug."...
“He gratified the elders of Inab with golden torcs. He gratified the old women of Inab with golden shawl- ....... He gratified the men and women of Inab with golden ....... He gratified the slaves of Inab with ...... and gratified them also with coloured ...... cloths. He gratified the slave-girls of Inab with silver jugs.
“The days have multiplied, no decision has yet been made. (Adjar-kidug's girlfriend speaks to her:) "Now listen, their hands are destructive and their features are those of monkeys; he is one who eats what Nannaforbids and does not show reverence. They never stop roaming about ......, they are an abomination to the gods' dwellings. Their ideas are confused; they cause only disturbance. He is clothed in sack-leather ......, lives in a tent, exposed to wind and rain, and cannot properly recite prayers. He lives in the mountains and ignores the places of gods, digs up truffles in the foothills, does not know how to bend the knee, and eats raw flesh. He has no house during his life, and when he dies he will not be carried to a burial-place. My girlfriend, why would you marry Martu?" Adjar-kidugreplies to her girlfriend: "I will marry Martu!" Inab — ulum, alam!”
Aramaic Marriage Papyri from Elephantine
A document for Mibtahiah's first marriage from the “Aramaic Marriage Papyri from Elephantine” (459 B.C.) in Egypt reads: “On the 21st of Chisleu, that is the 1st of Mesore, year 6 of King Artaxerxes, Mahseiah b. Yedoniah, a Jew of Elephantine, of the detachment of Haumadata, said to Jezaniah b. Uriah of the said detachment as follows: There is the site of I house belonging to me, west of the house belonging to you, which I have given to your wife, my daughter Mibtahiah (Mbthyh), and in respect of which I have written her a deed. The measurements of the house in question are 8 cubits and a handbreadth by II, by the measuring-rod. Now do I, Mahseiah, say to you, Build and equip that site . . . and dwell thereon with your wife. But you may not sell that house or give it as a present to others; only your children by my daughter Mibtahiah shall have power over it after you two. If tomorrow or some other day you build upon this land, and then my daughter divorces you and leaves you, she shall have no power to take it or give it to others; only your children by Mibtahiah shall have power over it, in return for the work which you shall have done. If, on the other hand, she recovers from you, she [may] take half of the house, and [the] othe[r] half shall be at you; disposal in return for the building which you will have done on that house. And again as to that half, your children by Mibtahiah shall have power over it after you. If tomorrow or another day I should institute suit or process against you and say I did not give you this land to build on and did not draw up this deed for you, I shall give you a sum of 10 karshin by royal weight, at the rate of 2 R to the ten, and no suit or process shall lie. This deed was written by 'Atharshuri b. Nabuzeribni in the fortress of Syene at the dictation of Mahseiah. Witnesses hereto (signatures).” [Source: Translator: H. L. Ginsberg, Deed of 459 B.C., relating to reversion of property. Text: Sayce-Cowley, C; Cowley, 9. piney.com]
The liquidation of Mibtahiah's second marriage and settlement claim by oath reads: “The Jewess Mibtahiah (Mbthyh) had apparently married the Egyptian Pi’ and then the marriage had been dissolved. The marriage had meant Mibtahiah’s exit from the Jewish community and adoption into the Egyptian. Even its liquidation necessitated her swearing by an Egyptian deity. The witnesses to this document are neither Jewish nor Egyptian. On the 14th of Ab, being the 19th day of Pahons, in the year 25 of King Artaxerxes, Pi’ the son of Pahi (Phy), builder, of the fortress of Syene, said to Mibtahiah, daughter of Maheseiah the son of Yedoniah, an Aramean of Syene of the detachment of Varizata (as follows): In accordance with the action which we took at Syene, let us make a division of the silver, grain, raiment, bronze, iron, and all goods and possessions and marriage contract. Then a oath was imposed upon you, and you swore to me concerning them by the goddess Sati. I was satisfied with the oath which you took to me concerning you goods, and I renounce all claim on your from this day for ever. [Source: Translator: H. L. Ginsberg, Text: Sayce-Cowley, F; Cowley, 14. Date: 440 B.C.]
Contract of Mibtahiah's third marriage oath reads: “On the 2th of Tishri, that is the 6th day of the month Epiphi, [year . . . of] Kin[g Artaxerx]es, said Ashor b. [Seho], builder to the king, to Mah[seiah, A]ramean of Syene, of the detachment of Varizata, as follows: I have [co]me to your house that you might give me your daughter Mipht(ah)iah in marriage. She is my wife and I am her husband from this day for ever. I have given you as the bride-price of your daughter Miphtahiah (a sum of) 5 shekels, royal weight. It has been received by you and your heart is content there with, (Lines 6-I6, Miphtahiah's dowry.) Should Ashor die tomorrow or an[othe]r day having no child, male or female, by his wife Mi[phtah]iah, Miphtahiah shall be entitled to the house, chattels and all worldly goods of Ashor. Should Miphtahiah die tomorrow or (another) day having no child, male or female, by her husband Ashor, Ashor shall inherit her property and chattels. Should [Miph]tahiah, tomorrow [or] another [d]ay stand up in a congregation and say, I divorce my husband Ashor, the price of divorce shall be upon her head: she shall sit by the balance and weigh out to [As]hor a sum of 7 shekels 2 R. But all that which she has brought in with her she shall take out, shred and thread, and go whither she will, without suit or process. Should Ashor tomorrow or another day stand up in a congregation and say, I divorce my [wif]e Miphtahiah, [he shall] forfeit her bride-price, and all that she has brought in with her she shall take out, shred and thread, on one day at one stroke, and shall go whither she will, without suit or process. And [whoever] arises against Miphtahiah to drive her away from the house, possessions, and chattels of Ashor shall give her the sum of 20 karash, and the law of this deed shall [ . . . ] for her. And I shall have no right to say I have another wife besides Mipht(ah)iah or other children besides any Miphtahiah may bear to me. If I say I have chi[ldren] and wife other than Miphtiah and her children, I shall give to Miphtahiah a su[m] of 20 karash, royal weight. Neither shall I have the right to [wre]st my property and chattels from Miph[tah]iah. If I take them away from her (erasure), I shall give to Miphtahiah [a sum of] 20 karash, royal weight. [This deed] was written by Nathan b. Ananiah [at the dictation of Ashor]. Witnesses: (signatures). [Source: Translator: H. L. Ginsberg, Text: Sayce-Cowley, G; Cowley, 15. Date: about 440 B.C.]
The bride-price was regularly added to the bride's dowry. In marriage documents the value of each item of the dowry are given, and so is the total value. In the contract above the latter exceeds the value of the items by exactly the amount of the bride-price. This means this sum is exactly 1½ times the bride-price Ashor paid for her.
Marriage Contract of a Former Slave Girl
Marriage contract of a former slave girl who is subject to paramoné, 420 B.C., from “Aramaic Manumission & Marriage Papyri from Elephantine” reads: “On (the first day of) the month of Tishri, that is Epiphi, the year 4 of King Darius, in the fortress Elephantine, said Ananiah son of Haggai, an Aramean of the fortress Elephantine, [of] the detachment of [Iddin]-Nabu, to Zakkur son of Me[shullam, an Arame]an of Syene, of the same detachment, as follows: (3) I have come to your [hous]e and asked you for your sister the woman Yehoyishma' (as she is called) in marriage, and you have given her to me. She is my wife and I am [her] husband from this day to eternity. I have paid to you as the bride price of your sister Yehoyishma' (5) I karsh of silver; you have received it [and have been satisfied therewi]th. [Source: Kraeling, op. cit., Papyrus 7, pp. 201 ff., Pls. VIIa, VIIb; Ginsberg, op. cit., 58-59]
“Your sister Yehoyishma' has brought into my house a cash sum of two karsh, (two) 2 shekels, and 5 hallurs of silver, . . . (Lines 6b-13a, defective, a list of probably articles of wool and linen with their respective values; 13b-15a, 5 articles of copper with their respective values; [Garments and articles of co]pper with the cash and the bride price: seven karsh, eight shekels, and 5 hallurs of silver by the king's weights, silver of 2 R to the ten. (17b-21aa, containers of palm leaves, reeds, wood, and stone and quantities of various sorts of oil—no values specified.)
“If at some future date Ananiah should arise in an/the assembly and declare, "I divorce my wife Yehoyishma'; she shall not be a wife to me," he shall become liable for divorce money. He shall forfeit her bride price he must surrender to her all that she brought into his house. Her dowry of cash (23) and clothing, worth karsh seven, sh[ekels eight, and hallurs 5] of silver, and the rest of the goods listed (above) he must hand over to her on one day and in a single act, and she may [leave him for where]ver [she will]....
“If, on the other hand, Yehoyishma' should di- vorce her husband Ananiah and say to him, "I divorce you, I will not be wife to you," she shall become liable for divorce money. She shall sit by the scales and weigh out to her husband Ananiah 7 shekels and 2 R and shall leave him with the balance of her (27) cash, goods, and pos[sessions, worth karsh 7; shekels 5+] 3, and hallurs 5; and the rest of her goods, (28) which are listed (above), he shall hand over to her on one day and in a single act, and she shall depart for her father's house.
“If Ananiah should die having no male or female child from his wife [Yehoyi]shma', Yehoyishma' shall be [mistress] of his [pr]operty: of his house, his goods, to) his possession, [and all that he owns. Anyone who] attempts to banish Yehoyishma' from his house, [goods, possessions], and all that [he] owns, [shall p]ay to [her a fi]ne of silver, twenty karsh by [the king's] weights, silver of 2 R to the and shall accord [her] her due under this deed without lawsuit. However, Yeh[oyishma'] is not permitted [to] acquire a husband other [than] Anani. Should she do so, that shall constitute a divorce, and [the provisions for divorcement] shall be applied to [her]. (So, too,) if [Yehoyishma'] should die having no [male] or female child by [her] hus[band] Anani, [Anani] shall inherit from her her [cash], goods, possessions, and all that she own[s]. And [Anani] likewise [may] no[t ta]ke any woman [other than his wife Yehoyishma'] in marriage. Should he do [so, that shall constitute a divorce, and the provisions for di]vorcement shall be applied to him].
“Further, Ananiah may not omit to accord to his wife Yehoyishma' the right of any of the wives of his fellows. Should he fail to do so, that shall constitute a divorce, and he shall implement for her the provisions for divorcement. Neither may Yehoyishma' omit to accord to her husband Ananiah the right of any (husband). Should she fail to accord it to him, that shall constitute a divorce. Further, Zakkur may not say with reference to [his] sister], "I gave those [goo]ds to Yehoyishma' gratis; now I wish to take them back." If he speaks [thus], no attention shall be paid to him; he is in the wrong.
“This deed was written by Ma'uziah son of Nathan at the dictation of Ananiah son of Haggai [and] Zakkur son of Meshullam, and the witnesses thereto are: (There followed the names of six witnesses and those of their fathers, making twelve names in all, of which nine are preserved, all of them Jewish, and all of them in the handwriting of the scribe.
Divorce in Mesopotamia
There are records of divorce trials in Babylonian and Assyrian cuneiform libraries. Under the Code of Hammurabi a woman could get a divorce and keep her dowry, property and children and get child support if she could prove her husband "degraded" her.
Claude Hermann and Walter Johns wrote in the Encyclopedia Britannica:“Divorce was optional with the man, but he had to restore the dowry and, if the wife had borne him children, she had the custody of them. He had then to assign her the income of field, or garden, as well as goods, to maintain herself and children until they grew up. She then shared equally with them in the allowance (and apparently in his estate at his death) and was free to marry again. If she had no children, he returned her the dowry and paid her a sum equivalent to the bride-price, or a mina of silver, if there had been none. The latter is the forfeit usually named in the contract for his repudiation of her. [Source: Claude Hermann Walter Johns, Babylonian Law — The Code of Hammurabi. Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1910-1911 ]
“If she had been a bad wife, the Code allowed him to send her away, while he kept the children and her dowry; or he could degrade her to the position of a slave in his own house, where she would have food and clothing. She might bring an action against him for cruelty and neglect and, if she proved her case, obtain a judicial separation, taking with her her dowry. No other punishment fell on the man. If she did not prove her case, but proved to be a bad wife, she was drowned. If she were left without maintenance during her husband's involuntary absence, she could cohabit with another man, but must return to her husband if he came back, the children of the second union remaining with their own father. If she had maintenance, a breach of the marriage tie was adultery. Wilful desertion by, or exile of, the husband dissolved the marriage, and if he came back he had no claim on her property; possibly not on his own.
“As a widow, the wife took her husband's place in the family, living on in his house and bringing up the children. She could only remarry with judicial consent, when the judge was bound to inventory the deceased's estate and hand it over to her and her new husband in trust for the children. They could not alienate a single utensil. If she did not remarry, she lived on in her husband's house and took a child's share on the division of his estate, when the children had grown up. She still retained her dowry and any settlement deeded to her by her husband. This property came to her children. If she had remarried, all her children shared equally in her dowry, but the first husband's gift fell to his children or to her selection among them, if so empowered.
Divorce and Laws Recognizing Women as Possessions of Their Husbands
There are records of divorce trials in Babylonian and Assyrian cuneiform libraries. Under the Code of Hammurabi a woman could get a divorce and keep her dowry, property and children and get child support if she could prove her husband "degraded" her.
Morris Jastrow said: “The Code still recognises the wife as an actual possession of her husband, but, on the other hand, if he fails to provide for her support, she may leave him. A fine distinction is made between actual desertion or enforced absence on the part of the husband. In the former case, the woman has the right to marry another, and her husband on his return not only cannot force her to return to him, but she is not permitted to do so. On the other hand, if her husband is taken prisoner and no provision has been made for her sustenance, she may marry another, but on her husband’s return he may claim her, though the children bom in the interim belong to the actual father.[Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 ]
“Inasmuch as the wife forms part of her husband’s chattels, divorce lies, of course, at the option of the husband, but he cannot sell his wife, and, if he dismisses her, she is to receive again her marriage portion. Alimony was allowed for her own needs and those of her children, whose rearing was committed to her. When the children reach their majority, a portion of their inheritance must be given to the mother. Even in the case of a wife who has not borne her husband any children, he may not dismiss her without giving her alimony and returning her dowry, but if she has neglected her husband’s household, and as the law expresses it, has committed “indiscretions,” he may send her away without any compensation or may even keep her as a slave, while he is free to marry another woman as his chief wife. The dawning at least of the wife’s liberty is to be seen in the provision that, if a woman desires to be rid of her husband, and provided on examination it is shown that she has good cause—the legal language implies a neglect of marital duties on the husband’s part,—she may return to her father’s house, and be entitled to her marriage portion.
“If, however, of her own accord the widow leaves her husband’s house, then she is naturally entitled to her own dowry only, and not to any share in her husband’s estate; but, on the other hand, she is free in that case to marry whomsoever she pleases. Daughters are given a share in their father’s estate, and this is extended even to those who as priestesses have taken the vow of chastity. Such nuns have a right to their dowry, which they can dispose of as they see fit, but their share of the paternal estate cannot be disposed of by them. On the death of a nun, her share reverts to her brothers or to their heirs.
“Lastly, as an interesting example of an older law, dating from the period when a man could dispose of his wife and children as he disposed of his chattels and possessions, but so modified as to be practically abrogated, we may instance the provision that, if a man pledges, or actually sells his wife and children for his debts, the creditor can claim them for three years only. In the fourth year they must be set free. This stipulation assumes an older law, according to which a man could sell his wife and children without condition. Instead of revoking the law (which, as has been pointed out, is not the usual mode of procedure in ancient legislation), the limitation of three years is inserted, and this changes the sale into a lease. We have a parallel in the Book of the Covenant (Exodus xxi., 2) which provides that a Hebrew slave must be set free after six years. This is practically an abrogation of slavery by converting it into a lease for a limited period.”
Mesopotamian Laws That Protect Women
Morris Jastrow said:“As a protection to the wife, a formal marriage contract must be drawn up, as is not infrequent in our days. A marriage without a contract is void. A woman betrothed to a man is regarded as his wife, and in case she is disgraced by another, the offender is put to death; from which we may perhaps be permitted to conclude that if she be not betrothed, the offender is obliged to marry her. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 ]
“Legal rights are assured to a woman even after her husband’s death. Her children have no claim on property given to her by her husband. She may dispose of such property to a favourite child but, on the other hand, she is restrained from passing it on to her brother, which would take it out of her husband’s clan. Finally, there is a touch almost modem in the law that a wife cannot contract obligations in her husband’s name, nor can he be held responsible for debts thus contracted. The interesting feature of the provision is that it points to the independent legal status acquired by woman, who, as we learn also from business and legal documents, could own property in her own right, borrow money and contract debts independently, as long as she did not involve her husband’s property, and could appear as a witness in the courts. The dowry of a wife who dies without issue reverts to her father’s estate.
“Perhaps the most significant of these marriage-laws is the stipulation that the woman who is smitten with an incurable disease—the term used may have reference to leprosy—must be taken care of by her husband as long as she lives. In no circumstances, it is added, can he divorce her, and if she prefer to return to her father’s home, he must give her dowry to her.”
Hammurabi's Code of Laws: 137-143: Divorce
If a man wish to separate from a woman who has borne him children, or from his wife who has borne him children: then he shall give that wife her dowry, and a part of the usufruct of field, garden, and property, so that she can rear her children. When she has brought up her children, a portion of all that is given to the children, equal as that of one son, shall be given to her. She may then marry the man of her heart. [Source: Translated by L. W. King]
If a man wishes to separate from his wife who has borne him no children, he shall give her the amount of her purchase money and the dowry which she brought from her father's house, and let her go.
If there was no purchase price he shall give her one mina of gold as a gift of release.
If he be a freed man he shall give her one-third of a mina of gold.
If a man's wife, who lives in his house, wishes to leave it, plunges into debt, tries to ruin her house, neglects her husband, and is judicially convicted: if her husband offer her release, she may go on her way, and he gives her nothing as a gift of release. If her husband does not wish to release her, and if he take another wife, she shall remain as servant in her husband's house.
If a woman quarrel with her husband, and say: "You are not congenial to me," the reasons for her prejudice must be presented. If she is guiltless, and there is no fault on her part, but he leaves and neglects her, then no guilt attaches to this woman, she shall take her dowry and go back to her father's house.
If she is not innocent, but leaves her husband, and ruins her house, neglecting her husband, this woman shall be cast into the water.
Mesopotamian Divorce Documents
A New Sumerian divorce settlement, dated to about 2038-1990 B.C., reads: Final judgment; Lu-Utu, the son of Nig-Baba, divorced Geme-Enlil. Dugidu, an officer and official, took oath that Geme-Enlil had taken her stand [literally "Had set her face"] (and) said, ' By the kingi Give me IO shekels of silver (and) I will not enter claim against you," (and) that she made him forfeit IO shekels of silver. Ur-.. (was) the deputy; Ur-Lama (was) the governor. The year Harshi and Humurti were sacked.[last year of Shulgi, king of Ur, about 2038-1990 B.C.] [Source: Translator: Theophile J. Meek, published by Fr. Thureau-Dangin, Recueil de tablettes Chaldennes (1903), most recently translated by C.,J. Gadd, A Sumerian Reading- Book (1924), p. 173.]
An Old Assyrian divorce document starts with the seals of six persons, each preceded by "The seal of" and then reads: “Hashusharna, the son of Gudgariya, divorced his wife, Taliya. If Taliya tries to reclaim her (former) husband Hashusharna, she shall pay 2 minas of silver and they shall put her to death in the open. If Gudgariya and Hashusharna try to reclaim Taliya, they shall pay 2 minas of silver and they shall put them to death in the open.” [Source: Translator: Theophile J. Meek, Published by Fr. Thureau-Dangin, Lettres et contrats de l’epoque de la premi?r dynastie babylonienne (1910), No. 242; discussed at length by J. Lewy, ZA,m XXXVI (1925), 139-161]
A Mesopotamian abrogation of marriage agreement from Alalakh, dated to the 15th century B.C., begins with the Seal of Niqmepa (seal impression of Idrimi) and goes “Shatuwa son of Zuwa, citizen of Luba, asked Apra for (the hand of) his daughter to be his daughter-in-law, and, in accordance with the rules of Aleppo, brought him the marriage gift. Apra (subsequently) committed treason, was executed for his crime, and his estate was confiscated by the palace. Shatuwa came, in the light of his (rights to his) possessions—six ingots of copper and two bronze daggers—and took them (back). And as of this day, Niqmepa (is considered to have) satisfied Shatuwa. For (all) future time, Shatuwa [will have no further] legal claim with reference to his pos[sessions]. Seven witnesses, including the scribe. [Source: Translator: J.J. Finkelstein, Text: D. J. Wiseman, The Alalakh Tablets, No. 17, Pl. IX; transliteration and translation, p. 40]
An Ugaritic document of manumission and marriage reads: “As of this day, before witnesses, Gilben, chamberlain of the queen's palace, set free Eliyawe his maidservant, from among the women of the harem, and by pouring oil on her head, made her free, (saying:) "Just as I am quit towards her, so is she quit towards me, forever." Further, Buriyanu, the namu,[literally "man of the steppe," possibly a migrant agricultural laborer] has taken her as his wife, and Buriyanu, her husband has rendered 20 (shekels) of silver into the hands of Gilben. Four witnesses. (Inscribed on seal:) Should Buriyanu, tomorrow or the following day, refuse to consummate(his marriage) with Eliyawe — [The penalty is left unstated, and was to be understood] [Source: Translator: J.J. Finkelstein, Text. RS 8.208. F. Thureau-Dangin, Syria, XVIII (l937); 246, transliteration and translation, ibid., 253f.]
Contract for Divorce, Third year of Nabonidus, 552 B.C.: “Na'id-Marduk, son of Shamash-balatsu-iqbi, will give, of his own free-will, to Ramua, his wife, and Arad-Bunini, his son, per day four qa of food, three qa of drink; per year fifteen manas of goods, one pi sesame, one pi salt, which is at the store-house. Na'id-Marduk will not increase it. In case she flees to Nergal [i.e., she dies], the flight shall not annul it. (Done) at the office of Mushezib-Marduk, priest of Sippar.” [Source: George Aaron Barton, "Contracts," in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature: Selected Transactions, With a Critical Introduction by Robert Francis Harper (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1904), pp. 256-276]
The above document, which bears the date of the third year of Nabonidus, is apparently a legal divorce, in which the wife is granted alimony. The marriage contracts, given above under VIII, make it unnecessary further to illustrate the workings of Babylonian divorce laws. In VIII, I, the bride was a slave, and at her marriage was given, apparently by her husband, a small sum of money and her freedom. He might, therefore, divorce her by giving her a small alimony of ten shekels; but if she divorces him, she was to be put to death. This contract was not peculiar to the early period of its date, but has parallels in the later period in the case of brides who were slaves. In VIII, 2, the case is different. The husband purchased a free bride; hence, if he divorced her, he must give her an alimony six times as great as that given to the emancipated slave of the previous contract. In VIII, 3, the bride received a dowry, so that no provision for divorce was necessary, since, as the court decisions given below prove, the dowry was always the property of the wife. In case of her divorce the husband lost it, hence this was a check on divorce, while it assured the wife a living in case divorce occurred.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia sourcebooks.fordham.edu , National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, especially Merle Severy, National Geographic, May 1991 and Marion Steinmann, Smithsonian, December 1988, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018