female stuette from Akkad

Women had some degree of independence in Mesopotamia. They were allowed to own property and had relatively high status. According to the Code of Hammurabi, they were free and respected. For the most part though it seems that the primary responsibility of women was producing children. Women who had abortions or died in childbirth were regarded as among the lowest of the low.

It is taken for granted that the ladies of Babylon could read and write as well as the men. This, however, is only what might have been concluded from the other facts of Babylonian social life, and the footing of equality with the man upon which the woman was placed in all matters of business. The fact that she could hold and bequeath property, and trade with it independently, implies that she was expected to know how to read and write. [Source: “Babylonians And Assyrians: Life And Customs”, Rev. A. H. Sayce, Professor of Assyriology at Oxford, 1900]

Women in ancient Assyria are thought to have held relatively high status. During important proceeding high raking Assyrian women sometimes donned fake beards to show they command the same authority as men. In Tel-el-Amarna we find one or two from a lady who seems to have taken an active part in the politics of the day. “To the king my lord,” she writes in one of them, “my gods, my Sun-god, thus says Nin, thy handmaid, the dust of thy feet. At the feet of the king my lord, my gods, my Sun-god, seven times seven I prostrate myself. Let the king my lord wrest his country from the hand of the Bedouin, in order that they may not rob it. The city of Zaphon has been captured. This is for the information of the king my lord.”

Websites on Mesopotamia: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; International Association for Assyriology iaassyriology.com ; Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures, University of Chicago isac.uchicago.edu ; University of Chicago Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations nelc.uchicago.edu ; University of Pennsylvania Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations (NELC) nelc.sas.upenn.edu; Penn Museum Near East Section penn.museum; Ancient History Encyclopedia ancient.eu.com/Mesopotamia ; British Museum britishmuseum.org ; Louvre louvre.fr/en/explore ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/toah ; Ancient Near Eastern Art Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org; Iraq Museum theiraqmuseum ABZU etana.org/abzubib; Archaeology Websites Archaeology News Report archaeologynewsreport.blogspot.com ; Anthropology.net anthropology.net : archaeologica.org archaeologica.org ; Archaeology in Europe archeurope.com ; Archaeology magazine archaeology.org ; HeritageDaily heritagedaily.com; Live Science livescience.com/

Women at Umm el-Marra

Umm el-Marra is a archaeological site in Syria, dated to 2300 B.C., about 30 miles east of Aleppo. Some scholars believe it was part of Tuba, a city mentioned frequently in cuneiform tablets from the second and third millennium B.C. Among the more interesting finds was an undisturbed tomb with coffin jars, each with a women in here 20s and a baby inside. The women were richly ornamented with jewelry of gold, silver and lapis lazuli. One of them wore a pendant of iron, perhaps a meteorite, and the baby had a bronze torque, or collar.

Below the women were coffins with two men. One of the men wore a silver diadem decorated with a disc bearing a rosette motif, while the other had a bronze dagger. Below them was another man with a silver cup and silver pins. Around the tomb were ceramic jars with the remains animals, perhaps left as funerary offerings.

The striking thing about the tomb is that the women were given the highest position and they were the most richly decorated. Some scholars argue this means that women may have held a high position is society. Others have said that maybe the women were from upper class families and the men were their servants.

Semiramis, Legendary Queen of Babylon

Ancient Egyptian depiction of an Assyrian woman

Some women did obtain positions of power. Cuneiform tablets at Cornell described a 21st century B.C. Sumerian princess in the city of Garsana that has made scholars rethink the role of women in the ancient kingdom of Ur. According to the Los Angeles Times: “ The administrative records show Simat-Ishtaran ruled the estate after her husband died. During her reign, women attained remarkably high status. They supervised men, received salaries equal to their male counterparts' and worked in construction, the clay tablets reveal. "It's our first real archival discovery of an institution run by a woman," said David Owen, the Cornell researcher who has led the study of the tablets. Because scholars do not know precisely where the tablets were found, however, the site of ancient Garsana cannot be excavated for further information.” [Source: Jason Felch, Los Angeles Times, November 3, 2013]

Semiramis is the only woman to have ruled the Assyrian Empire. The details of her rule are scarce but that didn’t stop writers and painters from the Greco-Roman era to the 19th century from making her a legendary figure.Marcos Such Gutiérrez wrote in National Geographic History: Female rulers in ancient Mesopotamia were rare. But those who did rule made their mark on history. In the Neo-Assyrian regime of the ninth century B.C., one woman commanded an entire empire stretching from Asia Minor to what is today western Iran. She was Sammu-ramat, thought to mean “high heaven.” Her five-year rule, while brief, appears to have inspired long-lasting respect among her subjects and the world. [Source: Marcos Such Gutiérrez, National Geographic History, September 12, 2017]

Centuries after her reign, Greek writers, and historians focused on Sammu-ramat and her achievements. They hellenized her name to Semiramis. From here, the Assyrian queen passed from the world of facts into the realm of legend. Some cast her as a beautiful femme fatale in a tragic love story. Classical authors attributed great accomplishments to Semiramis: commander of armies, and builder of the walls of Babylon and monuments throughout her empire.

Her allure did not diminish with time. She later inspired the Italian medieval poet Dante, who placed her in his Inferno where she is punished for her “sensual vices.” The French Enlightenment writer Voltaire wrote a tragedy about her, which was later made into Rossini’s 1823 opera, Semiramide.

Enheduanna — World’s First Named Writer

Enheduanna (circa 2354 B.C.) was the first writer whose name was recorded and the first female author. She was the daughter of King Sargon, the great leader of Akkad and the destroyer of Sumeria.Her name means “ornament of heaven” Her birth name is unknown. Yale University Assyriologist Benjamin Foster, said “She’s the only author in the entirety of Sumerian literature whose name we actually know, and the only author in the entire 2,500-year span of Mesopotamian history of whom we have a contemporary illustration.”

Michelle Hart: “Enheduana is becoming known today as the first named author in all of world literature. She is credited by many as having written and compiled what is known as The Sumerian Temple Hymns, consisting of 42 hymns to the temples of Sumer and Akkad as well as a hymnal cycle to the goddess Inanna: 1) in-nin-me-hus-a,(INM), The Myth of Inanna and Ebih, 2) in-nin-sa-gur-ra, (INS),Stout-Hearted Lady, and 3) nin-me-sar-ra,(NMS), Lady of all the Me’s, which is her most famous poem. In addition, Joan Westenholz has also credited her as having written two hymns to the moon god, Nanna [Westenholz,1989]. [Source: Michelle Hart, Angelfire, January, 2001]

Kate Ravilious wrote in Archaeology Magazine: The poetry of Enheduanna, which evokes powerful feelings and records her innermost thoughts, paralleled the revolution in the visual arts. Her work gives scholars a window into rarefied religious and political beliefs of the time, Enheduanna’s song praising Inanna also resonated with later generations of Mesopotamians, most of whom came to speak Akkadian as Sumerian died out, and who regarded the failed rebellion against Naram-Sin as a foundational historical event. The song also became a model of how to interact with the most powerful gods. “For the Akkadians, a ritual involving a song of praise was a crucial means of interaction with the mightiest entities in the universe, who were presumed to have the power to change the course of history,” says Zgoll. By invoking Inanna in the Akkadian Empire’s moment of peril, Enheduanna claimed her place in history not only as the world’s first author, but as a poet who helped ensure the survival of its earliest empire. [Source: Kate Ravilious, Archaeology Magazine, November/December 2022]

Concubines and Slave Girls 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 ]

Ugaritian head

“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.”

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 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.

The concubine was usually a slave who had been bought by the bridegroom. Occasionally, by agreement with the parents, the wife herself was in much the same position. Thus Dagil-ili, who married the daughter of a lady named Khammâ, gave the mother one and a half manehs of silver and a slave worth half a maneh, and agreed that if he married another wife he would give her daughter a maneh and send her back to her old home. Here the husband practically buys his wife, though even so the law obliged him to divorce her if he married again, and also fined him for doing so. Khammâ was apparently in financial difficulties, and consequently, instead of furnishing her daughter with a dowry, received money from the bridegroom. It was a private arrangement, and utterly opposed to the usual custom. The parents had, however, the power of selling their children before they came of age, and where the parents were dead, the same power was possessed — at any rate in Assyria — by a brother in the case of a sister. Doubtless the power was restricted by law, but the instances in which we hear of its being exercised are so rare that we do not know what these restrictions were. [Source: “Babylonians And Assyrians: Life And Customs”, Rev. A. H. Sayce, Professor of Assyriology at Oxford, 1900]

One passage of “Advice of an Akkadian Father to His Son,” c. 2200 B.C., goes: “Do not honor a slave girl in your house; she should not rule your bedroom like a wife, do not give yourself over to slave girls....Let this be said among your people: "The household which a slave girl rules, she disrupts." Do not marry a prostitute, whose husbands are legion, an Ishtar-woman who is dedicated to a god, a kulmashitu-woman. . . .When you have trouble, she will not support you, when you have a dispute she will be a mocker. There is no reverence or submissiveness in her. Even if she is powerful in the household, get rid of her, for she pricks up her ears for the footsteps of another.”[Source: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia, scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton, Paul Halsall, Forham University, July 1998]

Rights of Women in Ancient Mesopotamia

A Babylonian women, in her own name, could enter into partnership with others, could buy and sell, lend and borrow, could appear as plaintiff and witness in a court of law, could even bequeath her property as she wished. In a deed, dated in the second year of Nabonidos (555 B.C.), a father transfers all his property to his daughter, reserving to himself only the use of it during the rest of his life. In return the daughter agrees to provide him with the necessaries of life, food and drink, oil and clothing. A few years later, in the second year of Cyrus, a woman of the name of Nubtâ, or “Bee,” hired out a slave for five years in order that he might be taught the art of weaving. She stipulated to give him one qa, or about a quart and a half of food, each day, and to provide him with clothing while he was learning the trade. It is evident that Nubtâ owned looms and traded in woven fabrics on her own account. Nubtâ was the daughter of Ben-Hadad-amara, a Syrian settled in Babylonia who had been adopted by another Syrian of the name of BenHadad-nathan. [Source: “Babylonians And Assyrians: Life And Customs”, Rev. A. H. Sayce, Professor of Assyriology at Oxford, 1900]

After the latter's death his widow brought an action before the royal judges to recover her husband's property. She stated that after their marriage she and Ben-Hadad-nathan had traded together, and that a house had been purchased with a portion of her dowry. This house, the value of which was as much as 110 manehs, 50 shekels, or £62 10s., had been assigned to her in perpetuity. The half-brother Aqabi-il (Jacob-el), however, now claimed everything, including the house. The case was tried at Babylon before six judges in the ninth year of Nabonidos, and they decided in favor of the plaintiff. One of the documents that have come down to us from the age of Abraham records the gift of a female slave by a husband to his wife.

The slave and her children, it was laid down, were to remain the property of the wife in case either of divorce or of the husband's death. The right of the woman to hold private property of her own, over which the male heirs had no control, was thus early recognized by the law. In later times it is referred to in numberless contracts. In the reign of Nebokin- abla, for instance, in the eleventh century B.C., we find a field bequeathed first of all to a daughter and then to a sister; in the beginning of the reign of Nabonidos we hear of a brother and sister, the children of a naturalized Egyptian, inheriting their father's property together; and in the fourth year of Cyrus his son Cambyses sued for the payment of a loan which he had made to a Babylonian on the security of some house- property, and which was accordingly refunded by the debtor's wife.

Other deeds relate to the borrowing of money by a husband and his wife in partnership, to a wife selling a slave for a maneh of silver on her own account, to a woman bringing an action before six judges at the beginning of the reign of Nabonidos to recover the price of a slave she had sold, and to another woman who two years previously was the witness to the sale of a house. Further proofs are not needed of the independent position of the woman, whether married or single, and of her equality with the man in the eyes of the law. It would seem that she was on a level with him also in the eyes of religion. There were priestesses in Babylonia as well as priests.

Property and Partnerships Held by Mesopotamian Women

Ur-Nammu statue

The dowry was not the only property the woman was able to hold. She had similar power to hold and dispose of whatever else had come to her by inheritance or gift. The gains she made in business, the proceeds of the sale of her estates, and the interest upon the capital she lent, all belonged to herself, and to herself alone. For purposes of succession they were reckoned along with the dowry as constituting her property during life. In the thirty-fourth year of Nebuchadnezzar, for instance, a father stipulates that the creditors of his daughter's father-in-law should have no claim either upon her dowry or upon any other part of her possessions.

The power of the married woman over her property was doubtless the result of the system which provided her with a dowry. The principle of her absolute control over the latter once admitted, it was extended by the law to the rest of her estate. She thus took rank by the side of the man, and, like him, could trade or otherwise deal with her property as she chose. The dowry, in fact, must have been her original charter of freedom. But it was so because it was given by her father, and not by the bridegroom.

Where it was the gift of the bridegroom it was but a civilized form of purchasing the bride. In such a case the husband had a right to the person and possessions of the wife, inasmuch as he had bought her; as much right, in fact, as he had to the person and possessions of a slave. The wife was merely a superior slave. Where, however, the dowry was the gift of the bride's father the conditions were reversed. The husband received not only a wife, he received also an estate along with her. He it was upon whom the benefit was conferred, and he had to accept the conditions offered him, not to make them. In a commercial state like Babylonia, property represented personalty, and the personalty of the wife accordingly remained with the family from which her property was derived, rather than with the husband, to whom the use of it was lent. Hence the independence of the married woman in Babylonia and her complete freedom of action as regards her husband. The property she possessed, the personalty it represented, belonged to herself alone. [Source: “Babylonians And Assyrians: Life And Customs”, Rev. A. H. Sayce, Professor of Assyriology at Oxford, 1900]

As far back as the reign of Samsu-iluna we find women entering into partnership with men for business purposes on a footing of absolute equality. A certain Amat-Samas, for instance, a devotee of the Sun-god, did so with two men in order to trade with a maneh of silver which had been borrowed from the treasury of the god. It was stipulated in the deed which was indentured when the partnership was made that in case of disagreement the capital and interest accruing from it were to be divided in equal shares among the three partners.

That the women in the Amorite settlements enjoyed the same freedom and powers as the women of Babylonia is shown by two documents, one dated in the reign of the second King of the dynasty to which Hammurabi belonged, the other in the reign of Hammurabi's great-grandfather. In the first, Kuryatum, the daughter of an Amorite, receives a field of more than four acres of which she had been wrongfully deprived; in the second, the same Kuryatum and her brother Sumu-rah are sued by the three children of an Amorite, one of whom is a woman, for the recovery of a field, house, slaves, and date-palms. The case was brought before “the judges of Bit-Samas,” “the Temple of the (Babylonian) Sun-god,” who rejected the claim. At a very early period of Babylonian history the Syrian god Hadad, or Rimmon, had been, as it were, domesticated in Babylonia, where he was known as Amurru, “the Amorite.” He had come with the Amorite merchants and settlers, and was naturally their patron-deity. His wife, Asratu, or Asherah, was called, by the Sumerians, Nin-Marki, “the mistress of the Amorite land,” and was identified with their own Gubarra. Nin-Marki, or Asherah, presided over the Syrian settlements, the part of the city where the foreigners resided being under her protection like the gate which led to “the district of the Amorites” beyond the walls.

Assyrian Women 3900 Years Ago

The Kanesh tablets from Turkey have been dated to 1900 B.C. Durrie Bouscaren wrote in Archaeology magazine: Although Assyrian legal codes from the time make clear that women were bound to their male relatives and didn’t enjoy the same freedoms as men, the Kanesh archives from 3,900 years ago provide evidence that they were not always truly subservient. The tablets women wrote indicate that they served crucial roles in trading networks, managed finances and workers, and pushed against societal expectations to better their lives. “It’s their own thoughts and writing. It’s not our interpretation of them,” says Yale University Assyriologist Agnete Wisti Lassen. “There’s a deep value to that, to having their own voices heard.” [Source: Durrie Bouscaren, Archaeology magazine, November/December 2023]

Assyriologist Cécile Michel of the French National Center for Scientific Research believes that the letters from the merchants’ wives who stayed in Assur establish that they formed a unique generation of Assyrian women who stepped in to lead their households in an otherwise male-dominated society. “Their lives are organized around the fact that they’re mostly alone in Assur,” she says. “Once women are alone, they’re more documented because they participate in economic life and society.”

Some letters written by Assyrian women describe heartbreak. In one message, a woman named Ummi-Ishara wrote to her sister Shalimma, who had left her husband and children to visit their mother in Kanesh — and refused to return, abandoning her family in Assur. Ummi-Ishara wrote that she feared she would be turned out of her brother-in-law’s home if Shalimma remained in Kanesh. Shalimma’s husband had grown despondent after sending her several letters that went unanswered, Ummi-Ishara warned. “For five days he did not go out of his home,” her sister pressed. “Write me if you are looking for another husband, so I know it. If not, then get ready and leave for here.”

A tablet found in the archive of the merchant Puzur-Assur is a copy of a letter he sent to a woman named Waqqurtum, in which he offered advice on how to improve sales of her textiles in the markets of Kanesh. Many of the texts addressed to or written by women deal in some way with the production of textiles, one of the most lucrative goods Assyrians traded with Anatolians. Together with the enslaved people who lived in their households, women in Assur wove large textiles that their male relatives sold in Kanesh.

Assyrian Businesswomen 3900 Years

Durrie Bouscaren wrote in Archaeology magazine Through their letters, it becomes clear that the women of Assur acted as business partners to their husbands, fathers, and brothers, sometimes debating profit margins and strategizing over which types of textiles would perform best in the marketplace. “The thin textile you sent me, make more like it and send them to me,” a trader named Puzur-Assur wrote to a woman named Waqqurtum, with whom he had an unknown relationship. In the letter, a copy of which he kept in his private archive in Kanesh, Puzur-Assur gave Waqqurtum several tips to improve her sales, based on what he was seeing sell well in the markets of Anatolia. “They should strike one side of the textile, and not pluck it. Its warp should be close,” he insisted. If she couldn’t produce thin textiles, he suggested that she buy them from the markets in Assur and send those instead, lowering her profits, but probably boosting her sales. [Source: Durrie Bouscaren, Archaeology magazine, November/December 2023]

It’s likely that Waqqurtum was related in some way to Puzur-Assur. In Michel’s view, many of the tablets record the inside workings of some of the world’s first multinational family businesses. “The father is the head, the sons settle in Anatolia to trade, and the women are part of the organization, producing textiles,” she says. “All these international trade networks rely on family relationships — they have to trust people.”

Each branch of the family network was financially independent. Individual assets were managed separately, even between married couples. Husbands sent proceeds from their wives’ textile sales back to Assur, as well as gold and silver to cover household expenses and the cost of producing more bolts of cloth. Many of the Kanesh tablets document small loans of silver between household members, which were paid back with interest.

A wealthy businesswoman in Assur named Taram-Kubi sent a series of letters to her husband in Kanesh, a merchant named Innaya. She regularly updated him on a lawsuit he faced in Assur over an irregularity in the sale of lapis lazuli, a semiprecious deep-blue stone that was imported from mines in what is now northeastern Afghanistan. “The cases have been deferred,” she wrote. “Do not be impatient; reinforce your witnesses, certify your tablets, and send them to me by the next caravan.”

In their correspondence, Taram-Kubi and her husband quarreled frequently over money. When Innaya complained about his wife’s spending habits and her lavish lifestyle, Taram-Kubi accused him of clearing the household of its grain stores on a recent visit to Assur. After his departure, she wrote, a famine swept the city, leaving her without barley to feed their children. She insisted that her husband send silver to help her buy food — which he appears to have done. In another tablet, she expressed how much she missed him. “When you hear this letter, come, look to Ashur, your god, and your home hearth, and let me see you in person while I am still alive!” she wrote. “The beer bread I made for you has become too old.”

Mesopotamian Laws That Protected 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: 127-136: Slander and Adultery

The Babylonian king Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.) is credited with producing the Code of Hammurabi, the oldest surviving set of laws. Recognized for putting eye for an eye justice into writing and remarkable for its depth and judiciousness, it consists of 282 case laws with legal procedures and penalties. Many of the laws had been around before the code was etched in the eight-foot-highin black diorite stone that bears them. Hammurabi codified them into a fixed and standardized set of laws. [Source: Translated by L. W. King]

  1. If any one "point the finger" (slander) at a sister of a god or the wife of any one, and can not prove it, this man shall be taken before the judges and his brow shall be marked. (by cutting the skin, or perhaps hair.)

  2. If a man take a woman to wife, but have no intercourse with her, this woman is no wife to him.

  3. If a man's wife be surprised (in flagrante delicto) with another man, both shall be tied and thrown into the water, but the husband may pardon his wife and the king his slaves.

  4. If a man violate the wife (betrothed or child-wife) of another man, who has never known a man, and still lives in her father's house, and sleep with her and be surprised, this man shall be put to death, but the wife is blameless.

  5. If a man bring a charge against one's wife, but she is not surprised with another man, she must take an oath and then may return to her house.

  6. If the "finger is pointed" at a man's wife about another man, but she is not caught sleeping with the other man, she shall jump into the river for her husband.

  7. If any one leave his house, run away, and then his wife go to another house, if then he return, and wishes to take his wife back: because he fled from his home and ran away, the wife of this runaway shall not return to her husband.

Code of the Assyrians (c. 1075 B.C.) on Women and Violence

I.2. If a woman, whether the wife of a man or the daughter of a man, utter vulgarity or indulge in low talk, that woman bears her own sin; against her husband, her sons, or her daughter they shall have no claim. [Source: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook]

I.7. If a woman bring her hand against a man, they shall prosecute her; 30 manas of lead shall she pay, 20 blows shall they inflict on her.

I.8. If a woman in a quarrel injure the testicle of a man, one of her fingers they shall cut off. And if a physician bind it up and the other testicle which is beside it be infected thereby, or take harm; or in a quarrel she injure the other testicle, they shall destroy both of her eyes.

I.9. If a man bring his hand against the wife of a man, treating her like a little child, and they prove it against him, and convict him, one of his fingers they shall cut off. If he kiss her, his lower lip with the blade of an axe they shall draw down and they shall cut off.

I.40. If the wives of a man, or the daughters of a man go out into the street, their heads are to be veiled. The prostitute is not to be veiled. Maidservants are not to veil themselves. Veiled harlots and maidservants shall have their garments seized and 50 blows inflicted on them and bitumen poured on their heads.

I.21. If a man strike the daughter of a man and cause her to drop what is in her, they shall prosecute him, they shall convict him, two talents and thirty manas of lead shall he pay, fifty blows they shall inflict on him, one month shall he toil.

I.47. If a man or a woman practice sorcery, and they be caught with it in their hands, they shall prosecute them, they shall convict them. The practicer of magic they shall put to death.

I.50. If a man strike the wife of a man, in her first stage of pregnancy, and cause her to drop that which is in her, it is a crime; two talents of lead he shall pay.

I.51. If a man strike a harlot and cause her to drop that which is in her, blows for blows they shall lay upon him; he shall make restitution for a life.

I.52. If a woman of her own accord drop that which is in her, they shall prosecute her, they shall convict her, they shall crucify her, they shall not bury her. If she die from dropping that which is in her, they shall crucify her, they shall not bury her.

I.55. If a virgin of her own accord give herself to a man, the man shall take oath, against his wife they shall not draw nigh. Threefold the price of a virgin the ravisher shall pay. The father shall do with his daughter what he pleases. I.58. Unless it is forbidden in the tablets, a man may strike his wife, pull her hair, her ear he may bruise or pierce. He commits no misdeed thereby.

Code of the Assyrians (c. 1075 B.C.) on Rape and Adultery

I.12. If the wife of a man be walking on the highway, and a man seize her, say to her "I will surely have intercourse with you," if she be not willing and defend herself, and he seize her by force and rape her, whether they catch him upon the wife of a man, or whether at the word of the woman whom he has raped, the elders shall prosecute him, they shall put him to death. There is no punishment for the woman. [Source: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook]

I.13. If the wife of a man go out from her house and visit a man where he lives, and he have intercourse with her, knowing that she is a man's wife, the man and also the woman they shall put to death.

I.14. If a man have intercourse with the wife of a man either in an inn or on the highway, knowing that she is a man's wife, according as the man, whose wife she is, orders to be done, they shall do to the adulterer. If not knowing that she is a man's wife he rapes her, the adulterer goes free. The man shall prosecute his wife, doing to her as he likes.

I.15. If a man catch a man with his wife, both of them shall they put to death. If the husband of the woman put his wife to death, he shall also put the man to death. If he cut off the nose of his wife, he shall turn the man into a eunuch, and they shall disfigure the whole of his face.

I.16. If a man have relations with the wife of a man at her wish, there is no penalty for that man. The man shall lay upon the woman, his wife, the penalty he wishes.

I.18. If a man say to his companion, "They have had intercourse with they wife; I will prove it," and he be not able to prove it, and do not prove it, on that man they shall inflict forty blows, a month of days he shall perform the king's work, they shall mutilate him, and one talent of lead he shall pay.

I.20. If a man have intercourse with his brother-in-arms, they shall turn him into a eunuch.

I.57. In the case of every crime for which there is the penalty of the cutting-off of ear or nose or ruining or reputation or condition, as it is written it shall be carried out.

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 July 2024

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