women

   Although the status, rights, and treatment of women varied somewhat from place to place and era to era in ancient Mesopotamia some general observations can be made about the majority of women in that region. First, at no time did women have political rights, such as holding public office or ruling cities or countries; the occasional exception was a queen who ruled temporarily, and with limited powers, following her husband's death. Second, in theory the social status of Mesopotamian women seems to have been roughly equivalent to that of men, especially during Sumerian times in the third millennium b.c.; however, the legal status of women was never equal to that of men. The rights and treatment of women may have been slightly better under the Sumer-ians because of the importance that people placed on female goddesses in their religion. Supporting this view is the fact that priestesses were common in Sumerian temples. Also, Sargon of Akkad (reigned circa 2340-2284 b.c.), though not himself a Sumerian, retained worship of these goddesses after absorbing the Sumerian cities into his empire. And he appointed his daughter to be high priestess of the moon god, Nanna, at Ur, a very prestigious position.
   Women's Legal Status Nevertheless, the social and legal status of women in Mesopotamia apparently declined to some undetermined degree after the third millennium b.c. Women remained generally subservient to men. There may have been exceptions to this rule, since most of what is known about the lives of Mesopotamian women relates to upper-class urban women. Ancient writers tended to devote almost all their attention to the lives of rich, famous, and prominent folk and rarely described the lives of the poor and powerless. Information about the lower classes, making up the vast majority of ancient Mesopotamia's population, is therefore lacking. It is possible that women in poor farm households shared equally in the decision making with their husbands; this was true in many parts of ancient Europe. But it is likely that, overall, women in Mesopotamia were second-class citizens who were fairly tightly regulated by their husbands and fathers.
   certainly ancient Mesopotamian women were not legally protected to the degree that women are in most modern societies. This can be seen in some of the surviving laws of the Babylonians and the Assyrians, which either did little to protect women from physical assault or even condoned various abuses. One of the statutes in Hammurabi's famous law code reads, "If a man has struck the daughter of a free man and caused her to cast that which was in her womb [i.e., have a miscarriage], he shall pay ten shekels of silver." Thus, for causing a women to lose her baby, a man received essentially a slap on the wrist. Another of Hammurabi's laws, which follows from the one mentioned above, actually demands that an innocent woman should suffer for someone else's crime: "If that woman [who had the miscarriage] died as a result, they shall kill his [the attacker's] daughter." Another law regulating women, this one Assyrian, was discovered by the team of German archaeologists who excavated the ruins of the city of Ashur between 1903 and 1914. "Apart from the penalties for a married woman which are written on the tablet," the law reads, "a man may flog his wife, he may pull out her hair, [or] he may damage and split her ears. There is nothing wrong in this." Other surviving Assyrian laws that, to modern ears, sound overly harsh toward women include:
   If a woman, whether the wife of a man or the daughter of a man, utters vulgarity or indulges in low talk, that woman bears her own sin.
   If a woman brings her hand against a man, they shall prosecute her; 30 manas of lead shall she pay, [and] 20 blows shall they inflict on her.
   If the wife of a man goes out from her house and visits a man where he lives, and he has [sexual] intercourse with her, knowing that she is another man's wife, the man and also the woman they [the authorities] shall put to death.
   If a woman be dwelling in the house of [her] father, but has been given to her husband, whether she has been taken to the house of her husband or not, all debts, misdemeanors, and crimes of her husband shall she bear as if she too committed them. Likewise if she be dwelling with her husband, all crimes of his shall she bear as well.
   Women Workers The strict and sometimes abusive treatment described in these laws suggests that Assyrian women may have been more strictly regulated and disciplined than women in other parts of Mesopotamia; although there is no way to know how often and how literally such abuses were actually carried out. It is possible that these highly punitive laws were meant to deter unacceptable behavior and in actual practice were not always strictly enforced. Yet there is no doubt that Assyrian women were closely regulated. This can be seen in a surviving law that called for "respectable" women to wear veils when they were in public, although certain lower-class women could actually be punished for wearing veils:
   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. Maid-servants are not to veil themselves. Veiled harlots [prostitutes] and maid-servants shall have their garments seized and 50 blows inflicted on them and bitumen [tar] poured on their heads.
   Despite their lower legal status and occasional mistreatment by men, a fair number of Mesopotamian women, perhaps most, had the right to work. Some held jobs or professions usually dominated by men. Evidence shows, for instance, that a few female scribes existed in the Old Babylonian period, during the first few centuries of the second millennium b.c.; at least ten of these were in the city of Mari on the upper Euphrates. A few women doctors, diviners, artists, and several priestesses are also mentioned in surviving sources from that period. Meanwhile, considerably larger numbers of lower-class women worked in less-specialized jobs. A good many women labored on the land, helping their husbands with the planting, harvesting and threshing wheat, pruning vines, towing barges upriver, and doing a wide range of domestic chores.
   Other women toiled in shops, especially ones that produced textiles. In Assyria, which was almost always fighting wars or putting down rebellions, it was common for a woman to run her husband's shop while he was away serving in the military. In addition, a number of women worked as maids, cooks, gardeners, and so forth in palaces or on temple estates. Still others had jobs in taverns; of these, some actually ran the establishments, others were barmaids, and still others provided entertainment by singing, dancing, and/or playing musical instruments. In general though, in keeping with the overall lower status of women, they were routinely paid only half of what men made for comparable work; and they were not paid at all for the days when they were menstruating. Also, although a woman could work in a shop or other business, she had to have her husband's or father's permission to do so.
   As for their social and economic rights, ancient Mesopotamian women had far fewer than modern women do but actually more than most women in classical Greece had. Most women in Babylonia and Assyria could inherit or buy slaves and land. They could also sue in court to get the title to a parcel of land, although they could not appear in court as witnesses in legal disputes. Also, most Mesopotamian women could acquire loans and/or invest part of their dowries in an effort to make money (in the form of interest). Any profits that women made from their own investments were referred to as "hand," or "in the basket."
   Persian and Greek Women in Mesopotamia Under the Achaemenid Persians, the lives of Mesopotamian women do not seem to have changed dramatically, although there were some differences. Infant boys were notably more prized than infant girls in Persian families; so Persian mothers of boys received more praise and higher rations of food and other items than mothers of girls. Conversely, grown Persian women, at least upper-class ones (once again, more is known about them than lower-class ones), could attain high positions in business and accumulate great wealth. They could buy and sell land at will. And surviving documents show that an upper-class woman named Irdabana owned several workshops that employed both male and female laborers. The wives of two Persian kings, Darius I (reigned ca. 522-486 b.c.) and Darius II (reigned 423405 b.c.), owned extensive estates, and surviving records describe the visits they made to these lands and the large retinues of servants that accompanied them.
   It is unclear to what degree lower-class Persian women enjoyed the economic freedom accorded to their upper-class counterparts. Some ancient Greek writers, including Herodotus, claimed that average Persian women were usually secluded in their homes, as were most women in Athens and many other Greek cities in his day. However, these reports may well be misleading. It is possible that Persian women of all classes continued to enjoy the right to work and make money, as long as they had their husbands' or fathers' permission. If so, the secluded Persian women mentioned by the Greeks may have been those women whose husbands and fathers were more conservative and preferred their wives and daughters to remain in the home.
   More certain is the fact that the Persians condoned and practiced polygamy. According to Herodotus, most upper-class Persian men had multiple wives as well as concubines (live-in mistresses). The fact that Persian women could not have multiple husbands is a sign of women's overall social inferiority. Also, the Persians, like the Assyrians, retained the custom of obliging upper-class women to wear veils in public. However, as before, lower-class women did not have to wear veils; and the use of veils and other outer coverings by women at all social levels did not begin in Mesopotamia until medieval times, when the Muslims controlled the region.
   The relative economic freedom of Mesopotamian women continued under the Greek Seleucid rulers who controlled the region in the wake of the death of Alexander the Great. Many Greek women who moved from mainland Greece to the great monarchies of the Near East happily experienced increased status and opportunities. However, as before, they and non-Greek women in the region still had no political rights and, legally speaking, remained essentially second-class citizens.
   Not much is known about women in the Parthian realm that ruled Mesopotamia in the centuries following the decline of the Seleucid Empire. The third-century a.d. Roman historian Justin said that polygamy was still practiced in the region and that most women were secluded in the home; but in the absence of reliable Parthian sources, the claims of an observer from a distant enemy land must be viewed with caution.
   As for Sassanian women, it appears that they enjoyed rights and treatment roughly comparable to women in the
   Achaemenid Persian realm. Also, some recent research suggests that a few Sassa-nian women actually fought in their nation's renowned cavalry units. (This research is summarized in scholar Kaveh Farrokh's book Sassanian Elite Cavalry.)

Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. . 2015.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Women —    Women played an important role in traditional Scandinavian rural society, where their labor power was urgently needed and where, for example, being the mistress of a farm was a position of authority and respect. The worlds of politics,… …   Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater

  • Women —    Women have played a vital role in the economic life of Brussels since the origins of the city. They provided a core element of the workforce in the cloth trade, and, later, in other luxury industries, notably lace production. In the 19th… …   Historical Dictionary of Brussels

  • Women —    Women in Egypt had the most secure position of females anywhere in the ancient world. During the Pharaonic Period, women were recognized as having equal legal rights as men and therefore had the right to own, inherit, and manage property and… …   Ancient Egypt

  • Women — bezeichnet: Women – for America, for the World, US amerikanischer Dokumentarfilm (1986) The Women, US amerikanische Filmkomödie (1939), siehe Die Frauen (Film) The Women – Von großen und kleinen Affären, US amerikanische Filmkomödie (2008) Diese… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • WOMEN — s Organizational Movement For Equality Now (Miscellaneous » Funnies) * Women Opposing Men s Egotistical Nature (Miscellaneous » Funnies) …   Abbreviations dictionary

  • Women — Wom en, n., pl. of {Woman}. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • -women — [wim′in] combining form suffix combining form pl. of WOMAN * * * …   Universalium

  • women — the plural of woman …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • women — plural of WOMAN (Cf. woman) (q.v.) …   Etymology dictionary

  • -women — [wim′in] combining form suffix combining form pl. of WOMAN …   English World dictionary

  • women — [wim′in] n. pl. of WOMAN …   English World dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.