Archives par mot-clé : law-codes

(1) Women economic activities at home and outside home during the Ur III period

(1) Women economic activities at home and outside home during the Ur III period 

Bertrand Lafont (CNRS, Nanterre)

By way of introduction two preliminary remarks:

a)   First, and just as a reminder, about the basic structural element of ancient Mesopotamian economy and society, notably during the IIIrd millennium B.C.: the « e2 » (Akkadian bîtum, « household »). As a category, the « e2 » (comparable to the Greek oikos) describes every possible socio-economic unit: it could be a large institution, such as a palace, or a temple, or a royal estate; or it could be the home of a professional or even of a common independent family. The ordinary urban household consisted of the immediate family, perhaps some additional dependent relations, and less frequently, a handful of slaves. It was ordinarily a patriarchal household.

b)   Second, concerning our sources: the tens of thousands of administrative records available for the Ur III period (the one studied here) have significant processing constraints: their mass is as huge as the scope they cover is narrow, since they document mainly, through several large batches of archives, the administration of the state institutional sector in several provinces of the Sumerian kingdom of Ur.

In these archives we actually have thousands of references concerning work done by women. At Ur III, they were part of the workforce at the same level as men (guruš ≠ geme2). And we can appreciate their place  in the Sumerian society of that time according to the various categories revealed by the administrative records:

  • by genre:                     men / women
  • by age:                         children / adults / elders
  • by social status:          slaves / ordinary people / ruling class

But we know very little about the private and family life of these women. Our documentation leaves many crucial questions unanswered, particularly those concerning the kinship relations and the family structure of the population. As a matter of fact, most of the available information on Ur III women concerns aspects that will be studied in our next workshop (devoted to women’s work in public institutions and outside the family).


We can assert, without fear of being too much influenced by our own conceptions of what is a « family », that the Sumerian society of that time was based on nuclear families practicing monogamy, with a relatively small number of children (in contrast with what is known for royal families). Here is an example of such a small unit that constituted a family:

[1] UET 3, 93 (CDLI P136410). Ur, no date.

1. 1 Ur-ni9-gar sanga PN1, chief administrator: head of family
2. 1 Geme2dšul-gi-ra dam PN2, his wife,
3. 1 Lú-dnin-gá dumu-nita2 PN3 and PN4, his sons,
4. 1 Arad2-al-la dumu-nita2
5. 1 Geme2-é-e11 dumu-munus PN5, PN6 and PN7, his daughters.
6. 1 Dingir-in-na-kam dumu-munus
7. 1 Nam-nin-e-ba-ab-du7 dumu-munus
8. dam dumu ur-ni9-gar-me-éš They are the wife and the children of Ur-nigar,
9. é dnin-a-zi-mú-a-me-éš of the temple of Nin-azimu.

Was such a couple with five children “typical” for Neo-Sumerian time? Maybe, but we do not know, in any case, about the purpose of such a text, or about whether this household was in fact larger with relatives, slaves, and so on, as it is possible given the fact that the head of this family was a “notable” (sanga). Another example of such a nuclear family is proposed below: in the following text we see an entire family –in this case probably much lower on the social scale: it is likely an over-indebted family that can not meet its needs– selling and reducing itself to slavery to survive, a fairly well documented practice at that time:

[2] TMH NF 1-2, 53 (CDLI P134365), cf. Steinkeller,  FAOS 17, 20. Nippur, Šu-Suen 1.

1. [1 Ur]-du6-kù-ga PN 1,
2. 1 Dingir-bu-za dam-ni PN2, his wife,
3. 1 Nin-da-da PN3, PN4, PN5, his 3 children (2 girls, 1 boy),
4. 1 Nin-úr-ra-ni
5. 1 Ur-dšu-mah
6. dumu-ni-me
7. ⅔ ma-na 3 gín kù-babbar-šè for ⅔ mina and 3 shekels of silver
8. ní-te-ne-ne ba-ra-an-sa10-áš sold themselves

And we find one more illustration in these 2 lines of BAOM 2, 26 26 (CDLI P104889) that mention « 30 liters (of barley) for Geme-Eana, widow, mother of 5 (children) » (3 bán Geme2-é-an-na nu-ma-SU ama dumu 5).

In some of these households, women could have property of their own, and this could come from a marital gift. The next text shows how quite a rich father distributed gifts to his wife, his two daughters and his son, giving them slaves, livestock, and real estate:

[3] BM 105377 (CDLI P112634), cf. Wilcke, Elderly, p.49. Umma, Amar-Suen 4.

1. 1 gu4-numun g[u…] 1 ox …
2. 1 é [x] 1 house …
3. 1 Ur-sukkal 4 slaves
4. 1 Zi-NI-ti
5. 1 A-lí-ma?
6. 1 A-a-ha-ma-ti lú nam-ha-ni
7. [x]+1 u8 sila4 dù-a x pregnant sheeps
8. [x]+1 ud5 máš dù-a x pregnant goats
9. é? KI.ANki šu-du7-a-bi 1 house (in) KI.ANki with its furniture
10. 1 na4kín šu sè-ga 1 millstone with its upper stone:
11. Ur-ni9-gar-ke4 Ur-nigar
12. dam-na in-na-an-ba gave as a gift (all this) to his wife 
13. 10 gín har kù-babbar 10 sheqels of ring silver and
14. 1 Geme2dšara2 1 slave: gifts for Baza his daughter.
15. níg-ba Ba-za dumu-munus
16. 1 Eš18-dar-ì-lí 1 slave: gift for Ninbatuku his daughter.
17. níg-ba Nin-ba-tuku dumu-munus
18. 1 [Lugal]-ušurx 1 slave: gift for Hala-abbana (his son ?)
19. níg-ba Ha-la?-ab-ba-na
20. Ur-ni9-gar-ke4 dumu-ne-ne in-na-ba Ur-nigar gave as a gift (all this) to his children
(Witnesses and date)

The reasons for such gifts given by the family head are unknown. It could have been an arrangement before his death, before a journey, or before going to war, to protect his family. The trial displayed below shows again that this independent property of women could come from a marital gift. In that case, we see a son who turned against his mother after his father’s death, demanding a cow and two slaves. The woman denied the request, saying she had received these goods as a personal gift during the lifetime of her husband:

[4] Molina, Fs Owen : 213 n°9 (CDLI P375930). Umma, no date.

1. Du-gu-da-ga Dugudaga
2. Geme2-gu ama-ni-da di in-da-du11 brought a legal case against Gemegu his mother
3. 1 áb-máh Geme2-gú-eden-na mu-bi-im – 1 milk-producing cow whose name is Gemeguedena
4. 1 sag-nita2 Šu-na mu-ni-im – 1 male slave whose name is Šuna
5. 1 sag-munus Ma-tu mu-ni-im – 1 female slave whose name is Matu
6. 1 Geme2-gu dam-gu10 ma-an-ba             bí-in-du11 “My husband gave them as a gift to me” Gemegu declared

Of course, large family households (é) or princely domains of larger size, or estates of several wives belonging to provincial governors are also well known in our archival texts. One interesting case concerns the household of the son of the governor of Girsu, early in the reign of Amar-Suen. In the inventory made ​​of his household (Maekawa 1996 = P102665), the following were recorded:

  • 5 hectares orchard
  • 200 slaves (half of them being women)
  • 3700 heads of livestock
  • 250 heads of cattle
  • objects in silver, non precious metal, stone, wood, and reed
  • clothes, drapery, and skins
  • perishable goods

Apparently, his wealth originated mainly in animal husbandry. But a more detailed look at the description of this large household estate (inventoried on the occasion of seizure proceedings, as shown by K. Maekawa) shows that more than 200 garments, nearly 500 kg of wool and large quantities of oil, honey, wine, cheese, dates and aromatics were also counted. The list of these goods, together with common sense, prompts us to conclude that the women in this household, including maids and slaves, were the ones who transformed all of these raw materials into the products needed for everyday life. These women were probably busy first of all with providing members of the household with their basic needs in terms of food, clothing, and care. But the problem is that their work remains « invisible » as there is never any mention of it in our archives.

The domestic area was also probably the place for other productive and economically significant activities, but, once again, we have very little proof of this in the written documentation, because of its nature (see the introduction above). However some texts do exist, documenting a real productive activity involving women within a family home. In the following administrative tablet we can see six men and two women (the second one with her child), in the household of the governor of Girsu; they all received food rations for producing beer within the household during one month:

[5] MVN 6, 147 (CDLI P114602). Girsu, Lagaš II, no date.

1. 0,1.0 Má-gur8-re 60 liters (monthly ration): Magure
2. 0,1.0 Me-ni-šu-na 60 liters: Menišuna
3. 0,1.0 Ur-dba-ba6 60 liters: Ur-Baba
4. 0,1.0 Ur-dlugal-bàn-da 60 liters: Ur-Lugalbanda
5. 0,1.0 Ur-zigum-ma 60 liters: Ur-ziguma
6. 0,1.0 É-[…]-da 60 liters: E-[…]-da
7. 0,0.3. Nin-bara2-ge-si 30 liters: Nin-baragesi
8. 0,0.3. Geme2-ŠIM?-su4 30 liters: Geme-ŠIM-su, her child.
9. dumu-ni
10. še-bi 1,2.1. gur Total : 430 (sic!) liters of barley.
11. kaš-a gub-ba-me They are involved in the beer (production).
12. ugula Sipa-da-rí Supervisor : Sipadari.
13. giri3-sè-ga ensi2-me They are personnel of the governor.

The question that can be asked here is whether or not this activity of producing beer exceeded the goal to meet the domestic needs of the governor of Girsu. But in reality, in the Ur III period, we never see any text mentioning surplus from a domestic production that would feed some external economic channels of distribution.


We must first assert that there was no automatic assignment of women to the domestic sphere alone. On the contrary, it appears clearly that some women could have professional skills equal to those of men, and that they could exercise them outside the family home. We will illustrate this point by examining a list of women’s professions and specializations recorded in the archives of Garšana and Irisagrig, texts that bring some new evidence for the role that women played in Ur III society. Thanks to these new data, we can now assert that women held many positions hitherto documented only for men. These specialized occupations include:

  • geme2-azlag2                                 (cf. male lú-azlag2, « fuller », « washerman »)
  • geme2/munus-muhaldim           (cf. male muhaldim, « cooker »)
  • geme2-ì-du8                                  (cf. male ì-du8, « doorkeeper »)
  • geme2-kisal-luh                             (cf. male kisal-luh, « (temple) sweeper »)
  • nar-munus                                      (cf. male nar, « singer », « musician »)
  • munus-a-zu                                 (cf. male a-zu, « physician »)
  • munus-dub-sar                         (cf. male dub-sar, « scribe »)
  • munus-gudu4                             (cf. male gudu4, « purification priest »)

The last three professions (in bold) are particularly interesting, as they are highly specialized and as they were not previously attested much for women.

Again in Garšana, a quick look at the female population of the household headed by princess Simat-Ištaran (a sister of king Šu-Suen) shows that there were six basic female occupations frequently mentioned in this archive (cf. Owen & Kleinerman, CUSAS 4, p. 721). They are very common and correspond to what is expected for a household of this kind, but it is noteworthy that these women were in fact often performing tasks far from their first specialty, as shown by the following table that compares titles qualifying the registered women against the actual activities which they were involved in and for which the tablets were written:

Professional occupations qualifying women in Garšana texts

Real occupations recorded for these women in administrative Garšana texts

 – geme2-àr-ra                “grinders”     – agricultural work
 – geme2-kikken2            “millers”     – construction work
 – geme2gešì-sur-sur      “oil pressers”     – transportation & boat towing
 – geme2-gu                     “spinners”     – flour & food processing
 – geme2-uš-bar               “weavers”     – mourners

As we can see, there were real specialties and specific skills for women (here at the most basic level, thus essentially for food processing and textile production, linked without doubt with their daily tasks) and that could be used to categorize these women. But what we observe is that these women had also to perform further productive activities (agricultural work, boat towing, construction work, and so on), probably for the corvée duty to which they were regularly forced part-time, at the same level as men. So it seems that we can distinguish between categorized female occupations and the variety of works actually performed by these women.

Therefore, from an economic point of view, we can assert that the role played by these women was multifaced, both inside and outside their family house. Nevertheless, in Ur III all women did not systematically belong to an official or family “e2”. Thus, we do find frequent mention of women qualified as geme2-kar-KID: these women were not necessarily “prostitutes” as often said, but rather independent women, not living under male authority, or not part of a patriarchal household. They had to support themselves in any number of ways (and some may in fact have been prostitutes) [see Assante 1998, Cooper 2010, Démare-Lafont s.p.].

Finally let us consider the case of women who could find themselves alone and powerless because of the death of their husbands. If they did not have the means of economic independence, they were then taken in charge by the institutional sector that provided their sustenance in exchange for servile labor. This is shown for example by the  following brief administrative text where the wife of a man, left alone after the death of her (executed?) husband, is sent to the (weaving) ergastulum:

[6] TCTI 2, 3658 (CDLI P132869). Girsu, Šu-Suen 1.

1. 5 ⅓ ma-na siki Expenditure of 5,33 mines of wool
2. mu Ur-diškur ba-gaz-šè because Ur-Iškur has been killed
3. dam-ni é-uš-bar and his wife has entered the weaving house.
4. ba-an-ku4-ra-šè
5. zi-ga


Now some words concerning aspects of the management autonomy that women could experience. First, let us mention as a reminder the case of some well-known women managers of large state institutions in Sumer during the IIIrd millennium, as in the é-munus in Presargonic Lagaš, or as in the estates managed by queen Šulgi-simti in Drehem(?) or by princess Simat-Ištaran in Garšana during the Ur III period (see Weiershäuser 2008). These cases are not exceptional and Law codes as well as historical texts often consider situations where women were managers of family or private estates at that time. It is explicitly considered for example in the Statue B of Gudea (// see also Cyl. B xviii 8-9, and §B2-B3 of the Laws of Ur-Namma in Civil’s new edition):

[7] Gudea, Satue B

vii 44.  é dumu-nita2 nu-tuku                         For a household not having a son
vii 45.  dumu-munus-bi ì-bí-la-ba              I let the daughter (of the house) become its heir
vii 46.  mi-ni-kux(KWU634)

And again in §E4 of the Laws of Ur-Namma or in §b and §18 of the Code of Lipit-Eštar, where it is explicitly stated that a man as well as a woman could manage an estate:

[8] CUN, §E4 (according to Civil’s new edition)

tukum-bi lú ba-úš                                              If a man dies,
dam-PI-ni ibila-1-gin7 é-a hé-dím          his wife will act in the house like a single heir

[9] CLE, §18

tukum-bi lugal é-a ù nin é-a-ke4                   If the master or the mistress of an estate

And this is reflected also in some trial texts, as the following which treats a dispute between two women:

[10] Molina, Fs Owen n°1, p.201-202 (CDLI P200743). Umma, no date.

1. Geme2dsuen-ke4 Geme-Suen said to the wife of Ur-lugal the gardner
2. dam Ur-lugal santana-ka that she had a credit of 2 minas of silver with her
3. 2 ma-na kù-babbar in-da-tuku in-na-du11 (= the wife of Ur-lugal) …

In his synthesis on Ancient Near Eastern Law, Ray Westbrook (Westbrook 2003a) has shown that this women’s private property could have 3 sources in the Ur III period:

  • dowries (sag-rig7) received from their father
  • gifts given by their husband (as seen above)
  • personal purchases made ​​on their own property

Therefore, we see quite frequently women involved in lending, borrowing, buying or selling things, silver, livestock, slaves, orchards or houses, just as did men, as illustrated by the following:

 a) Women lending and borrowing: [11] NRVN 1, 96 (CDLI P122311). Nippur, Šu-Suen 6.

1. ½ ma-na 2 gín kù-babbar ½ mana and 2 shekels of silver,
2. máš 5 gín 1 gín-[ta] 1 shekel per each 5 shekels is the interest;
3. ki Geme2dli-si4-na-ta Amasaga and her son Mašgula
4. Ama-sa6-ga received it
5. ù Maš-gu-la dumu-nita from Geme-Lisina
6. šu ba-an-ti-eš

b) Women buying and selling: [12] FAOS 17, n°117* (CDLI P116217). Nippur, Ibbi-Suen 2.

1. 1 sag munus En-né-dla-az mu-ni-im 1 female slave, her name is Enne-Laz
2. 1 gín igi 3-gál kù-babbar for 1,33 shekel of silver, her full price,
3. sa10 ti-la-ni-šè
4. ki Ša-at-dsuen-ta from Šat-Suen
5. Geme2dnanna-[ke4] Geme-Nanna
6. [in-ši-sa10] bought.

Several examples can also be found that show women (often widows[1]) disposing of their property, without interference from the men of their family. For example in this text concerning a widow in charge of the subsistence field (šuku) of her deceased husband. The land was linked to a duty to perform services (dusu). And this duty was given away to a man in return for a payment in silver, but it seems that the land remained in the hands of the widow.

[13] NATN 258 (CDLI P120956) [See Démare-Lafont, Féodalités, 535, and Wilcke, Elderly, 55-56]. Nippur, Šu-Suen 1.

1. 1(eše3) 3(iku) GÁN Concerning 3,22 ha of field,
2. šuku Lugal-KA-gi-na-ka subsistence field of Lugal-KAgina,
3. Geme2dsuen dam-ni Geme-Suen his wife
4. ù Péš-tur-tur dumu-munus-ni and Pešturtur his daughter
5. Lugal-hé-gál-ra approached Lugal-hegal
6. igi-ne-ne in-ši-gar-ru-éš
7. šuku-gá dusu-bi gùr-ba-ab She said to him: “Bear the
8. in-na-an-du11 obligation of my subsistence field”.
9. Lugal-hé-gál-e Lugal-hegal
10. mu šuku-ra-šè 5 gín kù-babbar gave to Geme-Suen, wife of Lugal-KAgina
11. Geme2dsuen dam Lugal-KA-gi-na-ra and to Pešturtur his daughter
12. ù Péš-tur-tur dumu-munus-a-ni-ir 5 shekels of silver for the subsistence field
13. in-na-an-šúm

Another important text on the same topic illustrates the right of widows, but this time also addresses the thorny issue of land ownership. Without entering the debate over the status of agricultural land during the Ur III period, it seems that “in itself this text is sufficient to prove the existence of arable in private hands” (van Driel, quoted in Garfinkle, CUSAS 22, p.21 n.17 [contra Civil? [2]])

[14] NATN 302 (CDLI P121000) [see Owen, Widows’ rights, ZA 70 = Lafont, RJM n°10 =  FAOS 17: 203]. Nippur, Šu-Suen 8.

1. 1 Á-la-la Alala
2. 1 Ur-ddun a-ne-bi-<da?> together with Ur-Dun
3. ibila-me were heirs
4. é? ad-da-ba íb-ba (and) had divided the estate of their father.
5. Ur-ddun ba-úš (Then) Ur-Dun died.
6. Geme2dsuen dam Ur-ddun-ke4 Geme-Suen, the wife of Ur-Dun,
7. [Á]-lá-lá-<da?> entered into litigation with Alala
8. [mu a-šà] é níg ha-[la-ba Ur]-ddun-šè under the juridiction of Dada,
9. [šu] Da-da the governor of Nippur, concerning
10. ensi2 Nibruki-ka the field, the house, the furnishing (representing)
11. [di] in-da-du11 the inheritence portion of Ur-Dun.

[NB : the restitution a-šà in the break of line 8 is quite certain because of the following lines of the text, not given here but that mention a-šà]

One last example will be proposed that goes in the same direction: an action brought by a widow to de­fend her property and rights after the death of the family head, facing his heirs:

 [15] ITT 3, 5279 (CDLI P111162). [See Lafont, RJM n°12, and Wilcke, Elderly, 50-51]. Girsu, Šu-Suen 4.

1. di til-la Final judgement.
2. 2 ⅚ sar é KUM.DÚR 2 sar and ⅚ of a house-[x] :
3. In-na-sa6-ga Innasaga,
4. dam Du-du dumu Ti-ti-ka-ke4 wife of Dudu the son of Titi, bought it with
5. kù šu-na-ta bar igi-gál-ni in-sa10 silver from her own hand on her own initiative.
6. Du-du a-ba-ti-la:da Innasaga testified under oath that :
7. é-bi Ur-é-ninnu dumu Du-du-ke4 in-gíd – together with Dudu, while he was still alive
8. mu In-na-sa6-ga in-sa10-a-šè    Ur-Eninu, son of Dudu, measured this house,
9. dub é sa10-a-bi – because Innasaga had bought (the house),
10. ki In-na-sa6-ga-ta ba-an-sar    the actual tablet concerning the house purchase
11. é kù šu-na-ta-àm in-sa10-a    was written from Innasaga’s side (=place),
12. níg-gur11 Du-du la-ba-ši-lá-a – the house had been bought with her own silver
13. In-na-sa6-ga – nothing of Dudu’s has been paid for it.
14. nam-erim2-àm
15. 1 Nin-a-na dumu Ni-za kù-dím Dudu had given Ninanna, child of the goldsmith
16. Du-du In-na-sa6-ga dam-ni-ir Niza, as a gift to Innasaga.
17. in-na-ba
18. egir5 Du-du-ta After Dudu’s death, Dudu’s heirs litigated this
19. šu Arad2dnanna sukkal-mah ensi2-ka under the juridiction of the sukkalmah
20. ì-bí-la Du-du im-ma-a-gi4-eš and governor Arad-Nanna


In traditional societies, the division of labor is established according to two essential criteria: age and gender. It is the traditional view that children keep herds, elders stay at home while the adults hunt, fish, work in the fields and ensure collective tasks. Some occupations are reserved for women besides their management of everything related to the domestic space. On their side, men have their own occupations considered as typically male. It is clear however that this scheme does not fit exactly the situation as it has just been described for Ur III.

Indeed, during the Ur III period, the domestic area was clearly the place of productive and eco­no­mically significant activities for women, enabling them at first to provide mem­bers of the household with their basic needs for food, clothing and care. But in this regard, it must be noticed that we never see any surplus of goods produced at home by women that could have fed external economic channels (even if, on that point, attention must be paid of course to the argument from silence…) [3]

We must not imagine, however, any assignment of women to the domestic area only. For several decades it was popular in scholarship to see an opposition of public/private along male/female gender lines. This approach asserted that women were reduced to the domestic, private sphere in their activities, while men acted in the public sphere. This view is now outdated, especially since progress in gender studies has shown that family, marriage or household are not spheres specific to women and that women were not totally defined by their roles within families.

Thus, the concept of professional skill or specialization was real for women as well as for men, and we can see both men and women doing their job inside or outside the domestic sphere, for various tasks of production or service, including in the framework of the corvée obligation which made no gender distinction (and we can note that women were employed to do the same hard works as men: in the fields, in towing boats, in hauling bricks, etc.).

As we just saw it (but this situation has been known since quite a long time), women could own property and manage it freely. They had full legal, economic rights, with the same management autonomy as men: they could sell, buy, lend, borrow, sue for economic redress, all with the same legal capacity. As a witness of such a situation, we can also mention that more than a hundred of seals are known to have been owned by women in Ur III.

We can therefore assert with Marc Van de Mieroop (Van de Mieroop 1989) that the participation of women in the economic sphere was real, separate from their husbands and on the same terms, although on a smaller scale. And that, from an economic point of view, Ur III women were not necessarily dependent on men: the possible inequality of women « was one of scale, not of area of activity » (ibidem).

Ultimately, are these data sufficient to validate or invalidate the commonly asserted idea that the living conditions of women deteriorated over time in Mesopotamian history after the IIIrd millennium? At least it is possible to assert that, during the Ur III period, these conditions were more or less the same as those of men.


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Gelb, Ignace J. 1972     “The a-ru-a Institution.” Revue d’Assyriologie 66, pp. 1-32. 1979     “Household and Family in Early Mesopotamia”. In E. Lipinski, ed., State and Temple Economy in the Ancient Near East. Proceedings of the International Conference organized by the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven from the 10th to the 14th of April 1978. Leuven, pp. 1-98.

Heimpel, Wolfgang 2010     “Left to themselves. Waifs in the Time of the Third Dynasty of Ur”. In A. Kleirnermann and J. M. Sasson, eds., Why Should Someone Who knows Something Conceal it? Cuneiform Studies in Honor of David I. Owen on His 70th Birthday. Bethesda MD: CDL Press, pp. 9-13.

Lafont, Bertrand 2001     “Fortunes, héritages et patrimoines dans la haute histoire mésopotamienne. À propos de quelques inventaires de biens mobiliers”. In C. Breniquet and C. Kepinski, eds., Etudes mésopotamiennes. Recueil de textes offert à Jean-Louis Huot. Bibliothèque de la délégation archéologique française en Iraq, 10. Paris: Editions recherches sur les civilisations, pp. 295-314.

Lion, Brigitte 2007    “La notion de genre en assyriologie”. In V. Sebillotte et N. Ernoult, Problèmes du genre en Grèce ancienne, Paris, pp. 51-64.

Maekawa, Kazuya 1996     “Confiscation of Private Properties in the Ur III Period: A Study of é-dul-la and níg-GA.” ASJ 18, 103-168.

Neumann, Hans 2011     “Slavery in Private Households Toward the End of the Third Millennium B.C.”. In L. Culbertson, ed., Slaves and Households in the Near East. Oriental Institute Seminars (OIS), 7. Chicago, Illinois: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, pp. 21-32.

Owen, David I. 1980a     “A Sumerian Letter from an Angry Housewife”. In G. Rendsbury and e. alii, eds., The Bible World. Essays in Honor of Cyrus H. Gordon. New York: KTAV, pp. 189-202. 1980b     “Widow’s Rights in Ur III Sumer.” Zeitschrift Für Assyriologie 70, 170-184. s.p.         Unprovenanced Texts Primarily from Iri-Sagrig/Al-Šarraki and the History of the Ur III Period (Nisaba 15)

Owen, David I., et Rudolf H. Mayr 2007     The Garšana Archives. Cornell University Studies in Assyriology and Sumerology (CUSAS) 3. Bethesda, MD: CDL Press.

Parr, P. A. 1974     “Ninhilia: Wife of Ayakala, Governor of Umma”. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 26, 90-111.

Steinkeller, Piotr 1989     Sale Documents of the Ur III Period. FAOS, 17. Stuttgart

Van De Mieroop, Marc 1989     “Women in the Economy of Sumer”. In B. S. Lesko, ed., Women’s Earliest Records from Ancient Egypt and Western Asia. Atlanta, pp. 53-66. 1999     Cuneiform Texts and the Writing of History. London, New York : Routledge

Weiershäuser, Frauke 2008     Die königlichen Frauen der III. Dynastie von Ur. Göttinger Beiträge zum Alten Orient, 1. Göttingen: Universitätsverlag Göttingen.

Westbrook, Raymond, ed. 2003a     A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law (2 vol.). Handbuch der Orientalistik, 72. Leiden, Boston: Brill. 2003b     Women and Property in Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean Societies. Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University.

Wilcke, Claus 1998     “Care of the Elderly in Mesopotamia in the Third Millennium B.C.”. In M. Stol and S. P. Vleeming, eds., The Care of the Elderly in the Ancient Near East. Leiden: Brill, pp. 23-57.

[1] Note that among so many administrative texts of Ur III, only 8 mention widows (nu-mu-SU, nu-ma-SU, Akk. almattu).
[2] According to Miguel Civil, “women could not inherit agricultural land” (CUSAS 17, p. 268, concerning CUN §B3). But it seems that we have some attestations, since Old Sumerian times until Ur III, of women holding agricultural land inherited from their husband or their father. And we can find some examples where women (widows?) can dispose of their land property without interference from men of their family. On the same topic “fields and women”, see also the difficult letter of the “Ur III angry wife” (MVN 11, 168 = CDLI P116181, studied by Owen, Fs Gordon 2, 1982, Neumann TUAT NF 3, Hallo COS 3, p. 295, and Michalowski, CKU, p. 16). And add finally the remarks of P. Michalowski in Letters, p. 78, with the letter TCS 1, 229 = Michalowski, Letters 131 (CDLI P145730).
[3] R. Westbrook (introduction to the colloquium Women and Property): “The products of a woman’s industry, in particular of weaving, are remarkable for their virtual absence from the Ancient Near East sources as a form of property. (…) Nonetheless, there is ample archaeological evidence for the importance of weaving in the domestic context. (…) The ANE situation is to be contrasted with the Greek sources, which provide ample evidence of both the economic and property aspects of women’s work”.

The Woman in Marriage as Reflected in the Code of Hammurabi

The Woman in Marriage as Reflected in the Code of Hammurabi

(Professor Emeritus of Chuo University, Tokyo)




I. The women in some Akkadian expressions of getting married

The verbs most frequently used in the CH to express the action of getting married are “to take (in marriage) or to seize” (aḫāzum)[1] and “to enter” (erēbum). The grammatical subject of aḫāzum is male and the woman appears only as the object of aḫāzum.

(1) « if a man takes a wife in marriage but does not make a contract for her, . . .  (šumma awīlum aššatam īhuzma riksātiša la iškun) « . (§ 128. See also §§ 144, 148, 162, 316, and 167) [2]

(2) « if that man has a debt incurred before he takes that woman in marraige  (šumma awīlum šû lāma šinništam šuāti iḫḫazu ḫubullum elišu ibašši) ». (§ 151)

Although the verb aḫāzum is used with a prospective husband as subject, the following expression pays some attention to the will of a woman.

(3) « a husband of her choice shall take her (in marriage) (mut libbiša iḫḫassi) ». (§ 172)

The subject of erēbum, on the other hand, is always female, as shown below. The verb is intransitive and does not require a grammatical object.

(4) « If a debt should be incurred by them after that woman enters the man’s house, both of them shall satisfy the merchant (šumma ištu sinništum šî ana bīt awīlim īrubu elišunu ḫubullum ittabši kilallāšunu tamkāram ippalū) » (§ 152). See also §§ [133a], 133b, § 134, 135, 136, 151, 152, 173, 176a and 177.

Note that the underlined paragraphs deal with cases of remarriage. §§ 133a~135 deal with cases of remarriage of a wife whose husband is a prisoner of war in an enemy land, while §136 deals with a case of a wife of a husband who has deserted his family and his town. §§ 173 and 177, on the other hand, deal with a widow who gets remarried. Thus, of ten paragraphs of the CH in which erēbum appears, seven paragraphs deal with cases of remarriage. However, the remaining three cases are most probably those of the first marriage. Thus, the use of erēbum cannot be considered limited to cases of remarriage[3].

It is important to pay attention here to the cases in which aḫāzum and erēbum are employed for referring to the same marriage. For example, at the end of § 172, we find “a husband of her choice shall take her (in marriage) (mut libbiša iḫḫassi)”. This same marriage is rephrased from the standpoint of the woman in the following paragraph (§173): “if that woman should bear children to her latter husband into whose house she entered (šumma sinništum šî ašar īrubu ana mutiša warkîm mārī ittalad) “.

The same type of rephrasing is found in § 176: “if a slave of the palace or a slave of a muškēnum marries a woman of the awīlum-class (u šumma warad ekallim ulu warad muškēnim mārat awīlim īhuzma . . .” //” (and when he marries her,) she enters the house of the slave of the palace or of the slave of a muškēnum together with the dowry brought from her father’s house (qadum šeriktim ša bīt abiša ana bīt warad ekallim ulu warad muškēnim īrubma) “ and § 151: “if that man has a debt incurred before marrying that woman (. . . šumma awīlum šû lama sinništam šuāti iḫḫazu ḫubullum elišu ibašši)”// “and if that woman has a debt incurred before entering the man’s house (u šumma sinništum šî lāma ana bīt awīlim irrubu ḫubullum eliša ibašši)”.

However, in the Old Babylonian marriage, as reflected in the CH, the father of the bridegroom and the father (or mother or brother, when the father is deceased) of the bride are considered to be parties to the marriage at least in a stage prior to the marriage of their respective son and daughter (or sister). The action of the father on the side of the future bridegroom taken toward the marriage is expressed by the verb ḫiārum (§ 155) or even aḫāzum (§ 166).

(5) « if a man selects a daughter-in-law for his son (šumma awīlum ana mārišu kallatam iḫīrma) « (§ 155)

(6) « if a man takes wives for his grown-up sons but does not take a wife for his young(est) son, . . . (šumma awīlum ana mārīšu ša irbû (text: iršû) aššātim īḫuz ana mārišu ṣeḫrim aššatam la īḫuz…) » (§ 166)

Action of the father (or mother or brother) of the bride, on the other hand, is expressed by the verb (ana mutim) nadānum.

(7) « if a father sets up a dowry for his daughter, who is a šugītum, gives her to a husband, and writes a sealed document for her, . . .( šumma abum ana mārtišu šugītim šeriktam išrukšim ana mutim iddišši kunukkam išṭuršim) » (§ 183). See also § 184.

II. Steps to the Consummation of Marriage

II-1. Prior to an Inchoate Marriage

When an agreement (riksātum) is reached between the father of a future bridegroom and the father of a future bride (or her brother or mother in case her father is deceased) regarding the marriage of the two, a ceremonial banquet (kirrum)[4] takes place. It is likely that the amount of terḫatum and the details of the dowry (šeriktum) are specified in this agreement. However, the agreement (riksātum) needs not be in a written form[5]. The existence of this process is not clear in the CH, and is only inferred from §§ 27-28 of the Laws of Eshnunna (hereafter LE)[6].

II-2. Inchoate Marriage[7]

When the biblum (presents for the wedding feast) is delivered and the terḫatum is given by the bridegroom to his father-in-law, a big wedding feast takes place[8]. After that, the bridegroom and the bride are regarded as “husband” and “wife” to the outside world. When both the bridegroom and the bride have by then reached the age ready for childbearing, the bride enters the household of the bridegroom, and their marriage are consummated by their sexual union, but when the bridegroom or the bride is too young for childbearing, the bride may either stay with her father[9] or move into the household of her father-in-law as a daughter-in-law (kallatum)[10].

The period between this wedding feast and the consummation of the marriage is regarded as a period of inchoate marriage. The bride in this period is a “wife” to the outside world and is legally protected as such from any sexual offence against her.

II-3.  Consummation of Marriage

An inchoate marriage is consummated, when both the bridegroom and the bride have reached the age ready for childbearing, by the bride’s moving into the household of her bridegroom and by the sexual union of the couple, or simply by their sexual union in the case of the kallatum-marraige[11].

III. Women in Dissolution of Marriage

III-1. Dissolution of an inchoate marriage

III-1-1. Dissolution initiated by the side of the bridegroom

Case 1:  If he (bridegroom), being attracted by another woman, declares to his father-in-law, « I will not take your daughter in marriage », the father of the daughter will take full possession of whatever has been brought to him (i.e. biblum and terḫatum). (§ 159)[12]

Case 2:  If the father-in-law lies with her daughter-in-law, before his son (i.e. the bridegroom) carnally knows her, the father-in-law must pay 1/2 mana (30 shekels) of silver and restore to her whatever she brought from her father’s house, and « a husband of her choice may take her in marriage ». (§ 156)[13]

Cf. § 155: If a man selects a bride for his son (šumma awīlum ana mārišu kallatam iḫīrma) and his son carnally knows her, after which he (the father of the bridegroom) himself then lies with her and they seize him in the act, they shall bind that man and cast him into the water.

III-1-2. Dissolution initiated by the side of the bride

Case 1:  If the father of the bride declares, after he received biblum and terḫatum, « I will not give my daughter to you, » he must return twofold everything that has been brought to him ». (§160)[14]

Case 2:  If a man has biblum brought to the house of his father-in-law and gives terḫatum, and then his friend slanders him (with the result that) his father-in-law declares to the husband (bēl aššatim), “You shall not take my daughter in marriage”, he (the father-in-law) must return twofold whatever had been brought to him; moreover, his friend shall not take his “wife (aššassu)” in marriage. (§ 161//CL § 29)[15]

Case 3a:  If a woman hates her husband, and declares, « You will not take me in marriage”[16], her circumstances shall be investigated by the authorities of her city quarter, and if she is circumspect and without fault, but her husband is wayward and disparages her greatly, that woman will not be subject to any penalty; she shall take her dowry and she shall depart for her father’s house.  (§ 142)

Case 3b: If she is not circumspect but is wayward, squanders her household possessions, and disparages her husband, they shall cast that woman into the water. (§ 143)

III-2. Dissolution of a Consummated Marriage

III-2-1. Dissolution of a consummated marriage is expressed by the verb ezēbum (abandon, leave) with a husband as subject, though it is his wife that leaves his house.

Case 1:  If a man decides to divorce (ezēbum) a šugītum who bore him sons, or a nadītum who provided him with sons, they shall give her one half of (her husband’s) field, orchard, and property, and she shall raise her children; after she has raised her children, they shall give her a share comparable in value to that of one heir from whatever properties are given to her sons, and a husband of her choice may take her for marriage (muttu libbiša iḫḫassi). (§ 137)

Cf. If a man has begotten sons, but divorces his wife and marries another woman, he must be expelled form the house and whatever there may be therein, . . . (LE, § 59)

Case 2a:  If a man divorces his first wife (ḫīrtašu) who has not born sons to him, he must give her as much silver as her terḫatum and restore to her the dowry she brought from the house of her father and he may divorce her. (§ 138)

Case 2b:  if there is no terḫatum, he (an awīlum) must give her 1 mana of silver as divorce money (uzubbûm) (§ 139). If he is a muškēnum, he shall give her 1/3 mana of silver (§ 140).

Case 3a:  If a man takes a woman in marriage, and later la’bum-desease seizes her and (if) he decides to take another woman in marriage, he may take her in marriage. (However,) he may not divorce his wife whom la’bum-desease has seized; she shall reside in the house he built and he must support her as long as she lives. (§ 148[17])

Case 3b: If that woman does not agree to reside in the house of her husband, he (the husband) may restore the dowry she brought from her father’s house, and she may go. (§ 149)

IV. terḫatum, šeriktum and nudunnnûm 

IV-1. terhatum

IV-1-1. What is terḫatum?

terḫatum was basically cash (silver), given by a bridegroom to his father-in-law. However, in some cases, it contained a female slave and/or small cattle. The total amount of terḫatum, or a portion of it was often tied to the hem of the bride’s garment and brought with her to the house of her bridegroom together with her dowry at the time of her move. The terḫatum may be placed under the custody of the bridegroom, but its ownership belongs to the bride.

P. Koschaker stated in 1917 that terḫatum was either an earnest money or bride price depending on whether it was given at the time of engagement or at the time of actual marriage[18]. Koschaker’s view of Kaufehe was challenged by E. Cuq[19], and G. R. Driver-J. C. Miles[20] among others. In 1950 Koschaker modified his view of 1917 by accepting Driver-Miles‘ inchoate marriage theory and abandoning his hypothesis on engagement together with his concept of earnest money. However, he continued to regard terḫatum as bride price to purchase the right to acquire a bride from her father[21]. R. Westbrook also took it as his task to criticize Koschaker’s theory on Kaufehe in his OBML, 1988, pp. 53-58.

Here are the main objections of scholars against the Kaufehe theory, as summarized by R. Westbrook[22].

(1) §§138-40 presupposes a marriage without terḫatum: If a man (=awīlum) intends to divorce his wife (ḫīrtašu) who did not bear him sons, he must give her silver as much as was her terḫatum . . . If there was no terḫatum, he (=awīlum) must give her 1 mana (60 shekels) of silver as a divorce settlement (uzubbûm). If (he is) a muškēnum, he must give her 1/3 mana of silver[23].

(2) If terhatum were to be a bride price, its amount would be too small. (Note that the amount of terḫatum is in generally either 5 or 10 shekels, as shown below. 10 shekels would be more or less equivalent to the average price of a slave in the Old Babylonian period, but 5 shekels would be less than the average price of a slave in the OB period[24].)

(3) If terḫatum is really a bride price, it would be very difficult to explain the institution of giving a nudunnûm to ensure the livelihood of a wife in future when she becomes widowed.

(4) The OB law did not treat her as the property of her husband.

Westbrook prefers to see an analogy between child-adoption and marriage institution rather than between the sales and marriage institution[25]. He thinks that terḫatum is a payment to a bride’s father for the right to control over their daughter[26].

IV-1-2. The amount of terḫatum

The amount of terḫatum ranged from 1 to 40 shekels of silver in the OB period apart from some rare cases, but it is normally either 5 or 10 shekels of silver. It may be noted that Šamšī-Adad I thought that 4 biltu’s (240 mana roughly equivalent to 120kg) of silver might not be sufficient as terḫatum for a daughter of the king of Qatna who was going to get married with Yasmaḫ-Addu, his son, and suggested 5 biltu’s (300 mana, roughtly equivalent to 150kg) of silver would be more appropriate as her terḫatum (ARM I, 77:11f. Cf. ARM I, 46:5).

  • 1 shekels:VAS 9, 192:5ff.
  • 1.5 shekels+15 barleycorns:CT 4, 18b:13
  • 4 shekels:CT 8, 76:9
  • 5 shekels:BIN 7, 173:8; CT 33:34:9; CT 47, 40a:10; CT 48, 55:15; PBS 8/2, 252:15; YOS 13, 440:2; TIM 4, 46:3: TIM 4,47:26; YOS 12, 457:6; YOS 13, 440:2
  • 6 shekels:CT 48, 53:10(case) (5 shekels on the tablet)
  • 10 shekels: CT 48, 51:9, 52:6, 55:15, 57:7; Donbaz-Yoffee, OB Kish, p. 72 r.7;Meissner, BAP 90:8; VAS 8, 92:8; YOS 13, 440:2
  • 20 shekels:Waterman, Business Doc. 39:2
  • 40 shekels + a slave:VAS 8, 4:11

IV-2. šeriktum (dowry)

A šeriktum in the CH is a dowry given to a bride by her father and is brought to the house of her bridegroom, when the bride enters his house as a bride or as a daughter-in-law (kallatum). šeriktum (dowry) consists of garments, accessories, oil, kitchen utensils, furniture, a slave (or slaves), small cattle, etc., and does not normally include money (silver). Although this use of the term šeriktum for dowry is found in the Middle Assyrian Laws (MAL A, §29), šeriktu(m) does not appear in the “documents of practice” in the post-OB periods. šeriktum only means “gift” in a very general sense in the post-OB periods. In the NB Laws šeriktu is used in a sense very similar to that of nudunnûm in the CH[27].

IV-3. nudunnûm

The term nudunnûm is used outside of the CH, in the documents of practice, to designate dowry[28]. This is especially true in the NB period[29], but in the CH a nudunnûm is a gift given together with a written document (ṭuppum) by a husband to his wife in order to ensure her and her children’s livelihood after his death. After the death of the wife, the nudunnûm is inherited by her sons.

The nudunnûm may include a part of the husband’s field, orchard and house and (or and/or?) movable property, if § 150 (If a man awards to her wife a field, orchard, and house and (or and/or?) movable property and makes out a sealed document for her,…) refers to a nudunnûm, as G.R. Driver-J. C. Miles (BL, I, 1952, p. 268) and R. Westbrook, OBML, 1988, pp. 95-96 so suppose.

The wife (ḫīrtum) can take her dowry and the nudunnûm which her husband awarded to her in writing, and she can continue to reside in her husband’s dwelling; as long as she is alive she can enjoy the use of it, but she may not sell it; her own estate shall belong (as inheritance) only to her own children. (§171).

If her husband has not given a nudunnûm to her, they must restore her dowry and she may take a share of the property of her husband like any one of the heirs. If her sons make her life impossible so that she may go out, the judges must investigate her case and must impose penalty upon her sons; this wife does not need to go out of her husband’s house. If this woman decides to go out, she must leave to her sons the nudunnûm her husband has given her. She may take the dowry (brought) from her father’s house, and a husband of her choice may take her in marraige. (§172).



1. In a sharp contrast to assertive and aggressive Mesopotamian goddesses such as Ishtar who asked Gilgamesh to get married with her on his way home from his adventure into the Cedar Mountains and Adgarkidu, daughter of Numušda who insisted on getting married with Martu against strong advices of her girl friend, the woman in Mesopotamia, at least as reflected in the CH, does not seem to have had a say in her own marriage.

Usually some ones other than she decide with whom she gets married. This situation is collaborated by the lack of Akkadian expressions of getting married in which the verb takes a woman as subject and a man as object. It is true that the verb erēbum is used with a woman as subject, but erēbum is an intransitive verb and does not require an object.

An oblique expression that takes into some consideration the will of the woman is “the husband of her choice may take her in marriage (mut/mutu libbiša iḫḫassi)”. This expression appears in three paragraphs of the CH (§§ 137, 156 and 172), but they all deal with cases of remarriage. Besides, here too, the woman appears as object of the verb aḫāzum and not as subject.

This situation in the OB period reminds us of that of pre-modern Japan, when men used to say, “watashiha Hanako-sanwo yomeni morau (I take Hanako as wife.). However, women could not say, “watashiha Taro-sanwo ottoni morau (I take Taro as husband.). Women in those days could only say, “Watashiha Taro-sanno tokoroni yomeiru (I enter the household of Taro as bride/daughter-in-law.). In those days, women in Japan had little say in their marriage that was often arranged by their parents.

2. The penalty of the father-in-law who lies with his daughter-in-law (kallatum) whom his own son has known carnally is death by being thrown into water (§ 155). This would not surprise us. However, the penalty of the same act by the father-in-law that takes place before his son knows her carnally (payment of 1/2 mana of silver and dissolution of the inchoate marriage) seems to be too lenient (§156) in comparison to the penalty (death) for a sexual assault against a woman in the state of inchoate marriage by an unrelated man (§130). Is this because the father-in-law was regarded as a party to the marriage contract? (Cf. § 166: šumma awīlum ana mārīšu ša irbû (text: iršû) aššātim īḫuz ana mārišu ṣeḫrim aššatam la īḫuz . . .)

3. There are cases of dissolution of an inchoate marriage the process of which the bride initiates by declaring, “You will not take me in marriage (, meaning you will not consummate this marriage)”. (§§ 142-143) However, it is far more difficult for a bride to do so than for a bridegroom, because she has to be investigated by the authorities of her city quarter, risking her life in the worst case. A bridegroom, on the other hand, can initiate the same process, if he is willing to forfeit the biblum and the terḫatum he has presented to his father-in-law.

4. Dissolution of a consummated marriage without children (written: sons) was possible with conditions that the divorcing husband would give his wife as much silver as her terḫatum and restore to her the dowry she had brought from the house of her father (§138). If there were no terḫatum and if he were an awīlum, he would have to give 1 mana of silver to his wife as divorce money (uzubbûm) (§139). If he were a muškēnum, he would have to give 1/3 mana of silver (§140). The amount of the divorce money was large and must have had discouraging effects on a man who was contemplating a divorce.

Even if a man’s wife were to become seized by la’abum-desease so that he might not be able to beget sons, this would not be considered as an excuse for divorcing his sick wife, though he may be allowed to take a second wife, unless she (the first wife) desires to get divorced under the circumstances (§§148-149).

However, divorcing a wife who has born sons seems to have been strongly discouraged. A pertinent paragraph on this point is §137. This paragraph is concerned not with divorcing an ordinary woman, but with divorcing nadītum who provided her husband with children (written: sons) or šugītum who bore children (written: sons) for her husband. According to the prevailing principle regarding the nadītum and šugītum during the OB period, namely, “The marrier of one marries the other; the divorcer of one divorces the other“,[30] it is difficult to explain the situation of §137, because it deals with a divorce of either nadītum or (ulu) šugītum. Leaving this problem aside, they (the city authority or the elders of the town?) require the husband in this case to return to his wife her dowry and give her one half of his field, orchard, and property so that she may be able to raise her children. They also require the divorcing husband to give his wife a share comparable in value to that of one heir from whatever properties are given to her sons as well as freedom to get remarried with a man of her choice. Here I should like to draw you attention to § 59 of the Laws of Eshnunna which says: “If a man has begotten sons but divorces his wife and marries another woman, he must be expelled from the house and whatever there may be therein, . . .”

5. It is without saying that OB women had very little say in their own marriage. However, they are not without protection or security for their future life in case something happens with their husbands.

Married women according to the CH have their own possessions such as her dowry (šeriktum), a part or whole of terḫatum that is tied to the hem of their garment by their father and is returned to their husband’s household (cf. §§ 163 and 164) when they move in, and lastly nudunnûm which is given to wives probably when they have their first child. They are probably under the custody of their husband while he is alive, but if, for example, their husband dies, they can live on their own possessions at least for sometime. These possessions of the wives are inherited, when they die, by their sons.

The welfare of the wives and children of Babylonian soldiers, when they are captured in an enemy land and held as prisoners of war is another matter of concern of the CH (§ 29).

The protection of married women especially with children is well in accord with the concern of Hammurabi for the weakest of the society (orphans and widows), as can be seen in the words of Hammurabi in the epilogue of the CH as well as in those of other lawgivers before him indeed.

List of Abbreviations

AL G. R. Driver-J. C. Miles, The Assyrian Laws, Oxford, 1935
ARM Archives royales de Mari
ArOr Archiv Orientální
BAP B. Meissner, Beiträge zum altbabylonischen Privatrecht, Leipzig, 1893
BE The Babylonian Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania
BIN Babylonian Inscriptions in the Collection of J. B. Nies
BL G. R. Driver-J. C. Miles, The Babylonian Laws, 2 vols., Oxford, 1952-1955
Business Doc. L. Waterman, Business Documents of the Hammurapi Period from the British Museum, London, 1916
CAD The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Chicago, 1956-
CH Code of Hammurabi
CL Code of Lipit-Ishtar
CT Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum
Droit matrimonial A. van Praag, Droit matrimonial Assyro-babylonien, Amsterdam, 1945
JAOS Journal of the American Oriental Society
JCS Journal of Cuneiform Studies
Law Collections Martha T. Roth, Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, SBL Writings from the Ancient World Series, 6, Atlanta, 1995
LE Laws of Eshnunna
MAL Middle Assyrian Laws
OBML R. Westbrook, Old Babylonian Marriage Law, AfO, Beiheft 23, Horn, 1988
OrNS Orientalia, Nova Series
PBS Publications of the Babylonian Section, University Museum, University of Pennsylvania
RvSGgH P. Koschaker, Rechtsvergleichende Studien zur Gesetzgebung Hammurapis, Königs von Babylon, Leipzig, 1917
Symbolae David J. A. Ankum et al. (eds.), Symbolae Iuridicae et Historicae M. David Dedicatae, Vol. 2, Leiden, 1968
TIM Texts in the Iraq Museum
VAS Vorderasiatische Schriftdenkmäler der Königlichen/ Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin
YOS Yale Oriental Series, Babylonian Texts

[1] R. Westwood discusses the meanings and the usage of aḫāzum extensively in OBML, 1988, pp. 10-16.

[2] Marth T. Roth’s translates, “If a man marries a wife but does not draw up a formal contract for her, . . .” (Law Collections, 1995, p. 105) Here I prefer to translate aḫāzum more literally. Furthermore, riksātum does not mean a written contract. See n. 6 below.

[3] R. Westbrook seems to think that the use of erēbum with a woman as the grammatical subject is limited to second marriages (OBML, 1988, p. 51).

[4] kirrum is a metal container for beer and other liquid products. While S. Greengus, “Old Babylonian Marriage Ceremonies and Rites”, JCS 20, 1966, p. 65 proposes to translate the word “libation”, R. Yaron, The Laws of Eshnunna, 1988 (2nd ed.), p. 59 renders it by “marriage feast,” following B. Lansberger, “Jungfräulichkeit: Ein Beitrag zum Thema ‘Beilager und Eheschliessung’”, Symbolae David, II, 1968, pp. 76ff.

[5] S. Greengus, “The Old Babylonian Marriage Contract,” JAOS 89, 1969, pp. 506-514. This view is accepted by R. Westbrook, OBML, 1988, pp. 29f.

[6] R. Yaron, The Laws of Eshnunna, 1988, pp. 202-205.

[7] This idea was first proposed by G. R. Driver and J. C. Miles in The Assyrian Laws, Oxford, 1935, pp. 167 and 173f. See also their BL I, 1952, pp. 322-324.

[8] No mention is made of the wedding feast in CH, but biblum must have included such edible things as corn and sheep presumably to be consumed at the feast. G.R. Driver-J. C. Miles refer us in this connection to a wedding feast of Samson which is said to have lasted seven days (Judges 14:10-13). G.R. Driver-J. C. Miles say, “In the Assyrian Laws the biblu alone is given by the man’s father and it is called the ‘present’ (Ass. Zubullû) , when it is brought by the son; in neither section (MAL A, 30-31) is the tirḫâtum mentioned by name.” (BL I, 1952, p. 249) Since zubullû in the Middle Assyrian Laws (A §30) includes “lead, silver, gold” as well as edible things, it is possible that zubullû in the Assyrian Laws was a combination of biblum and terḫatum of CH.

[9] For examples, §§ 141-142, 159-161.

[10] For examples, §§ 155-156. G. R. Driver-J. C. Miles called this mode of marriage “kallatum-marriage” and distinguished it from the inchoate marriage (BL I, 1952, pp. 251-252), However, I prefer to follow R. Westbrook (OBML,1988, p. 37) and consider that the kallatum-marriage is a form of the inchoate marriage.

[11] There seem to have been cases in which the period of the inchoate marriage unduly prolonged (CT 48, 79:9-11 and BE 6/2, 58, cited by R. Westbrook, OBML, 1988, p. 45).

[12] Cf. R. Westbrook, OBML, 1988, pp. 43-45.

[13] R. Westbrook, OBML, 1988, p. 43.

[14] R. Westbrook, OBML, 1988, pp. 41-43.

[15] R. Westbrook, OBML, 1988, pp. 42-43.

[16] This paragraph is translated variously by scholars: B. Landsberger translated, “ich werde nicht länger mit ihr verheiratet sein” (BE 6/2 58:12?); Marth T. Roth: ‘You will not have marital relations with me’ (Law Collections, 1995, p. 108; CAD A1, 1964, p. 175a: “You shall not touch me” and comments, “(here aḫāzum is) used as a euphemism (for sexual relationship)” (words in parentheses are mine); G. R. Driver: “Thou shalt not have (the natural use of) me” (BL II, 1952, p. 57). He and J. C. Miles commented that this paragraph dealt with a refusal of conjugal rights of her husband and not just a refusal of consummation of an inchoate marriage (BL I, 1952, p. 301).

[17] A parallel paragraph in the CL (§ 28) requires the second wife to support the sick wife.

[18] A van Praag regarded it as a present. However, if a man does not give that gift, then, according to van Praag, it becomes a debt for him with the result that he cannot claim his wife (Droit matrimonial, 1945, pp. 147-148). Van der Meer, on the other hand, regarded it as a payment for the first night. (“terḫātum”, RA 31, 1934, pp. 121-123.

[19] E. Cuq considered that terḫatum was “une libéralité.” See E. Cuq, Études sur le droit babylonien, Paris, 1929, p. 25.

[20] G. R. Driver-J. C. Miles, BL, I. pp. 259-265. They say, “It is therefore far more probable that its meaning is a marriage-gift or a gift given to secure a marriage with a view to procreation than that it means a price by which a bride is purchased.” (BL, I, 19952, p. 264)

[21] P. Koschaker’s theory of “Kaufehe” is accepted by J. Renger, “Who are All Those People?”, OrNS 42, 1973, pp. 259-273.

[22] R. Westbrook, OBML, 1988, pp. 54-56. Westbrook’s own criticisms are found in OBML, pp. 56-57.

[23] P. Koschaker thought that this paragraph reflected the Sumerian institution of marriage which did not require giving of terḫatum (RvSGgH, pp. 152f., 159-163, 178-183; ArOr 18, 1950, pp. 229-230). J. Renger thinks that there existed another type of marriages in the Old Babylonian period that did not require terḫatum, and § 139 reflects that type of marriages (OrNS 42, 1973, p. 265).

[24] See J.-M. Durand, ARM XXI, p. 193.

[25] R. Westbrook, OBML, 1988, pp. 58f.

[26] R. Westbrook, OBML,1988, p. 60.

[27] CAD Š3, p. 103 sub 1b.

[28] M. T. Roth translates nudunnûm as “marriage settlement” in her Law Collections, 1995, p. 114.

[29] CAD N2, pp. 310-312.

[30] R. Westbrook, OBML, 1988, pp. 109-110.