Monday, September 28, 2009

Marriage in Babylonia

Marriage between a man and a woman was arranged by the respective fathers, often while the couple were still children. Marriage was usually monogamous, although under certain circumstances a man could take a second wife or concubine.

The bride's father sent a dowry to the new home of his daughter, while the groom's father paid a "bride's price". The dowry was often in the form of furniture and clothes rather than silver or gold. The bride price was typically paid in silver. Both the bride price and the dowry were sometimes paid in installments until the couple had their first child, at which point both families were required to make payment in full. After the marriage a feast was often held to celebrate the event.

Legal documents were drawn up to make the marriage "legal". One ancient text says, "If a man marries the daughter of another man without the consent of her father and mother, and moreover does not conclude the wedding feast and contract for her father and mother, even if she lives in his house for a full year, she is not a wife!" (see: Nemet-Nejat, Karen R., "Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia", Westport: The Greenwood Press, 1998, p. 133). A fairly typical wedding contract follows:

"Rimum, son of Shamhatum, takes Bashtum, daughter of Usibitum, in marriage (literally as husband and wife). If Bashtum says to Rimum her husband, 'You are not my husband', Bashtum shall be thrown into the river. If Rimum says to Bashtum, his wife, 'You are not my wife', he shall pay (a certain amount of) silver. They shall swear by the name of (the god) Shamash and (the King) Shamsu-iluna". A list of witnesses then followed (translated by myself from a transcription published in: Huehneraged, John "A Grammar of Akkadian", Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2000, p. 166)

Notice the much more severe penalty the bride would pay for renouncing her husband. This is typical in Akkadian marriage contracts.

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