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  • 12/21/2011

Women’s Lives in Ancient Persia

part 1


We know divorce existed but have no information on details. Amestris a niece of Darius is mentioned several times in the texts. She was married to a man called Craterus, but he soon abandoned her. After her divorce, she was remarried to Dionysius, a local ruler. They produced three children and after her husband's death in 306 BC she acted as regent. She reigned as queen for a while, but was finally murdered by her sons. We do not have much information about the marriage ceremonies. The only direct account is Alexander's wedding at Susa with the Iranian princess Stateira a daughter of the defeated king Darius III. As reported by the Greek historians the wedding was carried out in Persian tradition: "The bride entered the room and sat beside the bridegroom. He took her hands and kissed them. The two ate from the same loaf of bread sliced in two parts by a sword and drank some wine. After the ceremony her husband took the bride home".

Contemporary sources in Babylonia and other territories under Achaemenid shed some light on the legal side of the marriage alliances of ordinary couples.

 We have no evidence that the practices described in these documents would be identical to those in Persia, however similarities existed and the information is revealing. Forty-five such marriage contracts are discovered in Babylonia. The contracts are always between the husband and members of the bride's family. They begin with the husband's pledge to be given the woman in marriage and gifts to be presented to the bride and her family. If the husband decides to take a second wife, he is to give the first wife a specified sum of money and she may return to her home. The women's dowry could include land, household equipment, jewelry, money and slaves. If the wife committed adultery, the punishment was normally death. The contracts were sealed in front of several witnesses who were also named in the agreements.

Anahita, Achaemenid Era, 400BC

Other documents in Babylonia (also Elam and Egypt) show that women owned properties, which they could sell or lease. After the death of her husband, the widowed wife inherited from the deceased even if she did not have children. A woman could not act as a witness in the drawing up of contracts, but she could act as a contracting party and have her own seal. If there were children from two wives, the children of the first wife inherited two thirds and the others one third only. It is not clear what would be the case if a man had more than two wives. If a woman died childless, the dowry was returned to the house of her father. There were attempts by Darius to codify the legal system but no standard set of laws has been discovered. The conquered territories used their own legal system with little interference from the central administration. For example, Jewish colonies in Elephantine in Egypt followed their own legal code. Husbands remained monogamous and all property and family matters were settled in the special courts of the Jews.

Of all the territories under Achaemenid administration Egyptian women enjoyed the most rights and privileges. The family was basically monogamous but under certain conditions husbands could marry other wives and were permitted to have sexual intercourse with slaves and household servants (common practice in the region). A husband did not have the right to pawn his wife as security for his debts. This practice existed in various forms in Babylonia and even Sassanian Persia. Wives retained their own property in marriage and after divorce. They also had the right to transfer their property to their children as inheritance and could initiate divorce. If the husband initiated divorce, he had to apportion a part of the property to his wife. If the woman asked for a divorce, she had to return the money she had received from her husband as bride price and could not lay claim upon property acquired jointly with the husband. Sons and daughters inherited equal portions. However, fathers' power over children was substantial and he could pawn them as security for debt.

Other Links:

Haft Keshvar (7 Countries)-part 1    

History of Ancient Medicine in Mesopotamia & Iran-part 1   

Iran, a Brief History (part 1)    

A – Z of Iran History (A)   

History of Ancient Medicine in Mesopotamia & Iran-part 2   

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