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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 123

Divorce was easily obtained. A husband might send his wife away either because she was childless or because he fell in love with another woman. Incompatibility of temperament was also recognized as sufficient reason for separation. A woman might hate her husband and wish to leave him. "If", the Code sets forth, "she is careful and is without blame, and is neglected by her husband who has deserted her", she can claim release from the marriage contract. But if she is found to have another lover, and is guilty of neglecting her duties, she is liable to be put to death.

A married woman possessed her own property. Indeed, the value of her marriage dowry was always vested in her. When, therefore, she divorced her husband, or was divorced by him, she was entitled to have her dowry refunded and to return to her father's house. Apparently she could claim maintenance from her father.

A woman could have only one husband, but a man could have more than one wife. He might marry a secondary wife, or concubine, because he was without offspring, but "the concubine", the Code lays down, "shall not rank with the wife". Another reason for second marriage recognized by law was a wife's state of health. In such circumstances a man could not divorce his sickly wife. He had to support her in his house as long as she lived.

Children were the heirs of their parents, but if a man during his lifetime gifted his property to his wife, and confirmed it on "a sealed tablet", the children could have no claim, and the widow was entitled to leave her estate to those of her children she preferred; but she could not will any portion of it to her brothers. In ordinary cases the children of a first marriage shared equally the estate of a father with those of a second marriage. If a slave bore children to her employer, their right to inheritance depended on whether or not the father had recognized them as his offspring during his lifetime. A father might legally disown his son if the young man was guilty of criminal practices.

The legal rights of a vestal virgin were set forth in detail. If she had received no dowry from her father when she took vows of celibacy, she could claim after his death one-third of the portion of a son. She could will her estate to anyone she favoured, but if she died intestate her brothers were her heirs. When, however, her estate consisted of fields or gardens allotted to her by her father, she could not disinherit her legal heirs. The fields or gardens might be worked during her lifetime by her brothers if they paid rent, or she might employ a manager on the "share system".

Vestal virgins and married women were protected against the slanderer. Any man who "pointed the finger" against them unjustifiably was charged with the offence before a judge, who could sentence him to have his forehead branded. It was not difficult, therefore, in ancient Babylonia to discover the men who made malicious and unfounded statements regarding an innocent woman. Assaults on women were punished according to the victim's rank; even slaves were protected.


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