Introduction

Women in ancient Mesopitamia were not equal to men, but they did have rights.
Women could freely go to the marketplace, buy and sell goods, handle legal issues, own property, and start their own businesses.
Upper class women, like those of the royal families and those who gave their lives to the temple priestesses, could learn how to read and write. Some women even had jobs running parts of town or jobs in city government.



The Role of Mesopotamian WomenFrom the earliest times in ancient Mesopotamia, women who came from a sector of society that could afford to have statues made placed their likenesses in temple shrines. This was done so that their images would stand in constant prayer while they continued to go about their daily chores. This female worshipper statue wears a standard fashion of the time, a simple draped dress with her right shoulder bare and hair done up in elaborate braided coils.external image women_largewindow.jpg
The Mesopotamian woman's role was strictly defined. She was the daughter of her father or the wife of her husband. Women rarely acted as individuals outside the context of their families. Those who did so were usually royalty or the wives of men who had power and status.

Women's Work

Most girls were trained from childhood for the traditional roles of wife, mother, and housekeeper. They learned how to grind grain, how to cook and make beverages, especially beer, and how to spin and weave cloth for clothing. If a woman worked outside of her home, her job usually grew out of her household tasks. She might sell the beer she brewed, or even become a tavern keeper. Childbearing and childcare roles led women to become midwives and also to create medicines that prevented pregnancy or produced abortions.

Marriage

Soon after puberty, a young girl was considered ready for marriage. Marriages were arranged by the families of the future bride and groom. Ceremonies have been described where the future husband poured perfume on the head of the bride. He also gave her family money and other presents. Once a woman was engaged, she was considered part of her fiancé's family. If her husband-to-be died before the wedding, she was then married to one of his brothers or another male relative.

Women's Position

Women's position varied between city-states and changed over time. There was an enormous gap between the rights of high and low status women (almost half the population in the late Babylonian period were slaves), and female power and freedom sharply diminished during the Assyrian era. The first evidence of laws requiring the public veiling of elite women come from this period.
In general, women's rights in Mesopotamia were not equal to those of men. But in early periods women were free to go out to the marketplaces, buy and sell, attend to legal matters for their absent men, own their own property, borrow and lend, and engage in business for themselves. High status women, such as priestesses and members of royal families, might learn to read and write and be given considerable administrative authority. Numerous powerful goddesses were worshiped; in some city states they were the primary deities.



Women in ancient Mesopotamia

Because the majority of surviving documents from the ancient Mesopotamia were created in male spheres of influence (palaces and temples) by male scribes, women are not very visible. It is possible to compile a list of important women from inscriptions of the Early Dynastic period; but almost all are wives and daughters of rulers and high officials. Legal documents show that women could act independently, buying and selling houses, acting as a guarantor for another person. They could also become involved in court cases.
Further down the social scale weaving was a principal occupation of women. Documents mention hundreds of women working together in weaving 'factories'. In the Old Assyrian period merchant's wives represented their husbands in various commercial and legal transactions. By the Middle Assyrian period there is evidence from Assyria for the first harems. A series of very harsh laws has survived from the same period, which regulate the activities of women. Some Assyrian queens were very powerful but these women are exceptions. Only occasionally are women portrayed in Assyrian art and then most are shown as prisoners of war or as deportees.



Bibliography

Ancient Tablets, Ancient Graves: Accessing Women's Lives in Mesopotamia, Classroom Lesson Series
http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/lesson2.html


Ancient Mesopitamia: The Role Of Women, University of Chicago
http://oi.uchicago.edu/OI/MUS/ED/TRC/MESO/women.html



Ancient Mesopitamia For Kids: Women
http://mesopotamia.mrdonn.org/women.html


The Position Of Women In Ancient Mesopitamia:
http://socyberty.com/history/the-position-of-women-in-ancient-mesopotamia/

British Mueseum: Women of Ancient Mesopotamia:
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/article_index/w/women_in_ancient_mesopotamia.aspx