The social structure of Mesopotamian society was patriarchal, but women were not considered the legal property of males. They could own property and engage in business in their own right. Marriage in Mesopotamia was the socially sanctioned cohabitation between a man and women for the purposes of procreation. Great value was placed on female fertility, and barrenness constituted grounds for divorce or for the husband inviting another woman to the household to bear him offspring. According to the law code of Hammurabi, a childless wife should take it upon herself to supply such a secondary wife.
   The groom’s family would begin negotiations with that of the prospective bride. The girl was given a share of her father’s wealth as a dowry (Old Babylonian sheriktum). According to his status, this could range from a few items of clothing and simple jewelry, as well as household items such as kettles and mortars, to substantial amounts of silver, furniture, and, in some cases, slaves. Land was not usually part of a dowry except in cases where there were no male heirs. Dowry lists, generally of more prosperous women, have survived, especially from the Old Babylonian period. The husband could not lay claim to this dowry; it was passed onto the women’s children (see INHERITANCE).
   The groom presented the father of the bride with the bride-price. Since virginity was rated highly, it warranted a greater amount than if the bride had been married before. The groom’s family also contributed to the marriage in the form of a gift (terhatum), mainly victuals, for the wedding feast. The husband could also make a personal present (nudunnum) to his wife, which became her legal property. The marriage was made legal by a contractual agreement between the parties. In wealthy families, this was drawn up in writing, but oral agreements before witnesses were equally valid.
   The wedding feast, held at the groom’s father’s house, concluded the marriage. Although the general pattern of marriage was monogamous, men could take secondary wives in case of barrenness or residence in another country (as the Assyrian merchants did in Anatolia). They could also take concubines whose status was below that of the main wife. Numerous clauses in law codes deal with the inheritance implications of such polygamous situations. Divorce was possible on the grounds of maltreatment by husbands (at least according to the Code of Hammurabi), infertility of the wife, or simply loss of affection by the husband. It had to be ratified before a court, which ensured that the repudiated woman had some means of survival and which could force the husband to return her dowry. Diplomatic marriages, arranged by kings to cement political alliances, are well attested in Mesopotamia, especially during the second millennium. It was a popular method used by Zimri-Lim of Mari, whose daughters were married off to various local rulers as virtual spies. Letters of these unhappy women have been found among the Mari archives. The Kassite rulers also gave their princesses to foreign potentates, notably the pharaohs of Egypt.
   See also SOCIETY.

Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. . 2012.

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