Front Page Titles (by Subject) XII: RIGHTS OF WIDOWS - Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
XII: RIGHTS OF WIDOWS - Rev. Claude Hermann Walter Johns, Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters 
Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1904).
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
RIGHTS OF WIDOWS
The authority of the widow in the homeThe Code makes clear what was the position of the widow. She had a right to stay on in her husband’s house until she died,1 but was not compelled to do so.2 If she remained, she was the head of the family. To her the young sons looked to furnish them with means to court a wife, and the daughters for a marriage-portion. She acted in these matters with the consent and assistance of her grown-up children. But she might elect to leave the home and remarry.
Rights of inheritanceAs long as she remained in her husband’s home she enjoyed to the full whatever she had brought there as a marriage-portion, whatever her husband had settled upon her, and also received a share from her husband’s goods at his death. The widow’s share was the same as a child’s. But she had no power to alienate any of these possessions. The Code expressly declares that they were her children’s after her.3 The children had no power to turn her out. If they desired her to leave, the matter came before the law-courts, and her private wishes were consulted. If she wished to remain, she might do so, and the judge bound over the children to allow her to do so.4
Later usagesA very clear example of the permanence of the Code regulations on this subject meets us in the fifth year of Cambyses.5 Ummu-ṭâbat, daughter of Nabû-bêl-uṣur, wife of Shamash-uballiṭ, son of Bêl-ebarra, a Shamash priest, who was dead, whose sons were Shamash-eṭir, Nidittum, and Ardi-ar, swore to Bêl-uballiṭ, priest of Sippara, saying, “I will not remarry, I will live with my sons, I will bring up my sons to manhood, until they are numbered with the people.” On the day that Ummu-ṭâbat remarries, according to her bond, the property [of her late husband] which is in the possession of Bêl-uballiṭ, the priest of Sippara, [she shall forfeit]. The tablet is defective here, but on the edge of the tablet we see that the care of her sons was given her. To remarry is expressed here by the words, “going into the bît zikari.”
Remarriage of a widowA widow could remarry at her discretion. She no longer had to be given in marriage. She was free to marry the man of her choice.1 She might take with her her marriage-portion to her new home, but she had to leave behind any settlement which her former husband had given her, or any share of his goods that had come to her at his death. Her family were not called upon to find any fresh marriage-portion for her. But she was not completely mistress of even her marriage-settlement. If she had children of the former marriage, they and any children of her second marriage shared her marriage-portion equally. Only she had the enjoyment of it for life.2 If there were no children of the second marriage, those of the first took all she left.3
Disposal of her first husband’s propertyWe have assumed that when her husband died her children were old enough to care for themselves. If they were not, she had no power to enter upon a second marriage and desert her first family. She was not free to marry at all without consent of the law-court.4 But there is no evidence that this could be withheld, if proper conditions were observed. The first husband’s property was inventoried and consent for the second marriage being granted, she and her new husband were bound by deed to preserve the whole estate of the late husband for his children. With that proviso, the newly married pair entered into full use of the deceased’s property and were bound to educate the children until grown up. They had no inducement to neglect them, as in any case none of the deceased’s property could ever be theirs. If the children died, it would all revert to the family of the deceased. The newly married pair had no further interest in it than the enjoyment of it until the children could manage for themselves. They could not alienate any of it. The sale of even a utensil was not possible.1
[1 ] § .
[2 ] § .
[3 ] § .
[4 ] § .
[5 ] 273.
[1 ] § .
[2 ] § .
[3 ] § .
[4 ] § .
[1 ] § .