Front Page Titles (by Subject) XV: ADOPTION - Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters
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XV: ADOPTION - 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).
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Frequency and reasons for adoptionAdoption primarily means a process by which parents could admit to the privileges of sonship children born of other parents. There were many reasons which might impel them to such a course. If they were childless, a natural desire for an heir might operate. But under the Babylonian law a man might take a second wife, or a maid, if his wife were childless, to bear him children. A more operative cause was that children were a source of profit to their parents while they remained with them. But it seems that men married early. Hence this alone does not seem sufficient to account for the great frequency of adoption. Besides, in that case, what induced a parent to part with his child for adoption? It seems that the real cause most often was that the adopting parents had lost by marriage all their own children and were left with no child to look after them. They then adopted a child whose parents would be glad to see him provided for, to look after them until they died, leaving him the property they had left after portioning their own children.
Children who might be adoptedThe Code admits all kinds of adoption, but regulates the custom. A man might adopt an illegitimate son, or the child of a votary or palace-warder, who had no right to children, or the child of living parents. In the latter case alone was the parents’ consent necessary. We have examples of cases of adoption of relatives, of entirely unrelated persons, of a slave even.1 We learn from the series ana ittišu2 that a man might take a young child, put it out to nurse, provide the nurse with food, oil for anointing, and clothing, for a space of three years; and then have it taught a trade or profession, such as that of scribe.3
The method of procedureAdoption was effected by a deed, drawn up and sealed by the adoptive parents, duly sworn to and witnessed. Such contracts definitely state the relationship, which was in all respects the same as that of a son born in matrimony. But it laid down the obligations of the son, while it stipulated what was the inheritance to which he might expect to succeed. It brought responsibilities to both parties and fixed them. The son was bound to do that which a son would naturally have done, explicitly, to maintain his parents while they lived. The parents were bound, not only to leave him property, but to treat him as a son. But, as a rule, all was matter of contract and carefully set down. If such a contract was not drawn up, although the adoptive parents had brought him up, the child must return to his father’s house.4 Only, for an artisan, it was sufficient to have taught the child his trade.5
So far as our examples go, some color might be given to the suggestion that adoption was always merely for the convenience of old people who wanted to be taken care of. But we know that children were adopted on other grounds. That they were children and not always grown-up men and women is clear from the above. This we may regard as adoption pure and simple. Other cases are a legal method of making provision for old age, or for other purposes for which an heir as legal representative was desirable. In the case of no legal heir, the property went back to the next of kin.
Adoption pure and simpleThat such a process did take place in Babylonia is made clear by the Code.1 But few examples are known where a father takes into his family an additional child. The case, in which the son is not only adopted by parents who have a family living, but is ranked as their eldest son, deserves reproducing in full.2
Ubar-Shamash, son of Sin-idinnam, from Sin-idinnam, his father, and Bititum, his mother, have Beltum-abi and Taram-ulmash taken to sonship, and let him be the son of Beltum-abi and Taram-ulmash. Ubar-Shamash shall be their eldest son. The day that Beltum-abi, his father, and Taram-ulmash, his mother, say to Ubar-Shamash, their son, “You are not our son,” he shall leave house and furniture. The day that Ubar-Shamash shall say to Beltum-abi, his father, or Taram-ulmash, his mother, “You are not my father or my mother,” one shall brand him, put fetters upon him, and sell him.
Both parents of the adopted son were living. That the son is to be reckoned eldest implies that the adopting parents had other children. This is made clear in one case where the adoptive parents are expressly said to have five children.3 In another case where a child is adopted a certain person is expressly said to be his brother.4
Consent of other members of the family involvedThe existing members of the family had a real interest in the proceeding. For, as inheriting with them, the addition of another son could not but affect their prospects. We may wonder what influenced them to consent. That they did consent is clear from the often-occurring covenant by which they bound themselves not to object. One explanation may be that they had grown up and left home and were anxious for the welfare of their parents, but could not arrange to look after them themselves. Hence for their parents’ sake they were willing to forego their share, or submit to a stranger taking precedence of them, or in some cases to give up all claim to the property in their parents’ possession in return for being relieved of the responsibility of looking after them. Of course, when the adopted son was only taken in as one, even the eldest, among several, he would only have a share at the parents’ death. But it even seems that the children might of their own motion adopt a brother to be son to their parents.1
Disinheritance of a sonThe clause which implies disinheritance in case the parents repudiate the son, or he repudiates them, could only be enforced by a law-court.2 But it was nevertheless most regularly inserted in the contract. In one case the document merely consists of it,3 leaving us to infer that an adopted son was concerned. But this is not absolutely certain. The son might have been rebellious to his mother, who was therefore minded to cut him off, and this may be the result of her bringing her son before the judge. The judge was bound to try and conciliate the parties.4 Hence, not infrequently the son was bound over not to repeat the offence on pain of disinheritance, while the mother retained her right to disinherit. There was no mention of his being sold for a slave, or branded, as was usual when a son was adopted and then repudiated his parents.
According to the contracts entered into by the parties, parents could repudiate adopted sons. This was contrary to the law by which the consent of the judge was needed for disinheritance. It seems to be an attempt to contract without the support of the law. The son was then to take a son’s share and go away.5
Form of adoptionThe word aplûtu, abstract of aplu, “son,” and therefore literally “sonship,” being also used to denote the relation of a daughter to a parent, came to denote the “share” which a son or daughter received. If a man adopted a son, he granted him an aplûtu, or “sonship,” and this carried with it a material property. But the father, while still living, might grant the son his aplûtu and stipulate for maintenance during the rest of his life. Such a grant begins with aplûtu ša , where is the son. But it by no means follows that is an adopted son. The question is only decided for us when the parentage of is given. If he is said to be the “son of C,” then we know that A giving him “sonship” must mean that A adopted him. But if is merely indicated as the son of A, we cannot tell whether he was born to A, or only adopted by A.
Phrases which express the ideaSo when the property given to is in his power to dispose of later as he may choose, this privilege is expressed by the words, “he may give his sonship to whom he chooses.” The choice is sometimes expressed as “that which is good to his heart,” or “in his eyes,” or “whom he loves.” A modified choice is often mentioned, as when it is said that a votary may leave her “sonship” after her to whom she likes “among her brothers.”
Settlements which assume adoptionWe have a large number of documents which make reference to the aplûtu of a certain person, which we can render here by “heritage.” These are especially common on the part of votaries. As we have seen, they were not supposed to have children of their own, but possessed the right to nominate their heir within limits. In return for exercising this right in favor of a certain person, they usually stipulated that such person shall maintain them as long as they live and otherwise care for them. Even outside actual deeds of heritage, we find references to property derived from votaries subject to certain duties. Such dispositions of property are closely related to a will or testament, but anticipate the death of the testator. They are really settlements for the future, which exactly answers to the title given them by the Babylonian scribes, ridit warkati.
The following example makes these details clear:1
The heritage of Eli-eriṣa, votary of Shamash, daughter of Shamash-ilu. Belisunu, votary of Shamash, daughter of Nakarum, is the caretaker of her future life. One-third gan of unreclaimed land in Karnamkarum, next the field of Issurîa, one sar house in alalla, next the house of Nakarum, one-third sar four gin in Gagim, one maid Shala-beltum, price ten shekels of silver, all this for the future in its entirety, what Eli-eriṣa, votary of Shamash, daughter of Shamash-ilu, has or shall acquire, she gives to Belisunu, votary of Shamash, daughter of Nakarum. Every year Belisunu shall give to Eli-eriṣa three gur of corn, ten minas of bronze, and twelve a of oil.
Precautions against suitsThe aplûtu thus given was in many cases an alienation of property on which some relative had claims. Even where their consent was not necessary it was desirable that they should not involve the heir in legal processes. Hence, such relatives are called up to covenant that they will raise no objection to the heir’s peaceable succession.1
Duties of adopted child to parents: supportThe obligation to support the adoptive parent is emphasized. The amount of sustenance varies much. Another list of yearly allowances reads one shekel of silver, woollen yarn, six a of oil, four išinni Shamašh, ten a of fat, one side, two gur of corn. Many others could be instanced, but they make no great addition to our knowledge.
ServiceThe obligation might be service; as when a lady adopts a maid to serve her for life and inherit a certain house.2 In another case a lady adopts a son to bring up her daughter and give her to a husband. “If he vexes his adoptive mother, she will cut him off. He shall not have claim on any of the goods of his adoptive mother, but shall inherit her field and garden.”3 Evidently the mother intended her personal effects to be her daughter’s and to form her marriage-portion. The obligation did not always last long. Thus we find that Lautum, who was adopted by a votary and was herself a votary, two years later was in a position to adopt as her daughter another votary.4 She handed on the same property, indicating that her adoptive mother was dead.
The adoption of a child by a lady of fortune was evidently a good settlement for the child, and usually the real parents raised no objection. We even find the father of a girl adopted by a lady, making an addition to her heritage in the form of a gift to the adopting mother on her effecting the deed of adoption. He gave them two male and two female slaves. Here also the girl covenanted to support the adoptive mother.1
Punishment for neglect of these dutiesOccasionally the adopted child did not carry out his duties. This was good ground for disinheriting him. But disinheritance was not to be inflicted without the sanction of the judges.2 Hence we find that when a lady had adopted a daughter who failed to give her food and drink, the judges summoned them to the great temple of Shamash in Sippara, there cut off the daughter from her heritage, took away the tablet of adoption granted her, and destroyed it.3
Care of aged parentsA curious case is where A, the daughter of and C, endows D to take care of and C. As long as D lives A covenants to allow her so much. When she dies A will herself perform the duties.4 Here A evidently expected her parents would not live long, but also D must have been aged, or infirm, as A contemplates the chance of her parents outliving D. This is not a case of adoption, but is so similar in purpose to those above as to deserve a place here.
Inheritance rightsOccasionally, however, the adopting parent reserved the usufruct of the property for life only, fixing by deed the rightful heir.5 This was, in effect, a will or testament, since the inheritance did not take effect until after the death of the testator.
[1 ] 54.
[2 ] II. R. 9, 28 cd. ff.
[3 ] M. A. P., p. 15.
[4 ] § .
[5 ] § .
[1 ] § ff.
[2 ] M. A. P., 95.
[3 ] M. A. P., 98.
[4 ] M. A. P., 97.
[1 ] M. A. P., 94.
[2 ] § .
[3 ] M. A. P., 93.
[4 ] § .
[5 ] M. A. P., 98.
[1 ] 565.
[1 ] 368.
[2 ] 375.
[3 ] B3 2484.
[4 ] 609.
[1 ] 2489.
[2 ] § .
[3 ] 360.
[4 ] 2460.
[5 ] 2179.