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Status of Women in Hammurabi’s Code

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Throughout Hammurabi's Code, it is made clear that the ancient Near East had a patriarchal system in which laws were needed to be put in place to grant protection to women from abuse. Laws placed restrictions on women's dowries and the manner in which divorce could occur. The state, therefore, recognized that women needed certain legal protections from male authority. Unfortunately, while such legal protections are granted, women are constantly addressed as a piece of property similar to slaves. Therefore, there are a few major issues in Hammurabi's Code that demonstrate how the individual rights of women took a back seat to social order and stratification in the ancient Near East. It was believed that a woman's sexuality should be sacrificed to ensure her legitimacy. A family's wealth was controlled by the father of the family, and finally, women that were divorced or widowed were viewed as needing society's help in the Near East.

Perhaps the clearest example of women's rights being sacrificed was that a wife was considered property in the same way as a son or a daughter. Her sexual relations belonged exclusively to her husband and if any other man interfered with this, he was to be punished with theft. At marriage a woman's sexuality became the property of her husband. Even the possibility of adultery was taken very seriously. A wife caught in the act of adultery was to be tied to the other lover and drowned. A husband could save his wife but then he had to save her lover as well (Pritchard 152). Another issue dealing with women's sexuality in relation to her social status was how to handle unwanted babies. Fathers had to decide whether to claim any newborn as his child especially if it was conceived as the result of a wife's affair. In the ancient Near Eastern society, motherhood was understood, but fatherhood was not. It seems as though the only solution to this was to place harsh restrictions on female sexuality.

While Hammurabi's Code doesn't have any laws against women owning property, it is made clear that the husband or father was the keeper of family property. This left women with a clear disadvantage. The system worked well in happy marriages, but if a situation such as a husband's death, desertion from his family, or divorce were to arise, it was usually the woman who suffered as a result. According to the Code, a contract was necessary for marriage. Also, when a man and woman were getting married, the most important item to be negotiated was the bride price. This, again, shows that men were superior to women when it came to the ownership of property. Regardless of the amount of this bride price, it was managed by the husband and it was used to support the wife and her children: "If a woman who lived in a man's house made an agreement with her husband, that no creditor can arrest her, and has given a document therefore; if that man, before he married that woman, had a debt, the creditor can not hold the woman for it" (Pritchard 155). The bride's father had the right to change his mind about the marriage, in which case he would have been required to refund the purchase price in full showing again how women were nothing more than a piece of property: "If a man

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