Laws Relating to Women in the Law Code of Hammurabi


Use selection of laws from the Code of Hammurabi (ca. 1750 BCE) to discuss how this connection between private property, the patriarchy, and sexual morality manifests in Mesopotamian society.

At least 175 words. I have included a sample from one of the other students.

Please remember to defend your interpretations and arguments with citations from the texts to support your claims.


Laws Relating to Women in the Law Code of Hammurabi ca. 1800 BC.

127. If a man causes a finger to be pointed in accusation against an ugbabtu [title of a priestess] or against a man’s wife but cannot bring proof, they shall flog that man before the judges and they shall shave off half of his hair.

132. If a man’s wife should have a finger pointed against her in accusation involving another

male, although she has not been seized lying with another male, she shall submit to the divine

River ordeal for her husband.

133. If a man should be captured and there are sufficient provisions in his house, his wife shall

not enter another’s house. If that woman does not keep herself chaste but enters another’s

house, they shall charge and convict that woman and cast her into the water.

135. If a man should be captured and there are not sufficient provisions in his house, before his

return his wife enters another’s house and bears children, and afterwards her first husband

returns and gets back to his city, that woman shall return to her first husband; the children shall

inherit from their father.

138. If a man intends to divorce his first ranking wife who did not bear him children, he shall

give her silver as much as was her bridewealth and restore to her the dowry that she brought

from her father’s house, and he shall divorce her.

139. If there is no bridewealth, he shall give her 60 shekels of silver as a divorce settlement.

142. If a woman repudiates her husband and declares, “You will not have marital relations with

me” – her circumstances shall be investigated by the authorities of her city quarter, and if she is

circumspect and without fault, but her husband is wayward and disparages her greatly, that

woman will not be subject to any penalty; she shall take her dowry and she shall depart for her

father’s house.

148. If a man marries a woman, and later la’bum disease seizes her and he decides to marry

another woman, he may marry; he will not divorce his wife whom la’bum disease seized; she

shall reside in quarters he constructs and he shall continue to support her as long as she lives.

151. If a woman who is residing in a man’s house should have her husband agree by contract

that no creditor of her husband shall seize her (for his debts) – if that man has a debt incurred

before marrying that woman, his creditors will not seize his wife; and if that woman has a debt

incurred before entering the man’s house, her creditors will not seize her husband.

182. If a father does not award a dowry to his daughter who is a naditu [priestess] dedicated to the god Marduk of the city of Babylon or does not record it for her in a sealed document, after the father goes to his fate, she shall take with her brothers her one-third share from the property of the paternal estate as her inheritance, but she will not perform any service obligations; a naditu dedicated to the god Marduk shall give her estate as she pleases.


(As a guideline, Here is what one of the other student’s wrote)

By observing the Law of Hammurabi, people are able to understand the importance of women’s procreative abilities in Mesopotamia. The Law of Hammurabi deals with marriage and the consequences of inheritance from problematic situations that could arise. When marriage happens between two people, the man and the woman pay a dowry to each other’s families. Involving a fee shows the importance of family contribution to the marriage. The reason is due to private property. The private properties must have heirs in order to be maintained or increase the wealth of the family (Patriarchy and Private Property Lecture). In her article of Ancient Mesopotamia, Karen Rhea Nemet-Nejat explains the importance of heirs by showing a negative scenario that could arise by saying, “To increase their own inheritance, nasty uncles were known to make false accusations in questioning the paternity of a baby (Women in Ancient Mesopotamia, page 95-96). Thus, the value of women’s procreative abilities for only her husband and one family increased.
Unfortunately, with the increase in the value of women’s procreative abilities, society began to restrict women in order to control the women’s sexual power (Patriarchy and Private Property Lecture). To control the female sexual power, the ideas of sexual morality emerged into the Mesopotamian society. Thus, laws were created to keep a woman’s chastity to her husband. For example, one of the laws listed was, “If that woman does not keep herself chaste but enters another’s house, they shall charge and convict that woman and cast her into the water ” (Laws of Hammurabi).
Also, with the restriction of women’s sexual power, men obtained dominance in society by gaining the responsibility of their wives. Now, the woman has become subordinate to the man by becoming a dependent individual. This patriarchal system of society is eminent by the difference in punishment for false accusations in the Law of Hammurabi. If a man had falsely accused a woman of promiscuity, the man’s punishment was to have half of his hair shaved (Laws of Hammurabi). However, for a woman who was falsely accused, she must be drowned in order to keep the honor of her husband’s reputation (Laws of Hammurabi). These two laws clearly express the difference in status between the men and the women. By learning the values of a society, people are able to understand the emergence of laws and gender inequality.