Role of Women in Ancient Mesopotamia

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From Suffering to Suffrage

As Mary Wollstonecraft once said, “I do not wish them to have power over men, but over themselves.” In this quote, “themselves” is referred to as women of course. It is somewhat customary to pick up a paper in today’s light and perhaps see read about Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, or First Lady, Michelle Obama, even media specialist, Oprah Winfrey. The list could go on and on, but the point remains the same. If King Hammurabi of Babylon were living in today’s world and saw how dramatic the power of women has transformed over the years, he would perhaps declare himself Queen of Babylon. Kevin Reilly accurately depicts the struggling role of women from this early period of civilization through Assyrian law, a palace decree, and Hammurabi’s Code.

The first text that is mentioned by Reilly, is that titled, Assyrian law. These codes tell us many things about the role of women in early civilization. The following code comes from two official documents that were from an empire based in Mesopotamia as far back as 1,100 B.C.E. The Assyrian law which will be discussed first, gives knowledgeable understanding of the attitudes of the men towards the women in that time period. The Assyrian law introduces many different concepts relating to the role of women during this early civilization. The first concept considers the daily attire of a woman upon presenting herself in public. “Wives of a man, or [widows], or any [Assyrian] women who go out into the main thoroughfare [shall not have] their heads [bare]” (Reilly 34). This Assyrian law calls for the wearing of a veil, when seen in public. Although in the United States you would be hard pressed to find a female wearing a veil, it is not uncommon to travel out to the Middle East and witness this occurrence. This rule applied to not only the wives of the husband but any existing daughters that wish to go out into the main. The status changes quite a bit when describing the role of an...