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IRANIAN FAMILY LAW

DIVORCE LAW

UNDER THE ACHAEMENIDS


By: Muhammad A. Dandamayev

 There is hardly any available information on divorce in Persia itself during the Achaemenid period; there is evidence only for certain of the western satrapies of the Achaemenid empire. It can be presumed that in the polygamous families of ancient Persia divorce was practiced only on rare occasions and that, in all probability, only the husband had the right to divorce his wife; perhaps in such an instance a mere declaration was sufficient to dissolve a marriage.

A number of marriage contracts with divorce clauses have been preserved from Babylonia. From these documents it can be determined that, if a divorce was initiated by the husband, he had to pay a predetermined sum, usually 6 minas (ca. three kg) of silver, and the divorced wife would be free to go wherever she wished. In all divorce clauses it was anticipated that the reason for dissolving the marriage would be the husband's desire to marry another woman (Roth, pp. 188 ff.). In a few marriage contracts it was specified that the husband could marry another woman if his first wife proved unable to bear children (Cardascia, p. 84). It was also possible for a husband to divorce his wife because of her extramarital sexual activity, although in one series of marriage contracts it was stipulated that adultery would result in the death penalty for the wife (for references, see Roth, pp. 197 ff.). In the ancient Near East a man's extramarital sexual activity was not considered an offense against his wife (Roth, p. 186 n. 1). From Achaemenid Babylonia there is no documentary evidence that a wife was entitled to divorce her husband.

According to Hebrew law, a husband had the right to divorce his wife upon the delivery of a "note of divorce," which permitted her to remarry (Deuteronomy 24:1-2), but what constituted grounds for divorce was not specified. There is no statement in the Pentateuch that a wife could divorce her husband (Driver and Miles, pp. 290 ff.). In contrast to the situation in some other communities, however, Jewish families at Elephantine in Egypt were monogamous, and husbands did not have the right to take second wives while still married. Three Aramaic marriage contracts have been preserved from Elephantine; they contain provisions for divorce on the initiative of either the husband or the wife. It is thus clear that spouses had equal rights in this respect, in contrast to the provisions of most ancient law (Bresciani, p. 158; Seidl, pp.79-80). This equality probably reflected specific conditions in Egypt,where women seem to have enjoyed a more privileged position (Yaron, p. 53). The initiating party had to announce the divorce before an assembly of witnesses and to pay a specified sum to the partner. If the initiating party was the wife the sum was 7.5 shekels of silver plus the return of her mohar (bride price); upon payment she was free go wherever she wished. If the initiator was the husband he had to pay divorce money (in one instance 200 shekels of silver) and to return the dowry (Porten and Yardeni, pp. 30 ff., 62 ff., 78 ff.). If a wife had committed adultery, her husband could divorce her, but she was not subject to additional punishment; this arrangement was in sharp contrast to that under biblical and most other ancient codes of law, in which such faithlessness was considered a criminal offense and punished severely (Muffs, pp. 51-62; Volterra; Yaron, pp. 53-64).

 

Bibliography

E. Bresciani, "La satrapia d'Egitto," Studi Classici e Orientali 7, 1958, pp. 132-88. 

G. Cardascia, "Le statut de la femme dans les droits cune‚iformes," Recueils de la Socie‚te‚ Jean Bodin XI. La femme, pt. 1, Brussels, 1959, pp. 79-94. 

G. R. Driver and J. C. Miles, The Babylonian Laws I, Oxford, 1968. 

Y. Muffs, Studies in the Aramaic Legal Papyri from Elephantine, Studia et Documenta ad Iura Orientis Antiqui Pertinentia 8, New York, 1973. 

B. Porten and A. Yardeni, Textbook of Aramaic Documents from Ancient Egypt II. Contracts, Jerusalem, 1989. 

M. T. Roth, "'She Will Die by the Iron Dagger.' Adultery and Neo-Babylonian Marriage," JESHO 31, 1988, pp. 196-206. 

E. Seidl, Ägyptische Rechtsgeschichte der Saiten- und Perserzeit, Ägyptologische For-schungen 20, Glückstadt, Germany, 1968. 

E. Volterra, "Osservazioni sul divorzio nei documenti aramaici," in Studi orientalistici in onore di Giorgio Levi della Vida II, Rome, 1956, pp. 586-600. 

R. Yaron, Introduction to the Law of the Aramaic Papyri, Oxford, 1961.

 

 

 

Source/Extracted From: Encyclopaedia Iranica

 

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