Mostly, ancient civilisations were rooted on religion and customs. The custom of marriage has always been a universal institution. Ancient Mesopotamia is no exception. Information on Mesopotamian marital customs is obtained from ancient legal documents and other archaeological evidence.
A young girl was considered fit for marriage soon after puberty. Proposal is the first stage of marriage followed by marriage contract, and finally the actual wedding. Marriages were usually arranged by the families of the bride and the groom.
During the marriage ceremony, the husband veiled his bride in the presence of witnesses and solemnly declared ‘she is my wife’. Then perfume was poured on the head of the bride and other presents were also given by the groom.
The groom and his father in law agreed to enter into a contract which stipulated a price for the maiden’s hand. If the marriage did not produce children or if the wife died, the money had to be returned to the groom. The husband was allowed to keep a concubine, apart from the wife. But the position of a concubine was never equal to that of a wife. She always had an inferior status.
The married girl, as we see today in traditional families, completely became a part of the husband’s family. Families were usually small in size. An interesting aspect was that if her husband died, she married one of his brothers or any other close male relative of the husband.
If the bride went back to her own house to live after marriage, the groom gave her ‘dumaki, a sum of money towards the maintenance of the house. On the other hand, if she went and lived at her husband’s house, the wife brought with her sherigtu, a kind of dowry. The bride also might receive ‘nudunnu’ , special gift in addition to gold and silver.
Children were regarded in high esteem in ancient Mesopotamia. Father was considered as the ‘master’ of the child. The first-born child received a preferred share in the property. A widow lived in the house of her deceased husband to maintain and support the children. Adoption of children was allowed in the society.
Divorces were allowed on conditions. The Mesopotamian woman was seen as a property. The word husband may be translated as ‘owner of a wife’. However, there was basic element of equality in legal codes.
According to Hammurabi’s code, wives were bought and sold extensively. Herodotus, in his writings regards prostitution in ancient Mesopotamia as “the most shameful custom”. He says that once in her life every woman had to accept the sexual advances of a stranger in exchange for a silver coin in order to fulfil a duty to the goddess.