Friday, September 15, 2006

Divorce in the Hittite World

The discussion of divorce among the Hittites, in chapter 7, "Marriage", in Bryce, 2002, reveals a surprisingly complex attitude towards marriage. For one, prenuptial agreements were used in anticipation of a marriage dissolving, and presumably protected the dowry which a bride brought to the marriage from her family. According to Bryce, divorce was not uncommon, and it could be sought as easily by a woman as by a man; in one case it seems that estrangement or finding another partner was considered reason for divorce. The agreements show particular concern for the placement of children afterward, as well as matters of inheritance. Usually the property was divided equally, and all but one of the children went with the mother if the couple were equals, but the opposite was true if the husband was free and his wife a slave. There were also measures taken to provide for a widow after her husband's death; Bryce tells us, for instance, that she could disinherit her sons if they refused to care for her.

Action was taken against adultery only at the request of the husband. If he caught his wife and lover in the act, and killed them on the spot, he was not guilty of an offense. But if he did not act immediately, then he would forfeit the right to take justice into his own hands, and was obliged to seek redress in the court. It seems that sometimes the lover could purchase the man's wife after the event, although the payment seems small: just one plough ox. The husband could also seek the death penalty, but, presumably to reduce the amount of petitions for death, the husband could only ask for the execution of both his wife and her lover, and not merely the lover. Even with this course of action, the king was still the ultimate judge of their fate. If the result was a reconciliation between husband and wife, it seems that the husband could afterwards veil his wife.


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