What was the role of women according to Hammurabi's code?

The role of women according to Hammurabi's code was a subordinate one. For instance, married women essentially belonged to their husbands, as did whatever property they brought with them to the marriage. Women were also controlled by strict laws concerning adultery, under which adulterous women would be tied together with their lovers and drowned.

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Like all ancient laws, the laws contained within the Code of Hammurabi were written by men largely for the benefit of men. As such, women were placed in a subordinate position, lacking in the relative freedoms and responsibilities enjoyed by their menfolk.

In ancient Babylonian society, women were regarded as...

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Like all ancient laws, the laws contained within the Code of Hammurabi were written by men largely for the benefit of men. As such, women were placed in a subordinate position, lacking in the relative freedoms and responsibilities enjoyed by their menfolk.

In ancient Babylonian society, women were regarded as morally and intellectually inferior to men. Inevitably, this perceived inferiority found its way into the Code of Hammurabi, which to some extent codified certain social mores and practices, many of which involved the subordination of women.

For instance, the Code enshrined in law the social practice of the bride price, by which a bride's family would be compensated for the loss of labor. In effect, a bride would be treated as a piece of property with a specific price attached to her. Indeed, after she got married, the bride would belong to her husband, as if she were his property.

In particular, a married woman's sexuality was her husband's property. Because of this, adultery was regarded as essentially a property crime against a husband, and there were very strict penalties for those women who broke the law. Adulterous women were regularly tied together with their lovers and drowned. A husband could save his wife if he chose to, but only if he was also prepared to save his wife's lover.

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In Hammurabi's Code, a woman was considered the property of her father or husband, who administered her dowry. If a woman died, her dowry would go back to her father, to her brothers, or to her sons. A woman's sexuality was also highly guarded, showing that she was considered the property of her husband. For example, if a married woman were found guilty of adultery, she could be drowned (or only saved at the mercy of her husband). Adultery went against the laws of the community that regarded women as property. However, women were afforded some protections in the society, particularly if they were mothers. A man with children who left his wife had to give her custody of the children as well as the dowry and the use of a field or other property to support herself and her children. Widows were also given some protections, such as the right to stay in their husband's houses for as long as they wanted (unless they chose to remarry). While women were inferior in status to men in Hammurabi's Code, the laws also gave them some protections. 

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Hammurabi’s code dealt with the roles of women in some ways. Women had some rights in Hammurabi’s code. For example, women could get a divorce. Women also were allowed to engage in the buying and the selling of property. There is some evidence that suggests that women could run a business.

In other ways, women were restricted by the code. The father or her brothers often arranged her marriage. A negotiated contract was developed which determined the price of the bride. Women generally lived at home during the time after the contract was signed. There were strict rules regarding having children and what would happen if there were no children. For example, if a woman couldn’t conceive a child, the husband could have a second wife in order to have a child. However, the second wife did not have equal status with the first wife. If a woman had an affair, her husband got to decide whether to claim the child as his own. If a woman was accused of having an affair but was not caught sleeping with the man, the woman would jump into the river. The Babylonians believed that a guilty person who jumped into a river would drown, while an innocent person would make it back to shore. Thus, if the woman made it back to shore, she was considered to be innocent of the charge of having an affair.

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The role of women under Hammurabi's code is somewhat ambiguous.  Women are clearly given some rights, but they are also clearly not equal to men.

For example, it is clear from the code that women were allowed to be in business.  There are, for example, references to women who sold wine for a living.  This shows that women were not expected to simply remain inside their homes.

The code also does not automatically rule against women in certain situations.  A woman who is accused of cheating on her husband but is not actually caught in the act may simply swear that she is not guilty and then return home.  If a man sleeps with a virgin who is not his wife, he gets killed but she is blameless.  These things show that women are treated somewhat well under this code.

On the other hand, they are clearly not equal to men.  For example, a woman who is convicted of neglecting her husband may, if her husband wishes, be forced to stay in his house as a servant while he marries another.  There is no such provision about men.

So the place of women in this society is somewhat ambiguous, but it is not as bad as was often the case in ancient civilizations.

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