There were attempts
by Darius to codify the legal system but no standard set of laws is discovered.
The conquered territories used their own legal system with little interference
from the central administration. For example Jewish colonies in Elephantine
in Egypt followed their own legal code. Husbands remained monogamous and
all property and family matters were settled in the special courts of the
Jews. Of all the territories under Achaemenid administration Egyptian women
enjoyed more rights and privileges. The family was basically monogamous
but under certain conditions husbands could marry other wives and were
permitted sexual intercourse with slaves and household servants ( a common
practice in the region). A husband did not have the right to pawn her wife
as security for debts. This practice existed in various forms in Babylonia
and even Sassanian Persia. Wives retained their own property in marriage
and after divorce. They also had the right to transfer their property to
their children as inheritance and could initiate divorce. If the husband
initiated divorce he had to apportion a part of the property to his wife.
If the woman asked for a divorce she had to return the money she had received
from her husband as bride price and could not lay claim upon property acquired
jointly with the husband. Sons and daughters inherited equal portions.
However fathers' power over children was substantial and he could pawn
them as security for debt.
To what extent
Persian family and marriage contracts resembled above examples is hard
to say without concrete evidence. But there would have been similarities
since Achaemenid extensively utilized Neo-Babylonian and Egyptian codes
of conduct and legal systems as part of their imperial policy. One major
difference that existed between the Persian women and others in the empire
is with respect to the participation in religious cults. Egyptians and
Babylonians had many goddesses and temples designated to female deities.
Women including royals served and participated actively in running of these
temples and ritual ceremonies. Neither the Fortification texts nor the
Greek evidence suggest that Achaemenid royal women played any part in religious
ceremonies. There is no reference to other women being involved either.
We do know that
the Kings before assuming their throne and going to major wars were ritually
blessed at the temple of Anahita a significant female deity. However there
is no evidence to demonstrate that females including royals participated
at such rituals. Strict purity laws might have restricted women's access
to such involvement but in the absence of historical records no conclusion
can be made.
With respect to
veiling and seclusion of Persian women as suggested by the Greek sources
Fortification texts do not shed any light on the subject. Veiling has a
long history in ancient Mesopotamia and Mediterranean cultures. In the
first known reference to veiling, an Assyrian legal text of the thirteenth
century B.C., it is restricted to respectable women and prohibited for
the prostitutes and lower class women. There are no depiction of women
in Persepolis itself, however there are many seals, statues and figurines
that indicate there were no restrictions on the depiction of Persian women.
In some of these, women are pictured fully clothed with partial veils in
others, they are dressed even crowned but no veil. The aristocratic and
royal women very likely used veil in public as a sign of their higher status.
But veiling as an institution to subjugate, control and exclude women from
public domain originated after the Islamic conquest.
In summary the
evidence of the Fortification and Treasury texts provide us with a unique
insight into the social and economic situation of Persian women, royal
and non-royal, as well as female workers. These women owned property, were
involved in managing their assets. Participated in economic activities
of the estate and other economic units. They had employment opportunities
earned wages and as a result were able to be economically independent.
Patriarchal system prevailed and husbands and other males had far more
rights and privileges than their wives or children. Nevertheless such evidence
clearly indicates that women in ancient Iran were not an undifferentiated
mass leading a secluded life behind high walls without any function and
purpose other than child rearing. A situation that sadly became their destiny
for many centuries after the collapse of The Sassanian Empire.
Price is an Ecologist and social Anthropologist educated in Iran, Pahlavi
University and London University England, Kings and University Colleges.
She is a freelance writer, has worked with women and immigrant groups.
She currently lives and works in Canada.
Women in Ancient Persia;
Maria Brosius, Oxford University Press, 1998. This book is
a detailed analysis of the Fortification and Treasury texts with respect
to women. This book is a must for any one interested in women's studies.
Josef Wiesehofer, I.B. Tauris Publishers, London/New York 1996. An
excellent and up to date general history up to the Islamic conquest.