The Importance of Women in Mesopotamian Culture |
An Analysis of Women’s Roles in the Social and Family Structure of Mesopotamia |
Trevor James O’Brien |
Mesopotamia was a highly patriarchal society, and as such, family life was centered on the male relatives, thus relegating females to a life as second-class denizens. This does not mean that women played no role in the cultural and social development of Mesopotamia. By thoroughly examining scholarly sources, it appears that women were of more importance than people may assume upon first glance of the culture. Despite the fact that nearly every woman was illiterate, they were often portrayed as having roles like poet, performing artist, healer, counselor, mediator, advisor, and caretaker – roles which did not require any kind of literacy, but were still considered crucial societal roles. Perhaps most importantly, women were held in high-esteem for being mothers to Mesopotamian children, and for taking care of household chores (Harris, Preface). The legal power given to them may have been less than their male counterparts, but they at least had the right to prove their innocence in most cases, which shows they weren’t considered disposable citizenry (The Code of Hammurabi). To fully understand the social and family structure of Mesopotamia, it is important to clearly define the female gender role as it was in Mesopotamia.
To examine the role of the female as nurturer and mother, we must first examine the cultures views of children. It appears that children were treated with great affection (Harris 21). In Sumerian literature we find several depictions of women dandling children on their knees, being played with and admired (Harris 13-14). The birth of children was also looked upon as a great blessing. One Sumerian proverb decrees: “Marrying many women is human / Getting many children is divine.” This shows a certain respect that men held for women as mothers. We can see...