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Roles of Ancient Women

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Roles of the Ancient Women Ancient Middle Eastern civilizations laid the ground work for the progression of Western culture. The religions and laws created by the leaders of these civilizations directed the day to day lives of their people. We see evidence of this through the archeological and anthropological studies that have been conducted throughout the Middle Eastern regions over the past few decades. As most of these civilizations were built upon a patriarchal culture, the majority of what has been unearth points toward the day to day lives of the men of those civilizations. What evidence is there for the role of women in these ancient Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Minoan cultures? The written historical record, excavated artifacts and art provides a rich tapestry of evidence of the lives of the Ancient Mesopotamians and with it a small glimpse into the lives of Mesopotamian women. Many resources point to the woman’s role being firmly that of a “daughter of her father or the wife of her husband.” (The Oriantial Institute, Chicago University) Texts such as The Code of Hammurabi spell out what few rights a Mesopotamian woman had. These rights were mainly associated to the privileges of the dowry bestowed up on her husband by her father or in his death her eldest male relative. (Hooker, Washington State University, 1999) A dowry typically consisted of money, goods, or estate that a woman brings to her husband in marriage. The rights to this dowry were mainly held by the father, the husband or the woman’s sons depending on the situation. Only when a woman had become a widow of which she was given a dowry and a deed from her father stating that she had permission to use the dowry as she wished did was she free to use the dowry as she wished. (Hooker, Washington State University, 1999) The traditional roles of wife and mother meant that they were often trained in all aspects of the household. Some were allowed to venture outside their homes to sale goods they had made within their homes. The role of the ancient Egyptian woman varied greatly from that of the ancient Mesopotamian woman. The excavation of many of the Egyptian tombs shows the legal status of the woman was identical to that of a man regardless of marital status. (Johnson, 2002) While most women did not hold jobs outside the household they were afforded the opportunities to do so like a man. They had the ability to own property in their own right, which included slaves, land, portable goods, servants, livestock, and money. (Tyldesley) When a woman brought her own property or dowry into the marriage it remained hers. In the event of a divorce her dowry had to be returned to her. (Tyldesley) Like the women of ancient Egypt, Minoan women of Crete played an important role in public life. Archaeological evidence found in the excavations of palaces at Knossos and Phaistos reveal that woman participated occupations and trades that in other civilizations would be only available for male members of society. “They served as priestesses and administrators, and participated in all the sports that Cretan males participated in.” (Hooker, Washington State University, 1999) The roles of woman in the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Minoa differed greatly considering there closeness geographically. Although many advancements through archeological discoveries have been made in understanding the female roles in these ancient civilizations, there is still so much that is and will be left unknown.
(n.d.). Retrieved 11 17, 2010, from The Oriantial Institute, Chicago University:
Hooker, R. (1999, 6 6). Washington State University. Retrieved 11 17, 2010, from Washington State University:
Hooker, R. (1999, 6 6). Washington State University. Retrieved 11 17, 2010, from Washington State University:
Johnson, J. H. (2002). Fathom Archive. Retrieved 11 17, 2010, from University of Chicago:
Tyldesley, J. (n.d.). The Status of Women in Egyptian Society. Retrieved 11 17, 2010, from library at Cornell University:

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