The Sumerian woman

Sumerian woman

Since ancient historical times, humanity has lived for short periods of time in mountain caves within primitive communal relationships and over long periods of time.

Women occupied a special place because they gave birth to children at a time when men were roaming the forests, valleys and mountains in search of foodstuffs, from soft and dry fruits to hunting and herding. Then came the stage of primitive agriculture, which served as an incentive for women to actively participate.

Social and personal conditions and customs


One of these traditions is respect for Sumerian women, through the husband presenting gifts to his wife’s family before consummating his wife. 

This tradition was accompanied by the barter system, which was prevalent as a means of dealing with trade and securing food commodities of a daily consumption nature, such as wheat, barley, and clothes, since the human mind had not yet arrived at currency as a fixed formula for dealing with buying and selling. 

Marriage was generally arranged by the families of the bride and groom, with the consent of the couple. Parents would seek out suitable matches based on factors like social status, wealth, and family connections.

The basis of marriage was to be bound to one wife, unless she was barren, in which case the husband had the right to marry again, provided that the first wife maintained her loyalty and her first place in the marital home.

Therefore, Polygamy was practiced, particularly among the elite classes, with wealthy men sometimes taking multiple wives. However, monogamous marriages were more common.


In Sumerian law codes, such as the Code of Ur-Nammu and the Laws of Eshnunna, a woman could divorce her husband for a few key reasons:

  •    If the husband had taken a second wife without her consent.
    •   If the husband had severely mistreated or abused his wife.
      • If the husband was impotent or incapable of sexual relations.

        Divorce was easy for the husband, provided that the husband paid her dowry after an amount of money that permitted the husband’s income, while the wife kept her children.

        In Sumerian society, there were two cases of martial unions, in contrast to the case of divorce: the case of neglect and abandonment, which means that the Sumerian woman has a higher status in marital life.

        In the event that the husband neglects his wife, she must return to her father’s house with all the furniture and household supplies she owns.

        In the event of abandonment by the husband, the wife is granted her freedom and she can marry again after her children reach the age of majority, provided that she takes from the abandoning husband enough to support her children until they reach the age of majority, i.e. something similar to alimony know.

        The wife is considered the mistress of her house and keeps everything she brings from her husband’s house, including furniture and belongings, until her death.

        After her death, the inheritance passes to her children, and if she does not have children, then her family gets the inheritance not her husband.

        When the wife has slave-women and she is barren, she offers her husband one of them as a secret wife, meaning something similar to a customary marriage, Lady Sarah did when she presented to her husband, the Prophet Ibrahim Al-Khalil (peace be upon him), Mrs. Hajar, who was his mother, and she became free after she gave birth.

        The first wife, being the mistress of the house, can return the slave-woman to a state of slavery if the mother wife tries to compete with her in any way it was.

        When a Sumerian woman marries a black slave, which is an exceptional case, she retains her freedom and her children are born free.

        Economic rights

        • The Sumerian wife had the right to buy and sell without asking her husband’s permission.

          • Sumerian women could own, manage, and dispose of their own personal property, including land, livestock, and valuables.
            • Sumerian women actively participated in business, trade, and economic activities.
          •  They could operate their own shops, workshops, and other commercial enterprises.
          • Women could enter into contracts, conduct financial transactions, and engage in moneylending.
          • It is the prevailing custom in dealing with Sumerian life in the harsh living conditions that the poor suffer from.  
          • Around 8000 BC, agriculture was discovered in northern Mesopotamia, and it was the woman who discovered agriculture, and therefore she became the leader of the agricultural community because they believed that her body had a supernatural power that would make her give birth and farm.

          The husband has the right to deposit his wife with a creditor for a maximum period of three years in the event that he is indebted to this creditor within the period that was agreed upon.

          Her children are also dealt with by forcing them to serve this creditor after agreeing with their father or guardian, this shameful phenomenon was not shameful in Sumerian society.

          Religious field  

          In the Sumerian city-states, women held positions of power as priestesses, often acting as intermediaries between the people and the deities. Enheduanna, the daughter of Sargon of Akkad, stands as a prominent example of a high priestess and poetess who greatly influenced religious and literary spheres.

          The first goddess to appear was the “Mother Goddess,” who symbolized fertility, and her image was placed in the fields as a blessing.

           We can say and see, women led both society and the religious side in that region at that time.

          Thus, the way is open for Sumerian women to learn to play one of the musical instruments in the temples or to enter monasteries and dedicate themselves to worship only.

          Since Sumerian society is a class society, the leadership of monasteries and temples is one of the tasks reserved for the king’s daughter, as it is the place that suits her in terms of spatial importance.

          Sumerian women had the right to devote themselves to the house of God, that is, to become temple girls.

          This means that the Sumerian woman sacrificed her body in the service of the temple, meaning that she sacrificed the most precious thing she possessed in order to serve the gods.

          Such girls had rights to own property and had the right to marry after the end of their contracted period of temple service.

          In the tomb of Queen Shibaad,  the Sumerian harp was found  that Queen Shibaad was playing, which means that this queen was playing various musical arts in a way that nice to  hear at the time.

          Sumerian women and myth

          The oldest documented historical period, which confirms to us the importance of the position of the Sumerian woman and her status as a model - a working woman and a queen - and her relationship with the names of the gods, is as it was written in cuneiform script in Sumerian mythology as a qualitative temporal breakthrough in her life within the process of human society, and her elevation to the status of the gods came through several epics and legends, with several names, including the Sumerian goddess (Nammu), the creator of man.

          Then she specialized in various functions, such as Sag (Ninmakh), which is also one of the Sumerian creative gods.

          Sumerian women from divinity to ownership and management

          Because of women’s transition to the level of government leadership (the stage of the emergence of the social contract) (the state), Shub-Ad became the first wise Sumerian queen to manage her city (the city-state stage - 3000 BC).

          This is the stage where a woman enjoys a distinguished position - head of the family - then goddess, then queen.

          The stage of the emergence of a social, political, economic and administrative culture, which has its own norms and values and is far from the phenomenon of selfishness and selfishness, then the phenomenon of division of labor and men assuming power appeared.

          The lives of women in ancient Mesopotamia cannot be characterized as easily as with other civilizations meeting the different cultures over time. Generally speaking, though, Mesopotamian women had significant rights, could own businesses, buy and sell land, live on their own, initiate divorce, and, though officially secondary to men, found ways to assert their autonomy.

          Sumerian women and culture


          As for the first poet in history, she was “Enhido-Anna” between (2300-2225 BC), her name means “the high priestess, adornment of the sky,” and she is considered one of the greatest poets of the ancient world and she is the daughter of King Sargon of Akkad. Its texts were written in the Sumerian language.

          Dr. Khazal Al-Majidi says that the reason that prompted historians and researchers to consider “Enhedu-anna” as the first poet in history is that she used to append her name to the tablets of her poems, while the poetry tablets before her were devoid of the names of their authors, and some of them bore the names of the scribes of these poems and not the names of their authors. 

          He added: “The available poems were collected, amounting to about 42 poems.”

          The Iraqi researcher explained that the writer William Hallow described this poet as "the Shakespeare of Sumerian literature."



















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