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WOMEN'S LIVES IN ANCIENT PERSIA
(Continued from Page 1)
By Massoume Price
 
 
The Persepolis tablets reveal three different terms of reference for women, mutu, irti and duksis. The first one is always applied to ordinary women while the other two were used for royal women. In one document Artazostre, a daughter of king Darius is referred to as Mardunuya iriti sunki parki meaning 'the wife of Mardonius, daughter of the king'. Such use of terminology shows the significance of the women's marital status and her relationship to the king.  The royal women are also named individually in many documents.

Artystone wife of Darius I; is mentioned frequently in the documents along with Parysatis the wife of Darius II. Both are mentioned in many Neo-Babylonian documents as major landowners in Persia Media Babylonia and Syria. They leased their estates to fief-holders whose rents were collected by their bailiffs and other agents. Artystone had three estates and so far 38 letters with her personal seal have been identified. The letters confirm a massive workforce based at each estate with storage facilities for grain and other produce. A steward who received direct orders from the queen administered each estate. In some instances the king and the queen use the same officials and at occasions they have their own agents.

Fortification texts reveal that royal women traveled extensively visited their estates and administered their wealth individually and at times with help from their husbands. Travel rations identify their travel partners, guards servants cooks etc. Both the queens are mentioned traveling to Babylonia overseeing tax payments and rental collections. We read about a  judge belonging to the house of Parysatis". Persians had their own judicial system in the conquered territories and presumably the queen had her own judge looking after her affairs. She owned many villages in Babylonia, the residents were free subjects and did not belong to the queen as slaves, but they had to pay taxes in form of wine agricultural products, livestock etc. Lavish parties were given by female royals, huge amounts of wine meat and other food products are ordered for special occasions with or without the king's sealed orders.  They participated in royal festivities and banquets in addition to organizing their own feasts. For instance in one document Darius himself orders delivery of wine to his wife Irtahduna, while in other documents the ladies themselves order wine and grain for their quarters.

Families were patriarchal, polygamy and concubines existed; marriage with close relatives even brothers and sisters was practiced. Such marriages normally occur when matrilineal inheritance is an issue. In such systems daughters receive a large inheritance and since dowries should also be paid one practical solution for keeping the wealth in the family is to marry close relatives. So far we know nothing about the inheritance system in Achaemenid times. Therefore it is not possible to make any conclusion as how family members inherited or why they practiced such marriages. We do know that the king's mother, wife and daughters owned large properties but whether they acquired their property through inheritance or other means is not clear. The same family and marriage patterns are found amongst the nobles and wealthy citizens throughout the empire.
 
 

With respect to royal concubines they existed and are normally referred to as 'women of the king'. They had personal attendants and were not exclusive to the kings. They are found in the palaces of the satraps and Persian nobles. There is not enough information about their status to make concrete conclusions. Some would have been captives and from foreign origins. They are found together with the other women in the king's or the noble's entourage. They were present in the banquets and on royal hunts. The kings and the nobles would normally marry into the Persian royalty and aristocracy so it is very unlikely that they were ever married and gained the status of a wife in such households. There are scattered references to individual concubines favored by certain kings but such evidence is scant and not substantiated.

Mixed marriages amongst Persian and non-Persians also existed but. The royal children were often used in marriages to create alliances between different groups and even nations. Darius married off her daughters to military leaders throughout the empire. He himself married the daughters of nobles Gorbryas, Otanes, his own niece and daughters of the Cyrus II, Cambyses II and Bardiya.  Darius's marriages are very unusual. Matrilineal descent might have been important at this time and his reason for marrying all the royal women of the previous kings might have been an attempt to eliminate any contestants to the throne. In his inscriptions Darius claims descent from the house of Achaemenid, however the historical evidence does not support such a claim and marriages in this manner would have safeguarded his claim to the throne if indeed he did not belong to the Cyrus's lineage.

We know divorce existed but have no information on details. Amestris a niece of Darius is mentioned several times in the texts. She was married to a man called Craterus but was soon abandoned by him and after her divorce was remarried to Dionysius, a local ruler. They produced three children and after her husbands' death in 306 BC she acted as regent. She reigned as queen for a while but was finally murdered by her sons. We do not have much information about the marriage ceremonies. The only direct account is Alexander's wedding at Susa with the Iranian princess Stateira a daughter of the defeated king Darius III. As reported by the Greek historians the wedding was carried out in Persian tradition. "The bride entered the room and sat beside the bridegroom. He took her hands and kissed them. The two ate from the same loaf of bread sliced in two parts by a sword and drank some wine. After the ceremony her husband took the bride home".

Contemporary sources in Babylonia and other territories under Achaemenid shed some light on the legal side of the marriage alliances of ordinary couples. We have no evidence that the practices described in these documents would be identical to those in Persia however similarities existed and the information is revealing. Forty-five such marriage contracts are discovered in Babylonia. The contracts are always between the husband and members of the bride's family. They begin with the husband's pledge to be given the woman in marriage and gifts to be presented to the bride and her family

If the husband decides to take a second wife he is to give the first wife a specified sum of money, and she may return to her home. The women's dowry could include land, household equipment, jewelry, money and slaves.  In the case of wife's adultery the punishment is normally death. The contracts were sealed in front of several witnesses who were also named in the agreements.

Other documents in Babylonia (also Elam and Egypt) show that women owned properties, which they could sell or lease. After the death of her husband, the widowed wife inherited from the deceased even if she did not have children. A woman could not act as a witness in the drawing up of contracts, but she could act as a contracting party and have her own seal. If there were children from two wives, the children of the first wife inherited two thirds and the others one third only. It is not clear what would be the case if a man had more than two wives. If a woman died childless, the dowry was returned to the house of her father.
 
 
 

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