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Women in ancient Mesopotamia

Because the majority of surviving documents from the ancient Mesopotamia were created in male spheres of influence (palaces and temples) by male scribes, women are not very visible. It is possible to compile a list of important women from inscriptions of the Early Dynastic period; but almost all are wives and daughters of rulers and high officials. Legal documents show that women could act independently, buying and selling houses, acting as a guarantor for another person. They could also become involved in court cases.

Further down the social scale weaving was a principal occupation of women. Documents mention hundreds of women working together in weaving 'factories'. In the Old Assyrian period merchant's wives represented their husbands in various commercial and legal transactions. By the Middle Assyrian period there is evidence from Assyria for the first harems. A series of very harsh laws has survived from the same period, which regulate the activities of women. Some Assyrian queens were very powerful but these women are exceptions. Only occasionally are women portrayed in Assyrian art and then most are shown as prisoners of war or as deportees.

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Introduction to the popular 19th century British artist, £25.00

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