Print Friendly, PDF & Email
An enslaved woman stands behind a free Elamite woman who is spinning (600s BC)

An enslaved woman stands behind a free Elamite woman who is spinning (600s BC)

In West Asia, even more than in most other state societies all over the world, men did not allow women to do all the things that men did. People valued women less than men. In Hammurabi’s Code, from 1700 BC, there’s a lower penalty for killing a woman than for killing a man. But even though they were oppressed, West Asian women lived busy, interesting lives. And sometimes they managed to get some power into their own hands.

As in most places, little girls probably got less food and less good care than little boys, so more girls died in childhood or grew up hungry so that their brains and bodies didn’t grow they way they should have. By the time they were seven or eight years old, most girls spent most of their time either home spinning and babysitting their younger brothers and sisters, or out in the fields pulling weeds or picking berries along with their sisters and cousins.

Probably girls also spent hours every day gathering firewood or dried dung for cooking fires, and fetching water from wells or springs. While some rich boys went to school, girls couldn’t go to school. Many rich girls, like the priestess Enheduanna, did learn to read and write and do math, though. Probably girls were home-schooled by their family or slaves.

Because West Asian girls didn’t eat as well as modern girls go, they usually didn’t reach puberty until they were about fifteen or sixteen. Soon after that, girls usually got married. When girls got married, their families sent a dowry with them to their husband’s house. The dowry was supposed to support the woman, and if her husband died or left her, or she left him, she got the dowry back so she would have something to live on. Women got this dowry, while their brothers got an inheritance from their fathers.

Married and Older West Asian Women
Learn by Doing – Property Project
Women in Ancient Egypt
Women in Ancient Greece

Bibliography and further reading about West Asian people:

Find Out About Mesopotamia: What Life Was Like in Ancient Sumer, Babylon and Assyria, by Lorna Oakes (2004).

Ancient Mesopotamians, by Elena Gambino (2000). For kids, retellings ofMesopotamian stories and lots of context.

Ancient Egyptians and Their Neighbors: An Activity Guide, by Marian Broida (1999). Not just Egypt! Includes activities for kids about the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Hittites, and the Nubians.Everyday Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, by Jean Bottero and others (2001). Translated from French.

Life in the Ancient Near East: 3100-332 B.C.E., by Daniel Snell (1998).

Women in ancient Rome
Women in ancient China
More about West Asia home