“Then Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak. ” ~ Code Of Hammurabi. In ancient mesopotamian society kings had a divine relationship with the gods, therefore why they were appointed with responsibility of imparting justice onto their subjects’.
Babylon, a great city on the Euphrates river in what today is Iraq, the cradle of the world’s first civilization, was ruled by King Hammurabi in which developed his own law codes focusing on influencing the public and private lives of his people. He proclaimed that his goals as a ruler were to support the principles of truth and equity and to protect the less powerful members of society from exploitation.
Although these laws protected the rights of many in this patriarchal society, it left little room for women to have some, if any, freedom compared to the influence goddesses had on their culture. Hammurabi’s law code was built upon the foundation of the laws developed in the Ur III dynasty, and the product surmounted into a society where “an eye for an eye” could describe the laws in a general sense. The main audience in social hierarchy was split into three parts, free persons, commoners, and slaves.
Men in particular still had an advantage over women, although they had limited legal rights, the husbands had the final say in every decision regarding their wife, family, and land. Therefore, when the agriculturally developed society came about, and the more physically demanding it became there was a clear division that men would do the hard labor and women would provide for the household staying closer to the central part of the civilization.
The role of women in this society worked because this was before people understood the power women had in giving life, therefore men had the need to make themselves more powerful in the face of their gods and others. The law protected the wife’s interests given that she has asked for a divorce because her husband had been treating her cruelly, therefore the husband is required to restore her property to her and she may appear in court, or make business contracts thus going forward.
If a seignior wife, who was living in the house of the seignior, has made up her mind to leave in order that she may engage in business, thus neglecting her house (and) humiliating her husband, they shall prove it against her; and if her husband has then decided on her divorce, he may divorce her, with nothing to be given to her as her divorce-settlement upon her departure”(Lualdi. Code of Hammurabi. Pg23).
These rights may seem fair enough once written down, but abiding by them may be a different story for the men in this society and the people enforcing these laws, and so they still seem to be inclined toward the benefit of the men more than anything. Mesopotamians believed that the gods had created the universe as a hierarchy requiring that social inferiors obey their superiors, and that the gods controlled everything affecting human existence from the weather to the fertility of women, and the more power of divinity the more respect was given to that god.
They viewed gods as absolute rulers to whom they dedicate their entire existence and have complete obedience to. Religion laid at the heart of Mesopotamian life because people believed the divinely created hierarchy determined the condition of their lives. In prayer and as goddesses women are praised and seen as sacred symbols. The goddess Inana or Istar, was the most important female deity of ancient mesopotamia at all periods, “Her Sumerian name Inana is probably derived from a presumed Nin-ana, ‘Lady of Heaven’; it also occurs as Innin. (Inana dictionary entry,pg108).
The principal tradition associated with her is that she is the daughter of An, and closely connected to the sumerian city of Urk. In all the traditions given her backstory there seems to be no permanent male spouse figure in her story, and that ties into her being the goddess of sexual love and no children were ever borne by her. The ‘personality of Inana can be separated into three strains, one aspect is that a goddess of love and sexual behavior, but especially connected to extramarital sex and possibly prostitution.
It should be clearly stated that she is not a goddess of marriage or a mother goddess in any way, “The socalled-; Sacred Marriage in which she participates carries no overtones of moral implication for human marriages”(Inana dictionary entry. pg109). The second aspect of her personality is that of a warrior goddess who is fond of battle, violent, and lusting for power as she stands by her favorite kings during battle.
“The third aspect of Inana is as the planet Venus, the morning and evening star”(Inana dictionary entry. g109). These are all aspects of women that are not regularly discussed or event shown in early civilization, especially mesopotamia. If seen as an important deity, held to higher pedestal, or meant for a higher universal purpose, then the worship of such women, or goddesses become acceptable in all forms of society. Therefore, the sacred worship of the gods in their religion does not culturally spread over into the gender gap like it does with their everyday situations.
Women are seen as insignificant, weak, or meant to be seen and not heard. Goddesses are powerful, tyrants, and causes of terror if they wish to be. This divide creates a clear division between men and women in ancient societies such as this. One would think human women would be seen as the most powerful for the ability to bear children, but the thinking is opposite and quite backwards from we perceive as socially acceptable and right.