c. 1750 BC | Babylon

Wives’ Tale

Legislating domestic affairs.

If a man’s wife, who lives in his house, wishes to leave it, plunges into debt, tries to ruin her house, neglects her husband, and is judicially convicted, if her husband offers her release, she may go on her way, and he gives her nothing as a gift of release.

If her husband does not wish to release her, and if he take another wife, she shall remain as servant in her husband’s house.

If a woman quarrels with her husband and says, “You are not congenial to me,” the reasons for her prejudice must be presented. If she is guiltless and there is no fault on her part but he leaves and neglects her, then no guilt attaches to this woman, and she shall take her dowry and go back to her father’s house. If she is not innocent, but leaves her husband and ruins her house, neglecting her husband, this woman shall be cast into the water.



From The Code of Hammurabi. Considered the earliest extant set of laws, this code from Babylonian king Hammurabi applied throughout Mesopotamia. Among its prescriptions for proper living is the first known articulation of “an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth.” It includes many restrictions for the lives of women; an index entry for wife in a popular translation includes a subcategory for “Good, stays at home, is not quarrelsome, economical, does not belittle her husband, has no vice.”