This is our fictional account of a Mesopotamian marriage. The story depicts a young Sumerian girl who was subjected to a marriage transaction. It provides some insight on the process and customs of a Sumerian wedding, from which it is evident that there was little regard for female rights and the prevalence of gender inequality.
It was the time of the year again - when the marriage market opens and buzzes with crowd. Hili’s aunts dressed her up in a long white gown that embraced her curves and braided her hair into a neat crown so her face could be seen clearly. They were very detailed, making sure that every inch of her was groomed and proper. Hili stared at herself in the mirror, and although she looked beautiful, she sighed. She was not at all excited; in fact, there was a sinking feeling within her. Hili had just ended puberty and would be someone’s wife in just a moment, when her father brings her to the marriage market for sale. Anyone’s wife. She dreaded the thought of it, but knew she couldn’t say anything.
At the marriage market, all the young women sat behind a podium, while men of all ages gathered in front of it - and it begins. A herald steps onto the podium to calm everyone down, then starts calling up the young women one by one. As usual, he began with the most beautiful one - Hili. Her flawless features and perfect physique caught the attention of many men. Everyone bidded furiously for Hili and so her bidding went on for a long time, with each bid going higher and higher. Eventually, a rich and handsome man named Estan won with an extremely high bid. He immediately offered to pay the deposit (betrothal gift) and bride-price to Hili’s father, who stood right beside her.
Soon after, both Hili and Estan’s families proceeded to write a legal marriage contract. The contract stated that during the marriage, if Hili did not produce children or in the case that she dies, the bride-price sum would be returned to Estan. In the case that Estan dies, Hili would marry one of his brothers or another male relative. Apart from owning Hili, the Hammurabi’s Code gave the right to husbands like Estan to keep a concubine. However, the concubine would never be seen equal to Hili, and would always hold an inferior status. The contract also spelled out the duties for each spouse, and the penalties Estan was liable for if he decides to divorce Hili. Most importantly, in accordance to the Hammurabi’s Code, should Hili ever be accused of infidelity, she would have to kill herself if she was not proven guilty, because of the shame she would impose on her family. If she was guilty of it, she would have to be thrown into the river. Though the terms were mostly to Hili’s disadvantage, the two families agreed and sealed the marriage.
At the wedding, Estan veiled Hili in presence of witnesses to symbolize that she is now his. He also poured perfume on her, and they proceeded with a feast to legitimize their marriage. Two of Estan’s servants waited on the couple while other servants brought a slaughtered animal, alcohol, and other sides for the feast. Barley, wheat and meat dishes such as beef, poultry, and even turtles were served. To add to the festivities, they had musicians and dancers to entertain them and their guests.
Once Hili was officially part of Estan’s family, she was given a choice to move in with her in-law or return to her house. If she chose the latter, she will receive dumaki from Estan, which refers to a sum of money for maintenance. However, choosing the former allows her to bring home a dowry called sherigtu, and perhaps even nudunnu, a special gift added onto gold and silver. Hili understood that the marriage was to help her family out financially and thus, without hesitation, chose the latter.
As part of the process of the wedding, Hili and Estan engaged in sexual intercourse on their wedding night, as newlyweds are expected to conceive quickly. They anticipated the possibility of having a child, as the first child of the family would signify a higher status for Estan as the head of the family. Unfortunately, Hili did not get pregnant even after some time, and as a result, their marriage was not being validated. Estan was furious and accused Hili of being barren. He told his father that he was going to return Hili back to her family and demand for his bride-price.
Hili overheard the conversation and was indignant. She could not believe how Estan treated their marriage as if it was nothing. In an attempt to spite him, she attempted to get close to the gardener.
However, Estan found out about her plan and accused her of adultery even though she had not done him wrong. Hili was flustered as she was aware of her following fate - death. She wailed profusely and begged Estan to let her off, but it was to no avail. Estan ordered his servants to prepare a bowl of poison and demanded that Hili finished it. Hili knew that it was pointless to fight against Estan, and so she drank the poison. Slowly but surely, she felt weaker by the second. The next thing she knew, she had already departed for the afterlife.