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Old Assyrian Divorce Documents



The archives excavated in the houses of Kaneš lower town belong mainly to Assyrian merchants settled there for business purposes during the 19th and 18th centuries BCE. This documentation contains relatively few contracts pertaining to family law, including divorce documents. Indeed, separation of spouses was sometimes envisaged in the marriage contracts, but there are also contracts and court decisions dealing with divorce.


Format and content

The Old Assyrian divorces found at Kaniš are all consensual, the man and the woman seem to enjoy the same status. Either one could initiate divorce (ezābum) and the fine for breach of contract was the same for both parties, and often served as a deterrent. A contractually arrange “divorce compensation” or “divorce money” (ēzibtum) was regularly paid by the husband to the wife.

The great majority of divorces were between an Assyrian merchant and his Anatolian wife. This situation arose from the possibility, for Assyrian merchants, of taking a second wife in Anatolia. Some Assyrians, after a business career in Anatolia, during which they set up a second household locally, decided to retire to Aššur. Their departure from Anatolia obliged them to divorce their Anatolian wives. These divorces usually mention the financial compensation to be paid by the husband. They are intended to provide resources for the Anatolian wife after divorce and to determine the future of children from the marriage. Young children were entrusted to either of the parents, depending on the circumstances. The father was sometimes asked to pay to his wife and her family the costs of the children’s education and sustenance.


Sample text

ICK 1, 32


Ob. 1 Pí-lá-a[h-Ištar Wa-l]á-wa-/lá Pila[h-Ištar], [Wal]awala
2 a-ma-sú [e-zi-ib]-ma his amtum-wife [he divorced], and
3 e-zi-ib-ta-š[a x ma-na] kù-babbar with h[er] divorce money: [x minas] of silver
4 ša-bu-a-at a-[na] she is satisfied. F[or]
5 a-wa-tim a-ni-a-[tim] the[se] proceedings,
6 Pí-lá-ah-Ištar W[a-lá-wa]- Pilah-Ištar (and) W[alawa]la
7 Ša-at-Ištar um-ma-[ša] – with [her] mother Šāt-Ištar (and)
8 Nu-nu ú A-mur-a-šùr Nūnu and Amur-Aššur,
9 a-hu-ša : i-ša-ha-tí-ša her brothers, assisting her –
10 i-zi-zu-ma ni-iš the oath
11 A-šùr ni-iš A-na by Aššur, Anna
12 ni-iš ru-ba-im (and) the prince
13 it-mu-ú-ma they swore, that
lo.e. 14 a-na Pí-lá-ah-Ištar against Pilah-Ištar
15 me-er-e-šu (and) his sons
16 ú a-na mì-ma šu-mì-[šu] and whatever the iss[ue],
rev. 17 ú-lá i-tù-ru-šu-um they will not raise a claim.
18 šu-ma i-tù-ru-šu-um If they raise a claim,
19 10 ma-na kù-babbar i-ša-[qú-lu] they shall [pay] 10 minas of silver.
20 Lá-ma-sí me-er-a-sú As to his daughter Lamassī,
21 Pí-lá-ah-Ištar i-nu-mì Pilah-Ištar, when
22 a-na A-limki to the City (of Aššur)
23 i-lu-ku i-ra-dí-ší! he goes, may take her along.
24 ta-ar-bi-tám (With) her upbringing
25 ú-ku-ul-ta-ša (and) her food
26 ša-bu-ú mì-ma they have been satisfied,
27 ú-lá e-ru-šu-šu they shall not ask anything further from him.
28 igi En-nam-a-šùr In the presence of Ennam-Aššur,
29 igi E[n-na-sú]-in of E[nna-Sî]n,
30 igi [NP] of [NP],
31 igi Da-lá-áš of Dalaš,
32 igi A-da-da of Adada.


This verdict concerns the divorce of an Assyrian merchant from his Anatolian wife. They had to swear by the main divinities of Aššur and Kaniš: Aššur and Anna, and the ruler (of Kaniš). The father is allowed to take his daughter with him to Aššur.

This text is edited by Kienast 2008, p. 48-49, Michel to appear no. 35.



Bayram S. and Çeçen S. 1995. 6 Neue Urkunden über Heirat und Scheidung aus Kaniš, Archivum Anatolicum 1, p. 1-12.

Donbaz V. 2003. Lamniš ulā ezebši. “He shall not leave her in a bad situation (wickedly)”, in G. J. Selz (ed.), Festschrift für Burkhart Kienast zu seinem 70. Geburtstage dargebracht von Freuden, Schülern und Kollegen, AOAT 274, Münster, p. 47-50.

Eisser, G. & Lewy, J. 1930. Die altassyrische Rechtsurkunden vom Kültepe, MVAG 33 (EL 1), nos. 1-6.

Kienast B. 2008. Altassyrisch amtum = „Zweitfrau“. In G. Kryszat (ed.), Festschrift für Karl Hecker zum 75. Geburtstag am 25. Juli 2008, AoF 35, Berlin, p. 35-52.

Kienast B. 2015. 2015. Das altassyrische Eherecht. Eine Urkundenlehre. SANTAG 10, Wiesbaden.

Michel C. 1997. Les malheurs de Kunnanīya, femme de marchand, Archivum Anatolicum 3, p. 239-253.

Michel C. 2006. Bigamie chez les Assyriens du début du IIe millénaire », Revue Historique de Droit Français et Etranger 84, p. 155-176. en

Michel C. 2008. Les Assyriens et leurs femmes anatoliennes, in J. G. Dercksen (ed.), Anatolia and the Jazira during the Old Assyrian Period, OAAS 3, PIHANS 111, Leiden, p. 209-229.

Michel C. To appear. Women from Aššur and Kaniš according to the private archives of the Assyrian merchants at beginning of the IInd millennium B.C., Writings from the Ancient World, SBL, Baltimore


Page prepared by Cécile Michel

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