In this week itself, we talked about how the analysis of 4000-year old tablets from the ancient mercantile city of Kanesh (or Kaneš), in what now constitutes the Kayseri province in central Turkey, possibly revealed the locations of 11 lost Assyrian cities. Well, as it turns out, one of the Cappadocian tablet specimens recovered from the site (corresponding to Kültepe-Kanesh) is probably the world’s oldest known marriage contract with clauses on infertility and surrogacy.
The 4000-year old cuneiform inscription in question contains the details of a marriage contract between a man named Laqipum and his bride, Hatala. And interestingly enough, the prenup specifies how the couple can move forward with surrogacy in case they can’t bear a child in two years. As the English translation of the Assyrian tablet makes it clear –
Laqipum has married Hatala, daughter of Enishru. In the country [Central Anatolia], Laqipum may not marry another [woman], [but] in the city [of Ashur] he may marry a hierodule. If, within two years, she [Hatala] does not provide him with offspring, she herself will purchase a slave woman, and later, after she will have produced a child by him, he may then dispose of her by sale where-so-ever he pleases.
Now in case one is wondering, a hierodule refers to a slave or prostitute in the service of a particular temple. In other words, the practice of surrogacy in the ancient Near East was markedly different from what we know as its modern-day counterpart (relating to the implanted fertilized embryo). Simply put, the ancient contract already assumes that potential infertility would stem from the woman, and thus she was to procure for her husband a slave-woman. And while this is certainly unfair to one gender, it should also be noted that medical approaches in 2000 BC were not so advanced. In essence, practicality took precedence – and the aforementioned clause allowed the marriage to survive since infertility was not perceived as an adequate reason for divorce in ancient Assyrian law.
And interestingly enough, we do see equity in case of a divorce, with rest of the script reading –
Should Laqipum choose to divorce her, he must pay [her] five minas of silver – and should Hatala choose to divorce him, she must pay (him) five minas of silver. Witnesses: Masa, Ashurishtikal, Talia, Shupianika.
The tablet in question here is currently displayed at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, in Turkey, and is just one of the more than 23,000 artifacts that are categorized under the blanket term of the ancient Cappadocian tablets recovered from the area (since 1948).
The study was originally published in the journal Gynecological Endocrinology.