The ancient Egyptian terms for marriage (, "to moor [a boat]," and , "to found a house") convey the sense that the arrangement was about property. Texts indicate that the groom often gave the bride's family a gift, and he also gave his wife presents. Legal texts indicate that each spouse maintained control of the property that they brought to the marriage, while other property acquired during the union was jointly held. Ideally the new couple lived in their own house, but if that was impossible they would live with one of their parents. Considering the lack of effective contraceptives and the Egyptian's traditional desire to have a large family, most women probably became pregnant shortly after marriage.
Although the institution of marriage was taken seriously, divorce was not uncommon. Either partner could institute divorce for fault (adultery, inability to conceive, or abuse) or no fault (incompatibility). Divorce was, no doubt, a matter of disappointment but certainly not one of disgrace, and it was very common for divorced people to remarry.Although in theory divorce was an easy matter, in reality it was probably an undertaking complicated enough to motivate couples to stay together, especially when property was involved. When a woman chose to divorce--if the divorce was uncontested--she could leave with what she had brought into the marriage plus a share (about one third to two thirds) of the marital joint property. One text (Ostracon Petrie 18), however, recounts the divorce of a woman who abandoned her sick husband, and in the resulting judgment she was forced to renounce all their joint property. If the husband left the marriage he was liable to a fine or payment of support (analogous to alimony), and in many cases he forfeited his share of the joint property.Egyptian women had greater freedom of choice and more equality under social and civil law than their contemporaries in Mesopotamia or even the women of the later Greek and Roman civilizations. Her right to initiate divorce was one of the ways in which her full legal rights were manifested. Additionally, women could serve on juries, testify in trials, inherit real estate, and disinherit ungrateful children. It is interesting, however, that in contrast to modern Western societies, gender played an increasingly important role in determining female occupations in the upper classes than in the peasant and working classes. Women of the peasant class worked side by side with men in the fields; in higher levels of society, gender roles were more entrenched, and women were more likely to remain at home while their husbands plied their crafts or worked at civil jobs.Through most of the Pharaonic Period, men and women inherited equally, and from each parent separately. The eldest son often, but not always, inherited his father's job and position (whether in workshop or temple), but to him also fell the onerous and costly responsibility of his parents' proper burial. Real estate generally was not divided among heirs but was held jointly by the family members. If a family member wished to leave property to a person other than the expected heirs, a document called an ("that which is in the house") would ensure the wishes of the deceased.


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