Assyrian Cuniform Prenup Addresses Infertility and Surrogacy

A 4000-year-old Assyrian clay tablet found at an archeological dig in Turkey has been translated as a marriage contract. Some terms are spelled out quite explicitly, particularly what would happen if the wife doesn't produce a child.

The contract, written in Old Assyrian and signed before four witnesses, stipulates that the wife in question was to hire a hierodule, or female slave, to serve as a surrogate mother if the couple failed to conceive a baby two years from the wedding date. It also specifies that the husband could not marry another woman—Mesopotamians were monogamous—and that if one of them opted for divorce, he or she would owe the other five minas of silver (more than five pounds, or about $1,500 worth, at press time).

While the idea that either party could initiate divorce proceedings seems downright modern, the prenuptial agreement doesn't appear to stipulate what procedures would come into play if the slave also did not produce a child. Maybe the possibility of male infertility was unthinkable, or more likely, the child would only be considered part of the family if he/she were produced by the father. Read more about the marriage contract at Atlas Obscura.

(Image credit: Ahmet Berkız Turp/Harran University)


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