Veiling in Ancient Near Eastern Legal Contexts
Particularly interesting textual evidence on the use of the veil in ancient Mesopotamia comes from 15th-14th century BC Assyria. No comprehensive code of laws has reached us from this age, but only a collection of 14 tablets, which are named ad hoc “Middle Assyrian Laws”, from the religious and political capital Aššur. Veiling was prescribed for appearances in public of married women, even if widows, but also applied to the vaster class of women who were ‘Assyrian’, i.e. of free status and native-born. On the other hand, prostitutes had no right to wear a veil, and severe punishments were foreseen for transgression; and the same applied to slave women. These harsh rulings on the veil and other matters in the “Middle Assyrian Laws” do not, curiously enough, find counterparts in the contemporaneous legal deeds, which show women endowed with a much more liberal status. Perhaps the “Laws” reflected normative codifications applying to the stricter moral and intellectual ‘climate’ of the city of Aššur, dominated by its temple and royal palace.
Keywords: Harsh enalties • Middle Assyrian Period • Veil • Legal provisions • Ancient Mesopotamia • Coeval documents