Family and Tribe

The basic units in Babylonian society were the family and tribe. That of his family determined an individual's class and station and the few Babylonian's without a family were looked upon with contempt. Widows and orphans were the responsibility of the state, specifically the king, and adoption was very common. Urban communities formed a salient characteristic of Babylonian civilization and the plain was dotted with cities, notably Babylon, Sippar, Kish, Nippur and Ur. Residents of a particular city were very conscious of being citizens of that city and jealous of any special rights and privileges which they enjoyed either by tradition or royal decree. The Babylonian social structure was shaken fairly often by the influx of new people, such as the Kassites and Aramaeans, but eventually each new group was absorbed and altered the general pattern of society only slightly.

Marriages were arranged by the parents, and the betrothal was recognized legally as soon as the groom had presented a bridal gift to the father of the bride; the ceremony often was concluded with a contract inscribed on a tablet. Although marriage was thus reduced to a practical arrangement, some evidence exists to show that surreptitious premarital lovemaking was not altogether unknown. The Babylonian woman had certain important legal rights. She could hold property, engage in business, and qualify as a witness. The husband, however, could divorce her on relatively light grounds, or, if she had borne him no children, he could marry a second wife. Children were under the absolute authority of their parents, who could disinherit them or, as mentioned before, could sell them into slavery. In the normal course of events children were loved and, at the death of the parents, inherited their property. Adopted children were not uncommon and were treated with care.