As Dr Amanda Foreman has been showing in her BBC series, The Ascent of Woman, not all societies have been patriarchal - or certainly not as patriarchal as British society in the last few centuries.
When it comes to marital contracts, especially prenuptial agreements, the women of Ancient Egypt were a step ahead of our times.
A collection of ancient Egyptian scrolls on display at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago shows that women could negotiate their terms on marriage.
One such contract – an eight-foot scroll 2,480 years old – shows a wife’s request that, if the marriage decayed, she would be adequately provided for thereafter. Written in demotic script – a kind of hieroglyphic shorthand – she asked to be given ’1.2 pieces of silver and 36 bags of grain every year for the rest of her life’.
Emily Teeter, an Egyptologist at the Institute, told the Atlas Obscura website: ’Most people have no idea that women in ancient Egypt had the same legal rights as men’. Egyptian women could sue and be sued, serve on juries and stand as witnesses, regardless of their marital status. They could also own property, placing them well ahead of English women even by the nineteenth century.
Crucially, Egyptian women at this time could get divorced and expect maintenance for life - and would set their terms out in writing before the marriage.
These contracts were certainly advantageous for wives, according to professor Janet H. Johnson, and entirely focused on economics - there were no clauses about conduct during the marriage.
Vardags Limited is a limited company trading as Vardags, Company No 7199468, registered in England and Wales, having its registered office at 10 Old Bailey, London EC4M 7NG. Vardags is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA Number 535955). Its VAT number is 99 001 7230.
Vardags uses the term ‘Partner’ as a professional title only, to describe a Senior Solicitor, Employee or Consultant with relevant experience, expertise and qualifications (whether legally qualified or otherwise) to merit the title. Our Partners are not partners in the legal sense. They are not liable for the debts, liabilities or obligations of Vardags Limited. Similarly, the term ’Director’ is a professional title only, to describe a non-legally qualified employee or consultant of Vardags with relevant experience, expertise and qualifications to merit the title. It does not necessarily imply that the relevant individual is a director of Vardags Limited.
A list of the directors of Vardags Limited and a list of the names of those using the title of ’Director’ and ’Partner’ together with their official status is available for inspection at Vardags’ registered office.