On the walls of the Oriental Institute in the University of Chicago hangs an eight-foot long document, brushed with calligraphy. Many patrons mistake the scroll for a poem or a royal decree, but it’s neither. This 2,480-year-old document is actually a prenuptial agreement.
Written in demotic script, a type of shorthand for hieroglyphs, the ancient marital document was created to ensure that if the union between the couple did not work out, the wife would be provided for. In this particular case, according to Dr. Emily Teeter, Egyptologist at the Institute, the wife would receive 1.2 silver pieces and 36 bags of grain each year for the rest of her life.
Ancient Egyptian women had the same legal rights as men. No matter what their marital status was, they were freely able to enter into contracts. They could sue and be sued, and even serve as a witness or on a jury. Women were free to purchase and own property, too.
Couples were also free to file for divorce, and women were often ensured alimony as long as they had a document like the one above. Such an agreement could be written up at any time during the relationship – not just before the marriage, as is the case with a prenuptial agreement.
Annuity contracts were extremely beneficial for women at the time, and ensured that they could survive with or without their husband. The catch? They had to pay 30 pieces of silver for the privilege.
Another agreement, found in Egypt’s northern town of Siut, details a husband’s listing of all the property his wife brought into the marriage, and promises, in case of separation, that he would repay her for all of it.
The logistics of contract-writing in ancient Egypt were very similar to what we see in America today. The involved parties would gather together, and bring along some witnesses and a scribe. The person who proposed the agreement would speak it aloud, and the scribe would write down the terms. The second party would either accept or refuse the contract. If accepted, the contract was binding. If the agreement was broken, the violator would appear before the court to plead his or her case.
Prenuptial agreements – and postnuptial agreements, for that matter – are still as relevant today as they were in ancient Egyptian times. Not only do they offer protection for pre-marital assets, they also ensure that financially-dependent spouses are provided for in case of divorce.
The Micklin Law Group, LLC is a New Jersey law firm specializing in family law and estates. Attorney Brad Micklin was recently named to The National Advocates list of Top 100 attorneys from each state. Brad has a special expertise in working with high asset divorce. You can read more on this topic by visiting our prenuptials blog. To set up a consultation, call 973-562-0100.