Several posts on this section have dealt with woman-man relationship in the Stone Age including love, marriage, the deflowering horrors of the night, the pain of being single, family life, ancient furniture and household chores and the debunking of the myth of free sex in prehistoric times.
As in our times, not all marriages in ancient times would have been successful. Divorce and separation in some cases are expected. We need no more than identify the words for divorce and separation with the necessary attestation to conclude our ancestors did know both cases.
Such words exists in Akkadian: “ezēbu: G. to leave, go away; to set aside, ignore; to let, hold back, leave behind; to abandon, let go Gt. to get divorced, separate D = G Š. to cause to leave; to save, rescue Št1. to be rescued Štn. to rescue continually N. to be left untilled (field); to be delayed; to be left over; to be divorced.”
The word (ezēbu) is derived from the root *ZB “penis”, a tool necessary for successful marriages. In Arabic ‘aʻzab’ is “bachelor, single and unmarried”. The IPA ʻ is “ayn” not a hamza, a short ‘a’.
Interestingly, another Akkadian word that means “leading a single life” is uzubbû: [Human → Family] divorce, separation.” It is very similar to the same word with the same meaning used in contemporary Arabic “uzubba”. It is from the same root with a possible meaning of “a lonely penis”, one of the worst types of loneliness known to man, some men say.
Akkadian ramû is a lexical entry listed under “separate”. It has several meanings including: “to slacken, to become loose / limp: flaccid, to give way, to ease off, to indulge; to release, to let go, to set free, to move on, to release a lock, to feel free-doing, to clear away / absolve / clean / forgive, to give something up, to relinquish, leave, to quit, to reject, to discard, to disregard, to dump, to throw away, to renounce”, etc. The original meaning is “to throw away” from the root *RM connected originally with food discarded or thrown away if rotten or unfit for human consumption. We know this because the reversed root *MR means “bitter” which can be applied figuratively to mean miserable like “bitter domestic quarrels”.
In both Islamic and pre-Islamic traditions, a divorcee is entitled to a post payment in the case of divorce of an agreed sum of money, or camels, goats and other things of good value in older times. Either party can seek divorce in Arabian societies but it is understood a wife who seeks divorce may not be entitled to the post payment. Her jewellery is her own in all cases regardless of the gifter.
It may be noted that ezēbu, uzubbû and ramû do not specifically mean divorce but the meaning is accepted by consensus of the speakers. The same applies to ancient Arabic in which divorce is from a root that means “emerge” (*ṬL).
Divorce is very rare in ancient societies as the split affects not just the husband and wife but their families and sometimes their tribe or tribes. Even in developed societies like ancient Athena thousands of years later, divorce was not a personal decision. An application for divorce had to be submitted to a magistrate who may study the reasons before making a decision to grant the divorce or reject it. It is also believed divorce was rare in early Roman culture.
Divorce is sanctioned in Islam with a qualification expressed in a well known saying: “Divorce for Allah is the most hateful sanctioned process” Also in the Quran women should be released with kindness upon divorce but it rarely does probably due to the irrationality of a relationship primarily built on emotions.
Last modified: August 28, 2017