Women in Ancient Persia

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Women in Ancient Persia Introduction Until recently, much of what we thought we knew about ancient Persia was derived from the writings of Greek historians and philosophers (Borbor 101). Not many original written records—ones produced by Persians in their own time period—have survived to this day. The common view of ancient Persia is therefore based more on myth, speculation, and the historical perspectives of outsiders than concrete archaeological evidence. Even less is known about the status of women in that time period. If asked to describe ancient Persia, most modern readers might picture a civilization in which women were confined to harems or marriages that were essentially a form of enslavement. The truth, however, is much more complicated. A detailed examination of primary documents reveals that women in ancient Persia—particularly women in the royal family—had a surprising degree of social, legal, and economic independence. Ancient Persian Society Ancient Persia in the Achaemenid period (550-330 B.C.) was organized in a patrilineal structure. For much of ancient Persian history, the shah exercised power through “a pyramidal structure that was controlled at levels below the supreme authority by individuals who were themselves, in a certain sense, kings” (Bivar and Dresden). The king was at the very top of the pyramid, the ultimate authority on all legislative and legal matters. He was surrounded by “a court of powerful heredity landholders, the upper
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