Marriage: Annuity Contracts

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Marriage: Annuity Contracts


True Nature of Contracts. The documents that Egyptologists call marriage contracts in reality were not made to legitimate a marriage or the children born of a union. These contracts listed the husband’s and wife’s economic responsibilities to each other and their future children at the beginning of the relationship, during the marriage, and in the event of the marriage ending either by divorce or the death of one of the parties. Egyptologist Janet H. Johnson has suggested they ought really to be called annuity contracts.

Bride and Groom Make the Contract. Though these marriage or annuity agreements might have originally been negotiated between the bride’s father and the groom, the preserved examples were all made between the bride and groom. This fact is remarkable when compared to the legal status of women in other parts of the contemporary world. In Greece, and in the ancient Near East, women in general had many fewer legal rights than women in Egypt, where women were considered competent to represent themselves in court and owned property without reference to fathers, brothers, or husbands. Thus, they also negotiated and signed their own marriage or annuity contracts.

Contents of Contracts. Typically in marriage or annuity contracts the groom and bride address each other in the first person. The groom recounts the property that the woman brought to the marriage. He also tells her that he will give her a gift at the start of the


This contract, made in 198 B.C.E., reflects the practices of the preceding period but it is a complete example. It includes the date, interested parties, declaration that they are man and wife, marriage gift to the woman, children’s rights of inheritance, pre-agreed divorce settlement from the husband, a list of property the woman brought to the marriage, and a pledge to return all the woman’s property in the event of divorce.

Date: Year 8 … of Ptolemy Soter and Pharaoh Ptolemy, the god Epiphanes.

Parties: Said the man of Afonti Petosiri son of Patseo and Takhnum, his mother to the lady Tshenese daughter of Petipanebtaoui and Tamerihet, her mother:

Bride Gift: I gave to you money, 3 deben, makes 15 stators, makes money, 3 deben again as your woman’s gift.

Inheritance: The children whom you will bear to me and Petihorouer, my eldest son, together with the lady Taioui, his sister, my children whom you bore to me, are the owners of all and everything which is mine, together with that which I will acquire, together with the goods of father and mother in field, temple, and the town.

Divorce: If I leave you as wife and I prefer another woman to you as wife, I will give to you money 5 deben, makes 25 stators, makes money 5 deben again, in addition to the money 3 deben, which is above and which I gave to you as your woman’s gift which amounts to money 8 deben, makes 40 stators, makes money 8 deben again.

Declaration: I made you as wife.

Possessions of Wife: Here is the inventory of the woman’s possession which you brought to my house with you:

One NecklaceMakes money, 3 deben in the name of your woman’s gift which is above;
Two pairs of gold?Makes gold by weight 5 ¼kite
One ? ringMakes gold by weight 2 ¼kite
One pair of ? ringsMakes gold by weight 2 kite
One ?Makes gold by weight ½ kite
Makes gold by weight 1 deben makes 5 stators makes gold by weight 1 deben again
One ? cloakMakes money 30 deben
One garmentMakes money, 20 deben
One shawlMakes money 5 deben
One ? garmentMakes money, 10 deben
One ?Makes money 2 deben, 8 kite
One. …Makes money 10 deben
One ladleMakes money 1 deben
One ? which is inscribedMakes gold by weight 1½ kite
Money as money, 1 debenMakes 5 stators, makes money, 1 deben again
Worked copper one large containerMakes by weight 10 deben
One small containerMakes by weight 2 deben
One mirrorMakes by weight 10 deben
One brazierMakes by weight 30 deben
One ? vesselMakes by weight 1 deben 5
Total value of the possessions which are above, Gold by weight1 deben, 1½ kite makes 5 [plus] 1½ [plus] 1¼ stators makes gold by weight 1 deben 1 kite again
Money 1 deben; copper 86 deben, 8 kiteTotal of money as money and copper: 87 deben, 8 kite, makes 439 stators, makes money, 87 deben, 8 kite again
Worked copper by weight53 deben, 5 kite
Total of the woman’s possessions which you brought to my house with you.
I received them from you; they are complete without any remainder; my heart is satisfied with them.

Divorce: If you go away, I will give them to you. If I leave you as wife, I will also give them to you compulsorily, without delay. Yours are the —— of all and everything which will come into being between me and you from today henceforth.

Any man in the world who will throw you out of my house and remove my possessions from your presence he will do for you the law of this document of wife which is above, which I made for you compulsorily without delay without any blow.

Wrote Petosiri son of Patseo himself, I will act in accordance with everything which is above.

Source: Papyrus Berlin 13593, translated by Cary J. Martin, in The Elephantine Papyri in English: Three Millennia of Cross-Cultural Continuity and Change, edited by Bezalel Porten (Leiden & New York: E. J. Brill, 1996), pp. 366-370.

union and sets an exact monetary value. He also tells her that the property he owned prior to the marriage would be her security in the event that she wants her own property back, and that no matter who initiates a divorce, she will receive the equivalent of her property back. He also states that he will continue to support her until he is able to actually give her the property. The nature of this support is also detailed, giving the amount of clothing and food she will receive monthly until she recovers her property back in full. These contracts also mention the penalties if a man defaults on making his monthly payments. Finally, the woman will return the contract to the man when she receives her property back.


Janet H. Johnson, “The Legal Status of Women in Ancient Egypt,” in Mistress of the House Mistress of Heaven: Women in Ancient Egypt, edited by Anne K. Capel and Glenn E. Markoe (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1996), pp. 175–186.

P. W. Pestman, Marriage and Matrimonial Property in Ancient Egypt: A Contribution to Establishing the Legal Position of the Woman (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1961).

Joyce Tyldesley, Daughters of Isis: Women of Ancient Egypt (London & New York: Viking, 1994).

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Marriage: Annuity Contracts

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