- While it is not possible to make generalized statements about the extent of “private property” in Mesopotamia at any one period, one must bear in mind that the economy of the country depended on surplus production and astute managerial control over labor expenditure and investment on seed and equipment. Therefore, large institutions such as temples or the palace appear as controlling a considerable share of arable and/or otherwise productive land. The majority of the population worked as laborers or sharecroppers. They received rations or kept a percentage of the yield. Land could also be leased or rented. In some periods, the king distributed large parcels of land to trustworthy individuals that then became theirs “forever,” as the kudurru documents specify.However, it has also become clear that households, clans, and families could own or at least control access to agricultural land, as early as the Early Dynastic period. In such cases the land was collectively owned. From the Old Babylonian periodonward, privately owned land was divided into equal shares after the death of the father. Brothers could pool their shares, buy one another out, or simply accept this practice. It could also lead to litigation, as court cases report. Some far-seeing patriarchs issued inheritance contracts to avoid such disputes. Daughters generally did not receive a share of paternal property since they were given a dowry upon marriage. An exception to this rule were the naditu women of the Old Babylonian period, who did not marry and who were given a share of the paternal estate to manage during their lifetime, after which it was meant to revert to the family holding. Some of these women, however, adopted younger naditu to be their heirs, which was not infrequently challenged by their male siblings. The laws of Hammurabi attempted to regularize inheritance in case of children from secondary marriages. Inheritance documents were almost always the preserve of the wealthy. Poorer families could not afford to pay scribesfor their services, but court cases involving ordinary citizens give some idea of the chattel that could be passed on to the next generation. Not just land could be inherited but real estate, draft animals, donkeys, wagons, and boats, as well as other craft or professional equipment. Items of personal use, such as jewelry, cylinderseals, clothes, mirrors, and other valuable objects were mentioned. Some lucrative positions at the temple, for instance, so-called prebends, could be passed on, again a preserve of the rich. Slaves were a prized commodity and also inherited, along with “cash” (silver or gold). Women received furniture, especially beds and stools, as well as cooking implements made of expensive materials (copper, bronze cauldrons, grinding stones, pestles and mortars), although men sometimes got the largest metal objects among the household goods.
Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. EdwART. 2012.