Pair of Marriage Contracts

The Sogdian marriage contracts, found at Mt. Mugh, represent the longest known legal text written in the Sogdian language (Iranica Online 2016). Of the ninety-seven documents found at Mt. Mugh, ninety-two are written in Sogdian, implying that this collection comes largely from Sogdian people specifically. This stockpile of documents was uncovered in 1932 by local shepherd boys, and dates to approximately 709-722 CE (Hansen 2015, 130). The history of the documents is particularly interesting, as Mt. Mugh served as the last refuge of Dewastich, the ruler of Panjikent, where he was besieged by the invading Arabs in the 8th century (Iranica Online 2016).

The marriage contract is accompanied by what is known as the “bride’s script”, in which the husband re-states his obligations to the bride’s family (Hansen 2015, 133). The agreement between the bride Chat and her new husband Ot-tegin reveal that Sogdian women, at least those of the upper class, were granted a number of legal rights and privileges as wives, most remarkably the right to initiate a divorce. The marriage contract and bride price represent an incredibly symmetrical distribution of power between husband and wife. While the contract stipulates that Chat must “obey his orders”, Ot-tegin must also treat Chat as “a lady possessing authority in his own house.” (Iranica Online 2016).

It is important to note that Chat and Ot-tegin were likely of different social classes. While Chat is identified as the daughter of Wiyus, Prince of Nawekat, Ot-tegin is not announced with any specific title. This may account for both the thoroughness of the legal documentation, as well as the relative power granted to Chat by the agreement. It is also notable that while Chat’s name identifies her as a Sogdian, Ot-tegin’s name marks him as a Turk (Hansen 2015, 133). This marriage between people from different ethnic groups may have been an attempt to secure the safety of Chat in the face of invading Arab armies. Conversely, perhaps the marriage is an attempt by Ot-tegin to secure his own safety, by marrying into a family with more power (and presumably more resources) than his own.

The most striking aspect of the contracts is the fact that stipulations are laid out in case of a divorce, similarly to a modern prenuptial agreement. Should Ot-tegin take another wife or concubine that “does not please his wife”, he is obligated to pay her thirty dirhams and send the offending woman away. Either party may end the marriage, but upon doing so will be required to return either the bride’s dowry or the husband’s gifts, respectively (Hansen 2015, 133). The reciprocal nature of these marriage documents highlights a very important aspect of life in Sogdiana, which is that day-to-day existence in a mercantile culture generally involves negotiation and a calculated estimate of value. While the relative freedoms enjoyed by Chat in this arrangement may very well have been negotiated by someone on her behalf, the relative value of her hand in marriage was clearly worth a number of significant concessions of power on the part of Ot-tegin.

Bibliography

1. Hansen, Valerie. The Silk Road: A New History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).
2. “Marriage Contract in the Pre-Islamic Period”, Encyclopedia Iranica, http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/marriage-contract-in-the-pre-islamic-period#ii.
3. “Mount Mugh”, Encyclopedia Iranica, http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/mugh-mount.

Metadata

Date

ca. 700

Coverage

Mount Mugh

Format

Document on Leather

Location

Hermitage? Or St. Petersburg Acad. Sci Inst. Orientl. Stud.?

Additional Research Metadata

Provenance

Found on Mount Mugh

Notes

Pair of marriage contracts, ca. 700, from Mt Mug, the archive of the last independent kings of Sogdiana. Remarkable freedom of action given to the wife -- e.g. to initiate a divorce.

Files

Citation

“Pair of Marriage Contracts,” Telling the Sogdian Story , accessed May 21, 2018, http://sogdians.nyufasedtech.com/items/show/47.