Adultery in ancient Egypt and India. Adultery is a sin in every culture. Every culture has its law to deal with adultery. Adultery is not a new concept; well known since ancient times. Laws and customs regarding adultery varied from state to state.
What was the law regarding adultery in ancient Egypt and India? Is there any punishment for adultery in ancient Egypt and Indian culture?
In this article, we will discuss the traditional laws of Egypt and India regarding adultery.
Adultery in ancient Egypt:
Although pre-marital sex was not a crime, extramarital affairs prescribed grave punishment in ancient Egypt. There was no concept of marriage ceremonies, and marriages get contracted between the brides and parents of the groom in exchange for money and gifts to the bride’s family.
Ancient Egyptian people had a casual attitude about sex and virginity once, a bond of marriage formed between a man and a woman, are expected to remain faithful to their partners. The sole purpose was; the advancement of their family and producing children.
According to ancient Egyptians, a sexual relationship between a married person with a person other than their spouse is adultery.
These punishments are more grave for women because ancient peoples believed that; crimes fall in women’s hands. The bloodline gets passed through women and the child born is legitimate. It was expected of women to remain faithful to their partners.
There were many instances in ancient Egyptian mythology which depict unfaithful women. The tale of two brothers is one of the best classical examples. These stories describe the consequences and destruction adultery causes.
In this story, Anpu, Anpu’s wife, and his brother Bata experience the consequences of adultery. Bata blamed Anpu’s wife for seducing him, and later Anpu’s wife was burned to death for infidelity.
Another instance was another instance of Osiris and Isis, which described the unfaithful act of a woman. These examples were highly recognized and followed in ancient Egyptian culture to preserve social and moral virtues. There were no such instances in which men were punished or blamed for adultery.
Punishment for adultery in ancient Egypt:
Under ancient Egyptian law, crime gets categorised into two types:
- Against the community: includes murder, theft, and adultery.
- Against the state: includes treason, bribery, and any crime against religious institutions.
According to ancient Egyptian law, Adultery is a crime against the community, and it gets reckoned as a religious crime. It was a cause of destruction and punished severely, especially the women.
Although there was no official sanctioned punishment for adultery, those who commit adultery get the death penalty by burning, mutilation, stoning, and beating. These penalties were applied to preserve the morals and values of society and prevent its spread.
In ancient Egypt, married women get more harshly punished for sinning a married man. A man is warned not to get close to a married woman.
The example of these customs gets seen in “the tale of two brothers” and “Osiris and Isis story.” These stories are proof of ancient Egyptian partial law condemning adultery women only. If a married woman commits adultery that leads to divorce, she loses the bride’s gift she brought at the time of marriage.
Some instances show that married women get burned or hanged to death for adultery.
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Do infidelity impact divorces in ancient Egypt:
Although the couples expected to remain faithful and advance their families, divorce was simple. Both the persons with mutual consent can ask for a divorce and the assets equally distributed among them.
The women were allowed to take all the gifts they brought at the time of marriage. But there is one exception, adultery. If any woman gets involved in adultery which leads to divorce, she gets denied to take her things. She is left empty-handed. Infidelity deprives the woman of every right she had under divorce.
Adultery in ancient India:
Indian culture considers marriage a sacred relationship that ties a man and woman together for a lifetime and even continues in the afterlife. It combines two souls in one flesh, and it was believed that this bond gets designed in the heavens. A man and woman must preserve the sanctity of the marriage bond.
Since ancient times, extramarital affairs have been natural. Hinduism never supported adultery and reckoned it as a mortal sin. According to Hinduism, marriage is a sacred bond, and the sanctity of marriage must be preserved at any cost.
Hindu law defines adultery as deliberate sexual intercourse between a married man or woman with a person not being their spouse.
Hindu law highly condemns adultery for both moral and social reasons. Adultery destroys the cultural, moral, and social value of societies. Those who violate these pure relationships suffer social ridicule and social disrespect generally in rural areas.
Adultery gets greatly condemned in society, and adulterers get looked down on by people. They bear the consequence of their bad karma in their eternal lives. Traces of adultery as a crime get found in the Vedas and Puranas of ancient Indian culture.
Manusmriti was an eternal code of conduct in ancient Indian law.
Manu 102 verse states that, let man and woman, united in a marriage relationship, constantly exert themselves, that (they may not be) separated (and) may not violate their mutual fidelity.
This statement clearly shows that; a man and woman should be united and remain faithful to each other throughout their life. They are not allowed to cross the lines of their marital bed and cohabit with someone not being their spouse.
In ancient Indian culture, women get treated as objects or property of men. Husbands involved in extramarital affairs do not get punished. Ancient India was a society that allowed a man to keep a mistress and maintain a relationship outside the marital bed. But this law was harsh for a married woman committing adultery.
Thus, ancient Indian culture defines adultery as more like a married woman involved in a sexual relationship with a person other than their husband. Married women suffer worse punishment than unmarried women.
There are many instances in Hindu mythologies that show the Gods themselves were engaged in adulterous acts.
In Ramayan, it depicted that Lord Rama abandoned his wife Sita on a mere allegation of infidelity and her purity.
Ahilya is another example of Hindu Puranas. She got conned by Lord Indra and got involved in illicit sexual intercourse with him. Later her husband buried her for committing adultery.
Thus ancient Indian culture highly condemned adultery which is evident in Vedas and Puranas and reckoned it as a mortal sin.
Punishment for adultery in ancient India:
Ancient India prescribed several punishments for adultery. Several verses show the spiritual consequences of adultery.
Vishnu Purana 3.11 depicts, “A man should not think incontinently of another’s wife, much less address her to that end; for such a man will be reborn in their next life as an insect. He who commits adultery gets punished here and hereafter; for his days in this world are cut short, and after death, he falls into hell.”
These statements clearly show in ancient Vedas and Puranas adultery was punished under penal laws and bears spiritual consequences. The spiritual impacts of adultery were grave and breaks, the union with God.
Hinduism differentiated married women and unmarried women for adultery. A married woman suffers grave punishment for committing adultery under ancient Hindu law. Even there were different acts to deal with different castes of women.
According to Hindu law, those who commit adultery or marital infidelity get punishment for their deeds.
There were several punishments prescribed in ancient Hindu law, including banishment from the kingdom, flogging, fines, branding on the forehead, amputation of fingers or a hand, ears, or noses; even capital punishment is get administered in extreme cases. Thus under the ancient Indian law, the adulterer was awarded brutal punishments for their sin.
Present status of adultery in India:
According to section 497 of the Indian penal code 1860, adultery is a criminal offense defined as voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person with a person other than their spouse.
These sections prescribe imprisonment up to 5 years with or without a fine. It was a non-cognizable and non-bailable offence.
Besides, a man involved in sexual intercourse with another person’s wife without her husband’s consent is held liable for committing adultery. Married women do not get punished under Indian law. The law also forbids a woman to sue her unfaithful husband.
Further, this ruling was overturned by the supreme court on 27 September 2018, which states that adultery is no longer a criminal offence. Although it is no longer illegal in India, it still stands as a valid ground for divorce under civil law.