Homosexuality in ancient Assyria

Was homosexuality accepted in ancient Assyria prior to Christianity?


In the ancient Assyrian society, homosexuality was present and it was not prohibited. Religiously, there was nothing amiss with homosexual love between men. Some ancient religious Assyrian texts contain prayers for divine blessings on homosexual relationships.The Almanac of Incantations contained prayers favoring on an equal basis the love of a man for a woman, of a woman for a man, and of a man for man — lesbian love was not mentioned, probably because of the low status of women in ancient times. Same-sex marital practices and rituals were more recognized in Mesopotamia than in ancient Egypt.

According to the Reallexicon der Assyriologie, it seems clear that the Mesopotamians saw nothing wrong in homosexual acts between consenting adults:

"Homosexuality in itself is thus nowhere condemned as licentiousness, as immorality, as social disorder, or as transgressing any human or divine law. Anyone could practise it freely, just as anyone could visit a prostitute, provided it was done without violence and without compulsion, and preferably as far as taking the passive role was concerned, with specialists."

The Šumma ālu included 38 omens dealing with sexuality, four of which involved a male-to-male sexual act. One of them was unambiguously positive:

"If a man copulates with his equal from the rear, he becomes the leader among his peers and brothers."

According to this code, if a male were to penetrate another male who was of equal status or a cult prostitute, it was thought that trouble will leave him and he will have good fortune. By contrast, sex with a royal attendant, a fellow prisoner and a household slave would bring him worriesevilness and bad destiny, respectively. Further, the laws suggest that if a male were to take the submissive role, what the Assyrians considered similar to a woman's role, in same-sex intercourse, he was to be looked down upon as shameful.

Although illustrated and literary references in ancient Mesopotamia show acceptance of some forms of homosexuality, they are wary toward others — Middle Assyrian Law Codes, from Assur, dating 1075 BC speak of a "seignior" (someone of high social rank in the community) and his "neighbor" (someone of equal social status who lived nearby):

"If a seignior [an Assyrian man] lay with his neighbor [another citizen], when they have prosecuted him (and) convicted him [the first citizen], they shall lie with him (and) turn him into a eunuch".

This law code describes, and condemns, a situation that involves homosexual rape, not homosexuality itself; A man has forced sex upon another person, who then has the option of bringing a charge against him. The perpetrator is punished while the victim is not. Anyone could visit a prostitute or lie with another male, as long as false rumors or forced sex were not involved with another Assyrian male.

Bibliography