Definition[ edit ] A dowry is the transfer of parental property to a daughter at her marriage i. This fund may provide an element of financial security in widowhood or against a negligent husband, and may eventually go to provide for her children. Anthropologist Jack Goody 's comparative study of dowry systems around the world utilizing the Ethnographic Atlas demonstrated that dowry is a form of inheritance found in the broad swath of Eurasian societies from Japan to Ireland that practice "diverging devolution", i.
This practice differs from the majority of Sub-Saharan African societies that practice "homogenous inheritance" in which property is transmitted only to children of the same sex as the property holder. These latter African societies are characterized by the transmission of the " bride price ," the money, goods or property given by the groom or his family to the parents of the bride not the bride herself.
In sparsely populated regions where shifting cultivation takes place, most of the work is done by women. These are the societies that give brideprice. Boserup further associates shifting horticulture with the practice of polygamy , and hence bridewealth is paid as a compensation to her family for the loss of her labour. In plough agriculture farming is largely men's work; this is where dowry is given.
Close family are the preferred marriage partners so as to keep property within the group. Sylvia Yanagisko argues, for example, that there are a number of societies including parts of Japan, Southern Italy, and China, that do not support Goody's claim that dowry is a form of female inheritance of male property. She notes that Goody's is an evolutionary model in which these historical variables may not be the decisive factors today.
Tambiah Goody's co-author on the earlier "Bridewealth and Dowry"  later argued that Goody's overall thesis remained pertinent in North India, although it required modification to meet local circumstances. He points out that dowry in North India is only partially used as a bride's conjugal fund, and that a large part goes directly to the groom's joint family. This would initially seem to discount Goody's model, except that in North India, the joint family is composed of the groom's parents, his married brothers and unmarried sisters, and their third generation children.
But when the parents die, and the joint family partitions, this jointly held wealth was then divided among the married sons, such that ultimately, the bride's dowry given to the joint family returned to her and her husband as their "conjugal fund.
They argue that a major factor in determining the type of marriage transaction is the type of property controlled by the household. Bridewealth circulates property and women, and is typical of societies where property is limited.
Dowry concentrates property and is found in property owning classes or commercial or landed pastoral peoples. When families give dowry, they not only ensure their daughter's economic security, they also "buy" the best possible husband for her, and son-in-law for themselves. Daughters did not normally inherit anything from their father's estate. Instead, with marriage, they got a dowry from her parents, which was intended to offer as much lifetime security to the bride as her family could afford.
However, bride price almost always became part of the dowry. The return of dowry could be disputed, if the divorce was for a reason allowed under Babylonian law. He had no say, however, in its ultimate disposal; and legally, the dowry had to be kept separate for it was expected to support the wife and her children. The wife was entitled to her dowry at her husband's death. If she died childless, her dowry reverted to her family, that is her father if he was alive, otherwise her brothers.
If she had sons, they would share it equally. Her dowry being inheritable only by her own children, not by her husband's children by other women. A husband had certain property rights in his wife's dowry. In addition, the wife might bring to the marriage property of her own, which was not included in the dowry and which was, as a result, hers alone. This property was "beyond the dowry" Greek parapherna, the root of paraphernalia and is referred to as paraphernal property or extra-dotal property.
A dowry may also have served as a form of protection for the wife against the possibility of ill treatment by her husband and his family,  providing an incentive for the husband not to harm his wife. This would apply in cultures where a dowry was expected to be returned to the bride's family if she died soon after marrying.
In contemporary Greece, dowry was removed from family law through legal reforms in All the property of the wife which was not dowry, or was not a donatio propter nuptias, continued to be her own property, and was called Parapherna. Not only the bride's family, any person could donate his property as dowry for the woman. Two types of dowry were known—dos profectitia and dos adventitia. All other dos is adventitia. Roman law also allowed for a species of dowry, called dos receptitia, which was given by some other person than the father or father's father of the bride, in consideration of marriage, but on the condition that it should be restored back to the dowry giver, on the death of the wife.
The bride's family were expected to give a dowry when a girl married, and in proportion to their means. Some scholars believe dowry was practiced in antiquity, but some do not. Historical eyewitness reports, discussed below , suggest dowry in ancient India was insignificant, and daughters had inheritance rights, which by custom were exercised at the time of her marriage.
Documentary evidence suggests that at the beginning of 20th century bride price, rather than dowry was the common custom, which often resulted in poor boys remaining unmarried. Tambiah claims the ancient Code of Manu sanctioned dowry and bridewealth in ancient India typically in Rohtak and specially in Kadian family, but dowry was the more prestigious form and associated with the Brahmanic priestly caste.
Bridewealth was restricted to the lower castes, who were not allowed to give dowry. He cites two studies from the early 20th century with data to suggest that this pattern of dowry in upper castes and bridewealth in lower castes has persisted through the first half of the 20th century.
The findings of MacDonell and Keith are similar to Witzel, and differ from Tambiah; they cite ancient Indian literature suggesting bridewealth was paid even in brahma- and daiva-types of marriage associated with the Brahmanic priestly upper caste. Dowry was not infrequent, when the girl suffered from some bodily defect.
Lochtefeld suggests that religious duties listed by Manu and others, such as 'the bride be richly adorned to celebrate marriage' were ceremonial dress and jewelry along with gifts that were her property, not property demanded by or meant for the groom; Lochtefeld further notes that bridal adornment is not currently considered as dowry in most people's mind.
Available eyewitness observations from ancient India give a different picture. One of these are the eyewitness records from Alexander the Great 's conquest ca. Arrian first book mentions a lack of dowry, They these ancient Indian people make their marriages accordance with this principle, for in selecting a bride they care nothing whether she has a dowry and a handsome fortune, but look only to her beauty and other advantages of the outward person. Arrian , The Invasion of India by Alexander the Great , 3rd Century BC  Arrian's second book similarly notes, They Indians marry without either giving or taking dowries, but the women as soon as they are marriageable are brought forward by their fathers in public, to be selected by the victor in wrestling or boxing or running or someone who excels in any other manly exercise.
He translated many Indian texts into Arabic, as well as wrote a memoir on Indian culture and life he observed. Al-Biruni claimed, The implements of the wedding rejoicings are brought forward. No gift dower or dowry is settled between them. The man gives only a present to the wife, as he thinks fit, and a marriage gift in advance, which he has no right to claim back, but the proposed wife may give it back to him of her own will if she does not want to marry.
The daughter took this inheritance amount with her when she married, claimed Al-Biruni, and she had no rights to income from her parents after her marriage or to any additional inheritance after her father's death.
If her father died before her marriage, her guardian would first pay off her father's debt, then allocate a fourth of the remaining wealth to her upkeep till she is ready to marry, and then give the rest to her to take with her into her married life.
It is also unclear when, why and how quickly the practice of dowry demand by grooms began, whether this happened after the arrival of Colonialism in the 16th century. Mann  and others    find that dowry was a form of inheritance to daughters. In traditional China, the property owned by a family, if any, was earmarked for equal division or inheritance by sons only.
Dowry was the only way assets were transferred to a daughter. It included immovable property such as land, and movable property like jewelry and fine clothing. The dowry she brought with her was typically sequestered from the property of her husband and other male members in a joint family. She would often sell this property for cash to overcome hard economic times or needs of her children and husband.
In a few cases, she may transfer the property she brought as dowry to her daughter or daughter-in-law. Dowry assets once transferred in turn constituted separate wealth of the woman who received it sifang qian, etc. Often a woman who brought a large dowry was considered more virtuous in Chinese culture than one who didn't. Though throughout the history of China, the practice of using a brideprice has largely been used instead of dowries, but has slowly diminished in modern times.
Folklorists often interpret the folk tale Cinderella as the competition between the stepmother and the stepdaughter for resources, which may include the need to provide a dowry. Gioachino Rossini 's opera La Cenerentola makes this economic basis explicit: Don Magnifico wishes to make his own daughters' dowries larger, to attract a grander match, which is impossible if he must provide a third dowry.
Until the late 20th century this was sometimes called wreath money , or the breach of promise. Providing dowries for poor women was regarded as a form of charity by wealthier parishioners.
The custom of Christmas stockings springs from a legend of St. Nicholas , in which he threw gold in the stockings of three poor sisters, thus providing for their dowries. Elizabeth of Portugal and St. Martin de Porres were particularly noted for providing such dowries, and the Archconfraternity of the Annunciation, a Roman charity dedicated to providing dowries, received the entire estate of Pope Urban VII.
Vast inheritances were standard as dowries for aristocratic and royal brides in Europe during the Middle Ages. In some cases, nuns were required to bring a dowry when joining a convent. It was commonly given with the condition that he take the surname of his bride, in order to continue the family name.
England[ edit ] Dowry was used in England, however, the right of daughters to inherit and of women to hold property and other rights in their own name made it a different instrument than on the Continent.
The Salic law , which required females to be disinherited and disenfranchised from land ownership, did not apply in England. Single women held many rights men did. The most famous example of this English female inheritance and agency right is perhaps Elizabeth I of England , who held all rights a male monarch did. While single women held rights to hold property equivalent to those of men, marriage and married women were affected by the Norman Conquest changes to the law in the 12th Century.
Coverture was introduced to the common law in some jurisdictions, requiring property of a wife to be held in the husband's name, custody and control. The Normans also introduced the dowry in England replacing the earlier custom of the new husband giving a morning gift to his bride.
At first the husband publicly gave [or received? If the husband died, which was frequent, there was a Widows dowry of one third of the husband's lands at the time of his marriage; the income, and in some cases, the management, of the lands, was assigned to her for the rest of her life. This concept is included in the Great Charter , and along with the recognition of female inheritance and absence of the Salic law , and women, particularly single women, holding many rights equivalent to those men held, manifests English law differing fundamentally from the law of the Continent, especially the law of the Holy Roman Empire.
Thirteenth-century court records are filled with disputes over dowries, and the law became increasingly complex. Marriageable daughters were a valuable commodity to ambitious fathers, and the English aristocracy sent few of their eligible daughters to convents.
William Shakespeare made use of such an event in King Lear: In Measure for Measure , Claudio and Juliet's premarital sex was brought about by their families' wrangling over dowry after the betrothal.
Angelo's motive for forswearing his betrothal with Mariana was the loss of her dowry at sea. In Victorian England , dowries were viewed by some members of the upper class as an early payment of the daughter's inheritance.