The history of the Middle Eastern family presents as many questions
as there are currently answers. Who lived together in the
household? Who married whom and for how long? Who got a piece of
the patrimonial pie? These are the questions that Margaret
Meriwether investigates in this groundbreaking study of family life
among the upper classes of the Ottoman Empire in the pre-modern and
early modern period.
Meriwether recreates Aleppo family life over time from records
kept by the Islamic religious courts that held jurisdiction over
all matters of family law and property transactions. From this
research, she asserts that the stereotype of the large, patriarchal
patrilineal family rarely existed in reality. Instead, Aleppo's
notables organized their families in a great diversity of ways,
despite the fact that they were all members of the same social
class with widely shared cultural values, acting under the same
system of family law. She concludes that this had important
implications for gender relations and demonstrates that it gave
women more authority and greater autonomy than is usually
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