In ancient times the meaning of husband meant “one bonded to the house” (hus) – a steward or majordomo chosen to tend a woman’s property, under the Saxon matriarchate when property rights were matrilineal. A husband was not considered an integral part of the maternal clan but remained a “stranger” in the house, as in early Greece where the men’s god Zeus was “god of strangers.” (See, Jane Ellen Harrison, Epilegomena to the Study of Greek Religion and Themis at 519)
Pre-Islamic Arabian husbands didn’t even have names in the matrilineal clan until they begot children; then a man could call himself abu, “father of . . .” so-and so. This part of an Arab’s name is still considered the most important part. (See, Robert Briffault, The Mothers at 2, 90-93)
In southeast India, a husband was regarded as a more or less permanent guest in the wife’s home, constrained
to remain on his good behavior according to the rules governing guests. In archaic Japan, husbands were not
residents in the wife’s home at all, but only visitors. The old word for “marriage” meant “to slip into the house by night.” (See, C. Gasquoine Hartley, The Truth About Woman at 147, 159) Patrilocal marriage was unknown
in Japan until 1400 A.D.
The position of a husband in the ancient world was often temporary, subject to summary divorce. An Arabian wife could dismiss her husband by turning her tent to face the west for three nights in succession. (See, Amaury de Riencourt, Sex and Power in History at 187) After the introduction of Islamic patriarchy, the system was reversed
in favor of men. A husband could turn his wife out of her home simply by saying “I divorce thee” three times.
Early latin tribes followed the same rules as Arabians; a woman could divorce her husband by shutting him out of her house for three consecutive nights. (See, Robert Briffault, The Mothers at 2, 348) Even in imperial times, a Roman wife could maintain her property free of husbandly claims by passing three nights of each year away from
his residence. (See, C. Gasquoine Hartley, The Truth About Woman at 232)
Ancient Egypt had several varieties of marriage existing side by side. Some, probably the oldest, were governed by premarital agreements that spelled out the wife’s property rights and the husband’s comparative powerlessness under the law. For example:
“I bow before thy rights as a wife. From this day on, I shall never oppose thy claims with a single word.
I recognize thee before all others as my wife, though I do not have the right to say thou must be my wife.
Only I am thy husband and mate. Thou alone hast the right of departure. From this day on that I have become
thy husband, I cannot oppose they wish, wherever thou desirest to go . . . I have no power to interfere in any
of thy transactions. I hereby cede to thee any rights deeded to me in any document that has been made out
in my favor. Thou keepest me obligated to recognize these cessions.”
See, Helen Diner, Mothers and Amazons at 212)
Egyptian priests advised husbands to remain in their wives’ good graces, much as Christian priests later
advised wives to make themselves subservient to husbands:
“Keep thy house, love they wife, and do not dispute with her. She will withdraw herself before violence.
Feed her, adorn her, massage her. Caress her and make her heart to rejoice as long as thou livest . . . Attend to that which is her desire and to that which occupies her mind. For in such manner though persuadest her to remain with thee. If thou opposest her, it will by thy ruin.” (See, Helen Diner, Mothers and Amazons at 218; Sir E.A. Wallis Budge, Dwellers on the Nile at 26)
An Egyptian husband was counseled to make glad his wife’s heart “during the time that thou hast,”
which might have meant a lifetime on earth, or else a shorter period implying a temporary marriage.
(See, C. Gasquoine Hartley, The Truth About Woman at 196)
In the matrilocal household, husbands often entered a period of trial servitude to win their brides, as did the biblical Jacob to win the hand of Rachel (Genesis 29). Hence Sophocle’s remark that “Egyptian men sit indoors all day long, weaving; the women go out and attend to business.” (See, J.J. Bachofen, Myth, Religion and Mother Right at 180)
Similarly among Anglo-Saxon tribes, “husbandry” meant farm work – as it still does – because a husband was
usually bonded to work on his wife’s land. Such an agricultural matriarchate is still found in
some areas. Among the Zuni, husbands worked in the fields, but the land and its harvest belonged to their wives.
(See, Peter Farb, Man’s Rise to Civilization at 81-83). The old custom of providing work in compensation for marriage gave rise to the word bridegroom, literally “the bride’s servant.” The Koran tells men, “your wives are your tillage, ” because by ancient Arabian law a wifeless man was also landless. (See, William J. Fielding, Strange
Customs of Courtship and Marriage at 83)
Tantric sages considered “husbandship” (bhavanan) essential for still another reason: it was indispensable to a man’s spiritual development. The same notion was found among the Aryan Celts. The ancient Irish said a true bard could have power over poetry and magic only if he had “purity of husbandship” that is, fidelity to his wife. (See, P.W. Joyce, A Social History of Ancient Ireland at 463).