Veil i.e. covering head and/or face with cloth was not part of ancient Sumerians this is the reason why when we read one of the oldest Sumerian text known as Rig Ved in India (there are total 5 Veds Rig, Yajur, Sam, Atharv and Ghor Angiras / Bhrigu-Angiras) there is no mention of Veil for women.


Veling for women can be found in many different religions which means that the origin or veil is much older and other religions adopted it. Was Veil part of ancient culture, religion or community? to understand this we need to go in history.


The history of Veil starts with Assyria, Assyrian people, Assyrian Laws, etc. which can be viewed in above provided links.


Researchers who have tracked the history of veil proved that it was not introduced by Islam. But as it became today the symbol of the most zealous fanatical regimes, Islam is wrongly blamed for that. The status of the women in Afghanistan also confirms that Islam practiced segregation and seclusion of women, even though these practices were common in several ancient civilizations that existed in lands far away from Arabia, thousands of years prior to the rise of Islam: The Sumerian, Assyria, Babylonian and Persian.


Excavations at the site of the ancient city of Nineveh uncovered the glories of the Assyrian civilization that flourished in the lands of Mesopotamia several millenniums BC. Among the treasures found were the famous tablets of Nineveh that enabled archeologists to unravel the mysteries of this civilization. These tablets that are currently exhibited in the London museum described in details the lives of the people, the history, culture, sciences, literature, and religion of this civilization.


To be able to distinguish between their free honorable women from the slaves or concubines, laws were issued. Respectable women were forced to wear the veil while those who were considered unrespectable were forced to go with their heads uncovered. Thus veil became an exclusive symbol of respect; a privilege that slaves, prostitutes and concubines were denied off.


And with their homes flooded with slaves to run their errands, free women had no reason to roam the streets and mingle with concubines, slaves and prostitutes. And hence, women seclusion was born.


The law for veiling the women was documented on one of the tablets that also stated the punishment for those who broke the veil code :


“If the wives of a man, or the daughters of a man go out into the street, their heads are to be veiled. The prostitute is not to be veiled. Maidservants are not to veil themselves. Veiled harlots and maidservants shall have their garments seized and 50 blows inflicted on them and bitumen poured on their heads.”


Modern Iranian women, especially the ones opposing the Islamic revolution and the enforcement of the veil, are pointing fingers at the Arabs and blaming them for introducing the veil and seclusion into the Persian society, even though historical evidence proves that it is the other way around.


In 539 BC, the Persians conquered Mesopotamia and it became part of the Persian state. The veil and the seclusion of women were among the social habits that the Persians adopted from the Assyrians and maintained over the years. In ancient Persia, women of noble families became also secluded and had to be covered when they went out in public.


And with the Persian conquests, the veil spread to neighboring Kingdoms and nations. It was introduced to the Levant region – currently known as Syria and Lebanon – and north of Arabia.


Arabs who were separated from these surrounding civilizations by sand dunes and vast uninhabited deserts were not introduced to the veil until the seventh century AD when they conquered the Persian lands.


Veiling before Islam (1200 BCE TO 610 CE) :

Scholars have dated the first reference to veiling to a thirteenth-century BCE Assyrian legal text. The Assyrians were one of the earliest urban civilizations in Mesopotamia the region roughly corresponding to today's Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Southeastern Turkey that traced their ancestry back to the Sumerians and Akkadians. In Assyrian society, veiling (and female segregation) were well-established practices codified in law. Clause 40 of the Assyrian laws linked women's social status and sexual availability to their dress, and it set specific penal regulations for infractions. Married women and concubines accompanying their mistresses were required to veil their heads when going out in public. On the other hand, slaves and prostitutes (except married hierodules, former sacred prostitutes) were prohibited from veiling and could incur punishment if they did.


Brief Historical Timeline :


Ancient Mesopotamia
3000 BCE
Late Bronze Age, 1500-1200 BCE
Assyrian Empire
1200 BCE
Persian-Achaemenid dynasty
ca. 500-350 BCE
Ancient Greece
500-323 BCE
Roman Empire
30 BCE-393 CE
Persian-Sassanid dynasty
224 BCE-651 CE
Byzantine Empire
306-1453 CE
Prophet Muhammad
570-632 CE


Clause 41 in the Assyrian laws also addressed the question of veiling. If a man wanted to marry his concubine, he needed to summon five or six witnesses, veil her in front of them, and say "she is my wife." Veiling in this case meant to become legally married.


Heir to the Assyrians, the Persian Empire from the Achaemenid through the Sassanid dynasties upheld the social meaning of the veil. As during Assyrian rule, veiling under the Sassanids distinguished upper-class women. A veiled woman signaled an aristocratic lady who did not need to go out to work, unlike peasant women or slaves.


In addition to requiring the veiling of aristocratic women, the Iranian Sassanids introduced further restrictions on women, which led to a general decline in their social position. Under the Sassanids, women could no longer serve as witnesses; they could engage only in limited legal transactions, and their numbers rose significantly in harems. The harem of Khusrau, the Sassanid king who ruled on the eve of the Muslim conquest (640 CE), is estimated to have included some twelve thousand women. The Iranian King's harem thus was three hundred times the size of an Assyrian harem in the twelfth century BCE, which numbered approximately forty women. While some may contest the authenticity of these numbers, they still give us a sense of greater control over women throughout history.


Similarly, in all ancient Mesopotamian Mediterranean cultures around 3000 BCE among them the Canaanites, ancient Greeks, and Romans upper-class women were secluded, wore a shawl that could be drawn over their heads as a hood, and covered their hair in public. Veiling distinguished aristocratic women from prostitutes, slaves, and women of ill repute more generally. This is likely why on ancient statuettes, vases, and other vessels, we often see upper-class women wearing ornate head covers.


The political and cultural dominance of Greece and then Rome in the Mediterranean meant that the entire region inherited the Hellenic traditions of veiling and androcentric hierarchies. Eventually, these patriarchal mores and sartorial practices were assimilated by peoples converting to Judaism, Christianity, and later to Islam.


Early Jewish societies placed a variety of restrictions on women, and Judaism, as it spread, perpetuated those restrictions. Jewish laws limited women's access to divorce, their right to inherit property, and permitted polygamy. Jewish women were also required to dress modestly, covering their bodies from the neck to the knee, exposing only the face and hands. Married Jewish women were expected to cover their hair, considered a sign of beauty and a private asset that could not be shown in public.


The tradition of modest dress and of covering the hair continues to be practiced by conservative, and especially Hasidic, Jewish women. The ultraorthodox (from Hungary, Ukraine, and Galicia) shave their heads, and wear wigs with or without a scarf (called a tikhl in Hebrew). Haredi women in Israel today cover their heads and bodies with veils, sometimes referred to as burqa. In fact, it is impossible to tell from pictures alone a Haredi Jewish woman from a Muslim woman wearing a black burqa.


Church Fathers went further in their restrictive attitudes toward women. Like the Jews, early Christians, both in the eastern and western Roman Empire, considered a woman's hair an intrusion of materiality into the holy space of the church and hence banned its appearance in churches. Saint Paul's first letter to the Corinthians advises women to enter the church and pray with their head covered (1 Cor. 11:5) and prohibits them from shaving their hair or cutting it. If for whatever reason a woman's hair cannot be covered, it should be kept long, so that it may itself serve as a covering (1 Cor. 11:15).