There is a scholarly debate on Goody’s theory. 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. Goody’s overall thesis remained pertinent in North India, although it required modification to meet local circumstances. Schlegel and Eloul expanded on Goody’s model through further statistical analysis of the Ethnographic atlas. 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. Even in the oldest available records, such as the Code of Hammurabi in ancient Babylon, the dowry is described as an already-existing custom. 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. In Babylonia, both bride price and dowry were practiced. However, bride price almost always became part of the dowry. In case of divorce without reason, a man was required to give his wife the dowry she brought as well as the bride price the husband gave.
The return of dowry could be disputed, if the divorce was for a reason allowed under Babylonian law. A wife’s dowry was administered by her husband as part of the family assets. 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. 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.
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 1983. The dowry was property transferred by the bride, or on her behalf by anyone else, to the groom or groom’s father, at their marriage. Two types of dowry were known—dos profectitia and dos adventitia. That dos is profectitia which was given by the father or father’s father of the bride. The practice of dowry in South Asia is a controversial subject.
Some scholars believe dowry was practiced in antiquity, but some do not. India was insignificant, and daughters had inheritance rights, which by custom were exercised at the time of her marriage. Bridewealth was restricted to the lower castes, who were not allowed to give dowry. Michael Witzel, in contrast, claims the ancient Indian literature suggests dowry practices were not significant during the Vedic period.
Witzel also notes that women in ancient India had property inheritance rights either by appointment or when they had no brothers. Dowry was not infrequent, when the girl suffered from some bodily defect. The above analysis by various scholars is based on interpreting verses of ancient Sanskrit fiction and inconsistent smritis from India, not eyewitness accounts. Available eyewitness observations from ancient India give a different picture. The two sources suggest dowry was absent, or infrequent enough to be noticed by Arrian.