Selections from Hammurabi’s Code of Laws (ca. 1780 BCE)1
The Code of Laws issued by Hammurabi, King of Babylon, in the 18th century BCE is the oldest surviving complete law code, but it was not the first ever written (parts of three others from before the time of Hammurabi survive). Its complexity hints at how developed the law had already become and much of what you read below probably evolved over several centuries in different cities of Mesopotamia. What do the laws indicate about what the ruler hopes to achieve with the law? What do they reveal about women and marriage in Mesopotamia? How do they seek to resolve disputes? What does the epilogue reveal about the gods and their role in the success of a state or ruler?
1. If a man brings an accusation against another man, charging him with murder, but cannot prove it, the accuser shall be put to death.
3. If anyone brings an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if it be a capital offense charged, be put to death.
6. If anyone steals the property of a temple or of the court, he shall be put to death, and also the one who receives the stolen thing from him shall be put to death.
21. If anyone breaks a hole into a house (break in to steal), he shall be put to death before that hole and be buried.
22. If anyone is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death.
25. If fire break out in a house, and someone who comes to put it out cast his eye upon the property of the owner of the house, and take the property of the master of the house, he shall be thrown into that self-same fire.
45. If a man rents his field for tillage for a fixed rental, and receives the rent of his field, but bad weather comes and destroys the harvest, the injury falls upon the tiller of the soil.
46. If he does not receive a fixed rental for his field, but lets it on half or third shares of the harvest, the grain on the field shall be divided proportionately between the tiller and the owner.
53. If anyone is too lazy to keep his dam in proper condition, and does not so keep it; if then the dam breaks and all the fields are flooded, then shall he in whose dam the break occurred is to be sold for money, and the money shall replace the grain which he has caused to be ruined.
108. If a tavern-keeper (feminine) does not accept grain according to gross weight in payment of drink, but takes money, and the price of the drink is less than that of the grain, she shall be convicted and thrown into the water.
1 Full text available at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/hamcode.asp. 3
109. If conspirators meet in the house of a tavern-keeper, and these conspirators are not captured and delivered to the court, the tavern-keeper shall be put to death.
115. If anyone has a claim for grain or money upon another and imprisons him; if the prisoner dies in prison a natural death, the case shall go no further.
116. If the prisoner dies in prison from blows or maltreatment, the master of the prisoner shall convict the merchant before the judge. If he was a free-born man, the son of the merchant shall be put to death; if it was a slave, he shall pay one-third of a mina of gold, and all that the master of the prisoner gave he shall forfeit.
127. If anyone slanders a priestess or the wife of any one and cannot prove it, this man shall be taken before the judges and his brow shall be marked (by cutting the skin, or perhaps hair.)
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