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Please read the instructions thouroughly 5 page essay with a bibliography so a total of 6 pages1.5 SPACED 2500 wordsAnalysing, Comparing and Contrasting Ancient Law Codes
Here are the texts of three law coded from ancient times which you must use as
primary sources in you First Writing Assignment.
[Introductory note which may be of interest to you:] Among the inventions of the
Sumerians, the most persistent and far-reaching was their invention of law. While all
cultures have some system of social regulation and conflict resolution, law is a distinct
phenomenon. Law is written and administered retribution and conflict resolution,
administered by a centralized authority so that retribution for wrongs does not escalate
into cycles of mutual revenge. Sumerian law sits half way between individual revenge and
state-administered revenge: it is up to the individual to drag (quite literally) the accused
party into the court, but the court actually determines the nature of the retribution to be
exacted. Because the law is written, it assumes an independent character beyond the
centralized authority that administers it, producing a sociological fiction that the law
controls those who administer the law and that the “law” exacts retribution, not humans.
Because Sumerian law was a form of state-administered revenge, unacceptable behavior
outside the sphere of revenge initially did not come under the institution of law. As a
result, an entirely new set of laws were invented by the Old Babylonians: laws which dealt
with crimes against the state. The Old Babylonians allowed the state to more actively
pursue and punish criminals, and the punishments became dramatically more draconian:
the death penalty was applied to many more crimes, including “bad behavior in a bar.”
When the Assyrians came along, they added even more layers to the law. Among other
things, they placed severe constraints on the lives of women, and imposed punishments for
unapproved sexual behaviour.
Reading #1:
The Law Code of Ur-Nammu, written about 2100 B.C.E.1
Although the Code of Hammurabi (reading 2, below) is the best known and most
complete legal document surviving from ancient Mesopotamian cultures, it was not unique,
nor was it the earliest to be written. A millennium before Hammurabi came upon the scene,
Sumerian lugals (kings) prepared codes of laws that attempted to reconcile strong
government controls with justice. The law code excerpted here dates from the last flowering
of Sumerian culture in Ur, around 2100 B.C.E., and was prepared under the direction of the
lugal Ur-Nammu. Consider what it reveals about the social relationships and personal
concerns prevalent at the time.
After An and Enlil had turned over the Kingship of Ur to Nanna, at that time did UrNammu, son born of [the goddess] Ninsun, for his beloved mother who bore him, in
From James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton, New Jersey:
Princeton University Press, 1969), pages 523-525.
accordance with his [i.e., of the god Nanna] principles of equity and truth, . . . [thirty lines
destroyed or fragmentary] . . . Then did Ur-Nam-mu, the mighty warrior, king of Ur, king of
Sumer and establish equity in the land [and] he banished malediction, violence and strife.
By granting immunity in Akkad to the maritime trade from the seafarers’ over-seer, to the
herdsman from the “oxen-taker,” the “sheep-taker,” and the “donkey-taker,” he set Sumer
and Akkad free. . . . He fashioned the bronze sila-measure, he standardized the one mina
weight, (and) standardized the stone-weight of a shekel of silver in relation to one mina. . . .
The orphan was not delivered up to the rich man; the widow was not delivered up to the
mighty man; the man of one shekel was not delivered up to the man of one mina.
[Fourteen lines destroyed]
4: If the wife of a man, by employing her charms, followed after another man and he slept
with her, they [i.e., the authorities] shall slay that woman, but that male [i.e., the other man]
shall be set free.
5: If a man proceeded by force and deflowered the virgin [lit.: “undeflowered”] slavewoman of another man, that man must pay five shekels of silver.
6: If a man divorces his primary wife, he must pay [her] one mina of silver.
7: If it is a (former) widow [whom] he divorces, he must pay [her] one-half mina of silver.
8: If (however) the man had slept with the widow without there having been any marriage
contract, he need not pay (her) any silver.
9: [Thirteen lines mostly destroyed.]
10: If a man had accused a[nother] man of . . . and he [i.e., the accuser] had him [i.e., the
accused] brought to the river-ordeal, and the river-ordeal proved him innocent, then the
man who had brought him [i.e., the accuser] must pay him three shekels of silver.2
11: If a man accused the wife of a man of fornication, and the river[-ordeal] proved her
innocent, then the man who had accused her must pay one-third of a mina of silver.
12: If a [prospective] son-in-law entered the house of his [prospective] father-in-law, but
his father-in-law later gave [his daughter (i.e., the prospective bride) to] another man,
he[the father-in-law] shall return to him [i.e., the rejected son-in-law] two-fold the amount
of bridal presents he had brought.
13: [Only traces remain of ten lines.]
In the river ordeal, the accused was bound and thrown into the river; if he floated or swam, he was judged
to be innocent. One may assume that knowledge of how to float or swim was rare in this early society.
14: If . . . a slave-woman [or a male slave fled from the master’s house] and crossed beyond
the territory of the city, and [another] man brought her/him back, the owner of the slave
shall pay to the one who brought him back two shekels of silver.
15: If a [man…] cut off the foot [limb] of [another man with his . . . ], he shall pay ten shekels
of silver.
16: If a man, in the course of a scuffle, smashed the limb of another man with a club, he
shall pay one mina of silver.
17: If someone severed the nose of another man with a copper knife, he must pay twothirds of a mina of silver.
18: If a man cut off the . . . of [another man] with a . . . he shall pay [x shekels (?) of silv]er.
19: If he [knocked out] his to[oth] with [a . . .] he shall pay two shekels of silver.
20: [There is a gap of close to 30 lines, which contained not more than three sections.]
21: . . . he shall surely bring. If he has no slave-woman, he must surely pay ten shekels of
silver. If he has no silver, he shall pay him [with] whatever possessions he [owns].
22: If a man’s slave-woman, comparing herself to her mistress, speaks insolently to her [or
him], her mouth shall be scoured with 1 quart of salt.
23: If a man’s slave-woman, comparing herself to her mistress, struck her…[rest missing].
24: [section almost completely missing.]
25: If a man appeared as a witness [in a lawsuit], and was shown to be a perjurer, he must
pay fifteen shekels of silver.
26: If a man appeared as a witness [in a lawsuit], but declined to testify on oath, he must
make good as much as is involved in that lawsuit.
27: If a man proceeded by force, and plowed the arable field of a[nother] man, and he [i.e.,
the latter] brought a lawsuit [against him], but he [i.e., the squatter] reacts in contempt,
that man will forfeit his expenses.
28: If a man flooded the field of a[nother] man with water, he shall measure out [for him]
three kor of barley per iku of field.
29: If a man had leased an arable field to a[nother] man for cultivation, but he [the lessee]
did not plow it, so that it turned into wasteland, he shall measure out [to the lessor] three
kor of barley per iku of field.
— 000 —
Reading #2:
Hammurabi, “Code of Law” [excerpts], written about 1750 B.C.E.3
The Code of Hammurabi is perhaps the most famous law code to survive from ancient
times, although not the earliest. A large part of its fame comes from its “eye for an eye”
punishments, which clearly influenced the law codes of other, later Middle Eastern cultures.
Hammurabi, king of the city of Babylon (ruled 1792 to 1750 B.C.E.), united Mesopotamia
under his rule, thus creating the Babylonian empire. According to surviving inscriptions,
Hammurabi was most proud of his compilation of laws and of his role as a dispenser of justice
to his people. The king called a committee of learned scribes familiar with legal proceedings
to review laws in existence throughout his empire, and from them extract those most useful.
Although fragments of earlier law codes have been found in Mesopotamia, it is the oldest law
code to survive in extensive (although not complete) form. The finished code was inscribed on
stone stelae erected in prominent public places (one of these is now on display at the Louvre in
Paris). To modern readers, these laws seem simple, unyielding, and harsh; over time, they
were modified by requiring the payment of fines as a punishment. Students may wonder why
Hammurabi thought it necessary to brag so much in the introductory section, but remember
this stelae is a public propaganda announcement.
When Anu, the majestic, king of the Anunnaki, and Bel, the lord of heaven and earth,
who established the fate of the land, had given to Marduk,4 the ruling son of Ea, dominion
over mankind, magnified him among the Igigi, and called Babylon by his great name; when
they made it great upon the earth by founding therein an eternal kingdom, whose
foundations are as firmly grounded as are those of heaven and earth– it was then that Anu
and Bel called me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, a god-fearing man, by name, to cause
justice to be practiced in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil alike, to prevent the
strong from oppressing the weak, so that I might go forth like Shamash5 to rule over the
black-haired people, to give light to the land, and, like Anu and Bel, promote the welfare of
I am Hammurabi, the prince called by Bel to pour out riches and abundance,
procuring everything possible for Nippur and Durilu, the majestic patron of E-kur, the
brave king, who restored Eridu, and purified the cult of E-apsu, who subjected the four
quarters of the world, and made great the name of Babylon, and made glad the heart of
Marduk, his lord, and who daily worships in Esagila,6 the royal scion, begotten by Sin,7 who
From Michael Burger, editor, Sources for the History of Western Civilization, Volume I (Peterborough,
Ontario: Broadview Press, 2003), pages 20-31; used with permission.
4 Marduk was the patron god of Babylon.
5 Shamash was the God of Justice.
6 Esagila was the name of Marduk’s temple in Babylon.
7 In this case, “Sin” refers to the moon god worshipped at Ur; it does not have negative ethical connotations.
enriched Ur; the pious, the submissive one, who brings riches to Gish-shir-gal; the wise
king favored by Shamash; the powerful one, who laid again the foundations of Sippar; who
clothed with green the tomb [or shrines] of Malkat; who beautified E- bab-bar, which is
built like a heavenly place; the warrior, who protected Larsa, and rebuilt E-bab-bar for
Shamash, his helper; the lord, who gave life to the city of Uruk and brought abundance of
waters to its inhabitants; who built up the towers of E-anna,8 who brought riches to Anu
and Nana; the shield of the land; who again reassembled the scattered inhabitants of Isin,
who enriched E-gal-mah; the patron king of the city, the brother of Zama-ma; who firmly
established the settlements of Kish; who surrounded E-me-te-ur-sag with glory; who
increased the sacred treasures of Nana, the patron of the temple of Harsag-Kalama, the
grave of the enemies; whose help brings victory; who enriched the places of Cutha; who
made everything glorious in E-shid-lam; the mighty bull which trampled down his foes, the
favorite of the god Tu-tu; who made the city of Borsippa fruitful; the majestic, who is
untiring in his efforts for E-zida; the divine king of the city, the wise, the clever one, who
extended the cultivation of the ground at Dilbat; who gave abundant grain for Urash; the
lord, to whom belongs scepter and crown; whom the wise Ma-ma created, who determined
the boundaries of the temple of Kish; who provided abundantly for the sacred feasts of Nintu; the cautious, the careful, who provided food and drink for Lagash and Girsu; who
furnished the temple of Nin-girsu with abundance of sacrificial offerings; who arrested the
enemies; the elect of the oracle, which fulfilled the word of Hallab; who rejoiced the heart
of Anunit; the pure prince, whose prayers are heard by Adad;9 who pacifies the heart of
Adad, the warrior in Karkar; who restored the sacred vessels in E-ud-gal-gal; the king who
gave life to the city of Adab; the leader of Emach; the princely king of the city; the
irresistible warrior who gave life to the inhabitants of Mashkan shabri, and
superabundance to the temple of Shidlam; the wise, the active, who penetrated the hidingplace of the bandits; who gave a hiding-place to the people of Malka in their misfortune,
and established their habitation in riches; who endowed Ea and Dam-gal-nun-na; who had
made the kingdom great and lasting, with abundance of sacrificial gifts; the princely king of
the city, who subjected the districts on the Ud-kib-nun-na Canal10 to the dominion of
Dagon,11 his creator; who spared the inhabitants of Mera and Tutui; the majestic prince,
who caused the face of Ninni to shine; who gave sacred meals to the goddess Ni-na-zu; who
took care of the inhabitants in their need, and provided in peace their portion in Babylon;
the shepherd of his subjects, whose deeds are well-pleasing to Anunit; who made provision
for Anunit in the temple of Dumash, in the suburb of Agade; who proclaims the right; who
brings in law; who restored to Ashur its benevolent, protecting god; who permitted the
name of Ishtar of Nineveh to dwell in E-mish-mish; the majestic, who humbles himself to
the great gods; the successor of Sumula-il, the mighty son of Sin-muballit;12 the royal scion
of Eternity; the mighty king; the sun of Babylon, who shed its bright rays over the land of
Sumer and Akkad; the king obeyed by the four quarters of the world, the favorite of Ninni
am I.
E-anna was the name of the temple of Ishtar, the goddess of fertility at Uruk.
Adad was the Babylonian storm god.
10 The Ud-kib-nun-na Canal paralleled the Euphrates River.
11 Dagon was a god worshipped by Caananites; this shows the extent of Hammurabi’s empire.
12 Sumula-il was Hammurabi’s father and predecessor as king of Babylon.
When Marduk sent me to rule over men, to grant protection to the land, then I put
law and righteousness in the mouth of the people, and brought well-being to my subjects.
1. If a man makes a false accusation of manslaughter against a man, and cannot prove it,
then the accuser shall be put to death.
2. If a man charges a man with being a sorcerer, and is unable to sustain such a charge, the
one who is accused shall go to the river, he shall plunge himself into the river, and if he
sinks into the river, his accuser shall take his house. If, however, the river shows forth the
innocence of this man, and he escapes unhurt, then he who accused him of sorcery shall be
put to death, while he who plunged into the river shall appropriate the house of his accuser.
3. If a man (in a case pending judgment) threatens the witnesses, or does not establish that
which he has testified, if that case is a case involving life, that man shall be put to death.
4. If a man offers grain or money as a bribe to witnesses, he himself shall bear the sentence
of the court in that case.
5. If a judge passes judgment, renders a decision, delivers a verdict, signed and sealed, and
afterwards alters the judgment which he has rendered, he shall be called to account for the
alteration of the judgment, and he shall pay twelve-fold the penalty which was in the said
judgment, and in the assembly13 they shall expel him from his judgment seat, and he shall
not return, and he shall no more take his seat with the judges in a case.
6. If a man steals the property of a god, or [royal] palace, that man shall be put to death, and
so, too, he who may receive from his hand stolen goods shall be put to death.
7. If a man buys silver, gold, slaves (male or female), an ox, sheep, ass, or anything
whatsoever from the son or slave of any person, without witness or contract, or receives
the same on deposit, he is regarded as a thief, and shall be put to death.
8. If a man steals an ox, or sheep, or ass, or pig, or boat, from a god or palace, he shall pay
thirty-fold; if from a freeman, he shall pay ten-fold. If the thief has nothing with which to
pay, he shall be put to death . . . .
14. If a man steals the minor son of a freeman, he shall be put to death.
15. If any man takes a male or female slave of the [royal] palace, or the male or female slave
of a freeman, outside the gates of the city, he shall be put to death.
The nature of this assembly is unclear; it may refer to a convocation of judges. Hammurabi’s Babylon was
emphatically not a democracy.
16. If a man conceals in his house a male or female slave, a fugitive from the palace, or from
a freeman, and does not produce the same at the order of the officer, the master of that
house shall be put to death.
17. If a man finds a fugitive slave, male or female, in the open country, and brings the same
to the owner, the owner of the said slave shall pay that man two shekels of silver. 14
18. If that slave refuses to give the name of his master, he shall be brought to the palace; an
inquiry shall be made into his past, and he shall be restored to his owner.15
19. If he forcibly detains that slave in his house, and that slave is later caught in his house,
then that man shall be put to death . . . .
21. If a man makes a breach into a house, one shall kill him in front of the breach, and bury
him in it.
22. If a man carries on highway robbery, and is captured, he shall be put to death.
23. If the highwayman is not captured, he who has been robbed shall declare before the god
under oath in open court the amount lost; then the city and official in whose territory and
district the robbery took place shall compensate him for that which he lost.
24. If a life was lost, the city and official shall pay one mina16 of silver to his heirs . . . .
26. If an officer or man [common soldier] who has been ordered to proceed on the king’s
business does not go, but hires a substitute whom he sends in his place, that officer or man
shall be put to death; his substitute shall take possession of his house.
27. If an officer or a man is captured in the garrison of the king, and subsequently his field
and garden have been given to another, and this one takes possession, and if he [the former
owner] returns and reaches his place, his field and garden shall be restored to him, and he
shall take it again.
28. If an officer or a man is captured in the garrison of the king, and if his son is able to take
charge of his business, the field and the garden shall be given to him, and he shall take his
father’s field.
29. If his son is a minor, and is not able to take charge of the business, a third of the field
and garden shall be given to his mother, who shall bring him up . . . .
45. If a man lets his field to another for a fixed rent, and has received the rent for the field,
but Adad [the storm god] comes and destroys the crops, the loss falls upon the renter.
At this time, coined money had not yet been invented, and a “shekel” refers to a weight measure.
The phrase “an inquiry shall be made into his past” MAY refer to torture.
A “mina” is another weight measure; one mina equaled fifty shekels.
46. But if he has not received a fixed rent for his field, but let it out for one-half or one- third
[of the crop], the grain on the field shall be divided proportionately between the renter and
the owner of the field.
47. If the renter, because in the first year he did not gain sustenance, has …
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