Code of Hammurabi
(c. 1700 B.C.E.)
Note: The Code of Hammurabi was a compilation of almost three hundred laws on every aspect of life. Much can be learned both about Mesopotamian life and ideals through these laws. It should be kept in mind that we cannot be sure how well enforced these laws were, but it is safe to say that a powerful king in ancient Mesopotamia thought these were the laws that would guide a just society. This code was not was not an entirely new set of laws, but a compilation and revision of earlier law codes of the Sumerians and Akkadians
. . . When Marduk (God of Babylon) sent me to rule the people and to bring help to the country, I established law and justice in the language of the land and promoted the welfare of the people. At that time I decreed:
If a man brings an accusation against another man, charging him with murder,
but cannot prove it, the accuser shall be put to death.
2. If a man has accused another of laying a spell upon him, but has not proved it, the accused shall go to the sacred river, he shall plunge into the sacred river, and if the sacred river shall conquer him, he that accused him shall take possession of his house. If the sacred river shall show his innocence and he is saved, his accuser shall be put to death.
3. If a man bears false witness in a case, or does not establish the testimony that he has given, if that case is case involving life, that man shall be put to death.
4. If a man bears false witness concerning grain or money, he shall himself bear the penalty imposed in the case.
5. If a judge pronounces judgment, renders a decision, delivers a verdict duly signed and sealed, and afterward alters his judgment , they shall call that judge to account for the alteration of the judgment which he has pronounced, and he shall pay twelve-fold the penalty in that judgment; and, in the assembly, they shall expel him from his judgment seat.
If a man has stolen goods from a temple, or house, he shall be put to death;
and he that has received the stolen property from him shall be put to death.
14. If a man has stolen a child, he shall be put to death.
22. If a man practices robbery and is captured, that man shall be put to death.
23. If the robber is not captured, the man who has been robbed shall, in the presence of god, make and itemized statement of his loss, and the city and the governor in whose jurisdiction the robbery was committed shall compensate him for whatever was lost.
24. If it is a life that is lost, the city and governor shall pay (one pound) of silver to his heirs.
26. If a levy-master, or warrant officer, who has been detailed on the king's service, has not gone, or has hired a substitute in his place, that levy-master or warrant officer shall be put to death and the hired substitute shall take his place.
If a man neglects to maintain his dike and does not
strengthen it, and a break is made in his dike and the water carries away the
farmland, the man in whose dike the break has been made shall replace the grain
which has been damaged.
54. If he is not able to replace the grain, they shall sell him and his goods and the farmers whose grain the water has carried away shall divide the proceeds from the sale.
If a merchant lends grain at interest, for one gur he
shall receive on hundred sila as interest (33
percent); if he lends money at interest, for one
shekel of silver he shall receive one-fifth of a shekel as interest.
104. If a merchant gives to an agent grain, wool, oil, or goods of any kind with which to trade, the agent shall write down the value and return the money to the merchant. The agent shall take a sealed receipt for the money which he gives to the merchant.
105. If the agent is careless and does not take a receipt for the money which he has given to the merchant, the money not receipted for shall not be placed to his account.
108. If a wine seller does not take grain for the price of a drink but takes money by the large weight, or if she makes the measure of drink smaller than the measure of grain, they shall call that wine seller to account and throw her into the water.
109. If bad characters gather in the house of a wine seller and she does not arrest them and bring them to the palace, that wine seller shall be put to death.
110. If a priestess who is not living in a convent opens a wine shop or enters a wine shop for a drink, they shall burn that woman.
117. If a man is in debt and sells his wife, son, or daughter, or binds them over to service, for three years they shall work in the house of their purchaser of master; in the fourth year they shall be given their freedom.
If the wife of a man is caught lying with another man, they shall bind them and
throw them into the water. If the husband of the woman wishes to spare
his wife, then the king shall spare his servant.
130. If a man has ravished another's betrothed wife, who is a virgin, while still living in her father's house, and has been caught in the act, that man shall be put to death; the woman shall go free.
131. If a man has accused his wife but she has not been caught lying with another man, she shall take an oath in the name of god and return to her house.
138. If a man wishes to divorce his wife who has not borne him children, he shall give her money to the amount of her marriage price and he shall make good to her the dowry which she brought from her father's house and then he may divorce her.
141. If the wife of a man who is living in her husband's house, has persisted in going out, has acted the fool, has waster her house, has belittled her husband, he shall prosecute her. If her husband has said, "I divorce her," she shall go her way; he shall give her nothing as her price of divorce. If her husband has said "I will not divorce her" he may take another woman to wife; the wife shall live as a slave in her husband's house.
142. If a woman has hated her husband and has said, "You shall not possess me,: her past shall be inquired into, as to what she lacks. If she has been discreet, and has no vice, and her husband has gone out, and has greatly belittled her; that woman has not blame, she shall take her marriage portion and go off to her father's house.
143. If she has not been discreet, has gone out, ruined her house, belittled her husband, she shall be drowned.
150. If a man has presented a field, garden, house, or goods to his wife, has granted her a deed of gift, her children, after her husband's death, shall not dispute her right; the mother shall leave it after her death to that one of her children whom she loves best. She shall not leave it to an outsider.
153. If a man's wife, for the sake of another, has caused her husband to be killed, that woman shall be impaled
154. If a man has committed incest with his daughter, that man shall be banished from the city.
155. If a man has betrothed a maiden to his son and his son has known her, and afterward the man has lain in her bosom, and been caught, that man shall be strangled and she shall be cast into the water.
156. If a man has betrothed a maiden to his son, and his son has not known her, and that man has lain in her bosom, she shall pay her half a mina of silver, and shall pay over to her whatever she brought from her father's house, and the husband of her choice shall marry her.
159 If a man who has brought a gift to the house of his father-in-law and has paid the marriage price, looks with longing upon another woman and says to his father-in-law, "I will not marry your daughter," the father of the daughter shall take to himself whatever was brought to him.
168. If a man sets his face to disinherit his son and says to the judges, "I will disinherit my son," the judges shall inquire into his record, and if the son has not committed a crime sufficiently grave to cut him off from sonship, the father may not cut off his son from sonship.
170. If a man's wife bears him children and his maidservant bears him children, and the father during his lifetime says to the children which the maidservant bore him, "My children," and reckons them with the children of his wife, after the father dies the children of the wife and the children of the maidservant shall divide the goods of the father's estates equally. The son of the wife shall have the right of choice a the division.
If a son strikes his father, they shall cut off his hand.
196. If a man destroys the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye.
197. If he breaks another man's bone, they shall break his bone.
198. If he destroys the eye of a plebeian or breaks the bone of a plebeian, he shall pay one mina of silver.
199. If he destroys the eye of a man's slave or beaks a bone of a man's slave, he shall pay one-half his price.
200. If a man knocks out a tooth of a man of his own rank, they shall knock out his tooth
201. If he knocks out a tooth of a plebeian, he shall pay one-third mina of silver
209. If a man has struck a free woman with child, and has caused her to miscarry, he shall pay ten shekels for her miscarriage
210. If that woman die, his daughter shall be killed.
211. If by a blow he has caused a plebian's daughter to have a miscarriage, he shall pay five shekels of silver.
212. If that woman has died, he shall pay one-half mina of silver.
213. If he struck a freeman's female slave and has caused her to have a miscarriage, he shall pay two shekels of silver.
214. If that female slave has died, he shall pay one-third mina of silver.
Physicians and Malpractice
If a physician operates on a man for a sever wound with a bronze lancet and
saves the man's life, or if he opens an abscess in the eye of a man with a
bronze lancet and saves that man's eye, he shall receive ten shekels of silver.
216. If he is a plebeian, he shall receive five shekels.
217. If he is a slave, the owner shall pay two shekels.
218. If a physician operates on a man for a sever wound with a bronze lancet and causes the man's death, or destroys the man's eye, they shall cut off his hand.
219. If a physician operates on a slave for a severe wound and causes his death, he shall restore a slave of equal value.
If a builder builds a house for a man and does not make its construction sound,
and the house which he has built collapses and causes
the death of the owner of the house, the builder shall be put to death.
233. If a builder builds a house for a man and does not make its construction sound, and a wall cracks, that builder shall strengthen that wall at his own expense.
Property and Wage Regulations
If a man has hired an ox, or an ass, and a lion has killed it in the open
field, the loss falls on the owner.
245. If a man has hired an ox and has caused its death, by carelessness, or blows, he shall restore ox for ox, to the owner of the ox.
249. If a man has hired an ox, and god has struck it, and it has died, the man that hired the ox shall make affidavit and go free.
250. If a bull has gone wild and gored a man, and caused his death, there can be no suit against the owner.
251. If a man's ox be a gorer, and has revealed its evil propensity as a gorer, and he has not blunted its horn, or shut up the ox, and then that ox has gored a free man, and caused his death, the owner shall pay half a mina of silver
257. If a man hires a field laborer, he shall pay him eight gur of grain per year.
258. If a man hires a herdsman, he shall pay him six gur of grain per year.
268. If a man hires on ox to thresh, twenty sila of grain is his daily hire.
282. If a slave has said to his master, "You are not my master," he shall be brought to account as his slave, and his master shall cut off his ear.