2. Code of Laws promulgated by Hammurabi, King of Babylon, c.1700 BC

Version : I had an old (1903) copy in my library, and there are copies available in print via online booksellers for around $4-$5, but the text can also be found online at http://www.constitution.org/ime/hammurabi.htm

Content : A list of laws, penalties, fines, wages and fees in ancient Babylonia. What is a fairly dry list of laws actually provides a lot of insight into life in ancient times. Reading the laws provides evidence of the presence of
• agriculture, irrigation canals, tillage, tenancy of land, corn and sesame, orchards, sheep grown for wool (and prey to lions), and allowance for storm, flood and drought
• belief in magic and witchcraft
• slavery
• doctors and veterinarians (with set fees, and penalties if their patients died)
• merchants keeping written records and using money
• marriage, separation, divorce, adoption and inheritance
• adultery, incest, rape, kidnapping and manslaughter
• theft, assault, defamation, brawling
with much resulting “put to death” or “bound and thrown into the water”, with the occasional burning alive, impalement and maiming. Even governors and magistrates were not immune to such harsh treatment. Also, the famous Old Testament “eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth” is literally recommended as fair retribution.

My thoughts : Certainly not a volume for repeat reading for pleasure, but interesting nonetheless, and shows how original sources can inform historians about many social practices of the time. It also provided some legal protection for women and the poor in an age when their rights surely would not have been recognized otherwise, including a minimum wage and the presumption of innocence.

Favourite lines/passages
#109 If a wine merchant has collected a riotous assembly in her house and has not seized those rioters and driven them to the palace, that wine merchant shall be put to death.

Personal rating 3/10

Next : The Egyptian Book of the Dead.


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