MESOPOTAMIAN LAWS, C. 2250 - 550 B.C.
A Collection of Mesopotamian Laws, c. 2250 - 550 B.C.: Laws governing private as well as public and political life were written up in Mesopotamia as early as 2250 B.C. Unfortunately, most of these early documents have been preserved in very fragmentary condition, so that only a few phases of early law and procedure are now known to us. The following fragments date from the Akkadian through the Neo-Babylonian periods. [Source: William Muss-Arnolt, "Some Babylonian Laws," in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature: Selected Transactions, With a Critical Introduction by Robert Francis Harper (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1904), pp. 445-447, Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia]
1. BE it enacted forever and for all future days: If a son say to his father, "You are not my father," he [the father] can cut off his [the son's] locks, make him a slave and sell him for money. If a son say to his mother, "You are not my mother," she can cut off his locks, turn him out of town, or (at least) drive him away from home, deprive him of citizenship and of inheritance, but his liberty he
loses not. If a father say to his son, "You are not my son," the latter has to leave house and field and he loses everything. If a mother say to her son, "You are not my son," he shall leave house and furniture. If a wife be unfaithful to her husband and then says, "You are not my husband," let her be thrown into the river. If a husband say to his wife, "You are not my wife," he shall as a fine pay one half mana of silver. If some one hires a servant and the latter dies or is rendered useless otherwise (e.g.,by flight, rebellion, or sickness) he shall give to the owner as daily wages ten qa of grain a day.
2. If an overseer or a fisherman ordered to the service of the king does not.come, but sends a hireling in his stead, that same overseer or fisherman shall be put to death, and his house shall go into the possession of the hireling.
3. If a man lets out his field to a farmer and he has received the rent for his field, and afterward a flood pours down upon that field, or some animal destroys the harvest of the farmer; in case now the rent of this field is not yet paid, or ______. [The law here no doubt said that, in case of damage by weather or animals, a renter of a field will have certain reduction granted. If he paid in advance, part of the money will be refunded to him, if he pays at the end of the lease, he need not pay the full amount.]
4. When a merchant gives to his clerk grain, wool, oil, or some other merchandise for sale, the clerk shall give a strict account and turn in the money to the merchant: and the merchant shall give to the clerk a receipt for the money paid over to him.
5. When a man has bought a male or female slave, and the sale is fought by a third party (the real owner) and is in consequence thereof declared void, the seller of the slave has to pay for all damages.
6. When in an inclosed yard a disturbance occurs, or again, when a lion kills, his keeper shall pay all damages, and the owner of the yard shall receive the killed animals.
7. When a peasant says to the date-vendor, "All the dates in this garden you may take for your money," that vendor shall not do so; but the dates that grow in the garden shall be and remain the property of the owner, and with these dates he shall pay the vendor for the latter's money and the interests accrued, as the written agreement calls for; but what remains of dates after that shall be and remain the property of the owner.
8. When a shepherd of small cattle, after having driven the herd from pasture, and when the whole troop has passed within the city gates, drives his cattle to another rnan's field (within the city walls), and pastures it there, that shepherd shall take care of the field, which he has given to his flock as pasture, and shall give to the owner of the field for every day the amount of sixty qa.
9. If a man sell a slave girl for money, and another party proves just claims to her, and takes her away from her present owner, the seller shall return the money to the buyer, to exactly the same amount that his receipt calls for; if in the meanwhile she has borne children, he shall in addition pay for each child one half shekel.
10. If a man, after having promised, either verbally or in writing, a certain dowry to his daughter, loses part of his property, he can give his daughter a dowry in accordance with the property as it is now, and neither father-in-law nor son-in-law shall go to law on that account.
11.If a man has given his daughter a dowry, and the dlaughter dies without an issue, the dowry reverts to the house of her father.
12. If a woman, whose dowry her husband has taken charge of, remains childless and loses her husband, her dowry shall be returned to her in full out of the late husband's estate. If her husband during his lifetime has presented her part of his property, she shall retain this also and still receive her own dowry in full. But if she had no dowry, the judge shall examine into the condition of her husband's estate and then give her a proper share in accordance with her late husband's property.
See Separate Articles: MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE IN MESOPOTAMIA, FAMILY LIFE AND CHILDREN IN MESOPOTAMIA, WOMEN IN MESOPOTAMIA
Websites and Resources on Mesopotamia: Ancient History Encyclopedia ancient.eu.com/Mesopotamia ; Mesopotamia University of Chicago site mesopotamia.lib.uchicago.edu; British Museum mesopotamia.co.uk ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Louvre louvre.fr/llv/oeuvres/detail_periode.jsp ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/toah ; University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology penn.museum/sites/iraq ; Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago uchicago.edu/museum/highlights/meso ; Iraq Museum Database oi.uchicago.edu/OI/IRAQ/dbfiles/Iraqdatabasehome ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; ABZU etana.org/abzubib; Oriental Institute Virtual Museum oi.uchicago.edu/virtualtour ; Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur oi.uchicago.edu/museum-exhibits ; Ancient Near Eastern Art Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org
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Contracts in Mesopotamia
Claude Hermann and Walter Johns wrote in the Encyclopedia Britannica: “The material for the study of Babylonian law is singularly extensive without being exhaustive. The so-called "contracts," including a great variety of deeds, conveyances, bonds, receipts, accounts and, most important of all, the actual legal decisions given by the judges in the law courts, exist in thousands. Historical inscriptions, royal charters and rescripts, despatches, private letters and the general literature afford welcome supplementary information. Even grammatical and lexicographical works, intended solely to facilitate the study of ancient literature, contain many extracts or short sentences bearing on law and custom.[Source: Claude Hermann Walter Johns, Babylonian Law — The Code of Hammurabi. Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1910-1911 <^>]
“The universal habit of writing and perpetual recourse to written contract even more modified primitive custom and ancient precedent. Provided the parties could agree, the Code left them free to contract as a rule. Their deed of agreement was drawn up in the temple by a notary public, and confirmed by an oath "by god and the king." It was publicly sealed and witnessed by professional witnesses, as well as by collaterally interested parties. The manner in which it was thus executed may have been sufficient security that its stipulations were not impious or illegal. Custom or public opinion doubtless secured that the parties would not agree to wrong. <^>
“In case of dispute the judges dealt first with the contract. They might not sustain it, but if the parties did not dispute it, they were free to observe it. The judges' decision might, however, be appealed against. Many contracts contain the proviso that in case of future dispute the parties would abide by "the decision of the king." The Code made known, in a vast number of cases, what that decision would be, and many cases of appeal to the king were sent back to the judges with orders to decide in accordance with it. The Code itself was carefully and logically arranged and the order of its sections was conditioned by their subject-matter. Nevertheless the order is not that of modern scientific treatises, and a somewhat different order from both is most convenient for our purpose.” <^>
Morris Jastrow said: “What is noticeable in the thousands of business documents now at our behoof and covering almost all periods from the earliest to the latest, is the spirit of justice and equity that pervades the endeavour to regulate the social relations in Babylonia and Assyria. This is particularly apparent in the legal decisions handed down by the judges, of which we have many specimens. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 <>]
“As a protection to both parties engaging in business transactions, a formal contract wherein the details were noted was drawn up, and sealed in the presence of witnesses. This method was extended from loans and sales to marriage agreements, to testaments, to contracts for work, to rents, and even to such incidents as engaging teachers, and to apprenticeship. The general principle, already implied in the Hammurabi Code, and apparently in force at all periods, was that no agreement of any kind was valid without a duly attested written record. The religious element enters into these business transactions in the oath taken in the name of the gods, with the frequent addition of the name of the reigning king by both parties as a guarantee of good faith. In some cases the oath is, in fact, prescribed by law. If a dispute arose in regard to the terms of a contract, and no agreement could be reached by the contracting parties, the case was brought before the court.”<>
Sales and Purchases Contracts from Mesopotamia in 2000 B.C.
Contract for the Sale of Real Estate, Sumer, c. 2000 B.C.: “This is a transaction from the last days of Sumerian history. It exhibits a form of transfer and title which has a flavor of modern business method about it: “Sini-Ishtar, the son of Ilu-eribu, and Apil-Ili, his brother, have bought one third Shar of land with a house constructed, next the house of Sini-Ishtar, and next the house of Minani; one third Shar of arable land next the house of Sini-Ishtar, which fronts on the street; the property of Minani, the son of Migrat-Sin, from Minani, the son of Migrat-Sin. They have paid four and a half shekels of silver, the price agreed. Never shall further claim be made, on account of the house of Minani. By their king they swore. (The names of fourteen witnesses and a scribe then follow.) Month Tebet, year of the great wall of Karra-Shamash.” [Source: George Aaron Barton, "Contracts," in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature: Selected Transactions, With a Critical Introduction by Robert Francis Harper (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1904), pp. 256-276, Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia]
Contract for the Sale of a Standing Crop, Seventh year of Cyrus, 532 B.C.: This contract belongs to a class intermediate between rental and the sale of land. Instead of either, the standing crop is sold.: “From a cultivated field which is situated on the alley of Li'u-Bel, Itti-Marduk-balatu, the son of Nabu-akhi-iddin, the son of Egibi, has made a purchase from Tashmitum-damqat, daughter of Shuzubu, son of Shigua, and Nadin-aplu, the son of Rimut, son of Epish-Ilu. Itti-Marduk-balatu has counted the money, the price of the crop of that field for the seventh year of Cyrus, King of Babylon, king of countries, into the hands of Tashmitum-damqat and Nadin-aplu. (The names of two witnesess and a scribe then follow) Babylon, Ululu thirteenth, the seventh year of Cyrus.
Contract for the Sale of Dates, Thirty-second year of Darius, 490 B.C.: Shibtu, the place of this transaction, was a suburb of Babylon. This shows how women, especially of the lower rank, carried on business for themselves. The father of Aqubatum, as his name, Aradya [ "my slave"] shows, had been a slave. “One talent one qa of dates from the woman Nukaibu daughter of Tabnisha, and the woman Khamaza, daughter of _______, to the woman Aqubatum, daughter of Aradya. In the month Siman they will deliver one talent one qa of dates. Scribe, Shamash-zir-epish, son of Shamash-malku. Shibtu, Adar the sixth, thirty-second year of Darius, King of Babylon and countries.”
Contract for the Sale of Wheat, Thirty-fifth year of Darius, 487 B.C.: This tablet is a good illustration of the simple transactions in food-stuffs, of which we have many, and of which one or two additional examples are given below. The farmers usually contracted as in this document the sale of their produce far in advance of the harvest. In this instance the sale was made six months before the grain would be ripe and could be delivered. Six talents of wheat from Shamash-malku, son of Nabu-napshat-su-ziz, to Shamash-iddin, son of Rimut. In the month Siman, wheat, six talents in full, he will deliver in Shibtu, at the house of Shamash-iddin. Witnesses: Shamash-iddin, son of Nabu-usur-napishti; Abu-nu-emuq, son of Sin-akhi-iddin; Sharru-Bel, son of Sin-iddin; Aban-nimiqu-rukus, son of Malula. Scribe, Aradya, son of Epish-zir. Shibtu, eleventh of Kislimu, thirty-fifth year of Darius king of countries.
Sales Contracts for Slaves in Mesopotamia in 2300 B.C.
Contract for the Sale of a Slave, Reign of Rim-Sin, c. 2300 B.C.: In this transaction the sellers simply guarantee to make no further claim upon the slave. It dates from about 2300 B.C., and is interesting as an index of the legal development of that far-off time: “Sini-Ishtar has bought a slave, Ea-tappi by name, from Ilu-elatti, and Akhia, his son, and has paid ten shekels of Silver, the price agreed. Ilu-elatti, and Akhia, his son, will not set up a future claim on the slave. In the presence of Ilu-iqisha, son of Likua; in the presence of Ilu-iqisha, son of Immeru; in the presence of Likulubishtum, son of Appa, the scribe, who sealed it with the seal of the witnesses. The tenth of Kisilimu, the year when Rim-Sin, the king, overcame the hostile enemies.”[Source: George Aaron Barton, "Contracts," in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature: Selected Transactions, With a Critical Introduction by Robert Francis Harper (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1904), pp. 256-276, Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia]
Contract for the Sale of a Slave, Eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar II, 597 B.C.: This tablet affords a good example of the sale of a slave. In this case the persons who sell guarantee that the slave will neither become insubordinate, nor prove to be subject to any governmental claims, nor prove to have been emancipated by adoption. The word rendered "emancipation" means literally "adoption," but adoption by a freeman was an early form of emancipation. This sale is from the reign of the Nebuchadnezzar of Biblical fame, dating from 597 B.C.
ShamashUuballit and Ubartum, children of Zakir, the son of Pashi-ummani, of their free-will have delivered Nanakirat and her unsveaned son, their slave, for nineteen shekels of money, for the price agreed, unto Kaçir and Nadin-Marduk, sons of Iqisha-aplu, son of Nur-Sin. Shamash-uballit and Ubartum guarantee against insubordination, the claim of the royal service, and emancipation. Witnesses: Na'id-Marduk, son of Nabu-nacir, son of Dabibi; Bel-shum-ishkun, son of Marduk-zir-epish, son of Irani; Nabu-ushallim, son of Bel-akhi-iddin, son of Bel-apal-uçur. In the dwelling of Damqa, their mother. And the scribe, Nur-Ea, son of Ina-Isaggil-ziri, son of Nur-Sin. Babylon, twenty-first of Kisilimu, eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.
Rental Contracts from Mesopotamia in 2000 B.C.
Contract for Rent a House, One Year Term, c. 2000 B.C.: This is the simplest form of rental, and comes from the early Babylonian times.”Akhibte has taken the house of Mashqu from Mashqu, the owner, on a lease for one year. He will pay one shekel of silver, the rent of one year. On the fifth of Tammuz he takes possession. (Then follow the names of four witnesses.) Dated the fifth of Tammuz, the year of the wall of Kar-Shamash.” [Source: George Aaron Barton, "Contracts," in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature: Selected Transactions, With a Critical Introduction by Robert Francis Harper (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1904), pp. 256-276, Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia]
Contract for Rent & Repair of a House, One Year Term, Thirty-fifth year of Darius, 487 B.C.: This contract is most interesting. Iskhuya, apparently a tenant of Shamash-iddin, undertakes to repair the house in which he is living. In addition to the rent for the year he is to receive fifteen shekels in money, in two payments, at the beginning and the completion of the work. The last payment is to be made on the day of Bel, which seems to be identical with the first of Tebet, a week later than the contract was made. In case the repairs were not then completed, Iskhuya was to forfeit four shekels. Such business methods are not, therefore, altogether modern.
“In addition to the rent of the house of Shamash-iddin, son of Rimut, for this year, fifteen shekels of money in cash (shall go) to Iskhuya, son of Shaqa-Bel, son of the priest of Agish. Because of the payment he shall repair the weakness (of the house), he shall close up the crack of the wall. He shall pay a part of the money at the beginning, a part of the money at the completion. He shall pay it on the day of Bel, the day of wailing and weeping, In case the house is unfinished by Iskhuya after the first day of Tebet, Shamash-iddin shall receive four shekels of money in cash into his possession at tne hands of Iskhuya. (The names of three witnesses and a scribe then follow.) Dated at Shibtu, the twenty-first of Kislimu, the thirty-fifth year of Darius.”
Contract for Lease of Real Estate, 60 Year Term, Thirty-sixth year of Artaxerxes, 428 B.C.: This complicated contract is of unusual interest, since the lease is for so long a period; the rent is paid in advance, and the lessee is in the same instrunnent guaranteed against all future contingencies. “Baga'miri, son of Mitradatu, spoke of his own free-will to Belshum-iddin, son of Murashu, saying: "I will lease my cultivated field and uncultivated land, and the cultivated field and uncultivated land of Rushundati, my father's deceased brother, which is situated on the bank of the canal of Sin, and the bank of the canal Shilikhti, and the dwelling houses in the town of Galiya, on the north, adjoining the field of Nabu-akhi-iddin, son of Ninib-iddin, and adjoining the field of Banani-erish, a citizen of Nippur; on the south, adjoining the field of Minu-Bel-dana, son of Balatu; on the east, the bank of the canal of Sin; on the west, the bank of the canal of Shilikhti, and adjoining the field of Rushundati, the overseer of Artaremu---all to use and to plant for sixty years. The rent of the cultivated field will be twenty talents of dates; and the uncultivated field (I will lease) for planting." Afterward Bel-shum-iddin, son of Murashu, accepted his offer with reference to the cultivated field and the uncultivated field, his part and the part of Rushundati, his uncle, deceased; he shall hold for sixty years the cultivated portion of it for a rental of twenty talents of dates per year, and the uncultivated portion for planting. Each year in the month Tishri, Bel-shum-iddin unto Baga'miri will give twenty talents of dates for the use of that field. The whole rent of his field for sixty years Baga'miri, son of Mitradatu, has received from the hands of Bel-shum-iddin, son of Murashu. If, in the future, before sixty years are completed, Baga'miri shall take that field from Bel-shum-iddin, Baga'miri shall pay one talent of silver to Bel-shum-iddin for the work which he shall have done on it and the orchard which he shall have planted. In case any claim should arise against that field, Baga'miri shall settle it and pay instead of Bel-shum-iddin. From the month Nisan, of the thirty-seventh year of Artaxerxes, the king, that field, for use and for planting, shall be in the possession of Bel-shum-iddin, son of Murashu, for sixty years. (The names of thirty witnesses and a scribe follow, eleven of whom left the impressions of their seals on the edges of the tablet. L. 34 states that) the print of the thumb-nail of Baga'miri was placed on the tablet instead of his seal. (L. 37 contains the information that) the tablet was written in the presence of Ekur-belit, daughter of Bel-balatu-ittannu, mother of Baga'miri. (The date is) Nippur, Tishri second, thirty-sixth year of Artaxerxes.”
Labor Contracts from Mesopotamia in 2200 B.C.
Contract for Hire of Laborer, Reign of Shamshu-Iluna, c. 2200 B.C.: This is a contract from the reign of Shamshu-iluna of the Akkadian dynasty, c. 2200 B.C. It is of many of like character. “Mar-Sippar has hired for one year Marduk-nasir, son of Alabbana, from Munapirtu, his mother. He will pay as wages for one year two and a half shekels of silver. She has received one half shekel of silver, one se [1/180th of a shekel], out of a year's wages.” [Source: George Aaron Barton, "Contracts," in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature: Selected Transactions, With a Critical Introduction by Robert Francis Harper (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1904), pp. 256-276, Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia]
Contract for Production of a Coat of Mail, Thirty-Fourth year of Darius, 488 B.C.: This tablet is dated in the thirty-fourth year Darius I (488 B. C.), and was regarded as an imporant transaction, since it is signed by four witnesses and a scribe. “One coat of mail, insignum of power which will protect, is to be made by the woman Mupagalgagitum, daughter of Qarikhiya, for Shamash-iddin, son of Rimut. She will deliver in the month Shebat one coat of mail, which is to be made and which will protect.”
Contract of Warranty for Setting of a Gold Ring, Thirty-fifth year of Artaxerxes, 429 B.C.: The transaction needs no comment. The wealthy representative of the house of Murashu obtained from the firm of jewellers which sold him the ring a guarantee that the setting would last for twenty years; if it does not, they are to forfeit ten manas. “Bel-akha-iddin and Bel-shunu, sons of Bel-_______ and Khatin, son of Bazuzu, spoke unto Bel-shum-iddin, son of Murashu, saying: "As to the ring in which an emerald has been set in gold, we guarantee that for twenty years the emerald will not fall from the gold ring. If the emerald falls from the gold ring before the expiration of twenty years, Bel-akha-iddin, Bel-shunu (and) Khatin will pay to Bel-shum-iddin ten manas of silver. (The names of seven witnesses and a scribe are appended. The date is) Nippur, Elul eighth, the thirty-fifth year of Artaxerxes.”
Co-Partnerships Contracts from Mesopotamia in 2000 B.C.
Contract for Partners to Borrow Money against Harvest, c. 2000 B.C. The two farmers who borrow the money on their crop are partners: Sin-Kalama-idi, son of Ulamasha, and Apil-ilu-shu, Son of Khayamdidu, have borrowed from Arad-Sin sixteen shekels of money for the garnering of the harvest. On the festival of Ab they will pay the wheat. (Names of three witnesses and a scribe follow, and the tablet is dated in the year of a certain flood. It is not stated in the reign of what king it was written, but it clearly is from either the dynasty of Ur III or that of Akkad.” [Source: George Aaron Barton, "Contracts," in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature: Selected Transactions, With a Critical Introduction by Robert Francis Harper (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1904), pp. 256-276, Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia]
Contract for a Partnership, Thirty-sixth year of Nebuchadnezzar II, 568 B.C.: “Nabu-akhi-iddin was an investor---a member of the great Egibi family. He contributed four manas of capital to this enterprise, while Bel-shunu, who was to carry on the business, contributed one half mana and seven shekels, whatever property he might have, and his time. His expenses in the conduct of the business up to four shekels may be paid from the common funds. Two manas of money belonging to Nabu-akhi-iddin, son of Shula, son of Egibi, and one half mana seven shekels of money belonging to Bel-shunu, son of Bel-akhi-iddin, Son of Sin-emuq, they have put into a copartnership with one another. Whatever remains to Bel-shunu in town or country over and above, becomes their common property. Whatever Bel-shunu spends for expenses in excess of four shekels of money shall be considered extravagant. (The contract is witnessed by three men and a scribe, and is dated at) Babylon, first of Ab, in the thirty-sixth year of Nebuchadnezzar.”
Contract for a Partnership, Fortieth year of Nebuchadnezzar II, 564 B.C.: From this document we learn that Iddin-Marduk and Nabu-ukin formed a copartnership in the month Tebet, of Nebuchadnezzar's fortieth year. A year from that date each of the partners drew out twenty shekels. In the month Ulul of the next year a number of small amounts were delivered to Iddin-Marduk for various specific purposes, and a larger amount, perhaps in payment of an obligation of the firm, was paid to two other men.
“Memorandum of the shares of Iddin-Marduk and Nabu-ukin, from the month Tebet, of the fortieth year of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, unto the month Markheswan, of the forty-second year. One third mana of money Iddin-Marduk drew on his account in the month Tebet, of the forty-first year. One third mana of money Nabu-ukin drew on his account in the month Tebet, of the forty-first year. Fifteen shekels of Nabu-ukin's money, coined in shekel pieces, from ______ was given to Iddin-Marduk for the house of Limniya on the fifteenth of Ulul, of the forty-second year; a fourth shekel of coined money, which was for a nutu-skin, given into the same hands. One half shekel of money was given for palipi naskhapu; one third of a shekel of money was given into the same hands for beef; two giri of money was given for meat; one shekel of money was given for Lisi-nuri; two shekels of money, which was for Karia, was given into the same hands. City of _____, Markheswan ______. One mana fifty shekels are counted into the possession of Lishiru and Bunini-epish.”
Loans and Mortgages Contracts from Mesopotamia in 611 B.C.
Contract for Loan of Money, Fourteenth year of Nabopolassar, 611 B.C. This is a mortgage on real estate in security for a loan. The interest was at the rate of eleven and one-third per cent: “One mana of money, a sum belonging to Iqisha-Marduk, son of Kalab-Sin, (is loaned) unto Nabu-etir, son of _____, son of _____. Yearly the amount of the mana shall increase its sum by seven shekels of money. His field near the gate of Bel is Iqisha-Marduk's pledge. (This document bears the name of four witnesses, and is dated) at Babylon, Tammuz twenty-seventh, in the fourteenth year of Nabopolassar, (the father of Nebuchadnezzar).” [Source: George Aaron Barton, "Contracts," in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature: Selected Transactions, With a Critical Introduction by Robert Francis Harper (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1904), pp. 256-276, Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia]
Contract for Loan of Money, Sixth year of Nebuchadnezzar II, 598 B.C.: The rate of interest in this case was thirteen and one-third per cent. “One mana of money, a sum belonging to Dan-Marduk, son of Apla, son of the Dagger-wearer, (is loaned) unto Kudurru, son of Iqisha-apla, son of Egibi. Yearly the amount of the mana shall increase its sum by eight shekels of money. Whatever he has in city or country, as much as it may be, is pledged to Dan-Marduk. (The date is) Babylon, Adar fourth, in Nebuchadnezzar's sixth year.”
Contract for Loan of Money, Fifth year of Nabonidus, 550 B.C. This loan was made Aru third, in the fifth year of Nabonidus. No security was given the creditor, but he received an interest of twenty per cent: “One and a half manas of money belonging to Iddin-Marduk, son of Iqisha-apla, son of Nur-Sin, (is loaned) unto Ben-Hadad-natan, son of Addiya and Bunanit, his wife. Monthly the amount of a mana shall increase its sum by a shekel of money. From the first of the month Siman, of the fifth year of Nabonidus, King of Babylon, they shall pay the sum on the money. The call shall be made for the interest money at the house which belongs to Iba. Monthly shall the sum be paid.”
Bankruptcy Contracts from Mesopotamia in 560 B.C.
Contract for Purchase of Mortgage, Second year of Evil-Merodach, 560 B.C. It exhibits how in a case of bankruptcy the interests of the creditor were conserved in the sale of the mortgaged property. It also proves that in Babylonian law the value of the estate was not in such cases sacrificed to the creditor, but that the debtor could obtain the equity in his property which actually belonged to him. [Source: George Aaron Barton, "Contracts," in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature: Selected Transactions, With a Critical Introduction by Robert Francis Harper (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1904), pp. 256-276, Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia]
“Two thirds of a mana of money, a loan from Bel-zir-epish, son of Shapik-zir, son of the smith, to Nabu-apla-iddin, son of Balatu, son of the _____, a loan upon the Gin (of land) which was delivered unto the creditor, and (on) the house of Nabu-apla-iddin, (which) Nergal-sharra-usur, son of Bel-shum-ishkun, has bought for money. One-third mana of money for the payment wherewith the creditor to be paid Marduk-apla-iddin, son of Bel-zir-epish, son of the smith, has received as agent for Nergal-sharra-usur, from Nabu-akhi-iddin, son of Shula, son of Egibi. The receipt for two-thirds manas (which) Bel-zir-epish (loaned) to Nabu-apla-iddin, Marduk-apla-usur, his son gave to Nergal-sharra-usur. Until Marduk-apla-usur unto the scribes of the king shall speak and shall receive the seal of possession, Nabu-akhi-iddin, son of Nabu-shum-iddins, son of Bel-shuktanu, shall hold the certificate of the receipt of the two thirds manas of money. (This instrument is dated) Babylon, Nisan twenty-sixth, of the second year of Evil-Merodach.”
Contract Purchase of Mortgage, First year of Neriglissar, 559 B.C.issar's accession year. The place is Babylon. The scribe who wrote it, Iqisha-apli's son. A mortgage on the house of Nabu-apla-iddin, which a tablet dated in the reign of Evil-Merodach shows was then held by two persons, had been transferred to the hands of Iqisha-apla. It appears from the present transaction that half of the mortgage had been paid off. Apparently the remaining half could not be paid, and the house was sold. The purchaser was in this case the king, Neriglissar, who had but recently ascended the throne. Like many other regal purchasers he was short of funds, and was compelled to borrow the money from the head of the Egibi firm. The king appears to have taken the house for the sum of twenty-six and a quarter shekels, the half of the loan which remained unpaid, and to have compelled the holder of the mortgage to surrender to the banker all further claim to the property. Might made right in this case, and the equity was lost. [Source: George Aaron Barton, "Contracts," in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature: Selected Transactions, With a Critical Introduction by Robert Francis Harper (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1904), pp. 256-276, Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia]
“Fifty-two and a half shekels of money, belonging to Iqisha-apla, son of Gilua, son of Sin-shadunu (are received) from Nabu-apla-iddin, son of Balatu, son of the ______, upon the price of the house of Nabu-apla-iddin, which he purchased for cash for the palace. The balance remaining, twenty-six and a quarter shekels of money, Iqisha-apla, son of Gilua, son of Sin-shadunu, has received from the hand of Nabu-akhi-iddin, son of Shula, son of Egibi, and has given the receipt for fifty-two and a half shekels from Nabu-apla-iddin unto Nabu-akhi-iddin.”
Power of Attorney Contracts from Mesopotamia in 561 B.C.
Contract for Power of Attorney, First year of Evil-Merodach, 561 B.C.: It clearly empowers one brother to act in business for another: Itti-Nabu-Balatu, the son of Shula, the son of Egil acts in place of Bel-kishir, his brother, (who) has not gone into business. With reference to their securities and whatever property belonged to Shula, their father, (which) they have shared with one another, in so far as it belongs to Bel-kishir, it shall go into the business, and whatever profit arises from traffic (literally, the street), however much he may gain in this way, he shall bring all unto and to Bel-kishir deliver. His hand for this he raised. (This document is attested in the usual manner, and dated) Markheswan thirteenth, of Evil-Merodach's first year.” [Source: George Aaron Barton, "Contracts," in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature: Selected Transactions, With a Critical Introduction by Robert Francis Harper (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1904), pp. 256-276]
Contract for Power of Attorney, Twelfth year of Artaxerxes, 452 B.C. This document is dated in the twelfth year of Artaxerxes It appears that the two brothers mentioned in it wished to make provision for a slave of one of them, who was perhaps being cared for at the Temple of Sharru. One man, perhaps their tenant, was empowered to pay to another the rent of a house of theirs; he in turn was to take it to the temple and see that certain men receive it.
“Eighteen shekels of money, rent belonging to Arad-Anu-ilu-la-ilu-iprus and Shapi, sons of Arad-belanu, of _____. From the month Tebet, of the twelfth year of Artaxerxes, Bel-akhi-iddin, son of Bel-abu-akhi, shall receive eighteen shekels of money from the empowered attorney, Imsa-sharru-arda, son of Bel-iddin, on behalf of Arad-Anu-ilu-la-ilu-iprus and Shapi. He shall enter in the Temple of Sharru, into the little temple, the shrine, and shall deposit in the treasury the money, and the singer and the scribe shall receive it for the exalted divinity from the hand of Bel-akhi-iddin, son of Bel-abu-akhi, on behalf of Khuru, the slave of Arad-Anu-ilu-la-ilu-iprus, and Sharru-shu, son of Dan-ila.”
Code of the Assyrians (c. 1075 B.C.) on Women and Violence
I.2. If a woman, whether the wife of a man or the daughter of a man, utter vulgarity or indulge in low talk, that woman bears her own sin; against her husband, her sons, or her daughter they shall have no claim. [Source: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook]
I.7. If a woman bring her hand against a man, they shall prosecute her; 30 manas of lead shall she pay, 20 blows shall they inflict on her.
I.8. If a woman in a quarrel injure the testicle of a man, one of her fingers they shall cut off. And if a physician bind it up and the other testicle which is beside it be infected thereby, or take harm; or in a quarrel she injure the other testicle, they shall destroy both of her eyes.
I.9. If a man bring his hand against the wife of a man, treating her like a little child, and they prove it against him, and convict him, one of his fingers they shall cut off. If he kiss her, his lower lip with the blade of an axe they shall draw down and they shall cut off.
I.40. If the wives of a man, or the daughters of a man go out into the street, their heads are to be veiled. The prostitute is not to be veiled. Maidservants are not to veil themselves. Veiled harlots and maidservants shall have their garments seized and 50 blows inflicted on them and bitumen poured on their heads.
I.21. If a man strike the daughter of a man and cause her to drop what is in her, they shall prosecute him, they shall convict him, two talents and thirty manas of lead shall he pay, fifty blows they shall inflict on him, one month shall he toil.
I.47. If a man or a woman practice sorcery, and they be caught with it in their hands, they shall prosecute them, they shall convict them. The practicer of magic they shall put to death.
I.50. If a man strike the wife of a man, in her first stage of pregnancy, and cause her to drop that which is in her, it is a crime; two talents of lead he shall pay.
I.51. If a man strike a harlot and cause her to drop that which is in her, blows for blows they shall lay upon him; he shall make restitution for a life.
I.52. If a woman of her own accord drop that which is in her, they shall prosecute her, they shall convict her, they shall crucify her, they shall not bury her. If she die from dropping that which is in her, they shall crucify her, they shall not bury her.
I.55. If a virgin of her own accord give herself to a man, the man shall take oath, against his wife they shall not draw nigh. Threefold the price of a virgin the ravisher shall pay. The father shall do with his daughter what he pleases.
I.58. Unless it is forbidden in the tablets, a man may strike his wife, pull her hair, her ear he may bruise or pierce. He commits no misdeed thereby.
Code of the Assyrians (c. 1075 B.C.) on Rape and Adultery
I.12. If the wife of a man be walking on the highway, and a man seize her, say to her "I will surely have intercourse with you," if she be not willing and defend herself, and he seize her by force and rape her, whether they catch him upon the wife of a man, or whether at the word of the woman whom he has raped, the elders shall prosecute him, they shall put him to death. There is no punishment for the woman. [Source: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook]
I.13. If the wife of a man go out from her house and visit a man where he lives, and he have intercourse with her, knowing that she is a man's wife, the man and also the woman they shall put to death.
I.14. If a man have intercourse with the wife of a man either in an inn or on the highway, knowing that she is a man's wife, according as the man, whose wife she is, orders to be done, they shall do to the adulterer. If not knowing that she is a man's wife he rapes her, the adulterer goes free. The man shall prosecute his wife, doing to her as he likes.
I.15. If a man catch a man with his wife, both of them shall they put to death. If the husband of the woman put his wife to death, he shall also put the man to death. If he cut off the nose of his wife, he shall turn the man into a eunuch, and they shall disfigure the whole of his face.
I.16. If a man have relations with the wife of a man at her wish, there is no penalty for that man. The man shall lay upon the woman, his wife, the penalty he wishes.
I.18. If a man say to his companion, "They have had intercourse with they wife; I will prove it," and he be not able to prove it, and do not prove it, on that man they shall inflict forty blows, a month of days he shall perform the king's work, they shall mutilate him, and one talent of lead he shall pay.
I.20. If a man have intercourse with his brother-in-arms, they shall turn him into a eunuch.
I.57. In the case of every crime for which there is the penalty of the cutting-off of ear or nose or ruining or reputation or condition, as it is written it shall be carried out.
Code of the Assyrians (c. 1075 B.C.) on Inheritance and Debt
I.26. If a woman be dwelling in the house of her father, and her husband have died, any gift which her husband settled upon her---if there be any sons of her husband's, they shall receive it. If there be no sons of her husband's she receives it. [Source: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook]
I.32. If a woman be dwelling in the house of father, but has been given to her husband, whether she has been taken to the house of her husband or not, all debts, misdemeanors, and crimes of her husband shall she bear as if she too committed them. Likewise if she be dwelling with her husband, all crimes of his shall she bear as well.
I.35. If a woman, who is a widow, enter into the house of a man, whatsoever she brings with her---all is her husband's. But if a man enter in to a woman, whatsoever he brings---all is the woman's.
I.37. If a man divorce his wife, if he wish, he may give her something; if he does not wish, he need not give her anything. Empty shall she go out.
I.46. If a woman whose husband is dead on the death of her husband do not go out from her house, if her husband did not leave her anything, she shall dwell in the house of one of her sons. The sons of her husband shall support her; her food and her drink, as for a fiancee whom they are courting, they shall agree to provide for her. If she be a second wife, and have no sons of her own, with one of her husband's sons she shall dwell and the group shall support her. If she have sons of her own, her own sons shall support her, and she shall do their work. But if there be one among the sons of her husband who marries her, the other sons need not support her.
II.2. If a man among brothers who have not yet divided the paternal estate commit a killing, to the avenger of blood they shall give him. If he choose, he may be spared. His portion in the paternal estate he may seize.
II.6. Before he takes field or house for silver, three times in a month of days the buyer shall make proclamation in the city of Ashur, and three times he shall have proclamation made in the city in which he would buy the field and house. Thus: "Field and house of so-and-so, son of so-and-so, situated in the cultivable area of this city I am buying. Such as are in possession or have no objection, or have any claims on the property, let them bring their tablets, let them lay before the magistrates, let them present their claims, let them prove their title, and let them take what is theirs. Those whl during this month of days cannot bring even one of their tablets to me, lay them before the magistrates, receive in full what belongs to him." If the buyer shall have made proclamation, they shall write their tablets, the magistrates shall give them to him, saying: "In this month of days, the buyer made proclamation three times, >He who in this month of days brought not his tablets to me, did not lay them before me, shall forfeit his claim to share in field and house.' To the one making the proclamation, who is a buyer, it shall be free."
II.8. If a man meddle with the field of his neighbor, they shall convict him. Threefold shall he restore. One of his fingers they shall cut off, a hundred blows they shall inflict upon him, one month of days he shall do the king's work.
III.2. If a man sell the son or daughter of a man, who on account of debt was dwelling in his house, they shall convict him, he shall lose his money; and he shall give his minor son to the owner of the property; one hundred lashes shall they inflict upon him, twenty days shall he do the king's work.
Hittite Legal System
According to Crystal Links: “The Hittites greatly modified the system of law they inherited from the Old Babylonians. The most extensive literature that the Hittites have left us is, in fact, decrees and laws. [Source: Crystal Links \+/]
“These laws were far more merciful than the laws of the Old Babylonians, perhaps because the Hittites were less concerned about maintaining a rigid, despotic central authority. While you could lose your life for just about everything under the Old Babylonian system of laws, including getting rowdy in a tavern, under the Hittites only a small handful of crimes were capital crimes. Even premeditated murder only resulted in a fine - a large fine, to be sure, but far preferable than losing your head. They modified the role of the monarch in that they gave the king ownership of all the land under his control. \+/
“Previously, under the Sumerians and Amorites, private property was allowed and the monarch only owned his own private property. Individuals were allowed control over land, which belong to the king, only by serving in the king's army. So the bulk of the population became tenant farmers.” \+/
Code of the Nesilim (Hittites, c. 1650-1500 B.C.) on Murder and Other Crimes
According to the Code of the Nesilim (c.1650-1500 B.C., Nesilim is the Hittites' name for themselves): 1. If anyone slay a man or woman in a quarrel, he shall bring this one. He shall also give four persons, either men or women, he shall let them go to his home. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., The Library of Original Sources (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1901), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 9-11]
3. If anyone smite a free man or woman and this one die, he shall bring this one and give two persons, he shall let them go to his home.
5. If anyone slay a merchant of Hatti, he shall give one and a half pounds of silver, he shall let it go to his home.
6. If anyone blind a free man or knock out his teeth, formerly they would give one pound of silver, now he shall give twenty half-shekels of silver.
10. If anyone injure a man so that he cause him suffering, he shall take care of him. Yet he shall give him a man in his place, who shall work for him in his house until he recovers. But if he recover, he shall give him six half-shekels of silver. And to the physician this one shall also give the fee.
17. If anyone cause a free woman to miscarry, if it be the tenth month, he shall give ten half-shekels of silver, if it be the fifth month, he shall give five half-shekels of silver.
40. If a soldier disappear, and a vassal arise and the vassal say, This is my military holding, but this other one is my tenancy,and lay hands upon the fields of the soldier, he may both hold the military holding and perform the tenancy duties. If he refuse the military service, then he forfeits the vacant fields of the soldier. The men of the village shall cultivate them. If the king give a captive, they shall give the fields to him, and he becomes a soldier.
98. If a free man set a house ablaze, he shall build the house, again. And whatever is inside the house, be it a man, an ox, or a sheep that perishes, nothing of these he need compensate.
173. If anyone oppose the judgment of the king, his house shall become a ruin. If anyone oppose the judgment of a lord, his head shall be cut off. If a slave rise against his master, he shall go into the pit.
Code of the Nesilim (c. 1650-1500 B.C.) on Economic Matters
According to the Code of the Nesilim (c.1650-1500 B.C., Nesilim is the Hittites' name for themselves): 158. If a man go for wages, bind sheaves, load it into carts, spread it on the straw barn and so forth "till they clear the threshing floor, for three months his wages are thirty pecks of barley. If a woman go for wages in the harvest, for two months he shall give twelve pecks of barley.
159. If anyone harness a yoke of oxen, his wages are one-half peck of barley.
160. If a smith make a copper box, his wages are one hundred pecks of barley. He who makes a copper dish of two-pound weight, his wages are one peck of emmer.
164. If anyone come for borrowing, then make a quarrel and throw down either bread or wine jug, then he shall give one sheep, ten loaves, and one jug of beer. Then he cleanses his house by the offering. Not until the year has elapsed may he salute again the other's house.
176. If anyone buy an artisan's apprentice, buy either a potter, a smith, a carpenter, a leatherworker, a tailor, a weaver, or a lace-maker, he shall give ten half-shekels.
178. A plow-ox costs fifteen half-shekels of silver, a bull costs ten half-shekels of silver, a great cow costs seven half-shekels of silver, a sheep one half-shekel of silver, a draft horse twenty half-shekels of silver, a mule one pound of silver, a horse fourteen half-shekels of silver.
181-182. Four pounds of copper cost one half-shekel of silver; one tub of lard, one half-shekel of silver; two cheese one half-shekel of silver; a gown twelve half-shekels of silver; one blue woolen garment costs twenty half-shekels of silver; breeches cost ten half-shekels of silver. . .
200. If anyone give a son for instruction, be it a carpenter, or a potter, or a weaver, or a tailor, or a smith, he shall give six half-shekels of silver for the instruction.
Code of the Nesilim (c. 1650-1500 B.C.) on Slaves
According to the Code of the Nesilim (c.1650-1500 B.C.): 2. If anyone slay a male or female slave in a quarrel, he shall bring this one and give two persons, either men or women, he shall let them go to his home. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., The Library of Original Sources (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1901), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 9-11]
4. If anyone smite a male or female slave, he shall bring this one also and give one person, he shall let him or her go to his home.
8. If anyone blind a male or female slave or knock out their teeth, he shall give ten half-shekels of silver, he shall let it go to his home.
18. If anyone cause a female slave to miscarry, if it be the tenth month, he shall give five half-shekels of silver.
20. If any man of Hatti steal a Nesian slave and lead him here to the land of Hatti, and his master discover him, he shall give him twelve half-shekels of silver, he shall let it go to his home.
21. If anyone steal a slave of a Luwian from the land of Luwia, and lead him here to the land of Hatti, and his master discover him, he shall take his slave only.
24. If a male or female slave run away, he at whose hearth his master finds him or her, shall give fifty half-shekels of silver a year.
31. If a free man and a female slave be fond of each other and come together and he take her for his wife and they set up house and get children, and afterward they either become hostile or come to close quarters, and they divide the house between them, the man shall take the children, only one child shall the woman take.
32. If a slave take a woman as his wife, their case is the same. The majority of the children to the wife and one child to the slave.
33. If a slave take a female slave their case is the same. The majority of children to the female slave and one child to the slave.
34. If a slave convey the bride price to a free son and take him as husband for his daughter, nobody dare surrender him to slavery.
36. If a slave convey the bride price to a free son and take him as husband for his daughter, nobody dare surrender him to slavery.
99. If a slave set a house ablaze, his master shall compensate for him. The nose of the slave and his ears they shall cut off, and give him back to his master. But if he do not compensate, then he shall give up this one.
170. If a free man kill a serpent and speak the name of another, he shall give one pound of silver; if a slave, this one shall die.
Code of the Nesilim (c. 1650-1500 B.C.) on Sex Issues
According to the Code of the Nesilim (c.1650-1500 B.C.): 187. If a man have intercourse with a cow, it is a capital crime, he shall die. They shall lead him to the king's hall. But the king may kill him, the king may grant him his life. But he shall not approach the king. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., The Library of Original Sources (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1901), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 9-11]
188. If a man have intercourse with his own mother, it is a capital crime, he shall die. If a man have intercourse with a daughter, it is a capital crime, he shall die. If a man have intercourse with a son, it is a capital crime, he shall die.
190. If a man and a woman come willingly, as men and women, and have intercourse, there shall be no punishment. And if a man have intercourse with his stepmother, there shall be no punishment; except if his father is living, it is a capital crime, the son shall die.
191. If a free man picks up now this woman, now that one, now in this country, then in that country, there shall be no punishment if they came together sexually willingly.
192. If the husband of a woman die, his wife may take her husband's patrimony.
194. If a free man pick up female slaves, now one, now another, there is no punishment for intercourse. If brothers sleep with a free woman, together, or one after the other, there is no punishment. If father and son sleep with a female slave or harlot, together, or one after the other, there is no punishment.
195. If a man sleep with the wife of his brother, while his brother is living, it is a capital crime, he shall die. If a man have taken a free woman, then have intercourse also with her daughter, it is a capital crime, he shall die. If he have taken her daughter, then have intercourse with her mother or her sister, it is a capital crime, he shall die.
197. If a man rape a woman in the mountain, it is the man's wrong, he shall die. But if he rape her in the house, it is the woman's fault, the woman shall die. If the husband find them and then kill them, there is no punishing the husband.
199. If anyone have intercourse with a pig or a dog, he shall die. If a man have intercourse with a horse or a mule, there is no punishment. But he shall not approach the king, and shall not become a priest. If an ox spring upon a man for intercourse, the ox shall die but the man shall not die. One sheep shall be fetched as a substitute for the man, and they shall kill it. If a pig spring upon a man for intercourse, there is no punishment. If any man have intercourse with a foreign woman and pick up this one, now that one, there is no punishment.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia sourcebooks.fordham.edu , National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, especially Merle Severy, National Geographic, May 1991 and Marion Steinmann, Smithsonian, December 1988, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018