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Ancient History Sourcebook:
A Collection of Mesopotamian Laws, c. 2250 - 550 BCE


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.

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.


Source:

From: 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.

Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof. Arkenberg may have modernized the text.


This text is part of the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall, March 1999
halsall@murray.fordham.edu