Hammurabi (ca. 1792 - 1750 B.C.E.)

Code of Law ca. 1780 BCE

During his long reign, Hammurabi had his scribes chisel a Code of Law into a black stone pillar eight feet high. As you read the excerpts below, pay attention what they stipulate. Consider the implications.

  1. If you accuse someone else of any death penalty crime and do not prove what you has charged, you shall be put to death.
  2. If someone accuses someone else, the accused shall go and leap into the river. If he sinks in the river his accuser shall take possession of his house. But if the river prove that the accused is not guilty, and he escapes unhurt, then the one who accused him shall be put to death, and the one who leaped into the river shall take possession of the accuser's house.
  3. If you buy anything from the son or the slave of another man without witnesses or a contract, you are considered a thief and shall be put to death.
  4. If any one loses something, and find it in the possession of someone who says they bought it from a merchant, they both shall go before the court. The judge will listen to witnesses from both sides (people who saw the merchant sell it, and people who know it belonged to the other person).
    • The judge shall examine their testimony -- both of the witnesses before whom the price was paid, and of the witnesses who identify the lost article.
    • If the merchant is proved to be a thief, he shall be put to death. The owner of the lost article receives his property, and he who bought it receives the money he paid from the estate of the merchant.
    • If the purchaser does not bring the merchant and the witnesses before whom he bought the article, but its owner bring witnesses who identify it, then the buyer is the thief and shall be put to death, and the owner receive the lost article.
    • If the owner do not bring witnesses to identify the lost article, he is an evil-doer, he has slandered and shall be put to death.
  5. If an accuser satisfy the judges to impose a fine of grain or money, he shall receive the fine that the action produces.
  6. If you steal something, you must repay it:
    • if it is from a temple or the government, you will be put to death (as will the one who receives the stolen thing) and your family must repay it plus 30 times the value
    • if it is from a free man repay 10 times the value
    • if you can't repay, you will be put to death
  7. If a man has a debt to repay, he can give his wife, son, or daughter as labor for three years to repay the money
  8. If you are caught committing a robbery, you shall be put to death.
  9. If a robber is not caught, then the community will repay the person who was robbed for the goods stolen.
  10. If fire breaks out in a house, and someone who comes to put it out takes the property of the master of the house, he shall be thrown into the same fire.
  11. If a man has destroyed the eye of another free man, his own eye shall be destroyed.
  12. If a builder has built a house for a man, and the house falls in, he shall replace all that has been destroyed; if it kills the householder, that builder shall be slain. If it kills the house owner's son or daughter, the builder's son/daughter will be put to death.
  13. (There is no 13th Law because, then as now, the number 13 was considered to be an unlucky and evil number.)
  14. If a man strikes the body of a man who is superior in status, he shall publicly receive sixty lashes with a cowhide whip
  15. If a son has struck his father, his hands shall be cut off.
  16. If any one "point the finger" (slanders) at a sister of a god or the wife of any one, and can not prove it, this man shall be taken before the judges and his brow shall be cut
  17. If a man and woman commit adultery, they shall be tied up and thrown in the water. But if the husband lets the wife live, then the man won't be killed either
  18. If a man rapes a woman who has never known a man, this man shall be put to death, but the woman is blameless.
  19. If a man has decided to divorce his wife, then he must give back to that woman her dowry, and give her the use of field, garden, and property, and she shall bring up her children. After she has brought up her children, she shall take a son's portion of her children's land, and she may marry the husband of her heart.
  20. If a man has married a wife, and sickness has seized her, and he has decided to marry another, he may marry; but he may not divorce the sick wife. She shall dwell in the house he has built, and he shall support her while she lives.
  21. If a man's wife plunges her husband into debt, tries to ruin her house, and neglects her husband, he may divorce her and give her nothing as a gift of release. If her husband does not wish to release her, and if he take another wife, she shall remain as servant in her husband's house. If she is not innocent, but leaves her husband, and ruins her house, neglecting her husband, this woman shall be cast into the water.
  22. If anyone kidnaps another, and he can't prove it was for a good reason, then he shall be put to death.
  23. If anyone finds runaway male or female slaves and bring them to their masters, the master of the slaves shall pay him two shekels of silver.
  24. If any one takes a male or female slave, he shall be put to death. If anyone receives into his house a runaway male or female slave and does not bring it out into the public, the master of the house shall be put to death.
  25. If rebels against the government meet at a restaurant and the owner does not turn them in, he/she will be put to death
  26. If a shepherd lets sheep onto a field without the permission of the owner, he must pay double the amount of grain the sheep eats
  27. If a "sister of a god" opens a tavern, or enters a tavern to drink, then shall this woman be burned to death.
  28. If a judge hears a case and reaches a decision, and that decision is shown to be a mistake by the judge, then he shall pay twelve times the fine set by him in the case, and he shall be publicly removed from the judge's bench.