Politics, Law, and the Military: Documentary Sources
3300-331: Politics, Law, and the Military: Documentary Sources
Hittite Laws (circa 1650 - circa 1200 b.c.e..)— Discovered in the Hittite capital city of Hatusha (modern Boghazköy) in the central Anatolian highlands, these laws are written in Hittite, an Indo-European language, on clay tablets using standard Middle Babylonian cuneiform signs. Originally composed during the Hittite Old Kingdom (circa 1650 - circa 1500 b.c.e..), the laws were revised several times and recopied in cuneiform over the next three centuries. In contrast to Mesopotamian law, the Hittite code lists both secular and cultic offenses (a practice that has more in common with biblical law). Many provisions set forth in the text are identified as revisions of an earlier version of the law. Stylistically, the laws are composed in accordance with Sumerian and Babylonian legal traditions, but they reflect the customs and values of a people living outside Mesopotamia.
Laws of Eshnunna (circa eighteenth century b.c.e..)—During the early second millennium b.c.e.., the city of Esh-nunna was a major power center in the Diayala River valley until it was conquered by Hammurabi of Babylon (circa 1792 - circa 1750 b.c.e..). The ruler Dadusha of Eshnunna probably promulgated this first preserved collection of laws written in Akkadian, the language of many of the Semitic inhabitants of southern Mesopotamia. This text includes no epilogue and only a brief prologue. This compendium comprises fifty-nine extant sections that deal with hire or lease of property, burglary, theft, marriage, divorce, adoption, sexual offenses, loans and pledges, sale of property, and bodily injury. The text is known only from school exercise tablets. Some scholars have speculated that the document was composed for an unknown purpose differing from that of those collections of laws with a prologue and epilogue (such as the Laws of Ur-Namma, Lipit-Ishtar, and Hammurabi).
Laws of Hammurabi (circa 1750 b.c.e..)—The best-known and most-extensive body of ancient Near Eastern law was compiled during the later years of the reign of Hammurabi of Babylon (circa 1792 - circa 1750 b.c.e..). The most complete copy is preserved on an imposing black diorite stele excavated at Susa in Iran, where it had been taken in antiquity, probably from Sippar; dozens of copies and extracts are also known. Written in Akkadian, this collection appears to have been based in part on legal precedents found in earlier law collections. The stele contains 282 laws as well as a lengthy prologue and epilogue. Provisions deal with legal procedures, property laws, marriage and family law, torts, and slaves. The prologue—which stresses the gods’ choice of Hammurabi as ruler, his achievements as protector of his people, and his piety—appears to be a hymn of praise rather than an introduction to legal precedents. It extols the king, describing his success in protecting his people from external threat, his pledge to care for the weak and poor, and his building activities on behalf of the patron deities of the cities of his realm. The epilogue praises the king as a military leader and shepherd of his people who brings peace and justice to the land.
Laws of Lipit-Ishtar (circa 1934 - circa 1924 b.c.e..)—Lipit-Ishtar was the fifth ruler of the First Dynasty of Isin in southern Babylon. Written in Sumerian, this collection comprises a prologue, a body of laws, and an epilogue. Its legal provisions deal with agricultural offenses, fugitive slaves, false accusations, property obligations, marriage and inheritance, and injuries to hired draft animals. Only two fragments of the original stone stele have been found; the main body of the laws has been reconstructed from later school tablets.
Laws of Ur-Namma (circa 2112 - circa 2095 b.c.e..)—This earliest surviving law collection is ascribed to Ur-Namma, the first ruler of the Third Dynasty of the southern Mesopotamian city of Ur. This royal composition, written in Sumerian, comprises three sections: a prologue, a body of laws, and an epilogue. The collection includes more than thirty provisions, many imperfectly preserved. Its stipulations deal with sexual offenses, marriage and divorce, bodily injury, false testimony, and agriculture. While the original stone stele of the laws has not yet been discovered, many later copies written on clay tablets have been found, indicating that this collection was a canonical text, considered a “classic” worthy of copy and continued study.
Middle Assyrian Laws (circa fourteenth - circa eleventh century b.c.e..)—At the beginning of the twentieth century C.E. German archaeologists digging at ancient Ashur along the Tigris River discovered fourteen tablets in a gatehouse. Called today the Middle Assyrian Laws, this collection dates from the eleventh century b.c.e.. but includes sections that were probably formulated as far back as the fifteenth or fourteenth century b.c.e.. Some scholars believe that these laws were written as a legal handbook for judges. The Middle Assyrian Laws comprise more than 120 provisions with no prologue or epilogue. One text (Tablet A) contains laws regarding women with provisions that are much harsher than those in Babylonian law. Married women were required to wear head veils and were subject to physical abuse. A husband had the right to mutilate his wife and castrate or kill her lover if he so desired. Unlike Babylonian law, Middle Assyrian laws gave a woman no rights to inherit her husband’s property. Other tablets deal with slaves, land and agriculture, sale, theft, boats, and accusations of blasphemy. Even though the Assyrians continued to dominate Mesopotamia militarily and economically until the end of the seventh century b.c.e.., no Assyrian collection of laws from the first millennium is known. Appeals for justice were made to court officials, and no Assyrian courts of law are known to have existed.
Neo-Babylonian Laws (circa sixth century b.c.e..)—The latest preserved Mesopotamian collection of laws—known from only one school text, now in the British Museum—was probably written during the reign of king Nebuchadnezzar II (604–562 b.c.e..). The text deals with marriage, inheritance, and agricultural matters. The function of this legal collection is unknown.
The Sumerian King List (circa 1750 b.c.e..)—This work is known from many Old Babylonian school copies, no two of which are alike. The latest versions of the text purport to list in order Mesopotamian rulers and the length of their reigns from the time kingship first appeared before the flood through the fall of the First Dynasty of Isin (circa 1794 b.c.e..). The king list may have originally been composed by the kings of the Third Dynasty of Ur (circa 2112 - circa 2004 b.c.e..)—a version from the reign of Shulgi (circa 2094 - circa 2047 b.c.e..) is known—in support of the ideology that only one Mesopotamian city and its divinely legitimized king ruled at any one time.