§ The code of hammurabi
I've wanted to read the code of hammurabi since it was name dropped in
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.
I finally got around to it. Here's some excerpts I found fascinating. The
numbers are according to
this translation of the Code of Hammurabi.
Some helpful hints were found from the
Avalon ancient law codes page of the Yale law school.
- (5) If a judge try a case, reach a decision, and present his judgment inwriting; if later error shall appear in his decision,and it be through hisown fault, then he shall pay twelve times the fine set by him in the case, andhe shall be publicly removed from the judge’s bench, and never again shall hesit there to render judgement. (Commentary: These are steep penalties forgetting a case wrong. I suppose this encouraged innocent until proven guiltyquite a bit.)
- (23) If the robber is not caught, then shall he who was robbed claim underoath the amount of his loss; then shall the community, and...on whoseground and territory and in whose domain it was compensate him for the goodsstolen (Commentary: This rule appears to setup some sort of insurance wheresomeone who is robbed is guaranteed recompence)
- (108) If a tavern-keeper (feminine) does not accept corn according to grossweight in payment of drink, but takes money, and the price of the drink isless than that of the corn, she shall be convicted and thrown into the water.(Commentary: I wonder why this rule specifically singles out women)
- (120) If any one store corn for safe keeping in another person’s house, andany harm happen to the corn in storage, or if the owner of the house open thegranary and take some of the corn, or if especially he deny that the corn wasstored in his house: then the owner of the corn shall claim his corn before God(on oath), and the owner of the house shall pay its owner for all of the cornthat he took. (Commentary: I wonder whether there were many 'owners of corn'who swore false oaths. I suppose not, if this rule was enshrined into law.It is interesting that they held oaths to god as a mechanism to prevent lying)
- (137) 137. If a man wish to separate from a woman who has borne him children,or from his wife who has borne him children: then he shall give that wife herdowry, and a part of the usufruct offield, garden, and property, so that shecan rear her children.When she has brought up her children, a portion of allthat is given to the children, equal as that of one son, shall be given to her.She may then marry the man of her heart. (Commentary: their societyseems egalitarian, and provides both a mechanism of divorce, and rightsand property to the wife after divorce).
- (168) If a man wish to put his son out of his house, and declare before thejudge: “I want to put my son out,” then the judge shall examine into hisreasons. If the son be guilty of no great fault, for which he can berightfully put out, the father shall not put him out; (169). If he be guilty of agrave fault, which should rightfully deprive him of the filial relationship,the father shall forgive him the first time; but if he be guilty of a gravefault a second time the father may deprive his son of all filial relation.(Commentary: I find this notion of 'forgive once' being encoded into lawvery interesting. I don't know of other law codes that have such a thing).
- (188). If an artizan has undertaken to rear a child and teaches him hiscraft, he can not be demanded back; (189) If he has not taught him his craft,this adopted son may return to his father’s house. (Commentary: I find itinteresting that this notion of 'taking a son' is intertwined with caringfor the son and teaching them a craft to become a future productive memberof society)
- (196) If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out.[ An eye for an eye ]. (Commentary: Fascinating that 'eye for an eye' comes from the code).
- (202). If any one strike the body of a man higher in rank than he,he shallreceive sixty blows with an ox-whip in public. (Commentary: Neat how one can glean the existence of a social hierarchyfrom a law code. I wonder how this hierarchy was defined.)
- (215) If a physician make a large incision with an operating knife and cureit, or if he open a tumor (over the eye) with an operating knife, and savesthe eye, he shall receive ten shekels in money.(Commentary: (i) It is weird that things like doctor's procedures are coveredin the law code. How often is the code revised? What happens when a doctorcomes up with a new treatment? (ii) It is weird that the prices are recordedin the law code. What about inflation?)
- (249) If any one hire an ox, and God strike it that it die, the man who hiredit shall swear by God and be considered guiltless. (Commentary: Once again,their belief in the truthfulness of oaths sworn to God. Also, it's nice toknow that they do understand and account for truly random events that onehas no control over)
- Epilogue: In future time, through all coming generations, let the king,who may be in theland, observe the words of righteousness which I have written on my monument;let him not alter the law of the land which I have given, the edicts which Ihave enacted; my monument let him not mar. If such a ruler have wisdom, andbeable to keep his land in order, he shall observe the words which I havewritten in this inscription (Commentary: This advice for future kings isinteresting, and appears to imply that the rules and all the prices in therules ought to be immutable. I really do wonder how they dealt with their society changing, new inventions, and inflation)
- Taken from this introduction to the code of hammurabi from Yale:An accused person was allowed to cast himself into "the river," the Euphrates.Apparently the art of swimming was unknown; for if the current bore him to theshore alive he was declared innocent, if he drowned he was guilty. So we learnthat faith in the justice of the ruling gods was already firmly, thoughsomewhat childishly, established in the minds of men