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A rich accuser was more likely to escape with a fine when a poorer person committing the same crime could be put to death.
Ownership was considered sacrosanct. Even if a person lost his property because he was part of a losing battle, on return his property would be restored, failing that, it would be restored to his progeny. Loss in battle in interestingly described in the literal translation as "misfortune of the king." Society was patriarchal and property was passed on to the son. If the son was a minor and the father was dead, then the mother was duly compensated to take care of the property until the son achieved maturity. Women (mothers, daughters or wives) could not own property, independently or through bestowal. If such a person had lost everything and wanted his former property back, then society would step in and help him. Desertion during war or impersonation resulted in death. But the person who went to war in lieu of another man was not punished. Women also could not serve in the capacity of merchants, but it they did, they could not charge money, but corn. And if the woman charged money, then she could be punished by drowning.
Use of another's property, brought with it certain responsibilities. If one party used the field of another he owed the owner a years worth of yield. This even if the field did not yield a crop (even due to natural disasters). On occasion, in case of certain issues, an agreement was possible between the owner of land and the designated farmer. Farmers had to be very careful of their property let it infringe on the properties of his neighbors. If neglect on his property caused problems for the neighbors, then this person had to compensate the neighbors for any and all damages.
Sellers and buyers' rights are also mentioned in the code of laws. The merchants and sellers had to enter into binding agreements. This binding was in the form of receipt. There is no explicit mention of interest on loan. But the borrower had to have a receipt. The merchant was liable to forfeit the price of his goods if he did not provide a receipt. The borrower-agent could be liable if he did not ask for a receipt. If a receipt was provided, but the agent lied that a receipt had not been provided, if proven, the agent owed the merchant up to six times the borrowed material. The merchants and sellers were held to a strict code of conduct. If conspirators gathered at a merchant's place, and he did not inform on then, then he was liable to be punished by death.
Merchants were given certain leeway in how people who couldn't repay loans. An entire family could be put into slavery, working for the merchant if loans could not be repaid. However the term of enslavement was temporary and lasted as long as the loan amount was paid. Also, repayment terms were exact and often involved specific amounts of grain or currency.
The rules for slander were also strict. Once again, here the upper class had a greater security. A lady from an upper class household could not be slandered without significant proof. The accuser could stand to have his brow marked. In this case, the law was protective of the woman. A man who caught his wife in bed with another man could pardon his wife. A kind might pardon his slaves but the "other" man would be put to death. If the husband chose on the other hand, the cheating couple could be tied together and drowned. In case of rape, especially that of a minor would result in death to the perpetrator, but the female in the issue was considered blameless. It would seem that this law, two millennia ago was more evolved than some of the Sharia-based laws that are still practiced in Islamic nations today, where family members kill women for having sexual relations, and even victims of rape are not spared. A woman who was accused by her husband, even without proof, would be able to return to her husband without fear of reprisals as long she took an oath. On occasion if the accusations were strenuous, but without the couple being caught en flagarante, the woman had to prove herself by jumping into the river. This was alluded to earlier in this work, where the accused could exonerate him or herself by taking the river test. If the woman died, then she would be considered guilty. A woman could not take another husband, even if her husband was taken as a prisoner of war, especially if he had assets. Without assets, the woman could find another man, who was then responsible for supporting her.
There were specific rules that governed the responsibilities of a man in his household, specifically with regards abandonment. Abandonment could cause a man to lose his assets to the woman in compensation. If the man left without children, he owed her dowry. If she had children, his assets would go to provide for the children and his wife would have a share in his assets when the children were raised. Additionally, when the children were grown, the woman could marry the man of her choice. If a marriage was not consummated, then the wife was not considered married. A wife who abandoned her family could be either released by her husband, failing which, he could re-marry and the woman would be a slave in her pervious household. Women who could not bear children also had protection. If a woman could not bear children and her husband remarried, this woman retained her status in the household. If the first wife became ill, though the husband remarried, he was responsible to take care of his first wife for the rest of her life. The Hammurabi code of laws in family matters is exhaustive; it takes into account different combination of scenarios, alternatively protecting, the husband, wife and children.
Incest was also frowned upon. A man could be exiled from the city for sex with his own daughter. For sex with his daughter in law, for having wronged two individuals (including his son), a man would be drowned. Mother son incest would result in both parties being burned.
While slavery was prevalent and easily accepted, given the times, Slaves also had protection under the law. Children of slaves resulting from the marriage of sex between a free individual and a slave were considered free, the stigma of slavery having been removed. A free woman who was married to a slave could retain all the property from her own dowry and her slave-husband's assets. If the slave died, then the property was divided: one half was given to the man who owned the slave; the rest of the property was retained by the woman to help her raise her children.
Even prostitutes were supported under the law. This is because these prostitutes were not street-walkers as we understand it today, but these were vestal virgins given to the temple in service of priests. That is why prostitutes were called "sister of God" or "devoted woman." (Edlund, 2002)They were entitled to a dowry if they married. If the father died, then his property was divided equally between all children: sons and daughters -- even if they were properties. If the father was dead, then the onus of getting the daughter married and paying her dowry was incumbent upon the sons.
Murder, was naturally punishable by death. On the other hand the notion of eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth meant that every injury resulted to another was punished by a similar injury to the aggressor. The laws are very specific and describe several scenarios where this might be right. Pregnant women were also protected. The punishment for causing a miscarriage after assaulting a woman was severe. A man could not abuse his servants and was fined if he harmed servants or slaves of another man. Even surgeons who made mistakes on operating table could forfeit parts of their bodies.
What is astounding about the Hammurabi code is that it is very precise and comprehensive. It takes in account so many scenarios and one is amazed at the effort that went into creating these laws. The fact that these laws mirror some of the laws in today's society indicates that laws are always for people.
http://www.bartleby.com/67/85.htmlBartleby. The Amorite Kingdoms. 2009. Available: . April 6, 2009.
Chagnon, N.A. "Yanomamo Survival." Science 244.4900 (1989): 11.
Cook, Stanley Arthur. The Laws of Moses and the Code of Hammurabi. London,: A. And C. Black, 1903.
Cornell. The Constitution of the United States of America. 2009. Cornell University Law School. Available: http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.overview.html. April 6, 2009.
Edlund, Lena. "A Theory of Prostitution." Journal of Political Economy 110 (2002): 181-214.
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