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
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
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
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
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.