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Law Collections From Mesopotamia And Asia Minor

Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor - Martha T. Roth, Piotr Michalowski Badass. Surviving statutes, edicts, and case holdings from Sumeria, Babylonia, Assyria, and Hittite empires. Includes chronologies, maps, glossaries. Great introductory and contextual materials, notes, bibliography.

I have no idea about the translation or the scope. But as to the law--this is great. These texts lay out statutes from 4000 years ago, indicating that some concerns are as old as law itself (I recently had cause to abuse a teabagger about breastfeeding regulation which shows up here in a very nasty way).

The statutes are draconian, insofar as death penalties are common, especially early on (which means that Drakon’s laws in Athens twelve hundred or so years later were affirmatively retrograde in comparison to the liberalization of Mesopotamia’s previously ubiquitous capital punishment).

Examples of capital punishment from Sumeria: homicide = death; “acting lawlessly" = death; deflowering virgin wife of another = death; female adultery = death; and so on.

That said, it is much more common for the punishment to be a civil remedy of “weigh & deliver” a sum certain of silvers or grains or whatever.

We see in several of the codes a man-price system of scheduled injuries (bots in ancient Germania, part of the wergeld system), which we have inherited as part of workers’ compensation scheduled injuries (cf. section 8 of the LHWCA, for instance). So, cutting off another’s foot is 60 shekels of silver, nose is 40, tooth is 2, and so on.

Generally, we have coverage of tort, property, contract, domestic relations, successions. Interesting bits: price and wage regulation, maritime casualty rules, some jurisdictional statutes about “a case for the king” (then where are other cases decided?).

Centerpiece is the Code of Hammurabi. Bringing a murder charge and failing in proof = death. Witchcraft = death. Perjury = death. Theft = death. Bringing a lost property case and then failing to produce witnesses to identify the property = death (no shit!). So, yeah, it gives some perspective on the dark ages, I suppose.

Eye-for-an-eye only goes so far: taking a noble’s eye = your eye, but taking a commoner’s eye = weigh & deliver 60 shekels of silver, and for a slave, weigh & deliver half the slave’s value.

The breastfeeding regulation aforesaid: a wetnurse who fails to give notice of prior malpractice to new clients: “they shall cut off her breast.” Barber malpractice (cutting off slave forelock) = cut off his hand. Physicians: if he opens the aristocrat’s head with a lancet and heals the eye, he takes ten shekels of silver as his fee, but if he opens the same head and blinds the eye therein, “they shall cut off his hand,” too. A tough hustle, doctoring in Babylonia!

But: among all of the blood-letting, there’s some humanitarianism smuggled in. Article 23 establishes a victim’s compensation fund for property crimes wherein the criminal was not apprehended; article 24 establishes a similar homicide fund; article 32 establishes a public insurance for ransoming prisoners of war.

Similarly, there’s nuanced law on household property management, such as when widower remarries, and children of first wife and children of second wife each take from father’s succession the dowries of their respective mothers, and then split father’s property. Or: another rule prohibits man from divorcing wife who becomes ugly with age (!), but allows him to take on second wife, who must pay the maintenance of first wife, who remains in the household.

We see whistleblower rules, like the False Claims Act in the US.

Later Assyrian statutes show some relaxations of Babylonia.

Hittite stuff is hard to interpret, mainly because they appear to have had a sophisticated property class system, which has not been reduced in this volume to complete translation. Hittite rules do have some nice precision: if a man steals a wagon, then this. if a man steals a cart, though, then that.

Best part of the Hittite rules is the law of bestiality and the law of permissible consanguinity.

Sex with cow, sheep, pig, or dog = death. But: “If a man has sexual relations with either a horse or mule, it is not an offense, but he shall not approach the king.” Fuck yeah equinophilia FTW. Also: “if a pig leaps on a man in sexual excitement, it is not an offense.” (Just what kinda pigs y’all keeping, anyway?)

Similarly, sex with one’s parents or children = death. Sex with dead bodies? “it is not an offense.”