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The Code of Ur-Nammu is the oldest known
law code A code of law, also called a law code or legal code, is a type of legislation that purports to exhaustively cover a complete system of laws or a particular area of law as it existed at the time the code was enacted, by a process of codification. ...
surviving today. It is from Mesopotamia and is written on tablets, in the
Sumerian language Sumerian ( "exonym and endonym, native tongue") is the language of ancient Sumer. It is believed to be a language isolate and to have been spoken in ancient Mesopotamia (also known as the Fertile Crescent), in the area that is modern-day Iraq. A ...

Sumerian language
c. 2100–2050 BCE.


Discovery

The first copy of the code, in two fragments found at
Nippur Nippur (Sumerian: ''Nibru'', often logographically recorded as , EN.LÍLKI, "Enlil City;"The Cambridge Ancient History: Prolegomena & Prehistory': Vol. 1, Part 1. Accessed 15 Dec 2010. AkkadianAkkadian or Accadian may refer to: * The Akkadian l ...
, in what is now Iraq, was translated by Samuel Kramer in 1952. These fragments are held at the
Istanbul Archaeological Museums The Istanbul Archaeology Museums ( tr, ) are a group of three archaeological museums located in the Eminönü quarter of Istanbul, Turkey, near Gülhane Park and Topkapı Palace. The Istanbul Archaeology Museums consists of three museums: #Archa ...
. Owing to its partial preservation, only the prologue and five of the laws were discernible.Kramer, ''History begins at Sumer'', pp. 52–55. Kramer noted that luck was involved in the discovery: Further tablets were found in and translated in 1965, allowing some 30 of the 57 laws to be reconstructed. Another copy found in
Sippar Sippar (: , Zimbir) was an ian and later n city on the east bank of the river. Its ' is located at the site of modern Tell Abu Habbah near in 's , some north of and southwest of . The city's ancient name, Sippar, could also refer to its sis ...
contains slight variants.


Background

The preface directly credits the laws to king
Ur-Nammu Ur-Nammu (or Ur-Namma, Ur-Engur, Ur-Gur, Sumerian language, Sumerian: , ruled c. 2112 BC – 2094 BC middle chronology, or possibly c. 2048–2030 BC short chronology) founded the Sumerian Third Dynasty of Ur, in southern Mesopotamia, following s ...
of Ur (2112–2095 BCE). The author who had the laws written onto cuneiform tablets is still somewhat under dispute. Some scholars have attributed it to Ur-Nammu's son
Shulgi Shulgi ( Dingir, dŠulgi, formerly read as Dungi) of Ur was the second king of the Third Dynasty of Ur. He reigned for 48 years, from c. 2094 – c. 2046 BC (Middle Chronology) or possibly c. 2030 – 1982 BC (Short Chronology). His accompli ...
. Although it is known that earlier law-codes existed, such as the Code of
Urukagina Uru-ka-gina, Uru-inim-gina, or Iri-ka-gina ( sux, ; 24th century BC, middle chronology The chronology of the ancient Near East is a chronology, framework of dates for various events, rulers and dynasties. Historical inscriptions and texts c ...
, this represents the earliest extant legal text. It is three centuries older than the
Code of Hammurabi The Code of Hammurabi is a Babylonian legal text composed 1755–1750 BC. It is the longest, best-organised, and best-preserved legal text from the ancient Near East. It is written in the Old Babylonian dialect of Akkadian, purportedly by Ham ...

Code of Hammurabi
. The laws are arranged in
casuistic Casuistry ( ) is a process of reasoning Reason is the capacity of consciously making sense of things, applying logic Logic (from Ancient Greek, Greek: grc, wikt:λογική, λογική, label=none, lit=possessed of reason, intellectua ...
form of IF (crime) THEN (punishment)—a pattern followed in nearly all later codes. It institutes fines of monetary
compensation Compensation may refer to: *Financial compensation *Compensation (chess), various advantages a player has in exchange for a disadvantage *Compensation (engineering) *Compensation (essay), ''Compensation'' (essay), by Ralph Waldo Emerson *Compensati ...
for bodily damage as opposed to the later ''
lex talionis "An eye for an eye" ( hbo, עַ֚יִן תַּ֣חַת עַ֔יִן) or the law of retaliation ( la, lex talionis) is the principle that a person who has injured another person is to be penalized to a similar degree by the injured party. In softe ...
'' ('eye for an eye') principle of Babylonian law. However,
murder Murder is the unlawful killing of another human without justification (jurisprudence), justification or valid excuse (legal), excuse, especially the unlawful killing of another human with malice aforethought. ("The killing of another person w ...

murder
,
robbery Robbery is the crime In ordinary language, a crime is an unlawful act punishable by a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of Sta ...

robbery
,
adultery Adultery (from Latin ''adulterium'') is extramarital sex that is considered objectionable on social, religious, moral, or legal grounds. Although the Human sexual activity, sexual activities that constitute adultery vary, as well as the social ...

adultery
and
rape Rape is a type of sexual assault Sexual assault is an act in which one intentionally sexually touches another person without that person's consent Consent occurs when one person voluntarily agrees to the proposal or desires of another. ...

rape
were capital offenses. The code reveals a glimpse at societal structure during Ur's Third Dynasty. Beneath the ''
lugal Lugal ( Sumerian: ) is the Sumerian term for "king, ruler". Literally, the term means "big man." In Sumerian, ''lu'' "𒇽" is "man" and ''gal'' "𒃲 GAL (Borger 2003 nr. 553; U+120F2 𒃲) is the Sumerian cuneiform Cuneiform is a Logogram ...
'' ("great man" or king), all members of society belonged to one of two basic strata: the ''lu'' or free person, or the slave (male, ''arad''; female ''geme''). The son of a ''lu'' was called a ''dumu-nita'' until he
married in Stockholm Marriage, also called matrimony or wedlock is a culturally and often legally recognized union between people called spouses. It establishes rights and obligations between them, as well as between them and their children, and ...

married
, becoming a "young man" (''gurus''). A woman (''munus'') went from being a daughter (''dumu-mi'') to a wife (''dam''), then if she outlived her
husband A newly wed husband kissing his bride A husband is a male Male (♂) is the sex of an organism that produces the gamete known as sperm. A male gamete can fuse with a larger female gamete, or ovum, in the process of fertilization. A male can ...

husband
, a widow (''nu-ma-su''), who could remarry.


Content

The prologue, typical of
Mesopotamia Mesopotamia ( grc, Μεσοποταμία ''Mesopotamíā''; ar, بِلَاد ٱلرَّافِدَيْن ; syc, ܐܪܡ ܢܗܪ̈ܝܢ, or , ) is a historical region of Western Asia situated within the Tigris–Euphrates river system, in the ...

Mesopotamia
n law codes, invokes the deities for Ur-Nammu's kingship, Nanna and
Utu Utu, later worshipped by the East Semitic Akkadian-speaking Babylonians as Shamash, ''šmš'', syc, ܫܡܫܐ ''šemša'', he, שֶׁמֶשׁ ''šemeš'', ar, شمس ''šams'', Ashurian Aramaic: 𐣴𐣬𐣴 ''š'meš(ā)'' was the ancient ...
, and decrees "equity in the land". One mina ( of a talent) was made equal to 60
shekel Shekel or sheqel ( akk, 𒅆𒅗𒇻 ''šiqlu'' or ''siqlu,'' he, שקל, plural or shekels, Phoenician: ) is an ancient Near Eastern coin, usually of silver Silver is a chemical element In chemistry, an element is a pure Ch ...
s (1 shekel = 8.3
gram The gram (alternative spelling: gramme; SI unit symbol: g) is a metric system The metric system is a that succeeded the decimalised system based on the introduced in France in the 1790s. The historical development of these systems culm ...
s, or 0.3 oz).


Surviving laws

Among the surviving laws are these:Roth, Martha. ''Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor'', pp. 13–22.


See also

*
Cuneiform lawCuneiform law refers to any of the legal code A code of law, also called a law code or legal code, is a type of legislation that purports to exhaustively cover a complete system of laws or a particular area of law as it existed at the time the cod ...
*
List of ancient legal codes 300px, The upper part of the Hammurabi's code of laws.">code of Hammurabi">Hammurabi's code of laws. The legal code A code of law, also called a law code or legal code, is a type of legislation that purports to exhaustively cover a complete sys ...
* List of artifacts in biblical archaeology * Ancient Mesopotamian units of measurement


Notes

:1.A slave who has married (and presumably will soon have children) cannot be set free and forced to leave the household so that the owner can save themselves the expense of supporting the slave's family. Slaves needed the consent of their masters to marry, so this ensured they were not just turned out: even if they were now a freedman, they were still members of the household and they and their family had to be supported by it.Barton, George A. "An Important Social Law of the Ancient Babylonians—A Text Hitherto Misunderstood." ''The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures'', vol. 37, no. 1, 1920, pp. 62–71. . :2. This presumably relates to a freeman killing another man's slave, as a slave is the preferred fine above a simple payment in silver, building on the trend in laws 31 and 32 for payment in kind for certain offences. The fact that the fine in silver is equivalent to cutting off a free man's foot also seems to suggest this.


References


Further reading

* Miguel Civil. "The Law Collection of Ur-Namma." in ''Cuneiform Royal Inscriptions and Related Texts in the Schøyen Collection'', 221–286, edited by A.R. George, 2011, * S. N. Kramer. (1954). "Ur-Nammu Law Code". Orientalia, 23(1), 40. * Martha T. Roth. "Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor." ''Writings from the Ancient World'', vol. 6. Society of Biblical Literature, 1995, * Claus Wilcke. "Der Kodex Urnamma (CU): Versuch einer Rekonstruktion." ''Riches hidden in secret places: ancient Near Eastern studies in memory of Thorkild Jacobson'', edited by Zvi Abusch, 2002, * Claus Wilcke, "Gesetze in sumerischer Sprache." ''Studies in Sumerian Language and Literature: Festschrift für Joachim Krecher'', 455–616, in particular 529–573, edited by N. Koslova et al., 2014, {{DEFAULTSORT:Code Of Ur-Nammu 21st-century BC literature Legal codes Sumer Codes of conduct Ancient Near East law