Hammurabi's Code of Laws
"Retold in English" by Stan Rummel
Excerpted from the Original Electronic Text at K. C. Hanson's Collection of Mesopotamian Documents
Note that this compilation includes only a sampling of the laws and that Rummel re-organized them under headings he supplied. (He retained the original number for each law, however.) For the complete list of 282 laws in the original order, see L. W. King's translation.
When the deities of old who allot the destinies of the world,
Gave the rule of human beings to Marduk, set him over all other deities, made Babylon the foremost city-state in all the earth and the capital of an everlasting kingdom, with foundations laid strong as those of heaven and earth,
At that time I, Hammurabi, the pious, god-fearing prince, was called forth by name for the welfare of the people:
To cause justice to appear in the world, to destroy the evil and the wicked so that the strong should not oppress the weak, and to rise like Shamash to give light to the land. . . .
Laws Concerning Social Structures
196. If a free person puts out the eye of another free person, that person's eye shall be put out.
197. If a free person breaks the bone of another free person, that person's bone shall be broken.
198. If a free person puts out the eye or breaks the bone of a civil-servant, that person shall pay one-half kilogram of silver.
199. If a free person puts out the eye or breaks the bone of another free person's slave, that person shall pay half the value of the slave.
195. If a son strikes his father, his hand shall be cut off.
205. If a free person's slave strikes the cheek of another free person, the ear of the slave shall be cut off.
282. If a slave says to the master, "you are not my master," the master shall cut off the slave's ear.
138. If a free man wishes to divorce his wife who has had no children, he must pay her a settlement equal to the value of the gifts he gave her father when they were married plus the dowry she brought from her father's house; by paying this settlement he divorces her.
139. If the free man had given her father no gifts, this part of his settlement shall amount to one-half kilogram of silver.
140. If the man is a civil-servant, he shall pay one-sixth of a kilogram of silver.
141. If a free man's wife wishes to divorce him, the man may divorce her and give her no settlement. If the man does not wish to divorce her, he may marry another woman and keep his first wife in his house as a slave.
142. If a woman wishes to divorce her husband and refuses him sexual rights, an inquiry shall be held. If she has not committed adultery but her husband has, she may take her dowry and return to her father's house.
143. If she has committed adultery, then she shall be executed by being thrown into the water.
154. If a free man has sexual relations with his daughter, that man shall be exiled.
157. If a free man has sexual relations with his mother after the death of his father, both of them shall be executed by burning.
158. If a free man has sexual relations with his father's first wife, who is the mother of sons, after the death of his father, that man shall lose his paternal inheritance.
159. If the first wife and a female slave of a free man both bear him sons, and the father acknowledges the sons of the female slave as his own, then the sons of the female slave shall share equally with the sons of the first wife in the paternal inheritance after the death of the father.
171. If the father did not acknowledge the sons of the female slave as his own, then the sons have no right to share in the paternal inheritance; but both the female slave and her sons shall be given their freedom.
Laws Concerning Economic Structures
7. If a free person buys or receives in pawn anything from another free person who is a minor, or from a free person's slave, without a contract signed by witnesses, that person is a fence and shall be executed.
122. If a free person wishes to pawn anything, that person is responsible for drawing up a contract signed by witnesses before completing the transaction.
123. If a free person has pawned anything without a contract signed by witnesses, and the pawnbroker later claims not to have received anything, that case is not subject to claim.
124. If a free person has pawned anything in front of witnesses (even if there is no contract), and the pawnbroker later claims not to have received anything, the pawnbroker must repay twice the amount denied.
42. If a free person signs a contract to rent a field for cultivation but fails to raise a crop in the field, that person must pay the landlord an amount equivalent to the harvests of the adjoining fields.
43. In addition, the renter who has neglected the field must plough it, so that another free person may rent and cultivate it.
45. If a free person rents a field to a cultivator and is paid in advance, but later a natural disaster destroys the crop, the cultivator must stand the loss.
46. If the rent was not paid in advance, the renter and the cultivator shall divide any crops that can be salvaged according to the proportion stipulated in their contract.
48. If a free person is in debt and loses a crop because of a natural disaster, the contract shall be changed so that person will not owe the creditor any interest for the year.
88. A merchant may collect interest of thirty-three and one-third per cent on a loan of grain, and twenty per cent interest may be charged on a loan of silver.
89. If a free person who has borrowed cannot repay the loan with silver but can repay it with grain, the merchant who made the loan is obligated to accept the grain at the rate of exchange set by the king; if the merchant tries to raise the interest-rate, that merchant shall forfeit both the capital and the interest.
92. If a merchant loans grain or silver at one rate but later tries to collect at a higher rate, that merchant shall forfeit both the capital and the interest.
215. If a surgeon performs a major operation which saves the life of a free person, that surgeon shall be paid eighty grams of silver.
217. If the person is a slave, the owner shall pay sixteen grams of silver to the surgeon.
221. If the surgeon set a broken bone of a free person, that surgeon shall be paid forty grams of silver.
223. If the person is a slave, the owner shall pay sixteen grams of silver to the surgeon.
228. If a carpenter builds a house for a free person, that carpenter shall be paid sixteen grams of silver for every thirty-five square meters of the house.
234. If a shipwright has caulked a ship with a carrying capacity of three hundred liters for a free person, that shipwright shall be paid sixteen grams of silver.
Laws Concerning the Operation of the Judicial System
3. If a free person commits perjury during a murder-trial and the perjury is discovered, that person shall be executed.
4. If a free person commits perjury during a damage suit, that person will be liable for the damages.
1. If a free person accuses another free person of murder but cannot prove the charge in court, the one who made the accusation shall be executed.
127. If a free person accuses a priestess or a married woman of illicit sexual relations but cannot prove the charge, that free person shall be publicly flogged and half of that free person's head shall be shaved.
5. If a judge delivers a written verdict and later changes it, that judge shall pay twelve times the amount of the damages awarded in the verdict. Then the judge shall be publicly expelled from office.
The Rule of Law
14. If a free person kidnaps the son of another free person, the kidnapper shall be executed.
15. If a free person helps a slave of either a palace or a civil-servant escape, that person shall be executed.
16. If a free person gives shelter to a fugitive slave of either a palace or a civil-servant, that person shall be executed.
25. If a fire breaks out in a free person's house and another free person who went to extinguish the fire saw, wanted, and looted any of the property in the house, the looter shall be executed by being thrown into that fire.
109. If rebels meet in a bar and the woman who owns the bar does not capture them and take them to the palace, that woman shall be executed.
125. If a priestess who does not live in the temple owns and operates a bar or even enters a bar for drink, that priestess shall be executed by burning.
229. If a carpenter has erected a poorly constructed house, so that the walls cave in and kill the homeowner, that carpenter shall be executed.
230. If the poorly constructed house causes the death of the homeowner's son, the carpenter's son shall be executed.
231. If the poorly constructed house causes the death of the homeowner's slave, the carpenter shall provide an equivalent slave for the homeowner.
232. If the poorly constructed house causes the destruction of the homeowner's property, the carpenter shall replace whatever has been destroyed; if the entire house caves in, the carpenter shall rebuild it free of charge.
The Doing of Justice
6. If a free person steals sacred property from a temple or palace, that person shall be executed, along with anyone who purchased the stolen property.
8. If a free person steals ordinary property, such as an ox or a sheep, from a temple or palace, that person shall repay thirty times the amount of the stolen property. If a free person steals the same type of property from a civil-servant, that person shall repay ten times. If a thief cannot pay, that thief shall be executed.
22. If a free person robs another free person and is caught, that thief shall be executed.
23. If the thief is not caught, the city of the free person who has been robbed shall pay for the loss.
24. If the free person has been murdered [that is, robbed of life], the city shall pay one-half kilogram of silver to the relatives of the deceased.
129. If the wife of a free man is caught lying with another man, they shall both be tied up and drowned in the water; but if the husband decides to let his wife live, than the king shall let the man live.
250. If a free person's ox happens to gore another free person on the street so that the person dies, there is no cause of action.
251. If the free person's ox is a habitual gorer, and the free person has been officially notified yet does not cover the horns of the ox or tie it up, then if the ox gores another free person so that the person dies, the owner of the ox shall pay one-fourth kilogram of silver to the relatives of the deceased.
These are the regulations which Hammurabi the able king has established so that the world may enjoy stable and just government.
I, Hammurabi, have been called by the great deities.
I am the shepherd who brings well-being and abundant prosperity; my rule is just.
So that the strong might not oppress the weak, and that even the orphan and the widow might be treated with justice, I inscribed my precious words on my stele called "King of Justice" in Babylon.
I am the king who is first of all kings; my ability has no rival.
By the command of Shamash, who judges all the world, let justice now appear in the world.
By the word of Marduk my lord, let no one mar the figures or words on my monument.
Let the oppressed person stand before my monument and have the precious words of my inscription read aloud.
Then that person's mind shall rest easy in the knowledge that justice will be done.
To the end of time let the kings of the world follow the just words inscribed on my monument.
Let no king alter the inscription or erase the engraving.
May the kings who listen to my words be blessed with empires as large as mine, governing the world in justice.
As for the kings who do not listen to my words, may their destinies be cursed, their kingdoms overthrown, their people scattered, and their very existence forgotten.
Let these curses be unalterable, and let them quickly overtake the kings who do not listen to my words.
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