Front Page Titles (by Subject) II: THE CODE OF AMMURABI - Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters
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II: THE CODE OF AMMURABI - Rev. Claude Hermann Walter Johns, Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters 
Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1904).
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THE CODE OF AMMURABI
Witchcraft and the ordeal by water§ 1. If a man has accused another of laying a nêrtu (death spell?) upon him, but has not proved it, he shall be put to death.
§ 2. If a man has accused another of laying a kišpu (spell) upon him, but has not proved it, the accused shall go to the sacred river, he shall plunge into the sacred river, and if the sacred river shall conquer him, he that accused him shall take possession of his house. If the sacred river shall show his innocence and he is saved, his accuser shall be put to death. He that plunged into the sacred river shall appropriate the house of him that accused him.
False witness in capital suit§ 3. If a man has borne false witness in a trial, or has not established the statement that he has made, if that case be a capital trial, that man shall be put to death.
In civil case§ 4. If he has borne false witness in a civil law case, he shall pay the damages in that suit.
Judgment once given not to be altered§ 5. If a judge has given a verdict, rendered a decision, granted a written judgment, and afterward has altered his judgment, that judge shall be prosecuted for altering the judgment he gave and shall pay twelvefold the penalty laid down in that judgment. Further, he shall be publicly expelled from his judgment-seat and shall not return nor take his seat with the judges at a trial.
Burglary and acceptance of stolen goods§ 6. If a man has stolen goods from a temple, or house, he shall be put to death; and he that has received the stolen property from him shall be put to death.
Dealings with irresponsible persons§ 7. If a man has bought or received on deposit from a minor or a slave, either silver, gold, male or female slave, ox, ass, or sheep, or anything else, except by consent of elders, or power of attorney, he shall be put to death for theft.
Theft§ 8. If a patrician has stolen ox, sheep, ass, pig, or ship, whether from a temple, or a house, he shall pay thirtyfold. If he be a plebeian, he shall return tenfold. If the thief cannot pay, he shall be put to death.
Procedure in case of the discovery of lost property§ 9. If a man has lost property and some of it be detected in the possession of another, and the holder has said, “A man sold it to me, I bought it in the presence of witnesses”; and if the claimant has said, “I can bring witnesses who know it to be property lost by me”; then the alleged buyer on his part shall produce the man who sold it to him and the witnesses before whom he bought it; the claimant shall on his part produce the witnesses who know it to be his lost property. The judge shall examine their pleas. The witnesses to the sale and the witnesses who identify the lost property shall state on oath what they know. Such a seller is the thief and shall be put to death. The owner of the lost property shall recover his lost property. The buyer shall recoup himself from the seller’s estate.
§ 10. If the alleged buyer on his part has not produced the seller or the witnesses before whom the sale took place, but the owner of the lost property on his part has produced the witnesses who identify it as his, then the [pretended] buyer is the thief; he shall be put to death. The owner of the lost property shall take his lost property.
§ 11. If, on the other hand, the claimant of the lost property has not brought the witnesses that know his lost property, he has been guilty of slander, he has stirred up strife, he shall be put to death.
§ 12. If the seller has in the meantime died, the buyer shall take from his estate fivefold the value sued for.
Judgment by default§ 13. If a man has not his witnesses at hand, the judge shall set him a fixed time not exceeding six months, and if within six months he has not produced his witnesses, the man has lied; he shall bear the penalty of the suit.
Kidnapping§ 14. If a man has stolen a child, he shall be put to death.
Abduction of slave§ 15. If a man has induced either a male or female slave from the house of a patrician, or plebeian, to leave the city, he shall be put to death.
Harboring a fugitive slave§ 16. If a man has harbored in his house a male or female slave from a patrician’s or plebeian’s house, and has not caused the fugitive to leave on the demand of the officer over the slaves condemned to public forced labor, that householder shall be put to death.
The capture of a fugitive slave§ 17. If a man has caught either a male or female runaway slave in the open field and has brought him back to his owner, the owner of the slave shall give him two shekels of silver.
§ 18. If such a slave will not name his owner, his captor shall bring him to the palace, where he shall be examined as to his past and returned to his owner.
§ 19. If the captor has secreted that slave in his house and afterward that slave has been caught in his possession, he shall be put to death.
§ 20. If the slave has fled from the hands of his captor, the latter shall swear to the owner of the slave and he shall be free from blame.
Burglary§ 21. If a man has broken into a house he shall be killed before the breach and buried there.
Highway robbery§ 22. If a man has committed highway robbery and has been caught, that man shall be put to death.
§ 23. If the highwayman has not been caught, the man that has been robbed shall state on oath what he has lost and the city or district governor in whose territory or district the robbery took place shall restore to him what he has lost.
§ 24. If a life [has been lost], the city or district governor shall pay one mina of silver to the deceased’s relatives.
Theft at a fire§ 25. If a fire has broken out in a man’s house and one who has come to put it out has coveted the property of the householder and appropriated any of it, that man shall be cast into the self-same fire.
Duties and privileges of an officer over the levy§ 26. If a levy-master, or warrant-officer, who has been detailed on the king’s service, has not gone, or has hired a substitute in his place, that levy-master, or warrant-officer, shall be put to death and the hired substitute shall take his office.
§ 27. If a levy-master, or warrant-officer, has been assigned to garrison duty, and in his absence his field and garden have been given to another who has carried on his duty, when the absentee has returned and regained his city, his field and garden shall be given back to him and he shall resume his duty.
Rights and duties of his son§ 28. If a levy-master, or warrant-officer, has been assigned to garrison duty, and has a son able to carry on his official duty, the field and garden shall be given to him and he shall carry on his father’s duty.
§ 29. If the son be a child and is not able to carry on his father’s duty, one-third of the field and garden shall be given to his mother to educate him.
Penalty for neglect of his benefice§ 30. If such an official has neglected the care of his field, garden, or house, and let them go to waste, and if another has taken his field, garden, or house, in his absence, and carried on the duty for three years, if the absentee has returned and would cultivate his field, garden, or house, it shall not be given him; he who has taken it and carried on the duty connected with it shall continue to do so.
§ 31. If for one year only he has let things go to waste and he has returned, his field, garden, and house shall be given him, and he himself shall carry on his duty.
His ransom, if captured§ 32. If such an official has been assigned to the king’s service (and captured by the enemy) and has been ransomed by a merchant and helped to regain his city, if he has had means in his house to pay his ransom, he himself shall do so. If he has not had means of his own, he shall be ransomed by the temple treasury. If there has not been means in the temple treasury of his city, the state will ransom him. His field, garden, or house shall not be given for his ransom.
Duties of district governors§ 33. If either a governor or a prefect has appropriated to his own use the corvée, or has accepted and sent on the king’s service a hired substitute in his place, that governor, or prefect, shall be put to death.
Governors not to oppress subordinates§ 34. If either a governor, or a prefect, has appropriated the property of a levy-master, has hired him out, has robbed him by high-handedness at a trial, has taken the salary which the king gave to him, that governor, or prefect, shall be put to death.
The benefice of a levy-master, warrant-officer, or tributary inalienable§ 35. If a man has bought from a levy-master the sheep, or oxen, which the king gave him, he shall lose his money.
§ 36. The field, garden, or house, of a levy-master, warrant-officer, or tributary shall not be sold.
§ 37. If a man has bought field, garden, or house, of a levy-master, a warrant-officer, or tributary, his title-deed shall be destroyed and he shall lose his money. He shall return the field, garden, or house to its owner.
Not to be bequeathed to his family§ 38. A levy-master, warrant-officer, or tributary, shall not bequeath anything from the field, garden, or house of his benefice to his wife or daughter, nor shall he give it for his debt.
§ 39. From the field, garden, or house which he has bought and acquired, he shall make bequests to his wife, or daughter, or shall assign for his debt.
The obligation resting upon a buyer of real estate§ 40. A votary, merchant, or resident alien may sell his field, garden, or house, and the buyer shall discharge the public service connected with the field, garden, or house that he has bought.
A benefice not to be exchanged§ 41. If a man has given property in exchange for the field, garden, or house, of a levy-master, warrant-officer, or tributary, such an official shall return to his field, garden, or house, and he shall appropriate the property given in exchange.
Responsibilities of land-tenants§ 42. If a man has hired a field to cultivate and has caused no corn to grow on the field, he shall be held responsible for not doing the work on the field and shall pay an average rent.
§ 43. If he has not cultivated the field and has left it alone, he shall give to the owner of the field an average rent, and the field which he has neglected he shall break up with mattocks and plough it, and shall return it to the owner of the field.
The rent of unbroken land§ 44. If a man has taken a piece of virgin soil to open up, on a three years’ lease, but has left it alone, has not opened up the land, in the fourth year he shall break it up, hoe it, and plough it, and shall return it to the owner of the field, and shall measure out ten GUR of corn for each GAN of land.
Loss of crop by storm apportioned between landlord and tenant§ 45. If a man has let his field to a farmer and has received his rent for the field but afterward the field has been flooded by rain, or a storm has carried off the crop, the loss shall be the farmer’s.
§ 46. If he has not received the rent of his field, whether he let it for a half, or for a third, of the crop, the farmer and the owner of the field shall share the corn that is left in the field, according to their agreement.
Landlord cannot restrain a satisfactory tenant from subletting§ 47. If a tenant farmer, because he did not start farming in the early part of the year, has sublet the field, the owner of the field shall not object; his field has been cultivated; at harvest-time he shall take rent, according to his agreement.
Abatement of debt on account of storm, flood, or drought§ 48. If a man has incurred a debt and a storm has flooded his field or carried away the crop, or the corn has not grown because of drought, in that year he shall not pay his creditor. Further, he shall post-date his bond and shall not pay interest for that year.
Rights in a crop pledged for debt§ 49. If a man has received money from a merchant and has given to the merchant a field, planted with corn, or sesame, and has said to him, “Cultivate the field and reap and take the corn, or sesame, that shall be grown”; if the bailiff has reared corn, or sesame, in the field, at harvest-time the owner of the field shall take what corn, or sesame, has been grown in the field and shall pay corn to the merchant for his money that he took of him and its interest, and for the maintenance of the bailiff.
§ 50. If the field he gave was [already] cultivated, or the sesame was grown up, the owner of the field shall take the corn, or sesame, that has been grown in the field, and shall return the money and its interest to the merchant.
§ 51. If he has not money enough, he shall give to the merchant sesame, or corn, according to its market price, for the money which he took from the merchant and its interest, according to the king’s standard.
§ 52. If the bailiff has not reared corn or sesame in the field the debtor’s obligation shall not be lessened.
Riparian responsibilities§§ 53, 54. If a man has neglected to strengthen his dike and has not kept his dike strong, and a breach has broken out in his dike, and the waters have flooded the meadow, the man in whose dike the breach has broken out shall restore the corn he has caused to be lost. . If he be not able to restore the corn, he and his goods shall be sold, and the owners of the meadow whose corn the water has carried away shall share the money.
Penalty for neglect to shut off water§ 55. If a man has opened his runnel for watering and has left it open, and the water has flooded his neighbor’s field, he shall pay him an average crop.
§ 56. If a man has let out the waters and they flood the young plants in his neighbor’s field, he shall measure out ten gur of corn for each gan of land.
Damage done to growing crop by sheep§ 57. If a shepherd has not agreed with the owner of the field to allow his sheep to eat off the green crop and without consent of the owner has let his sheep feed off it, the owner of the field shall harvest his crop, but the shepherd who without consent of the owner of the field caused his sheep to eat it shall give to the owner of the field, over and above his crop, twenty gur of corn for each gan of land.
§ 58. If, after the sheep have come up out of the meadows and have passed into the common fold at the city gate, a shepherd has placed his sheep in a field and caused his sheep to feed in the field, the shepherd shall keep the field he has grazed, and, at harvest-time, he shall measure out to the owner sixty gur of corn for each gan of land.
Cutting down a tree without permission Rent of a gardenplot§ 59. If a man without the consent of the owner has cut down a tree in an orchard, he shall weigh out half a mina of silver.
§§ 60, 61. If a man has given a field to a gardener to plant a garden and the gardener has planted the garden, he shall train the garden four years; in the fifth year the owner of the garden and the gardener shall share the garden equally, the owner of the garden shall gather his share and take it. . If the gardener, in planting the garden, has not planted all, but has left a bare patch, he shall reckon the bare patch in his share.
§ 62. If he has not planted the field which was given him as a garden; then, if it was arable land, the gardener shall measure out to the owner of the field an average rent for the years that were neglected, and shall perform the stipulated work on the field (i.e., make it into a garden), and return it to the owner of the field.
§ 63. If the land was uncultivated, he shall do the stipulated work on the field, and return to the owner of the field and shall measure out for each year ten gur of corn for each gan.
Garden rented on shares§ 64. If a man has given his garden to a gardener to farm, the gardener, as long as he holds the garden, shall give the owner of the garden two-thirds of the produce of the garden and shall take one-third himself.
§ 65. If the gardener has not tilled the garden and has diminished the yield, the gardener shall pay an average rent.
Here came the five erased columns, of which the three following sections are restored from copies in Ashurbânipal’s library:
Obligations of owner to gather a date-crop assigned for debt§ X. [If a man has borrowed money of a merchant and has given a date grove] to the merchant and has said to him, “Take the dates that are in my grove for your money”; that merchant shall not consent, the owner of the grove shall take the dates that are in the grove and shall answer to the merchant for the money and its interest, according to the tenor of his agreement, and the owner of the grove shall take the surplus of the dates that are in the grove.
Eviction of house-tenant§ Y. [If a man has let a house] and the tenant has paid to the owner of the house the full rent for a term of years, and if the owner of the house has ordered the tenant to leave before his time is up, the owner of the house, because he has ordered his tenant to leave before his time is up, [shall repay a proportionate amount] from what the tenant has paid him.
Acceptance of goods in payment of debt, in default of money or corn§ Z. [If a man has borrowed money of a merchant] and has not corn or money wherewith [to pay], but has goods; whatever is in his hands, he shall give to the merchant, before the elders. The merchant shall not object; he shall receive it.
[Editor: illegible text]This is not the place to write a commentary on the Code, but there are a few necessary cautions. One of the first is that most clauses are permissive rather than positive. The verb “shall” is not an imperative, but a future. Doubtless in case of heinous crimes the death-penalty had to be inflicted.>[Editor: illegible text] But there was always a trial, and proof was demanded on oath. In many cases the “shall” is only permissive, as when the Code says a widow “shall” marry again. There is no proof that the jury decided only facts and found the prisoner guilty or not, leaving the judge no option but to inflict the extreme penalty. The judge, on the contrary, seems to have had much legislative power. When this view is taken, the Code appears no more severe than those of the Middle Ages, or even of recent times, when a man was hanged for sheep-stealing. There are many humanitarian clauses and much protection is given the weak and the helpless. One of the best proofs of its inherent excellence is that it helped to build up an empire, which lasted many centuries and was regarded with reverence almost to the end.