Front Page Titles (by Subject) III: LATER BABYLONIAN LAW - Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
III: LATER BABYLONIAN LAW - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
LATER BABYLONIAN LAW
BibliographyVery little is yet known regarding later Babylonian law. Dr. F. E. Peiser published in the Sitzungsberichte der Königliche Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin (1889, pp. 823 ff.) a very interesting fragmentarily preserved text (82-7-14, 988, in the British Museum), which contains either a collection of abstracts of cases which have been decided, or precedents, or else an extract from some code later than that of ammurabi. Dr. Peiser thought that the date was the second year of Ashurbânipal, king of Babylon. This seems rather unlikely, but may, of course, be true.
In his inaugural dissertation, Dr. Peiser, under the title of Jurisprudentiae Babylonicae quae supersunt, commented upon and illustrated the above text by numerous examples of cases, actually occurring during the period of the second empire. But the whole collection of fragments of law with which he had to deal was too small to do more than show what may be hoped for as the result of future discoveries.
As specimens of these laws we may take the following:
Law A. [Col. II. 4-14.]
Agent not able to recover without power of attorneyThe man who has sealed a tablet, by the name of another, in favor of an owner of a field, or has sealed a bond, and has not caused to be executed a deed giving him power of attorney, or has not taken a duplicate of such a tablet [cannot take possession]; the man, in whose name the tablet, or bond, is written, shall take that field, or house.
If a man acted as buyer, or lender, for another, he incurred liabilities, for which he could not indemnify himself, unless he had secured from his principal a deed empowering him so to act. But, if without such power of attorney, A had acted for , and bought a house, or field, of C, and had the conveyance made out to , of course paying C; or had lent money to C, in the name of ; and the transaction had been completed, by sealing the deed of sale or bond; then was the owner of the field, or house, or the creditor for the loan. A could not plead that he was the real owner, even if he had not been able to recover the purchase-money or loan from , in whose name he had made it. , whose name appeared in the deed or in the bond, was the rightful owner.
Law B. [Col. II. 15-23.]
Responsibility of one who sellsThe man, who has sold a female slave and has had an objection made concerning her, shall take her back. The seller shall give to the buyer the price named in the deed of sale, to its exact amount, and shall pay half a shekel of silver for each of the children born to her.
How long after sale objection could be raised is not stated. In early times a month was allowed for fever to develop; in Assyrian contracts a hundred days were allowed for fever or seizure. But a sartu, or “vice,” could be pleaded, at any time, as ground for returning the slave. Here it is clear that time was allowed for a slave to bear one or more children, before the repudiation lost effect. It is noteworthy that the seller had to buy back such children. The maid may have been bought to bear her master children, and if these were not sound, the master had ground for complaint and could not be held responsible for them. Also it was objectionable to separate mother and children. The price named is trifling. Compare § of the Code, where, however, no mention is made of the children of a maid.
The next law is unintelligible at present, owing to the lacunae, and doubtful readings of the text, which, moreover, is only given in transcription. It appears to concern a woman and her interests in a field or plantation and the trees in it, and its produce.
Law C. [Col. III. 3-15.]
Permanent settlements at marriage between father of bride and the bridegroomA man has given his daughter to a freeborn man and the father has fixed something in a deed and given to his son, and the first-named has fixed a marriage-portion for his daughter and they have mutually executed deeds of settlement. They shall not alter their deeds. The father shall give in full the settlement (nuṣurru), which he had promised his son by deed, to the father-in-law, and deliver it.
The father here named appears to be the father of the bridegroom. He must make a settlement on his son, as well as the father of the bride on his daughter. The point of the law seems to be that these settlements on the part of the parents to the young couple are irrevocable. No subsequent engagements entered into can affect them. This settlement by the bridegroom’s father on his son, which he has to pay over to the bride’s father, evidently takes the place of the teratu, or “bride-price” of the Code. The obligation of a father to find his son the means for a bride-price appears in the Code, § ; but there is no section which answers directly to this law. The marriage-portion is now nudunnu, in the Code it was šeriktu, while nudunnu was the husband’s gift to the wife.
Law D. [Col. III. 16-22.]
Inheritance rights of children of second marriageWhen the father [of the bridegroom] has had his wife taken away by fate, has taken to himself a second wife, and she has borne him sons, the sons of the second wife shall take a third of his property remaining.
This appears as part of the same section as Law C, and is enacted again in Law K, page 69. It is not easy to see why it is here, except to make plain that settlements on marriages of the sons of the first family are a first charge on the father’s property. The second family takes a third, not of all the father once had, but of what is left after these gifts by deed have been taken out. The married sons of the first family are not disinherited by virtue of these gifts, but take among them two-thirds of what is left. This is against the Code, § .
Law E. [Col. III. 23-31.]
Procedure in case the father-in-law is unable to carry out his promise of dowryA man who has promised a marriage-portion to his daughter, or has written her a deed of gift, and afterward his means have diminished, shall give to his daughter a marriage-portion according to his means that are left. Father-in-law and son-in-law shall not quarrel one with the other.
Dr. Peiser has shown that the marriage-portion was often held back a long time. Suits were brought to recover it from fathers-in-law. There is no corresponding section in the Code.
Law F. [Col. III. 32-37.]
Marriage-portion of childless wifeA man has given a marriage-portion to his daughter and she has neither son nor daughter and fate has carried her off; her marriage-portion returns to her father’s house.
Exactly as in the Code, § .
The first seven lines of Col. IV. are too fragmentary to give a connected sense, but are still concerned with the marriage-portion.
Law G. [Col. IV. 8-24.]
Rights of inheritance of a childless widowA wife, whose marriage-portion her husband has received, who has no son or daughter, and fate has carried off her husband, shall be given from her husband’s property the marriage-portion, whatever that was. If her husband has made her a gift, she shall receive the gift of her husband with her marriage-portion and take it away. If she had no marriage-portion, the judge shall estimate the property of her husband and, according to her husband’s means, shall grant her something.
It is noteworthy that in the above laws the old usage is reversed. Now the nudunnu is the marriage-portion, given with the bride, and the šeriktu is the husband’s assignment to the wife. With this alteration the law agrees with the Code, § . But there she has a family.
Law H. [Col. IV. 25-45.]
The rights of a widow with children in case of remarriageA man has married a wife and she has borne him children; after that man has been carried off by fate, and that woman has set her face to enter the house of another, she shall take the marriage-portion which she brought from her father’s house, and whatever her husband presented her as a gift, and shall marry the husband of her choice. As long as she lives, she shall enjoy food and drink from them. If there be children of this husband, they and the children of the former husband shall share her marriage-portion. The sisters . . .
This is practically the same as Code, § , but it is differently arranged and the phrases differ markedly. Note that the sisters were separately treated.
Law K. [Col. V. 33-46.]
Division of the estate of a man twice marriedA man has married a wife and she has borne him children, and fate has carried off his wife; he has married a second wife and she has borne him children; after the father has gone to his fate, the children of the former wife shall take two-thirds of the goods of their father’s house, the children of the second wife shall take one-third. Their sisters who are dwelling in their father’s house . . .
This must be contrasted with § of the Code. There all sons share equally. Here the first family take two-thirds. The sisters were also treated separately. It is clear that we have to do with a code which preserves many features of the early times, but has many new features of its own. It is greatly to be desired that further portions should be published.