Front Page Titles (by Subject) VI: LEGAL DECISIONS - Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters
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VI: LEGAL DECISIONS - 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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Meaning of the termBy a legal decision we understand a “judgment” pronounced by some judicial authority upon a case submitted. It is not easy to say whether the Babylonians had a separate name for this sort of transaction; but it had some peculiarities by which it can be easily recognized. It usually opens with the words, duppu ana, “tablet on,” followed by the statement of the object in dispute. This is very often abbreviated to a simple ana, “on,” or aššum = ana šum, “concerning,” or eli with the same sense.
“Nishînishu, daughter of Rîsh-Sin, aššum Shamash-ellatsu, son of Itti-Sin-dinim.”
Technical terms usedIt is not clear whether Shamash-ellatsu was the adversary of Nishînishu, or the subject of her suit. But we clearly have here a “trial list” of seventeen cases. Whether they were all decided in one day, month, or year, or whether they were reserved for the royal audience, we have no means of telling. It is merely a list. The object in dispute, “two sar of land,” is occasionally given; or the court is named “the temple of Shamash,” or “at the gate of Shamash.” The whole text is too fragmentary to be translated, but we may note that some lady or other is always a party to the suit. If we could find the tablets referring to the decisions intended and they should turn out to be of different years, this list might prove of value for chronology.
Their arrangementLegal decisions relate to all manner of subjects and consequently are difficult to arrange. Dr. Meissner adopted the excellent plan of appending them to the groups concerned with the class of property dealt with under them. Thus a legal decision concerned with the sale of a house would be grouped with the house sales. But this does not suit all cases, and both in formula and subject the legal decisions are really distinct. Most legal decisions add nothing to our knowledge of the law, merely recording that “A sued and lost the day and is now bound over not to renew the litigation.” A large number go only a little further, thus:1
Suit concerning inheritanceRibatum, daughter of Salâ, was sued by the sons of Erib-Sin, Shumma-ilu and Mâr-erṣitim, concerning what Salâ, her father, and Mullubtim, her mother, had left her. They took judges who restored to her one-half gan of land, her property. Shumma-ilu and Mâr-erṣitim, sons of Erib-Sin, shall not renounce this agreement nor dispute it. They swore by Shamash, Malkat, Marduk, and Samsuiluna the king. Four judges appear as witnesses. Dated the 10th of Elul, in the second year of Samsu-iluna.
Here it is not stated what was the ground on which the parties disagreed, nor that they laid claim to more than onehalf gan of land. They lost the case. That is all we know in many other cases. Often we do not know the object in dispute. Other cases are quite full and often very instructive. Thus:2
Suit for paternal power over daughterAbout the maid Adkallim, whom Aiatîa had left to her daughter ulaltum. ulaltum had taken care of her mother Aiatîa; while Sin-nâṣir, the husband of Aiatîa, who was in Buzu for twenty years, had left Aiatîa to her fate, loved her not. Now after Aiatîa was dead, Sin-nâṣir laid claim on whatever Aiatîa had, and on ulaltum for the maid Adkallim. Isharlim, the rabiânu of Sippar, with the Kar-Sippar, assigned sentence; they laid the blame on him. He shall not renounce the agreement, nor dispute it. They swore by Shamash, Marduk, and ammurabi the king. The judgment of Isharlim. Four witnesses. Dated in Elul, the 9th year of ammurabi.
This was a bad case of desertion. The husband, Sin-nâṣir, deserted his wife for twenty years, but on her death came back and claimed her property. This he was not allowed to do, by the Code.1 In his absence, ulaltum had cared for Aiatîa, either as his real, or only adopted, daughter. In either case, Aiatîa had left ulaltum a slave-girl, Adkallim, whom Sin-nâṣir now claimed. His claim was disallowed.
The decisions which we now possess give little further information as to the legal procedure, but a series of abstracts will illustrate the legal points which they raise.
Suit on partnershipṢilli-Ishtar and Amêl-ili, sons of Ilu-eriba, were sued by Eribam-Sin, son of Ubar-Sin, concerning a house, etc., which they bought of Sin-mubaliṭ and his brothers. They say that they bought with money which Ṣilli-Ishtar received from his mother and which formed no part of that which they had in common with plaintiff as partners. Deposition accepted ammurabi 34.2
Suit for incomesThe sons of Zâzîa sue Sin-imgurâni and Sin-uzilli for rights in a house next the temple of Ningirsu, five days’ income in the temple of Sin, sixteen days’ income in the shrine of Bêlit, and eight days’ income in the shrine of Gula. Claim not made out. Era of Isin 6.3
No claim on propertyIdin-Adadi and Mattatum have no claim on property which ishatum has or shall inherit. Rim-Sin (?).4
PartnershipAdadi-idinnam and Ardi-Martu agree on dissolution of partnership. Zabum 1.5
InheritanceBrothers of Ur-ilishu agree not to proceed against Sala-ilu and Ur-ilishu concerning property left by latter. Apil-Sin (?).1
PartnershipFamily of Urra-gâmil sue Erib-Sin for account of his partnership with and his indebtedness to Urra-gâmil deceased. Erib-Sin settles. N. D.2
GiftSin-ellâtsu gave a ring to Ramê-Ishara. The children of Sin-ellâtsu agree not to sue her for it. ammurabi (?).3
Settlement “out of court”Private settlement of claims to property. N. D.4
In the above cases there is no explicit mention of judges. The next group are cases before judges where fact of suit, subject and result are given, but not the pleas presented.
Property boughtImgur-Sin and Ilu-eriba sue Iatratum concerning a house which she bought of their father. Nonsuited. Before judges of Babylon and Sippara.5
PartnershipṢilli-Ishtar and Eribam-Sin entered into partnership. On dissolution of their partnership they chose judges, paid in their common stock and shared equally. The shares are scheduled in the deed of settlement. ammurabi 34.6
InheritancePala-Shamash and Apil-itishu dispute concerning a division of property. They obtain judges and city witnesses. The whole house and income is shared equally and each agrees to waive further claim. ammurabi (?).7
InheritanceThe two sons of Ḳû-Ishtar disagreed as to their shares. Nidnat-Sin, the rab Martu, makes equitable division. ammurabi 33.8
PropertyApil-ilishu and Pala-Shamash dispute the latter’s right to a house, ship, servants, money, and property in his possession. The city elders from uda and Shibabi gave judgment and confirmed the title of Pala-Shamash.9
InheritanceThe sons of Nûr-Shamash sue Bêlitum for the property left her. Before judges. Nonsuited. Sumu-lâ-ilu.10
IncomeShunu-ma-ili and Mâr-erṣitim sue Ribatum concerning her right to the legacy of Salâ and Mullubtim. The judges assign her an income, ibiltu. Samsu-iluna 2.11
PropertyMarduk-mubaliṭ and Sin-idinnam sue Shâd-Malkat concerning her house in Bît Gagim. Judges confirm her title. Apil-Sin.12
Incomesuzalum and Pî-Malkat, children of Nabi-Shamash implead Shidi-lamazatanu of Gagim concerning various rights to incomes and rations in the temple of Shamash. The judges assign shares to each. Samsu-iluna (?).1
PropertyAliḳu and Sumu-ramê sue Shakumâtim about a house they sold him. Nonsuited. N. D.2
PropertyShamash-bêl-ili repudiates a sale of land to the Lady Mannashi. He is nonsuited. ammurabi 15.3
PropertyFamily of Ardi-rabish against Erib-Sin on account of property left them by Ardi-rabish. Nonsuited. Sin-mubalit 20.4
Propertyamaziru sues Manutum for house and property but is nonsuited. Sumu-lâ-ilu.5
Vexatious prosecutionKasha-Upi bought a house of Itti-itishu and his sons, Bêlshunu and Ilushu-bânî. Amêl-Ninshuna, son of Bêlshunu, brought a suit about the house. Judges condemn him to be branded on the forehead and confirm Kasha-Upi’s title. Sin-mubalit.6
LandNishinishu sues Ana-erishti-Malkat for three sar of land before the king’s judges. Nonsuited. Samsu-iluna 2.7
LandMalkat-kuzub-mâtim sues Ani-talime for restitution of a field, before the judges of Babylon and Sippara. The witnesses sustain her claim, which is granted. Samsu-iluna 3.8
Family disputeThe family of Izidaria sue the family of Azalîa about the property of Izidaria deceased. Their title is confirmed. Zabum 12.9
HouseShamash-bêl-ili sues Nidnusha concerning a house bought by him of her. The judges grant him two shekels of silver. ammurabi 1.10
LandShî-lamazi sues her brothers for a field and wins her case.11
Change of venueBefore Lushtamar, nâgiru of Babylon, Adadi-idinnam and Ibku-Ishtar, judges, Zariku was put to the oath and replied to Erib-Sin. He was told that as his domicile was at Sippara, he must not make his appeal to the judges of Babylon. So his case was dismissed. ammurabi 28.12 The record is defective.
Cases before judges where the plea and its result can be made out with some certainty are as follows:
A dispute about the title to landArdi-Sin, son of Eṭiru, sued the sons of Shamash-nâṣir who had sold a plot of land, two and a half gan in area, to Ibni-Adadi the merchant. He claimed the land as ancestral domain, bît abišu, and denied that he had ever alienated it. The sons of Ibni-Adadi, now in possession, produced the deed of sale, duppu šimâti, which Eṭiru and Sin-nâdin-shûmi, his brother, had executed to Shamash-nâṣir and his son. The judges assigned a small portion of the land, about a sixth, to Ardi-Sin, but make up the rest, apparently, from another quarter. Ammizaduga (?).1
A title now invalidated by a revolutionMâr-Martu bought the garden of Sin-mâgir. Ilubânî disputed the legality, ṣimdattu, of the sale. Before the judges at the gate of Nin-marki he deposed that he was the adopted son of Sin-mâgir, which adoption had never been revoked. In the time of Rim-Sin the house and garden had been awarded to Ilubânî and then Sinmubaliṭ had brought a suit against Ilubânî, which was regularly heard before judges and witnesses from Nin-marki. They had awarded the house and garden to Ilubânî. Sin-mubaliṭ was now bound over to dispute the title no more. ammurabi.2
Here it seems that on the deposition of Rim-Sin by ammurabi, Sin-mubaliṭ, excluded by his bond from disputing Ilubânî’s title, sold his claim to Mâr-Martu, who attempted to enter into possession. Possibly it was thought that the new rulers would reverse the old decision.
Right of a widow on remarriage to her husband’s property or giftsThe sons of Namiatum sue their mother, Iashuatum, about her share of their father’s property. She appears before the judges of Babylon and puts in an inventory to show that she has taken nothing from the family possessions. Then the sons of Namiatum renounce further claim on the ground of family possession to the property of Idin-Adadi, Iashuatum and their descendants. Samsuiluna 2.3
It seems that, after the death of Namiatum, Iashuatum married again. The children of the first marriage bring an action to secure judgment that she shall not take with her any property of their father’s. She had, as we know, a right to take with her her marriage-portion, but not her husband’s gifts to her.
RentAmêl-Ninsa sues Garudu for the rent of a field. The debtor not paying was ejected. Apil-Sin.1
IncomeShûmi-erṣitim sues for right to a sheep and some corn, the naptânu of a god. Judges grant him half share. ammurabi 9.2
DepositJudges summon Ibik-iltum before Elali-bânî to account for corn. He purges himself on oath. N. D.3
AdoptionAmat-Shamash claims to be the adopted daughter of Shamashgâmil and his wife Ummi-Aratum. Her witnesses proving unsatisfactory, her claim was disallowed on the oath of Ummi-Aratum that they had never adopted her. ammurabi (?).4
Loss of hired assIlushu-abushu hired a pack-ass, imer bilti, of Ardi-Sin and Ṣilli-Ishtar and lost it. The judges awarded them sixteen shekels of silver as compensation. Apil-Sin 5.5
InheritanceBabilîtum sued Erish-Saggil, Ubar-Nabium, and Marduk-nâṣir for a share of her family possessions, bît abiša. The judges assigned her a share. Samsu-iluna 5.6
Forged willNidnusha and Shamash-abilu sue the daughter of Sin-eribam about property which she claimed to have inherited. They charge her with having forged the will of Amti-Shamash in her favor. The judges went to Gagim, where the property was, and examined witnesses who proved that Amti-Shamash had left the property to the daughter of Sin-eribam. The judges therefore confirmed her title. N. D.7
LegacyMâr-erṣitim left a female slave Damiḳtum to Erib-Sin. His wife Mazabatum and his brother Ibni-Shamash dispute this legacy. The judges inspect a document by which Erib-Sin, on the suit of Mârerṣitim, had granted Damiḳtum to Mazabatum and Ibni-Shamash. The judges return Damiḳtum to Mazabatum. ammurabi (?).8
Legal practice of Assyrian timesIn Assyrian times we have comparatively few legal decisions. The judges who appear are the sartênu, or chief-justice; the azânu, the chief civil magistrate of a city, the parallel of the ancient rabiânu; the sukallu, or chamberlain; and one or two others, besides the simple daiânu, or judge. Some of these are not judicial officers, but act in that capacity.
Usually the judge is said to lay the blame on the guilty party, arnam eli A emêdu; or to lay the penalty upon one, sartu eli A emêdu. The sentence itself was a dienu, or “judgment.” As in former times, the legal decisions refer to all manner of cases, and here more than anywhere else a mere translation does not convey much meaning to the reader.
Theft of a bullThus:1 a scribe A prosecuted a farmer for the theft of a bull. They came before Nabû-zêr-kênish-lîshir, the deputy azânu of Nineveh. Restitution, bull for bull, was imposed on the defendant, who meantime was held for the fine. “On the day that he shall have made good the value of the bull he shall go free.” Dated the 12th of Elul. Eponymy of Mushallim-Ashur. Twelve witnesses.
Theft of four slavesAgain:2 A stole four slaves of , who summoned him before the sukallu. The judge laid on him a fine of two hundred and ten minas of copper. then deposited a pledge with A, either himself, or a slave, to perform work equivalent to the amount of the debt. If , or any representative of his, pays the money, the pledge is void. “Whoever shall withdraw from this agreement, Ashur and Shamash shall be his judges, he shall pay ten minas of silver and ten minas of gold, he shall pay it in the treasury of Bêlit.” Dated the 10th of Adar, bc 678. Eleven witnesses.
Damages for loss by agentHere is another case, relating to a breach of trust:3
The decision of the chief-justice, which he laid on anî. Three hundred sheep, with their belongings, property of the king’s son were lost, or killed by the shepherds. Each shepherd was condemned to pay two talents of bronze as his fine. anî, and his people, and his fields, were taken as security for the payment for the three hundred sheep, and the fines due from the shepherds. “Whoever shall demand him, his šaknu, his rab kiṣir, or any representative of his, shall pay for three hundred sheep and the fines for the shepherds and then anî shall be released.” Dated 27th of Sebat, bc 679. Four witnesses.
The defendant had been intrusted with three hundred sheep, which he had to return in full, with a proper increase of lambs. But, evidently in the disorders which arose on the death of Sennacherib, anî had lost or made away with them. If he had intrusted them to shepherds, either the shepherds had killed them, or, as some take it, anî had killed the shepherds. In the former case he owed two talents of bronze as fine from each shepherd, in the latter he had to pay the same amount for each. Either way, he was held responsible for the value of three hundred sheep and two talents of bronze for each shepherd. He and all he had were seized for the liability. It is interesting to note that his district governor, or the colonel of the regiment to which he belonged, was thought likely to liberate him; but some other representative might do so. The lost property belonged to the king’s son. This may have been Esarhaddon, or one of Sennacherib’s other sons. But, at any rate, it is clear that Esarhaddon was putting his household in order.
Additional casesThe other examples known to us do not add to our legal knowledge. The subjects are chiefly misappropriations of property and there is little variety.
Later Babylonian decisionsThe later Babylonian tablets throw some light upon legal procedure in Babylon. The greater detail exhibited by them is due largely to the fact that for this period we have so many private documents. The greater portion of the material for this part of the subject has been worked over by Professor J. Kohler and Dr. F. E. Peiser, in their valuable treatise Aus Babylonische Rechtsleben. Little can be added beyond additional examples and illustration.
Method of procedureThe judges acted as a college and not separately. There might be present at a case a chief judge and several judges assisting. Other cases were decided before a single judge. The šibûtu continue to act as a jury. They were the elders of the city, competent to decide the rights of the case. But the exact form of the organization is not yet quite clear.
The process began with the charge. The plaintiff preferred this himself, or by a messenger. His plea was heard and his proofs considered. Then the court caused the accused to come before them and answer the charge.
The possible complicationsThe process admitted of a third person intervening. Thus, A had pledged a plot of land to for thirty-two shekels. Then he sold the property to C. C, dying, left the property to D, who wished to take possession from , who continued to hold it in pledge. goes to the judges and complains against D. A, being yet alive, intervenes and probably has to pay B. But the tablet being defective, we are not able to follow the case further. Only we see the sort of right which each had.
Dispute for the possession of a sum of moneyAnother case is where two parties dispute as to the possession of a sum which is actually in the hands of a banker. The banker accordingly undertakes to produce the sum and its interest in court, and to pay it over to the successful party in the suit. The decision was written down and the notary of the court gave a copy to the plaintiff, if not also to the defendant, and kept one copy for the archives. The plaintiff thus obtained a guarantee against the defendant. But how it was enforced we have no evidence.
Suit regarding loan on mortgageThe kind of points in dispute and decided are, as before, exceedingly varied. The decisions for the most part illustrate other subjects rather than the processes in court; but a few examples may be of interest: A made an advance of forty-four shekels to , who pledged a house for it. This state of affairs continued until both were dead. Their sons inherited. A’s son demanded forty-four shekels of B’s son, who refused to pay. Both came before the judges. B’s son pleaded that the money was never loaned or else repaid long ago. The judges demanded evidence. Either the contract or a receipt must be produced. The claimant was able to present the contract, but no receipt was produced. So the judges assigned the claimant a plot of land belonging to the defendant as satisfaction for the proved debt. Here we have the tablet witnessed by the chief judge, the judges, and the notary.1 What is curious is that the claimant was not content to keep the pledge. But it is probable that the debt was secured on a house which the creditor did not take into his possession. It is also surprising that the judges did not order the house to be handed over to the claimant. That may have been avoided, because of the family rights over the house. The debtor might thus have been rendered houseless, or have lost “his father’s house.” The widow may still have been an inmate. A great part of the document is taken up with the specification of the land handed over to the claimant. Hence a complete translation is not given.
Regarding possession of a slaveA common type of case was a vindication of right to some sort of property. Thus2 A had sold a slave, but C came forward and said: “He is my slave who fled from me,” and took an oath by Bêl and Nabû, that he knew where that slave was living with A. The judges decide that C shall go where the slave is, and when he has proved that he is with A, the slave shall return to C.
Acknowledgment of a debtWe have an acknowledgment before the court and a promise to pay the debt. This promise was usually made on oath, or guarantees were given. Here is an involved case. A is father of B’s mother. B’s father is long dead. The property of A, his grandfather, has now come into B’s hands. He finds an old bond for an advance from A to C and D. The latter D is also dead but had a son E, who inherited. Hence now sues C and E for the money. The bond is shown to C, who remembers and acknowledges the debt and he now undertakes to bring his fellow-debtor E and discharge the debt.
Settlement out of courtMen did not always stand their trial, but sometimes settled the case by an agreement out of court.1 A and his wife sued for some slaves, people of their house. dreads the trial and does not appear. The wife was B’s mother, evidently remarried. brings the slaves whom he still has and offers four minas as payment for one who has died in his house. The offer is accepted and parties agree to be quit.
A private settlementThe decision of a dispute was not always referred to professional judges. A very interesting example occurs,2 when the eldest member of the family and kinatti aplišu, “the family of his son,” act as judges. The plaintiff is an old lady, who had been married, and had a daughter married. These facts are not rehearsed in the tablet itself, which concerns a division of property, but are collected from a number of tablets, spread over some sixty years. The way in which information is thus collected is an instructive example of the manner in which the different documents illustrate and explain one another.3
Agreements to appear in courtConnected with legal decisions are the undertakings to appear before the court, of which we have several examples. Thus,4 A undertakes to bring to Babylon and answer the complaint of C. Or again, a certain gardener spoke to A before an official of the mâr banûtu. This official was subpœnaed, as we should say, and swore by Bêl, Nabû, and Darius, that on the 8th of Sebat, two days hence, he would come and take up the case.5
Production of witnessesThe production of witnesses is the subject of not a few undertakings. Thus,6 by a fixed date, five days hence, A shall bring to be questioned about some asses belonging to the royal household. Again,7 N swears to come, six days hence, and bring another, on account of the witness about A. He further undertakes to establish the partnership. What was the exact cause of quarrel was not stated. These agreements to abide by the testimony of a named witness may have been entered into without reference to judges, but the oath may have been administered before the court. Thus,1 two parties agree to waive their dispute and abide by witness produced. This they do before the atû official of the gate of the temple. Again,2 A is to bring witnesses on the second of Ab, to the door of the tikkalu’s house, and prove when and to whom he gave certain garments. If this be proved, that had received them, will restore the said garments to A; if not, is free. Further, if does not appear on that day, he shall be bound to restore the garments. Several other examples illustrate the point.3
Production of bondA common method was, as has already been shown, to produce the bond or other document, establishing the claim. If, for some reason, the document was not producible, the oath of the scribe who wrote it might be admitted.4 The witnesses whose names appear on the document do not seem to have been summoned. But in one case,5 when two Persians had sold two slave-girls, also Persians, to a Babylonian; a third Persian, who had been witness to the sale, was called on to swear, “I know that the money was paid,” and he sealed the document.
[1 ] 316.
[2 ] Rev. 1-4.
[1 ] 511.
[2 ] 2474.
[1 ] § .
[2 ] M. A. P., 39.
[3 ] M. A. P., 41.
[4 ] M. A. P., 44.
[5 ] M. A. P., 79.
[1 ] M. A. P., 111.
[2 ] 301.
[3 ] 2465.
[4 ] 2473.
[5 ] M. A. P., 40.
[6 ] M. A. P., 78.
[7 ] M. A. P., 80.
[8 ] M. A. P., 110.
[9 ] 199.
[10 ] 327.
[11 ] 511.
[12 ] 586.
[1 ] 2175 A.
[2 ] 2177 A.
[3 ] 2178 A.
[4 ] 2181.
[5 ] 2186.
[6 ] 2190.
[7 ] 2444 A.
[8 ] 2458.
[9 ] 2463.
[10 ] 2502.
[11 ] 2193.
[12 ] 824.
[1 ] M. A. P., 42.
[2 ] M. A. P., 43.
[3 ] M. A. P., 100.
[1 ] 40.
[2 ] 188.
[3 ] 295.
[4 ] 160.
[5 ] 711.
[6 ] 272.
[7 ] 2182.
[8 ] 2516.
[1 ] , No. 160.
[2 ] , No. 161.
[3 ] , No. 164.
[1 ] Nbn. 1128.
[2 ] 53.
[1 ] 260.
[2 ] 410.
[3 ] A. B. P., ii., pp. 70 ff.
[4 ] 159.
[5 ] 229.
[6 ] 299.
[7 ] 176.
[1 ] 52.
[2 ] 183.
[3 ] A. B. P., i., pp. 31 ff.
[4 ] A. B. P., ii., p. 67.
[5 ] 384.