Front Page Titles (by Subject) VII: PUBLIC RIGHTS - Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters
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VII: PUBLIC RIGHTS - 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 mixed population of BabyloniaThe early inhabitants of Babylonia are usually regarded as a non-Semitic race, whom we term Sumerians. Upon them was superimposed a layer of Semitic peoples. The first dynasty of Babylon is now often called Arabian. But the evidence of a previous admixture of peoples is not lacking. The subsequent history bears witness to many invasions by Kassites, Elamites, and nomad tribes, some Semitic, some probably not. Later came Persians and Medes, not to speak of Greeks and Parthians.
Position and rights of resident aliensThe foreign wars brought slaves from all the surrounding countries, even as far away as Egypt. We cannot here enter into any discussion of the foreign elements in the population; but it is important to note what the attitude of the Babylonians was to the foreigners resident in their midst. The evidence on the whole is very slight. It may be said, that as a rule, resident aliens became citizens and were under no disabilities. One section of the Code, if we correctly understand it, allows an alien to purchase an estate, provided he bears the liabilities to the state1 which lay upon it. The “merchant” was probably usually an alien, and only temporarily resident. In the contracts of the ammurabi period, with the exception of the frequent West-Semitic names, we have little trace of aliens. When the Kassites came we may expect the conquering race to have had full rights. In Assyria there is no trace of disability. Egyptians, Elamites, Armenians, Jews, Arameans, contract exactly like natives. In later Babylonian times we find the same freedom. Of course Persians, and, later, Greeks, were under no disabilities. Hence there is very little at any time to chronicle under this head.
We have marriages between Persians and Egyptians, with witnesses, Babylonian, Persian, Aramean, and Egyptian.1 Medes rent a Babylonian’s house, and live there.2 A Persian buys of a Babylonian.3 A Persian father gives Babylonian names to his children.4 A vivid picture of the mixed nationality in the time of Artaxerxes II. is given in the “Business Documents of Murashû Sons,” and the list of proper names attached to Professor Hilprecht’s edition sufficiently illustrates the point.
Tax on landed propertyOwnership of land carried its liabilities of tax or service. These were carefully guarded and it was the mark of an oppressor to exceed the normal demand. That, however, seems to have been regularly and continually paid. A very good illustration of public rights over land, or the relation between the state and the private owner, is afforded by the construction, in the reign of Cyrus, of a canal of Shamash by the priest of Sippara. It was to pass through certain lands and the consent of the owners had to be obtained. The magistrates and honorables of the city A, through which it would pass, and the peoples of the neighboring fields were assembled. They were asked to swear, as Susians, subjects of the King of Susa, that they would raise no difficulty. Then the priest took on himself the cost of the work on the canal, but stipulated that when it was completed, the neighbors should keep it in repair. Also he forbade the construction of any rival canal.5 Riparians were responsible for the care of the canal as shown in the Code.1
State liabilitiesThe state undertook some duties. In the Code we note that the palace would, failing other means, redeem an official from captivity.2
District liabilitiesThere were certain local liabilities of a public nature. Thus the Code shows that the magistrate and his district were held responsible for highway robbery or brigandage in their midst.3 It may be assumed that the funds to meet such liabilities were furnished by the city temple, for we note that if an official were captured, and his private means were not sufficient for his ransom, his city temple had to furnish the money.4
General system of taxationThe whole question of taxation is full of difficulties. There were certain persons who paid tribute, that is, some proportionate part of their produce, others did personal service. There is frequent mention of dues of various sorts, at ferries, market-places and the like. Demands were made on the stock or crops of the farmers. But we are not yet in a position even to sketch the system of taxation.
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[1 ] 201.
[2 ] 57.
[3 ] 410.
[4 ] 509.
[5 ] 231, 232.
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