Front Page Titles (by Subject) VIII: CRIMINAL LAW - Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters
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VIII: CRIMINAL 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).
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Reason for the lack of information regarding criminal lawCases concerned with criminal law were naturally not embodied in contracts. Some cases doubtless may be inferred from the legal decisions, but these are only where the penalty had already been commuted from death or punishment to payment or restitution. They are better taken as examples of civil law. But this distinction is not the cause of their rarity or absence. When a man had to be put to death, scourged, or exiled, there was no need for a written bond. Hence the only references which we have outside the Code and the phrase-books, are the penalties set down in marriage-contracts for conjugal infidelity, or for breach of contract voluntarily agreed to by the parties to it.
Blood-vengeance commuted for a giftWe have one case from Assyrian times of the assignment of a slave-girl, as composition for manslaughter. Atarkâmu, a scribe, had caused the death of Samaku, whose son Shamash-ukîn-ai had the right to exạct vengeance. Whether as the result of a legal decision or not, Atarkâmu hands over a slave-girl to Shamash-ukîn-ai and they agree to be at peace. The name of Ashurbânipal occurs in a position which strongly suggests that the king himself sat in judgment upon the case. The tablet is so fragmentary that little else can be made out, but it seems to have been stipulated that the slave should be handed over “at the grave.”1
ImprisonmentIn later Babylonian times we have a reference to imprisonment arising out of a case of guarantee.1 The priest of Shamash at Sippara had put A in prison in fetters; , a fellow-official of his of the same standing, bails him out, giving guarantee to the priests and šibûtu that A shall not go away, or if he does, that will do his work.
AssaultA case of assault and forcible entry into a house occurs.2 But the tablet is so defective that we cannot make out the rights of the case. The superintendent of the city Sharin, in the eighth year of Cyrus complained to the priest of Shamash at Sippara, to the following effect: He had taken into his house, as a prisoner, a certain man A. He pleads that he is uncle to the priest and chief magistrate of the city. Why then has the priest raised his hand over him? Further, seven men, who are armed, have burst in his door and entered his house and taken a mina of gold. Whether this was a rescue by relatives of the prisoner, or by order of the priest, does not appear. As a result of this complaint, the elders of the city were assembled and depositions made. Beyond the plea on the part of the house-breakers that someone had paid them to break in the door, and that the prisoner A was someone’s pledge, we get no further information.
Tempting a slave to desertA case of procuration of desertion, forbidden by the Code3 under pain of death, was condoned by the injured party.4 A caused a maid of B’s to leave her master’s house. received her back, pardoned A, and took no money of him.
Adultery and its punishmentAdultery was punished in the Code by drowning.5 The Code in this and similar cases of sexual irregularity is explicit that the case must be flagrant. Suspicion was not enough.6 But conduct leading to scandal had to be atoned for by submission to the ordeal. The Code did not take a higher ground than public opinion. The private contracts name death as punishment for adultery. Usually it is drowning, but being thrown from a high place, temple, tower, or pillar is named. In the later contracts death was still the penalty for a wife’s adultery, but the penalty had ceased to be drowning only. The adulteress might be put to the sword.1
A woman’s procuring her husband’s death, for love of another, was punished by impalement.2
The punishment of incestIncest on the part of a man with his own daughter involved his banishment.3 Incest with a daughter-in-law, if she was his son’s full wife, was apparently punished by his being drowned. The Code is obscure here and we are not sure whether she was drowned also.4 If the girl was not yet fully married, the case was treated as one of ordinary seduction, and the culprit was fined half a mina.5
[1 ] , No. 321.
[1 ] 281.
[2 ] 328, 329.
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[4 ] 207.
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[6 ] § .
[1 ] , iii., p. 78.
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