Front Page Titles (by Subject) XIII: OBLIGATIONS AND RIGHTS OF CHILDREN - Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
XIII: OBLIGATIONS AND RIGHTS OF CHILDREN - 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.
OBLIGATIONS AND RIGHTS OF CHILDREN
Absoluteness of the paternal power over the familyIt is customary to say that the father had absolute power over his children, but it is better to state only what is known with certainty regarding the extent of his power. The father could treat his child, or even his wife, equally with a slave, as a chattel to be pledged for his debts.1 We may therefore conclude that he could sell his child. An actual example cannot be cited from early times, but they are very common later.
The son was not capable of entering into an independent contract with an outside person.2 We may assume that this means simply while yet living in his father’s house. The father had rights over what his son earned. A man could also hire out his child and take the wages.3
His power of preferenceThe father had the right to prefer one son above the rest. He could endow him with house, field, and garden. But this must be done in his lifetime and by written deed. This gift did not in any way affect the son’s claim to inherit equally with his brethren on the father’s death, when he took a full share over and above what he had by gift.4
His control of his daughtersThe father had full power to dispose of his daughters in marriage. But he was expected to furnish them with a marriage-portion. This was not obligatory, being probably a matter of negotiation with the parents of the bridegroom. In later times the obligation evidently became irksome and oppressive, and Law E was passed to relieve the strain. A father was bound to do his best to fulfil his promise to dower his daughter, but no more. A father could not hinder his daughter from becoming a votary.1 If he approved her choice, he might give her a portion, as if for marriage,2 but he was not compelled to do so. A father could give his daughter to be a concubine.3
The age of majorityIt is not easy to determine when children ceased to be under the paternal power. Betrothed daughters remained in their father’s house; so did married sons sometimes. Whether the birth of a child, making the young man himself a father, freed him as head of a family, or whether it was entering a house of his own, we cannot yet say.
Punishment of unfilial conductThe Sumerian laws are very severe upon a child’s repudiation of a father. That degraded him to the status of a slave. He might also be branded. Obviously he was disinherited. The repudiation is expressed in the words, “You are not my father,” but it may be intended to cover all unfilial conduct. The Code is more explicit. If a son struck his father, his hands were cut off.6
DisinheritanceThe Sumerian laws preserved the father’s rights to disinherit the son by a simple repudiation, saying, “You are not my son.” The son then had to leave house and enclosure. The Code limits this power. It insists on legal process and good reason alleged. Also it was not allowed for a first offence on the son’s part.7
Relations of mothers and sonsThe mother was in much the same position of authority as the father. A son who repudiated his mother was branded and expelled from house and city. He was not, however, sold as a slave. The Sumerian laws also reserved to the mother the right to repudiate her son, and he must quit house and property. The Code gives no such power to mothers. Indeed, we find examples of a son disputing with a mother.1 Mothers took up the father’s place toward the children on the death of the father as regards marriage-portions, bride-price, and other family affairs. But they usually acted in concert with the elder children.
Duties to adoptive parentsThe repudiation of adoptive parents was a very grievous sin, especially on the part of those who were children of parents who were forbidden to have children. Something worse than illegitimacy was their lot. The penalties of having the eye torn out, or the tongue cut out,2 show the abhorrence felt for their ingratitude.
[1 ] § .
[2 ] § .
[3 ] M. A. P., p. 11.
[4 ] § .
[1 ] § .
[2 ] § .
[3 ] § .
[4 ] Page 127.
[5 ] § .
[6 ] § .
[7 ] § .
[1 ] M. A. P., p. 15.
[2 ] §§ , .