Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sumerian Origins - Law

Formalized law was an important part of Sumerian culture.  A number of examples of detailed legal codes have been found among the cuneiform tablets. Perhaps because of their contentious personalities they tended to emphasize the importance of legal limits and boundaries. The Sumerian records include examples of deeds of sale, sale of slaves, suits over debts, etc. 
From Kramer we learn: "The promulgation of laws and legal regulations by the rulers of the Sumerian states was a common phenomenon by 2400 B.C. and probably even considerably earlier (1128).    Written law played a large role in the Sumerian city. Beginning about 2700 B.C., we find actual deeds of sales, including sales of fields, houses, and slaves (1070)."
"The extraordinary importance which the Sumerians attached to law and legal controls is due, at least in part, to the contentious and aggressive behavioral pattern which characterized their culture (3399)."  
"In a lawsuit, Sumerian court procedure was as follows: A suit was initiated by one of the parties or if the state's interests were involved by the state administration. The testimony brought before the court might consist of statements made by witnesses, usually under oath, or by one of the parties under oath; or it might be in the form of written documents or statements made by 'experts' or important officials. The verdict was conditional and became operative only after an oath had been administered in the temple to the party of whom the court demanded it as proof of their claim (1178)."  The witnesses usually took the oath rather than the litigants.  The verdict was written as a terse decision granted to one of the parties.  
Sumerian law was not always fair.  For example: "Citizens were
Hammurabi Law Code
Wikipedia Commons
 thrown in jail on the slightest pretext: for debt, non payment of taxes, or trumped up charges of theft and murder (1087)."  
Kramer includes a summary of Sumerian court decisions in his appendix at location 4281.  He also reproduces a detailed copy of the Lipit-Ishtar Law Code at location 4295.  


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