Ancient Laws on Slavery

 

The Code of Ur-Nammu, named for a king of Ur, was written in Sumerian circa 2100 BC. The fragment first standardized measures, weights, and money and provided a list of tax codes, ceremonial laws, courtroom procedures, rules for litigation, and penalties for offenses. The laws then defined crimes and punishments. Most of the punishments were in the form of fines, only rape, robbery, adultery, and murder were capital offenses.  The laws distinguished between free (lu) and slave (male,arad; female geme). The following laws survive related to slaves and slavery:

  • If a slave marries a slave, and that slave is set free, he does not leave the household. If a slave escapes from the city limits, and someone returns him, the owner shall pay two shekels to the one who returned him. If a man’s slave-woman, comparing herself to her mistress, speaks insolently to her, her mouth shall be scoured with 1 quart of salt.

The Code of Hammurabi was written in cuneiform in the Akkadian language in Babylon about 1772 BC. The Code became the model for later codes of law and provides for a presumption of innocence and the rule of evidence. The Code enacted 282 laws with punishments determined by slave or free status. (Check out pic of Hammurabi’s Code) Here are a few of the laws relating to slavery:

  • If anyone take a male or female slave of the court, or a male or female slave of a freed man, outside the city gates, he shall be put to death.     If anyone receive into his house a runaway male or female slave of the court, or of a freedman, and does not bring it out at the public proclamation of the major domus, the master of the house shall be put to death.        If any one find runaway male or female slaves in the open country and bring them to their masters, the master of the slaves shall pay him two shekels of silver.     If the slave will not give the name of the master, the finder shall bring him to the palace; a further investigation must follow, and the slave shall be returned to his master.     If he hold the slaves in his house, and they are caught there, he shall be put to death.      If the slave that he caught run away from him, then shall he swear to the owners of the slave, and he is free of all blame.      If anyone fail to meet a claim for debt, and sell himself, his wife, his son, and daughter for money or give them away to forced labor: they shall work for three years in the house of the man who bought them, or the proprietor, and in the fourth year they shall be set free.     If he give a male or female slave away for forced labor, and the merchant sublease them, or sell them for money, no objection can be raised.     If any one fail to meet a claim for debt, and he sell the maid servant who has borne him children, for money, the money which the merchant has paid shall be repaid to him by the owner of the slave and she shall be freed.

Tomorrow, Ancient Pirates & Slavery!   Rita Bay

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