Cradle of Justice: Family and Women issues in Hammurabi’s Code of Law. by Muwaffaq Tikriti

One of the shortfalls of Iraqi school curriculum is that students are brought up studying mainly Islamic, Arabic and European histories, very little attention was paid to Mesopotamian History. In my time I remember being taught about the French revolution more than the Assyrians, Babylonians or The Sumerians.

At school, we had to memorize the mu3alaqt (long pre-Islamic poetry which foments tribal loyalty and personal achievements), yet we were not given access to the Code of Hammurabi. I believe Iraqi students should memorize some of its clauses, not just by reading them. A deeper study would have instilled the sense of justice into all of us. I have met hundreds of Iraqi intellectuals, unfortunately not one in a hundred has ever read this great law that was the building stone of many other laws in the history of civilization.

The Code of Hammurabi is 3800 years old and it comprises 282 clauses. Here, I am listing the clauses that are relevant to family and women issues.

“Anu and Bel called me by name: Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, bring about the rule of righteousness in the land in order to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers so that the strong shall not harm the weak. So that I shall rule over the black-headed people like Shamash and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind. . . “.

136 If any one leaves his house, runs away and his wife go to another house. If then he returns and wishes to take his wife back, then because he fled from his home and ran away, the wife of this runaway shall not return to her husband.

137 If a man wishes to separate from a woman who has borne him children, or from his wife who has borne him children, then he shall give that wife her dowry and a part of the usufruct (produce) of field, garden, and property, so that she can rear her children. When she has brought up her children, a portion of all that is given to the children, equal to that of one son, shall be given to her. She may then marry the man of her heart.

138 If a man wishes to separate from his wife who has borne him no children, he shall give her the amount of her purchase money and the dowry which she brought from her father’s house, and let her go.

139 If there was no purchase price he shall give her one mina of gold as a gift of release.

140 If he be a freed man he shall give her one-third of a mina of gold.

141 If a man’s wife who lives in his house wishes to leave, then plunges into debt, tries to ruin her house, neglects her husband, and is convicted by a judge; if her husband offers to release her then she may go on her way and he needs not give her anything as a gift of release. If her husband does not wish to release her and takes another wife then she shall remain as a servant in her husband’s house.

142 If a woman quarrels with her husband and say: “You are not congenial to me,” then the reasons for her claims must be presented. If she is guiltless and there is no fault on her part but the husband leaves and neglects her, then no guilt attaches to this woman, she can take back her dowry and go back to her father’s house.

143 If she is not innocent, but leaves her husband, and ruins her house, neglecting her husband, this woman shall be cast into the water.

144 If a man take a wife and this woman give her husband a maid-servant, and she bears him children, yet this man wishes to take another wife, then this shall not be permitted; he shall not take a second wife.

145 If a man take a wife, and she bear him no children, and he intend to take another wife: if he take this second wife, and bring her into the house, this second wife shall not be allowed equality with his wife.

146 If a man takes a wife and she give this man a maid-servant as wife and she bear him children, and then this maid assume equality with the wife: because she has borne him children her master shall not sell her for money, but he may keep her as a slave, placing her among the maid-servants.

147 If she has not borne him children then her mistress may sell her for money.

148 If a man takes a wife and she be seized by disease, if he then desires to take a second wife then he shall not put away his first wife who has been stricken by disease, but he shall keep her in the house which he has built and support her so long as she lives.

149 If this woman does not wish to remain in her husband’s house then he shall compensate her for the dowry that she brought with her from her father’s house, and she may go.

150 If a man gives his wife a field, garden, and a house and a deed therefore, if then after the death of her husband the sons raise no claim, then the mother may bequeath all to one of her sons whom she prefers, and need leave nothing to his brothers.

151 If a woman who lived in a man’s house made an agreement with her husband, that no creditor can arrest her, and has given a document therefore: if that man, before he married that woman, had a debt, the creditor can not hold the woman for it. But if the woman, before she entered the man’s house, had contracted a debt, her creditor can not arrest her husband therefore.

152 If after the woman had entered the man’s house, both contracted a debt, both must pay the merchant.

153 If the wife of one man on account of another man has their mates (her husband and the other man’s wife) murdered, both of them shall be impaled.

154 If a man be guilty of incest with his daughter, he shall be driven from the place (exiled).

155 If a man betroths a girl to his son, and his son has intercourse with her, but he (the father) afterward defiles her and be caught, then he shall be bound and cast into the water (drowned).

156 If a man betroths a girl to his son, but his son has not known her, and if then he defiles her, he shall pay her half a gold mina, and compensate her for all that she brought out of her father’s house. She may marry the man of her heart.

157 If any one be guilty of incest with his mother after his father, both shall be burned.

158 If any one be caught after his father with his chief wife, who has borne him children, he shall be driven out of his father’s house.

159 If any one, who has brought chattels into his father-in-law’s house, and has paid the purchase-money, looks for another wife, and says to his father-in-law: “I do not want your daughter,” the girl’s father may keep all that he had brought.

160 If a man bring chattels into the house of his father-in-law, and pay the “purchase price” (for his wife): if then the father of the girl say: “I will not give you my daughter,” he shall give him back all that he brought with him.

161 If a man bring chattels into his father-in-law’s house and pay the “purchase price,” if then his friend slanders him and his father-in-law says to the young husband: “You shall not marry my daughter,” then he shall give back to him undiminished all that he had brought with him; but his wife shall not be married to the friend.

162 If a man marries a woman and she bears him sons; if then this woman dies, then her father shall have no claim on her dowry; this belongs to her sons.

163 If a man marries a woman and she bears him no sons; if then this woman dies, if the “purchase price” which he had paid into the house of his father-in-law is repaid to him, her husband shall have no claim upon the dowry of this woman; it belongs to her father’s house.

164 If his father-in-law does not pay back to him the amount of the “purchase price” then he may subtract the amount of the “Purchase price” from the dowry, and then pay the remainder to her father’s house.

165 If a man gives to one of his sons whom he prefers a field, garden, or a house, and a deed therefore: if later the father dies, and the brothers divide the estate, then they shall first give him the present of his father, and he shall accept it; and the rest of the paternal property shall they divide.

166 If a man takes wives for his son, but takes no wife for his minor son, and if then he die: if the sons divide the estate, they shall set aside besides his portion the money for the “purchase price” for the minor brother who had taken no wife as yet, and secure a wife for him.

167 If a man marries a wife and she bears him children: if this wife dies and he then takes another wife and she bears him children: if the father dies then the sons must not partition the estate according to the mothers, they shall divide the dowries of their mothers only in this way; the paternal estate they shall divide equally with one another.

168 If a man wishes to put his son out of his house, and declare before the judge: “I want to put my son out,” then the judge shall examine into his reasons. If the son be guilty of no great fault for which he can be rightfully put out, then the father shall not put him out.

169 If he be guilty of a grave fault, which should rightfully deprive him of the filial relationship, the father shall forgive him the first time; but if he be guilty of a grave fault a second time the father may deprive his son of all filial relation.

170 If his wife bears sons to a man, or his maid-servant have borne sons, and the father while still living says to the children whom his maid-servant has borne: “My sons,” and he count them with the sons of his wife; if the father dies then the sons of the wife and of the maid-servant shall divide the paternal property in common. The sons of the wife is to partition and choose.

171 If, however, the father while still living did not say to the sons of the maid-servant: “My sons,” and then the father dies, then the sons of the maid-servant shall not share with the sons of the wife, but the freedom of the maid and her sons shall be granted. The sons of the wife shall have no right to enslave the sons of the maid; the wife shall take her dowry (from her father), and the gift that her husband gave her and deeded to her (separate from dowry, or the purchase-money paid her father), and live in the home of her husband: so long as she lives she shall use it, it shall not be sold for money. Whatever she leaves shall belong to her children.

172 If her husband made her no gift, she shall be compensated for her gift, and she shall receive a portion from the estate of her husband, equal to that of one child. If her sons oppress her, to force her out of the house, the judge shall examine into the matter, and if the sons are at fault the woman shall not leave her husband’s house. If the woman desires to leave the house, she must leave to her sons the gift which her husband gave her, but she may take the dowry of her father’s house. Then she may marry the man of her heart.

173 If this woman bears sons to her second husband in the place to which she went and then she dies, her earlier and later sons shall divide the dowry between them.

174 If she bear no sons to her second husband, the sons of her first husband shall have the dowry.

175 If a State slave or the slave of a freed man marries the daughter of a free man and children are born, the master of the slave shall have no right to enslave the children of the free.

176 If, however, a State slave or the slave of a freed man marries a man’s daughter, and after he marries her she brings a dowry from her father’s house, if then they both enjoy it and found a household, and accumulate means, if then the slave dies, then she who was free born may take her dowry, and all that her husband and she had earned; she shall divide them into two parts, one-half the master for the slave shall take, and the other half shall the free-born woman take for her children. If the free-born woman had no gift then she shall take all that belonged to her husband and she had earned and divide it into two parts; and the master of the slave shall take one-half and she shall take the other for her children.

177 If a widow, whose children are not grown, wishes to enter another house (remarry), she shall not enter it without the knowledge of the judge. If she enters another house the judge shall examine the state of the house of her first husband. Then the house of her first husband shall be entrusted to the second husband and the woman herself as managers. And a record must be made thereof. She shall keep the house in order, bring up the children, and not sell the house-hold utensils. He who buys the utensils of the children of a widow shall lose his money, and the goods shall return to their owners.

178 If a “devoted woman” or a prostitute to whom her father has given a dowry and a deed therefore, but if in this deed it is not stated that she may bequeath it as she pleases, and has not explicitly stated that she has the right of disposal; if then her father dies then her brothers shall hold her field and garden, and give her corn, oil and milk according to her portion, and satisfy her. If her brothers do not give her corn, oil, and milk according to her share, then her field and garden shall support her. She shall have the usufruct of field and garden and all that her father gave her so long as she lives, but she can not sell or assign it to others. Her position of inheritance belongs to her brothers.

179 If a “sister of a god,” or a prostitute, receive a gift from her father, and a deed in which it has been explicitly stated that she may dispose of it as she pleases, and give her complete disposition thereof: if then her father dies then she may leave her property to whomsoever she pleases. Her brothers can raise no claim thereto.

180 If a father gives a present to his daughter-either marriageable or a prostitute (unmarriageable)-and then dies, then she is to receive a portion as a child from the paternal estate and enjoy its usufruct so long as she lives. Her estate belongs to her brothers.

181 If a father devote a temple-maid or temple-virgin to God and give her no present: if then the father dies, she shall receive the third of a child’s portion from the inheritance of her father’s house, and enjoy its usufruct so long as she lives. Her estate belongs to her brothers.

182 If a father devotes his daughter as a wife of Mardi of Babylon (as in 181), and give her no present nor a deed; if then her father dies, then she shall receive one-third of her portion as a child of her father’s house from her brothers, but Marduk may leave her estate to whomsoever she wishes.

183 If a man give his daughter by a concubine a dowry, and a husband, and a deed; if then her father dies, she shall receive no portion from the paternal estate.

184 If a man does not give a dowry to his daughter by a concubine, and no husband; if then her father dies, her brothers shall give her a dowry according to her father’s wealth and secure a husband for her.

185 If a man adopts a child and to his name as son and rears him, this grown son can not be demanded back again.

186 If a man adopts a son, and if after he has taken him he injures his foster father and mother, then this adopted son shall return to his father’s house.

187 The son of a paramour in the palace service, or of a prostitute, can not be demanded back.

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