Codes Of Ur Nammu: World’s Oldest Known Law Code

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A. Sutherland – – The Codes of Ur Nammu, written on a Sumerian clay tablet are the world’s oldest laws known to exist. The codes were composed by the Sumerian King Ur-Nammu and date back to around 2100-2050 BC. The period when the laws were written was called, “Year Ur-Nammu Made Justice In The Land.”

Ur-Nammu was the founder of the Ur III dynasty and his son Shulgi was the greatest of all neo-Sumerian monarchs. Ur-Nammu’s Code contained the laws covered both civil and criminal matters. Among criminal provisions, it specifies which should be capital offences: murder, robbery, deflowering another man’s virgin wife, and adultery when committed by a woman.

Sumerian King Ur-Nammu
A close-up image of the upper part of a copper figurine of Ur-Nammu, king of Ur. Image credit: Ancient Encyclopedia

The first copy of the code, in two fragments found at Nippur was translated by Samuel Kramer in 1952; owing to its partial preservation, only the prologue and 5 of the laws were discernible. Further tablets were found in Ur and translated in 1965, allowing some 40 of the 57 laws to be reconstructed.

Another copy found in Sippar contains slight variants.

Although it is known that earlier law-codes existed, such as the Code of Urukagina, this represents the earliest legal text that is extant. It predated the Code of Hammurabi by some three centuries.

The laws cover a wide array of crimes and punishments that were less severe than we might expect. The reason was that the Code of Ur-Nammu assumed a universal understanding on the part of the people that law descended from the gods and the king was simply the administrator of those laws.

Harsh penalties were considered unnecessary for the majority of crimes as, since people were assumed to know how they should behave toward each other, a monetary fine as a reminder of how to behave was sufficient.

See also:

Code Of Babylonian King Hammurabi 

Kudurru Of Melishihu – Stone Records From The Kassite Dynasty In Babylonia

Codes Of Ur Nammu
Codes Of Ur Nammu: World’s Oldest Known Law Code

The Code is comprised of 40 paragraphs that state the crime and the punishment that would be administered by the state through the will of the gods. Some examples of the laws are:

If a man committed a kidnapping, he is to be imprisoned and pay fifteen shekels of silver.

If a man proceeded by force, and deflowered the virgin slave-woman of another man, that man must pay five shekels of silver.

If a man appeared as a witness, and was shown to be a perjurer, he must pay fifteen shekels of silver.

If a man knocked out the eye of another man, he shall weigh out half a mina of silver.

If a man knocked out a tooth of another man, he shall pay two shekels of silver.

If a man, in the course of a scuffle, smashed the limb of another man with a club, he shall pay one mina of silver.

These laws seem to have been effective, as Ur-Nammu’s reign was peaceful and the region flourished in every area of civilization.

The Codes of Ur Nammu also included rules about tax, courtroom procedures, and ceremonial laws.

Written by – A. Sutherland  – Senior Staff Writer

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Kriwaczek, P. Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization

Ancient Encyclopedia

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