The Code Of Ur-Nammu

November 17, 2018

I have always found history interesting. Specifically, I find the value systems that were lauded in different cultures and societies many centuries ago of particular interest. When looking back at how these different societies were structured, more often than not, it becomes apparent that while we have progressed enormously over the centuries, much of what was core to the societies of old, remain unchanged in contemporary life.


The Code of Ur-Nammu is the oldest known law code surviving today. It is from Mesopotamia and is written on tablets, in the Sumerian language circa 2100–2050 BC.


It is a set of rules that provides an excellent insight into the value systems of that period, as well as to the potential origin of the basic tenants that have been at the core of almost every proceeding society. It is also a code that demonstrates how much we have progressed over the centuries while paradoxically also reminding us of how similar we are to the people that lived over 4000 years ago. As the saying goes, 'there is nothing new under the sun'.


Unfortunately, for many cultural commentators in 2018, there appears to be a complete lack of knowledge, or a willfull ignorance of and about the enormous strides that have been made over the centuries to society as a whole.  Improvements that were only made possible by the sacrifice of our forefathers and improvements that should make us celebrate rather than despair to be born into this time.


Alas, a quick look at the headlines and commentary emanating from CNN or Fox News, would have you believe we are living through one of the toughest eras humanity has ever seen.


While there are undoubtedly improvements that can be made to the society in which we live, to not recognise that it is a society that is positively Utopian compared to those that came before is frankly insulting to the sacrifice of all those that have helped us reach this point. 


In my humble opinion, more people should celebrate how far we have come as a society, and more people should sit down and reflect on how life must have been, thousand of years ago, under The Code of Ur-Nammu. In doing so, they might start appreciating the freedoms they now enjoy rather than spending all their time looking for ways to be viewed as a victim.


Sadly though, for some people, the injustices they see in the 90s sitcom FRIENDS, is representative of how cruel and unjust the world used to be. 


Dear Oh Dear. 



  • 1. If a man commits a murder, that man must be killed

  • 2. If a man commits a robbery, he will be killed

  • 3. If a man commits a kidnapping, he is to be imprisoned and pay 15 shekels of silver

  • 4. If a slave marries a slave, and that slave is set free, he does not leave the household

  • 5. If a slave marries a native (i.e. free) person, he/she is to hand the firstborn son over to his owner

  • 6. If a man violates the right of another and deflowers the virgin wife of a young man, they shall kill that male

  • 7. If the wife of a man followed after another man and he slept with her, they shall slay that woman, but that male shall be set free. (§4 in some translations)

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

  • 9. If a man divorces his first-time wife, he shall pay (her) one mina of silver

  • 10. If it is a (former) widow whom he divorces, he shall pay (her) half a mina of silver

  • 11. If the man had slept with the widow without there having been any marriage contract, he need not pay any silver

  • 13. If a man is accused of sorcery he must undergo ordeal by water; if he is proven innocent, his accuser must pay 3 shekels 

  • 14. If a man accused the wife of a man of adultery, and the river ordeal proved her innocent, then the man who had accused her must pay one-third of a mina of silver

  • 15. If a prospective son-in-law enters the house of his prospective father-in-law, but his father-in-law later gives his daughter to another man, the father-in-law shall return to the rejected son-in-law twofold the amount of bridal presents he had brought

  • 16. If [text destroyed...], he shall weigh and deliver to him 2 shekels of silver

  • 17. If a slave escapes from the city limits, and someone returns him, the owner shall pay two shekels to the one who returned him

  • 18. If a man knocks out the eye of another man, he shall weigh out ½ a mina of silver

  • 19. If a man has cut off another man's foot, he is to pay ten shekels

  • 20. 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

  • 21. If someone severed the nose of another man with a copper knife, he must pay two-thirds of a mina of silver

  • 22. If a man knocks out a tooth of another man, he shall pay two shekels of silver. 

  • 24. [text destroyed...] If he does not have a slave, he is to pay 10 shekels of silver. If he does not have silver, he is to give another thing that belongs to him.

  • 25. 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

  • 26. If a slave woman strikes someone acting with the authority of her mistress,  [text destroyed...],

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

  • 29. If a man appears as a witness, but withdraws his oath, he must make payment, to the extent of the value in litigation of the case

  • 30. If a man stealthily cultivates the field of another man and he raises a complaint, this is however to be rejected, and this man will lose his expenses

  • 31. If a man flooded the field of a man with water, he shall measure out three kur of barley per iku of field.

  • 32. If a man had let an arable field to a(nother) man for cultivation, but he did not cultivate it, turning it into wasteland, he shall measure out three kur of barley per iku of field. 

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