Babylonian Law

The ancient cultural territory of Babylonia, located in southeast Mesopotamia between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. The Babylonians thought their king was a god and that he had power because of the gods. A bureaucracy and centralised administration were developed together with the unavoidable adjuncts, taxes, and compulsory military service, to increase his authority and control. The contemporary inscriptions of the people themselves are the main sources from which our understanding of Babylonian law is obtained.

The customs of classical authors don't really add anything to these in a significant way. They seem to be primarily based on "travellers' stories" and misconceptions, and to the extent that they make any allusions to the topic, their conclusions must be changed in light of the immensely more knowledge that now possessed.

What is the meaning of Babylonian Law?

Babylonia is the name of an ancient Mesopotamian empire that was renowned for its mathematics and astronomy, architecture, literature, cuneiform tablets, laws and administration, and beauty, as well as excess and evil of biblical proportions. Babylonia is roughly equivalent to modern-day southern Iraq.

Classes of Babylonian Law

According to the Law, there are three classes that make up the entire population −


The original avilum was a patrician, a man from a wealthy family with full civil rights, whose birth, marriage, and passing were all recorded. He possessed aristocratic rights and obligations, including the ability to seek retribution for physical harm, but he was also subject to harsher penalties for crimes and misdemeanours, including greater fees and fines. The monarch and his court, as well as the more senior officials, professionals, and artisans, belonged to this class. Throughout time, the phrase was reduced to little more than a courtesy title; in the Code, it is already used to refer to anybody regardless of position. There was no requirement based on property, and the phrase doesn't seem to be racial.


Mushkenu was a vagabond who lived in freedom but had to take money as payment for bodily harm, paid less in fees and penalties, and even made less gifts to the gods.


The highly frequent class of Ardu was a slave who served as his master's chattel. He was able to amass wealth and even own additional slaves. His owner provided him with clothing, food, and medical care, but kept all damages awards made in his favour. He might buy his freedom from his owner, or he may be set free and given to a temple, or he could even be adopted when he became an amelu.

Features of Babylonian law

The following are the features of Babylonian law are −

  • Citizen’s tenants of gods − The inhabitants of a city were his tenants and paid regular dues in naturalia, stock, money, or service. The deity of the city was the land's owner.

  • Temple − The temple employed a large number of officials and employees and got funding from its lands, tithes, sacrifices, and offerings, as well as from money and donations.

  • Property law − The Code accepts a variety of property disposal methods, including sale, lease, barter, gift, dedication, deposit, loan, or pledge. Credit was viewed as a debt that was backed by a bond, whereas a sale was the delivery of a purchase in exchange for the payment for the purchase.

  • Leasing − Landowners might hire or rent a husbandman, who would be in charge of cultivating the land properly, producing an average harvest, and maintaining the field's tilth.

  • Hired labour − Despite the large number of slaves, paid labour was frequently required, particularly during harvest. This was a contractual issue, and the employer, who often paid in advance, would ask for a guarantee of performance in the form of a collateral. Hired cattle were used for threshing, transporting, watering equipment, and other tasks. For sowers, ox-drivers, field labourers, and hire for oxen, asses, etc., the Code established a statutory pay.

Babylonian law on Family Law

The Babylonian Law on family law are −


Marriage was essentially a contract to become husband and wife. Young people's marriages were typically arranged between their relatives, with the groom's father paying the bride price, which the suitor ceremonially gave to the bride's father along with other presents. After the bride got married, her father would typically give her the bride-price, which then went back into the bridegroom's hands together with her dowry, which was her share of the family inheritance as a daughter.


The husband had the option of divorcing, but he would have to pay back the dowry and, if she had given birth to their children, she would get custody of them. After that, he was forced to give her the property's revenue as well as the items she would need to support herself and their children until they were grown. She was free to remarry and divided the allowance equally with their kids (as well as, it appears, his wealth upon his passing). He gave her dowry back if she had no children and gave her a payment equal to the bridal price, or a mina of silver if there had been none. The latter is typically included in the contract as the forfeit for his rejection of her.


A widow raised the children at his home and took on her husband's role in the family. She was only permitted to remarry with the approval of the court, after which the judge inventoried the decedent's fortune and gave it to her and her new husband in trust for the kids. They failed to annoy even one piece of equipment.


A widow raised the children at his home and took on her husband's role in the family. She was only permitted to remarry with the approval of the court, after which the judge inventoried the decedent's fortune and gave it to her and her new husband in trust for the kids. They failed to annoy even one piece of equipment.


Adoption was typical when the father or mother was childless or had witnessed all of his children grow up and leave the home. The terms of the contract, which set forth what the parent had to give up and the level of upkeep required, were followed. In most cases, natural children gave their permission to a situation that limited their aspirations. Sometimes they even bought the adoptive child's estate.


When the father passed away, all of his legal offspring received an equal portion of his wealth, with the exception of any gifts the father had given to his favourite children or bride price for an unmarried son or daughter. Typically, the eldest son served as executor, equalised the shares, and made donations that were more than his own. Up to later periods, when the first family got two-thirds, both families shared equally if there were two widows with proper issues. Girls participated in the property of their own mothers and shared in the rights of their sons, but stepmothers' property was not shared by the children.


The penalty for adultery was death for both parties, but the monarch may step in and pardon the paramour provided the husband was prepared to forgive his wife. For incest between mother and son, both were burnt to death; for incest with a stepmother, the man was disinherited; for incest with a daughter-in-law, he was banished; for incest with a son's fiancée, he was fined; and for incest with a wife who engineered her husband's murder, she was gibbeted.

Punishment under Babylonian law

An Amelu was to be attacked with "eye for eye, tooth for tooth, and limb for limb" as the penalty. Cutting off the hand that struck a father or stole a trust, severing the breast of a wet nurse who switched the child entrusted to her for another, losing the tongue that denied a father or mother, and losing the eye that peered into forbidden secrets are all examples of a sort of symbolic retaliation that was the punishment for the offender. Under the Babylonian law the death sentence was freely applied to theft and other offences. The death sentence was also established for actions that endangered the life of another. The parties and the witnesses were sworn in. The punishment for a false witness was often the same as the punishment the victim would have received in the event of a conviction.

The most frequent punishment was a fine. It is clearly documented that appeals to the monarch were accepted. A defendant may choose to answer the charge before the local court and decline to enter a plea in Babylon, despite the fact that the judges there appear to have constituted a superior court to those of provincial towns. Finally, it should be emphasised that the Omen Tablets strongly condemn numerous immoral actions as likely to land the offender in "the hand of God" rather than "the hand of the monarch," including the use of counterfeit weights, lying, and other actions that could not be brought before a court.


Babylonian law are so-called "contracts" exist, including a wide range of deeds, conveyances, bonds, receipts, accounts. The actual legal rulings rendered by judges in court. More information is gratefully provided by historical inscriptions, royal charters and rescripts, dispatches, private correspondence, and general literature. Even grammatical and lexical writings often include quotes or brief passages that have to do with law and tradition.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1.What was the purpose of the Babylonian law?

Ans.In Babylon, the codes governed commerce, business, and interpersonal interactions. Moreover, it educates us about Mesopotamian society's class structures and political and economic dynamics. The Hammurabi Code was exceedingly advanced for its time and has had an impact on all civilizations ever since.

Q2.What was the first law in the world?

Ans.The earliest known legal code still in existence is the Code of Ur-Nammu. It comes from Mesopotamia and is inscribed in Sumerian on tablets.

Q3.How many Babylonian laws are there?

Ans.The 282 regulations that made up the Code of Hammurabi were engraved in stone by the Babylonian monarch Hammurabi.

Updated on: 13-Apr-2023


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