Mesopotamian Sumerian Cuneiform Legal Tablet 4.5H -
This reproduction of a Sumerian law tablet dates from about 1860 BCE and depicts one of the oldest documented laws in history. It was recovered in Nippur, Iraq, during University of Pennsylvania excavation. The writing is cuneiform, an ancient style of writing used by five distinct languages over a period of 3000 years. Cuneiform was written by scribes using a stylus, a sharp ended reed, which made wedge shapes in clay. These clay tablets were used for recording administrative, economic and legal matters. (PN 6546)
- Sumerian Tablet Reproduction is made from resin and stone, antique finish.
- Measures 4.5 in H x 2.75 in W. Weighs 0.8 lbs.
The laws on this tablet are from the Laws of Lipit-Ishta, the fifth ruler of the first Dynasty of Isin (1934-1924 BCE) and pre-dates the Code of Hammurabi by 150 years. During Lipit-Ishtar's rule, the city of Isin was politically and militarily dominant and a major center for the worship of the goddess of healing. These law collections are understood to be royal inscriptions attesting to the king's attention to the socio-economic well being of his people, and the implementation of justice and equality in he realm. Originally written on a large stele, this tablet is an excerpt from the law collection which was used for school practice.
JUSTICE SYSTEM: A system of law is necessary to settle disputes within a community and to enforce obligation or responsibility. The Sumerian Sun God, Utu, was custodian of the cosmic law and divine judge. On earth, the king was responsible for the law and the necessary issued royal decrees and judgments. The citizen had the right to legal hearings and to bring issues to the court. Important temple officials, scribes, city elders and even an ensi (city ruler such as Gudea, Prince of Lagash) served as judges. Judges risked loss of their office if they heard first, then the defendant. Both parties had to bring witnesses who testified under oath to substantiate their claims. Witnessed documents and sworn depositions were also used in lieu of testimony.
LAWS: Here is a sample of laws found on the tablet as translated by Martha T. Roth in "Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor" (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997):
- If a man gives another man fallow land for the purpose of planting an orchard but he does not complete the planting of that orchard, they shall give the fallow land which he has neglected to one who is willing to plant the orchard as his share.
- If a man enters the orchard of another man and is seized there for thievery, he shall weigh and deliver 10 shekels of silver.
- If a man - adjacent to whose house another man has neglected his fallow land - (if this) householder declares to the owner of the fallow land: "Your fallow land had been neglected; someone could break into my house. Fortify your property!" and is confirmed that this formal warning was given, the owner of the fallow land shall restore to the owner of the house any property that is lost.
- If a man's female slave or male slave flees within the city, and it is confirmed that the slave dwelt in a man's house for one month, he (the one who harbored the slave) shall give slave for slave.
- If he has no slave, he shall weigh and deliver 15 shekels of silver.
- If a man's slave contests his slave's status against his master, and it is proven that his master has been compensated for his slavery two-fold, that slave shall be freed.
- If a man without grounds (?) accuses another man of a matter of which he has no knowledge and that man does not prove it, he shall bear the penalty of the matter for which he made the accusation.
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