Babylonian law  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Babylonian law is a subset of cuneiform law that has received particular study, owing to the singular extent of the associated archaeological material that has been found for it. So-called "contracts" exist in the thousands, including a great variety of deeds, conveyances, bonds, receipts, accounts, and most important of all, actual legal decisions given by the judges in the law courts. Historical inscriptions, royal charters and rescripts, dispatches, private letters and the general literature afford welcome supplementary information. Even grammatical and lexicographical texts contain many extracts or short sentences bearing on law and custom. The so-called "Sumerian Family Laws" are preserved in this way.

Other cultures involved with ancient Mesopotamia shared the same common laws and precedents, extending to the form of contacts that Kenneth Kitchen has studied and compared to the form of contracts in the Bible with particular note to the sequence of blessings and curses that bind the deal. The Maxims of Ptahhotep and Sharia Law,<ref>Conduct of a Physician, Adab al-Tabib, by Ishāq ibn ʻAlī al-Ruhāwī</ref> also include certifications for professionals like doctors, lawyers and skilled craftsmen which prescribe penalties for malpractice very similar to the code of Hammurabi.

The discovery of the now-celebrated Code of Hammurabi (hereinafter simply termed "the Code") has made possible a more systematic study than could have resulted from just the classification and interpretation of other material. Fragments of other Ancient codes exist and have been published, but there still remain many points whereof evidence is still lacking. There survive legal texts from the earliest writings through the Hellenistic period, but evidence on a particular point may be very full for one period and almost entirely lacking for another. The Code forms the backbone of most reconstructions. Fragments of it recovered from Assur-bani-pal's library at Nineveh and later Babylonian copies show that it was studied, divided into chapters, entitled Ninu ilu sirum from its incipit (opening words), and recopied for fifteen hundred years or more.

Much Babylonian legal precedent remained in force, even through the Persian, Greek and Parthian conquests, which had little effect on private life in Babylonia; and it survived to influence Romans. The laws and customs that preceded the Code may be called "early"; that of the Neo-Babylonian empire (as well as the Persian, Greek, etc.), "late". The law of Assyria was derived from the Babylonian, but it conserved early features long after they had disappeared elsewhere.

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