45.105.201, Fall 2010
Midterm 1 Take-Home: Question #3
You have written an excellent essay about the legal systems of the Ancient world, in which you analyze “Hammurabi’s Code”, the Torah, and the “Twelve Tables”. The essay introduces the topic in the first paragraph, and then follows a clear, logical structure to make 4 principal comparisons among these 3 primary sources. The essay clearly represents your own analysis and original thought; I am particularly impressed that you picked 3 sources from such different time periods and places, and also that you sought out the full version of Hammurabi’s code in order to learn more about the status of women and children. The essay also quotes from the primary sources and includes citations. The only weaknesses that I see are an introductory paragraph that could be more specific about the 4 points you make in the essay, and the third body paragraph on p. 3. The latter has a topic sentence that is too vague, and the example from the Twelve Tables about deformed children seems to me too much of a stretch to link well with the earlier part of the paragraph. Happily, you end on a strong note with the final comparison on p. 4 about the importance of a man’s word. All in all, this essay does a fine job of explicating selected primary sources and showing how they can be compared and contrasted to tell us more about the Ancient world. 94
In the ancient world, the legal systems of different societies varied significantly. Although the three primary sources, Hammurabi’s Code, The Torah, and The Twelve Tables are all codes of law and have similarities, the three differ in many ways. The three documents were from different time periods, including 1750 BC, the ancient time period when the Jews were in the Fertile Crescent (exact written date is unknown), and 450 BC, respectively. By simply reading some of the laws and regulations of a society, one can determine many things about the social status, the government, and the relationships of the people within each society, and what is important to the people and the government at the time.
First, social hierarchies from ancient societies were very clear through the law codes. In Hammurabi’s Code, on page 42 in Wiesner, two laws are as follows: “200: If a seignior has knocked out a tooth of a seignior of his own rank, they shall knock out his tooth. 201: If he has knocked out a commoner’s tooth, he shall pay one-third mina of silver.” These laws imply that the so-called “commoner” was of a lower rank than other seigniors because a seignior had to pay, rather than have his tooth knocked out. Thus clearly showing the social hierarchies and different classes in ancient Mesopotamia around 1750 BC. Furthermore, The Twelve Tables instructed to people of the Roman city states, in 450 BC, that “marriages should not take place between plebeians and patricians” (Table XI). Patricians were the upper class, while plebeians were the lower class. This law, which was enforced by the Roman government, shows the reader that, at that time, social classes played a large role in the way society was run. Finally, although the Torah does not clearly say anything about social status and classes in the laws, due to the mention of slaves and owners, one can determine there was some sort of system in effect during the time Yahweh was ruling. The social hierarchies were more prominent and also more meaningful in ancient times compared to how they are look upon today, which class a man belonged to determined what he could or could not do in his society and if he could hold a position in the army or as a government official.
Second, each code of laws has different regulations for how women and children were treated in society. At the time these documents were written, unlike today in the United States and many other countries, women were not equal to men in any way. For example, in The Twelve Tables it is said by the Roman government, “Females should remain in guardianship even when they have attained their majority” (Table V). Despite a woman having her majority, she was unable to leave her husband and be on her own. Women were not considered citizens in the society. Furthermore, in the code of Hammurabi, women are not mentioned in the excerpts in Wiesner’s book. However, when looking at the full recovered version of the Code of Hammurabi, if a woman wishes to leave her husband, she can go live with another male relative, including her father or an uncle, or if the court is involved, she may be drowned if they find it is her fault the family fell apart. However, a woman could not live on her own, and she was not allowed to take her children. Similarly, females are not mentioned at all in excerpts of the Torah. From not being mentioned and having the male gender dominate the sources, one can conclude that the males of the society dominated everything. Males were respected more than women and had many more rights and privileges than their female counterparts; therefore, one can understand the justice system favored males over females.
Next, by reading the laws of each society, one is able to see a little bit of how the government was set up and what was important to the society. First, family was something everyone was expected to respect and obey in all societies at this time. For instance, written in the Torah, “whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death” (page 45 of Wiesner). This law shows the importance of respecting one’s parents and how there was no justice to a child who struck his or her parent. Although this may seem very harsh to someone reading this today, it further shows the readers how imperative respect towards families were. Consequently, if a son struck his father in ancient Mesopotamia, according to Hammurabi, the son’s hand should be cut off. Although similar, the punishment was not as severe as Yahweh and his Jewish followers believed it should be. Both, however, are examples showing how important being loyal and respectful to your family was. Furthermore, despite punishment for striking a parent is not said in The Twelve Tables, family was very important to the Roman city states at this time. For example, all of the laws written in Table IV is about family and the rules and regulations each family had to follow to be like the rest of the society. It was said, that “a dreadfully deformed child shall be quickly killed.” Nowadays, this would be illegal to do. However, in a society where conformity was so important, it was more appropriate to kill a child who looked different than to accept him or her as the way he or she was born. In this way, the Romans at this time were similar to the way people of Sparta were: they both wanting consistency with the way the citizens looked. Family and society were two of the most important things to people at this time.
Lastly, when these three documents of laws were written, a man’s word was everything to him. For example, in Hammurabi’s Code it states, “11: …since he was a cheat and started a false report, he shall be put to death…” (page 41 of Wiesner). Similarly, in The Twelve Tables, it is said, that “A person who had been found guilty of giving false witness shall be hurled down from the Tarpeian Rock” (Table VIII, number 23). Both the Code of Hammurabi and The Twelve Tables imply that a man’s word is more important than his life. If he decided to lie to someone or the government, he will be killed. Slightly different, but still closely related, the Torah states, “you shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie one another” (page 46 of Wiesner). These are all things majority of people live by today, however they are not always laws, but more of regulations and spoken rules and nowadays, one would not be killed if he or she disobeyed these. Men trusted each other much more when these laws were enforced than people do now, the justice of these societies was strictly enforced and nothing like what we have today. It is impossible for someone living today to imagine being killed for telling a lie.
In conclusion, societies all needed some form of laws, the Code of Hammurabi was the first written set, shortly followed by the Torah and The Twelve Tables. All show the readers how intense the punishments were, how important family and truth were, and the role of women and social hierarchies were at this point in history.