Quotes from various Ancient Near East Law Codes regarding Slavery

by Matt Slick
11/11/2019
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This article contains a brief summary of many of the ancient near East law codes concerning slavery.  They are taken from the following:

  1. Code of Ur Nammu (2100-2050 B.C., Sumerian)
  2. Code of Lipit Ishtar (1900 B.C. Sumeria)
  3. Code of Eshnunna (1770 B.C. Babylonian period)
  4. Code of Hammurabi (1754 B.C., Babylonian Period)
  5. Code of Hittites (1650-1500 B.C.)
  6. Codes of Middle Assyrian (1076 B.C.)
  7. Twelve Tables of Roman Law (451-450 B.C.)

Below is nn outline summary so you can see how common slavery was and also how it was practiced. Further down the article are the actual quotes from the references along with the documentation where you can go, should you desire, so you can see for yourself.

The purpose of this article is not intended to address moral issues. Instead, it is to provide documentation on the reality, type, extent, and practice of slavery in the Ancient Near East.
 

Brief summary of slavery in the Ancient Near East

  1. Generic mention of slaves
    1. Both male and female in many Ancient Near East Law Codes: Code of Lipit Istar 25; Code of Eshnunna viii 11-15, 22, 31, 34; Codes of Middle Assyrian 4; The Code of Ur-Nammu 4-5
  2. Punishment of slaves took different forms:
    1. Beating, Codes of Middle Assyrian, 18t; Twelve Tables of Roman Law 8:15; 12:2
    2. Ear being cut off, Code of Hammurabi 205
    3. Salt in the mouth, The Code of Ur-Nammu 25
    4. Repaying grain for theft of grain, Code of the Hittites 97
    5. Generic as related to master's knolwedge of theft, Twelve Tables of Roman Law 12:2
  3. Slaves
    1. Bought: Code of Eshnunna 40; Codes of Middle Assyrian, C1
    2. Sold: Code of Hammurabi 118, 119; Code of Eshnunna 40
    3. Freed:
      1. Via dispute and compensations, Code of Lipit Istar 12
      2. By purshasing, Twelve Tables of Roman Law 6:8
      3. If a slave girl bears a child for the master, Code of Lipit Istar 25
  4. Palace slaves are mentioned:
    1. Code of Eshnunna 34, 51; Code of Hammurabi 15, 175
  5. The one who returns a fugitive slaves is rewarded with 
    1. Silver, Code of Hammurabi 17; Code of Ur-Nammu 3
    2. Shoes, Code of the Hittites 22a.
  6. Become a slave due to:
    1. Debt, Code of Hammurabi 118.
  7. Punishment for harming a slave: 
    1. By paying silver, Code of Hammurabi 119, 213, 214, 252
    2. By replacing slaves, Code of the Hittites 2, 4
    3. By paying silver for knocking out teeth, Code of the Hittites 8
    4. By paying silver for breaking slave's arm or leg, Code of the Hittites 12
    5. By paying copper coins, Twelve Tables of Roman Law, 8;4
    6. By causing a slave to miscarry, Code of the Hittites 18
    7. Deflowering female slave must pay 5 shekels, The Code of Ur-Nammu 8
  8. Free People were also beaten as a punishment
    1. Code of Hammurabi, 211
    2. Scourged, Twelve Tables of Roman Law 8:15
  9. Rights of slaves
    1. Slaves could marry, Code of the Hittites, 33

 

Various law codes of the ancient near East

  1. Code of Ur Nammu (2100-2050 B.C., Sumerian)
    • If a slave marries a slave, and that slave is set free, he does not leave the household.
    • If a slave marries a native (i.e. free) person, he/she is to hand the firstborn son over to his owner.
    • If a man proceeded by force, and deflowered the virgin female slave of another man, that man must pay five shekels of silver.
    • If a slave escapes from the city limits, and someone returns him, the owner shall pay two shekels to the one who returned him.
    • [...] 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.
    • If a man’s slave-woman, comparing herself to her mistress, speaks insolently to her, her mouth shall bescoured with 1 quart of salt.
    • If a slave woman strikes someone acting with the authority of her mistress, [text destroyed...]
      • Reference: polk.k12.ga.us/userfiles/644/Classes/177912/Code%20of%20Ur-Nammu.pdf
  1. Code of Lipit Ishtar (1900 B.C. Sumeria)
    • 1.d. If [a ···1] strikes the daughter of a man and causes her to lose the fetus, he shall weigh and deliver 30 shekels of silver. (pp. 26-27)
    • 1.f.  If [a ...] strikes the slave woman of a man and causes her to lose her fetus, he shall weigh and deliver 5 shekels of silver. (p. 27)
    • 12. 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 fugitive slave) shall give slave for slave. 13 If he has no slave, he shall weigh and deliver 15 shekels of silver. 14 If a man's slave contests his slave status against his master, and it is proven that his master has been compensated for his slavery two-fold, that slave shall be freed. (pp. 28-29)
    • 25. "If a man marries a wife and she bears him a child and the child lives and a slave woman also bears a child to her master, the father shall free the slave woman and her children; the children of the slave woman will not divide the estate with the children of the master. (p. 31)
      • Reference: g2rp.com/pdfs/LawCollectionsFromMesopotemiaAndAsiaMinor.pdf
  1. Code of Eshnunna (1770 B.C. Babylonian period)
    • viii 11-15 The slave woman (as pledge) and the silver (owed as debt) are considered equal; when he brings the silver, he shall retrieve his slave woman. (p. 53)
    • 15 A merchant or a woman innkeeper will not accept silver. grain, wool, oil, or anything else  from a male or female slave. (p. 61)
    • 22 If a man has no daim against another man but he nonetheless takes the man's slave woman as a distress. the owner of the slave woman shall swear an oath by the god: "You have no claim against me"; he (the distrainer) shall weigh and deliver silver as much as is the value(?) of the slave woman." (p. 62)
    • 31 If a man should deflower the slave woman of another man, he shall weigh and deliver 20 shekels of silver, but the slave woman remains the property of her master. (p. 64)
    • 34 If a slave woman of the palace should give her son or her daughter to a commoner for rearing, the palace shall remove the son or daughter whom she gave.  (p. 64)
    • 40 If a man buys a slave, a slave woman, an OX, or any other purchase, but cannot establish the identity of the seller, it is he who is a thief. (p. 65)
    • 51 A slave or slave woman belonging to (a resident of) Esh-nunna who bears fetters, shackles, or a slave hairlock will not exit through the main city-gate of Esh-nunna without his owner. (p. 67)
      • Reference: g2rp.com/pdfs/LawCollectionsFromMesopotemiaAndAsiaMinor.pdf
  1. Code of Hammurabi  
    • 15 If a man should enable a palace slave, a palace slave woman, a commoner' s slave, or a commoner' s slave woman to leave through the main city-gate, he shall be killed. (p. 84)
    • 17 If a man seizes a fugitive slave or slave woman in the open country and leads him back to his owner, the slave owner shall give him 2 shekels of silver. (p. 84)
    • 118 If he should give a male or female slave into debt service, the merchant may extend the term (beyond the three years), he may sell him; there are no grounds for a claim. (p. 103)
    • 119 If an obligation is outstanding against a man and he therefore sells his slave woman who has borne him children, the owner of the slave woman shall weigh and deliver the silver which the mer-chant weighed and delivered (as the loan) and he shall thereby redeem his slave woman. (pp. 103-104)
    • 175 If a slavee of the palace or a slave of a commoner marries a woman of the awïlu-dass and she then bears children, the owner of the slave will have no daims of slavery against the children of the woman of the awïlu-dass. (p. 115)
    • 199 If he should blind the eye of an awilu' s slave or break the bone of an awilu's slave, he shall weigh and deliver one-half of his value (in silver). (p. 121)
    • 205 If an awilu's slave should strike the cheek of a member of the awflu-class, they shall cut off his ear. (p. 122)
    • 211 If he should cause a woman of the commoner-class to miscarry her fetus by the beating, he shall weigh and deliver 5 shekels of silver. (p. 122)
    • 2213 If he strikes an awïlu's slave woman and thereby causes her to miscarry her fetus, he shall weigh and deliver 2 shekels of silver.  (p. 123)
    • 214 If that slave woman should die, he shall weigh and deliver 20 shekels of silver. (p. 123)
    • 252 If it is a man's slave (who is fatally gored), he shall give 20 shekels of silver. (p. 128)
      • Reference: g2rp.com/pdfs/LawCollectionsFromMesopotemiaAndAsiaMinor.pdf

       

  2. Code of Hittites (1650-1500 B.C.)
    • 2 [If] anyone kills [a male 1 or female slave in a quarrel, he shall bring him for burial [and] shall give [2] persons (lit., heads), male or female respectively. He shall look to his house for it. (p. 215)
    • 3 [If] anyone strikes a free [man] or woman so that he dies, but it is an accident, he shall bring him for burial and shaIl give 2 persons. He shall look to his house for it. (p. 215)
    • 4 If anyone strikes a male or female slave so that he dies, but it is an accident, he shall bring him for burial and shaIl give one person. He shall look to his house for it. (p. 215)
    • 8 If anyone blinds a male or female slave or knocks out his tooth, he shall pay 10 shekels of silver. He shalilook to his house for it. (p. 218)
    • 12 If anyone breaks a male or female slave' s arm or leg, he shall pay 10 shekels of silver. He shall  look to his house for it. (p. 219)
    • 18 If anyone causes a female slave to miscarry, if it is her tenth month, he shall pay 5 shekels of silver. (p. 219)
    • 22a If a male slave runs away, and someone brings him back, if he seizes him nearby, his owner shall give shoes to the finder. (p. 220)
    • 33 If a male slave takes a female slave in marriage, [and they have chil-dren,] when they divide their house, they shall divide their possessions equally. [The slave woman shall take] mos[t of the children,] with the male slave [taking] one child. (p. 221)
    • 97 If a slave breaks into a grain storage pit, and finds grain in the storage pit, he shall fill the storage pit with grain and pay 6 shekels of silver. He shalllook to his house for it. (p. 229)
      • Reference: g2rp.com/pdfs/LawCollectionsFromMesopotemiaAndAsiaMinor.pdf

       

  3. Codes of Middle Assyrian (1076 B.C.)
    • 4 If either a slave or a slave woman should receive something from a man's wife, they shall cut off the slave's or slave woman's no se and ears; they shall restore the stolen goods; the man shall cut off his own wife's ears. But if he releases his wife and does not cut off her ears, they' shall not cut off (the nose and ears) of the slave or slave woman, and they shall not restore the stolen goods. (p. 156)
    • C 1 [ ... ] their owner [ ... ] and if the buyer [declares, " ... ] which I redeemed [ ... ," he shall give a slave [ ... ] shekels of lead and a slave woman for 14,400 shekels of lead [ ... ]; and if the one who receives should declare, [" ... "]; he shall swear an oath before the god and as much as [ ... ] he shall take [ ... ]  (p. 182)
    • 18 [ ... If the slave woman] who was beaten (by her mistress for her first offense) [ ... ] commits a (second) punishable offense against her mis-tress, [or ... -s a (second) ... , or] com-mits a (second) misdeed, her mistress shall bring her [before the king]; in the presence of the king, they shall impose upon her the punishment which he shall deter-mine; [ ... ] a second time he shall give (the slave woman back) to her mistress. (p. 204)
      • Reference: g2rp.com/pdfs/LawCollectionsFromMesopotemiaAndAsiaMinor.pdf
  1. Twelve Tables of Roman Law (451-450 B.C.)
    • Table 6:8, A person who had been a slave and who has been declared to be a free man in a will on some condition, if he shall have given 10,000 copper coins to the heir, although the slave has been alienated by the heir, by giving the money to the purchaser shall enter into his freedom.
    • Table 8:4, If a person has broken or has bruised a bone with hand club, he shall undergo a penalty of 300 copper coins, if to an injured freeman, or of 150 copper coins, if to an injured slave.
    • Table 8:15, In the case of all other thieves caught in the act, it is ordained that freemen be scourged and be adjudged [as bondsmen]to the person against whom the theft has been committed, provided that they had done this by day and had not defended themselves with a weapon; that slaves caught in the act of theft be whipped with scourges and be thrown from the rock; that boys below the age of puberty (under 15 years old) be flogged at [the magistrate's]discretion and that damage done by them be repaired.
    • Table 12:2,  If a slave shall have committed theft or shall have done damage . . .with his master's knowledge . . .the action for damages is in the slave's name. Arising from delicts committed by children and by slaves of a household . . .actions for damages shall be appointed, that the father or the master can be allowed either to undergo assessment of the suit or to deliver the delinquent for punishment.
      • Reference: ksassessments.org/sites/default/files/HGSS_Preview_Texts/Grade_6/The%20Twelve%20Tables%20of%20Roman%20Law.pdf

 

 

 

 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.