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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Way Back in Mesopotamia

Right now I'm researching crime and punishment in ancient Egypt. Unfortunately, there's not a ton of info from the time period I'm looking at and I really need some examples of more extreme punishments than the Egyptians typically doled out. After all, these are the folks that would banish the worst criminals to the granite quarries at Aswan. That sucks, but I need some evidence of the death penalty. And not just capital punishment- creative capital punishment.

Look no further! Hammurabi's Code is here!

For those of you who don't remember good ol' Hammurabi from high school history, he's the guy who codified law back in ancient Mesopotamia. Hammurabi was pretty old school when it comes to punishment. The consequence for just about any crime?

Death.


Some random examples:

- If any one buy from the son or the slave of another man, without witnesses or a contract, silver or gold, a male or female slave, an ox or a sheep, an ass or anything, or if he take it in charge, he is considered a thief and shall be put to death.

- If any one break a hole into a house (break in to steal), he shall be put to death before that hole and be buried.

- If fire break out in a house, and some one who comes to put it out cast his eye upon the property of the owner of the house, and take the property of the master of the house, he shall be thrown into that self-same fire.



Perfect! Okay, maybe not for the poor Mesopotamian being tossed in the fire or buried alive, but perfect hearsay for my little Egyptians. Hammurabi also has some fun laws like using your daughters to pay your debts, but we won't get into that.

What are you writing or researching this weekend? I hope everyone has a great one!

18 comments:

Amalia T. said...

Tell you what, I'm not sure I want any thieves being put to death outside my home, even if they did try to break in to steal stuff. I mean, isn't that kind of thing best handled in the town square? :P

I'm not sure I'm going to be writing or researching this weekend. I'm feeling some Icelandic-studying coming on, though, which would just be the icing on my Helen derailment cake :)

Stephanie Thornton said...

Amalia- Good point. Although then I guess you'd get to stomp on him every time you walked in your door. Kind of macabre, but maybe he stole something really important. I hope you have a good weekend, Icelandic studies or no!

Lorel Clayton said...

My favorite part of Hammurabi's code is the bit where women are forbidden to have more than one husband. I take this to mean there were alot of women doing this before the law was introduced!

Stephanie Thornton said...

Lorel- You certainly do get an interesting view of what life was like for a Mesopotamian woman during Hammurabi's time. I'd rather be Egyptian, although I don't think they could have multiple husbands either! :)

J. L. Jackson said...

I was also researching death penalties a while back. I especially enjoyed the "feeding to the crocodiles" death sentence. They actually kept an area of crocs just for this purpose. There was "burning alive" as well.

It was a real challenge trying to find these things around the time period, especially specific instances.

Good luck!

Bookewyrme said...

I'm curious, which time period are you researching? I'd be careful of using Hammurabi's code too much in Egypt. If you're looking at the New Kingdom however, I highly recommend A.G. McDowell's book "Village Life in Ancient Egypt: Love Songs and Laundry Lists."

It has a section on law specifically, with court transcripts. But in other sections there are references to penalties as well, particularly religious ones in the form of oaths along the lines of "If I do such and such, let X horrible thing happen to me."

As for me, I'll be researching the village as always. :)
~Lia

laurel said...

One-size-fits-all punishment? Hmm. Reminds me a little too much of the Star Trek Next Generation episode where Wesley is sentenced to death for walking in the grass in a park. Kinda makes me wonder if the disporportional punishment of the code had anything to do with the Mesopotamian civilization disappearing.

BTW, I have a little gift for you on my blog.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Happy Friday, Stephanie! You have an award at my blog today. :-)

Stephanie Thornton said...

J.L.- I hadn't heard of the crocodiles, but I've used that threat in my first novel. I just ordered Joyce Tyldesley's Crime & Punishment book so I'm hoping that has some juicy punishments in it.

Bookewyrme- I'm actually back in the Old Kingdom, hence the lack of info. However, I've got a character from Assyria so he's the one relaying some punishments similar to Hammurabi's code. I'm guessing that if Hammurabi codified the law from the entire region that there must have been some creative punishments happening throughout the region, some of which show up in the code when he comes around. Thanks for the recommendation!

Laurel- I love TNG! Although Wesley definitely wasn't my favorite character. Kind of obnoxious.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Shannon- You snuck in there! Happy Friday to you too!

L. T. Host said...

Hammurabi's code is always fun to read. It's so neat to see that snapshot of life then/ there and think of all the craziness that must have gone on before the code was in place. I don't have any punishments to add myself, unfortunately, but I can't wait to see how you figure this out and use it :)

Matthew Delman said...

Oh Hammurabi ... Mr. Eye for an Eye himself.

That's a reasonable assumption though about him codifying laws from that entire region. It makes sense that if the Assyrians traded with the Egyptians, then Egypt would've adopted some of their laws eventually.

As for research this weekend, I might be looking at chemicals and how they interact with living tissue.

Medeia Sharif said...

This post brought me back to my freshman history class back in high school.

I'm revising right now, so no research for me right now.

Gary Corby said...

Dear old Mesopotamia! If I weren't writing Greek mysteries, I'd be tempted to work in Mesopotamia instead. Imagine being Hammurabi's chief cop.

I don't know if it's any help, but PC Doherty (I think) has in one of his Egyptian mysteries an official execution by anal impalement. In the story the stake is placed by the Nile so the crocs can clean up the remains. He may have been copying known Hittite punishments, which tended to be creative and very, very cruel.

I would have thought for an Egyptian, being denied immortality would have been a pretty bad punishment?

Stephanie Thornton said...

L.T.- This whole part could get cut, but I'm certainly enjoying researching and writing it!

Matt- That's kind of what I was thinking. The chemicals and living tissue has me intrigued- sounds rather torturous.

Medeia- I actually have my students in world history read a big chunk of Hammurabi's Code. They typically enjoy it!

Gary- You're totally right. Destroying an Egyptian's body would have been the ultimate punishment because then they'd be toast for the afterlife. I haven't figured out what to do with all the bodies, but I know they're certainly not going to be mummified. And I've never heard of an account of actual anal impalement in Egypt. That would certainly be a bad way to go!

Natalie said...

Wow, those are pretty intense! I'm so impressed by your researching abilities. I wouldn't even know where to start.

Libbie H. said...

Ha ha! Ohhh, Hammurabi!

Stephanie, have you read Judgment of the Pharaoh by Joyce Tyldesley? It's a great book full of just about every incident of Egyptian law and judgment currently known to Egyptology. Definitely worth reading! (and it's fairly short -- not a difficult or imposing read at all, but a very interesting one.)

Nishant said...

It was a real challenge trying to find these things around the time period, especially specific instances.
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