the law profession is one of the most prestigious jobs available
and it is the dream of many to become lawyers. Yet, are you familiar
with where law originated? Interested in the predecessor of the
judicial system today?
Through archaeological diggings, scientists have acknowledged that
the first law system in the world belonged to the Mesopotamians,
specifically the Sumerians. One of the most ancient legislators,
Ur-Nammu, who was ruler of the city of Ur had a code detailing the
punishments for witchcraft, escapades of slaves and assault. Another
version of Sumerian law is the Code of Lipi-Ishtar, which chronicles
the rights of citizens, marriages, successions, property rights
good example of Mesopotamian law is the Babylonians' Code of Hammurabi.
There were 282 laws drafted out for economic disputes (for prices,
taxes and trade), family (marriages and divorce), criminal (assault,
theft, murder) and civil offences (slavery, debt). This code was
discovered engraved onto a stela discovered at Susa in 1901. For
example, from these laws, we learn more about the life of the Babylonians.
Evidently, they recognized private ownership of property and the
duty to provide military conscription even as they owned land, although
most property belonged to the royalty. The father was the family
head, and he controlled his children until they were married. The
law also legalized adoption, which was common in order to continue
family lines or keep a business within a family. An important thing
to note though was that the people did not enjoy equal rights because
the laws for the rich were not the same as that for the poor, with
variations for the different social classes. For a copy of 114 of
the laws, click here.
were fair, albeit harsh, for the Babylonians. Punishments were calculated
according to lex talianis, which was the law of retelliation.
Death penalties could also be imposed in crimes such as murder,
and there were even several kinds of execution, depending on the
nature of the crime. Carelessness and neglect in work was heavily
punished, but not unintended manslaughter, which was let off with
only a fine. Strangely, force labour and imprisonment were not listed
in the code to be penalties.
Greeks, however, were not as "civilized" as the Sumerians.
Before the 7th century BC, they had no laws; thus, when someone
was murdered, the victim's family members would usually take the
law into their own hands and kill the murderer, resulting in a chain
of blood feuds. It was only around 620 BC that Draco, a lawgiver,
finally wrote the first laws of ancient Greece. Under his laws,
homicide was deemed punishable by exile.
Solon (the philosopher who started democracy) came into power, he
changed most of the laws and formulated his own set of laws for
dealing with crimes, each under the four categories of tort, family,
procedural and public. Tort laws dealt with criminal issues, like
murder and theft; family laws were not really laws, but a set of
guidelines for Greek families to adhere their behavior to; procedural
laws were rules for judges to follow when judging a case and public
laws cited how public services should be provided.
Greeks had a strange system of formulating laws and determining
legislative affairs. Unlike other civilizations, where either officials
or the kings passed laws, the Greeks had a specific type of official,
the lawgiver, to pass laws. Technically speaking, these lawgivers
were not considered to be a part of government, hence not officials,
but were just appointed to write and pass laws. This ensured that
the laws was not biased in the government's favour, as the lawgiver
was not a part of government. The Greeks, much like today, had court
sessions to judge a case. However, there were no lawyers; the defendents
and accused would argue their cases in front of a jury, after which
the audience would pronounce a verdict and the penalty, if there
was any, after a vote.
opposed to the purported fair laws of the Greek civilization, the
Chinese were not so just. The earliest complete Chinese code of
law originates from the Tang Dynasty, and was the culminatative
efforts of many judges. Confucianism played an important part in
the Chinese law code, as it regulated and taught people on how to
behave; the influence of Legalism too was very powerful, although
its ideals opposed that of Confucianism, it was also very popular
with the Chinese as having a system whereby the evildoers were punished
for their misdeeds in order to right the wrongs of the victim appealed
to the commoners, who often suffered at the hands of the rich and
law, however did not begin in the Tang dynasty. It had already begun
during the Ch'in dynasty, though it was extremely unpopular, because
the king, Shi HuangTi, was a tyrant. The Chinese perception of the
importance of maintaining harmony and the balance between Heaven
and Earth also played a significant part in their law system; thus
each grievance was considered to upset this balance, and righting
the balance by punishing the wrongdoers was correct, and no mercy
nor pity was given to the convicted. Death penalties were common
in China too; execution was done in public; with a swift chop, the
head parted itself from the body, thus taking the life of the prisonner.
after reading about the Greek, Chinese and Mesopotamian law system,
what misgivings or thoughts do you have about them? Do you find
them queer and unjust? Or do you find them rather similar to the
judicial systems that we practice today? Do you think the ancient
laws were fair? Why or why not? Do you prefer a law system like
this to today's courts to determine if the accused was guilty or
artifact managed to convince scientists that the laws in the Bible
were not the first in the world!