15 Significant Law Codes That Help Shaped History

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Laws were formulated with the primary purpose of keeping order and peace. Without these laws, expect

the unexpected and witness the unimaginable. Here’s a list of significant code of laws that helped shape

our history.

The Ten Commandments

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The most important of all code of laws is the Ten Commandments or Decalogue. These laws can be summarized

in two sentences; first, Love God above all things, and second, Love others as yourself. The Ten Commandments

are a list of religious and moral imperatives that, according to Judeo-Christian tradition, were authored by God

and given to Moses on the mountain referred to as Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:23) in the form of two stone tablets.

Code of Ur- Nammu

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This code of law is the oldest known tablet containing a law code surviving today; it predates the Code of

Hammurabi by some 300 years. It was written in the Sumerian language about 2100-2050 BCE. The first copy

of the code, in two fragments found at Nippur, was translated by Samuel Kramer in 1952; owing to its partial

preservation, only the prologue and 5 of the laws were discernible. Further tablets were found in Ur and

translated in 1965, allowing some 40 of the 57 laws to be reconstructed. Another copy found in Sippar contains

slight variants. Here are some of the contents of the Code of Ur-Nammu;

  • If a man commits a murder, that man must be killed.
  • If a man commits a robbery, he will be killed.
  • If a man commits a kidnapping, he is to be imprisoned and pay 15 shekels of silver.
  • If a slave marries a slave, and that slave is set free, he does not leave the household.
  • If the wife of a man followed after another man and he slept with her, they shall slay that woman, but that male shall be set free.
  • If a man divorces his first-time wife, he shall pay her one mina of silver.

The Hammurabi Code

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The Code of Hammurabi brought peace and justice in his realm. The centerpiece of this code of laws was “an eye

for an eye” and “a tooth for a tooth”. It is the best preserved ancient law code, created about 1760 BCE in ancient

Babylon. It was enacted by the sixth Babylonian king, Hammurabi. Only one example of the Code survives today,

inscribed on a seven foot, four inch tall basalt stone slab or stele. Originally, a number of such steles would have

been displayed in temples in various parts of the empire.

Code of Urukagina

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Urukagina was a Sumerian king and creator of what is sometimes cited as the first example of a legal code in

recorded history. Urukagina who reigned from 2380 BCE- 2360 BCE, was a ruler of the city-state Lagash in

Mesopotamia. He is best-known for his reforms to combat corruption, which are sometimes cited as the first

example of a legal code in recorded history. The law exempted widows and orphans from taxes; compelled the

city to pay funeral expenses and decreed that the rich must use silver when purchasing from the poor, and if

the poor does not wish to sell, the powerful man cannot force him to do so.

Code of the Assura or Assyrian Law

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Assyrian law was very similar to Sumerian and Babylonian law, however, notably more brutal than its predecessors. The first copy of the code to come to light, dated to the reign of Tiglath-Pileser I, was discovered in the course of excavations by the German Oriental Society from 1903 to1914. Three Assyrian law collections have been found to date. Punishments such as cutting of ears and noses were common, as it was in the Code of Hammurabi, which was composed several centuries earlier. Murder was punished by the family being allowed to decide the death penalty for the murderer.

Laws of Eshnunna

The Laws of Eshnunna are inscribed on two broken tablets found in Tall Abu Harmal, near Baghdad, Iraq. The

two tablets are separate copies of an older source and date back to circa 1930 BC. The Iraq Directorate of

Antiquities found two parallel sets of tablets in 1945 and 1947. The differences between the Code of Hammurabi

and the Laws of Eshnunna significantly contributed to illuminating the development of ancient and cuneiform law.

Eshnunna was north of Ur on the Tigris River and became politically important after the fall of the third dynasty of

Ur, founded by Ur-Nammu.

Hittite Laws

The Hittite laws have been preserved on a number of Hittite cuneiform tablets found at Hattusa with 200 lists of

laws. Copies have been found written in Old Hittite as well as in Middle and Late Hittite, indicating that they had

validity throughout the duration of the Hittite Empire from 1650 to 1100 BCE.

Solonian Constitution

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The Solonian Constitution by Solon in the 6th century BCE was designed to revise or abolish the older laws of

Draco, which had not solved any of the problems in Athens despite inflicting harsh penalties for almost every

crime. Solon’s reforms include abolishment of all debts, all debt-slaves were freed and the status of the

hectemoroi was abolished. Solon’s Constitution reduced the power of the old aristocracy by making wealth rather

than birth a criterion for holding political positions; citizens were also divided based on their land production and

others.

The Law of the Twelve Tables

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The Law of the Twelve Tables was the ancient legislation that stood at the foundation of Romans law. The Law

of the Twelve Tables formed the centerpiece of the constitution of the Roman Republic and the core of the mos

maiorum.

Examples

  • If someone is called to go to court, he is to go. If he doesn’t go, a witness should be called. Only then should he be captured.
  • If he shirks or flees, he should be captured. If illness or old age is an impediment, let him be given a carriage. If he doesn’t want it, it should not be covered.
  • Only a landowner should be surety for another landowner. But any citizen can be surety for a proletarian.

Corpus Juris Civilis

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The Corpus Juris Civilis or Body of Civil Law is the modern name for a collection of fundamental works in

jurisprudence, issued from 529 CE to 534 CE by order of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. This code compiled,

in the Latin language, all of the existing imperial constitutions, back to the time of Hadrian. It used both the

Codex Theodosianus and the fourth-century collections embodied in the Codex Gregorianus and Codex

Hermogenianus, which provided the model for division into books that were divided into titles. These codices

had developed authoritative standing.

The Canon Law

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Canon law is internal ecclesiastical law governing the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox churches,

and the Anglican Communion of churches. The way that such church law is legislated, interpreted and at times

adjudicated varies widely among these three bodies of churches. In all three traditions, a canon was initially a

rule adopted by a council; these canons formed the foundation of canon law.

Byzantine Law

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Byzantine Law was essentially a continuation of Roman law with Christian influence; however, this is not to doubt its later influence on the western practice of jurisprudence. Byzantine Law was effectively devolved into two spheres, Ecclesiastical Law and Secular Law.

Sharia Law

Islam is the second largest religion in the world. Sharia is the body of Islamic religious law. The term means

“way” or “path to the water source”; it is the legal framework within which the public and private aspects of life

are regulated for those living in a legal system based on Islamic principles of jurisprudence and for Muslims

living outside the domain. Sharia deals with many aspects of day-to-day life, including politics, economics,

banking, business, contracts, family, sexuality, hygiene, and social issues.

Magna Carta

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Many charters that were created in modern times were patterned to the Magna Carta. This code of law, also

called Magna Carta Libertatum (Great Charter of Freedoms), is an English legal charter, originally issued in

the year 1215 CE. It was written in Latin. The Magna Carta required the King to proclaim certain rights, respect

certain legal procedures and accept that his will could be bound by the law. It explicitly protected certain rights

of the King’s subjects, whether free or fettered – most notably the writ of habeas corpus, allowing appeal against

unlawful imprisonment.

Napoleonic Code

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One of the most important codes of law ever written by men is the Napoleonic Code. Code Napoleon which is

originally called the Code civil des Français is the French civil code, established under Napoleon I. It was drafted

rapidly by a commission of four eminent jurists and entered into force on March 21, 1804. Even though the

Napoleonic code was not the first legal code to be established in a European country with a civil legal system –

it is considered the first successful codification and strongly influenced the law of many other countries. The

Code, with its stress on clearly written and accessible law, was a major step in establishing the rule of law.

Historians have called it “one of the few documents which have influenced the whole world.”

These law codes have help shaped what we are today. These law codes may have not eradicated criminalities

and other human atrocities; they were certainly minimized by the existence and implementation of these law

codes.

Hope you enjoyed this. Thank you!

See also

Archeological Finds with Great Significant to Mankind

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