Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Law Code of Ur-Nammu (Part 2)

In many ways the law code of Ur-Nammu was much less "heavy handed" than the later code of Hammurabi. For instance, compare this law from each code and note the different punishments:

Hammurabi (Law 127):
If a man has pointed a finger at a priestess or another man's wife but does not prove her guilty, they shall beat that man in front of the judges. In addition they may half-shave his hair (shaving a man's hair is a public humiliation).

Ur-Nammu (Law 14):
If a man accuses the wife of a young man of promiscuity but the river ordeal clears her, the man who accused her shall weigh and deliver 20 shekels of silver.

Note the differing punishments for a false accusation. In Hammurabi's code physical punishment was meted out, while in Ur-Nammu's code the penalty was an (admittedly stiff) fine.

Again note the difference in punishments in the next two laws. In Hammurabi's code the punishment is physical, while the law code of Ur-Nammu calls for a fine.

Hamurabi (Law 197):
If he has broken another man's bone, they shall break one of his bones.

Ur-Nammu (Law 19):
If a man shatters the ... bone of another man with a club, he shall weigh and deliver 40 shekels of silver.

One last example:

Hammurabi (Law 200):
If a man has knocked out the tooth of a man who is his colleague, they shall knock out his tooth.

Ur-Nammu (Law 22):
If [a man knocks out another man's] tooth with [..., he shall] weigh and deliver [X shekels of silver].

It should be noted however, that Law 201 of Hammurabi's Code does call for a fine if a man knocks out the tooth of a social inferior.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Law Code of Ur-Nammu

I mentioned in my last post that the law code of Ur-Nammu was somewhat different than the (later) law code of Hammurabi. The primary difference is in the punishments prescribed for similar offences in the two law codes. Over the next couple of posts I will try to highlight these differences by comparing laws from the two codes.

This is not to say that different punishments are always prescribed for the same crime. For instance, law one of the Ur-Nammu code reads, "If a man commits a homicide, they shall kill that man", while Law 153 of Hammurabi's code says, "If a woman has let her husband be killed because of another man, they shall stick that woman on a stake."

Law 1 of Hammurabi's code also states that if a man makes a false accusation of homicide, the accuser shall be executed.

So homicide was punishable by death in both codes, with Hammurabi's code also stipulating that false accusations of homicide were punishable by the death penalty.

Another example of similarly harsh punishments in both law codes would include law number six of Ur-Nammu's code and Hammurabi's law number 130, both of which call for the death penalty for a man who de-flowers the virgin bride of another man.

In the next post we shall look at some crimes where the punishment is very different in the two law codes.

Richardson, M. E. J., "Hammurabi's Laws", Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.

Roth, Martha, "Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor", Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 1997.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Ur-Nammu was a ruler of the city of Ur and the founder of the Third Dynasty of Ur (somewhere around 2097 – 2080 B.C.). Ur-Nammu, who reigned for about sixteen years, claimed the titles “the mighty man, King or Ur, King of Sumer and Akkad” and expanded his control from Ur to a large part of Mesopotamia.

The earliest known law code in world history dates either to the reign of Ur-Nammu or his son Shulgi. We know the contents of this code from three texts. The Nippur tablet preserves the prologue and laws 4 – 20. The Ur tablets, preserve laws 7 – 37 while the “Sippar” tablet (which may actually be from Nippur) contains the end of the prologue and the first ten laws . The law code is somewhat different from the famous law code of the Babylonian King, Hammurapi and I will do several posts soon to highlight some of the differences.

The stela pictured here was originally about five feet cross and ten feet high. It shows the god Nanna seated on a throne and holding a measuring rod and line. The god is wearing a multi layered wool garment and sitting in front of a potted (?) tree.

Many inscriptions from Ur-Nammu’s reign have survived. A large number of these texts describe the building of the walls of the city and a ziggurat which survives to this day. This ziggurat is one of the best known buildings to have survived from the ancient near east. On the north-east side of the ziggurat there are three stairways which meet at the top of the first level. The central stairway then continues up to the second level. It is uncertain if there was a third level. No remains have survived of the temple that, it is assumed, existed at the top of the ziggurat.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Ramesses II Temple at Abydos

The Egyptological Seminar of New York's November meeting took place last night and featured two speakers. Drs. Sameh Iskander and Ogden Goelet spoke about their work at the temple of Ramesses II at Abydos. Their work is a joint project between New York University and Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities and has been underway since 2007.

The temple has been measured and digitally photographed. The photos will eventually be posted on the Internet. A number of interesting discoveries have been made:

1) There is a very rare representation of Anubis in human form on one of the walls.

2) One object found was carved with both a representation of Bes and a Coptic Cross.

3) One of the chapels has chapter 148 of the Book of the Dead and the "Litany of Re" carved on its walls. These texts are rarely found in temples, being generally reserved for tombs.

Dr. Goelet presented evidence that indicates the temple took about six years to build. When he was asked how long it took to measure and photograph the temple, Dr. Goelet delightfully replied, "It takes longer to survey an Egyptian temple than it took to build the damn things!".

The next meting of the Egyptological Seminar will take place on Friday, January 22, 2010 at 6:30 in the Art Study Room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Martina Ullmann will discuss the temples of Ramesses II between the first and second cataracts of the Nile. The public is welcome to attend.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Assurnasirpal II

Assurnasirpal II was the son of the Assyrian King Tukulti-Ninurta II and the father of Shalmaneser III. He is best known for his military campaigns and his building projects at his capital city of Numrud, where he built a palace and lined its walls with reliefs carved in alabaster.
Many of the palace reliefs are now in the British Museum, while others are in Munich, and Japan. These reliefs portrayed the King as a great warrior and hunter. In one scene Assyrian soldiers are using a siege tower to attack a city and in another, Assurnasirpal’s enemies are shown swimming across a river in an attempt to escape the Assyrian monarch’s army. In one of the hunting scenes some Assyrian soldiers(?) drive a lion toward the chariot of the King, who has already shot four arrows into the lion’s body.

Assurnasirpal’s reliefs often had an inscription (referred to as the “standard inscription”) on them, which traces the kings lineage back three generations, describes his military campaigns and details the boundaries of his empire. It also tells us some fascinating details about the building of the King's.

Assurnasirpal II also built a monumental gateway at Nimrud. The winged bulls, which flanked the gateway, are now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The head of one of these winged bulls is shown head on and in profile in the accompanying photos. Note the horned headdress and long earrings, as well as the feathers from the wings, which are carved in painstaking detail. In the face on view, notice the hair (shown as a wavy line on the bull’s forehead) right below the crown.

There is also a well known statue of Assurnasirpal in the British Museum . The statue shows the King standing rather stiffly with a scepter in one of his hands and a “cult object” in the other. His hair is elaborately curled, like the hair on the winged bull shown in the accompanying photographs.

Assurnasirpal’s military campaigns brought back a huge amount of “tribute” to the Assyrian capital. For example, the small district of Bit-Zamani yielded the following tribute:

40 chariots
460 horses
2 talents of silver
2 talents of gold
100 talents of lead
100 talents of copper
300 talents of iron
1,000 copper vessels and 2,000 copper pans
Bowls and cauldrons of copper
1,000 wool garments
2,000 head of cattle
5,000 sheep
The ruler’s sister
The daughters of the local noblemen, along with their dowries
15,000 subjects brought back to Assyria (Roux, p. 286)

Assurnasirpal frequently used terror tactics in his campaign. His inscriptions describe how he flayed his enemies alive, had them buried alive inside a wall or had them impaled on poles as a warning to others.
Photos copyright 2009 by John Freed. You can use these photos if you give credit to this website.