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Q: I hear that Iraq was the first place that an actual set of laws was written down and put into effect. Really?

A: The Code of Hammurabi is often called the world’s first codified set of laws, though scholars usually refer to it as the “best-preserved” ancient code, giving a little leeway for earlier examples.

Hammurabi was the sixth king of Babylon, the ancient kingdom that lies in what is now Iraq. The code was created around 1760 B.C., scholars say, and inscribed on huge sets of stone slabs. Only one of those slabs survives to this day and is now on display at the Louvre in Paris. The stone was discovered in Iran in 1901 by a Frenchman.

The code is generally broken down by interpreters into 282 separate laws, along with a prologue and epilogue. Here’s some examples, taken from a translation on a Washington State University Web site:

“If any one ensnare another, putting a ban upon him, but he can not prove it, then he that ensnared him shall be put to death.”

“If any one bring an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if it be a capital offense charged, be put to death.”

“If any one steal the property of a temple or of the court, he shall be put to death, and also the one who receives the stolen thing from him shall be put to death.”

And of course, there’s this, which … well, try and figure it out for yourself: “If a tavern-keeper (feminine) does not accept corn according to gross weight in payment of drink, but takes money, and the price of the drink is less than that of the corn, she shall be convicted and thrown into the water.”

Got questions about goings-on in the Mideast?E-mail: news@estripes.osd.mil

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