What is the Code of Ur Nammu?

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Unless you’re a member of law enforcement or an attorney, you probably don’t think too much about the laws that govern you on a daily basis. That’s not to say you’re oblivious — you’re probably just so used to certain laws that you wouldn’t think twice about keeping to or breaking them.

The origins of these laws, however, provide important insight into human civilization. Some of the laws we have in place today can be traced back to ancient times — specifically to someone called Ur Nammu.

Who was Ur Nammu?

Ur Nammu was a Sumerian king who lived around the year 2000 BC. He founded the third dynasty of Ur and initiated what is now known as the “Sumerian Renaissance,” a period of time in which Sumerian society heavily emphasized the arts and culture.

Achievements of Ur Nammu

Ur Nammu is praised for his myriad achievements, including but not limited to:

  • The building of the Great Ziggurat of Ur: This ancient Sumerian structure, located in present-day Iraq, is thought to have been a temple dedicated to the moon god Nanna.
  • Overthrowing the Gutians: Ur Nammu followed in his father-in-law Utu-Hegel’s footsteps to drive the Gutian people out of the Sumerian cities.
  • Conquering other cities including Eridu
  • Revitalizing Sumerian culture: Ur Nammu spearheaded projects such as planting orchards, revitalizing the arts, and strengthening Sumer’s infrastructure and economy.

Among all of Ur Nammu’s achievements, the Code of Ur Nammu is arguably the most significant.

Code of Ur Nammu

The Code of Ur Nammu is the oldest legal code that exists in the world today. It was discovered by Samuel Kramer in 1952 in southeast Iraq — the site of the ancient city of Nippur. It is inscribed on clay cuneiform tablets and details nearly 60 laws.

The Code of Ur Nammu is older than the Code of Hammurabi, which dates back to roughly 1754 BC, and even the Ten Commandments, which was one of the earliest and most recognized concepts of laws.

The Code of Ur Nammu is distinct from these two law codes for reasons aside from its age. Unlike the Ten Commandments, the laws listed in the Code of Ur Nammu are not dictated by a god or religious figure but by the government. Compared to the Code of Hammurabi’s “eye-for-an-eye” rationale, each law is written in a “cause-and-effect” format, listing each crime and its respective punishment.

Here are just a few of the laws found in the Code of Ur Nammu:

  • If a man commits a murder, that man must 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 a man violates the right of another and deflowers the virgin wife of a young man, they shall kill that male.
  • If a man proceeded by force and deflowered the virgin female slave of another man, that man must pay five shekels of silver.
  • If a man divorces his first-time wife, he shall pay (her) one mina of silver.

Impact of the Code of Ur Nammu

Obviously, the law has come a long way since the age of Ur Nammu’s reign. However, the Code is very noteworthy for a number of reasons and has greatly influenced the laws we have in place today.

First and foremost, this is the oldest code of laws ever discovered, meaning it set the precedent for other laws written thereafter. It is particularly noteworthy because of the format in which the laws are written. Unlike the Babylonian “eye-for-an-eye” laws, the Code of Ur Nammu listed laws in a cause-and-effect format (i.e. “if this, then that”) that specifically outlined the crimes and their respective punishments.

Secondly, the Code of Ur Nammu introduced the concept of fines as a form of punishment — a notion we still rely on today. Fines ranged from minas and shekels of silver to kurs of barley.

Finally, the Code of Ur Nammu identified murder and rape as capital offenses. Murder is still considered a capital offense under the United States Code; however, rape is not unless it results in the death of the victim.

Although it was written thousands of years ago, the Code of Ur Nammu continues to affect our lives. By outlining laws in a cause-and-effect format, Ur Nammu set a precedent that would eventually become the norm.

The Future of the Laws

As we’ve experienced throughout history, laws are hardly set in stone. We’ve seen some pretty significant changes in the law over the years, from the abolishment of slavery to the legalization of same-sex marriage. Elections and even petition websites such as Change.org have an enormous influence on laws, putting the power back in the hands of the people. Only time will tell how our laws will continue to evolve and change.

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Researchers Decode Ancient Egyptian Spell From Mysterious Codex

Two Australian scholars translated an ancient Egyptian handbook containing 20 pages of papyrus encoded with magic spells. The codex contains bizarre drawings and a series of enchantments written in Coptic, an Egyptian language that used the Greek alphabet. The origin of the codex, as well as its discoverer, remain unknown.

Now referred to as the “Handbook of Ritual Power,” the documents were decoded by researchers Malcolm Choat from Macquarie University and Iain Gardner from the University of Sydney. Macquarie University originally purchased the codex in 1981 from an antiques dealer, though attempts to decipher it were unsuccessful for decades.

The two initially translated the documents in 2014, but now a new translation by French academic Korshi Dosoo of a page containing a cryptic drawing, appears to be a magic love spell. Dosoo recently published his translation in the Journal of Coptic Studies. The texts are believed to have been written some 1,300 years ago in Upper Egypt and contain 27 enchantments paired with various illustrations.

coptic love spell

courtesy LiveScience.com

 

The writings contain biblical references to Jesus, Adam and Eve, and a previously unknown Coptic deity, named Baktiotha. The nature of the documents’ translation led the researchers to believe it was a collection of spells made by a scholar, rather than a religious figure, who compiled it in order to help others achieve specific life goals.

The recently translated love spell seems like it was used to solve a love triangle or some other complicated romantic situation.

“Christian literary texts from Egypt which mention love spells often imply that the problem is not that the woman doesn’t love the man per se, but that he does not have access to her, because she is a young unmarried girl protected and secluded by her family, or already married to someone else,” researcher Korshi Dosoo of the University of Strasbourg, told LiveScience.

Other spells were clearly used for social or occupational purposes, such as getting along better with another person or outperforming a business rival. The codex also included spells that were clearly meant for medical applications like curing disease and other ailments.

There still remain a number of other cryptic texts throughout the world eluding scholars’ translation, most notably the Voynich Manuscript – a compendium of herbal and medicinal knowledge, with bizarre illustrations of naked women in bath halls. Since it’s discovery and identification as a rare and enigmatic codex, attempts to translate the manuscript have baffled a multitude of university professors, as well as AI algorithms built specifically to translate it. Though the Voynich text looks similar to Gaelic scripture, AI determined it to be Hebrew, while scholars at Perdue recently determined its origin to be Mexican.

 

For more on mysterious encryptions in ancient Egyptian art check out the documentary series, The Pyramid Code:

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