A recent discussion in the blogosphere about contracts reminded me of a real highlight at The Louvre: The Code of Hammurabi. We walked our legs off, following the nearly incomprehensible map of the Louvre and tromping for what felt like miles through rooms of antiquities so complete it was like walking through slices of history. (More later on those rooms!)
Ah, but The Code of Hammurabi, standing supreme in its room, is well worth the effort.
The Code of Hammurabi is one of the earliest written laws, dating back to the Old Babylonian period. According to Wikipedia:
…dating back to about 1772 BC. It is one of the oldest deciphered writings of significant length in the world. … Nearly one-half of the Code deals with matters of contract, establishing, for example, the wages to be paid to an ox driver or a surgeon.
Of course, its translation at the museum is into French. I did try to read it, but my French is very weak and I didn’t pick up on how much was devoted to contract law.
There are a lot of things wrong with my society. Probably there always will be. Hopefully different things because hopefully we will continue to evolve into an enlightened society. Seriously, can we get there already? But this relic made me stop and appreciate living in a society governed by law. Even if some of the laws seem about as outdated to me as the ones chiseled on this stone, and other laws we need don’t yet exist, we all basically agree there is law and, for the most part, we all follow the law. A civil society order affords the freedom to live, have property, not to be property, and to know what to expect. And this big rock did the same thing for the Babylonians. There in the center of town for all to see, it listed the rules and the punishments for breaking those rules.
The institutions of law compose a fundamental basis for a fair society. And a fair society is one that thrives.
(Wikipedia is worth checking out on this topic. There’s an earlier set of laws, for example, called The Code of Ur-Nammu, from a city-state called Ur in Mesopotamia. I just love all the words. Ur. Mesopotamia. Ur’s patron deity was Nanna (god of the moon). I want to write a story about Nanna and the king of Ur.)