Legal Disputes

In actual legal practice, precedent and custom were the guiding rules and there was no codified statement of the law of the land to which reference could be made in a legal dispute. Disputes between two or more parties were commonly settled privately, either directly or through the mediation of a neutral outsider. On occasion a settlement could not be reached in this way and then the disputants would go to court. The court consisted of an assembly of people, which included judges and elders. Each side would present its case and usually take an oath by the god or gods that he or she was speaking the truth. Witnesses would present their testimony and similarly swear to the veracity of their words. When all testimony had been heard, the assembly would deliberate and the judges pronounce their decision. The case was recorded on a clay tablet, which contained the names of the judges and witnesses and the private seals of the participants impressed in the clay.

Hammurapi's Code regulated ownership and the leasing of land, it authorized legal partnerships, it severely punished dishonest practices, it permitted loans of grain and silver but limited the interest to one-third the value of the grain and one-fifth the value of the silver. It protected farmers against crops destroyed by flood and against eviction before the termination of the contract. It specifically permitted women to own property, to manage shops, and to engage in trade. It also fixed prices.