Social Hierarchy

There were several levels in the social hierarchy with the king at the top and the slaves at the bottom. In between, in descending order, were the nobles, the free citizens and those in military and civil service. The class structure was generally rigid although some mobility from one level to another was possible. The debt slave had the possibility of paying his debts and regaining his freedom but the only hope for the foreign captive was escape or death.

Thus in Babylonian society there were mainly three classes in society, the awilu, a free person of the upper class; the wardu, or slave; and the mushkenu, a free person of low estate, who ranked legally between the awilu and the wardu. Most slaves were prisoners of war, but some were recruited from the Babylonian citizenry as well. For example, free persons might be reduced to slavery as punishment for certain offenses; parents could sell their children as slaves in time of need; or a man might even turn over his entire family to creditors in payment of a debt, but for no longer than three years.