Codex Ur-Nammu

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The first known version of the law

The Codex Ur-Nammu (for alternative names see: Ur-Nammu ) is the oldest legal collection that has been handed down in writing . It is written in Sumerian and dates back to about 2100 BC. BC on behalf of King Ur-Nammu of Ur (Mesopotamia) or his son Schulgi . The designation as Codex Ur-Nammu is modern, the collection of laws does not represent a codified law in this sense.


A total of 5 Old Babylonian copies have been preserved, found in the cities of Nippur , Ur and Sippar , which were first translated in 1952 by Samuel Kramer . A complete copy is not available, but 3 of the sources overlap and make a partial reconstruction of the codex possible. However, the sources belong to different versions (column width, text variant) and therefore most likely go back to different originals, probably to inscriptions in temples and on steles .


If one follows the reconstruction of the ancient orientalist Claus Wilcke, the codex is structured as follows:

  • Dedicatory inscription of the statue or stele
  • Legitimation of the ruler, both through divine as well as through foreign and domestic political successes
  • Enactment of the laws: celebration of inauguration, equality of citizens, independence of the ruler in the establishment
  • Laws, casuistic , in the form of if-then sentences; at least 40 paragraphs (modern census) have been preserved
  • Curse to protect the inscription from eradication

Content of laws

Due to the incomplete tradition, the entire scope of the codex is unknown, at least 40 paragraphs have been preserved. The internal structure of the legal collection largely follows the association principle or the talion principle . There are basically two classes of people: the citizen ( ) and the slave ( arad / géme ). The individual laws are presented in the form of if-then sentences. Topics covered are essentially in this order:

  • murder
  • robbery
  • false accusation / testimony
  • Adultery
  • rape
  • Marriage law, divorce
  • witchcraft
  • Mayhem
  • Rent for oxen and fields
  • Medical treatment / treatment costs
  • Loan / interest
  • heritage
  • slaves
  • Water theft
  • Neglect of the property, the house and the leased field

The capital crimes of murder, robbery, adultery and rape are punishable by death; if witchcraft is accused, a river ordal is carried out. All other penalties are fines. Special laws on water theft, neglect of the property, etc. are explained by the climatic conditions of Mesopotamia , u. a. Water scarcity and the predominantly arable economy.


  • tukum-bi lú ba-úš dumu-nita nu-un-tuku dumu-mí dam nu-un-tuku-a ibila-a-ni ḫé-a = If someone dies and has no son, then an unmarried daughter should be with his To be made heiress.


  • Martha Tobi Roth : Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor . Writings from the Ancient World. vol 6. Society of Biblical Literature, 1995, ISBN 0-7885-0126-7
  • Claus Wilcke: The Codex Urnamma (CU): An attempt at a reconstruction . In: Zvi Abusch (Ed.): Riches hidden in secret places: ancient Near Eastern studies in memory of Thorkild Jacobson , Winona Lake 2002, pp. 291–333, ISBN 1-57506-061-2

Individual evidence

  1. Kurt A. Raaflaub, Elisabeth Müller-Luckner: Beginnings of political thought in antiquity . Oldenbourg Verlag, 1993, ISBN 3-486-55993-1 , p. 37 ( online ).