Code of Ur-Nammu: The Oldest Law in History

Some of the earliest legal codes concerning crimes and offenses and their punishment were formulated in the ancient Middle East. The Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Elamites, Hurrians, Kassites, and Hittites, each had their own laws. Among them, the Code of Hammurabi is perhaps the best-known, but there have been many law codes that predates Hammurabi’s famous code.

The earliest law code from Mesopotamia was the Code of Urukagina, written in the 24th century BCE. No surviving cuneiform tablet of the codes have been discovered yet. We only know about its existence through references in other ancient works. The oldest surviving law code is the Code of Ur-Nammu that was written about 300 years before Hammurabi's law code. Although issued under the king Ur-Nammu of Ur (2112-2095 BCE), some historians think they were actually published by his son Shulgi, after Ur-Nammu's death.

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The cuneiform tablet inscribed with the Code of Ur-Nammu at the Istanbul Archaeology Museums.


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