What is the origin of the law

To the origin of the law

Latin -> History Materials -> On the Origin of Law

Table of Contents

  1. General
  2. To the Codex Hammurapi
  3. At the beginning of Greek law
  4. To the 12 Table Laws


The codification (writing) of the law does not begin with the Greeks or the 12-Table Laws.

The oldest surviving collection of laws in the Old World, the Codex Hammurapi, can be found on the 2.25 m high black basalt stone shown below. [1] It can be seen today in the Louvre.

To the Codex Hammurapi

"Hammurapi ... ruled from 1728 to 1686 (the considerably higher years of reign indicated for him in our time are hardly applicable). ... His greatest fame was to stand by the socially weak and disenfranchised. ... a permanent monument of the ruler is the Codex Hammurapi ... The legal code of Hammurapis is not the first collection of laws of the old Mesopotamia. The oldest law book is rather the collection of the Urnammu of Ur (around 2050), followed around 1930 by the laws of Esnunna and those of Lipit-Istar of Isin (around 1870). The arrangement of the laws at Hammurapi is not legally systematic, but practice-related. The code begins with suspicions of murder and sorcery, followed by penalties for false witnesses and unjust judges. ... The principle of the Talion is important, based on the principle of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth ‘. However, the full talion only occurred when a patrician was injured. Criminals were dealt with ruthlessly, they were thrown into the river or from the city tower, they were burned or beheaded, some even buried. Hammurapi was for deterrence, as was customary in the ancient Orient. There are similarities between its code of law and the Old Testament. Only one case of this: Whoever catches a burglar red-handed, is allowed to kill him on the spot (II. Mose 22: 1). "[2]

At the beginning of Greek law

“... in the 7th and 6th centuries BC The current law is recorded. The cities of southern Italy and Sicily have preceded it. Men like Zaleukos of Lokroi and Charondas of Katane have been exemplary in the West, but Athens too has found its legislature in Drakon [3]. ”[4]

To the 12 Table Laws

“The Greek influence, especially the Greek help with technical questions of the codification, but also with the solution of problems of substantive law (e.g. provisions relating to grave luxury and neighborhood law; adoption of legal terms such as, poiné‘ = poena) are undisputed; However, the legation to Athens, handed down from the Roman tradition, is largely considered to be a late construction and the connections are more likely to be sought in Greater Greece, according to WIEACKER ... especially in the Doric cities of Magna Graecia.

There is consensus in research that the Twelve Tables is not a "constitution" in the narrower sense, not even an overall codification of applicable law legis actiones, apparently not included as something too well known), but rather a compilation of old and also some new legal clauses, legal ideas and habits considered important; many of these behavioral norms, which were already in effect before, only became law through the codification. A strong impact of the collection resulted from the type and form of the compilation itself, in contrast to which the creation of new norms or new legal ideas completely receded. The effect of the codification lies primarily in the selection, and in it - in addition to a possible Greek influence - the specific zeitgeist and thus also the problems of the class struggle come into play (e.g. in the mitigation of the law of obligations, tab. 3 , 2-4; in the legally guaranteed replacement of blood vengeance by a fine, 8.2-4; through the threat of capital punishment against the fraudulent patron, 8.21 and through the restriction of grave luxury, 10.2-9). However, it is not always easy to say to what extent the 'more modern', an older development obviously just reflects the stage of legal development reached in the Twelve Tables, or to what extent it is itself committed to a reformist thought of the time. "[5]


1)The URI of the image is
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2)Hermann Bengtson “History of the Old World”, Frankfurt am Main 1989, pp. 32-35

An excerpt from the Codex Hammurapi (with reference to a complete translation in English) is available at this URI.
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3)"around 624" (see Konrat Ziegler / Walther Sontheimer [ed.] "Der Kleine Pauly", Munich 1979 under "Drakon 2.")
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4)Hermann Bengtson "History of the Old World", Frankfurt am Main 1989, p. 76
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5)Jochen Bleicken "History of the Roman Republic", 2nd edition, Munich 1982, p. 123
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