Top 10 Oldest Recorded Laws by Region

Top 10 Oldest Recorded Laws by Region


A system of law is one of the cornerstones
of a stable and prosperous society. Throughout mankind?s history, countless laws
have been created in the hopes of bringing balance and justice to the land. But in the span of our existence, recorded
laws are still relatively new; we’ve been a species for roughly 200,000 years, but have
only been a law-abiding one for roughly 4500 of them. By studying some of our earliest attempts
at law and order, we can gather insight both into the development of different cultures
and the progression of man as a civilized species. So below are ten of the oldest known codes
of laws from different regions and cultures. 10. The Code of Ur-Nammu?(Mesopotamia, ca. 2,380-2,360
BC) To begin with, let?s examine the oldest surviving
recorded law system known to mankind: the Code of Ur-Nammu. Ur-Nammu was the king of the ancient Mesopotamian
city of Ur between 2111-2094 BC. His code was a series of laws that pioneered
several vital legal concepts such as requiring monetary compensation for physical injuries
caused upon others.?In addition, murder, robbery, adultery, and rape are defined as capital
crimes punishable by execution, while mutilation was punishable by a fine (10 skekels for cutting
off a man’s foot). This system, though obviously not 100% like
what we have today, was imperative to the development of law and order in ancient Mesopotamia,
as well as all civilization succeeding it. 9. The Code of Hammurabi?(Babylonia, ca. 1786
BC) Perhaps the most infamous set of laws from
antiquity, the Code of Hammurabi was established by the Babylonian ruler of the same name. The first ruler of the Babylonian empire,
Hammurabi?s Code helped spread law and order throughout Mesopotamia as he conquered city-state
after city-state. The Code comprehensively controlled and regulated
every aspect of life in his kingdom, including civil law, ethics, business, trade, and family. Carved on an 8-foot-high black stone monument,
the Code was displayed so that all of Hammurabi?s subjects would know what was expected of them. Though the Code was notoriously severe, it
did introduce two of the most important tenants of modern justice: the presumption of innocence
and the opportunity for both sides of a conflict to present evidence. Additionally, unlike many modern justice systems,
the Code of Hammurabi punished the upper classes much more severely than the lower classes. 8. The Code of the Nesilim?(Hittie Empire, ca.
1650-1500 BC) Established by the ancient Hittites of what
is now modern-day Turkey, the Code of the Nesilim (the Hittite people?s word for themselves)
regulated several aspects of their rapidly-expanding empire. One of its most significant topics concerned
the treatment of slaves. When compared to how other societies treated
slaves, the Code of Nesilim was surprisingly fair, allowing them to marry whomever they
wanted, to buy property, to open businesses, and to purchase their freedom. But most significantly, under the Code of
Nesilim, slaves were not treated as human chattel, or property that could be used and
abused by their masters however they saw fit. They had a limited number of rights that guaranteed
them a level of dignity and protection. 7. 42 Negative Confessions?(Egypt, ca. 1250 BC) One of the oldest recorded systems of human
morality was the ancient Egyptian concept of ma?at. Evoking concepts of ?straightness, evenness,
levelness, correctness … rightness … truth, justice, righteousness, [and] order,? ma?at was central to the development of ancient
Egyptian religion and ethics. Ma?at extended to virtually every aspect of
ancient Egyptian life … and death. According to the Egyptian Book of the Dead,
a freshly departed soul would have to recite 42 Negative Confessions as part of their trial
in the underworld. Some examples include “I have not slain
man or woman” and “I have no uttered evil words.” If the soul had not fulfilled all 42 Negative
Confessions, then their heart would be eaten by Ammit, the ?devourer,? and their soul would
be re-incarnated on Earth for another life/death cycle. The 42 Confessions were memorized by every
Egyptian citizen, and therefore can be seen as a kind of institutionalized system of ma?at. As such, they can be interpreted as the first
recorded laws in Egyptian history. Some scholars even claim that Moses, after
years of being exposed to Egyptian culture, compressed the 42 Negative Confessions into
the Ten Commandments. 6. Kang Gao (China, ca. 11th Century BC) As one of the oldest civilizations on earth,
it only stands to reason that China would have one of the longest recorded legal traditions. But despite the fact that the earliest surviving
Chinese historical records date from the Xia dynasty (c. 2100-1600 BC), the earliest surviving
legal document is from the Zhou dynasty. Known as the Kang Gao, it was basically a
long letter from King Wu of Zhou to young Prince Kangshu, who was set to rule a new
fief. The Gao laid out the best rules and punishments
for keeping Kangsu’s subjects in line. The Kang Gao has survived to this day, and
has become a vital influence on generations of lawmakers. 5. The Draconian Constitution?(Greece, ca. 7th
Century BC) Draco was an Athenian statesman who is believed
to have formed the first written set of ancient Greek laws. Known for the cruelty of his laws, Draco?s
very name has become associated with unforgiving brutality (Draconian.) Plutarch described Draco?s laws as such: ?For
nearly all crimes there was the same penalty of death. The man who was convicted of idleness, or
who stole a cabbage or an apple, was liable to death no less than the robber of temples
or the murderer.? Though the Draconian Constitution was a crucial
part of the development of ancient Greek law, it was all (with the exception of the homicide
law) repealed in the early 6th century BC by another Athenian statesman named Solon. 4. Torah?(Judaism, ca. 600-400 BC) The word “torah” has several different
meanings but, in this case, it refers to the Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus,
Numbers, and Deuteronomy. This Torah has been one of the cornerstones
of Jewish culture, faith, and identity for millennia. Jewish tradition states that the Torah existed
before the creation of the world, and was only written down after it was revealed to
Moses by God. But trying to historically nail down the date
when the Torah was first compiled and physically written down is very tricky. The Torah underwent many series of redactions
over the centuries. However, many scholars think that the last
major set of redactions occurred after 539 BC, when the Jews were freed from the Babylonian
captivity by Cyrus the Great. 3. Dharmasutras?(India, ca. 600-100 BC) The earliest extant legal codes in ancient
India, the Dharmasutras are a series of writings that address rites, ritual obligations, proper
conduct, and the correct way to live one?s life. The Dharmasutras would be one of the main
sources for the Law Code of Manu, a composition that would come to be known as one of the
authoritative legal treatises of ancient India towards the middle of the first millennium. The four most important Dharmasutra texts
are the Apastamba, Gautama, Baudhayana, and Vasisthasutras. Though they would be overshadowed by more
modern legal treatises, the Dharmasutras are indispensable parts of Indian legal tradition
and history. 2. Twelve Tables of Roman Law (Rome, 451 BC) The Twelve Tables of Roman Law are both the
oldest surviving piece of Roman literature, and their first attempt at composing a code
of law. The Twelve Tables of Roman Law demonstrated
a notable Hellenic influence, but nevertheless remained almost purely Roman in character. They avoided specific details concerning cases,
instead focusing on principles which should be emulated. However there are exceptions, such as ?the
rules for the observance of funeral ceremonies, the laws and obligations existing between
neighbors and the treatment to which the debtor might be subjected.? The original Twelve Tables were set up for
display at the forum, but were destroyed when the Gauls sacked Rome in 390 BC. 1. The Omi Code/Asuka Kiyomihara Code?(Japan,
668 AD/689 AD) During the 7th century, Japan tried its hardest
to mimic Chinese methods of thought, religion, and governance. Part of this manifested itself in the country?s
adoption of Buddhism and Chinese writing characters. But Japan also tried to replicate Chinese-style
laws through the creation of the ritsuryo system. Records show that there may have been three
different collections of ritsuryo laws from this era. The first is the Omi Code from 668. A surviving copy of this 22-volume compilation
of administrative code has yet to be found. We only know of its existence from references
in other documents. The Omi Code was later updated in 689 to the
Asuka Kiyomihara Code, also 22 volumes in length. Sadly, much like the Omi Code, the Asuka Kiyomihara
Code has not survived outside of references found in other texts. But we do know that these two codes were compiled
and written. Hopefully, one day these texts will be rediscovered
for a new generation of scholars and historians.

82 thoughts on “Top 10 Oldest Recorded Laws by Region

  1. I found the Ur-Nammu code to be more tolerant and closer to modern morals than the later one of Hammurabi. I wonder if the Babylonians were less civilized than the earlier Sumerians?

  2. The writer of the 10 commandments could not have got these off the Egyptians for a very simple reason – Genesis at least pre-dates 1250BC by a minimum of 50 years. Specifically there is mention of Abraham buying the plot for Sarah's tomb from the Hittites and the deeds to the land being in the east gate of the city. The Hittites were the only people to not store the deeds in the city centre temple and the Hittites were no longer in the area Abraham was residing in 1300BC. It is also proof that the Torah was written way before 600BC because that detail was only re-discovered in modern times and until fairly recently the Hittites were believed to be a myth as all mention of them apart from in the Bible had vanished by about 800BC. It was only some 30,000 Babylonian cruciform texts that detailed trading with the Hittites found in the 20th century that proved the Bible was correct on that point after all.

  3. Another super interesting video, well done! Simon I'd love if you'd consider saying humankind instead of mankind. Language matters, let's include everyone 🙂

  4. REALLY? NO LAWS??

    Okay, so we’ve been in existence for over 200k years but haven’t had any laws since 4,500 years ago. Tell me what is wrong with this picture?

    You have to ask yourself this question…
    Do scientist have the timeline wrong or have they completely lost their minds??
    It makes no sense whatsoever that humans would be in existence for that long and NOT have any evidence of laws dating anywhere near that long ago.

  5. Another well-researched and informative video. Could you please do an episode on top ten reasons and laws for divorce in modern and ancient times?

  6. We didnt have any laws until 4500 yrs ago we would just kill you if you done wrong before then,so we had no laws it more like guidelines i would say

  7. I'd be interested in seeing the top 10 oldest laws that are still in use. I'm not referring to laws that have analogs deep in the past, such as laws against murder or stealing, but laws that were written centuries ago (I doubt there are many that have survived millennia outside of religious institutions) and are still on the books and practiced today.

  8. Can you stop using bc, it is supposed to be referred to as b.c.e. known as Before Common Era. It is how history is supposed to be taught as to separate Christianity from history implying definitive proof of a Christ figure.

  9. About how much was a shekel worth? (and did you mean skekels or shekels?)
    Innocent until proven guilty and the upper classes punished more severely! This sounds like a MUCH better system than so many that history has had!
    The idea that being lazy or stealing a #%&*ing apple could bring down the same penalty as murder is pretty horrifying! I realize that if someone didn't do their fair share of the harvesting, or whatever, it could have a negative affect (effect?) on the whole community and that if they stole an apple it might have been the only food the person they stole it from had to last several days, but still… !

  10. There is no evidence outside the bible that moses existed. maybe stay more on the facts and less on the made up stuff? also, maybe use BCE and CE instead of the christian count, makes you look less biased.

  11. İf İ were in power, i would have but one law; taken from the 12th negative confession of 42, which is "You shall make none to weep (physically or otherwise)." Pretty much covers everything. lol

  12. IS it not true that the Sumerian migrated from the Scythian people and that is why they had established laws and social structure almost right away?

  13. Just lowers the credibility of the channel when the host clearly says "Hittite" – the correct term – and the screen says "Hittie" and you publish it anyway.

    Happened before. You write the correct spelling on screen but host says it wrong without batting an eyelid.

    Very evident that it's a group of people floundering to appear omniscient in light of ever-crushing deadlines. Failing badly

  14. I'd totally love to know how the Egyptians came up with the #42?
    How the hell did you not mention The Hitchhiker's Guide with that?

  15. The Torah: the Pentateuch. It's hard to get the dates right (yes, the dates are off). This is what some Jews think about it… aaaand literally nothing about the laws, nothing about governance or the effect of the laws. Once again, top tenz throws in something about Judeo-Christianity because they would be laughed at if they didn't.

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