Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A Collection of Contracts from Mesopotamia

A Collection of Contracts from Mesopotamia - Covering areas of sales and purchases, rentals, labor contracts, co-partnerships, loans and mortgages, bankruptcy, power of attorney, marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance in ancient Iran.

This text is part of the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history. This particular pages was taken from George Aaron Barton, "Contracts," in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature: Selected Transactions, With a Critical Introduction by Robert Francis Harper (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1904), pp. 256-276

I was taken with how modern some of the legal language used in the contracts sounded. For example, here is a contract for a real estate sale:

Sini-Ishtar, the son of Ilu-eribu, and Apil-Ili, his brother, have bought one third Shar of land with a house constructed, next the house of Sini-Ishtar, and next the house of Minani; one third Shar of arable land next the house of Sini-Ishtar, which fronts on the street; the property of Minani, the son of Migrat-Sin, from Minani, the son of Migrat-Sin. They have paid four and a half shekels of silver, the price agreed. Never shall further claim be made, on account of the house of Minani. By their king.

I found some of the legal language for the sale of slaves a bit questionable. The contract language reads:

SHAMASH-UBALLIT and Ubartum, children of Zakir, the son of Pashi-ummani, of their free-will have delivered Nanakirat and her unsveaned son, their slave, for nineteen shekels of money, for the price agreed, unto Kaçir and Nadin-Marduk, sons of Iqisha-aplu, son of Nur-Sin. Shamash-uballit and Ubartum guarantee against insubordination, the claim of the royal service, and emancipation. Witnesses: Na'id-Marduk, son of Nabu-nacir, son of Dabibi; Bel-shum-ishkun, son of Marduk-zir-epish, son of Irani; Nabu-ushallim, son of Bel-akhi-iddin, son of Bel-apal-uçur. In the dwelling of Damqa, their mother. And the scribe, Nur-Ea, son of Ina-Isaggil-ziri, son of Nur-Sin. Babylon, twenty-first of Kisilimu, eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.

How exactly could the seller assure the buyer that the slaves would not be insubordinate? If they misbehaved, was there a money back promise? How long did such a guarantee last? How could the buyer prove that the product (slave) was defective, i.e. that the actions of a slave warranted a refund?

I guess these contracts show that lawyers have always been assured a steady stream of business despite the culture or the historical time that they have lived.

1 comment:

Jennie W said...

I have used this site (the Internet Sourcebook) in many of my classes - its a wonderful resource! There are so many great things there. The more primary source material we can get accessible the better!