National Geographic : 1951 Jan
The Law Protects Zealously the Institution of Marriage T HROUGHOUT the 3,000 years of its historic progress Mesopotamian society was noted for the supreme posi tion which it assigned to law. The law guided the ruler and safeguarded his subjects. It penetrated every walk and phase of life: the family and the state, commerce and industry, science and religion. In the last analysis, it was interest in the law that had led to the introduction of writing. Because of the confidence and sense of dignity that it inspired in the individual and in society, Mesopotamian law became the model for similar institutions among other peoples who at one time or another came within the orbit of the civilization of Mesopotamia. Among them were the Elamites and the Hurrians, the Hit tites and the Hebrews. Until recently, the distinction of having been the first to assemble the existing laws into a systematic code was gen erally ascribed to Hammurabi (page 85), the greatest king of the First Dynasty of Babylon, who is now dated to the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 17th century B. c. Within the last two years, however, two new codes of law have been discovered, each older than the Code of Hammurabi. One of these turned up at the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania. Its text is Sumerian and it has been published by Dr. Francis R. Steele. The other contains the laws of the city of Eshnunna, in an Akkadian formulation published by Dr. Albrecht Goetze. Even these two pre-Hammurabi collections are not likely to have been the first codes used in Mesopotamia. The inscriptions of Urukagina, the last of the early rulers of Lagash, at the end of theEarly Dynastic period, already imply the existence of established legal norms. It is therefore a reasonably safe assumption that bythe turn of the third millennium-that is,intheso-called Neo Sumerian period which followed thedynasty ofAkkad the land enjoyed the security ofbroad legal protection. It is in that period that the accompanying scene islaid. The scene depicts the sealing ofamarriage contract in Lagash, at the time of Gudea. The father, having received the stipulated bride price,indicates his readiness togive away his daughter by affixing his personal seal tothe required document, as the betrothedcouple respectfully watch. The impression is largerthan normal size, since otherwise the detail would be impossible tofollow. Dress and furni ture are based on monuments from thetime ofGudea, whose statue occupies a place ofhonor ontheright. The bride's mother is modeled afterthe famous representation ofa "spinning woman." For the sake of directing attention toanother important feature in the life of Mesopotamia, wehave chosen tomake the bride's father a physician totheking. The inscription on the seal, copied from areal cylinder, says soexplicitly. The design, however, hasnot been found with this inscrip tion. It was taken from acarving onacontemporary vase because of its significanceto themedical profession. The motif is that of entwined serpents. Itwas tobecome known as the caduceus, a symbolofmedicine and, inmodern times, a mark also of the barberprofession, whose incidental asso ciation with the art of healing, however, still isremembered.