Human progress is measured in many ways. One of them are the laws and rules, which since ancient times flourished in the most advanced civilizations as a means of guaranteeing coexistence and politically organizing the territory.
If we find similarities in many of them, there is also no lack of somewhat special, not to say strange, rules, which today seem to us astounding. These are some of them.
The obligation to prove accusations
Everyone knows the famous eye for an eye of the Code of Hammurabi, written in 1750 B.C. by the Babylonian king of that name. But a rule present in it, perhaps less well known, forced the accusers to prove their accusations indisputably. Otherwise they would be condemned to death.
But there is more, because one of the methods of proving the innocence of the accused was to throw them into the river. If they drowned, it was because the gods had determined that they were guilty.
But if they managed to get out alive, they were innocent and their accuser was executed for falsehood. So one had to be careful before accusing someone.
Allowed to kidnap unaccompanied women
The Ur-Nammu Code is a code of Sumerian laws drafted between 2100 and 2050 B.C. which may have inspired the drafting of the Hammurabi Code.
The kidnapping of persons was punishable by death, but only if both kidnapper and captured were free men.
If the abductee was a slave, the sentence was a monetary fine. And if the abducted was a woman, the raptor could always claim that she had been found alone in the street, without companions, and therefore could not know if she belonged to anyone.
Forbidden to take anyone away from Catholicism
The Theodosian Code, written in A.D. 438, forbade the worship of any god other than the Christian. It also forced all Christian churches to submit to the Catholic Church, under penalty of being considered heretical.
Among the events that carried the death penalty was the conversion of a Catholic to another religion.
When everything was punishable by death
Draco of Thessaly is considered the author of the first laws of Athens, around 621 B.C. His draconian code was very simple, although we do not know if effective.
It was based on a single sentence: the death penalty. Had you killed someone? Death penalty. Had you stolen an animal? Death penalty.
Did you forget to pay taxes? Death penalty. And so on. Luckily for the Athenians, Draco’s successor, Solon, annulled everything but the death penalty for murder.
Rape only at home
The Nesilim, the name the people we know as Hittites gave themselves, also had their own code, written around 1650-1500 BC.
One of the strangest laws was that which considered the rape of a woman to be punishable by death, but only if the rape took place abroad. If it happened at home, it was her guilty, and she was condemned to death instead of her rapist.
Bestialism? It depends on which animal
Another of the strangest rules of the Hittites was that bestiality was punishable, but depending on what animal it was produced with.
A dog or a pig, death penalty. A horse or a mule, punished never to appear before the king again. A cow, the king decided condemnation.
You will not pick up other people’s cereals
The Law of the Twelve Tables is the first known legal code drafted in Rome, around 450 B.C. One of the laws stipulated that anyone who cut or picked up another’s grain was destined to be sacrificed to the goddess Ceres.
This was done after his death, as long as he was an adult. If it was not, the sentence was to restore double what had been taken.
The problem with leaving home
Another of the curious Mesopotamian norms, from which only fragments dating from between 2250 and 550 B.C. have been recovered, stipulated that, if a son was declared independent of his father, he could be sold as a slave.
But if he declared himself independent of his mother, the punishment was to be expelled from his home and disinherited.
It’s forbidden to wear a veil if you’re not honorable.
The Assura Code is a compilation of Assyrian laws written about 1075 B.C. One of the rules stipulated that women considered honorable should cover their faces in public with a veil.
But slaves, servants, prostitutes and, in general, any woman not considered honorable could not wear it.
If she was found covering her face with a veil she was stripped of all her clothes, given 50 lashes and then condemned to death.
Beware what you sing
Another Roman rule in the Law of the Twelve Tables condemned to death anyone who sang joking or mocking songs about another person.
As long as what was sung was false, of course. If it was true, there was no problem.
This article was first published on our Spanish Edition on May 29, 2015. Puedes leer la versión en español en 10 de las leyes más extrañas de la Antigüedad