Debt was secured on the person of the debtor. Distraint on a debtor's corn was forbidden by the Code; not only must the creditor give it back, but his illegal action forfeited his claim altogether. An unwarranted seizure for debt was fined, as was the distraint of a working ox. The debtor being seized for debt could nominate as mancipium or hostage to work off the debt, his wife, a child, or slave. The creditor could only hold a wife or child three years as mancipium. If the mancipium died a natural death while in the creditor's possession no claim could lie against the latter; but if he was the cause of death by cruelty, he had to give son for son, or pay for a slave. He could sell a slave-hostage, unless she were a slave-girl who had borne her master children. She had to be redeemed by her owner.
The debtor could also pledge his property, and in contracts often pledged a field, house or crop. The Code enacted, however, that the debtor should always take the crop himself and pay the creditor from it. If the crop failed, payment was deferred and no interest could be charged for that year. If the debtor did not cultivate the field himself he had to pay for the cultivation, but if the cultivation was already finished he must harvest it himself and pay his debt from the crop. If the cultivator did not get a crop this would not cancel his contract. Pledges were often made where the intrinsic value of the article was equivalent to the amount of the debt; but antichretic pledge was more common, where the profit of the pledge was a set-off against the interest of the debt. The whole property of the debtor might be pledged as security for the payment of the debt, without any of it coming into the enjoyment of the creditor. Personal guarantees were often given that the debtor would repay or the guarantor become liable himself.
Trade was very extensive. A common way of doing business was for a merchant to entrust goods or money to a travelling agent, who sought a market for his goods. The caravans travelled far beyond the limits of the empire. The Code insisted that the agent should inventory and give a receipt for all that he received. No claim could be made for anything not so entered. Even if the agent made no profit he was bound to return double what he had received, if he made poor profit he had to make up the deficiency; but he was not responsible for loss by robbery or extortion on his travels. On his return, the principal must give a receipt for what was handed over to him. Any false entry or claim on the agent's part was penalised three-fold, on the principal's part six-fold. In normal cases profits were divided according to contract, usually equally.
A considerable amount of forwarding was done by the caravans. The carrier gave a receipt for the consignment, took all responsibility and exacted a receipt on delivery. If he defaulted he paid five-fold. He was usually paid in advance. Deposit, especially warehousing of grain, was charged for at one-sixtieth. The warehouseman took all risks, paid double for all shortage, but no claim could be made unless he had given a properly witnessed receipt. Water traffic on the Euphrates and canals was early very considerable. Ships, whose tonnage was estimated at the amount of grain they could carry, were continually hired for the transport of all kinds of goods. The Code fixes the price for building and insists on the builder's giving a year's guarantee of seaworthiness. It fixes the hire of ship and of crew. The captain was responsible for the freight and the ship; he had to replace all loss. Even if he refloated the ship he had to pay a fine of half its value for sinking it. In the case of collision the boat under way was responsible for damages to the boat at anchor. The Code also regulated the liquor traffic, fixing a fair price for beer and forbidding the connivance of the tavern-keeper (a female!) at disorderly conduct or treasonable assembly, under pain of death.
She was to hale the offenders to the palace, which implied an efficient and accessible police system.
Payment through a banker or by written draft against deposit was frequent. Bonds to pay were treated as negotiable. Interest was rarely charged on advances by the temple or wealthy landowners for pressing needs, but this may have been part of the metayer system. The borrowers may have been tenants. Interest was charged at very high rates for overdue loans of this kind. Merchants (and even temples in some cases) made ordinary business loans, charging from 20 to 30%.
Marriage retained the form of purchase, but was essentially a contract to be man and wife together. The marriage of young people was usually arranged between the relatives, the bridegroom's father providing the bride-price, which with other presents the suitor ceremonially presented to the bride's father. This bride-price was usually handed over by her father to the bride on her marriage, and so came back into the bridegroom's possession, along with her dowry, which was her portion as a daughter. The bride-price varied much, according to the position of the parties, but was in excess of that paid for a slave. The Code enacted that if the father does not, after accepting a man's presents, give him his daughter, he must return the presents doubled. Even if his decision was brought about by libel on the part of the suitor's friend this was done, and the Code enacted that the faithless friend should not marry the girl. If a suitor changed his mind, he forfeited the presents. The dowry might include real estate, but generally consisted of personal effects and household furniture. It remained the wife's for life, descending to her children, if any; otherwise returning to her family, when the husband could deduct the bride-price if it had not been given to her, or return it, if it had.
The marriage ceremony included joining of hands and the utterance of some formula of acceptance on the part of the bridegroom, as "I am the son of nobles, silver and gold shall fill thy lap, thou shall be my wife, I will be thy husband. Like the fruit of a garden I will give thee offspring." It must be performed by a freeman.