This section is from the book "Popular Law Library Vol1 Introduction To The Study Of Law Legal History", by Albert H. Putney. Also see: Popular Law-Dictionary.
The nation which occupied the land about the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, a region successively the seat of the great Chaldean and Babylonian Empires, appears as the first great cosmopolitan race in the world's history. The earliest inhabitants of this region whom history can identify, were of the Sumerian and Arcadian races, outlying branches of the great Mongolian family. A little later a Hamitic migration spreads across the territory and finally came the Semites, destined to be the ruling race of this country in the periods of its greatest glory. At the present day the facilities for travel and migration have done much to break down lines between nations and create a greater or less mixture of blood in the veins of every race. In the early periods of human history, however, the difficulties of migration and racial prejudices all strongly tended to prevent mixture of races; with the result that Babylon stands practically alone among the ancient Eastern monarchies in the extremely mixed ancestry of her citizens.
Babylon was not only cosmopolitan through the various races from whom her people were descended, but also from the wide intercourse and commercial connections with other nations. From her position between India and Phoenicia, from her great rivers and her access to the Persian Gulf, from the richness of her own products, Babylon was long the great commercial nation of the world.
It has always been the cosmopolitan and the commercial races which have left the deepest impress upon the world's history, and the Babylonians furnished no exception to this rule. Although the contributions of this nation to human progress are found in nearly all the branches of human knowledge and enterprise, still her greatest work was in the field of law.
"The great work of the nation was the production of a system of law, necessary to the extended commercial activity of the city and produced by that activity. This was, by the very processes that called it into being, made a part of the world's life. The great and complicated transactions of the Babylonian merchants needed an elaborate body of law; and the same influences which brought into existence that mass of unwritten law, which in modern times passed into statute law, in other ages brought into existence the commercial or merchant law in a form hardly less elaborate. Wherever the Babylonian merchant went, he carried with him the law by which his business, in its extent and fullness, was made possible. He thereby became the pioneer of a higher civilization. * * *
"The law of Babylon did not come to an end with the fall of the new Babylonian Empire. Innumerable tablets of a later date than the conquest of Babylon by the Persians have been preserved. The conquerors were, in matters of law, inferior to the conquered, as they had not been subjected to the same conditions. They adopted to a large extent the Babylonian law; it is certain that they adopted it in those particulars in which the genius of the Babylonians had achieved the greatest results. The extensive conquests of the Persian Empire diffused a knowledge of Babylonian commercial jurisprudence throughout a vast tract of country. That which was at one time the exclusive possession of one highly favored city became the property of the whole world; although much had already been done by the Phoenicians in spreading the law of Babylon." 1
It is impossible to ascribe any definite time to the beginning of this system of law. Its originators were undoubtedly the early Accadian settlers who bequeathed it to the Semites, by whom it was developed into the greatest system of laws in existence prior to the time of the Roman Empire.