Codes of Law Review and Analysis


To keep order in their lands and control their population, territorial states and nomadic peoples formulated specific codes of law or rules and principles to follow. Thus, control and power in these states were based not only on the personality of a leader but also on some laws, instructions, and regulations, and the extent of their development depended on the type of state and peoples’ way of life.

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The analysis of these codes and rules is important to understand what values and beliefs influenced humans’ visions and what differences can be observed in the laws and statutes of people living in territorial states and nomadic peoples. In this context, it is necessary to determine what issues the leaders of states tried to legislate, what concerns were critical to them, what social distinctions were addressed, and what enforcement of justice was expected.

Codes of law in ancient time

In their codes of law, territorial states, such as New Kingdom Egypt, Babylon, and Shang China were focused on mentioning and regulating such issues as marriage, property ownership, and crimes among other aspects. The reason is that a territorial state developed as a centralized kingdom that required order and stability, as well as the guarantee of the rule of their leader. The reliance on the role of a leader and the progress of bureaucracies required the establishment of effective codes of law to regulate all the aspects of citizens’ life. The focus was on guaranteeing social stability and order concerning these codes.

An example of such a code is Hammurapi’s Code adopted in Babylon (Pollard et al. 114). In this code, such issues as crimes and associated punishments, marriage issues, questions related to property ownership, the cases of renting or stealing property were discussed.

In Instruction to Vizier Rekhmire, there are examples of referring to the power of a monarch when making judgments in the courts of New Kingdom Egypt. Finally, the documents related to Shang China indicate the presence of an effective system of punishments adopted for regulation in the state (Pollard et al. 115-116). These legal documents support the idea that the purpose of leaders in territorial states was to provide clear instructions for people to follow in their daily life and regulate their marriage and different types of social relations concerning the system of punishments to avoid instability and crimes.

In contrast, the sorts of issues that were important to the nomadic Hebrews and Vedic peoples were rather different. These peoples were religious, believed in deities and God, and their power. These views influenced their legal codes and principles based on rituals, holy values, and their vision of a man’s role in society. An example of the code of Hebrews is the Ten Commandments that represents an instruction for people to follow strictly.

The issues mentioned in these commandments are connected with the relationships between people (love to people, respect for parents, prohibited stealing, killing, adultery, etc.) and between people and God (Pollard et al. 114-116). In the Code of Manu used by the nomadic Vedic peoples of South Asia, issues to legislate and control also included people’s relations with deities and between women and men among other social interactions.

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Generalizing the issues and concerns reflected in legal codes and typical of territorial states and nomadic peoples, it is possible to state that the laws of states were oriented toward producing a well-controlled monarchy with a strict system of allowed and prohibited actions. Legal codes or instructions adopted in territorial states seem to be more formal to secure the power of a leader, ensure social order, and represent the relationship between crime and punishment. It was necessary to find a balance between imposing power on citizens and protecting social and political stability in a state.

Therefore, there were different types of instructions to regulate different aspects of people’s life and accentuate the power of a monarch or other leader through the system of punishments. For example, in Hammurapi’s Code, it was stated: “If a man brings an accusation against a man, and charge him with a (capital) crime, but cannot prove it, he, the accuser, shall be put to death” (Pollard et al. 114). A clear emphasis on punishments is characteristic of territorial states’ codes of law.

Comparison of codes and laws

In comparison, instructions and laws typical of nomadic groups are more concentrated on balancing people’s relationships with each other to avoid conflicts. In territorial states, marriage was discussed as a formal relationship between a man and a woman. In rules related to nomadic peoples, the focus is on the social and spiritual aspect of the marriage. Furthermore, the nomadic Hebrews and Vedic peoples were highly religious, that is why the concerns reflected in legal codes were related to their relationships with God and other deities they worshipped (Pollard et al. 114-116). The focus on interactions with God and other people was reflected in the codes of law as an important characteristic of their identity.

The presented codes, which were adopted by both territorial states and nomadic peoples, included references to social distinctions. Thus, it is reflected in these documents that representatives of different genders and social classes were treated unequally. In Hammurapi’s Code, males, females, servants, and freemen were mentioned. For example, it is stated concerning regulating the issues related to the marriage and divorce: “If there were no marriage settlement, he shall give to her one mana of silver for a divorce… If he is a freeman, he shall give her one-third mana of silver” (Pollard et al. 115).

The wording in these statements helps to understand the nature of relationships between females and males in the situation of divorce. In the Code of Manu, the difference between men and women regarding their gender and social position is stated most clearly. According to the Code, “Day and night women must be kept in dependence by the males (of) their (families)… a woman is never fit for independence” (Pollard et al. 116). These examples allow for illustrating the importance of identifying distinctions in legal codes.

Social distinctions are accentuated in the discussed legal codes to regulate the nature of relationships in society as effectively as possible, and these codes reflect the positions women held in contrast to men in territorial states and other groups, and what classes were presented. In formal legal codes related to territorial states, the authority comes from the word of monarchs, and this aspect explains the privileged position of certain classes reflected in regulations. In these codes, death is discussed as the primary punishment, as it is represented in Hammurapi’s Code, for instance (Pollard et al. 114).

The authorities and judges as privileged people were responsible for determining a criminal and a punishment. In this context, social distinctions play a key role in society about maintaining justice. In the codes adopted by Hebrews and Vedic peoples, the source of authority was God, and the tone of discussing the nature of the relationships between people was different. These cultures paid attention to religious beliefs and rituals that regulated their daily life and determined rules to follow. The major punishment for religious people belonging to nomadic groups was God’s wrath.

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The analysis of codes of law, which were used in territorial states and by nomadic groups of people, allows for determining what concerns were accentuated by these individuals. In territorial states, it was important to support the power of a leader and regulate stability in society through the system of social distinctions and punishments. For nomadic peoples, it was important to keep balance in their relations with other people and God.

The social distinction related to gender seems to be even more obvious regarding the statements provided in the Code of Manu. The role of women as dependent on men is explained in the Code, and it is possible to find a lot of information in these legal documents regarding the specifics of social relations typical of society during the examined period. Although territorial states, Hebrews, and Vedic peoples required the development of codes of laws, they referred to different sources of power and authority in their texts. Thus, peoples of New Kingdom Egypt, Babylon, and Shang China relied on a monarch’s thought, and Hebrews and Vedic peoples relied on their God’s word.


Pollard, Elizabeth, et al. Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: Beginnings Through the 15th Century. 4th ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.

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