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Babylonian society consisted of three classes represented by the awilu, a free person of the upper class; the wardu, or slave; and the mushkenu, a free person of low estate, who ranked legally between the awilu and the wardu. Most slaves were prisoners of war, but some were recruited from the Babylonian citizenry as well. For example, free persons might be reduced to slavery as punishment for certain offenses; parents could sell their children as slaves in time of need; or a man might even turn over his entire family to creditors in payment of a debt, but for no longer than three years. Slaves were the property of their master, like any other chattel. They could be branded and flogged, and they were severely punished if they attempted to escape. On the other hand, because it was to the advantage of the master that the slaves stay strong and healthy, they usually were well treated. Slaves even had certain legal rights and could engage in business, borrow money, and buy their freedom. If a slave married a free person and had children, the latter were free. The sale price of a slave varied with the market, as well as with the attributes of the individual involved; the average price for a grown man was usually 20 shekels of silver, a sum that could buy some 35 bushels of barley. The mushkenu The position of the mushkenu in society can be surmised from a number of legal provisions in the Code of Hammurabi. To cite comparative examples, if a mushkenu was injured in eye or limb, he was indemnified by the payment of a mina (roughly 0.45 kg, or 1 lb, of silver); in the case of an awilu similarly injured, the law of retaliation (lex talionis) was applied; whereas for an injured slave, the indemnity was to be half the slave's market value. If the injury required surgical treatment, the awilu had to pay a fee of ten shekels, but the mushkenu paid five shekels; and, in the case of a slave, the master had to pay a fee of only two shekels. Family life The family was the basic unit of Babylonian society. Marriages were arranged by the parents, and the betrothal was recognized legally as soon as the groom had presented a bridal gift to the father of the bride; the ceremony often was concluded with a contract inscribed on a tablet. Although marriage was thus reduced to a practical arrangement, some evidence exists to show that surreptitious premarital lovemaking was not altogether unknown. The Babylonian woman had certain important legal rights. She could hold property, engage in business, and qualify as a witness. The husband, however, could divorce her on relatively light grounds, or, if she had borne him no children, he could marry a second wife. Children were under the absolute authority of their parents, who could disinherit them or, as has already been mentioned, could even sell them into slavery. In the normal course of events, however, children were loved and, at the death of the parents, inherited all their property. Adopted children were not uncommon and were treated with care and consideration.

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