Hittite Laws

(ca. 1650–1400 BCE)

The Hittite Laws comprise an anonymously authored collection of two hundred laws from Central Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) dating to the second millennium bce. The laws are written on clay tablets in cuneiform script. Cuneiform, from the Latin meaning “wedge-shaped,” is one of the earliest known writing systems and is composed of signs, both logographic (representing a word) and syllabic (representing a unit of sound). Scribes, who were specially trained to compose and copy documents, wrote cuneiform by pressing a stylus, usually made of reed, into the damp clay of the tablet.

The Hittite Laws are divided into two series that the Hittites named after the first few words of the texts, “If a man” and “If a vine.” The Hittite Laws cover a wide range of topics, from personal injury to marriage to prices of various items, including livestock and food. The first series, “If a man,” begins with cases of manslaughter, while the second series, “If a vine,” starts with instances of...

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Sculptures of large figures thought to be Hittite gods on a rock wall at Gavurkale, Turkey (Library of Congress)

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