I am a female slave, given into slavery for 4 years by my father, he owed a debt that he could not pay. A debt for grain that he was to pay back 3 fold. The debt collector would have taken what little we had and perhaps would have made father pay with his life if Hammurabi had not made a way for my family to cancel our debt in this way. It is only for 4 years, such a long time for so little a debt, but we are fortunate to have this option. I will be provided with the basic necessities for survival. I am counted as nothing more than property, or currency, for my Master.
I am not considered human. I was formerly a member of the middle class, paupers that can farm. There are only three classes in our society, the wealthy, the poor, and the slaves. Now, I am a slave for the next four years. It is very common practice, so much so that even the poor have slaves. Our most common forms of currency are grain, silver, slaves, cattle, and livestock. As you can imagine, I am not alone in my experience in slavery. Many of my peers are or have been enslaved at least once in their lives. Both my mother and father were slaves at some point.
Many female slaves usually end up with their Master for many more years than the 4 required by law. After 4 years, they are no longer slaves and are often in the same class as the man they have lived with. In our society many children are products of those relationships. Until the time of slavery is up, I must work off a debt. I am not permitted to deny my Master, or I could be punished. One such punishment could involve having my ears cut off. This is not very common. Many of us understand we are here to work and that we must be submissive to avoid conflict.
As I mentioned we will be allowed the basic necessities, food and water, and protection from the environment if the weather is harsh. The laws of how I live as a female and as a slave are outlined in Hammurabi’s Code. Hammurabi is a fair and just man. I feel his laws are fair and just given my position and given the alternatives that could have taken place if my father’s debt went unpaid. And to lose an ear and not a life for disobedience is more than fair. Hammurabi has provided us with options which has been beneficial for us at this time. We all know the laws. We can all read and understand them.
Our officials rule by the law and laws pertain to everyone. For example, I am safe with my Master, should anyone take me from my Master- he could be put to death.. Everyone in the city knows this law and should someone see another take me from my Master, they will notify officials. The officials will investigate the matter. The person who takes me could be put to death. Few people risk this. Also, should my Master lend me out to another man and that man harm me, he would have to pay my Master fines for the damage he caused. It is very difficult for the common man to pay fines, so little harm is ever done to a slave that is on loan.
Slavery here is not a social stigma. I am of the same class as the majority and speak the same language. Business and practicality are more important here than ideology, thus it is more beneficial for a Master to have strong, healthy slaves for commercial purposes. The law is clear and written out and encourages this kind of a society. Physical abuse is not very common among our people, but it is used in extreme cases. I was very surprised when studying this to discover that laws regarding slavery in the United States, while similar in many ways, were more harsh than the laws for the slaves in a more primitive environment.
For example, the Code of Hammurabi stipulates that if a slave is given in trade for a debt it is for a period of 4 years. In the Unites States, the slave codes suggested that slavery was a life long event. There was no limit to the length of time a person could be a slave. I could not find many similarities, with the exception that it was not uncommon for female slaves to bear children with their Masters. In further research I found evidence that slaves in Babylonian captivity not too long after the Code of Hammurabi was implemented, owned property and were allowed to trade. Some even made more money than their Masters.
So, I could not really compare and contrast the Code of Hammurabi with the Slave Codes of the Southern States, which was not only disappointing but deeply troubling. The one thing that does stand out as the most obvious similarity to something we are familiar with today is the epilogue to the Code of Hammurabi and the Preamble of the US Constitution. Both introduced a set of laws that were created to protect the people, provide a basis for justice, promote the welfare, ensure prosperity. Actually, I believe Hammurabi said it best, “That the strong might not injure the weak”.