The oldest structure in the world is a 23,000 year old stone wall, at a cave entrance, in Greece. It is known as the Theopetra Cave. Ireland oldest structure, New Grange, although older than the Pyramids, is still comparably young at an estimated 5000 years old.
Oldest written laws: Surprisingly examples of building laws and regulations survive that are almost as old as New Grange. This is the 3800 year old Code of King Hammurabi, from the Babylonian Empire, the empire was centred around modern day Iraq. The Code was a set of 282 laws which cover a range of sensitive issues, including: contracts, construction, property, marriage, family, injury, treatment of slaves and labour rates. They survive today on stone carvings and clay tablets. In fact we only have an incomplete set of the laws, as those between 66 to 99 are missing from the fragments/ tablets available.
Although these laws are 300 years older than the ten commandments, they are vastly more detailed, and have no law that refers to religion or God. Perhaps these laws then are the first recorded separation of church and state.
The Hammurabi Laws contain, in some shape or form, many of the concepts of modern justice systems. Trials, judges and evidence are all included and even punishments for Judges whose rulings are subsequently are overturned. However this feeling of a nice, caring and fair society is quickly dashed and contradicted by a large number of harsh laws. One of these, right at the start, (no. 2) seems to come straight from the witch-trails of more recent history:
Law 2: If anyone bring an accusation against a man, and the accused go to the river and leap into the river, if he sink in the river his accuser shall take possession of his house. But if …………. he escape unhurt, then he who had brought the accusation shall be put to death……….
Another harsh example is law no. 196 which pre-dates the Old Testament concept of an eye for an eye.
While Law no. 195 ensured family tranquilly at the expense of frightened children with the startling punishment of:
Law 195: If a son strike his father, his hands shall be hewn off.
Based on the above, it would seem King Hammurabi wouldn’t take too kindly to our modern system of penalty points and suspended sentences.
Building Regulations: The punishments detailed for breaking the building laws are very strict. For example, one law (no. 228) instructs that the builder be punished by death if any of his buildings collapse and kill their owner. The builders in Babylonia must have had many sleepless nights, considering the basic nature of construction at the time and their relatively limited engineering knowledge.
Compared to the vast technical detail of our modern Codes of Practice these laws are basic, and yet they are the parent of them all.
The full text of the laws which relate to construction are as follows, they make for an interesting read:
228. If a builder build a house for someone and complete it, he shall give him a fee of two shekels in money for each sar of surface.
229. If a builder build a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built fall in and kill its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.
230. If it kill the son of the owner the son of that builder shall be put to death.
231. If it kill a slave of the owner, then he shall pay slave for slave to the owner of the house.
232. If it ruin goods, he shall make compensation for all that has been ruined, and inasmuch as he did not construct properly this house which he built and it fell, he shall re-erect the house from his own means.
233. If a builder build a house for someone, even though he has not yet completed it; if then the walls seem toppling, the builder must make the walls solid from his own means.
234. If a shipbuilder build a boat of sixty gur for a man, he shall pay him a fee of two shekels in money.
235. If a shipbuilder build a boat for someone, and do not make it tight, if during that same year that boat is sent away and suffers injury, the shipbuilder shall take the boat apart and put it together tight at his own expense. The tight boat he shall give to the boat owner.
The laws go on and the rates of pay for labourers, masons, artisans and more are set out in laws 273 and 274.