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Primary Source Analysis (The Code of the Nesilim) September 30, 2009

Posted by Allison in World History.
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The Code of the Nesilim was written somewhere from 1650-1500 BC. It was a legal document for the Hittite civilization. The Code of Nesilim was posted online by Paul Halsall, a professor at Fordham University, as part of his Internet History Sourcebook project, where he makes primary source documents publicly available on the Internet. However, more important than who posted this document on line is who wrote it over three thousand years ago.

There are several factors that are important to consider when analyzing a primary source document. These factors are the author’s point of view, the time period the author wrote the source, who the author was and their position in society, the author’s audience, and the author’s tone. With the Code of the Nesilim, it is uncertain who the author was. All that is known is that it was someone in the Hittite society, probably a king. The author wrote the code somewhere between 1650 BC and 1500 BC. During this same time period, some Hittite cities had already been abandoned, but most were still there, as the society would take until about 1000 BC to completely collapse. Since the author was likely someone of high power, their point of view would have been the ruler of many people, someone who had authority and was used to being obeyed. Therefore, the tone of the code is authoritative and strict. The code was written for the people of the Hittite civilization. Since it was a law code, it contained the laws that they were supposed to live by.

The Code of Nesilim itself reveals much about the social structure of the society. For example, several of the punishments make it clear that slaves were not on the same level as free men, such as how a slave would be killed for speaking the name of someone else while killing a serpent, but a free man would just be fined one pound of silver. Also, the code’s punishments are light compared to other codes of the time, such as the Code of Hammurabi, where death was the punishment for the majority of the offenses described. In the Code of Nesilim, the focus seems to be more on payment and fair compensation than just killing almost anyone who commits a crime. The Code of Nesilim reveals much about the Hittite civilization.

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