How swindlers were punished in the old days

In order to secure trade deals, people of different cultures, peoples and eras have come up with various guarantees for their fair conduct. Fraudsters were frightened with fear of universal shame, God's punishment, or corporal punishment.

Ancient Indian laws of Manu

At the end of the 18th century, William Jones, a British citizen living in India, discovered ancient writings, which, after studying, turned out to be a kind of set of instructions on the rules of trade, called "Manu-smriti". If you believe the legends, then these rules were allegedly set forth in ancient times by one of the ancient Indian sages, whose name was Manu.

Several dozen ancient manuscripts containing this "commercial code" have been found in India. And in all of them, these rules had significant differences. Therefore, historians consider the laws of Manu-smirti to be about as authentic as most antiquities in the tourist shops of Delhi or Kolkata.

And yet, in almost all "copies" of Manu's trade laws, the following general rules are found:

• it is recommended to conclude a trade deal only in the presence of witnesses;

• if the buyer, unknowingly, has acquired a stolen thing - he is obliged to return it to the one from whom this thing was stolen (this is the only way a person can avoid punishment for “buying up stolen goods”);

• the product could be returned (or taken from the person who bought it) within 10 days.


The most serious commercial fraud, according to the laws of Manu-smirti, was the sale of "non-seed grain" under the guise of seed, as well as the sale of grain, secretly dug out after planting. For such offenses, the perpetrators cut off one of the body parts (usually the hand). After that, the severed limb was returned to the swindler with the wish not to be sad about its loss.

King Hammurabi's Commercial Code

The most famous king of Ancient Mesopotamia, thanks to numerous finds of "documents" of his era (clay tablets with letters), was Hammurabi. He lived and ruled about 4 thousand years ago.

Among all the other "clay manuscripts" archaeologists have found the code of laws of this king. In which the rules for conducting trading operations were also described.

• The sale of all "movable goods" - slaves or grain, was carried out exclusively in the presence of witnesses. Which (depending on the value of the transaction) should have been from 2 to 12 people.

• The deal was sealed by the oaths of both parties addressed to the king of Hammurabi himself, as well as to Marduk, the supreme deity in Ancient Mesopotamia.

• If the parties to the trade agreement expressed a desire, it was drawn up on a clay tablet.

It was not signed, but was dated and stamped. Moreover, in order to avoid forgery, all this was done from both sides of the "document".

Any purchased product, if within a month the buyer found a defect in it, could be returned. Thereby legally canceling the sales contract. For example, if the owner found a disease in a recently purchased slave, about which his previous owner deliberately kept silent - "goods" and the money for it was returned.

Rabbi Joseph's rules

At the beginning of the 16th century, Joseph Karo, a rabbi from the city of Safed, collected all the main rules and norms of the Jewish way of life, creating a whole code, which he called "Shulchan Aruch" (translated from Yiddish "Laid Table").

In addition to the main canons of the life of a Jew, the document also contained instructions for conducting trade.

• If the future buyer made a deposit for the goods or put his mark on it - the transaction must take place.  In the event that one of the parties rejects her, she will receive a curse from the rabbinical court.

• Most of the transactions were consolidated with the help of a kind of ritual called "kinyan". It was special for each product.  So, for example, after buying a horse or donkey, the new owner was obliged, taking the animal by the bridle, to lead him at least a few steps behind him. This ritual was called kinyan mesih, or dragging.

• If the deal was costly and important, a few kosher Jews were to be called as witnesses.  And together with them there is always one “non-Jew”.

In the event that such a set of witnesses could not be found, only one rabbi could replace all of them.

Allah will punish the swindlers

Devout Muslims sincerely believe: when the Day of Judgment comes, all traitors, swindlers and other malefactors will appear before the righteous judgment with the signs of committed sins on their bodies. For this, those convicted of crimes were branded. However, for the dishonest merchants, Allah had another punishment, still in his lifetime.

So, in the suras of the Koran, it is told about a prophet named Shuayb, who tried to pacify and put on the true path all kinds of swindlers. When they did not agree to voluntarily give up deception, higher powers entered the business. Allah was not merciful to the unclean in trade.

A tribe of Midianites, which robbed caravans and weighed customers in bazaars with hollow weights, in response to Shuaib's calls, threatened to kill him. Then the Almighty sent down a terrible earthquake and suffocation on the nomads, from which they all died in their homes. A similar ending awaited the scammers from the Aikit tribe.

Guest under the cross in Ancient Russia

After Ancient Rus adopted Christianity, churches and temples began to be erected near places for trade - fairs, markets, bazaars, guests. Moreover, several of them were built at once near each "trading floor". So, for example, in Kiev in the X century there were 8 places for trade, next to which were located about 40 Christian churches.

Above the dome of the temple near the bazaar, the prince's banner was also raised along with the cross. This meant that absolutely all trade deals here were under the protection of the church and the state. Consequently, for any deception, the fraudsters were punished severely.

All trade operations in the ranks were watched by a weighing witness. Any product was allowed to be weighed only on its scales. Which, after the end of the auction, were taken to the church, where they were locked for the night.

Witnesses of transactions in Russia were not practiced, however, the guarantor of the trade agreement could be a tax officer - a mytnik. His responsibility was to collect a trade duty in favor of the prince's treasury in the amount of 10% of the transaction amount. Also, the mytnik could act as a magistrate to resolve emerging trade disputes or claims.

No written contracts were drawn up in Russia at that time. Perhaps that is why the Russian princes constantly fought among themselves, accusing each other of violating this word. Although without wars, the rulers of Russia had enough worries.


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