The Hittite laws have been preserved on a number of Hittite cuneiform tablets found at Hattusa (CTH 291-292, listing 200 laws). Copies have been found written in Old Hittite as well as in Middle and Late Hittite, indicating that they had validity throughout the duration of the Hittite Empire (ca. 1650-1100 BCE).
The laws are formulated as case laws; they start with a condition, and a ruling follows, e.g. "If anyone tears off the ear of a male or female slave, he shall pay 3 shekels of silver". The laws show an aversion to the death penalty; the usual penalty for serious offenses being enslavement to forced labour. They are preserved on two separate tablets, each with approximately 200 clauses, the first categorised as being 'of a man'; the second 'of a vine'; a third set may have existed.
The laws may be categorised into eight groups of similar clauses. These are separated for the most part by two types of seemingly orphaned clauses: Sacral or incantatory clauses, and afterthoughts.
These eight main groups of laws were:
The Hittite laws were kept in use for some 500 years, and many copies show that, other than changes in grammar, what might be called the 'original edition' with its apparent disorder, was copied slavishly; no attempt was made to 'tidy up' by placing even obvious afterthoughts in a more appropriate position.
This corpus and the classification scheme is based on findings arising out of a Master of Arts degree taken at the University of Queensland by N H Dewhirst, supervised by Dr Trevor Bryce in 2004.
Changes were apparently made to penalties at least twice: firstly, the kara - kinuna changes, which generally reduced the penalties found in a former, but apparently unpreserved, 'proto-edition'; and secondly, the 'Late Period' changes to penalties in the already-modified Old Hittite version.
The laws were first fully published by Czech archeologist Bed?ich Hrozný en 1922. German linguist Johannes Friedrich published a new edition in 1959 and the latest critical edition was published by American Hittitologist Harry Hoffner in 1997.