The death penalty is extremely controversial. Currently, 56 countries still have the death penalty on the books, while only a handful regularly perform executions. For most people, only the most serious crimes should be considered execution-worthy, but it wasn’t always this way. Here are some of the crimes throughout history that people died for.
Keeping a Runaway Slave
The first real code of law was written by the Babylonian king Hammurabi. He listed 25 crimes that were punishable by death, but oddly, murder didn’t cut it. A crime that did? Providing refuge to a runaway slave.
In the 7th century, Athens’ leader Draco crafted the Draconian Code of Athens. It made every crime punishable by death, so whether you killed your mother or sang an insulting song about somebody, the punishment was the same: execution.
Stealing Another Farmer’s Crops
In 450 B.C., the first written Roman law we know of is on the Twelve Tablets. They kept the old Draco law about singing libelous songs, and you would also be executed if you cut another farmer’s crops. Your death would be pretty dramatic – you would be sacrificed to a goddess.
Marrying a Jew
In the 13th century England, life was pretty rough if you were Jewish. In addition to a mass execution of over two hundred Jews convicted of debasing coins, a person could be burned at the stake for marrying a Jew.
By the late 18th century in Massachusetts, only seven crimes were punishable by death, one of them being sodomy. So as not to avoid confusion about the intent of the law, “buggery” (anal sex) was also an execution-worthy crime.
Helping out Slaves
Society has a way of coming full circle. In 1837 in North Carolina, a variety of the death-penalty crimes included hiding a slave and planning to free them, and handing out “seditious literature” to slaves.