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Systematic compilation of law or legal principles. The oldest extant fragments of a law code are tablets from the ancient city of Ebla dating to c. 2400 BC. The best-known ancient code is that of Hammurabi. Roman legal records began in the 5th century BC, though the first formal codification, ordered by Justinian I, was not undertaken until the 6th century AD. In the Middle Ages and into the modern era, only local or provincial compilations were attempted. The first major national code was the Napoleonic Code, followed by the German, Swiss, and Japanese codes. In common-law countries such as England and the U.S., law codes have traditionally been less important than the record of judicial decisions, though major codifications were completed in the U.S. in the 20th century (e.g., the U.S. Code, the Uniform Commercial Code). See also civil law; German Civil Code.
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