In his position as King of Babylonia, Hammurabi managed to organize the world's first code of laws and establish Babylon as the dominant and successful Amorite city of its time. "Records written on clay tablets show that Hammurabi was a very capable administrator and a successful warrior. His rule spanned from 1792 B.C. to 1750 B.C. When he became king in 1792, he was still young, but had already become entrusted with many official duties in his administration" (Grolier). In the early years of his reign, Hammurabi mostly participated in traditional activities, such as repairing buildings, digging canals, and fighting wars. Yet later in his rule, Hammurabi organized a unique code of laws, the first of its kind, therefore making himself one of the world's most influential leaders. Hammurabi was primarily influential to the world because of his code of laws. This code consisted of 282 provisions, systematically arranged under a variety of subjects. He sorted his laws into groups such as family, labor, personal property, real estate, trade, and business. This was the first time in history that any laws had been categorized into various sections. This format of organization was emulated by civilizations of the future. For example, Semitic cultures succeeding Hammurabi's rule used some of the same laws that were included in Hammurabi's code. Hammurabi's method of thought is evident in present day societies which are influenced by his code. Modern governments currently create specific laws, which are placed into their appropriate family of similar laws. Hammurabi had his laws recorded upon an eight foot high black stone monument. Hammurabi based his code on principles like, the strong should not injure the weak, and that punishment should fit the crime. As for punishment, "legal actions were initiated under the code by written pleadings; testimony was taken under oath. The code was severe in it's penalties, prescribing "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.""(Grolier). This code of laws was able to be maintained by invoking the authority of the gods and the state. Although the punishments were different than those of today, the authority of the state (government) is similar. Currently, punishments are issued through the state's law enforcement system, comparable to the way punishment was determined and enforced in ancient Babylon. In the code, crimes punishable by death required a trial in front of a bench of judges. Included in these crimes were: bigamy, incest, kidnapping, adultery and theft. There were also laws similar to today. For example, a husband who wished to divorce his wife, was required to pay alimony and child support. By creating the world's first set of organized laws, Hammurabi constituted a model set of moral codes for other civilizations to duplicate. "The code of Hammurabi is believed to have greatly influenced the development of Near Eastern civilizations for centuries after it was written"(Britannica). Although Hammurabi failed to establish an effective bureaucratic system himself, his ideas were successful in establishing laws in Babylonia. Since Babylon was the world's first metropolis, the large population needed to be bound by a strict set of organized civil laws. The way Hammurabi constructed his laws is influential to the world today, because laws can be more easily understood by the people. --- Bibliography "Code of Hammurabi." Encyclopedia Britannica (1989), X, 682. "Hammurabi." Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia (1994). "Hammurabi." Compton's Encyclopedia (1990), XI, 225.
Of the several law codes surviving from the ancient Middle East, the most famous after the Hebrew Torah is the Code of Hammurabi, sixth king of the Amorite Dynasty of Old Babylon. It is best known from a beautifully engraved diorite stela now in the Louvre Museum which also depicts the king receiving the law from Shamash, the god of justice. This copy was made long after Hammurabi’s time, and it is clear that his was a long-lasting contribution to Mesopotamian civil ization. It encodes many laws which had probably evolved over a long period of time, but is interesting to the general reader because of what it tells us about the attitudes and daily lives of the ancient Babylonians. In the following selection, most of the long prologue praising Hammurabi’s power and wisdom is omitted.
What do these laws tell us about attitudes toward slavery? What indication is there that some Babylonian women engaged in business? Clearly men had more rights than women in this society; but what laws can you identify that seem aimed at protecting certain rights of women? Which laws deviate from the egalitarian standard of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?” What qualities does this text say a ruler should have to enable him to write new laws?
. . . Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind. . . .
15: If any one take a male or female slave of the court, or a male or female slave of a freed man, outside the city gates [to escape], he shall be put to death.
16: If any one receive into his house a runaway male or female slave of the court, or of a freedman, and does not bring it out at the public proclamation of the [police], the master of the house shall be put to death.
53: If any one be too lazy to keep his dam in proper condition, and does not so keep it; if then the dam break and all the fields be flooded, then shall he in whose dam the break occurred be sold for money, and the money shall replace the [grain] which he has caused to be ruined.
54: If he be not able to replace the [grain], then he and his possessions shall be divided among the farmers whose corn he has flooded.
108: If a [woman wine-seller] does not accept [grain] according to gross weight in payment of drink, but takes money, and the price of the drink is less than that of the corn, she shall be convicted and thrown into the water. (1)
109: If conspirators meet in the house of a [woman wine-seller], and these conspirators are not captured and delivered to the court, the [wine-seller] shall be put to death.
110: If a “sister of a god”[nun] open a tavern, or enter a tavern to drink, then shall this woman be burned to death.
129: If a man’s wife be surprised [having intercourse] with another man, both shall be tied and thrown into the water, but the husband may pardon his wife and the king his slaves.
130: If a man violate the wife (betrothed or child-wife) of another man, who has never known a man, and still lives in her father’s house, and sleep with her and be surprised [caught], this man shall be put to death, but the wife is blameless.
131: If a man bring a charge against [his] wife, but she is not surprised with another man, she must take an oath and then may return to her house.
132: If the “finger is pointed” at a man’s wife about another man, but she is not caught sleeping with the other man, she shall jump into the river for [the sake of her] husband. (2)
138: If a man wishes to separate from his wife who has borne him no children, he shall give her the amount of her purchase money and the dowry which she brought from her father’s house, and let her go.
141: If a man’s wife, who lives in his house, wishes to leave it, plunges into debt [to go into business], tries to ruin her house, neglects her husband, and is judicially convicted: if her husband offer her release, she may go on her way, and he gives her nothing as a gift of release. If her husband does not wish to release her, and if he take another wife, she shall remain as servant in her husband’s house.
142: If a woman quarrel with her husband, and say: “You are not congenial to me,” the reasons for her prejudice must be presented. If she is guiltless, and there is no fault on her part, but he leaves and neglects her, then no guilt attaches to this woman, she shall take her dowry and go back to her father’s house. (3)
143: If she is not innocent, but leaves her husband, and ruins her house, neglecting her husband, this woman shall be cast into the water.
195: If a son strike his father, his hands shall be [cut] off. (4)
196: If a [noble-]man put out the eye of another [noble-]man, his eye shall be put out. (5)
197: If he break another [noble-]man’s bone, his bone shall be broken.
198: If he put out the eye of a [commoner], or break the bone of a [commoner], he shall pay one [silver] mina.
199: If he put out the eye of a man’s slave, or break the bone of a man’s slave, he shall pay one-half of its value.
200: If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out.
201: If he knock out the teeth of a [commoner], he shall pay one-third of a [silver] mina.
In future time, through all coming generations, let the king, who may be in the land, observe the words of righteousness which I have written on my monument; let him not alter the law of the land which I have given, the edicts which I have enacted; my monument let him not mar. If such a ruler have wisdom, and be able to keep his land in order, he shall observe the words which I have written in this inscription; the rule, statute, and law of the land which I have given; the decisions which I have made will this inscription show him; let him rule his subjects accordingly, speak justice to them, give right decisions, root out the miscreants and criminals from this land, and grant prosperity to his subjects.
Hammurabi, the king of righteousness, on whom Shamash has conferred right (or law) am I. My words are well considered; my deeds are not equaled; to bring low those that were high; to humble the proud, to expel insolence.
Translated by L. W. King (1915), edited by Paul Brians.
Perhaps the most remarkable and influential creation of its time, Hammurabi’s code is the oldest set of laws known to exist. Hammurabi, king and chief priest of Babylonia from 1792-1750 B.C., expanded his empire greatly before focusing his energies toward wealth and justice for his people. He created a code protecting all classes of Babylonian society, including women and slaves. He sought protection of the weak from the powerful and the poor from the rich. The carving on the stone on which the code is written depicts Hammurabi receiving the divine laws from the sun god, the god most often associated with justice. This stone was unearthed by French archaeologists at S_sa, Iraq (ancient Elam), in 1901-02. The black diorite rock is 2.4 m high and had been broken into three pieces.
Hammurabi’s Code is 44 columns of text, 28 paragraphs of which contain the actual code. There are 282 laws (possibly more have been rubbed off) that probably amend common Babylonian law rather than define it. It describes regulations for legal procedure, fixes rates on services performed in most branches of commerce and describes property rights, personal injury, and penalties for false testimony and accusations. It has no laws regarding religion.
The Code of Hammurabi is significant because its creation allowed men, women, slaves, and all others to read and understand the laws that governed their lives in Babylon. It is unique in that laws of other civilizations were not written down, and thus could be manipulated to suite the rulers that dictated them. The Code is particularly just for its time. Although it follows the practice of “an eye for an eye”, it does not allow for vigilante justice, but rather demands a trial by judges. It also glorifies acts of peace and justice done during Hammurabi’s rule. It symbolizes not only the emergence of justice in the minds of men, but also man’s rise above ignorance and barbarism toward the peaceful and just societies still pursued today. In the words of Hammurabi as carved on the stone, “Let any oppressed man who has a cause come into the presence of my statue as king of justice, and have the inscription on my stele read out, and hear my precious words, that my stele may make the case clear to him; may he understand his cause, and may his heart be set at ease!”