Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Code of Hammurabi

Hammurabi, said to be the sixth king in the first Babylonian dynasty, was a King of Babylon in the Mesopotamian era. He was probably born around 1810 B.C.; gained control as emperor in 1782 B.C., and died in 1750 B.C. He, unlike others before him, was the first to truly have power over various city-states and maintain an empire. But it wasn't just the fact that he upheld an empire that made him famous throughout history, it was his code of laws. The Code of Hammurabi features a large sum of 282 laws, and on the actual stele there is a prologue and an epilogue. The prologue talks of several gods and explaining how Hammurabi was instructed to write the laws by the god Marduk (Marduk was the same god whom Hammurabi claims to have been appointed king by). The prologue and epilogue is narrated by Hammurabi himself, while the laws could have been different law codes of rulers from other areas just simply thrown together; this matter is disputed briefly in the second paragraph of this site. Hammurabi was a great ruler; he built irrigation systems, temples, developed public structures, set up city walls, and did many other things to sustain his empire. The empire also relied greatly on the Euphrates River, as it served as a life source, giving food, a water supply, and fertile soil for the crops. Hammurabi was no doubt one of the most renown rulers of the Babylonian empire, and of the Mesopotamia region and Fertile Crescent, although mostly because of his law code.

As it was mentioned in the previous paragraph, Hammurabi claimed to have been appointed by the Babylonian god Marduk to write the extensive law code. The code covered every aspect of life in the Babylonian empire, which included family, punishment for criminal acts, civil law, moral values, business and trade, and every other possible area in their every day lives. The Code of Hammurabi covered punishment very thoroughly. The cost for criminal acts was harsh, and the amount of harshness was dependant on patriarchal foundation; if a man was of a higher class he wouldn't suffer as much as a middle or lower class man would for the same crime. For example:

8. "If any one steal cattle or sheep, or an ass, or a pig or a goat, if it belong to a god or to the court, the thief shall pay thirtyfold therefor; if they belonged to a freed man of the king he shall pay tenfold; if the thief has nothing with which to pay he shall be put to death." (Source)

The concept of "an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth" is obviously present in the law code, although social standing was also partly dependent on the rate of punishment. However, justice was always carried out throughout the classes. An example of the "an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth" idea is represented here:

25. "If fire break out in a house, and some one who comes to put it out cast his eye upon the property of the owner of the house, and take the property of the master of the house, he shall be thrown into that self-same fire." (Source)

Another example is represented in the codex here:

23. "If the robber is not caught, then shall he who was robbed claim under oath the amount of his loss; then shall the community, and . . . on whose ground and territory and in whose domain it was compensate him for the goods stolen." (Source)
The tablet, or stele, made of volcanic rock on which the code is inscribed is actually quite large, being six feet around the base and standing over seven feet tall. The Code of Hammurabi can still be seen in the Louvre Museum today. Here is a picture of the stele.

Hammurabi was king of Babylon, which was located in the Mesopotamian region in between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Babylon was just a city-state of Southern Mesopotamia, but he expanded his empire by taking over other city-states. The time of Hammurabi's rule over the Babylonian empire was from 1792 B.C. to 1750 B.C. The Code of Hammurabi was written by Hammurabi around 1786 B.C. The code stele was found in 1901 by a French expedition lead by Vincent Scheil. The next year Scheil translated the code. The Babylonian empire ultimately failed because of insufficient rulers after the death of King Hammurabi.

King Hammurabi established the law code to maintain control over his empire. He wanted to be respected and obeyed by his people by having a fair community, not by domination and sheer force. Although it is apparent that it was a harsh law code, it definitely served as a just foundation for living. In the prior paragraph it was stated that the codex was written by King Hammurabi around 1786 B.C.; it was his belief, stated in the prologue of the code, that the Chief Babylonian god Marduk supplied Hammurabi with the knowledge that he should write the Code of Hammurabi(as portrayed on the top of the stele). Several other law codes had been created the previous hundreds of years, but nothing to this extent, nothing else covered the specifics that Hammurabi's code accomplishes.

Although I covered the matter briefly, it was stated in Streams of Civilization: Volume Two that Hammurabi actually sent out his scribes to gather law codes of many other city-states and countries so he could choose(with help of his advisers) the certain laws of his liking and put them together in one big codex. To us the code was cruel, but when we put it in perspective of their time, the time of mayhem, disorder, and lawlessness, it was really quite a relief for the citizens dwelling in Hammurabi's empire.

Stanton, Mary & Hyma Albert. Streams of Civilization: Volume One (Pages 61-63). Creation – Life Publishers, 1976, 1978.

Hammurabi’s Code: What Does It Tell Us About Old Babylonia? EDSITEment. September 8th 2007. <>

Hammurabi. Rit Nosotro. 2000 - 2007. September 8th 2007. <>

Hammurabi’s Code of Laws. Paul Halsall. 1998. September 8th 2007.

Hammurabi’s Code. Nancy L. Stockdale. 2003 – 2005. September 8th 2007.<>

Old and New Babylonian Empires. New Life Wesleyan Church. September 8th 2007. <>

1 comment:

Still Thinking said...

Good overall blog, but you do need to use a bigger variety of sources, with a little less Wikipedia. That is a good site, but I want you encourage variety.