The Ins and Outs of Hammurabi’s Code

As ruler of a vast empire, Hammurabi set out to create a new code of Babylonian law, which would later become the Code of Hammurabi. Written on a stele (large monument made out of stone), the rules were situated in a public place so that all of the inhabitants could see , all of this despite many of them being unable to read. Over time, the stele was later stolen by the Elamites and taken to their capital in Susa. In 1901, it was rediscovered and is now part of the Louvre Museum collection in Paris.

The Code of Hammurabi consisted of 282 laws stretched across 12 tablets that scribes diligently worked on to create. Unlike early laws of that time, it was written in Akkadian , the everyday language used in Babylon. This meant that any literate individual of the city was able to read the law.

As for the structure of the code, each offense was cleared laid out and given a specific punishment. In comparison to modern standards, the punishments are often viewed as being too harsh. A lot of consequences ended in death, mutilation (such as the chopping off of hands), or followed in line with the “Law of Retaliation” , “eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” However, there was great significance to putting the laws into writing. This meant that they were solid and went beyond any power that a king possessed.

Another milestone associated with the code was that it served as one of the earliest examples of people tinkering with the presumption of innocence. The accused and accuser were given the chance to provide evidence in their defense.

At the top of the stele, a carving depicts Hammurabi receiving the laws from the god Shamash. A preface states that the gods choose Hammurabi to bring the laws to his people.

Revisiting Babylon’s Downfall and the Fate of the Code of Law

Those who succeeded Hammurabi are blamed for the downfall of the Babylonian Empire, as military pressure from the Hittites breathed down their neck. Around 1600 BC, the Hittites were successful in sacking Babylon. However, they did not assume control of the city-state, as this honor went to the Kassites, who would later conquer Babylon and continue to rule Mesopotamia for the next 400 years. The Babylonian culture was not at a complete loss. Some parts were adopted into the Kassite way of life, including Hammurabi’s code of laws.

For a sampling of the Code of Hammurabi, a few laws are mentioned below. For additional examples of the laws, read “Taking a Closer Look at the Hammurabi’s Laws.”

” If any one be guilty of incest with his mother after his father, both shall be burned.”

” If a man marry a woman, and she bear sons to him; if then this woman die, then shall her father have no claim on her dowry; this belongs to her sons.”

” If a State slave or the slave of a freed man marry the daughter of a free man, and children are born, the master of the slave shall have no right to enslave the children of the free.”

” If a man adopt a child and to his name as son, and rear him, this grown son can not be demanded back again.”

” If he break another man’s bone, his bone shall be broken.”

” If he put out the eye of a freed man, or break the bone of a freed man, he shall pay one gold mina.”

” If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out.”

” If he knock out the teeth of a freed man, he shall pay one-third of a gold mina.”

” If any one strike the body of a man higher in rank than he, he shall receive sixty blows with an ox-whip in public.”