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Code of Hammurabi: Made to Equalize Society and Establish Justice

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Table of contents

  1. Historical Context
  2. Conclusion
  3. Works Cited
  4. Notes to Citation

He proved to be a skilled military commander, politician, and visionary Babylonian ruler. Hammurabi considered himself to be “the King of Justice” and created a law code that consisted of 282 laws. All the laws have covered specific subjects such as slander, fraud, slavery, the degree of punishment for a crime, trade, liability, divorce, inheritance, etc. The Code of Hammurabi is the longest surviving text from the Old Babylonian period. The code has been seen as an early example of a law that was regulating a government which is an ancient constitution. The code is also one of the earliest examples of the idea of presumption of innocence which also suggests that both of the accused and accuser have the opportunity to provide evidence. My goal in this paper is to find out how the code unified, consolidated, and secured the empire by setting a standard for moral values, religion, class structure, and gender relationships plus how the others adapted to it.

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To achieve this goal, I have organized the paper into two main sections and one of the two sections has a sub-section. In the first section, I provide an account description of how the Kingdom of Babylon was and what made him create the code. In the second section, in the first subsection, I describe the action of the laws related to such events as slander, fraud, slavery, the degree of punishment for a crime, trade, liability, divorce, inheritance, etc. In the second subsection, I have described the impact it had on people and how it is revolutionized the modern generation. I also include an appendix after the Works Cited that contains the handbooks I examined. Before I can begin the examination of my research, I start my first section as the historical context in which the books were written, and it is to this that I now turn.

Historical Context

Hammurabi came to power in 1792 B.C and ruled for forty-three years. When Hammurabi sat on the throne, his kingdom was not much big in size although conquering some neighboring city-states which was the size of “some 60 by 160 kilometers”. He went of extending his kingdom further through his wars of conquest and soon as his conquest was over, Hammurabi took the role of the “good shepherd” for his conquered diverse population. After all the impeding wars, Hammurabi took the initiative to become a great leader by keeping his people “safe and prosperous again” and then by doing major buildings and renovations for the cities and people. Although it is unclear what made Hammurabi create The Code, it is thought as noted by Mieroop, to be heeded by Hammurabi’s own people and future kings. From the time between December 1901 and January 1902, the monument in which The Code of Hammurabi is written was found in the acropolis of Susa which is now Iran, by a team sent out by the French Government under a mining engineer named Morgan. They found three pieces of shiny black stone of the monument which weren’t hard to assemble together and were almost seven and a half feet tall. At the top of the monument was carved the portrait of a man, a king, standing in front of a seated figure, which we now know to be Shamash, the Babylonian god of the sun and also of justice. Below the picture were many rows of writing in the script called cuneiform, meaning “wedge-shaped.” It is named for the way the writing was usually produced: Scribes pressed a wedge-shaped reed into damp clay. But on this monument, the words were carved very carefully into the black rock.

The Code of Hammurabi was written in various contexts to various sorts of occurring events during Hammurabi’s reign. Slander is one of the contexts which had branches of different types of occurrence followed by different punishments. Slander types had occurrences of an individual against a priestess, wife, suitor, witness, capital offense, seditious. The punishments were paying fines or loss of properties etc. Fraud is another context that had occurred in various types of ways that involved categories. This had fraud by illegal purchase, robbing, stealing, substituting someone, false claim, etc. The level of punishment was as such “An eye for an eye” or even death. Slavery at that time played a huge role in Hammurabi’s reign. There were established laws for slavery. Among all the laws, there were barriers because they were not considered equal as the culture was diverse due to land capture.

Due to the land capture, the people were put on as slaves even though they had wealth. There were rewards for captures or owners’ misdoings and deaths for misleading doings such as seductions, the slave being harbored, and other punishments such as striking the owner’s son or disputing ownership can lead to getting ear cut off in the case of a slave.

The local liability was a set of codes set especially for the governing magistrates and officers. If the magistrate fires an officer or took the land of the officer for another, without the errand of the king, the magistrate shall be put to death. This was considered as one way of robbery. In the case for the officer, he cannot sell his properties to any man because he will have to forfeit his designation and be degraded to a farmer or slave. Dowry was insurance money for a woman getting married, in case there was a divorce given by the husband to the wife, there were a few sets of rules as well. Divorce results in taking her dowry money back and her children too. If she didn’t receive the dowry, she would receive an amount of silver. A wife may leave her husband with everything she owes if she feels her husband needs another wife. Inheritance is also another vital point due to the diversity of class and culture during that period. Inheritance was pointed to children taking birth to their mothers.

In special cases for example, if a man has two wives, the child will inherit the dowry of their respective mothers, the wife’s son can have the first choice and if a woman, who is free, marries a slave, her children are free. The codes were made to equalize society, establish justice and fairness, bring about the rule of righteousness, and protect the weak from the strong.

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There were class differences between the rich and poor, men and women, and elites and commissioners were treated differently under the law. This deepened the social hierarchy and distinctions between classes and genders, which soon became normal and accepted in society. The law also provided content to women who were seen differently as a role as slaves to men and looking after their household and properties plus raising their children. The code also added moral values to the society in which almost everything required justification of doing anything wrong and righteous things in that life were to be rewarded. The literate elites who were a mere 10% of the population considered in ruling the poor who were 90% of the population by implementing these laws and making the fears of punishments, so that they can have more power over them. Hammurabi’s code enforced this greatly by restricting the lower classes. The code of Hammurabi was a revolution to the Babylon dynasty which evolved through centuries around the world. In contrast to the laws produced today, there are fines present, and death is there too but it is rare to put in death punishment. The shiny black stone is kept in Paris, France in the world’s largest art museum and a historic monument called Louvre Museum.

Works Cited

  1. Harper, Robert F. The Code of Hammurabi, King of Babylon: About 2250 B.C. Second Edition ed., Univ. of Chicago Pr., 1904.
  2. Mieroop, Marc Van de . King Hammurabi of Babylon: a Biography. Blackwell Publ., 2007.
  3. Levin, Judith. Hammurabi. Chelsea House, 2009.

Notes to Citation


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