Hammurabi's Code: a Historic Overview

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1066 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: Apr 11, 2019

Words: 1066|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Apr 11, 2019

Humans, being inherently selfish, will attempt to exploit one another if this kind of behavior is not discouraged. Today, nations have collections of laws and codes which their citizens are expected to follow. Laws are a tradition that reach back thousands of years into the past, often grouped into collections of recorded judgements called “codes.” One of the most historically relevant examples is a series of codes from an individual known as Hammurabi. (“law code”) Hammurabi’s Code dates back to approximately the 18th century B.C.E from a group of people known as Babylonians who lived in Mesopotamia (Andrea #13), which is located in modern day Iraq. (Mark) According to the Code, which was recorded for posterity on a large stone pillar, (Andrea #13) Hammurabi established “Right and Justice” “for the good of the people.” While the Code fulfilled these promises, the rule of law during the time of Hammurabi does not match up with that of today, as the version of justice in the code lacks the assurance of equality that modern laws contain.

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When reading through the code, a sense of “justice” does emerge. The code establishes crimes which people commit against one another and also prescribes punishments for these crimes. For example, the code specifies “If a man has perpetrated brigandage, and has been caught, that man shall be slain.” This declares that the crime of brigandage, or robbery, (“brigandage”) shall be punished by death. To provide justice to the wronged party, in the case where the perpetrator cannot be found, the governor of the region where the crime was committed will restore the stolen property. In another example of justice, a life is established to have value. In the case of a murder, the code prescribes “half a mina of silver,” to the family of the deceased. While the code specified a value to lives, different people could hold different value. For example, one who causes destruction of the eye of a free man is ordered by the Code to have his own eye destroyed. However, the destruction of the eye of a peasant only requires the payment of a mina of silver to him. The destruction of the eye of one’s slave requires payment to the owner equating to half the value of the slave. These steps in value show during the time of Hammurabi, men of different classes were valued differently.

Women in Babylonian society held value in a different way than men. Women’s value was similar to that of property, and this is supported by the Code. Men, who controlled the household, were able to rent their wife and children to others as payment for a debt for a period of three years. Once that three years passes, they are freed once again to be part of their original family. Another notable case is that of a man killing “the daughter of a free man,” where as a consequence the murderer’s daughter, even if unrelated to the crime, must be killed. In a way, this is justice for the men, as the man who caused another to lose a daughter is stripped of his own daughter. However, this doesn’t bring justice for the murdered daughter, as the other person who stripped her of her life is not stripped of theirs. This is an example of how Babylonian society could be considered patriarchal, as Hammurabi’s code was written in such a way that male heads of households were given the most control over their family, but also the most responsibility for their household.

Heads of the household were granted control over their children and wives, but this control was not absolute. The Code allowed both a husband and wife to divorce one another, however the man was given much more freedom. When divorcing his wife, a man’s responsibilities were based on whether his wife given birth to his children. The code specified that a wife who presented children to her husband must be presented with her dowry and allowed “use of field, garden, and property,” with the requirement that she raise her children. Once her children were grown, her husband was required to provide her with an equal portion of what he gave to his sons. In the other situation, a husband was required to grant the dowry and bride-price, or payment to the family of the bride, (“bride-price”) to a wife who had not given birth to children. In the case of a marriage where there was no bride-price, the Code specified that the divorced wife be given a mina of silver. The Code ensured that the divorced wife was not helpless to her situation and was still able to live a reasonable life.

While women and children were considered by the Babylonians to be lesser people than heads of the household, they were not considered worthless. Instead, the laws protected them while also respecting their position below that of their men. Women who became sick were not allowed to be abandoned by their husbands, even in the case that those husbands “decided to marry another.” Their husbands were required to provide them housing and support until death. Women seeking to divorce men were able to receive their dowry and return to her father’s house, once their grievance was heard and they were cleared of fault. In addition to wives, sons receive special consideration from the Code. It specifies that fathers looking to disown their sons must present their reasoning to a judge, and the judge would make a decision about the validity of the claim. Sons were also allowed to make one serious offense against their father, but after that were permitted to be disowned.

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The Code of Hammurabi ensured that the people of Babylonia were ruled under a common set of laws and that the consequences of crimes were clear. It also provided laws for relationships between men, their wives, and their children. Various classes of people were valued differently, and the value of each class of person determined the punishment for harming them. While the Code established that men, women, and children were not equals, it provided protections to ensure women and children were able to have their grievances heard and a sense of justice be provided for them as well, however different from the justice and equality of today.

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Hammurabi’s Code: a Historic Overview. (2019, April 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from
“Hammurabi’s Code: a Historic Overview.” GradesFixer, 10 Apr. 2019,
Hammurabi’s Code: a Historic Overview. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 21 Jun. 2024].
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