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Hammurabi's Code and Its Relation to Legal Systems Today: Contents, Meaning, Importance, Origin

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Table of contents

  1. Meaning of Hammurabi’s code
  2. Significance of Hammurabi’s code
  3. How Hammurabi’s code was formed
  4. Why code was formed
  5. Connection with subsequent legal systems

Amongst earliest and comprehensive primordial legitimate codes is Hammurabi’s code which was asserted by Babylonian ruler known as King Hammurabi who was ruler between 1792 and 1750 before Christ (Davies, 23). This code which consists of 282 edicts as well as presented rules that would be applicable during commercial interaction. These rules proposed fines and subsequent punishment as a means to ensure requirement of this particular form of justice were met (Davies, 25). This code become effective towards end of Hammurabi’s rule and was etched onto massive Stelas made out of stone.

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Contents of Hammurabi’s code

The content of this Stela is a series of texts which were compiled as Hammurabi’s rein came to an end. The code is more of an assortment of standard established between text revelries in regards to Hammurabi’s pious and just rule (Davies, 27). All 282 standards have been document in a manner that current law describes as an if and then system. An example of the application of content of Hammurabi’s code is when a crime such as theft of, say, a bull (Harper, 45). The code requires that the thief, once caught, ought to pay upto thirty times the bull’s value.

The contents of code cover different areas of social life such as the family, contracts as well as administrative practices. This code made provision for diverse classes of the society during Babylonian times. For instance, the Babylonian society consisted of class with property, liberated men as well as men of servitude (Harper, 47). In addition, under this code, doctors charged ten shekels as payment for treatment of wounds considered server if patient falls under category of gentlemen. Free men were charged five shekels while slaves were expected to pay two shekels (Harper, 48). Furthermore, where crimes were committed, punishment was based on class as well.

Meaning of Hammurabi’s code

The connotation Hammurabi’s code is contemporary and was so coined as a tribute to 19th century’s Code napoleon. Contemporary scholars have been engaged in debates in regards to meaning of Hammurabi’s code (Harper, 50). In addition, scholars have had diverse views in relation to whether this prehistoric code is a true representation of full and all-encompassing laws. Each edict is made up of case scenario with an applicable verdict. Applicable verdicts are often harsh with punishment by death being listed more than thirty times (Harper, 52). Death is one of the many forms of punishment given where crimes involve stealing from temples and palaces. This includes cases where slaves are given sanctuary (Issar, 67).

The code stipulates that punishment ought not to be similar. They depended mainly on accused’s social or economic well-being. Punishment for crimes was mainly eye to eye where individuals in dispute ell within the same social status (Issar, 69). A common instance is that involving an elite member who blinds an individual who falls within the class of commoners. In such an instance, the elite individual is required to make a payment worth a pound of silver (Issar, 71). Where such an individual harms a member of a higher class, punishment is much more server. Unfortunately, the code does not provide for equivalent treatment of women. Therefore, from the code, it is obvious that there is a substantial burden on both accused as well as accuser once it is not possible to provide substantial evidence (Issar, 72).

Significance of Hammurabi’s code

Importance of Hammurabi’s code has been in play in the lives of Babylonians and the society over the years. This code was important in the ancient times and still is important and relevant today. This code was significant within the Mesopotamian community since it spelt the original set of rules which helped govern human conduct (Roth, 15). Since this code is made up of 282 edicts, etched on stone making up a series of twelve tablets, in Akkadian dialect, it become the code of choice. Therefore, current historians make use of this code to generate information relating to society, economy, religion as well as historical background of this particular period (Roth, 16). The code’s content provides a vivid description of individual sections relating to crimes and incidences as well as fitting procedures and punishments.

The code is significant in the present day as well. The code offers insight into structure of legal system in Mesopotamia which includes aspects such as divisions leading to establishment of class, political as well as economic structure which have informed contemporary legal structure in most countries (Roth, 18). The present legal structure of most community would not have been realized without prior existence of Hammurabi’s code. This code established civilization and order in the society.

How Hammurabi’s code was formed

Researchers indicate that formation of this code has a divine background. This belief has been given weight by presence of bas relief which show the code being handed down to the king by sun god known as Shamash (Sassoon, 33). This belief exists since Shamash is often associated with justice. Hammurabi’s code was set in columns fashioned horizontally forming what is commonly referred to cuneiform text or writing. This form of writing consists of writings set on one side, 16 in number, while the back was fashioned to consist of 28 columns (Sassoon, 36). The writing that makes up this code starts off with an explanation of restorative efforts meant to win back temples as well as cults within the Babylonian society (Sassoon, 37).

The code, which is made up of about 28 sections, was established from subsequent amendments to laws in existence during the Babylonian era, and was not established as stringent legal rules as most historians believe (Breazeale & Sholl, 12 ). As such, it was formulated in a manner that allows it to offer directions in relations to procedures to be followed while handling disputes.

Why code was formed

Based on research, the code came into existence not as a version of current constitutions or Napoleonian laws. Therefore, it is most likely purpose was to assist Babylonian society find relief in that when a given individual experienced any form of injustice, such an individual would be accorded justice and wrongs righted appropriately (Breazeale & Sholl, 13). Furthermore, Hammurabi’s code was established as a form of reference for imminent leaders and such a code would be used to give guidance during rulings relating to provision of justice.

Researchers and historians believe that Hammurabi established these rules as a tactic applicable to ensure control of information as well as history that flowed from his jurisdiction (Breazeale & Sholl, 14). This belief stems from the fact that King Hammurabi constantly dealt with a lot of small disputes. Therefore, he established codes to help build a good image of himself to the rest of the world. He endeavored to show the rest of the world that he exercised justice.

The most important reason that that necessitated creation of Hammurabi’s code was facilitate creation of rigid laws which would help address incidences of disputes within his society. This code became a vital tool to help ensure order (Breazeale & Sholl, 15). Prior to establishment of these codes, there lacked a system that would effectively bring people together. In addition, justice was meted out in a vigilante fashion. Establishment of these rules helped ensure that an individual would not be unjustly punished for minor crimes (Breazeale & Sholl, 16).

Connection with subsequent legal systems

Hammurabi’s code may be considered an archetype in relation to current laws. Modern law provides for punishment for violations such as homicides and theft. As a result, although Hammurabi’s codes do not out rightly show a direct resemblance to contemporary law, there are common basics such as ensuring orderliness in terms of justice and individual rights. The code was adopted by general population as a guide without exceptions (Breazeale & Sholl, 17). Since Hammurabi’s code is the first and earliest law, contemporary laws have evolved from it which has been an archetype for subsequent laws.

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Most scholars believe the code is not law by contemporary standards. This belief arises from the fact that the code, in their view, comprises regulations as well as ideas coined by Hammurabi while presiding over disputes (Breazeale & Sholl, 18). Since this code lack substantial fairness, later systems were established based on fairness and equality. Subsequent laws were developed with the purpose of providing protection to the society (Breazeale & Sholl, 19).

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