During the ancient times, the people of Mesopotamia lived under the rule of the Babylonian king, Hammurabi. Hammurabi created his code of laws, which consists of 282 laws, in the year 1750 BC. The Code of Hammurabi was inscribed on stone, which suggests that the King accepted the laws from the sun god, Shamash. The code of laws encouraged people to accept authority of a king, who was trying to give common rules to govern the subjects' behavior.
The Code of Hammurabi begins with a prologue, which describes the time that Hammurabi first becomes king, as evident in this quote:
"Anu (King of Anunaki) and Bel (Lord of Heaven and Earth) called by name
me Hammurabi, the exalted prince...to bring about the rule of righteousness
in the land to destroy the wicked and the evil doers so that the strong should
not harm the weak so that I should rule over the black headed people like
Shamash and enlighten the land to further the well being of mankind."
The actual laws range from public to private matters, with humane approaches to human problems. The laws include almost everything: marriage and family relations; negligence; fraud; commercial contracts; duties of public officials; property and inheritance; crimes and punishments; techniques of legal procedure; protection for women, children, and slaves; fairness in commercial exchanges; protection of property; standard procedures for adjudicating disputes; debt relief for victims of food and drought; and the list goes on to explain, in detail, each and every one of these instances.
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The code of laws is then ended with a epilogue, where Hammurabi declares the he is the rightful king:
"Hammurabi is a ruler who is as a father to his subjects, who holds the words
of Marduk in reverence, who has achieved conquest for Marduk over the
north and south, who rejects the heart of Marduk, his lord, who has bestowed
benefits for ever and ever on his subjects, and has established order in the land."
The code of laws applies to the entire Babylonian society. The penalties of the code varied according to the status of the victim. There were three classes in the Babylonian society: the patrician, who were the free men and women; the plebeians, who were the commoners; and the slaves. While the patricians were protected by the law of retaliation, the lower classes received only monetary compensation.
The purpose of the Code of Hammurabi was to use political power to create common bonds among the diverse people of the society. It greatly influenced a total dependence on the power of their one ruler, and it was a conscious effort to exalt the king as the source, the only source, of earthly powers. It unified the empire by offering the standards for moral values, class structure, gender relationships, and religion. It was the most important of all Mesopotamian contributions to civilization.
A complete translation of the Code of Hammurabi can be found at: http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/MESO/CODE.HTM
The image is from Crystalinks at http://www.crystalinks.com/index.html
Bottero, Jeans, Cassin, Elena, and Vercoutter, Jean (eds.), The Near East: The Early Civilizations, (1967).
Gadd, Cyril J. "Hammurabi and the End of His Dynasty," Cambridge Ancient History, rev. ed., vol. 2, ch. 5 (1965).
Edited by: Keren Gelfand
Researched by: Rebecca Engelmann
Written by: Amalia Giokaris
October 13, 1999
Revised March 2003
Text copyright 1996-1999 by David W. Koeller. All rights reserved.