Code of Hammurabi

The Code of Hammurabi is one of the oldest laws guiding the living standards and how men related with another in the ancient Babylonian empire. The laws were famously known for their eye for an eye stance on issues which affected the society. As the name states, the code of Hammurabi was written by the orders from King Hammurabi who ruled the Babylonian kingdom from the year 1792 to the year 1750 BCE. He claimed that he acquired the code under the inspiration and guidance of the sun god who was known by the name Shamash. It was for the sole reason of helping him rule better, and specifically to protect the rights of the vulnerable in the society against the oppression from the wealthy and mighty. In the total the code outlined 282 laws[1].

The code was practically meant to cover different aspects like: class structure, gender and relationships, moral values and religion. These were the main aspects upon which the society had to be ruled and hence the law could provide the guidance for such. In spite of the good intentions which the law was meant to address it was met with a number of short falls ranging from the fact that the society which it was meant to guide was largely made up of illiterates who could not decipher the meaning of the code. Moreover, the major aim of protecting the vulnerable was never attained as the literate in the society were the rich and mighty who could never have watched as the peasants rose in status. Apart from that, the laws generally favored the top cream of the society much to the detriment of the lower class who were made of peasant farmers and slaves. As stated above the code covered the major aspects of a society.

Religion was the major issue in the society in those days and as such was highly regarded by all and sundry. It was under such an understanding that the Hammurabi code came to be- through the inspiration of the sun god. Hence, among the rules written down for the society, most had a lot to do with religiosity and the respect of the gods. In fact, it was the aspect of religion that made the whole code to be accepted by the society. The Babylonians generally had great respect and reverence for their gods. Therefore when King Hammurabi came up with the laws under the pretense that they were guided and inspired by the sun god, nobody would have dared to question such laws.

The other aspect dealt by the code was the issue of class and the structure. For instance, if an individual knocked down the tooth of someone of his class he was to have his tooth removed as a way of settling the issue. However, if the same happened between people of different ranks in the society, for instance, if an individual from the elite class of the community wronged a plebeian, he was only to pay a fine and not have his tooth removed like the case of the people from the same class. On the other hand if the peasant class individual or the plebeian wronged the individual from the elite class, he had to receive severe punishment or even put to death. This instance just shows how the law viewed and protected people from the different classes of the society. Generally, the law was skewed towards the protection of the individuals from the elite class of the society to the detriment of the peasants and the slaves who made up the large proportion of the society.

Gender and relationships which was another societal issue covered under the Hammurabi code. For instance if a man’s woman or wife was to be found with another man in the act of adultery, both of them were to be thrown into a river. However, the husband of the woman could choose to pardon his wife and let her not face the terrible ordeal. The king could also pardon his slaves in case they had committed any mistake. The other issue concerning the relationship under the code was the issue of divorce. A man wishing to divorce his wife could send the woman away had to give the woman her dowry and the accompanying right to till his lands for the purpose of catering for her children. Concerning the issue of marriage, the woman’s sexuality was considered as being the property of her husband. The woman was considered essentially a property of her husband. The man was allowed to get any other wife apart from his wife. This was as a result of the freedom which the code gave the man. The man was also considered the one who was to be in charge of the property in the family.  The law generally never recognized the institution of fatherhood but rather deemed motherhood as an important aspect. It therefore meant that the father had no legal responsibility towards the protection of the children[2].

Moral values were another aspect covered under the code. For instance, those caught in the act of robbery were to be put to death. The other rule concerned the act of causing injury to another individual. The Hammurabi code required that the individual broke another bone had to have his bone broken. Generally the code never tolerated any kind indecent acts and it meted it with harsh conditions. The immoral acts covered under the code were, murder, theft, assault and adultery. Essentially, the laws set were governed by the principle of an “eye” for “eye”. Any wrong doing was to be countered with another act which would cause the same effect on the causer of the act. The impact which resulted from this code was that the morals of the society which had never been put in written form again. Therefore the society had to maintain strict standards as stipulated by the law and hence morality was highly upheld. The main reason for the increased morality standards was that it instilled fear in the Babylonian society.

The Hammurabi code was the most successful laws of the period. King Hammurabi who was the main proponent of the law utilized the code to enhance his ruling capabilities which lasted for many years. In instilling in the society the fear of the gods and religiosity, he was assured of strict adherence to this rule. The rules not only served to give him the leverage but it was also upon this laws that later laws were based on. And as such it has served to remind many of the legacies of the greatest king who once ruled the Babylonian kingdom.

[1] Hammurabi, and L. W. King. 2004. The code of Hammurabi. [Mont.]: Kessinger Pub.


[2] Harper, Robert Francis. 1999. The Code of Hammurabi, King of Babylon, about 2250 B.C.: autographed text, transliteration, translation, glossary index of subjects, lists of proper names, signs, numerals. Union, N.J.: Lawbook Exchange.


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