Brief Look at the Code of Hammurabi


In his position as King of Babylonia, Hammurabi managed to 
organize the world's first code of laws and establish Babylon as the 
dominant and successful Amorite city of its time. "Records written on 
clay tablets show that Hammurabi was a very capable administrator and 
a successful warrior. His rule spanned from 1792 B.C. to 1750 B.C. 
When he became king in 1792, he was still young, but had already 
become entrusted with many official duties in his administration" 
(Grolier). In the early years of his reign, Hammurabi mostly 
participated in traditional activities, such as repairing buildings, 
digging canals, and fighting wars. Yet later in his rule, Hammurabi 
organized a unique code of laws, the first of its kind, therefore 
making himself one of the world's most influential leaders.

 Hammurabi was primarily influential to the world because of his 
code of laws. This code consisted of 282 provisions, systematically 
arranged under a variety of subjects. He sorted his laws into groups 
such as family, labor, personal property, real estate, trade, and 
business. This was the first time in history that any laws had been 
categorized into various sections. This format of organization was 
emulated by civilizations of the future. For example, Semitic cultures 
succeeding Hammurabi's rule used some of the same laws that were 
included in Hammurabi's code. Hammurabi's method of thought is evident 
in present day societies which are influenced by his code. Modern 
governments currently create specific laws, which are placed into 
their appropriate family of similar laws. Hammurabi had his laws 
recorded upon an eight foot high black stone monument. Hammurabi based 
his code on principles like, the strong should not injure the weak, 
and that punishment should fit the crime. As for punishment, "legal 
actions were initiated under the code by written pleadings; testimony 
was taken under oath. The code was severe in it's penalties, 
prescribing "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.""(Grolier). This 
code of laws was able to be maintained by invoking the authority of 
the gods and the state. Although the punishments were different than 
those of today, the authority of the state (government) is similar. 
Currently, punishments are issued through the state's law enforcement 
system, comparable to the way punishment was determined and enforced 
in ancient Babylon. In the code, crimes punishable by death required a 
trial in front of a bench of judges. Included in these crimes were: 
bigamy, incest, kidnapping, adultery and theft. There were also laws 
similar to today. For example, a husband who wished to divorce his 
wife, was required to pay alimony and child support. By creating the 
world's first set of organized laws, Hammurabi constituted a model set 
of moral codes for other civilizations to duplicate. 

 "The code of Hammurabi is believed to have greatly influenced 
the development of Near Eastern civilizations for centuries after it 
was written"(Britannica). Although Hammurabi failed to establish an 
effective bureaucratic system himself, his ideas were successful in 
establishing laws in Babylonia. Since Babylon was the world's first 
metropolis, the large population needed to be bound by a strict set of 
organized civil laws. The way Hammurabi constructed his laws is 
influential to the world today, because laws can be more easily 
understood by the people. 


"Code of Hammurabi." Encyclopedia Britannica (1989), X, 682.
"Hammurabi." Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia (1994).
"Hammurabi." Compton's Encyclopedia (1990), XI, 225.


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