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Hammurabi's Code of Law

An overview of one of the world's oldest set of laws written by Babylonian king Hammurabi around 1780 B.C.E.
by

John Johansen

on 12 March 2014

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Transcript of Hammurabi's Code of Law

Hammurabi's Code of Law
An example of early government...
Who is Hammurabi?
What is a Code of Law?
An Eye for an Eye...
The Laws...and Punishments
Highlights...
King Hammurabi (1728-1686 B.C.E.) was the sixth king in the Babylonian dynasty.

He ruled for 43 years and in the 30th year of his reign Hammurabi began to expand his kingdom until he had united all of Mesopotamia under one government.

He was a skilled warrior and a clever king who realized he would be able to better rule his empire by promoting peace and obedience.

The most remarkable feat of Hammurabi's reign was his Code of Laws.
A code of law is a written set of laws that apply to everyone under a government.

Hammurabi wrote 282 laws

It is the most well preserved legal document in history.
Have you heard of that phrase before?

What do you think it means?
Hammurabi's code of laws dealt with basic rights for all people.

Even the king was expected to follow the laws.

The code dealt with all parts of life, including crimes, farming and business activities, marriage, and the family.

The laws demonstrate the values of Babylonian society--honesty, justice, innocent until proven guilty, and harsh punishments for crimes.
Hammurabi united Mesopotamia under one government.
How did Hammurabi enforce his Code of Laws?
Mesopotamia is located in modern day Iraq.
It means that if you do something wrong, the same will be done to you.

This idea of retaliation for justice behind Hammurabi's Code of Law--literally meant an eye for an eye.

The Code's prologue states that the laws were written "to promote the welfare of the people, make justice visible in the land, destroy the wicked person and the evil, in order that the strong might not injure the weak."
Hammurabi's code of laws was one of the ancient worlds first attempts to establish a common set of laws, but more importantly, it was the first law code to be displayed in public for all to see.

Hammurabi had his code published on six foot tall pillars explaining why he had the power to rule and what the 282 laws were.

The pillars were sent all over the kingdom.

By displaying the code to the people, Hammurabi gave them a sense of justice and an understanding of what actions were appropriate.
Hammurabi had scribes copy down the laws using cuneiform.

Cuneiform was a system of writing invented in ancient Sumer.

Cuneiform is the term applied to a mode of writing which used a wedge-shaped reed to make impressions on a clay surface.
Crimes of Assault

A man who assaults another and puts out his eye shall have his own eye put out.

If a commoner strikes a nobleman, he shall be whipped in public as an example to others.

If a freeman has destroyed the eye of a commoner or broken the bone of a commoner, he shall pay one mina (1-2 pounds of silver.)
Family Laws

A son who strikes his father shall have his hand cut off.

If a man died without leaving a will, his wife and children automatically inherit his money and property. A man could not sell his property.

If a woman has been a good wife to her husband, but that husband has not treated her kindly, she can say,"You shall not posess me" and return to her father's home.
Farming and Business Laws

A farmer who carelessly floods his neighbor's fields during irrigation shall pay for the ruined crop.

If a builder builds a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.

If a doctor operated to save a man's life and succeeded, he could be paid 10 shekels of silver. However, if the patient died, the doctor's fingers were cut off.
Different Class Laws

A slave was allowed to own property, carry on business, marry, and have children so long as he/she did the work required.

If a female slave should dare to wear a veil and pretend to be a free person, her ear would be cut off.

If he put out the eye of a freed man, or break the bone of a freed man, he shall pay one gold mina.

If he put out the eye of a man's slave, or break the bone of a man's slave, he shall pay one-half of its value.

If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out.
In 1901, Jacques de Morgan, a French mining engineer, led an archaeological expedition to Persia which is more than 250 miles from the center of Hammurabi's kingdom.

They uncovered a pillar—broken into three pieces

The pillar was packed up and shipped to the Louvre in Paris, and within a year it had been translated and widely publicized as the earliest example of a written legal code—one that predated but had similarities to the laws outlined in the Hebrew Old Testament.
Although other Mesopotamian laws have been discovered that predate Hammurabi's by hundreds of years, Hammurabi's reputation remains as a pioneering lawgiver who worked—in the words of his monument—"to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak and to see that justice is done to widows and orphans."
Hammurabi's laws were created to organize and control his huge kingdom.

The laws were meant to explain what was considered a crime so the people knew what they could and could not do.

Each crime had a matching punishment--these punishments are considered extremely severe and inhumane by today's standards.

Punishments for commoners and slaves were more harsh than the punishments for nobles.

Local judges listened to cases and declared whether a person was innocent or guilty.
If the accused did not want to face their punishment in the courts of Hammurabi then the accused person was allowed to throw himself into the Euphrates.

Apparently people did not know how to swim during this time.

If the accused person made it back to shore alive then they were declared innocent.

If the accused person died in the river then it was the gods using the river to enforce justice on the guilty.
Hammurabi wrote 282 laws to promote justice and protect the basic rights of people.
Hammurabi's Code of Law was copied by scribes using cuneiform and displayed throughout the land.
Hammurabi's form of justice was the idea of retaliation...an eye for an eye.
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