Henry Ward Beecher once said, "It usually takes 100 years to make a law, and then, after it's done its work, it usually takes 100 years to be rid of it." There are many societies or cultures that still derive their beliefs or laws from Hammurabi’s ancient code. Hammurabi’s Code, is the oldest set of laws to be written, or set in stone. This code has 282 laws which was written in order to maintain control over society. It focused on the ground rules for moral behavior, family life, education, government, and business. The Code of Hammurabi, is written as clear as day, and just might be one of the most influential pieces of law ever recorded from ancient times.
Hammurabi was the sixth king of first Babylonian Amorite dynasty founded by Shumu-Abum, in 1894 B.C. (Van) Hammurabi inherited a Mesopotamian kingdom, which he reigned from 1792 to 1752 B.C. He is responsible for one of the greatest preserved set of laws found from his time, in the ancient Mesopotamia called The Codex Hammurabi or also known as Hammurabi’s Code. “This code of law helped unite the war-torn chaotic Mesopotamia under a just, fair rule.” (Nosotro) In the New World Encyclopedia it say, “the code was written in cuneiform on a stele. On the top part of the stele, Hammurabi is pictured in front of the throne of the sun god Shamash. Better known as the great judge of heaven and earth.” It is portrayed as if he was receiving the laws directly from Shamash. “The laws were inscribed in old Babylonian, which were numbered one through 282, among those numbers 13 and 66-99 are missing.” (Mesopotamia) By writing the laws on stone they were documented or known to be unchangeable. “The code, addresses such issues as labor, private property, personal injuries, business and family relations.” (Van) Being that the stele was displayed where everyone could read and study it, it left little room for people to “plead ignorance as an excuse”. (New World Encyclopedia.) However, the code does suggest that one does have the right to present evidence against their charges, then again it doesn’t state a way for defense against them. In The Columbia Encyclopedia, it says “much of the code is drawn from earlier Sumerian and Semitic laws, which seem to provide the basis for its harshly disciplinary actions. The punitive nature of Hammurabi‘s code favored the saying "an eye for an eye". Which by law that was meant literally, identical to the past Sumerian and Semitic law. (The Columbia Encyclopedia)
Along with Sumerian and Semitic law similar cultures coming from the same geographical area do have codes that favor each other. According to the article written by L. W. King it says, “The earlier code of Ur-Nammu, of the Ur-III dynasty (21st century BC), the Hittite code of laws (ca 1300 BC), and Mosaic Law (traditionally ca. 1400 BC under Moses), all contain statutes that bear at least passing resemblance to those in the Code of Hammurabi and other codices from the same geographic area.”
Many current cultures view Hammurabi’s code as immoral. However many countries have adopted many codes or laws from it him.. The severity of his punishments seem to be a little uncanny to many current cultures so things such as incarceration and probation are heavily used now. Its seems to be okay to believe that Hammurabi believed more in legalism and compliance with following his rules than ethical issues. Then again he has showed many cultures today that by clearly stating the law and informing the people about it they have no reason to not obey the law. What all country’s can learn from Hammurabi is that by governing your citizens with a set of laws you can only better your country.
Hammurabi states that he was chosen by the Gods to bring the laws to the people. Therefore, with these laws he could enlighten the land and further the well-being of mankind. (Mesopotamia) For that reason, Hammurabi’s laws are not created they were a gift from the greater god, given to him so that he could govern his empire. These laws were strictly enforced so that the strong nobles could not harm the weak. For numerous crimes there were various sorts of executing the law. According to New World Encyclopedia, Lex Talionis which is Latin for “law of retaliation" is defined as, the principle of retributive justice expressed in the phrase "an eye for an eye". Under Hammurabi‘s code that meant "Let the punishment fit the crime". (Mesopotamia) Therefore in the Sumerian society there was no imprisonment. If you were to commit a crime you were either forced into exile, put to death, fined, or ended up losing a body part. Depending on how extreme the crime, really affected the degree of your punishment.
Hammurabi’s code clearly viewed marriage as something of high importance, because majority of his codes reflects family relations. Marriages were usually arranged by the brides father at a very young age. In order to wed the couple must sign a marriage contract stating the legal agreement. To marry there was to be some form of dowry from the brides father to the groom and the bride’s price was given to brides father. In the marriage’s women held little to no power in the household. Men were able to sell their wife and children to pay off debts. Also they were able to divorce as long as he repaid her with dowry and made sure she had a place to stay to continue raising their children. (New World Encyclopedia.)
Property was obtained in many forms such as by sale, lease, barter, gift, dedication, deposit loan, and by pledge stated in New World Encyclopedia. If you were found guilty of stealing ones land, you were put to death. If the accused had accurate evidence as to buying the land he was spared. Many landowners cultivated their own land, if needed they could higher a helper. Land that was rented or shared had many underline rules. Hammurabi’s code vowed that if crops were lost the land owner plus the tenant sharing the property was to obtain a share of its profit. Otherwise Nostros, said land that was unharmed and brought in profit was completely the awarded to the tenants.
The Babylonian population was broke down into three distinct categories. This was done to protect the lower class from the upper class because life was of high importance. “The Amelu, the Muskinu and the Ardu” were the name of the classes. L. W. King describes each class in his editorial. “ The Amelu was known as the upper class, who had full civil right with noble privileges and responsibilities. While the Muskinu was the middle class, not rich yet was free. Muskinu was called the beggars and tend to live in separate quarters from the Amelu. Ardu were slaves, whom were able to obtain freedom by purchase or being freed.” Life for the Babylonians could be viewed as immoral but the code clearly sets rules that will keep the people at peace with one another. The value of life seem to not be held as high because for most crimes you were put to death. This could be a form of getting people to live a crime free life but it also cause the lost of many.
Hammurabi’s code dealt with trade mainly. It was encourage for merchants to trade goods with foreign nations due to Babylonia being in the middle of many trade canals. Goods such as “barley, melons, fruit trees and the wheat was traded among the trade route.” (Hammurabi) All crops going out and entering the country were to be accounted for, if not you were penalized “three to six folds” said L. W. King. Things were paid for in monetary value or with other goods. Lending was very much unaccepted by Hammurabi’s code. Usury wasn’t illegal, but then again it was a limited asset vaguely described in the code. Usury defined in Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Is, “the lending of money with an interest charged for its use.” Describe by many today usury is more than charging interest, it’s a way businesses take advantage of the people.
The were many issue pertaining to the code that were non negotiable because the code clearly states what is expected from the people and if not followed you were prosecuted. The way the United States handles economic issues are like that of Hammurabi’s time. We both handle major business related transactions by contracts such as trade and other commerce issues. Also both laws compensate many issues with money or a fair share when it come to divorce or injures. In some ways the United State is different from Hammurabi’s code. Morally the U.S. views the way the code handles people as unjust behavior. Therefore in our current culture ethics are prominent but like Hammurabi we do prosecute people who commit crimes. The United States governs the people by a set of laws as well pertaining to moral behavior, family life, education, government, and business. The United States, too believed that in order to maintain social structure within its country their had to be some kind of rules or regulations for the people to follow.
The Is usually out weights the Ought in Hammurabi’s code . This is true because people only knew what they read and if it was said to be true then it ought to be followed. You can’t expect people to believe things should be another way if they never had any form of orderly conduct that worked for them anyway. There were a few laws that to me I thought was hypocritical but women didn’t have a place outside of the home to actually speak on situations. Hammurabi’s code permitted men to sleep outside of their marriage but if women did it, it was seen as adultery. A law like that today is viewed as a double standard and would not pass with our citizens. Hammurabi code worked for the people of that time and his influence on other neighboring countries shows for it.
Hammurabi’s code holds great value to the American society. It taught America the value of having rules to regulate the safety and morality of our own country. Being that his code lacked a official government system it didn’t last long after his demise but it set great standards for codes and laws we are governed by now. I honestly don’t see his code being an alternative to the one we have now. We have taken his code and perfected it far and beyond his generation. Trying to return to his way of ruling in America would cause an outbreak of vengeance and lead America to its downfall.
For all we know, Hammurabi’s code of law just might be the most influential pieces of law ever recorded from ancient times. It forms the basis for many present laws and for ones to come. For every law we removed similar beliefs are shown in everyone we gained.
Nosotro, Rit. Hammurabi. 12 Dec. 2009 http://www.hyperhistory.net “Code of Hammurabi.” New World Encyclopedia. 2008 ed.
Mesopotamia, The Code of Hammurabi, http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/MESO/CODE.HTM Van De Mieroop, Marc (2005). King Hammurabi of Babylon: A Biography. Blackwell Publishing. "Hammurabi." The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. 24 May. 2010 . King, L.W. “Hammurabi Code of Law.” Exploring Ancient World Cultures 1997 ed. "usury." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010. Merriam-Webster Online. 31 May 2010