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Analysis of Hammurabi's Code

Updated on February 3, 2017

The “Code of Hammurabi”, was a code of laws written by the Babylonian king Hammurabi and inscribed on stone. Also inscribed on the stone is an image of Hammurabi accepting the laws from Shamash, the Babylonian god of justice. A prologue on the stone asserts Hammurabi’s divine duty to administer the laws inscribed.

A bias is introduced by the fact that Hammurabi was a leader of Babylonian civilization. As a king, it’s his duty (or his administration’s duty) to lay out the law of the land, to make sure citizens abide by the laws, and to make the laws known. The code lays out laws for business & trade and for the prevention of corruption among government officials. This would have helped esure stability from which Hammurabi likely would have benefited. Additionally, the depiction of Hammurabi receiving the laws from Shamash shows that Hammurabi was religious.

Hammurabi’s bias influences the document in that he was able to set out laws that benefit his government and the people of Babylonia. As king, Hammurabi has large control of the laws written and so the inscription was wholly biased by the fact that Hammurabi was the ruler. Hammurabi’s religion also influences the document.

The “Code of Hammurabi” contains sections that reference religion and sacred places, “the accused shall go to the sacred river, he shall plunge into the sacred river, and if the sacred river shall conquer him, he that accused hum shall take possession of his house.” This section contains a strong religious reference. Either a god that controls the river, or the river as a spirit, had a “will” that serves as a judge who decides whether or not the accused was guilty of the crime of laying a spell on a person. In addition, the crime of spell casting shows the religiosity or spirituality of the time.

It would have greatly benefited Hammurabi to have a stable government, free of corruption. This could have protected Hammurabi’s “thrown” from being usurped by corrupted governors and also have protected the people of Babylonia. Hammurabi wrote a law specific to protect military officials from having their wages stolen from government officials (who used their legal capabilities to so.)

The laws inscribed show a growing population and economy. The Mesopotamian population had grown by 1750 BC and showed a growing need for laws to be lain out. There were also strong social strata in ancient Mesopotamia. The growing economy, population, and strata heavily influence the document.

Various business practices are outlined in the code. Crimes that involved poor architectural work and surgical procedures are described. Also mentioned are laws regarding theft of property, loss of goods, the hiring of boats, oxen, wagons, etc. The mention of these and the fact that they are so carefully outlined show the importance of skilled labor in ancient Mesopotamian society.

“Hammurabi’s Code” shows a strong variance of penalties on the basis of social class in Babylonia. The document shows how widely separated the classes were. Laws that protected patricians (the free and the “highest” class) show strong punishments for lower classes and high compensations for the patricians. Laws that protected commoners and slaves offered monetary compensation (and, of course, slaves received paltry compensation in comparison to other classes.) Oftentimes, punishments against patricians were relatively light in comparison to slaves (where the punishment was often death or dismemberment.)

The laws also outline how women were viewed in Babylonia. The punishments for crimes against women were fairly similar to crimes against slaves. For example, if a man caused a patrician woman to miscarry, she received ten shekels. Social stratification is also shown here as the monetary compensation was lowered for commoners and servants. If the woman died and she was a free woman, the man’s punishment was the death of his own daughter. If a man killed another man, however, the punishment was death or dismemberment.

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