Hammurabi's Code of Laws
Much of our society is organized and run by a standard of codes, ethics, morals, and laws. Interestingly, as ancient civilizations continued to develop, they too relied on laws and codes to keep order in the empire. The Code of Hammurabi was the first set of laws that were actually written down, making it the first written legal document.
Hammurabi ruled Babylon from 1792-1750 BCE and created the codes to protect its citizens. Before the codes, each case was judged separately and in a chaotic way. The codes regulated trade, business, and social relationships in Babylon. It also teaches us about Mesopotamian society such as their class divisions and political economic factors.
Hammurabi’s code was a very modern concept for this time and has influenced all the populations since then. Society today would not be the same if it were not for Hammurabi establishing this set of laws. His code demonstrates the start of an organized society and civilized group of people.
Hammurabi’s Code was written on clay tablets that contained a collection of 282 laws most famously paraphrased by the expression, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth". Most of the laws related to property rights of landowners, merchants, builders, and slave masters.
Some of the laws were brutal and the death penalty was mentioned at least 30 times. Hammurabi’s Code is thought to have established the principle of “innocent-until-proven-guilty."
There were three main classes in Babylonian society (upper, middle, and lower) and the code punished the guilty party based on their class.
Although, there was justice and people got punished for crimes that they committed, punishments were more severe for those of the lower class than the higher class.
Hammurabi’s Code focused more on creating peace than actually on giving people the equality they deserved. Hammurabi’s code expressed the idea that social order was more important than individual rights.
For example, a family’s wealth should be administered by the husband/father. Women, especially widows and divorcees, needed society’s help and the codes sought to provide protection for them.
Therefore, there was some equality, but not as much as perhaps there should have been.