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. Hamurabi’s code was the first code of laws that was actually written down, making it the first written legal document.

Hammurabi ruled Babylon from 1,792-1,750 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 Mesopotamina 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 would not be the same if it weren’t for this. Hammurabi’s 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 establish 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 they did, punishments were more severe for those of the lower class than 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 there should have been.