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Code of Hammurabi

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  • Pages: 3
  • Word count: 660
  • Category: Law

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The so-called Code of Hammurabi, the origin of which is dated around 1700 BC in Mesopotamia, is one of the most ancient sets of laws known. What especially heightens its value is the fact that it is one of the most intact exemplars of this kind of document. The laws of the Code of Hammurabi are written in the Old Babylonian language on the 8 foot tall stone, which was found in 1901. This method of inscription of the laws was supposed to make them eternal, and perhaps this approach has persisted until the modern time in the form of the expression ‘written in stone’.

In general, the Code of Hammurabi is often referred to as the first instance of development of legal concepts. Indeed, some laws that the Code contains are so fundamental that even a king would not be able to refute them. The Code of Hammurabi describes rules and penalties for their violation.

The scope of concern of the Code is as wide as life was at the time of its creation – it deals with property, theft, marriage, rights of women, children, and slaves, with health issues, murder, death, and even with shepherding and forms of agriculture. The punishment for breach of law varies between different social groups of victims and delinquents, but laws do not give a chance to avoid the punishment by reference to the ignorance of offenders, because the Code could be seen by everyone on public display (“Code of Hammurabi”).

As a legal system often indicates what was important to those who had made the laws, the Code of Hammurabi seems to be not an exception as well. Indeed, before the king Hammurabi tribal customs were significantly influencing situation in Mesopotamian cities, because as metropolis was dealing with its subject cities it was not disrupting their native traditions.

This situation did not always satisfy Babylonians, and it was Hammurabi who, perhaps in part being aware of the public expectations, managed to introduce the common system of law (“Babylonian law”). In this way, the Code of Hammurabi by dropping almost all elements of differing tribal traditions and with the aid of the introduction of a universal legal frame created favorable necessary background for the growth and the maintenance of the Babylonian empire. The importance of the Code for Hammurabi was so high that he even thought its creation would please gods (“Code of Hammurabi”).

The Code for Hammurabi distinguished between three social classes, the privileged amelu, the less privileged muskinu, and the ardu, which were slaves. Of course, the existence of social classes with their different privileges presupposed the lack of equality, moreover if we contrast the notion of equality with the modern democratic values.

However, The Code for Hammurabi was rather flexible in its treatment of different classes and enabled changes of social statuses, as it was possible for example for the freed ardu to become the amelu (“Babylonian law”). On the other hand, in relation to the mentioned availability of the Code for public study it should be observed that as the number of literate people was really low in that time the access to all the nuances of the Code of Hammurabi could be limited, which undermined the equality of people (“Code of Hammurabi”).

Finally, we should point out that The Code for Hammurabi presupposed rather free position of women. While in general men were endowed with more rights than women, there are women rights in the Code which were very uncommon in ancient societies, like for instance the right to initiate divorce, presented in the law number 142 (Brians, 1999).

“Babylonian law”. 6 Oct. 2005. Wikipedia. 16 November 2005 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki
Brians, Pall (Ed.), et al. “Reading About the World, Volume 1”. 1999. Washington State
University. 16 November 2005 < http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~wldciv/world_civ_
“Code of Hammurabi”. 14 Nov. 2005. Wikipedia. 16 November 2005 <http://en.wikipedia.
“Hammurabi’s Code of Laws”. 1997. Exploring Ancient World Cultures. 16 November 2005

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