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Hammurabi’s Code: Was it Just?

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If you compare our modern societies’ technology, architecture, and laws to ancient times you will notice many differences and a few hidden similarities. We have gone so far in our technological and architectural advancements that the similarities can barely be seen, but the foundation and base of many of our laws can be traced back almost 4000 years ago to a Babylonian king named Hammurabi. Hammurabi ruled a grouping of city-states in Mesopotamia and created 282 laws that citizens where to abide throughout his kingdom. These laws were called Hammurabi’s code and they were organized into categories such as; family life, agriculture, theft, and professional standards (Doc A). Hammurabi’s code was just for its time, because it enforced laws that had punishments equal to the crime and it was created to protect the weak and provide them safety.

The code of Hammurabi was ultimately fair, because the punishments equated with the crimes at the time. A clear example of this would be “Eye for an Eye,” law 196, if a man has knocked out the eye of a freeman, his eye shall be knocked out (Doc E). Dealing with agriculture, in laws 53 and 54; if a man opens a trench for irrigation and it floods his neighbors, he must pay for the damage (Doc D). Both laws deal in equality even though law 196 deals only with a freeman, if a slave has his eye knocked out, half of his value shall be paid to his master (Doc E). This might seem cruel and unfair, but in Mesopotamian society slaves existed and were property. Losing an eye is like losing half their ability to work and see so that might be why the slave master is paid half of their value. People need to take responsibility for their actions, and that is a concept well defined in these laws.

Hammurabi created these laws to protect the weak, the widowed, the orphans, and those who needed security (Doc B). The laws of Hammurabi are just in that they prevent crime by using harsh punishments, like in law 21; where if you rob a house you are put to death wherever you broke in (Doc D). Hammurabi must have had vast knowledge on wide varieties of subject and cultures to make 282 that were organized by themes (Doc A). Some of these laws are as specific as laws 148, if a man’s wife becomes diseased he must care for her until her death and law 168, a father cannot disown his son without the son committing a grave misdemeanor (Doc C). Both of these laws protect the sick and weak and they keep people off of the streets. Hammurabi must not have been lying, when he said he made his laws to protect, because he created numerous laws to prevent mistreatment of people and preventing crime by imposing harsh punishments.

To better answer the question, I wish I could have analyzed texts of laws in other civilizations at the time to compare it to Hammurabi’s. I would compare how the laws are organized, if there is a tale about how the laws came to be, like Shamash tell Hammurabi to make them (Doc A), and I’d look to see if those laws are just. The importance of taking into account other documents and sources, is that it gives you a better understanding of the topic and time period. Also, seeing different documents might change your point of view on the subject. The more knowledge on a topic you possess, the more in depth, accurate, and thorough your work will be.

Chiefly, Hammurabi wanted to be able to rule a nation where his citizens weren’t mistreated. The laws he made do just that, and thats why he tried to protect the stone stele in which the laws are written upon (Doc A) by inflicting a curse upon whoever attempts to destroy it (Doc B). Because these laws remained intact, we can see clear resemblance between modern law in our nations and ancient mesopotamian law. Hammurabi’s code laid the foundation for our laws today and I think that awesome that a concept such as law can survive over 4000 years. Hammurabi’s laws matchup with the definition of just. Hammurabi’s laws protect the innocent and the weak, and the gives just and fair punishments to their crimes. Overall, Hammurabi’s code is just. The laws are straightforward and of you look between the eyes it has just written all over it.

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