Analyzing Hammurabi’s Code

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Analyzing Hammurabi’s Code: Name ____________________

The great Babylonian king, Hammurabi, was important for codifying the laws of the Babylonian Empire. The code was carved into stone in cuneiform writing and was located in the center of Babylon so that all could see the law “set in stone.”

For this activity, you and a partner will analyze the legal codes of the ancient Babylonians. Please discuss your answers and write them below.

Part I. Explore the Code

  1. Find at least two examples of the principle of retaliation within Hammurabi’s Code.

  2. Find at least two examples that show Hammurabi’s code was applied unevenly.

  3. Find at least two examples that suggest the government had a responsibility to protest its citizens.

  4. What law recognized slavery as a legal, acceptable practice in the Babylonian Empire?

  5. What law suggests that marriage was a legal contract between husband and wife?

  6. What do laws 6,21, and 22 tell you about the importance Babylonians placed on protecting property?

  7. What laws suggest that parents had authority over their children?

  8. What do Hammurabi’s laws suggest about personal responsibility and accountability in Babylonian times? Does that same level of personal responsibility accountability exist today in the U.S.? (Explain) Do you think Hammurabi’s code was too harsh? Why or why not?

  9. Hammurabi’s laws were very specific. Why? Are laws in the United States as specific as Hammurabi’s time? Could such a system work here?

Part II. Imagine that you are a panel of judges in Hammurabi’s court. It is up to you to decide the following court cases using Hammurabi’s Code. Remember that the purpose of Hammurabi’s Code was to establish “truth and justice throughout the land.” For each case, write your reasoning for your decision and support it with legal evidence from Hammurabi’s Code. Justify your answers.

Case #1

One morning, a well-to-do merchant sent his teen-age son on an emergency errand. He told his son to find out exactly how much grain was left in his warehouse. The merchant had to sell his leftover grain quickly to avoid a big loss. He was meeting a possible buyer at a nearby tavern.

Noon came and went, but the boy did not return. The Merchant hurried to the warehouse and questioned the guard. The guard said the boy hadn’t been by all morning. When the merchant finally reached the tavern, late out of breath, the buyer had left. The son, however, was there laughing with his friends.

The merchant yelled at the boy. His son laughed at him “for getting so upset over nothing.” Furious the merchant grabbed his son’s arm attempting to drag him home. The boy became very angry and hit his father. How would you decide?

Case #2

A local farmer has relied on his family for their labor to ten to his fields. As in the custom of the day, the land will be divided amongst the sons when the father dies.

One of the farmer’s sons has shown little interest in farming. He spends almost all of his time carving statues and he often travels to the bazaar in Babylon to sell his handcrafted items. Despite warnings from his father to concentrate on farming, the boy continually disobeys his father by messing up the chores.

One morning, the boy was told to bind the cut leg of oxen. Though his father had shown him how to properly bind dozens of times, the boy wrapped it too loosely, causing the oxen to pull up lame, rendering it useless for farm work. Fed up with his son, the farmer appeared before the judge and declared “I cut off my son.” Does the farmer have the right to disinherit his son?

Case #3

One afternoon a merchant boatman was shipping the harvest of a local farmer on his reed sailboat. AS he navigated the boat down the Euphrates River (a river that he had sailed since he was a little boy) he heard a terrible snapping sound on the bottom of his boat. In an instant, the boat was filled with water and sunk. Although no one was hurt, the cargo was lost. The farmer, having no other means to earn a living, went before a judge and demanded that the boatman repay the farmer. Likewise, the boat owner demanded that the boatman pay for the boat. The boatman told the judge that he could not afford to pay back either man and said that with the high, muddy water, not even the greatest sailor could have seen the large boulder submerged in the river. Therefore, the boatman claimed he was not responsible for the lost grain or boat. What would you decide?

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