Hammurabi’s Code/ Babylonian Empire



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Hammurabi’s Code/ Babylonian Empire
In about 2000 B.C., nomadic warriors known as Amorites, another Semitic group, invaded Mesopotamia. Within a short time, the Amorites overwhelmed the Sumerians and established their capital at Babylon, on the Euphrates River. The Babylonian Empire reached its peak during the reign of Hammurabi, from 1792 B.C. to 1750 B.C. Hammurabi’s most enduring legacy is the code of laws he put together.

Although individual Sumerian cities had developed codes of laws, Hammurabi recognized that a single, uniform code would help to unify the diverse groups within his empire. He therefore collected existing rules, judgments, and laws into the Code of Hammurabi. Hammurabi had the code engraved in stone, and copies were placed all over his empire.

The code lists 282 specific laws dealing with everything that affected the community, including family relations, business conduct, and crime. The laws tell us a great deal about the Mesopotamians’ beliefs and what they valued. Since they were merchants and traders, for example, many of the laws related to property issues.

Although the code applied to everyone, it set different punishments for rich and poor and for men and women. It frequently applied the principle of retaliations (an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth) to punish crimes….

Despite its severity, Hammurabi’s Code carried forward an important idea in Mesopotamian civilization. It reinforced the principle that government had a responsibility for what occurred in society.

From World History: Patterns of Interaction p.31-32
Selections from Hammurabi’s Code

Code 3: If any one bring an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if it be a capital offense charged, be put to death.


Code 22: If any one is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death.
Code 23: If the robber is not caught, then shall he who was robbed claim under oath the amount of his loss; then shall the community, and ... on whose ground and territory and in whose domain it was compensate him for the goods stolen.
Code 53: If any one be too lazy to keep his dam in proper condition, and does not so keep it; if then the dam break and all the fields be flooded, then shall he in whose dam the break occurred be sold for money, and the money shall replace the corn which he has caused to be ruined.
Code 110: If a "sister of a god" (priestess) open a tavern, or enter a tavern to drink, then shall this woman be burned to death.
Code 195: If a son strikes his father, his hands shall be hewn off.
Code 196: If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out.
Code 199: If he put out the eye of a man’s slave, or break the bone of a man’s slave, he shall pay one-half of its value.
Code 201: If he knock out the teeth of a client [a person of lower class], he shall pay one-third of a gold mina.
Code 218: If a physician make a large incision with the operating knife, and kill him, or open a tumor with the operating knife, and cut out the eye, his hands shall be cut off.
Code 229: If a builder build a house for some one, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built fall in and kill its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.


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