Hammurabi’s Code is considered as one of history’s greatest treasures as it is one of the first documented code of conduct followed in Babylonia. The law was written under the ruler Hammurabi, who rule Babylonia for almost 42 years (Prince 601-609).. Hammurabi’s code consists of 282 clauses on a 7-foot stone that dictated a series of punishments for committed crimes within the society (Fiero 27-29). It has been described as a set of law that follows the concept of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” as each crime has its own penalty that serves to leave the victim with some form of compensation as justice (Prince 601-609).
This piece of stone informs us a great deal on what the Babylonian society looked like in the past. The punishments vary depending on who committed the crimes with lower-class folk received harsher penalties than those of higher status (Fiero 27-29). Likewise, laws that applied to women were not equally enforced men, which shows that the Babylonian society was far from egalitarian (Fiero 27-29).
Despite evident cultural differences between Babylonian and modern society, there exists certain aspects within Hammurabi’s code that bear similarities to the 21st century society. For example, acts that were deemed culturally inappropriate and unacceptable were punishable to prevent the crimes from occurring and provide justice for the victim. This is similar to how laws today exist to protect citizens and foster a safe environment.
Certain crimes that were considered abhorrent in Babylonian society are still looked down upon today. These acts included adultery, slander, rape, inset, and theft; each of which were given harsh punishments such as, death, mutilation, or penalties of “mina”(Fiero 27-29). The disgrace and scorn for such crimes exist until today with severe and serious punishments for the offender albeit the penalties being more civilized than in the past.
Moreover, Hammurabi’s code expands beyond criminal offences as there are also laws set to protect workers, traders, and in some ways, women. For example, law 42 states that proof must be given to accuse a worker for not fulfilling his duties (Harper 2 – 54). Likewise, law 265 states that a herdsman must pay the owner 10 times the loss due to fraud (Harper 2 – 54). Similarly, law 142 states that if a woman felt that her husband is neglecting her and says “thou shalt not possess me” then she has the right to a divorce and her full dowry returned to her (Harper 2 – 54). These laws bear similarities to the modern day human right laws that aim to provide economic justice (Anton and Shelton 161-162)
Without laws, society would be filled with havoc and brutality. Thus, laws in the past served to prevent a society from falling into such dangerous occurrences. Hammurabi’s code is seen as one of history’s earlier form of legislation. It is not surprising that there are resemblances between Hammurabi’s code and modern-day laws. These similarities impact us because they are able to provide evidence how previous societal beliefs have not changed since ancient civilization. More importantly, it shows that humans have an ingrained and primitive notion of right and wrong and that wicked acts must be admonished. Thus, it is plausible to believe that today’s laws can trace their origins to earlier laws such as Hammurabi’s code.
Anton, Donald K., and Shelton, Dinah L. Environmental Protection and Human Rights. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Fiero, Gloria K. The Humanistic Tradition. 7th ed. New York: McGraw Hill Education, 2015.
Harper, Robert Francis. The Code of Hammurabi, King of Babylon. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1904.
Prince, J. Dyneley. “The Code of Hammurabi.” The American Journal of Theology, vol. 8, no. 3, 1904, pp. 601–609. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3153895. Accessed 26 January 2018