To the same or upper class was punished more

To
prevent the insecurities of their actions, Mesopotamians created some laws that
regulated their relations with others. The best preserved Mesopotamian
collection of codes of law was the Code of Hammurabi. This set of laws was written
by King Hammurabi of Babylon around the year 1750 BC, and consists of almost
300 laws.  It was supposed to have a kind
of divine origin, through the God Marduk. The Hammurabi code intends to
establish laws applicable in all cases, and thus to prevent everyone from
taking justice into their own hands “So that the strong should not harm the
weak”1 since without a written law that judges would have to apply,
it was easy for each one to act as he pleased.  By reading The Hammurabi’s code of laws, we
can notice the structure of the Mesopotamian culture. The penalties for
breaking the law were serious and varied according to the wealth, status or
gender of the individual. Moreover, we can see this set of laws was created
with the intention of keeping the order among the population,  but what does the Hammurabi code really tell
us about Mesopotamian society? Well, this code reveals a society severely
strict in a matter of justice.

Mesopotamian
society was divided into three social classes: a high class of nobles
(government officials, priests and warriors), the class of free men (merchants,
professionals and rich farmers), and a lower class mainly slaves. The principle
of revenge (“an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”) was common,
especially when there was a crime among members of the same class. “If a
noble man put out the eye of another noble man, his eye shall be put out”2.  Yet, “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.”3 Based
on the wealth of the individual, a crime against a member of the same or upper
class was punished more severely than the same offense against a member of a
lower class. The affected individuals were usually responsible for bringing
charges before a court of law. To ensure that the accusations were not taken
lightly, if the accuser could not prove his case, he was responsible for giving
false testimony and could be punished. In the Hammurabi code a whole scale of
penalties is registered according to the crimes committed.. These laws were
also very severe about robbery, agricultural (or livestock) activity, damage to
property, women’s rights, rights in marriage, the rights of minors, the rights
of slaves, homicide, death and injury.

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             In the case of
slaves, the laws were harsh. It was worse for those who tried to escape or who
were disobedient. However, slaves also had a series of privileges. For example,
they could own property, participate in business, marry free men or women, and
even buy their own freedom. The external signal of slavery was the mark, that
represents the real expression of class discrimination. The Mesopotamian slave
was basically an object in the hands of his owner. The owner could give him,
rent him or give him as part of a dowry or inheritance. If someone injured or
killed an owned slave, it would be punished. As one of the laws stated “If any one take a male or female slave of
the court, or a male or female slave of a freed man, outside the city gates, he
shall be put to death.”4 However, the punishment wasn’t for
bodily injury or murder, but for the deterioration of the property of others.
Slavery was the main feature of the Mesopotamian society.

The
number of laws in the Hammurabi code dedicated to land and trade reveals the
importance of agriculture and commerce in Mesopotamian society. Numerous laws
address issues of land tenure. The laws concerning the use of land and
irrigation were especially strict. If someone destroyed a crop and could not
pay it, it was sold as a slave. Interest rates on the loans were carefully
monitored. If the lender increased the interest rate after having made a loan,
he lost the entire amount of the loan. The largest number of laws in the
Hammurabi Code was devoted to marriage and family. The parents organized the
marriages of their children, a contract was made to be considered legally
married and the parents of the wife delivered a dowry to the husband. Crimes
such as hitting an older brother or one of the parents were punished with
slavery. A man could pay his debts by selling his children or wife as slaves
for a certain period of time. However, the code did not stop only in the
punishments, but also began to organize the life of the families in aspects
such as conjugal relations, paternal-filial relationships, etc.

Mesopotamian
society was a patriarchal society, so women had far fewer privileges and rights
in their marriage. A woman’s place was at home and failure to fulfill her
duties was grounds for divorce. If she was not able to have children, her
husband could divorce her. If he humiliated his husband, he could be drowned. The
code expressly states that man was authorized to throw out of his house or keep
his wife as a slave, if she was careless with money or she offended him. If a
man was caught in adultery, he had to pay a fine, if a woman was caught in
adultery she had to be killed. Although, women had less rights than men, they
were guaranteed certain rights. “If
a man wish to separate from a woman who has borne him children, or from his
wife who has borne him children: then he shall give that wife her dowry, and a
part of the usufruct of field, garden, and property, so that she can rear her
children. When she has brought up her children, a portion of all that is given
to the children, equal as that of one son, shall be given to her. She may then
marry the man of her heart”5 If a woman was asked for a
divorce without good reason, she could request it and ask for the dowry that
the husband received.

To
conclude, It should be clear that the Hammurabi Code covered virtually every
aspect of an individual’s life, the Hammurabi Code provides us with an
important insight into the values of Mesopotamian civilization and society, and
above all to understand how the accumulation of experiences throughout the
centuries of the behavior of the human being in a society gave sufficient
elements to elaborate such a broad code of laws.