Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Eye for an Eye - The Code of Hammurabi

Laws govern people. It set the conduct of every individual in a land with a government. It prevents chaos and anarchy. Law making had existed ever since man had begun to live together – in a community to be precise. But codification of law begun much later. The earliest form of law found by archaeologist was the Code of Hammurabi. The code was instituted by the great king of early Babylonian Empire, Hammurabi.

The Code of Hammurabi was the law promulgated in the early Babylonian Empire. It was composed and carved in stone during about 1760 BCE. The 282 articles of the code were carved in two stone tablets, each were 7 feet tall. The King was mostly the judge and executor of the law. Also, its famous rule – “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” - implied that if an individual done something to another, he/ she would receive the same act as punishment.

The law covered various concerns. Sacrilege was harshly punished. For example, a man who stole from the temple would be executed and the receiver of the stolen item from temple also faced death. Slaves were also regulated under the Code of Hammurabi. According to the law, If a person provided refuge for a slave and did not announced it publicly, he was punishable by death. Also, under the Code, profession were guided by the law. It recognized occupations such as shepherds, gardeners, merchants, tavern-keepers, prostitutes, surgeons, barbers, builders, ship builders, and many more. Most of the time, payments for these services were also regulated by the code. Each class paid different rates. The nobles paid the highest, then the freeman, and then slaves. Usually, service fees charged on slaves were paid not by the slaves but by their masters. Malpractice was also punished severely. Surgeons who failed to cure patients face amputation of their hands. Builders that built weak house, which caused deaths, were executed. Shipbuilders whose ships broke down in a middle of a voyage was mandated to repair it free of charge.

The Code also dictated laws concerning certain actions. For example, drinking. The code mentioned that if a priestess was caught drinking in a tavern, she was burned to death. Slander was also curtailed by the Hammurabi Code. Slander done to a priestess or a wife of another man would lead to the cutting or shaving of the brows of the perpetrator. Adultery was also punishable either by drowning or pardon by the husband. Mitigating circumstances, however, were permitted. For example, if a soldier became a prisoner of war, his wife back home could live with another man and bear children for that other man. If the soldier managed to return from captivity, the wife must return to the soldier, but the children that she born for the other man must stay with their father.

The Hammurabi Code also allowed Kings to carve their decisions in stones. The stone of their decision then became model cases for future kings to use in judging cases.

The Code of Hammurabi was one of the greatest contributions of the Babylonians. So far, being the earliest code of law, it showed the progress of humanity. It showed how man continued to progress and develop civilization itself. It also became a source of the life back during the time King Hammurabi. Thus, the Code of Hammurabi is known as one of the greatest artifacts in world history.

Ackermann, M. et. al. (eds.). Encyclopedia of World History v. 1. New York: Facts On File, 2008.

Beck, R. et. al. World History: Patterns of Interaction. Florida: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Pub. Co., 2012.

Hansen, V. Voyages in World HistoryBoston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2013.

Woolf, G. (ed.). Ancient Civilizations: The Illustrated Guide to Belief, Mythology, and Art. California: Thunder Bay Press, 2005.

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