The Code of Hammurabi Summary

The area of Mesopotamia witnessed the birth and death of many civilizations. They represented the base of the modern societies in regard to the laws and the way of life. One of the most noticeable civilizations existed within the territory of the present-day Iraq; it was the kingdom of Babylon established by the Sumerian. It extended its territory outside Iraq and controlled many lands to the west. Being led by Hammurabi, the empire needed a law system that could deal with the increasing population and its various and different ethnicities. The system is nowadays known as Hammurabi’s code. This paper will briefly discuss Hammurabi’s code, how and why it was created, and the main laws that governed the huge population of the ancient kingdom.

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The code of Hammurabi dealt with the relationships between the individuals. It covered almost all of the classes that lived inside the kingdom. Due to its huge size, Babylon controlled many lands and their inhabitants who had their traditions. Those traditions became the laws that the tribes applied to their cities before Hammurabi seized them and turned them into a part of his kingdom. However, the code of Hammurabi was not a pure enactment of Hammurabi. In many points it derived from other tribes that were under Babylon’s control. Many researchers faced many obstacles that made their job difficult. The biggest problem they experienced was the lack of evidence, thus, they counted on the traditions of the tribes and compared them to Hammurabi’s code. At this point, some researchers questioned the idea of Hammurabi being the founder of those laws; rather it was a collection of other laws. Leo Oppenheim suggests, “Hammurabi’s Code was not even new to Babylon, but merely an expression of the king’s social responsibilities set down by tradition” (Oppenheim, 1964). Other researchers defend Hammurabi that due to the huge space of his kingdom, he had to create a set of laws suitable for all ethnicities inside the territory of his empire (Kriwaczek, 2010).

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The code of Hammurabi was divided into three parts. The purpose of the first part was “to stop the mighty exploiting the weak” (Jarus, 2013). The other two parts consisted of the laws and conclusions. In total, there were 282 laws that covered all the classes. However, they were not arranged according to certain patterns. The code represented an internal system that considered the daily life of people who, according to the code, represented five divisions.  The first one dealt with the court principles that included the first cases of procrastinations in the courts, and the second division addressed the issues of the property laws and its protection. The third division dealt with the family affairs, including marriage, divorce, adoption, and adultery. The fourth one dealt with the crimes against the individuals according to their classes, while the last division was devoted to the laborers. According to these divisions, people were separated into groups, such as the free people, slaves, and high-rank officials. Within each group there were certain rules that governed the relationships between its members.

From the first to the 14th law, the rules dealt with the crimes of stealing and their punishments. From the 15th to the 20th law, the code considered the position of the slaves, their relationships and behavior with their owners, and the punishment of those who break those laws. From the 26th to the 41st law, the legislation governed the duties of the head of the tribes toward the king and the punishments of his disobedience. In addition, the code established the duties of head’s wife and children, and their rights before and after his death. The laws between the 42nd and 65th dealt with the property contracts between the tenants and the landowners, while the laws between the 120th and 126th analyzed the contracts between the parties, and the laws between the 100th and 116th determined the contracts of agencies and their range. The laws from the 127th to 195th dealt with the family members and issues like adoption, second marriage, adultery, divorce, and inheritance. The laws between the 196th and 214th stipulated the punishments of crimes against the free men or slaves. From the 215th to 223rd law, there were the rules that governed the duties of the physicians to the patients, while the provisions from the 224th to 225th were devoted to the duties of veterinaries, and the 226th and 227th laws addressed the responsibilities of barbers when dealing with the slaves. From the 228th to 240th law, the code dealt with the issues of the houses’ and ships’ builders and the sailors. The rules of trading were stipulated between the 241st and 277th law, while the rules of slave buyers and the punishments of the slaves who disobeyed their owners were stated between the 278th and 281st law.

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In conclusion, Hammurabi’s code has represented a unique system of laws that the majority of countries still uses nowadays. This code is considered the base of modern societies. Although many researchers doubt the idea that suggests that Hammurabi himself created those laws, and claim that he collected many of them from the tribes he ruled, the importance of the code cannot be denied.  Hammurabi was a great ruler, who managed to establish a system of laws and applied it to his giant kingdom. Those laws covered all of the classes of people and the acts of their daily life, thus, he managed to put a spotlight on a great era of the ancient East.

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