Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Law Code of Hammurabi

Law Code of Hammurabi

Law Code of Hammurabi

The “Law Code of Hammurabi” is a Stele that was erected by the King of Babylon in the 18th century B.C. It is a work of art, it is history, and it is literature. It is a complete law code from Antiquity that pre-dates Biblical laws. A stele is a vertical stone monument or marker inscribed with text or with relief carving. This particular example, which is nearly 4,000 years old, looks like the shape of a huge index finger with a nail and imperfect symmetry.

The Law Code of Hammurabi stele is one of the oldest deciphered writings of significant length to be discovered. The Law Code of Hammurabi refers to a set of 282 rules or laws enacted by the Babylonian King Hammurabi, who reigned 1792-1750 B.C.

The Code of Hammurabi is a well-preserved law code of ancient Mesopotamia and has been found on many stele and clay tablets from the period. The Law is set out in graded punishments. For example, the Law: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” depends on social status, of slave versus free man. “If a man destroys the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye. If one breaks a man’s bone, they shall break his bone. If one destroys the eye of a freeman or break the bone of a freeman, he shall pay one gold mina. If one destroys the eye of a man’s slave or breaks a bone of a man’s slave, he shall pay one-half his price.”

Law Code of Hammurabi

Approximately one-half of the code deals with matters of contract law. A third of the code deals with families and relationships such as inheritance, divorce, and sexual behavior. Other laws are related to military service or the penalties for a judge who issues incorrect decisions. Examples include:

  • “If a herdsman, to whose care cattle or sheep have been entrusted, be guilty of fraud and make false returns of the natural increase, or sell them for money, then shall he be convicted and pay the owner ten times the loss.”
  • “If anyone is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death.”
  • “If a merchant gives to an agent, any commodities such as corn, wool, oil, or any other goods to transport, the agent shall give a receipt for the amount, and compensate the merchant. Then he shall obtain a receipt from the merchant for the money that he gives the merchant.”
  • “If a woman quarrels with her husband, and say: “You are not congenial to me,” the reasons for her prejudice must be presented. If she is guiltless, and there is no fault on her part, but if he leaves and neglects her, then no guilt is attached to this woman, she shall take her dowry and go back to her father’s house.”

The code is inscribed in the Akkadian language, using cuneiform script carved into the stele. The Script can be found in the front and the back. The stele was found at the site of Susa, in modern-day Iran. Historians believe that it was brought to Susa in the 12th century B.C. by an Elamite ruler who conquered Babylon and then who erased a portion of the text in preparation for creating his inscriptions.

The sculpted scene at the top of the stele represents the King with his hand raised in front of his mouth. This gesture is a traditional gesture of devotion, worshipping the sun-god. Note the flames are bursting forth from his shoulders of the sun-god, Shamash. The sun-god is presenting the King with the symbols of kingship.

Law Code of Hammurabi

Some scholars had suggested that Moses, when he wrote the Laws of Israel, nearly a century and a half later, borrowed or was influenced by the Code of Hammurabi, which symbolized the Mesopotamian civilization. Some of the laws, such as the Law of retaliation, ‘An eye for an eye,’ is similar to the principles set out by Moses. A fundamental difference is that the Ten Commandments highlighted the worship of God, where the Code of Hammurabi is specifically interested in secular issues and in glorifying the King and serving his political interests.

Law Code of Hammurabi

  • Title:             Law Code of Hammurabi
  • Created:        c 1750 BC
  • Material:      Basalt rock
  • Author:         Hammurabi
  • Purpose:       Law code
  • Discovered: 1901
  • Height:         2.25 m (7.4 ft)
  • Museum:     The Louvre

Hammurabi Quotes and Laws

~~~

“The first duty of government is to protect the powerless from the powerful.”

~~~

“If a man destroys the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye.”

~~~

If a man has knocked out the teeth of a man of the same rank, his own teeth shall be knocked out.

~~~

“If a builder builds a house for someone, 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.”

~~~

“Then Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak”

~~~

“So that I should rule over the black-headed people and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind.”

~~~

“When Marduk sent me to rule over men, to give the protection of right to the land, I did right and righteousness in . . . , and brought about the well-being of the oppressed.”

~~~

“To bring about the rule of righteousness in the land so that the strong shall not harm the weak.”

~~~

“I am old, so give me your peace. Wisdom comes with age.”

~~~

“Mesopotamia will be one together as city-states we cannot create a full out war over anything, this will be settled”

~~~

“An eye for an eye.”

~~~

“If a physician makes a large incision with an operating knife and cure it, or if he opens a tumor (over the eye) with an operating knife, and saves the eye, he shall receive ten shekels in money.”

~~~

“If a physician makes a large incision with an operating knife, and kill him, or open a tumor with an operating knife, and cut out the eye, his hands shall be cut off.”

~~~

“If a physician heals the broken bone or diseased soft part of a man, the patient shall pay the physician five shekels in money.”

~~~

“If a builder builds a house and the house falls and kills someone in the house the owners may kill the builder.”

~~~

“If anyone ensnares another, putting a ban upon him, but he can not prove it, then he that ensnared him shall be put to death.”

~~~

“If anyone brings an accusation against a man, and the accused go to the river and leap into the river if he sinks in the river his accuser shall take possession of his house. But if the river proves that the accused is not guilty, and he escapes unhurt, then he who had brought the accusation shall be put to death, while he who leaped into the river shall take possession of the house that had belonged to his accuser.”

~~~

“If anyone brings an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if it is a capital offense charged, be put to death.”

~~~

“If he satisfies the elders to impose a fine of grain or money, he shall receive the fine that the action produces.”

~~~

“If a judge try a case, reach a decision, and present his judgment in writing; if later error shall appear in his decision, and it be through his own fault, then he shall pay twelve times the fine set by him in the case, and he shall be publicly removed from the judge’s bench, and never again shall he sit there to render judgment.”

~~~

“If any one steals the property of a temple or of the court, he shall be put to death, and also the one who receives the stolen thing from him shall be put to death.”

~~~

“If anyone buy from the son or the slave of another man, without witnesses or a contract, silver or gold, a male or female slave, an ox or a sheep, an ass or anything, or if he take it in charge, he is considered a thief and shall be put to death.

~~~

“If the purchaser does not bring the merchant and the witnesses before whom he bought the article, but its owner brings witnesses who identify it, then the buyer is the thief and shall be put to death, and the owner receives the lost article.”

~~~

“If the owner does not bring witnesses to identify the lost article, he is an evil-doer, he has damaged their reputation and shall be put to death.

~~~

“If the witnesses are not at hand, then shall the judge set a limit, at the expiration of six months. If his witnesses have not appeared within the six months, he is an evil-doer and shall bear the fine of the pending case.”

~~~

“If anyone steals the minor son of another, he shall be put to death.”

~~~

“If anyone takes a male or female slave of the court, or a male or female slave of a freedman, outside the city gates, he shall be put to death.”

~~~

“If anyone owes a debt for a loan, and a storm prostrates the grain, or the harvest fails, or the grain does not grow for lack of water; in that year he need not give his creditor any grain, he washes his debt-tablet in water and pays no rent for this year.”

~~~

“If a chieftain or a man leaves his house, garden, and field and hires it out, and someone else takes possession of his house, garden, and field and uses it for three years; if the first owner return and claims his house, garden, and field, it shall not be given to him, but he who has taken possession of it and used it shall continue to use it.”

~~~

“If he does not plant the field that was given over to him as a garden, if it bearable land, the gardener shall pay the owner the produce of the field for the years that he let it lie fallow, according to the product of neighboring fields, put the field in arable condition and return it to its owner.”

~~~

“If a son strikes his father, his hands shall be hewn off.”

~~~

“If he breaks another man’s bone, his bone shall be broken.”

~~~

“If he put out the eye of a freedman, or break the bone of a freedman, he shall pay one gold mina.”

~~~

“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.”

~~~

“If a man knocks out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out. (A tooth for a tooth.)”

~~~

“If he knocks out the teeth of a freedman, he shall pay one-third of a gold mina.”

~~~

“If anyone strikes the body of a man higher in rank than he, he shall receive sixty blows with an ox-whip in public.”

~~~

“If a free-born man strikes the body of another free-born man or equal rank, he shall pay one gold mina.”

~~~

“If a freedman strikes the body of another freed man, he shall pay ten shekels in money.”

~~~

“If the slave of a freedman strikes the body of a freedman, his ear shall be cut off.”

~~~

If during a quarrel one man strikes another and wound him, then he shall swear, “I did not injure him wittingly,” and pay the physicians.”

~~~

“If the man dies of his wound, he shall swear similarly, and if he (the deceased) was a free-born man, he shall pay half a mina in money.”

~~~

“If a man strikes a free-born woman so that she loses her unborn child, he shall pay ten shekels for her loss.”

~~~

Explore the Masterpieces of the Louvre

Explore History

Reflections

  • Where would we be without laws?
  • What are the consequences if laws are not applied equally?

~~~

“The first duty of government is to protect the powerless from the powerful.”
– Hammurabi

~~~


Photo Credit: 1) Louvre Museum [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons By Unknownctj71081 (Flickr: Hammurabi’s Code) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons 2) I, Sailko [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons 3) By UnknownMbzt (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons 4) Louvre Museum [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons