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Ancient Mesopotamia

Code of Hammurabi

History >> Ancient Mesopotamia

The first great king of Babylon was King Hammurabi. He conquered all of Mesopotamia and established the first Babylonian Empire. Hammurabi also established a set of laws that is today called the Code of Hammurabi.

How do we know about the Code of Hammurabi?

The Code of Hammurabi was written down on clay tablets and etched into stone. It is one of the oldest recorded codes of laws in the world. One of the best surviving examples of the code is written on the "diorite stele".

Hammurabi and the diorite stele
The top of the diorite stele by Unknown

Diorite Stele

The diorite stele is a large stone shaped like a giant finger. It is about seven feet tall and two feet wide. It contains around 4000 lines of text describing 282 different laws. At the top, or "fingertip", of the stele is a carved picture of King Hammurabi being given the laws from the Babylonian sun god Shamash.

The Code of Law

The actual code of law was divided up into groupings. Many of the laws that had to do with one subject (i.e. slavery) were grouped together. This would have helped people to find and read just the laws that pertained to them. Here are some of the major sections of the code:
The prologue introduced the Code. The prologue describes how the god Shamash gave the laws to Hammurabi.

Here is an excerpt from the prologue:

"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 …. and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind".

In the epilogue Hammurabi restates his desire for justice for all saying "Let the oppressed man come and stand before my image as king of righteousness. Let him understand my words and his case, so he will understand what is just and his heart will be glad."

Examples of the Laws

Many of the laws describe exactly what a worker should earn. For example, one law states that a sailor should be paid six gur of grain per year.

Some laws were very harsh and the penalties severe: What makes the code important?

The code itself tells archeologists a lot about the lives of the people of Babylon. It also contains some important ideas like having people provide evidence of a crime, innocent until proven guilty, and protection for the weak.

Interesting Facts about the Code of Hammurabi

Learn More about Ancient Mesopotamia:

Timeline of Mesopotamia
Great Cities of Mesopotamia
The Ziggurat
Science, Inventions, and Technology
Assyrian Army
Persian Wars
Glossary and Terms

Akkadian Empire
Babylonian Empire
Assyrian Empire
Persian Empire
Daily Life of Mesopotamia
Art and Artisans
Religion and Gods
Code of Hammurabi
Sumerian Writing and Cuneiform
Epic of Gilgamesh

Famous Kings of Mesopotamia
Cyrus the Great
Darius I
Nebuchadnezzar II

Works Cited

History >> Ancient Mesopotamia

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