What does Hammurabi's Code tell us about the status of women in Mesopotamia and the relationship between social hierarchy and justice in Mesopotamia? What was the most highly prized characteristic in Spartan and Athenian society?

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Hammurabi's Code creates a picture of a society that was, by modern standards, extremely patriarchal and highly stratified by class. On the other hand, despite that stratification, the paternalism of the code as well as its introductory remarks, emphasize that with such power comes responsibility and that the king was...

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Hammurabi's Code creates a picture of a society that was, by modern standards, extremely patriarchal and highly stratified by class. On the other hand, despite that stratification, the paternalism of the code as well as its introductory remarks, emphasize that with such power comes responsibility and that the king was responsible for enforcing a form of divine justice that emphasized protecting the weak from the impunity of the wealthy and powerful.

In general, rather than justice being applied uniformly, how a crime was punished depended on the social status and gender of both the victim and perpetrator of a crime. Women and slaves lacked economic and personal freedom and yet did have some recourse to the law in the case of mistreatment.

Both Spartan and Athenian society had class and social inequalities, with slavery accepted and women having few rights. The Spartans tended to emphasize military prowess more as a virtue and the Athenians education and culture.

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Hammurabi's Code, a legal code dating back to Babylonia from around 1754 BCE, clearly treated women as forms of property. For example, law 129 states that if a man's wife was found having intercourse with another man, they would both be tied together and thrown into the water. The king could pardon the man but not the woman—even if the husband wanted to pardon the wife. An unmarried woman's chastity was carefully guarded. For example, law 130 states that if a man violated the virginal wife (or child-wife) of another man, the man would be put to death (but the wife would not). In this society, women were regarded as the sexual and economic property of their husbands, and the law did not allow women to leave their husbands without cause. For example, law 143 states that if a woman left her husband without good cause and then neglected her husband, she would be put into the water. 

However, the code provided women with protections that were progressive for the time. For example, law 128 states that if a man did not have intercourse with his wife or draw up a marriage contract, she was not considered his wife (and could, therefore, leave him). Law 137 states that if a man wanted to separate from a woman who had given birth to his children or to a wife who had given birth to his children, he had to give her back her dowry and give her property to raise her children. When her children were grown, she had to be given a portion of what was given to her children, equal to what was given to one son, and she was allowed to marry again.

The code also meted out justice according to one's rank in the social hierarchy. For example, law 202 states that if someone struck a man who was of higher rank, that person would receive sixty ox-whip blows in a public forum. Laws 209-212 stipulate that there were different penalties for striking a pregnant woman, depending on whether she was free born or of the free class. For example, if a man struck a pregnant free-born woman and she lost her unborn baby, he had to pay ten shekels. However, if the woman was of the free class, the man who struck her only had to pay five shekels. Slaves were mainly regarded as property. For example, law 219 states that a doctor who killed a slave had to replace the slave with another slave. Therefore, social hierarchy affected the way one was treated in the judicial system, and free-born people had advantages over people in the free class. Slaves were at the bottom of the social hierarchy and were treated as property.

Some of the main characteristics that were prized in Sparta were loyalty to the city-state and to the military, as well as physical prowess and emotional restraint. In Athens, men were prized for physical fitness, their education, and in aesthetic appreciation, while women were prized for having domestic skills and for being interesting companions.  

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