What does Hammurabi’s Code reveal about societal values and realities?  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Hammurabi’s Code is one of the earliest preserved written law codes. The best preserved copy was inscribed on a tall stone stele that would have been publicly displayed. It was written in approximately 1754 BC and set out rules concerning what now would include both criminal and civil law, including...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Hammurabi’s Code is one of the earliest preserved written law codes. The best preserved copy was inscribed on a tall stone stele that would have been publicly displayed. It was written in approximately 1754 BC and set out rules concerning what now would include both criminal and civil law, including penalties for violations of many of its prescriptions. The introduction to the code states the following:

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.

This introductory portion concludes by stating that Hammurabi "brought about the well-being of the oppressed." This suggests that the purpose of the law code is to create a social system that is bound by rules and is not corrupt. In this system, the powerful cannot act with impunity, and the ruler acts in accordance with the will of the gods to protect the weak from injustice. This suggests a theocracy, in which religion and kingship are closely tied together.

Additional important information about the society can be seen in the high level of social stratification, as penalties for a crime depend on gender and social position. Slavery is an accepted part of the code.

Finally, much of the code concerns commerce, employment, and property, suggesting an economically advanced society with substantial amounts of domestic and foreign trade. There are craftspeople, bureaucrats, merchants, landowners, agricultural workers, and slaves.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Hammurabi's Code, found in modern-day Iran in 1901, is a collection of 282 laws inscribed on a pillar during the reign of Hammurabi, the king who ruled Babylonia from 1792-1750 BCE. The set of laws governed all people in Hammurabi's empire, showing a sense of fairness and justice. Although there were differing laws for the nobility, for common people, and slaves (reflecting the existence of social hierarchy), many of the laws governing the upper classes were harsher than those for other people. In addition, if a person accused another person wrongly of a capital crime, the accuser would be put to death. The law reflected a sense of fairness and built in protections for the accused. In addition, women were granted certain rights, such as the right to buy or sell land or get a divorce. 

Many of the laws are about property, showing that the Babylonian society valued property rights. For example, if someone was found committing a robbery, that person was put to death. In addition, the laws showed that the society valued hierarchy and social and familiar order; for example, a son who struck his father would be punished by having his hands cut off.

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team