What is Hammurabi's Code?

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scarletpimpernel's profile pic

scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Hammurabi, King of Babylon, is best known today for his code, which many westerners boil down to the "eye-for-an-eye" theory. While that brief statement is, in fact, a part of Hammurabi's code, it does not capture Hammurabi's true ideology.

When Hammurabi became king of Babylon, it was a small, almost inconsequential city state. However, through quick action and a true penchant for diplomacy, Hammurabi was able to bring relative peace and true prosperity to Babylon. One of his first actions as king was to pay government debts and to treat his people fairly, because the crux of his ruling philosophy is humanitarianism.

Hammurabi's code is actually a set of laws which Hammurabi amended. The laws were inscribed on durable materials; so that all of Babylonians could see them. Following a prologue by Hammurabi the laws are 

"282 articles or laws [which] treat personal property, real estate, business, trade, agriculture, marriage, inheritances, adoption, contracts, and leases. The law also details penalties for injuries both to person and property" ("Promulgation of Hammurabi's Code," Paragraph Four).

While the criminal portion of the law does contain the "eye-for-an-eye" declaration to ensure appropriate punishment, much of the law reads more like a code of ethics--an ancient Golden Rule of sorts. Hammurabi himself ruled more with the idea of "doing unto others as you would have them do unto you" than in a retaliatory manner.

laurto's profile pic

laurto | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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The Code of Hammurabi is a Babylonian law code. It is written on a huge stone and on clay tablets. It consists of 282 laws with punishments that are different depending on social status, or slave or free man. Most of the Code deals with contracts and wages. It deals with household and family relationships.

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