The Code of Hammurabi is a well-preserved Babylonian law code of ancient Mesopotamia, dating back to about 1754 BC. It is one of the oldest deciphered writings of significant length in the world. The sixth Babylonian king, Hammurabi, enacted the code, and partial copies exist on a man-sized stone stele and various clay tablets. The code consists of 282 laws, with scaled punishments, adjusting “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (lex talionis) as graded depending on social status, of slave versus free man. Nearly one-half of the code deals with matters of contract, establishing, for example, the wages to be paid to an ox driver or a surgeon. Other provisions set the terms of a transaction, establishing the liability of a builder for a house that collapses, for example, or property that is damaged while left in the care of another. A third of the code addresses issues concerning household and family relationships such as inheritance, divorce, paternity, and sexual behavior. Only one provision appears to impose obligations on an official; this provision establishes that a judge who reaches an incorrect decision is to be fined and removed from the bench permanently. A few provisions address issues related to military service.
Hammurabi ruled for nearly 42 years, about 1792 to 1750 BC according to the Middle chronology. In the preface to the law, he states, “Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared Marduk, the patron god of Babylon (The Human Record, Andrea & Overfield 2005), to bring about the rule in the land.” On the stone slab are 44 columns and 28 paragraphs that contained 282 laws. The laws follow along the rules of ‘an eye for an eye’.
It had been taken as plunder by the Elamite king Shutruk-Nahhunte in the 12th century BC and was taken to Susa in Elam (located in the present-dayKhuzestan Province of Iran) where it was no longer available to the Babylonian people. However, whenCyrus the Great brought both Babylon and Susa under the rule of his Persian Empire, and placed copies of the document in the Library of Sippar, the text became available for all the peoples of the vast Persian Empire to view.
In 1901, Egyptologist Gustave Jéquier, a member of an expedition headed by Jacques de Morgan, found the stele containing the Code of Hammurabi during archaeological excavations at the ancient site of Susa in Khuzestan.
- Ex. Law #127: “If any one “point the finger” at a sister of a god or the wife of any one, and can not prove it, this man shall be taken before the judges and his brow shall be marked. (by cutting the skin, or perhaps hair.)”
- Ex. Law #265: “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.”
- Ex. Law #15: “If any one take a male or female slave of the court, or a male or female slave of a freed man, outside the city gates, he shall be put to death.”
- The duties of workers
- Ex. Law #42: “If any one take over a field to till it, and obtain no harvest therefrom, it must be proved that he did no work on the field, and he must deliver grain, just as his neighbor raised, to the owner of the field.”
- Ex. Law #22: “If any one is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death.”
- Ex. Law #104: “If a merchant give an agent corn, wool, oil, or any other goods to transport, the agent shall give a receipt for the amount, and compensate the merchant therefor. Then he shall obtain a receipt from the merchant for the money that he gives the merchant.”
- Ex. Law #53: “If any one be too lazy to keep his dam in proper condition, and does not so keep it; if then the dam break and all the fields be flooded, then shall he in whose dam the break occurred be sold for money, and the money shall replace the corn which he has caused to be ruined.”
- Ex. Law #142: “If a woman quarrel 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 he leaves and neglects her, then no guilt attaches to this woman, she shall take her dowry and go back to her father’s house.”
One of the best known laws from Hammurabi’s code was:
- Ex. Law #196: “If a man destroy the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye. If one break a man’s bone, they shall break his bone. If one destroy the eye of a freeman or break the bone of a freeman he shall pay one gold mina. If one destroy the eye of a man’s slave or break a bone of a man’s slave he shall pay one-half his price.”
The code is also widely considered to be the earliest known mention of lesbians in surviving historical documents. The code makes reference to women called thesalzikrum (literal translation: “daughter-men”), women who were allowed to marry other women. The code also contains the earliest mention of a transgender person.