The Ancient Mesopotamian Law
Hammurabi was an Amorite who lived and reigned from 1792 BC to 1750 BC. He is remembered in history as the 6th king of the Mesopotamian Society. He is known as a great leader who conquered and brought many different kingdoms under the protection and governance of the one great umbrella of Babylon. As a ruler of a large society, Hammurabi recognized the need for organized law and knew that in order to govern effectively he had to establish his authority as a fair and impartial ruler.
It is generally accepted that Hammurabi’s Code was developed around 1780 BC, during his 44 year rule as king. The Amorites believed that kings were appointed by the gods to administer the law and protect the kingdom. Hammurabi’s Code was a set of 282 laws which established rules for bringing accusations against another and the corresponding punishments to fit the crimes committed, through an “eye for an eye” mentality.
The development of Hammurabi’s ...view middle of the document...
“If a judge tries a case, reaches a decision, and presents his judgment in writing; if later error shall
appear in his decision, and it be through his own fault, then he shall pay twelve times the fine set by
him in the case, and he shall be publicly removed from the judge's bench, and never again shall he
sit there to render judgment.” (Hammurabi’s Code of Laws, Retrieved from Course Documents)
These safeguards are evident throughout the code, placing the burden of proof on the accuser but also allowing the accused an option for surrendering themselves to the “river”. Should they jump in, but return to shore, this would prove their innocence and the charges would be dropped. If they did not survive, then they were condemned, in death, as guilty.
The belief that the gods dictated the laws and appointed the kings was in itself a method of accountability (Perry, pg 13.). The kings, in order to gain approval from their gods, must do right by the people they ruled, or face consequences in the afterlife. The kings were the administrators of the law, and to violate it (the law) was to contravene the divine order (Perry, pg 13.). Many of the principles of the Hammurabi Code are still used today as a basis for the legal codes in both eastern and western civilization.
Considering the harshness of the legal code developed to govern the BabyIonian people, I find it interesting that the term “Babylonian Society” has come to have a derogatory meaning, i.e “Babylonian Society: Characterized by a luxurious, pleasure-seeking, and often immoral way of life. OR any society or group in a society considered as corrupt or as a place of exile by another society or group”(The Free Dictionary)
The Free Dictionary Website www.thefreedictionary.com
Perry, M., Chase, M., Jacob, J., Jacob, M., & Von Laue, T. (2013). Western civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society. (10th Edition, Vol. 1). Mason, Ohio: Cengage Learning.
Hammurabi’s Code of Laws. Retrieved from Course Documents: https://blackboard.sacredheart.edu/bbcswebdav/courses/13M4HICC101DD/Course%20Documents/Unit%20One%20%20The%20Ancient%20Near%20East%20Primary%20Sources%20Print%20Versions%20Hammurabi%27s%20Code/HAMMURABI%2C%20Code%20of%20Laws%2C%20Perpetua.pdf