Source Analysis: The Code of Hammurabi

Code of Hammurabi
The Code of Hammurabi

Historical Academic Analysis Written By Christian J. Ashliman

Hammurabi’s Code was an ancient set of laws that was created and written by Hammurabi himself, who ruled over the first Babylonian Dynasty in the 1700s BC. During this time, it became apparent to Hammurabi that there was a need for a set of rules or codes for his people to live by, in order for society to succeed and flourish.

Initially, the code was transcribed onto clay tablets, in the native Akkadian language, and set on display for the citizens to read, and in turn, know what was expected of them. Hammurabi’s goal with his set of codes was to weed out the wicked and evil-doers, and promote righteousness and strength among his people; ensuring the strong could not harm the weak, while perpetuating the well-being of mankind[1].

During the era that Hammurabi’s Code was written, great change was occurring throughout many different empires. The main difference that had huge effects on the flow of society was the shift from an agriculturalist community, to an agrarian population. This change ushered in a new type of living, where people started culminating into cities and living in tighter quarters. New ideas began sprouting, and a culture of development began to be emphasized. While many of these adjustments were positive, this new era didn’t come without its fair share of issues. Themes of thievery, backstabbing, lying, and various other neighborly disputes rose to a height as well. Hammurabi sought to form a court of law in order to civilly address all of these concerns, and did so with his code[2].

Hammurabi’s Code had many points of interest, and addresses a variety of specific interactions and exchanges that were common, or in some cases rare, occurrences in ancient society. One of the more prevalent topics that is discussed in the code, is the many different circumstances that had to do with robbery, thievery, and the accusation of such acts[3]. When studying the code, these behaviors and their consequences are addressed quite often, which leads us to believe that stealing and robbery were very common among the people of ancient cities. While many questions can be drawn from these findings, the one that comes to the forefront has to do with the attitudes of the population in regard to theft. With the drastic change brought on by the building of population dense cities, what kinds of events, emotions, attitudes, or behaviors caused people to betray their fellow neighbor?

Using Hammurabi’s Code, we are able to draw certain conclusions about the desperate times incurred by the new adjustment to city life. Viewing certain code articles throughout the document, the spotlight begins to fill with the aspects of life that the culture, or Hammurabi, deemed extremely important. For example, it is informed to us that anyone who decides to steal from the temple or church will be put to death, and anyone who receives these stolen items, will also be executed[4]. This brutal ruling sheds some light on the possibility that temples house very expensive and valuable relics, and the religion of ancient communities appears to be of great importance. This attitude could spark some individuals to revolt, rebel, or strike out; whether it be in response to the religious prevalence, or as an act of pure survival. Hammurabi’s Code is insightful; however, it might not be able to show us all aspects of the feelings of slaves, or peasants, and their reasoning behind committing crimes. This is due to the perspective that the code was written in; seeing the laws and regulations placed on the community through Hammurabi’s eyes, can color our vision, and potentially portray only the ideas and values that were important to the middle and upper class of society.

Article Sources

[1] Hammurabi, The Code of Hammurabi, trans. L. W. King (Connecticut: Lillian Goldman Law Library, 2008), 1.

[2] Hammurabi, The Code of Hammurabi, 2.

[3] Hammurabi, The Code of Hammurabi, 2.

[4] Hammurabi, The Code of Hammurabi, 1.

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