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Old Babylonian empire – Law Code of Hammurabi



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Hammurabi’s Legal Code is a set of legal lists, which in a single legislative act Babylonian emperor Hammurabi issued in the 1792 – 1750 BC. Code of Hammurabi represents the most famous and best preserved ancient Mesopotamia Legal Code. It was written in cuneiform. In 1901, Legal Hammurabi’s Code was discovered in the Iranian city of Susa (the area of the ancient Elam). Jean-Jacques de Morgan found it, but it was taken as a trophy from war by Elamite’s king Shutruk Nakhunte.

Legal Code of Hammurabi is extremely detailed codification of the Babylonian law and a valuable source of economic and social conditions of ancient East civilizations. Although it was pointed out that, it was created to protect the weak from the strong, to support the traditional class division because penalties for the members of the lower classes for the same crime were much harsher. The oldest written Legal Code, has 284 article which are related to public and private law. The Legal Code is consisted of three parts: introduction, Code in the narrow sense, conclusion. In the Hammurabi Legal Code it can be found a very well-known principle “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”.

Some of the laws are:

  • If a citizen hides a servant of the palace and do not hand them when a messenger ask for them , then owner of the house will be killed
  • If a man takes an eye to another man, he will have the same punishment. (eye for an eye)
  • If he breaks a bone to another man, his bones will be broken as well
  • If a man breaks teeth to a person who has an equal status as he, his teeth should be break as well. (tooth for a tooth)
  • If someone attacks a man which has higher status than he, he will be publicly beaten 60 times by lash for oxen
  • If a physician heals the broken bone, the patient needs to pay him five shekels in cash.
  • If a slave attacks his master, he should have his ear cut off.
  • If a man takes out an eye to someone’s slave, or break his bone, he should pay half amount of its value.
  • If a builder builds a house for someone, it does not build it properly, and the house collapses and kills the owner, then the builder should be murdered.
  • If a builder builds a house to someone and he finishes house, then he should be paid in money – two shekels for each sar area.
Code of Hammurabi on diorite stele at the Louvre museum.
Code of Hammurabi on diorite stele at the Louvre museum.

A large number of Legal Code articles are devoted to the marital – family and inheritance law.

Emperor in practice, was confronted with the traditions of the patriarchal family. A husband had the right to kill his wife – adulteress and her seducer. For complicity in the murder of her husband, wife – adulteress was impaled on the stake, and for misbehaving and prodigality a woman was expelled from the house and turned into a slave. A son that hit or slapped his father was punished by cutting off his hand, while beating son is not considered an offense. Although marriage is essentially a monogamous, there were exceptions when a husband could bring a second wife (if a first wife does not give him offspring, or is ill), but he is obliged to keep his first wife, in respect of which the first wife is inferior to the second wife.

Some of the rules of the Law Code are:

    • If a man takes a wife, and she does not gives him children, and he decides to take a second wife and brings her into the house, this second wife should not be equaled as the first wife.
    • If someone brings assets into father-in-law house, and pays tirhata (tirhata is non obligatory gift which has no huge value, and this gift gives the groom to the bride’s father), looks for another woman and says to his father-in-law: “I do not want your daughter,” the bride’s father may keep all that he received.
    • If the man who brought some assets into father-in-law house and pays tirhata (tirhata is non-obligatory gift, which has no huge value, and this gift gives the groom to the bride’s father) if the father of the bride girl says: “I will not give you my daughter”, then he should return twice of what he had received.
    • If a man wants to separate from his wife, which did not gave him children, he needs to give her the amount of tirhata and her dowry, which she has brought with her from her father’s house, and he can let her go.
    • If a woman quarrels with her husband and says, “You’re not good (you humiliate me) to me”, the reason for wife’s judgment must be justified. If she is innocent and there is no fault on her side, then the fault must not fall back on this woman and she can take dowry and go back to her parents’ house. If she is not innocent, and she leaves her husband and ruins the house, humiliating her husband, she should be thrown into the river.
    • If a man wants to throw, his own son out of the house, and decided to do that before the judge: “I want to throw my son out”, then the judge should investigate his reason. If the son is guilty due to the reasons, which legally he should not be thrown out of the house, his father cannot throw him out.
    • If the son is beating his father, then his son should have his hand cut off.

Land rights

Since Akkadian period, it was noticed giving of the land, temples in private hands. This has reached its peak in the Babylonian Country. Country in the north was given for farming to free farmers. For the purposes of regular paying of taxes, all the land assets were registered according to the regulations on a clay tablets.