In his position as King of Babylonia, Hammurabi managed to
organize the world’s first code of laws and establish Babylon as the
dominant and successful Amorite city of its time. “Records written on
clay tablets show that Hammurabi was a very capable administrator and
a successful warrior. His rule spanned from 1792 B.C. to 1750 B.C.
When he became king in 1792, he was still young, but had already
become entrusted with many official duties in his administration”
(Grolier). In the early years of his reign, Hammurabi mostly
participated in traditional activities, such as repairing buildings,
digging canals, and fighting wars. Yet later in his rule, Hammurabi
organized a unique code of laws, the first of its kind, therefore
making himself one of the world’s most influential leaders.
Hammurabi was primarily influential to the world because of his
code of laws. This code consisted of 282 provisions, systematically
arranged under a variety of subjects. He sorted his laws into groups
such as family, labor, personal property, real estate, trade, and
business. This was the first time in history that any laws had been
categorized into various sections. This format of organization was
emulated by civilizations of the future. For example, Semitic cultures
succeeding Hammurabi’s rule used some of the same laws that were
included in Hammurabi’s code. Hammurabi’s method of thought is evident
in present day societies which are influenced by his code. Modern
governments currently create specific laws, which are placed into
their appropriate family of similar laws. Hammurabi had his laws
recorded upon an eight foot high black stone monument. Hammurabi based
his code on principles like, the strong should not injure the weak,
and that punishment should fit the crime. As for punishment, “legal
actions were initiated under the code by written pleadings; testimony
was taken under oath. The code was severe in it’s penalties,
prescribing “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.””(Grolier). This
code of laws was able to be maintained by invoking the authority of
the gods and the state. Although the punishments were different than
those of today, the authority of the state (government) is similar.
Currently, punishments are issued through the state’s law enforcement
system, comparable to the way punishment was determined and enforced
in ancient Babylon. In the code, crimes punishable by death required a
trial in front of a bench of judges. Included in these crimes were:
bigamy, incest, kidnapping, adultery and theft. There were also laws
similar to today. For example, a husband who wished to divorce his
wife, was required to pay alimony and child support. By creating the
world’s first set of organized laws, Hammurabi constituted a model set
of moral codes for other civilizations to duplicate.
“The code of Hammurabi is believed to have greatly influenced
the development of Near Eastern civilizations for centuries after it
was written”(Britannica). Although Hammurabi failed to establish an
effective bureaucratic system himself, his ideas were successful in
establishing laws in Babylonia. Since Babylon was the world’s first
metropolis, the large population needed to be bound by a strict set of
organized civil laws. The way Hammurabi constructed his laws is
influential to the world today, because laws can be more easily
understood by the people.
“Code of Hammurabi.” Encyclopedia Britannica (1989), X, 682.
“Hammurabi.” Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia (1994).
“Hammurabi.” Compton’s Encyclopedia (1990), XI, 225.