Understanding Hammurabi’s Code

Hammurabi was the 6th king in the ancient kingdom of Babylon and is famous for “Hammurabi’s Code” which are the discovered remains of codes or laws that are the earliest known example of written laws that bring clear order to a kingdom. Dating all the way back to around 1750 BC, this code of law was so important that large copies were made on both stone and steel. In fact, the various copies of this law make it the largest fully or nearly fully translated ancient writings from any empire. This culture of law is often seen as the backbone for the civilized code of laws and one of the most influential advances in human history.

The Original Code
There are over 282 laws in Hammurabi’s Code, and this is the first known code of laws with scaled punishments – in other words, lighter sentences for minor offenses and harsher sentences for major offenses. This is certainly an adjustment of the prevailing “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” which was the best that could otherwise be expected at that time. That being said, it isn’t fully modern as there are definitive differences based on social status including wealth, rank, and different standards for free men versus slaves.

Interesting enough, almost half of Hammurabi’s Code was about economics, commerce, and trade, going to show the importance of these emerging fields at the time. This included contracts, set wages for certain important professions, or even early forms of things like damaged property and liability. These also go to the earliest written matters like inheritance, divorce, and paternal responsibilities to children.

While the old code of Hammurabi is crude compared to today’s laws, it was a critical cultural accomplishment that created entirely new areas of law at the time and its impact can still be seen to this day.