One of the world’s earliest codifications of law
Hammurabi, a ruler of ancient Babylon, codified existing laws into a single code of laws. The codification is considered to be milestone in the history of law.
The Code of Hammurabi
The code of Hammurabi is one of the earliest codes of law; written around 1800 B.C. Hammurabi was a ruler of ancient Babylon. In the first of his reign he created a system of law that would be enforced throughout his domain. He dedicated the system of laws to the Assyrian God Marduk.
Keeping with the practice of his day, Hammurabi ordered the installation of giant monuments containing tablets with the laws engraved on them throughout his empire. This helped in creating awareness of the laws throughout the land. Hence, no offender could claim ignorance of the law.
The monuments were usually constructed near the temples of local gods. Atop the giant monuments would be an image of Hammurabi receiving the scepter and a ring from Shamash, the sun God. The depiction was intended to signify the divine origin of the laws.
The laws ran into more than 300 paragraphs and were categorized into specific sections dealing with social, political, criminal and civil laws.
Another interesting feature of the code was that is was customized in accordance with the different classes in Babylonian Society. Babylonian society in Hammurabi’s time was broadly classified into two, the Amelu and the Mushkinu. The Amelu was the upper class which consisted of the priests, regular soldiers, nobles, etc. The Mishkinu was the middle class which consisted of laborers, businessmen, teachers, etc.
If a member of the Amelu, the upper class, had suffered wrong he could demand stricter punishment or heftier fines for the offender. At the same time, the Amelu would also be punished more severely than the middle class for the same crime.
The code was based on the principle “an eye for an eye, a tooth for the tooth”. There is no evidence for the existence of prisons or any reformatory institution. Death was prescribed for serious offences.
Property transactions were meticulously recorded. The recordings are usually in stone tablets. Property was usually traded over the barter system. Exchanging one piece of property for another and leasing property also appears to have been fairly common.
The code assigns an important place to the family viewing it as the centre of society. Marriages were generally arranged by the parents. While monogamy appears to have been the norm, concubines were permitted in cases where the wife was barren. Adultery was punished by death by drowning.
The Code of Hammurabi appears remarkable for the age it was created in. It was among the first attempts to codify all the laws governing any society in a single form.