The Life and Laws of Hammurabi, King of Babylon, Famous for His Laws

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Who was Hammurabi? Information about the life, actions, and laws of Hammurabi, the King of Babylon, famous for the laws he had set and named after him.

Hammurabi

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Hammurabi was the most important king of Babylon, he became famous for having elaborated the “Code of Hammurabi” – the first code of written laws known in history. The basis of its criminal law is the Law of Talion: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”.

Under Hammurabi’s command, the Babylonians conquered all of Mesopotamia and created a unified state. The first Babylonian Empire was born. Each city was governed by men chosen by the emperor.

Between December 1901 and January 1902, a French delegation in Persia unearthed from the ruins of the Acropolis of Susa the monolithic monument containing the Code of Hammurabi which is now in the Louvre Museum, Paris.

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Hammurabi was the sixth king of the “first Babylonian dynasty”, also called “dynasty of the Amorites”. Son of Sinmuballit, fifth king of the dynasty, he reigned from approximately 1792 to 1750 BC. Ç.

Historical context

Mesopotamia was the region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which are born in the mountains of Turkey and flow into the Persian Gulf. In general, ancient Mesopotamia corresponds to present-day Iraq.

Several peoples settled in Mesopotamia, giving rise to great civilizations: Sumerians, Akkadians, “Amorites”, Assyrians and Chaldeans.

Around 2000 BC, the Amorite invaders, coming from the south of the Arabian desert, established their capital in the city of Babylon, founded by the Akkadians, and became known as Babylonians.

The First Babylonian Empire

The founder in the Amorite dynasty was Sumu-abum, who ruled from 1894 to 1881 BC Hammurabi, the most important king of Babylon, was the sixth king of the dynasty and reigned from approximately 1792 to 1750 BC

Shortly after assuming the throne, Hammurabi began the fusion of the Semitic people of the North and the Sumerians into a political and civil unit, imposed by administrative and pacifying action. The king kept the defeated monarchs, as vassals, on their respective thrones.

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Hammurabi restored the most important temples in the region, opened new canals and rebuilt the old ones. He gave a boost to the agriculture of the fertile Mesopotamian plain. He instituted tax work for the benefit of public works and the culture of the countryside and the crown.

The countless “letters” written by him to governors and providers of the kingdom reveal the king at the center of administration.

Akkadian was the official and common language among the people of the kingdom, leaving Sumerian, a venerated language, especially for religion. To the Sumerian texts, an Akkadian version was added between the lines. Akkadian was the official language for the writing of laws.

Hammurabi sought to unite the religion of the Semites and the Sumerians by promoting the fusion of related divine figures. The same policy of fusion took place in the laws, seeking to merge the two rights, relying more on Sumerian law.

Under Hammurabi’s command the Babylonians conquered all of Mesopotamia and created a unified state. His great empire stretched from the Persian Gulf as far north as Nineveh and from the Elamite Mountains to Assyria in the far north.

The Code of Hammurabi

Between December 1901 and January 1902, a delegation led by the French Jacques de Morgan, unearthed from the ruins of the acropolis of Susa, in Persia, a monolith of black stone that contains the Code of Hammurabi . The cone is 2.25 m high and 1.60 m in circumference at the top and 1.90 m at the base.

The Monolith has the entire surface covered by dense cuneiform text, in Akkadian script. At the top, it features a high relief where Hammurabi receives the laws of justice from Shaash, god of oracles, arranged in 46 columns of 2,600 lines.

Hammurabi, in addition to leading Babylon to its maximum splendor, became famous for having drawn up the “Code of Hammurabi” – the first code of laws in antiquity.

The punishments provided for by the Code vary according to the social condition of the victim and the offender. The basis of its criminal law is the Law of Talion: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”.

Some laws of the Code of Hammurabi

  • If the slave says to his master, “You are not my master,” his master will convince him that he is his slave and cut off his ear.
  • If a man’s wife is caught sleeping with another man, they will both be tied up and thrown into the river.
  • If a thief steals something owned by a god or a palace, he must pay thirty times the value of the stolen thing. If he cannot pay he will be sentenced to death.
  • If an architect builds a house and it falls down, killing its owner, the builder can be put to death.
  • If a man puts out a free man’s eye, his eye will also be put out.

Death of Hammurabi

After Hammurabi’s death in 1750 BC, Babylon’s splendor did not last long. Years later, all of Mesopotamia was conquered by the Assyrians, a cruel people who lived off sacking and war. The Assyrian empire was destroyed in 612 BC by the Chaldeans, when Babylon regained its splendor.

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