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The Code of Hammurabi stele.
The upper part of the stele of Hammurabi's code of laws.

The Code of Hammurabi (Codex Hammurabi) is a well-preserved ancient law code, created ca. 1790 BC (middle chronology) in ancient Babylon. It was enacted by the sixth Babylonian king, Hammurabi.[1] One nearly complete example of the Code survives today, inscribed on a seven foot, four inch tall diorite stele[2] in the Akkadian language in the cuneiform script.[3]



The stele containing the Code of Hammurabi was found in 1901 by the Egyptologist Gustav Jéquier, a member of the expedition, headed by Jacques de Morgan. The stele was discovered in what is now Khūzestān, Iran (ancient Susa, Elam), where it had been taken as plunder by the Elamite king Shutruk-Nahhunte in the 12th century BC.[4] It is currently on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.[5]


Hammurabi (ruled ca. 1796 BC – 1750 BC) said he was chosen by the gods to deliver the law to his people. In the preface to the law code, he states, "Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exhalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land."[6]


The Code of Hammurabi was one of several sets of laws in the Ancient Near East.[7][8] Earlier collections of laws include the Code of Ur-Nammu, king of Ur (ca. 2050 BC), the Laws of Eshnunna (ca. 1930 BC) and the codex of Lipit-Ishtar of Isin (ca. 1870 BC),[9] while later ones include the Hittite laws, the Assyrian laws, and Mosaic Law.[10] These codes come from similar cultures in a relatively small geographical area, and they have passages which resemble each other. [11]

View of the back side of the stele.

The code has been seen as an example of even a king not being able to change fundamental laws concerning the governing of a country which was the primitive form of what is now known as a constitution.[citation needed] However, this interpretation may be anachronistic. The Code’s provisions do not cover important areas of law and commerce. The occassional nature of many provisions indicates that the Code may be better read as a codification of supplementary judicial decisions of the king. Rather than being a modern legal code or constitution, it may have as its purpose the self-glorification of Hammurabi by memorialising his wisdom and justice. Its copying in subsequent generations indicates that it was used as a model of legal and judicial reasoning.[12]

The Babylonians and their neighbors developed the earliest system of economics that was fixed in a legal code, using a metric of various commodities. The early law codes from Sumer could be considered the first (written) economic formula, and have many attributes still in use in the current price system today, such as codified amounts of money for business deals (interest rates), fines in money for wrongdoing, inheritance rules and laws concerning how private property is to be taxed or divided.[13]



Here are seventeen example laws, in their entirety, of the Code of Hammurabi, translated into English:

  • If anyone ensnares another, putting a ban upon him, but he can not prove it, then he that ensnared him shall be put to death.
  • If anyone brings an accusation against a man, and the accused goes to the river and leaps into the river, if he sinks in the river his accuser shall take possession of his house. But if the river proves that the accused is not guilty, and he escapes unhurt, then he who had brought the accusation shall be put to death, while he who leaped into the river shall take possession of the house that had belonged to his accuser.
  • If anyone brings an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if a capital offense is charged, be put to death.
  • If a builder builds a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then the builder shall be put to death.(Another variant of this is, If the owner's son dies, then the builder's son shall be put to death.)
  • If a son strike his father, his hands shall be hewn off.
  • If a man give his child to a nurse and the child dies in her hands, but the nurse unbeknown to the father and mother nurses another child, then they shall convict her of having nursed another child without the knowledge of the father and mother and her breasts shall be cut off.
  • If anyone steals the minor son of another, he shall be put to death.
  • If a man takes a woman to wife, but has no intercourse with her, this woman is no wife to him.
  • If a man strikes a pregnant woman, thereby causing her to miscarry and die, the assailant's daughter shall be put to death.
  • If a man puts out the eye of an equal, his eye shall be put out.
  • If a man knocks the teeth out of another man, his own teeth will be knocked out.
  • If anyone strikes the body of a man higher in rank than he, he shall receive sixty blows with an ox-whip in public.
  • If a freeborn man strikes the body of another freeborn man of equal rank, he shall pay one gold mina [an amount of money].
  • If the slave of a freed man strikes the body of a freed man, his ear shall be cut off.
  • If anyone commits a robbery and is caught, he shall be put to death.
  • If anyone opens his ditches to water his crop, but is careless, and the water floods his neighbor's field, he shall pay his neighbor corn for his loss.
  • If a judge tries a case, reaches a decision, and presents his judgment in writing; and later it is discovered that his decision was in error, and it was his own fault, he shall pay twelve times the fine set by him in the case and be removed from the judge's bench.

There are 282 such laws in the Code of Hammurabi, each usually no more than a sentence or two. The 282 laws are bracketed by a Prologue in which Hammurabi introduces himself, and an Epilogue in which he affirms his authority and sets forth his hopes and prayers for his code of laws.

Other copies

The prologue of the Code of Hammurabi on a clay tablet in the Louvre.

Various copies of portions of the Code of Hammurabi have been found on baked clay tablets, some possibly older than the celebrated diorite stele now in the Louvre. The Prologue of the Code of Hammurabi (the first 305 inscripted squares on the stele) is on such a tablet, also at the Louvre (Inv #AO 10237). Some gaps in the list of benefits bestowed on cities recently annexed by Hammurabi may imply that it is older than the famous stele (it is currently dated to the early 18th century BC).[14] Likewise, the Museum of the Ancient Orient, part of the Istanbul Archaeology Museums, also has a "Code of Hammurabi" clay tablet, dated to 1750 BC., in (Room 5, Inv # Ni 2358).[15][16]

See also



  1. ^ Gabriele Bartz, Eberhard König, ( Arts and Architecture), Könemann, Köln, (2005), isbn3-8331-1943-8.The laws were based on the idea of "an eye for an eye".
  2. ^ Code of Hammurabia C. H. W. Johns
  3. ^ Retrieved July-15-09
  4. ^ David Graves, Jane Graves (1995). "Archaeological History of the Code of Hammurabi". Electronic Christian Media. Retrieved September 14 2007. 
  5. ^ Gabriele Bartz, Eberhard König. (2005). Louvre ( Arts and Architecture). Köln: Könemann. ISBN 3-8331-1943-8. 
  6. ^ Edited by Richard Hooker; Translated by L.W king (1996). "Mesopotamia: The Code of Hammurabi". Washington State University. Retrieved September 14 2007. 
  7. ^ (2006). "Was Hammurabi really the first law maker in history?". - Legal information. Retrieved September 14 2007. 
  8. ^ L. W. King (2005). "The Code of Hammurabi: Translated by L. W. King". Yale University. Retrieved September 14 2007. 
  9. ^ Charles F. Horne, Ph.D. (1915). "The Code of Hammurabi : Introduction". Yale University. Retrieved September 14 2007. 
  10. ^ Barton, G.A: Archaeology and the Bible. University of Michigan Library, 2009, p.406.
  11. ^ ibid, p.406. Barton, a former professor of Semitic languages at the University of Pennsylvania, stated that while there are similarities between the Mosaic Law and the Code of Hammurabi, a study of the entirety of both laws "convinces the student that the laws of the Old Testament are in no essential way dependent upon the Babylonian laws." He states that "such resemblances" arose from "a similarity of antecedents and of general intellectual outlook" between the two cultures, but that "the striking differences show that there was no direct borrowing."
  12. ^ For this alternative interpretation see Jean Bottéro, “The ‘Code’ of Hammurabi” in Mesopotamia: Writing, Reasoning and the Gods (University of Chicago, 1992), pp. 156-184.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Fant, Clyde E. and Mitchell G. Reddish (2008), Lost Treasures of the Bible: Understanding the Bible Through Archaeological Artifacts in World Museums, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., pg 62.
  15. ^ Freely, John, Blue Guide Istanbul (5th ed., 2000), London: A&C Black, New York: WW Norton, pg 121. ("The most historic of the inscriptions here [i.e., Room 5, Museum of the Ancient Orient, Istanbul] is the famous Code of Hammurabi (#Ni 2358) dated 1750 BC, the world's oldest recorded set of laws.")
  16. ^ Museum of the Ancient Orient website ("This museum contains a rich collection of ancient ... archaeological finds, including ... seals from Nippur and a copy of the Code of Hammurabi.")


  • Driver, G.R. & J.C. Miles (2007). The Babylonian Laws. Eugene: Wipf and Stock. ISBN 1-55635-229-8. 
  • Roth, Martha T. (1997). Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. Atlanta: Scholars Press. ISBN 0-7885-0378-2. 
  • Bryant, Tamera (2005). The Life & Times of Hammurabi. Bear: Mitchell Lane Publishers. ISBN 9781584153382. 
  • Mieroop, Marc (2004). King Hammurabi of Babylon: a Biography. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 9781405126601. 
  • Hammurabi, King; C. H. W. Johns (Translator) (2000). The Oldest Code of Laws in the World. City: Lawbook Exchange Ltd. ISBN 9781584770619. 
  • Falkenstein, A. (1956–57). Die neusumerischen Gerichtsurkunden I–III. München.
  • Elsen-Novák, G. / Novák, M.: Der 'König der Gerechtigkeit'. Zur Ikonologie und Teleologie des 'Codex' Hammurapi. In: Baghdader Mitteilungen 37 (2006), pp. 131-156.
  • Julius Oppert and Joachim Menant (1877). Documents juridiques de l'Assyrie et de la Chaldee. París.
  • Thomas, D. Winton, ed. (1958). Documents from Old Testament Times. London and New York.
  • Beck, Roger B.; Linda Black, Larry S. Krieger, Phillip C. Naylor, Dahia Ibo Shabaka, (1999). World History: Patterns of Interaction. Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell. ISBN 0-395-87274-X. 

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