The Laws of Hammurabi Analysis
The Laws of Hammurabi serve as one of the oldest pieces of evidence of the life and beliefs of ancient Mesopotamian civilization. The code outlines the fundamentals of Babylonian society as well as demonstrates its early stage of socioeconomic development with economy based on court or god and private property ownership. Though several books and academic debates discuss this writing, many issues regarding its origin require clarification. The current paper focuses on the revolutionary character of the Law code, as well as discusses the way it describes Mesopotamian society and the level of its development in terms of economic, social, and cultural aspect.
First of all, it is necessary to consider historical context so as to outline the significance of the document for the people. The Law code was enacted around 1754 BC by Hammurabi, who was the sixth Babylonian King. It consists of 282 laws carved on large stone steles in the Akkadian language and addresses the issues of trade, slavery, divorce, food, liability, slander, theft, and the duties of workers. Therefore, the code is aimed at regulating the life of the society. However, it is important to recognize the reasons why people started recording their laws. Obviously, the laws existed before the written language originated; hence the task is to define what change in ancient Mesopotamian society provoked the emergence of written laws.
The current paper argues that the Law code is the result of mental, cultural, and socioeconomic revolution, which has taken place in Babylonian society. It is the earliest piece of writing that signifies the considerable reform of existing order thus initiating a new period of history, the proof of which is embodied in text. The purpose of the Laws were to unify the rules and principles of conducts, which regulated the lives of Babylonians for a long time but were not written yet. Furthermore, the document demonstrates the progress of legal consciousness, as even minor regulations are required to be followed by the code. The emergence of the code is a revolution itself because it is the new way of visualizing cultural artefacts when oral tradition is no longer considered sufficient for ordered society. Therefore, the technical side of the issue requires consideration since it signifies the adoption of the new way of communication between generations and people from different places. As the author of the Code was the sixth King in the dynasty but the first who founded written tradition, the origin of the code may be associated with consolidation of power and laws, imposed by the formers rulers of this dynasty.
The contents of the code as well as its appearance in Babylon proves that Babylon was rather complex society. Despite the emphasis on agriculture as the central means of survival, people of Babylon lived in cities, where they had full time labor divided according to specialization. The development of art, written language, and religion was possible due to economic surplus. The Babylonian society was organized as a state because it had the dynasty of rulers and a set of specific laws. Another criteria proving that Babylonian society was complex is class structure (Lecture notes). The researchers agree that division of Babylonians was confirmed legally. For example, Prince claims that Hammurabi code outlined three main classes: the householders, the poor men, and the slaves (608). According to the code, Babylonian society displays secondary traits of complex society which include writing, sciences, standard and monumental art as well as trade with distant partners (Lecture notes).
In order to properly address the features of Babylonian society and review the general principles of their culture, it is worth to pay attention to the sanction or punishment, as they can help to recognize the level of societys cultural and socioeconomic development. For instance, the beginning of the code includes the law of criminal procedure. The majority of the cases described in this part state that the offenders are sentenced to death. The evidence of the above mentioned is the following: If anyone bring an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if it be a capital offense charged, be put to death (The Code of Hammurabi 3). As the laws are very strict, it is possible to assume that the society under consideration did not encounter demographic problems due to the possibility to execute the offenders. Furthermore, the fact that the law of criminal procedure was presented in the first part proves that the societys greatest value was justice, despite its cruelty. Excessive severity of the laws is expressed in the following: If anyone is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death (The Code of Hammurabi 22). The above mentioned also serves as a warning to those, who have not committed the crime yet. Thus, the purpose of the laws was to regulate peoples decision-making and thinking through fear, as offensive intentions as well as completed crimes are punished with execution.
Since the society had class structure, the treatment of free people and slaves was obviously different. What is more, slaves were recognized as a property, hence offences against them were equaled to offences against property: If anyone buy from the son or the slave of another man, without witnesses or a contract, silver or gold, a male or female slave, an ox or a sheep, an ass or anything, or if he take it in charge, he is considered a thief and shall be put to death (The Code of Hammurabi 17). Evidently, the property was frequently more valuable than life, which confirms the early stage of development of the society during Hammurabis rule. It is worth paying attention to the importance of practicality and thrift as fundamental characteristics of ancient Babylonians. For example, if a person was kidnapped, the relatives received financial compensation from the community: If persons are stolen, then shall the community and ... pay one mina of silver to their relatives (The Code of Hammurabi 24).
Despite the cruelty of Babylonian laws, the analysis of the code signifies the reliance of societys life on support and mutual help. One of the examples of the above mentioned is the following: If the robber is not caught, then shall he who was robbed claim under oath the amount of his loss; then shall the community, and ... on whose ground and territory and in whose domain it was compensate him for the goods stolen (the Code of Hammurabi 23). Another positive side of the Law code is the system of encouragement to law-abiding citizens: If anyone find runaway male or female slaves in the open country and bring them to their masters, the master of the slaves shall pay him two shekels of silver (the Code of Hammurabi 17).
The analysis of these laws proves again that despite the early stage of its development, the Babylonians criminal law was focused on private property. The property ownership was divided into the property of god or state; therefore, the offenders had different punishment in accordance with the owner of the stolen property: If anyone steal cattle or sheep, or an ass, or a pig or a goat, if it belong to a god or to the court, the thief shall pay thirtyfold therefor; if they belonged to a freed man of the king he shall pay tenfold; if the thief has nothing with which to pay he shall be put to death (8). Furthermore, it is worth paying attention to strictness regarding property crimes. With this respect, the 8th law clarifies that the criminals did not receive a second chance to change their behavior as the penitentiary institutions were absent. In addition, the 8th law proves that the power of the state was associated with the power of god thus allowing to strengthen and centralize the power of the ruler.
It is possible to infer that the code of Hammurabi is the ancient artefact, which initiated the new period of word history marked with literacy and the system of public life regulations. The purpose of this law was to unify the rules of coexistence in Babylonian society as well as to demonstrate the stability of these laws are stable and the importance to follow them. The code proves the complexity of Babylonian community that undergone the revolution which made it necessary to record oral tradition. The analysis of the laws confirms that the subjects of the law were at the early stage of socioeconomic development due to the excessive cruelty. Despite severe punishments, the laws included a system of encouragement. The focus was made on private property ownership because it allowed to illustrate values, priorities, and relationship in hierarchically structured community. The code of Hammurabi is rather interesting subject of analysis which enables to enrich professional skills and learn the values, worldviews, and principles of the ancient people.
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