The Code of Hammurabi

Background

The Code of Hammurabi is the oldest legal code unearthed by archaeologists.  Compiled by King Hammurabi in the 18th century B.C.E., this collection of rulings governed the economic, political, and social aspects of Sumerian life.  Archaeologists first discovered the code in 1901 inscribed on a seven-foot tall, six-foot around stone pillar.  Though called a law code, Hammurabi's Code is actually a series of rulings that the king made in specific cases.  The laws are thus more akin to present-day court rulings than to a formal system of laws.  Still, Hammurabi's Code provides us with a valuable glimpse into the values and arrangements of Sumerian society.


  Readings

Please read the following excerpts from Hammurabi's Code.

Hammurabi's Code

Questions for Consideration and Discussion

  1. Please divide the various laws promulgated by Hammurabi into five main categories.

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  3. What evidence is there of class distinction in Sumerian society?  Please provide at least three specific examples.  What are the social classes?

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  5. Did Hammurabi's Code treat women differently from men?  Please provide at least three examples.  Did women enjoy any protection?

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  7. What status did children enjoy?  Did they have any protections?

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  9. The expression "an eye for an eye" is derived from Hammurabi's Code and typically connoted a policy of severe retribution and a complete lack of compassion.  Do you interpret Hammurabi's Code in this way?  Please explain.

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  11. Why do you suppose the penalties for violating the law were so harsh?

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  13. What  does Hammurabi's Code teach us about Sumeria's economy and social system?  Specifically, what does this collection of laws suggest about the Sumerians' values and world view?

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  15. Does Hammurabi's Code have relevance to our modern-day legal systems?  Should we, as some critics have argued, adopt a more stringent legal system?  Explain.