Hammurabi’s Code: Just or Unjust?
Mesopotamia, “the Land between Rivers,” was one of the greatest civilizations of the world. It flourished around 3000 B.C. on the piece of fertile land, now Iraq, between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. In 1790 B.C.E., King Hammurabi conquered the neighboring city-states of ancient Mesopotamia, creating a Babylonian empire. During his reign, Hammurabi established law and order, and in about 1790, he had about 300 laws governing family, criminal punishment, civil law, etc. written on stone pillars for all to see. These laws were based around the main principal “an eye for an eye and a life for a life.” They were unfair, unjust, and based on the social classes. The code of Hammurabi was extreme and even tyrannical; it controlled Mesopotamian society through fear, not justice.
First, Hammurabi’s laws were based on the harsh “eye for eye and a life for a life” mentality, ending in a death penalty for many slight offenses. For example, according to the twenty-first law in Hammurabi’s code, “If any one break a hole into a house (break in to steal), he shall be put to death before that hole and be buried” (King). According to this law, if someone attempted- but did not succeed- and was caught, they would be sentenced to death instantly. This is unjust because no crime was indeed committed, and no property was stolen. Other forms of punishment could have been emplaced.
To continue, Hammurabi’s Code was unfair to society. This is shown in law twenty-three. For instance, law twenty-three exclaims, “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.” (King). This is unfair to society because they didn’t commit the crime. Just because the robber was not caught, doesn’t mean other innocent people should pay for the lost property/items.
Finally, Hammurabi’s Code affected people of higher/lower status differently. People of a higher status were able to get away with more. For example, law one ninety-nine states, “If he put out the eye of a man’s slave, or break the bone of a man’s slave, he shall pay one-half of its value.” (King). The Babylonians clearly did not live under a social system that treated all people equally. The sheer fact that they even had slaves shows that they did not treat everyone equally. Although there was still a punishment, it wasn’t nearly as bad as what others could receive. This is unfair to the slave who had bodily damage done to him, and to the owner. Only paying for half of the value isn’t going to solve much.
King Hammurabi revolutionized Mesopotamian government. The laws were designed to be a way to keep a form of social order and social justice; however, they were extremely unfair. The code was unjust, unfair and was based on social classes. The punishments would vary depending on your status in society, and the punishments were often very harsh and cruel. Hammurabi’s Code was the beginning of a new era; a time of law and punishment.