The Importance of the Code of Hammurabi

Hammurabi’s Code

            The Code of Hammurabi is a set of well-preserved laws of the ancient Babylon, brought about by the sixth Babylonian king Hammurabi. It is an early manifestation of the attempts to unify the ancient kingdom under a set of laws, which are to be followed by the populace. It aims to organize the early justice system, as it attempts to give an answer as to how certain crimes should be met. The code of Hammurabi has a strict predisposition, wherein the common punishment present was death, maybe as a means to discourage the people to commit any crime against others. There are several literary works that enumerates and explains the contents of Hammurabi’s code, and somehow, they were able to shed some light to this age old topic. Some of these works were based on the literal translation of Hammurabi’s code, and some of these offers explanations to the code, on the basis of other literary works. The code of Hammurabi is not only a literary piece or a chunk of history, but it is also a vital step on the creation and evolution of the system of laws that we have today. Its existence is a manifestation of man’s attempts to create a governing body or a system of laws that would serve as a guide of our actions and our lives.

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            In the article “Hammurabi” of The Catholic Encyclopedia, the author stated that it was the Code of Hammurabi that elevated King Hammurabi to “a leading place in the roll of the greatest men of antiquity” (Souvay). The Code was a document of great importance, as it is a proof of mankind’s early attempts to legislation. According to the author, the code of Hammurabi was well organized, and was devised to encompass most of the activities existing in those times. It directly addresses a crime or a circumstance, and accordingly gives the necessary punishment.

In L.W. King’s book, “The Code of Hammurabi”, he presents in detail the contents of the laws and provisions created by the ancient Babylonian King (King). The book contains an introduction given by Hammurabi himself, which tells about how he was able to come up with the code, and how he was chosen by the codes to deliver such strict and detailed rules. It was more of a proclamation of power bestowed upon him by the gods of those times. The bulk of the book contains 282 laws that Hammurabi insists on being followed (King). These laws clearly state several circumstances wherein a crime is committed, and the corresponding punishment that should be given to the criminal. However, it may be taken as a very harsh set of laws, as every misdeed would lead more often than not, to death. Theft, adultery, and other types of misdemeanor would always be accompanied by a death penalty, and on a lighter scale, of heavy monetary compensation. It was also able to partly discuss the role that women play in the Babylonian society, and the corresponding punishments that would result from the crimes committed against them. Even though the focus of the ancient society would be on men, somehow, the Code of Hammurabi was able to recognize the existence of their female counterparts. However, there are instances in the Code which treats women as an object, which could be stolen or be used as a payment.

In the online article, “Code of Hammurabi”, by David Graves and Jane Graves, the ancient code was summarized and formatted in a simpler, more understandable form (Graves and Graves). It was able to identify certain major ideas of the code, including certain divisions of the provisions and laws presented in the code. This includes provisions regarding social classes, provisions on property (buying, selling, trading, and stealing), provisions on the family, and other concerns regarding criminal law. The article also compares the Code of Hammurabi to the Old Testament, wherein several similarities and differences were pointed out. Again, this puts us back to the influence of these ancient documents to each other. It was concluded with brief mentions of its significance to the presence and to ancient history. It is a very comprehensive and well preserved set of laws other than the famously known guidelines set by the Bible. Somehow, the creation of the code mirrors or reflects the history that it was created in, giving us a clearer picture of the times which Hammurabi lived and ruled.

            The evidences used by the author in the article are all from other literary works. One of its main sources is the compilation of inscriptions of Hammurabi. This includes cuneiform inscriptions of Western Asia, cuneiform texts from Babylonian tablets and a lot more (Souvay). He relies on other authors to provide him the necessary information on the specific laws and corresponding punishments, though he did not directly point out the exact provisions stated in the Code. Another source of information that the author used is the history of Babylonia during King Hammurabi’s reign. Several books have presented him this information, though this was not necessarily pointed out in the article. The author also based his work on several studies conducted on the Code of Hammurabi, and have focused on the code’s importance in the time it was created.

            The evidences used in L.W. King’s book came from the slab of stone that contained the ancient Code of Hammurabi itself (King). The book is the direct translation of the laws and provisions created for the ancient Babylonian kingdom. These slabs of stones that contained the laws which were literally cut into the stone, were displayed in the main buildings of major cities of the ancient kingdom, and served as a reminder for the people, wherein everything that they do, every wrongdoing that they commit, would be viewed in accordance to Code.

            The sources used by the author were reliable, as he was able to present their respective authors, and their publishing specifics, like the place and year of publishing. However, he did not specify or indicate where he got his information, though it could also mean that these were casual references in the text. The author was able to use the evidences that he gathered with care and discrimination, and we can see this in the early and the mid parts of the article. He used the evidences that he gathered and presented it as a straight-to-the-point informative text. He has no evident bias in the whole article, as he presented the facts straight and clear. However, when it came to the part where he has to give his conclusion, it seems that it was rather premeditated. Somehow, it did not follow the logic that the whole article presented right from the start. The conclusion that he gave was more leaning to a comparison of the Code of Hammurabi to the Hebrew Law, rather than a synthesis of what he has stated earlier in the article (Souvay). Instead of concluding based on logic, he focused on comparing between the two sets of Laws, and pointed out that these sets of laws influence each other. The conclusion focused on further comparing it to religion-based literary works, rather than focusing on the legislative aspect of the code, which was stated earlier in the article.

            At the end of the L.W. King’s book, we will see a concluding statement giving by King Hammurabi (King). These were praises being given to him, as he continues to affirm the position and the power that was bestowed upon him by their gods. He reiterates that the people needed to strictly follow these rules, because these are the rules of the gods, which they left on the hands of Hammurabi to strictly impose to the land. Any disobedience, any form of resistance, would be met accordingly. The punishment would depend on the law stated in the code.

            The implications of the Code to the present are best discussed in the article, “The Fascinating Code of Hammurabi: Wow! I Didn’t Know That!” by Joseph T. Kelly (Kelly). This article relates the concerns of the modern societies to the laws reflected on the Code of Hammurabi. It was able to connect the needs of the present to the existing laws that we have today, in contrast with the laws of the Code and how it is applied in the ancient Babylonian times. The continuity that it provides shows that despite the differences in time and the society itself, the laws and rules present would always reflect the needs of the people. Through a thorough discussion of the laws in the Code of Hammurabi, the article effectively shows it’s relation to the society and to the period of time it is being implemented.

            The article is well-presented and organized, using a short biography of King Hammurabi as a starting point for the elaboration on his Code. It is readable, and uses simple to understand words. This can be seen in the part where the article gives several examples of the laws presented in the code, wherein it grouped similar laws into a general classification, and was stated in a clear and simple way.

            The audience that the author wishes to address is the interested layman, instead of an expert in the field, or a professional. The article is easy to read and understand, and can be consumed by anyone who is interested in the topic. As stated above, the article offered bits of information about the Code, and offered summaries that can be easily understood by the reader. In an attempt to give an overview of the contents of Hammurabi’s Code, the article was able to give vital information about the topic. However, in the end part where the author tries to give a conclusion, somehow, the writing became lifeless, as he continued to compare the Code of Hammurabi to the Hebrew Law (Souvay). At this point in the article, the readers may lose interest in reading it till the end, or if he continues, he would at some point be confused with the facts and bits of information being presented.

            For me, the article was able to contribute new knowledge regarding the Code of Hammurabi. It is more about the specifics of the code, of some general laws and provisions stated, and through this, I was able to create a mental picture of the legislation and the judiciary process at the time of Hammurabi. Even though the article just offers bits of information about the code, it was still able to contribute new learning regarding this topic and shed new light to how I previously seen Hammurabi’s code.

            The Code of Hammurabi is an age-old document that reflects not only the society in the time of the Ancient Babylonian civilization, but also the people who lived during those days. It manifests the way of life followed by the people, and how they attempted to maintain peace and order through the creation and implementation of such laws. Despite the big difference in the contents and the repercussions of the Code as compared to the Laws that we have today, there is still a connection between the existing laws and the type of society present. It is not the laws of the land that molds the people, but it is the people who creates and molds these laws to their liking, to what is applicable and attainable in whatever given situation that may be.

Works Cited

Graves, David, and Jane Graves. “Code of Hammurabi”.  1995. February 22 2009. <>.

Kelly, Joseph T. “The Fascinating Code of Hammurabi: Wow! I Didn’t Know That!” The History Teacher Vol. 28.No. 4 (1995).

King, Leonard W. The Code of Hammurabi. Kessinger Publishing, 2004.

Souvay, Charles. “Hammurabi.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. Vol. 7.


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The Importance of the Code of Hammurabi. (2016, Oct 03). Retrieved from