Hammurabi’s Code, Was it Just?
Mesopotamia, “the Land between Rivers,” was one of the greatest and the oldest ancient civilizations of the world. This civilization flourished around 3000 B.C.E. on the piece of fertile land, now known as Iraq, between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris.
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Before 1792 B.C.E the city-states of ancient Mesopotamia were not united and constantly clashed in turmoil and warfare. In 1792 B.C.E King Hammurabi conquered and merged the neighboring city-states of ancient Mesopotamia, creating a Babylonian empire and becoming the sixth king of its capitol city, Babylon. During his reign, Hammurabi established law and order and funded irrigation, defense, and religious projects.
He personally took care of and governed the administration. In fact, in 1784 B.C.E he wrote two hundred eighty-two laws governing family, criminal punishment, civil law, ethics, business, prices, trade, and every other aspect of ancient life—this set of laws became known as “The Code of Hammurabi.”
Carved upon a black stele (Doc A.) eight feet high where everyone could read them, based off these two hundred eighty two laws, I believe Hammurabi’s Code was not just based off three simple aspects, justice for the accused, justice for the victims, and justice for the people of society.
Hammurabi’s Code was not just for the accused, according to Law 195, (Doc C.) “If a son shall strike his father, his hands shall be cut off.” What if that son had struck his father in an act of self-defense? The father then effortlessly reports his son’s actions and can even disinherit him from the family according to Law 168 (Doc C.) of Hammurabi’s Code, all because the son was trying to defend himself. In Law 218 (Doc. E)
“If a surgeon has operated with a bronze lancet on a free man with serious injury, and has caused his death, his hands shall be cut off.” In other words, if a man dies during surgery, the doctor loses his hands. What if the man was minutes away from dying when the doctor began surgery? That doctor, who was neither responsible for the man’s death nor capable of saving it, will now lose his hands due to an unjust law.
Hammurabi’s Code is also unjust for the victim. In Laws 48, 209, and 213 for instance. In Law 48 it claims that “If a man has borrowed money to plant his fields and storm has flooded his field or carried away the crop, that year he does not have to pay his creditor.”(Doc. D)
This law may seem just as the man had no control over the weather therefore it is fair. But it is not; the creditor is out money and has no legal way of regaining it. For this law to be just, the man could have to pay the creditor one-third of his borrowed money over the course of the next year. This way the creditor isn’t out all of his money and the farmer doesn’t have to pay him back something he cannot afford.
In Law 209, (Doc E.) “If a man is to hit a free girl and cause her to lose her child, the man is to pay ten shekels of silver.” Compared to Law 213, “If a man is to hit a slave girl and cause her to lose her child, the man is to pay two shekels of silver.” This is unjust because it changes punishment based on social rank so that free people are worth five times that of people who are slaves.
Hammurabi’s Code is also unjust for society itself. In Law 23, ”If a robber is not caught, the man who has been robbed shall formally declare whatever he has lost before the gods, and the city and the mayor in whose territory or district the robbery has been committed shall replace for him what has been lost.”
If man has one hundred shekels of silver stolen from him and formally declares this before the gods. Everyone in the city must pay for his loss. Because of the robber, everyone has to lose something. If a robber steals an amulet and sells it to someone who is unknowing of the crime, and they are caught, both the thief and the buyer of the stolen property are put to death. That is why these laws and the Code are unjust.
Based off these three aspects, the victim, the accused, and society, Hammurabi’s Code and laws are unjust. Hammurabi failed to recognize the value of human life. If one man is to kill another, the man pays a sum to the family. If a thief is to steal some money from a home he is sentenced to death. The first man killed a human being. You cannot replace life. This is why Hammurabi’s laws were unjust and cruel to the victims, the accused, and society in the face of justice.