Although Hammurabi’s “eye for an eye” law code applied to all members of his society, the greatest amount of equity was reserved for the wealthier patriarchal members of his society. His set of laws was the world’s first code of law, which established Babylon as the dominant city of its time. His code was based on principals, such as the weak should not injure the strong, and that the punishment should fit the crime. By creating the world’s first set of organized laws, Hammurabi constituted a model set of moral codes for other civilizations to duplicate.
Like most systems of law, Hammurabi’s style of justice could be divided into a system of classes based on wealth, social status, and gender. For example, if a prosperous member of society was to destroy the eye of a common man, only a mina of silver would be required of the violator. However, if this very same man destroyed the eye of a member of the aristocracy, his eye shall also be destroyed. The punishment of a crime not only depended on the social status of those who committed offenses, but also on the social status of the injured party.
A woman could file for divorce under the Code of Hammurabi, but would have to risk the chance of death if she was found at fault. If the husband had belittled her, coercing the reason for divorce, both would virtually be found as “innocent”, meaning no punishment would have taken place. On the other hand, if the woman had belittled her husband, she would be put to death by the process of drowning. Wealthy men were on top of the “social pyramid”, meaning they received punishments to a lesser degree. In addition, performing a crime on these “higher” people would result in a chastisement far greater in severity. Additionally, the complete antithesis would be true for those on the lower end on the social pyramid.
In addition to the laws concerning the classes formed by social status, the government, along with other particular members of society, followed an assumed level of responsibility under Hammurabi’s system of law and justice. To illustrate, if a salesman had not produced a profit on items received from a merchant, he would be forced to replay twice the amount. In addition, all witnesses during capital trials were expected to bear only the truth. Anything other than that would result in that witnesses’ own death. Both of those examples are “victimless crimes.” No outside human had been harmed physically during these prohibited dealings, but the felons of each were assigned a retribution based solely on the action itself.
Also, with every loss of life, the deceased’s family or relatives would receive a measurement of silver from the city or district governor. Hammurabi’s laws ensured that the members of his society would not be “bck-stabbed” by any other aspect of his society, creating a fair and stable environment for the most part. The members of Hammurabi’s society were expected to perform at an acceptable level in all aspects of life. Anything sub-par would usually generate an undesirable consequence.
While a system of social classes existed under Hammurabi’s system of justice, each family could also be divided up into a series of “districts”. The father figure, or eldest male was the head of each family, and any sort of disrespect towards him would fabricate a punishment upon the accused. For instance, if a son had struck his father, the son would literally lose both of his hands. Furthermore, the eldest man of each family had the reserved power to trade off a family member in order to pay off a debt to a creditor.
The newly-crowed slave had little or no input in this decision, and not until four years later would the hostage be set free under Hammurabi’s laws. In essence, the man of the house was like a king or emperor over his kinfolk. His wife, sons, and daughters were at his service at all times, which meant their faith would be determined not only by their own actions, but by his actions as well. In a male dominated society, respect for the higher authority was expected from all individuals, as the patriarchal members of each figure received more leniency and power from Hammurabi’s documented style of justice.
Under Hammurabi’s Code of Laws, all crimes resulted in severe punishments, often with very little tolerance, but the laws were not parallel between the different and contrasting social classes. Thus, inequality between the different classes existed at extreme limits. While there is no doubt Hammurabi’s style of justice was deeply biased towards the wealthier men of his empire, he did structure a type of society and justice that lasted much longer than his rule over Mesopotamia.