The Babylonian Empire was part of a dynasty controlled by the Semitic Amorites. Babylonia, under the rule of the Semitic Amorites, controlled Mesopotamia for nearly three hundred years. Hammurabi, one of the greatest kings of Babylonia, came to power stretching Babylonia’s borders to the north, east, and south. Shortly after becoming king (1792-1750 B. C. E. ), Hammurabi created a code of two hundred and eighty two laws based on the saying, “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”. These laws were displayed in a public place so that the Babylonians had the opportunity to study them.
The Code of Hammurabi not only consists of a wide variety of topics, but also uncovers the problems and values of Babylonian society and social structure. While creating his code, Hammurabi had a purpose in mind. Hammurabi’s intention for his code as stated was, “in order to prevent the powerful from oppressing the weak, in order to give justice to the orphans and widows, in order to give my land fair decisions and to give rights to the oppressed… ” To society this meant that Hammurabi was doing everything in his power to protect the people of his empire. In many ways Hammurabi did protect his people.
For example, Hammurabi’s code reduced interest rates and prices, limited slavery for debt to three years, and provided care for widows and orphans. The Code also covered topics such as, “property disputes, adultery, slavery, prostitution, inheritance, and public order. ” By setting this law code into place, judges received guidance in fulfilling their duties and determining punishments. The laws in Hammurabi’s Code were not all necessarily new ideas and were not practiced uniformly across Babylonia. Several of the laws in Hammurabi’s code were taken from Sumerian codes dating 1400 years before Hammurabi.
However, unlike Sumerian law, Hammurabi’s Code forced severe punishments on the people of the Babylonian Empire. A number of these punishments involved death and mutilation. An example of the mutilation that was administered can be seen in regulation 218, “If a physician make a deep incision upon a man with his bronze lancet and cause the man’s death, or operate on the eye socket of a man with his bronze lancet and destroy the man’s eye, they shall cut off his hand. ” In this regulation the physician will be mutilated by the removal of his hand. Hammurabi’s Code was also not applied uniformly across the empire.
The upper class suffered less severe punishments than the lower class and slaves. For example, regulations 200 and 201 state that if a man of the same rank knocks out the tooth of another man his tooth shall too be knocked out, but if a man of higher rank knocks out the tooth of a common man, he shall only pay expenses rather than having his tooth knocked out. The fact that the lower class received more extreme punishments than the upper class is shown in this example, and in today’s society this would not be considered just. Many of the regulations in Hammurabi’s Code were intriguing.
One interesting regulation is 210 which follows 209. 209 states, “If a man strike the daughter of a man and bring about a miscarriage, he shall pay ten shekels of silver for her miscarriage. ” 210 states, “If that woman dies, they shall put his daughter to death. ” This is interesting because the daughter that shall be put to death in regulation 210 did not commit any crime. The crime in this regulation was committed by the man. This regulation may have been put in place to achieve the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” mentality that punishments of the Code are based on.
Along with these points, this regulation creates the idea that women were nothing more than the property of men. In today’s society women are not considered property, and this would never be considered a just punishment. Another intriguing regulation in Hammurabi’s code is 226, “If a barber without (the consent of) the owner of the slave cut the hair of the forehand of a slave (making him) unrecognizable, they shall cut off the hand of the barber. ” In Hammurabi’s time, this regulation may have gone under the category of property disputes.
Slaves generally are considered property and by altering another man’s property without his consent can result in punishment. This regulation can also contribute to the fact that a barber may have been a common citizen and common citizens receive more extreme punishments than upper class, therefore the barber’s hand was cut off. Furthermore, it demonstrates the Babylonian’s harsh administration of punishment through mutilation. A third regulation that has a sense of captivation about it is 199, “If he destroy the eye of a man’s slave or break a bone of a man’s slave, he shall pay one-half his price. This portrays the social classes in Hammurabi’s time. Slaves were of less value than common people, and common people were of less value than upper class. This regulation was meant to achieve the fact that since a slave of lower class was harmed the punishment for doing something to him would be less harsh than harming a common or upper class person. As one can infer through Hammurabi’s code the concepts of women as property, slaves being property, and the lower classes being less valuable were important parts of the Babylonian society.
There are a number of things that can be concluded about Babylonian society and social structure through Hammurabi’s code. First off, it can be said that Babylonia had a class system. This class system included the upper class, the common people, and the slaves. The punishments that Hammurabi’s code put upon Babylonian society became harsher making their way down the class system. Along with having a class system, the women and children of Babylonia belonged to the men. Women could not defend themselves against charges from their husbands, and children were always under the control of their fathers.
Babylonian society also believed women belonged in the home. It was a women’s job to care for the home, and if she did not fulfill this duty her husband could divorce her without alimony. The husband could also make the wife a servant for his new wife and family. Women in Babylonia were called to marry and raise a family. Babylonian society not only had a class system, but thought of women and children as the property of men. As you can see today, this concept would never be acceptable, due to the fact that there are many independent women and children in society.
Problems and values of Babylonian society can be pulled from Hammurabi’s code. Some of the main problems of this society which one can infer through reading the Code are that women did not have much of a say, and lower classes were punished more severely than the higher classes. The Babylonian society valued property, protection, and honesty. Men were always in control and as seen throughout the code considered women, slaves, and children their property. Protection can be considered a value of the people of Babylonia because they relied on Hammurabi and his law code to protect them from crime and other issues.
The need to be honest is also shown in the regulations by not being able to convict someone. In certain cases, if you accused someone without being able to convict them you may be put to death. The concept of retaliation can be considered a problem of Babylonian society, but to an extent also a value. Today the concept of retaliation in Babylonian would be considered a problem because if a man knocked out another man’s tooth it would not be considered right to in return knock that man’s tooth out as well.
However, retaliation can be viewed as a value for the people of Babylonia at the time of Hammurabi’s Code because it is their form of punishment. If someone does something to them they wanted to retaliate. Hammurabi was looking to better Babylonian society when he made his law code. The punishments of the Code tended to be harsh for today’s standards, resulting in death, mutilation, or retaliation as in the saying “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. ” Hammurabi’s code portrayed the class system of Babylonia, along with the problems and values of Babylonian society.
In the words of Hammurabi as carved on the stone, “Let any oppressed man who has a cause come into the presence of my statue as king of justice, and have the inscription on my stele read out, and hear my precious words, that my stele may make the case clear to him; may he understand his cause, and may his heart be set at ease! ” For better or for worse in the case of lower class, Hammurabi’s Code was put into place and stayed throughout the many years of his reign.
Courtney from Study Moose
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