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Code of Hammurabi

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**1. Background of the Code of Hammurabi:**
– Babylonian legal text from 1755–1750 BC.
– Longest, best-organized, and best-preserved legal text from ancient Near East.
– Written by Hammurabi, the sixth king of Babylon.
– Inscribed on a 2.25m tall basalt stele.
– Rediscovered in 1901 at Susa, Iran, now housed in Louvre Museum.

**2. Hammurabi and His Rule:**
– Ruled the Amorite First Dynasty of Babylon from 1792 to 1750 BC.
– Achieved Babylonian dominance through military prowess, diplomacy, and treachery.
– Commissioned extensive construction works and portrayed himself as his peoples’ shepherd.
– Emphasized justice, reflected in the prologue and epilogue of the Code.

**3. Earlier Mesopotamian Law Collections:**
– Hammurabi’s Code was not the first written Mesopotamian law collection.
– Several earlier collections exist, such as the Code of Ur-Nammu, Code of Lipit-Ishtar, and Laws of Eshnunna.
– Mesopotamia has a comprehensive legal corpus predating the Digest of Justinian.

**4. Copies and Scholarship on the Code of Hammurabi:**
– Original stele in Louvre Museum with about 4,130 lines of cuneiform text.
– Fragments of second and possibly third stele found at Susa.
– Over fifty manuscripts containing the laws are known.
– Rediscovered and published by Father Jean-Vincent Scheil in 1902.
– Initial belief as the earliest Mesopotamian law collection challenged by earlier discoveries.

**5. Legal Areas Covered in the Code of Hammurabi:**
– Covers various legal areas like false charges, false testimony, property offenses, offenses against the administration of law, land and houses, commerce, and assault.
– Specific provisions and examples included in the text.
– Aims to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak through laws promoting justice and fairness.

Code of Hammurabi (Wikipedia)

The Code of Hammurabi is a Babylonian legal text composed during 1755–1750 BC. It is the longest, best-organized, and best-preserved legal text from the ancient Near East. It is written in the Old Babylonian dialect of Akkadian, purportedly by Hammurabi, sixth king of the First Dynasty of Babylon. The primary copy of the text is inscribed on a basalt stele 2.25 m (7 ft 4+12 in) tall.

Code of Hammurabi
Photograph. The stele of the Code of Hammurabi in the Louvre Museum in Paris
The Louvre stele
Createdc. 1792–1750 BC (middle chronology)
Author(s)King Hammurabi of Babylon
Media typeBasalt stele
SubjectLaw, justice
PurposeDebated: legislation, law report, or jurisprudence
Full text
Code of Hammurabi at Wikisource

The stele was rediscovered in 1901 at the site of Susa in present-day Iran, where it had been taken as plunder six hundred years after its creation. The text itself was copied and studied by Mesopotamian scribes for over a millennium. The stele now resides in the Louvre Museum.

The top of the stele features an image in relief of Hammurabi with Shamash, the Babylonian sun god and god of justice. Below the relief are about 4,130 lines of cuneiform text: one fifth contains a prologue and epilogue in poetic style, while the remaining four fifths contain what are generally called the laws. In the prologue, Hammurabi claims to have been granted his rule by the gods "to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak". The laws are casuistic, expressed as "if ... then" conditional sentences. Their scope is broad, including, for example, criminal law, family law, property law, and commercial law.

Modern scholars responded to the Code with admiration at its perceived fairness and respect for the rule of law, and at the complexity of Old Babylonian society. There was also much discussion of its influence on the Mosaic Law. Scholars quickly identified lex talionis—the "eye for an eye" principle—underlying the two collections. Debate among Assyriologists has since centred around several aspects of the Code: its purpose, its underlying principles, its language, and its relation to earlier and later law collections.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding these issues, Hammurabi is regarded outside Assyriology as an important figure in the history of law and the document as a true legal code. The U.S. Capitol has a relief portrait of Hammurabi alongside those of other historic lawgivers. There are replicas of the stele in numerous institutions, including the headquarters of the United Nations in New York City and the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

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