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Describe who Hammurabi was and explain the basic principle of justice in Hammurabi’s Code (“an eye for an eye”).


Focus Question: What were the basic principles of justice in Hammurabi's code?


Topics on the page include:
King Hammurabi
Hammurabi's Code
Principles of Justice
Women and the Law


external image Essener_Feder_01.png1) King Hammurabi


A stone statue depiction of King Hammurabi.
A stone statue depiction of King Hammurabi.

King Hammurabi was the sixth king of Babylon, ruling from 1792-1750 BCE. As a ruler, he oversaw a great expansion of his kingdom pushing Babylon from a city-state to the Babylonian Empire, which at the time of Hammurabi's death controlled all of Mesopotamia.
  • King Hammurabi is best known for creating one of the first set of written laws in recorded history. Older but less prominent and well-known written law dates back to circa 2100 BCE.

primary_sources.PNGSumerian Law Code: The Code of Lipit-Ishtar (1868 BCE) predates Hammurabi by a century.
  • This source also has the text of many of Hammurabi's codes

"Hammurabi’s Code," is a series of judgments and rules for the Babylonian Empire inscribed on a large diorite pillar.
  • A short history on the Babylonian Empire and Hammurabi's heritage.

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This map shows the Babylonian kingdom during King Hammurabi's rule. The empire was located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, and today would be a part of modern day Iraq.


primary_sources.PNGA link to a 1904 book discussing Hammurabi and his Code: Hammurabi

2) Hammurabi’s Code and “An Eye for an Eye”

“An eye for an eye” is the idea that a punishment should be equal to the crime committed. The code did not apply equally to all people. The harshness of the punishment depended on the societal importance of the victim and the lawbreaker . The higher the class of the victim, the greater the penalty was.

primary_sources.PNG Hammurabi’s Code contained 282 laws organized in different categories, including trade, labor, property, and family. The code had laws for adopting children, practicing medicine, hiring wagons or boats, and dangerous animals. The code essentially governed the people of Babylonia, and helped settle conflicts in all areas of life, and therefore is an important reflection to Babylonian Society.

Some background on the discovery of the Code in in the 19th-century, and Hammurabi's reign.
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The Code of Hammurabi can be found in The Louvre in Paris, France.

Multimedia.pngThe Code of Hammurabi as it appears in The Louvre
The most complete surviving form of Hammurabi's Code can be found in the Louvre. The Code is inscribed in the Akkadian language on a diorite stele approximately 7.5 feet tall and is carved using cuneiform script.

See also the video Law Code Stele of King Hammurabi from the Khan Academy. Click here for the accompanying quiz.

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Chess_piece_-_White_rook.JPGA strategy game of resource-allocation, to better understand the basic ideas behind a code of law.

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  • Assignment: After the students have researched Hammurabi's Code have them debate whether they were fair or not.
  • Assignment: Ask students to make a list of rules and codes for the classroom based off of Hammurabi's Code.

8 Things You May Not Know about Hammurabi's Code from the History Channel.

3) Principles of Justice


A person who accidentally broke a law was just as guilty as someone who meant to break the law. People who could not always control the outcome of their work, such as doctors, had to be very careful. “ If a surgeon performed a major operation on a citizen with a bronze lancet and has caused the death of this citizen… his hand shall be cut off.”

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Rotating_globe-small.gifCriminal Justice Fact Sheet for the United States from the NAACP (2017)
  • African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites


Female_Rose.png4) Women and the Law

Women in Babylonia, on the website, womenintheancientworld.com, offers some perspective on the lives of women under Hammurabi's Code.

What Was the Legal and Social Status of Women? from Before Islam: Mesopotamia, Teaching the Middle East, University of Chicago

See also analysis that the code established gender control of men over women through the ways that different punishments were assigned for the same offenses. as well as how punishments were assigned to individuals from different social classes.

Multimedia.pngFour Facts About Ancient Women of Mesopotamia on YouTube