Code of Hammurabi (Codex
Hammurabi) is a well-preserved ancient law code, created ca. 1790 BC (middle chronology) in ancient Babylon.
An image of the Code of
was enacted by the sixth Babylonian king, Hammurabi
. One nearly complete example of the Code
survives today, inscribed on a seven foot, four inch tall basalt stele
in the Akkadian language
in the cuneiform script
containing the Code of Hammurabi was
discovered in 1901 by the Egyptologist Gustav Jéquier
, a member of the
expedition headed by Jacques de
. The stele was discovered in what is now
Khūzestān, Iran (ancient
Susa, Elam), where it
had been taken as plunder by the Elamite king Shutruk-Nahhunte in the 12th century
BC. It is currently on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.
Hammurabi (ruled ca. 1796 BC – 1750 BC) decreed that he was chosen
by the gods to deliver the law to his people. In the preface to the
law code, he states, "Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi,
the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of
righteousness in the land."
The Code of Hammurabi was one of several sets of laws in the
Ancient Near East
.Earlier collections of
laws include the Code of Ur-Nammu,
king of Ur (ca. 2050 BC), the Laws
of Eshnunna (ca. 1930 BC) and the codex of Lipit-Ishtar of Isin (ca. 1870
BC), while later ones include the Hittite
laws, the Assyrian laws, and
These codes come
from similar cultures in a relatively small geographical area, and
they have passages which resemble each other.
View of the back side of the
The code is often pointed to be a primary example of even a king
not being able to change fundamental laws
concerning the governing of a country which was the primitive form
of what is now known as a constitution
and their neighbors
developed the earliest system of economics
that was fixed in a legal code, using a metric
of various commodities
. The early law codes from Sumer
could be considered the first (written) economic
formula, and have many attributes still in use in the current
today, such as codified
amounts of money
for business deals (interest
rates), fines in money for wrongdoing, inheritance rules and laws
concerning how private property is to be taxed or divided.
Here are eleven example laws, in their entirety, of the Code of
, translated into English:
- If a man kills another man's son his son shall be cut off.
- If anyone ensnares another, putting a ban upon him, but he can
not prove it, then he that ensnared him shall be put to death.
- If anyone brings an accusation against a man, and the accused
goes to the river and leaps into the river, if he sinks in the
river his accuser shall take possession of his house. But if the
river proves that the accused is not guilty, and he escapes unhurt,
then he who had brought the accusation shall be put to death, while
he who leaped into the river shall take possession of the house
that had belonged to his accuser.
- If anyone brings an accusation of any crime before the elders,
and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if a capital
offense is charged, be put to death.
- If a builder builds a house for someone, and does not construct
it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its
owner, then the builder shall be put to death.(Another variant of
this is, If the owner's son dies, then the builder's son shall be
put to death.)
- If a son slaps his father, his hand shall be cut off.
- If a man give his child to a nurse and the child dies in her
hands, but the nurse unbeknown to the father and mother nurses
another child, then they shall convict her of having nursed another
child without the knowledge of the father and mother and her
breasts shall be cut off.
- If anyone steals the minor son of another, he shall be put to
- If a man takes a woman to wife, but has no intercourse with
her, this woman is no wife to him.
- If a man strikes a pregnant woman, thereby causing her to
miscarry and die, the assailant's daughter shall be put to
- If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put
There are 282 such laws in the Code of Hammurabi, each usually no
more than a sentence or two. The 282 laws are bracketed by a
Prologue in which Hammurabi introduces himself, and an Epilogue in
which he affirms his authority and sets forth his hopes and prayers
for his code of laws.
Various copies of portions of the Code of Hammurabi have been found
on baked clay tablets, some possibly older than the celebrated
basalt stele now in the Louvre. The Prologue of the Code of
Hammurabi (the first 305 inscripted squares on the stele) is on
such a tablet, also at the Louvre (Inv #AO 10237). Some gaps in the
list of benefits bestowed on cities recently annexed by Hammurabi
may imply that it is older than the famous stele (it is currently
dated to the early 18th century BC). Likewise, the Museum of the Ancient Orient,
part of the Istanbul Archaeology Museums, also has a "Code of Hammurabi" clay tablet, dated
to 1750 BC., in (Room 5, Inv # Ni 2358).
- Falkenstein, A. (1956–57).
Die neusumerischen Gerichtsurkunden I–III.
- Elsen-Novák, G. / Novák, M.:
Der 'König der Gerechtigkeit'. Zur Ikonologie und
Teleologie des 'Codex' Hammurapi. In: Baghdader Mitteilungen
37 (2006), pp. 131-156.
Oppert and Joachim Menant (1877).
Documents juridiques de l'Assyrie et de la Chaldee.
- Thomas, D. Winton, ed. (1958).
Documents from Old Testament Times. London and New