The Law Code of Hammurabi is a very ancient Babylonian law code of ancient Mesopotamia. It is one of the oldest law codes in the world and dates as far back as 1754 BC.

Hammurabi was the name of the sixth King of Babylon. He enacted this code during his reign and this code was named after him.

The code was discovered by archeologists in 1901 and the original inscriptions were in the Akkadian language. They were discovered on several clay tablets and a seven and half foot stone stele. The translated version was published a year later by Jean-Vincent Scheil. This code is of significant length as it consists of 282 laws that were used as standards for conduct and justice in ancient Mesopotamia.

The original manuscripts are being kept in Louvre while exact replicas are on display at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago and a number of other Universities and Museums.

Latest discoveries were made in July 2010 when archaeologists discovered a fragmentary Akkadian cuneiform tablet at Tel Hazor Israel. Reports indicated that it contained circa-1700 BC texts which were partly parallel to some portions of the original Hammurabi codes discovered in 1901.

What the Law Code of Hammurabi entails

The law code covers a whole lot of issues ranging from contract matters, household issues and criminal cases. Almost half of the code touches on issues such as wages to be paid to a surgeon, the liability of the contractor or builder when a structure collapses etc. Issues related to household and family relationships such as paternity, divorce and inheritance etc. constitute about a third of the code.

Its provisions provide the opportunity for both the accused and the accuser to provide proof or evidence of their accusation or innocence. It contained some forms of retributory laws, that is; “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”.

Unlike in modern day law and administration of justice, the code meted out justice in relation to social classes. In other words, all men were not equal under the law. But this is attributable to the fact that in ancient Babylon, there were three classes of people which were; property owners, freed men and slaves.

It had very severe punishments for those who disobeyed but these punishments were relative – depending on which social class the offender and the victim belonged to. Property owners were regarded as the highest class of people and enjoyed better rights than those of the other categories.

For example, if a doctor killed a wealthy patient, his hands would be cut off but if he killed a slave, he would only be required to make financial restitution.

Other severe punishments administered under this law code included:

  • Death for a robber who is caught in the act.
  • Death for anyone who takes the slave of the court or of a freeman out of the city gates.
  • Amputation for any man who strikes his own father [Has various interpretations]

The code appears not to have many provisions that implicate officials except one. This required that, if a judge is guilty of passing an incorrect judgment, he shall be fined and temporarily removed from office.