The Code of
Hammurabi is a well-preserved Babylonian code of law of
ancient Mesopotamia, dated back to about 1754 BC (Middle Chronology).
It is one of the oldest deciphered writings of significant length in
the world. The sixth Babylonian king, Hammurabi, enacted the code, and
partial copies exist on a 2.25 metre (7.5 ft) stone stele and consists
of 282 laws, with scaled punishments, adjusting "an eye for an eye, a
tooth for a tooth" (lex talionis) as graded depending on social
status, of slave versus free man or woman.
Nearly half of the code deals with matters of contract, establishing,
for example, the wages to be paid to an ox driver or a surgeon. Other
provisions set the terms of a transaction, establishing the liability
of a builder for a house that collapses, for example, or property that
is damaged while left in the care of another. A third of the code
addresses issues concerning household and family relationships such as
inheritance, divorce, paternity, and sexual behavior. Only one
provision appears to impose obligations on an official; this provision
establishes that a judge who reaches an incorrect decision is to be
fined and removed from the bench permanently. A few provisions
address issues related to military service.
The code was discovered by modern archaeologists in 1901, and its
editio princeps translation published in 1902 by Jean-Vincent Scheil.
This nearly complete example of the code is carved into a basalt stele
in the shape of a huge index finger, 2.25 m (7.4 ft)
tall. The code is inscribed in the Akkadian language, using cuneiform
script carved into the stele. It is currently on display in the
Louvre, with replicas in numerous institutions, including the Oriental
Institute at the University of Chicago, the Clendening History of
Medicine Library & Museum at the University of Kansas Medical
Center, the library of the Theological University of the Reformed
Churches in the Netherlands, the
Pergamon Museum of Berlin, the Arts
Faculty of the University of Leuven in Belgium, the National Museum of
Iran in Tehran, and the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of
Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, the University Museum at the
University of Pennsylvania, and Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC.
2 Laws of Hammurabi's Code
3 Other copies
4 Laws covered
5 See also
7 External links
Code on clay tablets
Code on basalt stele
Two versions of the Code at the Louvre
Hammurabi ruled for nearly 42 years, from about 1792 to 1749 BC
according to the Middle chronology. In the preface to the law, he
Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince,
who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land,
to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should
not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people
like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of
mankind." On the stone slab are 44 columns and 28 paragraphs that
contained 282 laws. Some of these laws follow along the rules of "an
eye for an eye".
It had been taken as plunder by the Elamite king
the 12th century BC and was taken to
Elam (located in the
Khuzestan Province of Iran) where it was no longer
available to the Babylonian people. However, when Cyrus the Great
brought both Babylon and
Susa under the rule of his Persian Empire,
and placed copies of the document in the Library of Sippar, the text
became available for all the peoples of the vast Persian Empire to
In 1901, Egyptologist Gustave Jéquier, a member of an expedition
headed by Jacques de Morgan, found the stele containing the Code of
Hammurabi during archaeological excavations at the ancient site of
Susa in Khuzestan.
Laws of Hammurabi's Code
Main article: Babylonian law
The Code of
Hammurabi was one of the only sets of laws in the ancient
Near East and also one of the first forms of law. The code of laws
was arranged in orderly groups, so that all who read the laws would
know what was required of them. Earlier collections of laws
include the Code of Ur-Nammu, king of Ur (c. 2050 BC), the Laws of
Eshnunna (c. 1930 BC) and the codex of
Isin (c. 1870
BC), while later ones include the Hittite laws, the Assyrian laws, and
Mosaic Law. These codes come from similar cultures in a relatively
small geographical area, and they have passages which resemble each
Figures at top of stele "fingernail" above Hammurabi's code of laws
The Code of
Hammurabi is the longest surviving text from the Old
Babylonian period. The code has been seen as an early example of a
fundamental law, regulating a government — i.e., a primitive
constitution. The code is also one of the earliest examples of
the idea of presumption of innocence, and it also suggests that both
the accused and accuser have the opportunity to provide evidence.
The occasional nature of many provisions suggests that the code may be
better understood as a codification of Hammurabi's supplementary
judicial decisions, and that, by memorializing his wisdom and justice,
its purpose may have been the self-glorification of
than a modern legal code or constitution. However, its copying in
subsequent generations indicates that it was used as a model of legal
and judicial reasoning.
While the Code of
Hammurabi was trying to achieve equality, biases
still existed towards those categorized in the lower end of the social
spectrum and some of the punishments and justice could be gruesome.
The magnitude of criminal penalties often was based on the identity
and gender of both the person committing the crime and the victim. The
Code issues justice following the three classes of Babylonian society:
property owners, freed men, and slaves. Punishments for someone
assaulting someone from a lower class were far lighter than if they
had assaulted someone of equal or higher status. For example, if a
doctor killed a rich patient, he would have his hands cut off, but if
he killed a slave, only financial restitution was required. Women
could also receive punishments that their male counterparts would not,
as men were permitted to have affairs with their servants and slaves,
whereas married women would be harshly punished for committing
Hammurabi stele at American Museum of Natural History, New York, 2012
A version of the code at the Istanbul Archaeological Museums
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
first 305 inscribed squares on the stele) is on such a tablet, also at
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 (currently dated to the early 18th century
BC). Likewise, the Museum of the Ancient Orient, part of the
Archaeology Museums, also has a "Code of Hammurabi" clay
tablet, dated to 1750 BC, in (Room 5, Inv # Ni 2358).
In July 2010, archaeologists reported that a fragmentary Akkadian
cuneiform tablet was discovered at Tel Hazor, Israel, containing a c.
1700 BC text that was said to be partly parallel to portions of the
Hammurabi code. The Hazor law code fragments are currently being
prepared for publication by a team from the Hebrew University of
Stele of King Hammurabi, 1792-1750 BC, Smarthistory
The laws covered such subjects as:
Ex. Law #127: "If any one "point the finger" at a sister of a god or
the wife of any one, and can not prove it, this man shall be taken
before the judges and his brow shall be marked (by cutting the skin,
or perhaps hair)."
Ex. Law #265: "If a herdsman, to whose care cattle or sheep have been
entrusted, be guilty of fraud and make false returns of the natural
increase, or sell them for money, then shall he be convicted and pay
the owner ten times the loss."
Slavery and status of slaves as property
Ex. Law #15: "If any one take a male or female slave of the court, or
a male or female slave of a freed man, outside the city gates, he
shall be put to death."
The duties of workers
Ex. Law #42: "If any one take over a field to till it, and obtain no
harvest therefrom, it must be proved that he did no work on the field,
and he must deliver grain, just as his neighbor raised, to the owner
of the field."
Ex. Law #22: "If any one is committing a robbery and is caught, then
he shall be put to death."
Ex. Law #104: "If a merchant give an agent corn, wool, oil, or any
other goods to transport, the agent shall give a receipt for the
amount, and compensate the merchant therefor. Then he shall obtain a
receipt from the merchant for the money that he gives the
Ex. Law #53: "If any one be too lazy to keep his dam in proper
condition, and does not so keep it; if then the dam break and all the
fields be flooded, then shall he in whose dam the break occurred be
sold for money, and the money shall replace the corn which he has
caused to be ruined."
Ex. Law #142: "If a woman quarrel with her husband, and say: "You are
not congenial to me," the reasons for her prejudice must be presented.
If she is guiltless, and there is no fault on her part, but he leaves
and neglects her, then no guilt attaches to this woman, she shall take
her dowry and go back to her father's house."
One of the best known laws from Hammurabi's code was:
Ex. Law #196: "If a man destroy the eye of another man, they shall
destroy his eye. If one break a man's bone, they shall break his bone.
If one destroy the eye of a freeman or break the bone of a freeman he
shall pay one gold mina. If one destroy the eye of a man's slave or
break a bone of a man's slave he shall pay one-half his price."
Hammurabi had many other punishments, as well. If a son strikes his
father, his hands shall be hewn off. Translations vary.
Ancient Near East
Ancient Near East portal
Code of the Assura
Code of Ur-Nammu
Code of Ur-Nammu – the oldest known tablet containing a law code
surviving today, it predates the Code of
Hammurabi by some 300 years
List of ancient legal codes
Quid pro quo
Urukagina – Sumerian king and creator of what is sometimes cited as
the first example of a legal code in recorded history
^ Prince, J. Dyneley (July 1904). "Review: The Code of Hammurabi". The
American Journal of Theology. The University of Chicago Press. 8 (3):
601–609. JSTOR 3153895.
^ Gabriele Bartz, Eberhard König, (Arts and Architecture), Könemann,
Köln, (2005), ISBN 3-8331-1943-8. The laws were based with
scaled punishments, adjusting "an eye for an eye" depending on social
^ Code of
Hammurabi Archived 21 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
at commonlaw.com Code of Hammarubi at Commonlaw, 22 May 2017
Evidence for Some Mesopotamian Cult Statues, Dominique
Collon, Die Welt der Götterbilder, Edited by Groneberg, Brigitte;
Spieckermann, Hermann;, and Weiershäuser, Frauke, Berlin, New York
(Walter de Gruyter) 2007 Pages 57–84
^ Edited by Richard Hooker; Translated by L.W King (1996).
"Mesopotamia: The Code of Hammurabi". Washington State University.
Archived from the original on 9 September 2007. Retrieved 14 September
2007. CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
^ "Hammurabi's Code" "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 1
November 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-11. , Think Quest, retrieved on
2 Nov 2011.
^ Marc Van De Mieroop: A History of the Ancient Near East, second
^ Cultures in Contact: From
Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean in the
Second Millennium B.C. Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2013. Retrieved
November 1, 2015.
^ L. W. King (2005). "The Code of Hammurabi: Translated by L. W.
King". Yale University. Archived from the original on 16 September
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^ "The Code of Hammurabi: Introduction," , Ancient History
Sourcebook, March 1998, retrieved on 2 November 2011.
^ Barton, G.A:
Archaeology and the Bible. University of Michigan
Library, 2009, (originally published in 1916 by American Sunday-School
^ Barton 2009, p.406. Barton, a scientist of Semitic languages at the
University of Pennsylvania from 1922 to 1931, stated that while there
are similarities between the
Mosaic Law and the Code of Hammurabi, a
study of the entirety of both laws "convinces the student that the
laws of the Old Testament are in no essential way dependent upon the
Babylonian laws." He states that "such resemblances" arose from "a
similarity of antecedents and of general intellectual outlook" between
the two cultures, but that "the striking differences show that there
was no direct borrowing."
^ "The Code of Hammurabi," , The History Guide, 3 August 2009,
Retrieved on 2 November 2011.
^ What is a Constitution? William David Thomas, Gareth Stevens (2008)
^ Flach, Jacques. Le Code de Hammourabi et la constitution originaire
de la propriete dans l'ancienne Chaldee. (Revue historique. Paris,
1907. 8. v. 94, p. 272-289.
^ Victimology: Theories and Applications, Ann Wolbert Burgess, Albert
R. Roberts, Cheryl Regehr, Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2009, p. 103
^ For this alternative interpretation see Jean Bottéro, "The 'Code'
of Hammurabi" in Mesopotamia: Writing, Reasoning and the Gods
(University of Chicago, 1992), pp. 156–184.
^ a b "8 Things You May Not Know About Hammurabi's Code". HISTORY.com.
^ "What was Babylon? - History Extra". History Extra.
^ Fant, Clyde E. and Mitchell G. Reddish (2008), Lost Treasures of the
Bible: Understanding the Bible Through Archaeological Artifacts in
World Museums, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., pg 62.
^ Freely, John, Blue Guide Istanbul (5th ed., 2000), London: A&C
Black, New York: WW Norton, pg 121. ("The most historic of the
inscriptions here [i.e., Room 5, Museum of the Ancient Orient,
Istanbul] is the famous Code of
Hammurabi (#Ni 2358) dated 1750 BCE,
the world's oldest recorded set of laws.")
^ Museum of the Ancient Orient website Archived 3 May 2012 at the
Wayback Machine. ("This museum contains a rich collection of ancient
... archaeological finds, including ... seals from Nippur and a copy
of the Code of Hammurabi.")
^ "Code of
Hammurabi Tablet Found - Inside
Israel - News - Arutz
Sheva". Arutz Sheva.
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