Hammurabi[a] (c. 1810 BC – c. 1750 BC) was the sixth king
of the First Babylonian Dynasty, reigning from 1792 BC to 1750 BC
(according to the Middle Chronology). He was preceded by his father,
Sin-Muballit, who abdicated due to failing health. During his reign,
he conquered the city-states of Elam, Larsa, Eshnunna, and Mari. He
Ishme-Dagan I, the king of Assyria, and forced his son
Mut-Ashkur to pay tribute, thereby bringing almost all of Mesopotamia
under Babylonian rule.
Hammurabi is best known for having issued the Code of Hammurabi, which
he claimed to have received from Shamash, the Babylonian god of
justice. Unlike earlier Sumerian law codes, such as the Code of
Ur-Nammu, which had focused on compensating the victim of the crime,
the Law of
Hammurabi was one of the first law codes to place greater
emphasis on the physical punishment of the perpetrator. It proscribed
specific penalties for each crime and is among the first codes to
establish the presumption of innocence. Although its penalties are
extremely harsh by modern standards, they were intended to limit what
a wronged person was permitted to do in retribution. The Code of
Hammurabi and the
Law of Moses
Law of Moses in the
Torah contain numerous
similarities, but these are probably due to shared background and oral
tradition, and it is unlikely that Hammurabi's laws exerted any direct
impact on the later Mosaic ones.
Hammurabi was seen by many as a god within his own lifetime. After his
Hammurabi was revered as a great conqueror who spread
civilization and forced all peoples to pay obeisance to Marduk, the
national god of the Babylonians. Later, his military accomplishments
became de-emphasized and his role as the ideal lawgiver became the
primary aspect of his legacy. For later Mesopotamians, Hammurabi's
reign became the frame of reference for all events occurring in the
distant past. Even after the empire he built collapsed, he was still
revered as a model ruler, and many kings across the Near East claimed
him as an ancestor.
Hammurabi was rediscovered by archaeologists in
the late nineteenth century and has since become seen as an important
figure in the history of law.
1 Reign and conquests
2 Code of laws
2.1 Example laws in Hammurabi's code
3.1 Commemoration after his death
3.2 Political legacy
3.3 Modern rediscovery
4 See also
5 Further reading
8 External links
Reign and conquests
Map showing the Babylonian territory upon Hammurabi's ascension in
c. 1792 BC and upon his death in c. 1750 BC
Hammurabi was an
Amorite First Dynasty king of the city-state of
Babylon, and inherited the power from his father, Sin-Muballit, in
c. 1792 BC. Babylon was one of the many largely
city-states that dotted the central and southern Mesopotamian plains
and waged war on each other for control of fertile agricultural
land. Though many cultures co-existed in Mesopotamia, Babylonian
culture gained a degree of prominence among the literate classes
Middle East under Hammurabi. The kings who came
Hammurabi had founded a relatively minor City State in 1894 BC
which controlled little territory outside of the city itself. Babylon
was overshadowed by older, larger and more powerful kingdoms such as
Elam, Assyria, Isin,
Larsa for a century or so after its
founding. However his father
Sin-Muballit had begun to consolidate
rule of a small area of south central
Mesopotamia under Babylonian
hegemony and, by the time of his reign, had conquered the minor
city-states of Borsippa, Kish, and Sippar.
Hammurabi ascended to the throne as the king of a minor kingdom
in the midst of a complex geopolitical situation. The powerful kingdom
Eshnunna controlled the upper Tigris River while
the river delta. To the east of
Mesopotamia lay the powerful kingdom
Elam which regularly invaded and forced tribute upon the small
states of southern Mesopotamia. In northern Mesopotamia, the Assyrian
king Shamshi-Adad I, who had already inherited centuries old Assyrian
colonies in Asia Minor, had expanded his territory into the
central Mesopotamia, although his untimely death would somewhat
fragment his empire.
The first few decades of Hammurabi's reign were quite peaceful.
Hammurabi used his power to undertake a series of public works,
including heightening the city walls for defensive purposes, and
expanding the temples. In c. 1801 BC, the powerful kingdom of
Elam, which straddled important trade routes across the Zagros
Mountains, invaded the Mesopotamian plain. With allies among the
Elam attacked and destroyed the kingdom of Eshnunna,
destroying a number of cities and imposing its rule on portions of the
plain for the first time.
Detail of a limestone votive monument from Sippar, Iraq, dating to
c. 1792 – c. 1750 BC showing King
Hammurabi raising his
right arm in worship, now held in the British Museum
This bust, known as the "Head of Hammurabi", is now thought to predate
Hammurabi by a few hundred years (Louvre)
In order to consolidate its position,
Elam tried to start a war
between Hammurabi's Babylonian kingdom and the kingdom of Larsa.
Hammurabi and the king of
Larsa made an alliance when they discovered
this duplicity and were able to crush the Elamites, although
not contribute greatly to the military effort. Angered by Larsa's
failure to come to his aid,
Hammurabi turned on that southern power,
thus gaining control of the entirety of the lower Mesopotamian plain
by c. 1763 BC.
Hammurabi was assisted during the war in the south by his allies
from the north such as
Yamhad and Mari, the absence of soldiers in the
north led to unrest. Continuing his expansion,
his attention northward, quelling the unrest and soon after crushing
Eshnunna. Next the Babylonian armies conquered the remaining
northern states, including Babylon's former ally Mari, although it is
possible that the conquest of Mari was a surrender without any actual
Hammurabi entered into a protracted war with
Ishme-Dagan I of Assyria
for control of Mesopotamia, with both kings making alliances with
minor states in order to gain the upper hand. Eventually Hammurabi
Ishme-Dagan I just before his own death.
Mut-Ashkur, the new king of Assyria, was forced to pay tribute to
In just a few years,
Hammurabi succeeded in uniting all of Mesopotamia
under his rule. The Assyrian kingdom survived but was forced to
pay tribute during his reign, and of the major city-states in the
region, only Aleppo and
Qatna to the west in the
their independence. However, one stele of
Hammurabi has been found
as far north as Diyarbekir, where he claims the title "King of the
Vast numbers of contract tablets, dated to the reigns of
his successors, have been discovered, as well as 55 of his own
letters. These letters give a glimpse into the daily trials of
ruling an empire, from dealing with floods and mandating changes to a
flawed calendar, to taking care of Babylon's massive herds of
Hammurabi died and passed the reins of the empire on to
Samsu-iluna in c. 1750 BC, under whose rule the Babylonian
empire began to quickly unravel.
Code of laws
Main article: Code of Hammurabi
Code of Hammurabi
Code of Hammurabi stele.
Louvre Museum, Paris
Code of Hammurabi
Code of Hammurabi is not the earliest surviving law code; it
is predated by the Code of Ur-Nammu, the Laws of Eshnunna, and the
Code of Lipit-Ishtar. Nonetheless, the
Code of Hammurabi
Code of Hammurabi shows
marked differences from these earlier law codes and ultimately proved
Code of Hammurabi
Code of Hammurabi was inscribed on a stele and placed in a public
place so that all could see it, although it is thought that few were
literate. The stele was later plundered by the Elamites and removed to
their capital, Susa; it was rediscovered there in 1901 in
Iran and is
now in the
Louvre Museum in Paris. The code of
Hammurabi contains 282
laws, written by scribes on 12 tablets. Unlike earlier laws, it was
written in Akkadian, the daily language of Babylon, and could
therefore be read by any literate person in the city. Earlier
Sumerian law codes had focused on compensating the victim of the
crime, but the
Code of Hammurabi
Code of Hammurabi instead focused on physically
punishing the perpetrator. The
Code of Hammurabi
Code of Hammurabi was one of the
first law code to place restrictions on what a wronged person was
allowed to do in retribution.
The structure of the code is very specific, with each offense
receiving a specified punishment. The punishments tended to be very
harsh by modern standards, with many offenses resulting in death,
disfigurement, or the use of the "Eye for eye, tooth for tooth" (Lex
Talionis "Law of Retaliation") philosophy. The code is also
one of the earliest examples of the idea of presumption of innocence,
and it also suggests that the accused and accuser have the opportunity
to provide evidence. However, there is no provision for
extenuating circumstances to alter the prescribed punishment.
A carving at the top of the stele portrays
Hammurabi receiving the
laws from Shamash, the Babylonian god of justice, and the preface
Hammurabi was chosen by
Shamash to bring the laws to the
people. Parallels between this narrative and the giving of the
Covenant Code to
Yahweh atop Mount Sinai in the Biblical Book
of Exodus and similarities between the two legal codes suggest a
common ancestor in the Semitic background of the two.
Nonetheless, fragments of previous law codes have been found and it is
unlikely that the Mosaic laws were directly inspired by the Code of
Hammurabi.[b] Some scholars have disputed this; David
P. Wright argues that the Jewish
Covenant Code is "directly,
primarily, and throughout" based upon the Laws of Hammurabi. In
2010, a team of archaeologists from
Hebrew University discovered a
cuneiform tablet dating to the eighteenth or seventeenth century BC at
Israel containing laws clearly derived from the Code of
Example laws in Hammurabi's code
(Text taken from Harper's translation, readable on wikisource)
§ 8 – If any one steal cattle or sheep, or an ass, or a pig or
a goat, if it belong to a god or to the court, the thief shall pay
thirtyfold therefor; if they belonged to a freed man of the king he
shall pay tenfold; if the thief has nothing with which to pay he shall
be put to death.
§ 21 – If a man make a breach in a house, they shall put him
to death in front of that breach and they shall thrust him therein.
§ 55 – If a man open his canal for irrigation and neglect it
and the water carry away an adjacent field, he shall measure out grain
on the basis of the adjacent fields.
§ 59 – If a man cut down a tree in a man's orchard, without
the consent of the owner of the orchard, he shall pay one-half mina of
§ 168 – If a man set his face to disinherit his son and say to
the judges: "I will disinherit my son," the judges shall inquire into
his antecedents, and if the son have not committed a crime
sufficiently grave to cut him off from sonship, the father may not cut
off his son from sonship.
§ 169 – If he have committed a crime against his father
sufficiently grave to cut him off from sonship, they shall condone his
first (offense). If he commit a crime a second time, the father may
cut off his son from sonship.
§ 195 – If a son strike his father, they shall cut off his
§ 196–201 – 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 mana of silver. 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. If a man knock out a tooth of a man of his own rank, they shall
knock out his tooth. If one knock out a tooth of a freeman, he shall
pay one-third mana of silver.
§ 218–219 – If a physician operate on a man for a severe
wound with a bronze lancet and cause that man's death; or open an
abscess (in the eye) of a man with a bronze lancet and destroy the
man's eye, they shall cut off his fingers. If a physician operate on a
slave of a freeman for a severe wound with a bronze lancet and cause
his death, he shall restore a slave of equal value.
§ 229–232 – If a builder build a house for a man and do not
make its construction firm, and the house which he has built collapse
and cause the death of the owner of the house, that builder shall be
put to death. If it cause the death of a son of the owner of the
house, they shall put to death a son of that builder. If it cause the
death of a slave of the owner of the house, he shall give the owner of
the house a slave of equal value. If it destroy property, he shall
restore whatever it destroyed, and because he did not make the house
which he built firm and it collapsed, he shall rebuild the house which
collapsed from his own property (i.e., at his own expense).
The bas-relief of
Hammurabi at the
United States Congress
Commemoration after his death
Hammurabi was honored above all other kings of the second millennium
BC and he received the unique honor of being declared to be a god
within his own lifetime. The personal name "Hammurabi-ili" meaning
Hammurabi is my god" became common during and after his reign. In
writings from shortly after his death,
Hammurabi is commemorated
mainly for three achievements: bringing victory in war, bringing
peace, and bringing justice. Hammurabi's conquests came to be
regarded as part of a sacred mission to spread civilization to all
nations. A stele from Ur glorifies him in his own voice as a
mighty ruler who forces evil into submission and compels all peoples
to worship Marduk. The stele declares: "The people of Elam,
Gutium, Subartu, and Tukrish, whose mountains are distant and whose
languages are obscure, I placed into [Marduk's] hand. I myself
continued to put straight their confused minds." A later hymn also
written in Hammurabi's own voice extols him as a powerful,
supernatural force for Marduk:
I am the king, the brace that grasps wrongdoers, that makes people of
I am the great dragon among kings, who throws their counsel in
I am the net that is stretched over the enemy,
I am the fear-inspiring, who, when lifting his fierce eyes, gives the
disobedient the death sentence,
I am the great net that covers evil intent,
I am the young lion, who breaks nets and scepters,
I am the battle net that catches him who offends me.
After extolling Hammurabi's military accomplishments, the hymn finally
declares: "I am Hammurabi, the king of justice." In later
commemorations, Hammurabi's role as a great lawgiver came to be
emphasized above all his other accomplishments and his military
achievements became de-emphasized. Hammurabi's reign became the
point of reference for all events in the distant past. A hymn to
the goddess Ishtar, whose language suggests it was written during the
reign of Ammisaduqa, Hammurabi's fourth successor, declares: "The king
who first heard this song as a song of your heroism is Hammurabi. This
song for you was composed in his reign. May he be given life
forever!" For centuries after his death, Hammurabi's laws
continued to be copied by scribes as part of their writing exercises
and they were even partially translated into Sumerian.
Copy of Hammurabi's stele usurped by Shutruk-Nahhunte I. The stele was
only partially erased and was never re-inscribed.
During the reign of Hammurabi, Babylon usurped the position of "most
holy city" in southern
Mesopotamia from its predecessor, Nippur.
Under the rule of Hammurabi's successor Samsu-iluna, the short-lived
Babylonian Empire began to collapse. In northern Mesopotamia, both the
Amorites and Babylonians were driven from
native Akkadian-speaking ruler, c. 1740 BC. Around the same time,
native Akkadian speakers threw off
Amorite Babylonian rule in the far
south of Mesopotamia, creating the Sealand Dynasty, in more or less
the region of ancient Sumer. Hammurabi's ineffectual successors met
with further defeats and loss of territory at the hands of Assyrian
kings such as
Adasi and Bel-ibni, as well as to the
Sealand Dynasty to
Elam to the east, and to the
Kassites from the northeast.
Thus was Babylon quickly reduced to the small and minor state it had
once been upon its founding.
The coup de grace for the Hammurabi's
Amorite Dynasty occurred in 1595
BC, when Babylon was sacked and conquered by the powerful Hittite
Empire, thereby ending all
Amorite political presence in
Mesopotamia. However, the Indo-European-speaking Hittites did not
remain, turning over Babylon to their Kassite allies, a people
speaking a language isolate, from the
Zagros mountains region. This
Kassite Dynasty ruled Babylon for over 400 years and adopted many
aspects of the Babylonian culture, including Hammurabi's code of
laws. Even after the fall of the
Amorite Dynasty, however,
Hammurabi was still remembered and revered. When the Elamite king
Shutruk-Nahhunte I raided Babylon in 1158 BC and carried off many
stone monuments, he had most of the inscriptions on these monuments
erased and new inscriptions carved into them. On the stele
containing Hammurabi's laws, however, only four or five columns were
wiped out and no new inscription was ever added. Over a thousand
years after Hammurabi's death, the kings of Suhu, a land along the
Euphrates river, just northwest of Babylon, claimed him as their
In the early twentieth century, many scholars believed that Hammurabi
was Amraphel, the King of
Shinar in the Book of Genesis 14:1.
This view has now been largely rejected, and Amraphael's
existence is not attested in any writings from outside the Bible.
Because of Hammurabi's reputation as a lawgiver, his depiction can be
found in several U.S. government buildings.
Hammurabi is one of the 23
lawgivers depicted in marble bas-reliefs in the chamber of the U.S.
House of Representatives in the
United States Capitol. A frieze by
Adolph Weinman depicting the "great lawgivers of history", including
Hammurabi, is on the south wall of the U.S. Supreme Court
building. At the time of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi Army's 1st
Hammurabi Armoured Division was named after the ancient king as part
of an effort to emphasize the connection between modern Iraq and the
pre-Arab Mesopotamian cultures.
Ancient Near East portal
Short chronology timeline
Finet, André (1973). Le trone et la rue en Mésopotamie: L'exaltation
du roi et les techniques de l'opposition, in La voix de l'opposition
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Pallis, S. A. (1956). The Antiquity of Iraq: A Handbook of
Assyriology. Copenhagen: Ejnar Munksgaard.
Richardson, M.E.J. (2000). Hammurabi's laws : text, translation
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of the ancient civilization of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. London:
Sidgwick & Jackson. ISBN 0-283-99623-4.
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^ Akkadian: 𒄩𒄠𒈬𒊏𒁉 Ḫa-am-mu-ra-bi, from the Amorite
ʻAmmurāpi ("the kinsman is a healer"), itself from ʻAmmu ("paternal
kinsman") and Rāpi ("healer")
^ Barton, a former professor of Semitic languages at the University of
Pennsylvania, stated that while there are similarities between the two
texts, 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."
^ Roux, Georges, "The Time of Confusion", Ancient Iraq, Penguin Books,
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^ Beck, Roger B.; Black, Linda; Krieger, Larry S.; Naylor, Phillip C.;
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^ Van De Mieroop 2005, pp. 1–2
^ a b Van De Mieroop 2005, p. 3
^ Van De Mieroop 2005, pp. 3–4
^ Van De Mieroop 2005, p. 16
^ Arnold 2005, p. 43
^ Van De Mieroop 2005, pp. 15–16
^ Van De Mieroop 2005, p. 17
^ Claire, Iselin. "Royal head, known as the "Head of Hammurabi"".
Musée du Louvre.
^ a b Van De Mieroop 2005, p. 18
^ a b Van De Mieroop 2005, p. 31
^ Van De Mieroop 2005, pp. 40–41
^ Van De Mieroop 2005, pp. 54–55
^ Van De Mieroop 2005, pp. 64–65
^ a b c Arnold 2005, p. 45
^ Clay, Albert Tobias (1919). The Empire of the Amorites. Yale
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^ Breasted 2003, p. 129
^ Breasted 2003, pp. 129–130
^ Arnold 2005, p. 42
^ a b c Davies, W. W. (January 2003). Codes of
Hammurabi and Moses.
Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 0-7661-3124-6.
^ a b Breasted 2003, p. 141
^ a b c d e Bertman, Stephen (2003). Handbook to Life in Ancient
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^ "Review: The Code of Hammurabi," J. Dyneley Prince, The American
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^ a b Douglas, J. D.; Tenney, Merrill C. (2011). Zondervan Illustrated
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^ a b c Barton, G.A: Archaeology and the Bible. University of Michigan
Library, 2009, p.406.
^ a b Unger, M.F.: Archaeology and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids:
Zondervan Publishing Co., 1954, p.156, 157
^ a b Free, J.P.: Archaeology and Biblical History. Wheaton: Scripture
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^ Wright, David P. (2009). Inventing God's Law: How the Covenant Code
Bible Used and Revised the Laws of Hammurabi. Oxford, England:
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^ "Tablet Discovered by Hebrew U Matches Code of Hammurabi". Beit El:
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^ a b c d Van De Mieroop 2005, p. 127.
^ a b c Van De Mieroop 2005, p. 126.
^ a b Van De Mieroop 2005, pp. 126-127.
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^ a b c DeBlois 1997, p. 19
^ Van De Mieroop 2005, p. 130.
^ "AMRAPHEL - JewishEncyclopedia.com".
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Wikiquote has quotations related to: Hammurabi
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A Closer Look at the
Code of Hammurabi
Code of Hammurabi (
Hammurabi at Project Gutenberg
Works by or about
Hammurabi at Internet Archive
Kings of Babylon
(Middle Bronze Age)
First Dynasty of Isin
c. 1953 – 1730 BC
Kings of Larsa
c. 1961 – 1674 BC
Hammurabi (of Babylon)
Samsu-iluna (of Babylon)
Middle Bronze Age
First Babylonian Dynasty
c. 1830 – 1531 BC
c. 1732 – 1460 BC
Early Kassite rulers
c. 1730 – 1570 BC
Late Bronze Age
c. 1570 – 1155 BC
Second Dynasty of Isin
(Dynasty IV of Babylon)
c. 1155 – 1025 BC
c. 1025 – 1004 BC
c. 1004 – 985 BC
c. 985 – 979 BC
Dynasty of E
(Mixed Dynasties VIII/IX)
c. 979 – 729 BC
729 – 620 BC
626 – 539 BC
† Assyrian rulers
ISNI: 0000 0000 8985 0706
BNF: cb12611886p (da