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The Law Codes of Hummurabi 

Updated January 31, 2022
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The Law Codes of Hummurabi  essay

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The Law Codes of Hammurabi is one of the most influential codifications that was utilized in ancient history. These codes highlighted the growing influence of centralized government on the personal lives of the citizens within the Babylonian society. The Law Codes furthermore portrays the Babylonian society as society who is very strict and abide by their laws thoroughly. The laws were not the only thing that they focused on, however trade and family structure played an extravagant role in shaping the society as well. The Babylonian society was well developed and it is displayed in the way the laws were not just applied to one gender. The laws were made for everyone and everyone was punished. The various provisions of the Code display that Babylonian was an Inegalitarian society that focused strongly on ranks of social status. However, at the same time provided these codes to emphasize how strict and authoritative the society was.

Hammurabi’s law codes had a distinct social pecking order within them. This is evident in laws 202- 205: “If any one strike the body of a man higher in rank than he shall receive sixty blows with an ox-whip in public” (Hammurabi Code). However, on the other hand, “If a free-born man strikes the body of a slave, he shall pay five shekels in money” (Hammurabi Code). Another prime example is “If he put out the eye of freed man, or break the bone of a freed man, he shall pay one gold mina” (Hammurabi Code). However, “If he put out the eye of a man’s slave, or break the bone of a man’s slave, he shall pay one-half of its value” (Hammurabi Code). These four codes are prominent evidence that class structure was truly unfair in the Babylonian society at this time. The punishments were way more severe for the enslaved people enacting crimes on the nobles or freed people but vice versa, the nobles and freed man were punished less severely. This was very unfair law enforcement due to the fact that these enslaved people use to lose limbs off their body and these nobles and freed people only had to pay half the value of the slaves. Despite the fact that they created the same crime amongst one another. The individuals that are involve in any crime situation should have been given the same punishment no matter what social class ranked they were.

In addition to the law codes dividing the society up by class and rank it also even put significant others in a bind because the law codes were formed in a way that showed that the husband were more dominant than the wife in a marriage. This is prominent in a plethora of the laws, for example laws 128 and 129: “If a man takes a woman to wife, but have no intercourse with her, this woman is no wife to him” (Hammurabi Code). “If a man’s wife be surprised (in flagrante delicto) with another man, both shall be tied and thrown into the water, but the husband may pardon his wife and the king his slaves” (Hammurabi Code). Its multiple laws that are similar too these two law codes, these prove that the society treated males like they were higher ranked than their own wives. A marriage is a partnership not a competition between who is higher ranked. It’s a plentiful amount of laws that were formed for women cheating on their husbands but there were not many, or none at all that punished the male for cheating on his wife. Another example of the cruelty these laws had towards women was displayed in law 132: “If the finger pointed at a man’s wife about another man, but she is not caught sleeping with the other man, she shall jump into the river for her husband” (Hammurabi Code). This code highlights the brutality these women faced during this era; while men had less severe punishment rather they were found guilty or not.

During this era the law codes were not only unfair between the social classes and between man and woman but also the family structure. This is evident in code 141: “If a man’s wife, who lives in his house, wishes to leave it, plunges into debt, tries to ruin her house, neglects her husband, and is judicially convicted: if her husband offers her release, she may go on her way, and he gives her nothing as a gift of release. If her husband does not want to release her and then get a new wife she has to remain as servant in the husband’s house” (Hammurabi code). This quote goes back to man and woman gender roles that highlights how more dominant man was than woman back in this era. It also shows that in a family that the wife and the kids are under the husband’s authority. Another example is in code 143, when it states that: “if she is not innocent, but leaves her husband, and ruins her house, neglecting her husband, this woman shall be cast into the water” (Hammurabi Code). It is noticeable in these quotes above the punishments wives received for leaving their husbands but it is no punishments for husbands that left their wives and children. In code 148 it states that: “If a man take a wife, and she be seized by disease, if he then desire to take a second wife he shall not put away his wife, who has been attacked by disease, but he shall still keep her in the house which he has built and support her so long as she lives” (Hammurabi code). This quote is giving the husband the opportunity to cheat with another woman while his sickly wife is still in the house. This is not a valid law. It is going against everything a law is suppose to be used for.

The Law codes of Hammurabi were overall strict and authoritative to an extent. However, these laws were not the best laws to put into play because they really truly unfair. They made lives of the less fortunate and woman as well, a living hell. During this era the lives well fortunate and man were the ones who lived great lives and actually a part of society. In a way the Babylonian society was similar to the way individuals live in modern day society.

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