Hammurabi's Code: An Eye for an Eye

“An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” This phrase sums up Hammurabi's Code, a collection of 282 laws carved on a stone pillar.

Hammurabi is the most famous Mesopotamian king. He ruled the Babylonian Empire from 1792-50 B.C.E., before Biblical times. He compiled his list of laws for several reasons. First, he wanted to keep order in his kingdom. Second, as he conquered other city-states and his empire grew, he saw the need to unify the various groups under his controlled.

A Need for Justice

Hammurabi understood that to achieve justice for all, he needed one universal set of laws for all of the diverse peoples he conquered. He sent legal experts around his kingdom to gather existing laws. He reviewed these laws as he wrote his list of 282 laws.

The oldest known evidence of a law code are tablets from the ancient city Ebla (in modern-day Syria). They are from approximately 600 years before Hammurabi recorded his code.

In the introduction to the list of laws, Hammurabi states that he wants “to make justice visible in the land, to destroy the wicked person and the evil-doer, that the strong might not injure the weak.” The laws themselves support this goal by protecting the weak, such as widows and orphans.

Many people view the phrase “an eye for an eye” as a harsh sense of justice based on revenge. But the code is much more complex than that. It distinguishes among punishments for the wealthy or nobility, commoners, and slaves.

Source: Hammurabi's Code: An Eye for an Eye
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