The History of Ancient Babylon is fascinating. Most people know that Babylon was the center of civilization in the ancient world and is situated in the modern country of Iraq. However, many people equate Babylon’s history starting with the rise in power of Hammurabi. Hammurabi was actually the sixth King of Babylon and through his mighty warrior abilities he gained control over all of Mesopotamia. He considered himself to be the first kind of the Babylonian Empire.
Hammurabi was born 1795 B.C. and died in 1750 B. C. Hammurabi created and ruled over the Babylonian Empire, however the monarchs that followed him were not able to keep it. At the time of Hammurabi, Babylon was a city-state. Hammurabi lived during the first dynasty and inherited his crown from his father, Sin-muballit, in 1792 B.C. During that period of history all the city=states waged war upon each other to get access to fertile agricultural land so important to human survival.
Hammurabi had already had a minor empire when he ascended the throne but Mesopatmia was very divided. The Elamites (city-state known as Elam) from the Zagros Mountains were east of Sumer (the land of the ancient Sumerians), which is modern day Iran. They had mighty trade routes in the Middle East and had taken over the central plains of Mesopotamia by crushing city-states along the way. They had destroyed the Empire of Eshnunna (the kingdom that controlled the upper Tigress river) and were fast approaching upon southern Mesopotamia where Hammurabi’s kingdom was located. Hammurabi made an alliance with neighbouring Larsa (which controlled the river delta) to defeat the Elams. Hammurabi won the battle with very little support from Larsa. So to avenge this betrayal, Hammurabi conquered and acquired Larsa. This victory gave him control of the entire southern plain of Mesopotamia in 1763 B.C.
Hammurabi continued to force upward into the northern territories defeating Eshnunna and even taking control of his Northern Allies. His military expansion led to the unification of Mesopotamia under one rule with the exception of a few city-states in Syria. Archeologist discovered several tablets depicting the contracts Hammurabi made during this period, as well as 55 of his own letters shedding light on the political situation of the time. These ancient, 4000 year old, cuneiform texts are housed in the British Museum.
Besides his military might, Hammurabi is best known for the code of Hammurabi. The code of Hammurabi is one of the first recorded legal codes in all of history. This code of Hammurabi is the basis for most legal systems trickling down through the ages; including the legal systems of the Western Hemisphere.
The actual code of law was written on stone tablets. These tablets were an amazing 6 feet in height. Hammurabi’s code was written in the ancient cuneiform style of writing from the Sumer period in 30th century B.C.
The code of Hammurabi is a compilation of 282 laws written in the ancient Babylonian (Akkadian) language, set on 12 tablets. It was displayed in public so that any literate citizen would be able to read it.
Each violation or crime was written down along with the punishment. These punishments were extremely harsh compared to today’s standards. The Hebrew law, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” is the Babylonian law for the principle of exact reciprocity. For example if someone killed their friend’s child their child would be killed in retaliation. By codifying these laws, and setting them in stone for public display, it suggested the laws were higher than the workings of men. Even the king was subject to this higher power. Quebec’s codification of laws, derived from France Napoleonic code is a descent of Hammurabi’s code.
The stele, (stone monument or tablets) were stolen from Hammurabi by the Elamites. Fortunately these ancient tablets were rediscovered in 1901 at the excavation of Susa, formerly the Kingdom of Elam, and are on display in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.
To commemorate Hammurabi’s importance to the legal field, many governments across the world hang his portrait on the walls of government buildings. “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. An image of Hammurabi receiving the Code of Hammurabi from the Babylonian sun god (probably Shamash) is depicted on the frieze on the south wall of the U.S. Supreme Court building.”
Hammurabi’s code is one of the earliest court systems to recognize the “presumption of innocence” (innocent until proven guilty) that we have today. The accused and the accuser both presented evidence to support their case. However, the idea of extenuating circumstances that we have to day was not yet considered. The law was the law, accidental, or deliberate, guilty or insane, when committing the offense, the punishment remained the same.
These rules and codes of conduct were thought to be instrumental in weakening the military might of the kingdom of the day. The Hittites invaded Babylon after the death of Hammurabi. The kingdom was invaded for the second time. This time by the Kassites who dominated Babylon for over 400 years. Yet, even they, the conquerors, adopted the Hammurabi code.
Hammurabi did a lot for his empire. He improved the irrigation systems, supported astronomy mathematics and literature. Unlike the early Europeans, many of the common people could read in Hammurabi’s day.
Some scholars believe that Hammurabi could have been the grandson, of Noah.
A second article explaining the similarities between Babylonian stories and the bible will follow