Hammurabi’s Code Essay Example
Four millennia ago, in the ancient empire of Babylonia (in Mesopotamia), King Hammurabi ruled for 42 years. Before that, Mesopotamia was wild and without order. During his 38th year of rule, Hammurabi created the first complete set of written laws, called Hammurabi’s Code. There were 282 laws in Hammurabi’s Code. All were written in cuneiform, an ancient form of writing, on a large, pillar-like stone called a stele for everyone to see. These laws were said to improve Baylonian society. Today, we look back on Hammurabi’s Code, questioning just how fair it really was. So, was Hammurabi’s Code just? I think it wasn’t because of its disregard for women, mistreatment of social class, and lack of logic.
To begin with, Hammurabi’s laws were unfair to women. In fact, most of Hammurabi’s laws show men as the victim.. One of the more evident forms of this is shown in Document C. Law 129 states, “If a married lady is caught (in adultery) with another man, they shall bind them and cast them into the water.” This is unfair because it doesn’t address if a man were to cheat on his wife, therefore implying a married man could cheat on his wife and there would be no punishment. It also shows women had more responsibility in marriages, for if they broke their vows there would be harsher punishment than if a man did.
Another example is law 168. It states, “If a man has determined to disinherit his son … but the son has committed no serious crime, he shall not disinherit him.”(Doc C). This law reveals Hammurabi didn’t believe women had a right to an inheritance. Also, it shows Hammurabi thinks only a son could receive an inheritance, not a daughter. If a father wanted to give his inheritance to his daughter, law 168 would prohibit it. The last example is law 132, which states, “If the "finger is 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.” This is unjust because the women did nothing wrong, and should not have to die. Also, the husband does not need his wife to die for him in order to continue life. Furthermore, because the accused is a woman, the punishment changed.
In laws one, two, and three, which are not directed solely at women, the accuser’s punishment is death. In contrast, law 132 lets the accuser off home-free. Because of this law, all someone has to do is accuse a woman of cheating, and she will be put to death. All of this is especially unacceptable because Document B states, “In order to protect the widows and orphans.” The only people these laws protect are the strong, powerful men of Babylonian society. This is why Hammurabi’s Code is unfair to women.
In addition, Hammurabi’s Code is unfair to the victim when the victim is of a low social class. You would think if someone committed a crime, they would be punished no matter who the victim was. Well, according to Hammurabi’s Code, that isn’t true. Law 196 states, “If a man has knocked out the eye of a free man, his eye shall be knocked out.”(Doc E). This seems pretty fair on its own, but law 199 contradicts this testimony. It says, “If he has knocked out the eye of a slave … he shall pay half his value.”(Doc E). There is a big difference between losing some money and losing an eye.
Plus, the slave doesn’t even get any money! So, the assaulter gets away with only a fine, the slave owner gets a lot of money, and the slave has to continue life with only one eye. This is very unfair, and shouldn’t be allowed to continue in any society. Another law in Document E states, “If a man strikes the daughter of a free man … he shall pay 10 shekels of silver.” Not only is this unfair to the girl, it is not in compliance with law 213. Law 213 states, “If he has struck the slave-girl of a free man … he shall pay 2 shekels of silver.”(Doc E). Once again, because the victim gets nothing at all, society is off worse. Hammurabi treated slaves like the government treats animals today, as property. Document B states, “... in order to protect the weak.” In many of these cases, the slaves are the weak it should be referring to. But, instead of protecting them, Hammurabi let's the violator run free with only a small fine. This is how Hammurabi’s Code uses social class ranking in his laws.
Last, Hammurabi’s Code is illogical. Some laws don’t help improve society whatsoever. One such law is cited in Document D. It states, “If anyone breaks into a house to steal, he will be put to death before that point of entry and be buried there (walled into the house).” I understand the thief has to be punished, but involve the home in the execution of the robber. I don’t believe the homeowner would be proud of this. Plus, in 1790 B.C.E., no one had invented blood stain removal, so it is there for life. If you wanted to get rid of it, you would have to replace the whole wall, and that would cost a lot of silver. Another foolish law is found in Document E. It says, “If a surgeon has operated with a bronze lancet on the body of a free man for a serious injury and has caused his death, … his hands shall be cut off.” This is unfair because surgeons are a crucial part of society. If a surgeon were to leave for every death, there would definitely be a decline in surgeons.
Without surgeons, even more people would have died. In addition, no one would want to even become a surgeon. Even today, with our increased knowledge of the human body, over 250,000 people die each year because of medical mistakes. In fact, that is the third leading cause of death. Imagine back then, when they had very little medical knowledge, how many deaths would occur. There would be no more left! With this happening, patients wouldn’t be able to get the care they need and deserve. Last, there is the “off with your hands” punishment. Having someone in a working society with no hands would ultimately change society for the worst. That person would still have to eat and drink as much as anyone else, but they wouldn’t be able to work for it. This would make them dead weight, and Babylonian resources would be wasted. Plus, with so many laws depending on that punishment, Babylonia would be greatly affected. This is why Hammurabi’s Code is illogical.
In conclusion, I think Hammurabi’s Code is very unfair. This is because it is unfair to Babylonian women, it has a disregard for women, and it lacks sense. As a result, the entire Babylonian civilization suffered.