Homework: The Judgments of Hammurabi

This weekend, you’re going to work on your first analysis of a primary source document for this class– an excerpt from the judgments of Hammurabi, a Babylonian king from the 18th century BCE.  After carefully reading through the text provided for you in class (Judgments of Hammurabi), please respond to the prompt at the bottom of this entry in the form of a comment on this blog post.  You’ll find the “Leave a Comment” link right under the title of this entry, next to the date.  Your comment should be thoughtful and refer to at least two specific examples in the text.

In order to encourage you to use this blog as a venue for discussion, here’s how grading for this assignment will work: a response which appropriately answers the discussion question will receive a maximum grade of 95%.  To earn that final 5% of the grade, you must respond (thoughtfully!) to one of the comments left by your classmates.

A few reminders about appropriate online interactions: as this is an academic assignment, I expect your responses to reflect all standard grammatical and mechanical practices.  Remember that tone is sometimes difficult to discern in online communication, so be sure that you express yourself clearly.  If you’re uncomfortable using your full name to post a comment, please just post using your first name and last initial– I’ll know who you are.

Comments are moderated on this blog, which means that I have to approve your first comment before you’ll see it appear.  It’s a quick process– I just have to hit something on my phone, honestly– but I’ll be evaluating Senior Magnet research presentations all day on Saturday, so I’ll only have a chance to moderate your comments during breaks, as it would be rude for me to have my phone out during presentations.  So please don’t panic if you don’t immediately see your comment on the blog– you may need to wait for a bit before I get around to moderating it.

Here’s your discussion prompt:

Consider Hammurabi’s judgments.  Do you think they would have been effective as a law code?  Who were the judgments meant to protect or benefit?  What sort of social distinctions can we see in Hammurabi’s law code?  Did any of the laws or their implications surprise you?  If so, why?

Remember to include at least two specific examples from the text in your response!

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123 thoughts on “Homework: The Judgments of Hammurabi

  1. Hammurabi’s judgements couldn’t not have been efficient as the law codes for his people. The punishments compared to the crime that was committed, for the most part were not even in any way. For example “If a son has struck his father, his hands shall be cut off.” The codes were meant to benefit a grown male man. In many of the codes involving a husband being unfaithful to his wife the husband is punished just as much as the wife is. “If a man’s wife, dwelling in his house, has decided to leave, has been guilty of dissipation, has waster her house, and has neglected her husband, then she shall be prosecuted…” Only in few cases do the outcomes of a crime result in a positive way for females in this civilization. In the laws he has written you can see that there are different social classes that people may fall into. These could be such as a father, mother, children, workers, and slaves. Even though father and mother are almost the same thing both of them can result in a different punishment or reward. Yes many of the laws that were enforced did suprise me such as one that says if a worker does a poor job and their customer’s child is killed so is there chilled to be killed. Even though this might be considedered a modern civilization many of the judgements of Hammurabi were not modern at all and quite vulgar.

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    • I do agree that many of the laws do mostly protect highly ranked grown men, but you have to consider the time period. The the time people did beileve in harsh punishment for crimes that were considered minor. Also i should bring up that Women didn’t have nearly as much rights as the men of a society had.

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      • I see your point, and I agree. That makes sense because their religion justified their laws and judgments. Therefore, at the time, that was the social norm.

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  2. In the Judgement of Hammurabi, it shows clearly that this law was created through trial and error. This would be effective as a law code because it reflects the foundations of most law structures. However, it contains many loopholes that make it easy to violate the overall purpose of the law because they are so specfic. These laws may not be interpretted in the way they were meant to. One would think that they have very figurative meaning but laws such as, “If a man has knocked out the teeth of a man of the same rank, his own teeth shall be knocked out.”, would make you think that perhaps they are talking about being assaulted in general. However, the next laws says, “If he has knocked out the teeth of a peasant, he shall pay one-third of a mina of silver.”, it becomes apparent that this has happened multiple times and that class does matter when it comes these laws. You see the mentioning of “peasants”, “slaves”, and people of “equal” and “superior” social status. What suprised me was that most of the marriage and family laws were forgiving and caring of women who are in situations they didnt bring upon themselves. However, it is easy to see how men and women have manipulated the scenarios and wording and create law systems into what they are today.

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  3. At the time, I believe Hammurabi’s judgements were affective, but i don’t know how often they were really enforced throughout their society. To me, I feel like the overall point of the judgements was to explain that if you did something wrong, then you WILL be punished in one way or another, whether you personally are punished or someone close to you is sacrificed. One of the punishments stated “If he has broken the bone of a free man, his bone shall be broken” but “if he has destroyed the eye of a peasant, or broken the bone of a peasant, he shall pay a fine of one mina of silver.” These laws particularly irked me because it is obvious that during those times men with money could get away with more crimes because they had the means to pay their way of of the situation. Wealthy men were seen as a more valuable and desired person and it is very obvious that these judgements were made to protect or benefit the rich men in the society.

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  4. No, I don’t think Hammurabi’s judgments would have been an effective law code because they are too specific. I feel like these laws are meant to protect the innocents who want nothing but to please their leader. We can see distinction between the poor and rich. There is a status rank as shown in 202 where it says, “If a man strikes the body of a man who is superior in status…”. Law 215 which reads that a physician would “recieve ten shekles of silver” for curing a man. It surprised me because usually when I think of laws I think restrictions not praise and benefits.
    -Arielle S.

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  5. I believe due to the severity of the punishments for the various offenses addressed in the judgements of Hammurabi, initially, it would be an effective set of laws. Citizens of the areas where these laws are implemented would likely see a very low amount of crime due to the similarities between these laws and the idea of karma. When there is a policy with a commonly found theme of do not dish what you cannot take, would-be law breakers are often reluctant before committing crimes if they are not ignorant of the laws themselves. However the only issue with whether or not the judgements of Hammurabi would be an effective law code is if other countries did not have similar laws. Similar to a dictatorship, the controlled might view and come to envy the various freedoms of other nations, possibly leading to revolution. An issue within the judgements of Hammurabi was that certain laws tended to benefit the upperclassmen rather than lowerclassmen and peasants. Through comparison of similar laws within the judgements of Hammurabi, one might find that the well being of the lower classes seems to be valued less. For example the law stating “If a man has destroyed the eye of another free man, his own eye shall be destroyed.” Being compared to the law stating “If he has destroyed the eye of a peasant, or broken a bone of a peasant, he shall pay one mina of silver.” The laws also seemed to be aimed at a male audience, with the various scenarios written from a males perspective, and the terminology (the word man vs individual) serving as my basis for making that inference. I found myself to be very surprised at the extent of the severity of some of the punishments. In the United States in today’s world, if an individual were to receive arguably the harshest punishment of death, we would find the most humane way to commit the legal homicide, no matter how inhumane the crim . On the other hand, the judgements of Hammurabi seem more fair, being that the criminal has to receive a punishment that has been more properly tailored to their crime.

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    • I just realized that the username for this should have been my actual name. I thought there would be another place in the sign up menu for me to write my first and last name, I apologize, it was unintentional and I’m not sure how to change it. My name is Nicholi Moore-Caron to clear up the confusion.

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  6. In my personal opinion Hammurabi’s law codes were effective and useful in his specific time . These laws ultimately kept a strict society that followed laws. Now , these laws in terms of modern/present day seem ineffective . This is due to the fact his punishments for breaking these laws are inhumane because they were used as a deterrence method . A prime example of this is (line 195) which says that “If a son has struck his father, his hands shall be cut”. This law is extreme in modern day people would revolt and protest justice for the son . In his judgments there was evidence of social distinctions like peasants and slaves who made less .They existed but in terms of the code everyone was treated fairly it protected the poorer people so they have laws , for example, “If he has caused the daughter of a peasant to let her fetus abort through blows, he shall pay five shekels of silver” ( line 211). Some of the laws surprised me in terms of there rank on the scale we view issues serious . Like ( line 129) “If the wife of a man is found lying with another male, they shall be bound and thrown in the water ..”. But if im speaking on the time frame it was written im not surprised at all , they based things off of eye for an eye.
    ~ Sydney S.

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    • Excellent points, but did you consider that with such sever punishments following making mistakes during surgery or construction, that no one would want to take these job for fear of slipping up and costing their hands or even their lives. This sort of fear might cause these positions to remain unfilled, leaving the state without housing or medical care.

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  7. I think that Hammurabi’s judgements would have only been effective as law codes during that time period. This is due to the fact that many people would most likely fear the punishments that would occur back in the day for breaking laws, such as death sentences or any other type of harm. An example of such punishment is, “If a man has destroyed the eye of another free man, his own eye shall be destroyed.” I think that the judgments were mostly meant to protect people of higher class, rather than peasants or slaves. If someone with a high social status were to commit a crime against someone of the same rank, their punishment would be worse than if they were to commit a crime against a peasant: “If a man has knocked out the teeth of a man of the same rank, his own teeth shall be knocked out,” and also, “If he has knocked out the teeth of a peasant, he shall pay one-third of a mina of silver.” We can see social distinctions between men and women in Hammurabi’s law code. Based on this reading, the men were of higher rank than the women during this time period. “A captain, soldier, or official may not give his field, or garden, or house to his wife or his daughter; neither can they be given as payment for debt.” The field, garden, or house of a man would most likely be passed down to his son, but never his wife or daughter. None of these laws surprised me because these types of rules and punishments were seen as normal during that time. This was so the people of the society would fear the punishments and, therefore follow these laws.

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  8. I do not believe that Hammurabi’s judgements would would have been an effective law code due to the severity of his punishments and the obvious bias towards men of higher social status. The judgements were quite obviously meant to protect males over females first and foremost. This is evident when Hammurabi writes, “If the wife of a man is found lying with another male, they shall be bound and thrown into the water,” while a man is allowed to have multiple wives at a time if one of them falls ill. There is also a clear favor of the rich over the poor. This is best illustrated when taking into account how the punishments for crimes decrease as you move down the social ladder. For example, under the Personal Injury judgements, Hammurabi states, “If he has broken the bone of a free man, his bone shall be broken. If he has… broken the bone of a peasant, he shall pay one mina of silver”. The law pertaining to a man striking another man’s daughter and causing her to abort her fetus surprised me in particular because of how insignificant the punishment is. Personally, I feel that you cannot put a price on a human life and that no amount of silver could ever make up for that sort of malice.

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  9. I think that Hammurabi’s judgments would be an effective law code, because they would more than likely scare citizens away from committing any crimes. Death is a punishment that is used very often in this law code. One example appears in Law 109, and it states that “if rebels meet in the house of a wineseller and she does not seize them and take them to the palace, that wine-seller will be slain.” Since death is often a consequence of committing crime, I think this would be a great method to discourage people from doing so.
    Hammurabi’s judgments seem to benefit people of a high social status, because often times, there is a higher price to be paid for crimes committed against these higher-ups. For example, a criminal would have to pay one-third of a mina for knocking out the teeth of a peasant, yet for the committing the same crime against someone of the same rank, a criminal would have his or her own teeth knocked out. I can only infer that the punishment would be more severe if it were committed against someone of a higher rank.
    From what I read, I noticed the social distinctions between men and women, and how most crimes committed by women against their husbands, were particularly severe. One law, Law 129, says that “if the wife of a man is found lying with another male , they shall be bound and thrown into the water. If the husband lets his wife live, then the king shall let his servant live.” It seems unfair to include this law, because there is no male equivalent: at least not in the provided excerpts.
    A few of the laws from the Personal Injury section are surprising, because they actually make some sense to me, specifically the laws that follow the “eye for an eye” ideal. These laws seem fair in my opinion- that if you purposely injure someone, the same injury is done to you.

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  10. Hammurabi’s Law Code could be described as heavily focused on justice, but also violent and unethical. I believe it would have been an effective system for the time, but not for modern day. However, the basic principle behind it, which is that the punishment should be equal to the crime committed, is a very effective method for law. The reason the exact punishments detailed in Hammurabi’s Code would not be fit for today’s societies is because their culture put different weights on different crimes. While we may think that a punishment was incredibly harsh for the crime, Hammurabi’s society could have considered it a much worse offense. Also, I found it interesting how the punishments were much more specific to the crime than those of the United States law system. Basically all high-level crimes will get you sent to jail if you live in the U.S. today, but in Hammurabi’s society, the punishment was usually the crime you inflicted. The code also seems beneficial to those in a higher class. I was surprised to find that some punishments were different for the same crime depending on if you were a “peasant” or “free man”. For example, if you were to break the bone of a free man, one of your bones would be broken. But if you broke the bone of a peasant, the crime would be excused with a fee, according to number 198. This is the only portion of the law that I did not find effective- the different weights of crimes and punishments based on gender and social standing. Hammurabi probably thought that this document treated women fairly and gave them a lot of freedom, but in reality, they were still treated as property. One could argue, however, that the laws were more equal among people than they could have been, because men and children were both punished in the same way, according to #195. “If a son has struck his father, his hands shall be cut off.” The law seems more concerned with social stratifications than gender or age, and seems designed to keep the lower class in the lower class. While “peasants” were not made to pay as much for some of their crimes, they also were not given as much reward for some things, such as curing another person of a wound (Number 216).

    -Anna Manley

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  11. I believe Hammurabi’s judgments would have been effective as a law code; because as stated in the text, “If a man has destroyed the eye of another free man, his own eye shall bee destroyed.” Literally this law code kept the peace by taking an eye for an eye insuring fairness for the free man. The laws were made to benefit the “free man” and protect everyone to a degree. At the time the law code was written slaves and women were still considered the property of men. We can see this social distinction of free men then peasants then slaves when the text states, “If a man has destroyed the eye of another free man, his own eye shall bee destroyed. If he has broken the bone of a free man, his bone shall be broken.” versus “If he has destroyed the eye of a peasant, or broken the bone of a peasant, he shall pay one mina of silver.” versus “If he has destroyed the eye of a man’s slave,, or broken the bone of a man’s slave, he shall pay half his value.” This shows the value of the hierarchical social distinction between the free man, peasants, and slaves. The only laws to truly surprise me was the ones that states, “If the child of the householder is killed, the child of that builder will be slain.” and “If that woman dies, his daughter shall be slain.” It surprises me that even at this period in time the people could be so cruel as to punish the children for the actions of their parents with the penalty of death.
    ~Alyssa Bedenbaugh (3rd)

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  12. Even though these laws seem that they would be effective for scaring men and women of all social classes from crime, I do believe that they are unethical. The laws benefit every citizen in the respective society, but mainly benefit men and more wealthy citizens/ members of the society. These laws separate punishment from gender and social/working classes based on the wealth you have. The law that surprised me is that if a wealthy man kills an unborn baby, or a fetus, then the man only has to pay 5 shekles of silver to compensate for his crime, which is surprising to me because this is taking somebody”s life and making up for it with such a small amount of currency.

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  13. The law code that Hammurabi presents is a very interesting. At the time i seems that this law code would be very effective at the time, but at this day in age it would be very controversial as we believe that the punishment of death shouldn’t be a thing anymore and that it is barbaric. I think that the laws were meant to protect most people that were of the higher classes, as many of the laws that stated if peasants o slaves were present then they would only get a very minor compensation for the misdeeds done to them. WE can see that slaves and peasants are almost treated as second class citizens compared to people of only slightly higher rank. They seem to always be inferior o their superiors. One example is sated as if a man destroys another’s eye than the one at fault will have his eye destroyed, For slaves or peasants they only get a minor compensation for getting their eye gouged. This system does seem very flawed to be considering my POV. I found it interesting how if a builder was to create a house and it killed he son of the owner than the builders son will be slain. Why is it that the son is slain instead of the builder? he son of the builder is not at fault

    -Rigo Giron

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  14. Hammurabi’s judgments are set up to benefit free people especially free men. They were effective because they instilled fear in people, and solved conflicts harshly. For example, if any one is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death. This law is very surprising because capital punishment is rarely used in our society. Also, under Hammurabi’s code, if a son of a paramour or a prostitute say to his adoptive father or mother: “You are not my father, or my mother,” his tongue shall be cut off. Because of the brutality of such laws, I don’t think the Hammurabi code benefits anyone. I’m sure the society was very cold-hearted and aggressive considering the fact that they followed these extreme rules. These strict codes were justified by their religion which also justified strict social classes. Upper-class citizens typically received harsher punishments than peasants and slaves, and women had some laws to protect them. I find that very surprising because even in American history, slaves and women fought vigorously for protections and rights that were provided in Babylonian society.

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