The Code of Hammurabi

The phrase, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," comes from which collection of rules?

And the answer: Code of Hammurabi.

Photo credit: Obelisk Art History. 

Dating to the 18th century BCE, the Code of Hammurabi is one of the earliest written legal codes, proclaimed by the king of Babylon in what is now Iraq. The collection of 282 rules established standards for both personal and commercial interactions, while also setting fines and punishments.

Hammurabi is generally considered to be the first king of the Babylonian empire. As such, he expanded the authority and dominance of Babylon through a series of wars against adjoining kingdoms, eventually becoming the greatest conqueror known to Babylonia. His empire, impressively, dominated all of Mesopotamia.

Off of the battlefield, Hammurabi was known as a great legislator and reformer. The Code of Hammurabi, the first set of written codes, are some of the most influential among early written laws. In fact, it has been hypothesized that the Code of Hammurabi inspired the laws of Moses – scholars have long since noted the extreme similarities regarding issues like adultery, kidnapping and retaliation ("an eye for an eye").

Whether or not that is the case, the Code of Hammurabi is influential in other spheres as well. The Code is one of the first in history with a presumed level of innocence until proven guilty. It allowed for both the accuser and the accused to present evidence for their case, a concept that seems innate to a fair trial now, but was novel at its conception. It also helped to develop a progressive educational system that led to a great expansion of literacy in the Babylonian empire. We continue to learn about ancient laws and culture from the Code even today.

Check out this article for more information.

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