Hammurabi (reigned 1792-1750 B.C.) was a Babylonian king. One of the outstanding rulers of early antiquity, he is especially known as a lawgiver, the author of the code which bears his name.
Nothing is known of the early life of Hammurabi. His name, sometimes written Khammurapikh, is West Semitic, and he was the sixth ruler of the Amorite dynasty founded by Shumu-Abum in 1894 B.C. On his accession Hammurabi inherited a kingdom of moderate size, one of a number of Mesopotamian city-states.
The first years of Hammurabi's reign were spent in consolidating his rule and in diplomatic maneuvers which strengthened his position; in alliance with Rim-Sin, king of neighboring Larsa, he repelled the Elamites from the eastern frontier, but in his thirtieth year he turned against his former ally; Rim-Sin capitulated, and Hammurabi became master of the south. He then conquered the kingdom of Mari, and in 1759 that city was razed by his orders. Eshnunna and Assyria soon fell to him as well.
These successes established Hammurabi as the leading power in western Asia. He controlled the trade routes to the west and may even have campaigned beyond the Euphrates, though the once popular identification of Hammurabi with "Amraphel, King of Shinar" (Genesis 14:9), does not nowadays find credence. His organization of the captured territories is known from letters he sent to his officials and the governors of provinces; these show him as an able administrator who supervised in person every aspect of his government.
Code of Hammurabi
The code of laws published by Hammurabi's order in every city of his realm has survived in several copies, the most complete being a stele of polished black diorite 8 feet high found at Susa, whither it had been carried by a later conqueror. The laws, originally 282 in number, do not form a complete code in the modern sense but are rather a series of enactments dealing with specific cases in which reform or clarification was needed.
They deal with a variety of subjects: marriage and inheritance, slavery, debt and usury, and the activities of trader, farmer, and tavern keeper. Compensation for specific injuries, the fees of surgeon and barber and veterinarian, a scale of punishments for assault and theft, the wages of laborers, and charges for the hire of boats and livestock are all laid down.
In the prologue to his code, the King declares his desire to "establish justice, " and at the end he declares that through his enactments "the strong shall not injure the weak, and the orphan and the widow shall receive justice." Although this was not a new concept—earlier compilations of laws are known—Hammurabi yet stands out as one of the great humanitarian figures of history.
The Code of Hammurabi is translated and edited, with a good commentary, by Godfrey R. Driver and John C. Miles in The Babylonian Laws (2 vols., 1952-1955). For a brief summary of the contents see James G. Macqueen, Babylon (1964). Leonard W. King, The Letters and Inscriptions of Hammurabi (3 vols., 1898-1900), is a selection of the correspondence, but the letters are widely scattered in later publications too numerous to enumerate. The Cambridge Ancient History, 3d ed., vol. 2, pt. 1, has an excellent chapter by C. J. Gadd entitled "Hammurabi and the End of His Dynasty." F. M. T. Böhl, King Hammurabi of Babylon in the Setting of His Time (1946), should also be consulted. □
Circa 1792 - circa 1750 b.c.e.
King of Babylon
Conqueror and Lawgiver. When Hammurabi first came to the throne, he ruled a small area around the city of Babylon— including the nearby cities of Kish, Sippar, and Borsippa—he was the subject of the king Rim-Sin of Larsa. In his thirtieth regnal year Hammurabi defeated Rim-Sin and seized control of much of central and southern Mesopotamia. Two years later, circa 1760 b.c.e., Hammurabi gained control of Eshnunna, the dominant city in the Diyala River valley, and further north, the city of Ashur on the Tigris. These conquests gave him control over the trade routes to and from the Iranian plateau. In the following year, to gain control of the trade routes to the west, Hammurabi attacked Mari on the middle Euphrates, eventually tearing down its walls. This conquest made him the sole and undisputed master of Mesopotamia, a kingdom his successors were unable to retain. Hammurabi was greatly revered in future generations, who read, studied, and recopied his law code, royal inscriptions, and royal correspondence. A substantial portion of his law code is devoted to marriage and family law.
Amélie Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East c. 3000–330 B.C., 2 volumes (London & New York: Routledge, 1995).
fl. c. eighteenth century b.c.
Emperor of Babylon who was the creator of the first known code of civil and criminal laws. He freed Babylon from Elam and expanded it into a powerful empire by conquering neighboring lands. In addition to being a capable military leader, he was an effective administrator, building cities, temples, and canals and promoting progress in agriculture. His legal system, the Hammurabi Code, was discovered in a.d. 1901, carved on the ruins of a monument.