HAMMURAPI (the spelling of the name with a "p" rather than a "b" seems assured by the writing ʿmrpʾ in Ugaritic apparently "the [divine] kinsman is a healer," but interpreted by post-Kassite Babylonian tradition as kimta rapaštu, "widespread kinfolk"), the sixth king (1792–50 b.c.e.) of the first dynasty of Babylon, one of several Amorite kingdoms which rose in southern Babylonia in the aftermath of the fall of the third dynasty of Ur. Amorites spoke a West Semitic language with similarities to Aramaic and Hebrew. Because the cuneiform system lacks ayin, ḪA served as its approximation, the ḫammu-, corresponding to Hebrew ʿam, "people," "kin." As such the king's name is of the same type as Am-ram; Ammi-el etc. Sources for the reign of Hammurapi are his own inscriptions, including the lengthy prologue to the code which bears his name; year names in date formulas which, in keeping with established tradition, list an outstanding military, political, or domestic event by which the year is known; letters, both from Hammurapi's own chancellery, and from other centers, especially the large political archive from *Mari in the upper Euphrates valley; business documents; and legal texts. Since Hammurapi's Babylon has not been excavated, his own diplomatic archive has not been uncovered.
When Hammurapi assumed the throne, Babylon was a small city-state, his predecessors having limited themselves to maintaining their local rule against the ambitions of similar states in the vicinity and against the incursions of nomads. As seen from a document written in the generation before Hammurapi, and from the contemporaneous Mari letters, the situation in southern Babylonia during the early Old Babylonian period was such that each ruler managed to govern within the limited confines of his city-state, while the open interurban spaces were given over to the control of nomadic and seminomadic tribes who roamed the area. It was Hammurapi's accomplishment to weld these several city-states into a cohesive base from which to embark on the wider conquest of the rest of Mesopotamia.
To his contemporaries, Hammurapi was a somewhat lesser figure than he is thought to be today – a minor king in comparison to others, according to a Mari letter. Indeed, for the first 10 years or so of his reign, Babylon seems to have been at least partially subservient to Assyria, then ruled by Shamshi-Adad i. After the death of the latter during, or just after, Hammurapi's 10th year, Assyria began to decline, and a complicated political and military maze took form in Babylonia, expressing itself in a system of ephemeral alliances and counter alliances and reciprocal demands for military aid, each king continually jockeying for a more advantageous position. The serious rivals of Hammurapi were then Yarim-Lim of Yamhad (Aleppo), Zimri-Lim of Mari, Rim-Sin of Larsa, Amut-pi-el of Qatana, and Ibal-pi-El of Eshnunna, together with his Elamite allies.
For the middle 20 years or so of Hammurapi's reign, nothing militarily or politically decisive occurred and the year names of this period reflect in the main a time of intensive civic building and canal making. By the 29th year of his reign Babylon must have been strong enough to take on its rivals. That year initiated 10 years of intensive campaigning, which gave Hammurapi control of all of Mesopotamia. After a long period of seemingly friendly relations, Rim-Sin of Larsa was defeated in the 30th year of Hammurapi's reign; a coalition of forces from Assyria, Eshnunna, and Elam was defeated in the 31st year; Mari, in the 32nd; and Assyria was finally subdued in the 36th and 38th years. This seems to be the limit of Hammurapi's conquests, and there is no reason to identify him with *Amraphel of Genesis 14.
Hammurapi is best known for the so-called Code of Hammurapi (see *Mesopotamia). This is a misnomer, at least to the extent that it is not comprehensive. Modern scholarship tends to view the code as an abstract formulation of actual precedents in the form of ad hoc decisions of the king gathered from the state archives, plus an undetermined smaller element of deliberate, reforming legislation, all this cast in the traditional form of law codes consisting of a prologue, body of law, and epilogue. The actual function, if any, of this code is unknown, and it is never referred to in contemporary legal texts. The code reflects a tripartite division of society: an upper level of free men (awīlum), a class of state dependents (muškēnum, cf. Heb. misken, "poor"), and a slave caste (male wardum; female amtum), with no social mobility between classes. In other basic aspects, the code shows fundamental points of contact with the slightly older Eshnunna code, as well as with the Book of the *Covenant in Exodus 20ff.
The small amount of Old Babylonian literature preserved shows that this was a period of great and original creativity in Akkadian literature. It produced, furthermore, the last reliable formulation of the Sumerian traditions, and present knowledge of Sumerian language and literature is based, to a large extent, on the products of the contemporary scribal school. In religion, the rise of Marduk, the local god of Babylon, to the status of a great god, concomitant with the political rise of Babylon, should be noted.
C.J. Gadd, in: cah2, vol. 2, ch. 5 (1965; incl. bibl., 55–62); J.J. Finkelstein, in: jcs, 20 (1966), 95–118. add. bibliography: S. Meier, in: abd, 3, 39–42; M. Roth, Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor (1995), 71–142; A. Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East c. 3000–330 bc (1995), 108–16; J. Sasson, in: cane, 2, 901–15; M. van de Mierop, King Hammurabi of Babylon: A Biography (2004).