Hammurabi'S Code as a Babylonian Law Code

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The Hammurabi Code is a preserved Babylonian law code that was used around 1754 BC in ancient Mesopotamia. It is the earliest writings of notable length that have been deciphered. The sixth king of Babylon, Hammurabi, enacted this rule. On seven-foot stones called Stelle, as well as various clay tablets, there were versions of these codes. The codes is composed of two hundred and eighty-two rules outlining the repercussions on someone who breaks them. Many of the repercussions for the action that would be taken if the slave or the free man broke the rule became simple (Charpin 12). More than half of the codes were on topics related to the formation of contracts such as salaries. There were also terms of transactions that were spelled out in these codes, for example; the codes stated the liability of a constructor of a house if the said building collapses after being erected. Another part of the Code of Hammurabi discussed matters to do with family and relationships such as divorce, inheritance sexual behavior, and even paternity issues. Only code touched on officials like the judge of the court who reaches an incorrect decision was to be fined and removed from the bench. Also, just a few codes dealt with issues concerning military service. Code of Hammurabi was discovered by a modern archaeologist in the year 1901, and their translation was done and published a year later, 1902. The codes were inscribed in Akkadian language. King Hammurabi ruled for about 42 years and was determined to see fairness and justice practiced in the society. The codes were contained in a stone tablet that had 44 columns and 28 paragraphs with a total of 282 laws.
This essay will discuss what these works tells us about the roles of men and women in the ancient society that they represented (Handcock 31). Various authors’ view will also be discussed to compare and contrast their views about proper and improper dynamics. Some of the sources that would be used to analyze the essay include Charpin, Dominique, and Hammurabi of Babylon. IB Tauris, 2012
Dominique Charpin is a French Astrologist and a professor at College de France. He published numerous works on the history and about the ancient Mesopotamian people. The second source that will be used in this work is Handcock, Percy Stuart Peache.
The code of Hammurabi
Percy is an archeologist and has written more works on the history of the ancient society for a long time. His work can be of great contribution to the analysis of this work. Charpin (2012) claimed in his work titled Hammurabi of Babylon that the code of Hammurabi spelled out the roles of women and men in the society. The work further stated that the code had a section that clearly discussed family issues. From the work of Charpin (2012), one can con conclude that men were more powerful in the society. Under the Code of Hammurabi, men were allowed to sell their children or wives into slavery to pay for their family debts and would also disinherit their sons if they wish to do so.
However, before taking such actions, men were to justify reasons as to why they had to take such extreme actions. It is evident those men were the absolute head of their families and that their decisions could only be challenged by the courts but not any other family member. Men were also to arrange for the marital affairs of their children. They were responsible for dowry payment and other arrangement during marriage process. Women were required to be perfectly faithful to their husbands. This was to ensure that the children were legitimate heirs to the property of their husbands. However, the code does not state if the husbands were required to be faithful to their wives. Rule of 143 of code of Hammurabi stated that “if she (the woman) is was not careful, but was gadabout and thus neglecting their house and also humiliating their husband, that women shall be thrown into waters.”
Charpin (2012) further mentioned that husbands were treated differently in the society. Women acted as a subordinate to their men in the society and were to take over the family property when their husbands passed away. In the ancient society according to the code of Hammurabi, were to bore children and as the society needed more members to work in the family businesses and farms.
Handcock (1932) stated that the role of women that were provided by a code of Hammurabi was those of wives and housekeepers. Girls were not to go to school but to learn house chores from their mothers. This was in preparation for marriage. However, they were also actively involved in food production and trade. Women could get a divorce if they were unable to bore children. This shows how women were not very much valued in the traditional society and were the property of men in the society.
On the other hand, men were to provide for their families. They could go out to hunt and gather foodstuff for their families. They were also the ones to construct the houses and provide security for their families. They were farmers, kings, and rulers, warriors, and fathers. Consequently, Dykes (1904) women were allowed to do business to fend for their families if their husbands passed away or with the permission of their husband. This gives another role of men in the ancient society, they were the absolute decision makers, and their permission was to be sought by their wives before engaging in any form of activity that is close to the role played by men. Dykes (1904) further mentioned that women were not to act as individuals outside the context of their families unless they were royalty or the wives of the powerful men in the society (Dykes 22). The author also echoed the idea that upon reaching puberty, women were to be married off or considered ready for marriage. The old women mostly played the role of midwives to help the younger ones with pregnancy and childbirth issues. The old women also were medicine women in the society and were mostly treated issues related to women, pregnancy and childbirth complications.
Comparison of the views of authors
All the authors mentioned that women were inferior in the society given the roles that the code of Hammurabi stated they should play. Men were given more freedom, and this was revealed in the work of all these authors. For example in the case of adultery, men and women were treated difference. Whereas men were punished by fine or other severe punishment, women were mostly killed when caught in the act of cheating their husbands.
Another similarity in the views of these authors on the role of men and women in the ancient society was that women played mostly the role of being a daughter to their fathers or wives to their husbands (Dykes 21). The authors all stated that when the girl reaches puberty, they will be prepared in readiness for marriage. It is them the male child that was being educated and taken care of in preparation for the future of their families.
Similarly, these authors agreed that men were majorly the providers in their families. They could go out to hunt and gather fruits to bring to their families, and this role was described in the code of Hammurabi. The security of their families was in their hands, and they were to ensure that the family is kept safe out of danger and cold by constructing stronger houses and fencing them. This sentiment was shared by the others as they stated it from the code of Hammurabi.
Charpin (2012) and Dykes (1904) in their works, showed similarity on how husbands and wives were treated differently with men given more power over their wives and could even sell them to pay debts. The authors also recognized that men were the sole decision makers and women were to seek their permission on various family issues failure to which such woman according to the code of Hammurabi rule number 143 could be thrown into waters as a way rejecting them.
The role of men and women were totally different as portrayed by more opinion of these authors except few contrast views on these roles. However, there were some differences in views of these authors.
While Dyke 1904 claimed that women were allowed to do business to feed their families, Handcock (1932) had a different point of view. He asserted that women were allowed to have a business but not many by the code of Hammurabi because the husband could divorce them if they are too busy. It was therefore upon women to balance their family issues with business so as not to annoy their husbands. The different in these tow opinions is that the latter author stated the limit the extent to which the women could carry out their businesses while the earlier one stated that women could have a business without explaining the extent to which they could do that.
Another different view is that on the freedom of women, Charpin (2012) asserted that women were not allowed to carry out duties outside their families individually but Dykes (1904) had a different view. He claimed that the royalty women and wives of powerful people in the society could go out and carry out individual activities outside the context of their homes. They were not bound by the code of Hammurabi to stay at home and do traditional women chores. Therefore is stating the role of women, authors differed on this view because these were just a section or a small number of women in the society and thus most writers did not consider them as part of women in the society but people with privileges granted to their due to their status in the society((Handcock 45). What one can deduce here also is that the code of Hammurabi favored people with high social class in the society as these laws were not applied equally to the classes in the society.
In summary, code of Hammurabi contained laws that govern how the society in the ancient Mesopotamia was governed and set rules that also guided behavior and roles of people in the society and families. Even though women were considered the inferior being in the society, the codes of Hammurabi protected them in cases where they are wrongfully accused of adultery or any other social ill by their family or husband. They allowed carrying some property and dowry and leaving their husbands if it is proven that indeed the allegations are wrong.
In all, these works showed how the ancient women played inferior roles as compared to men. Only those who had privileges of royalty were different. Women majorly played the role of mothers whose primary task was in the kitchen and rising if their young ones. Men were expected to provide for the needs of their families on food, security among others. Women though would do some other task with the permission of their husbands such as being engaged in businesses. The punishment given to men and women for the same crime were different for example, women would be killed when caught in adultery, but men would only be punished with a fine. The works further showed that education was only for a male child in the society, but girls were to be taught how to cook or be good mothers and housekeepers. They were being prepared for marriage. Also, authors’ argument tends to agree on various issues on the code of Hammurabi and the role of men and women in the society.

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Work Cited
Charpin, Dominique. Hammurabi of Babylon. IB Tauris, 2012.
Dykes, D. Oswald. "Code of Hammurabi." Jurid. Rev. 16 (1904): 72
Handcock, Percy Stuart Peache, ed. The code of Hammurabi. No. 15. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1932.

October 26, 2021




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