When most assholes talk about Hammurabi in history textbooks and other annoying bullshit, they are all like, "Oooh Hammurabi made the first codified system of laws in human history and here's a picture of him and here's EIGHT MILLION PAGES OF BORING LEGAL SHIT about laws and jurisprudence and god-knows-whatever-the-fuck-else, and within the span of like two sentences this guy goes from "Badass dude with mega beard emotionlessly condemning terrified citizens to a brutal waterlogged death while sitting on a gold throne with his feet resting on the back of a mountain lion," to a previously-unknown level of "holy shit lighten up here Phoenix Jones I'm not fucking trying to pass the Bar or anything here"-grade technical jargon and everyone wants to slit their wrists with a letter opener.
I'm not going to talk boring legal semantics. Yes, Hammurabi instituted the first known Code of Laws in human history. That's awesome.
What's more awesome is that his law was basically a government-issued mandate to Live for Revenge, and he carved that law on 4-ton hunk of black rock shaped like a giant penis. He also ruled the most powerful city-state in the world for 42 years, conquered Mesopotamia with a marauding army of flaming war chariots and bloodthirsty spearmen, destroyed and plundered Ancient Sumeria, kicked the Assyrians asses, dished out death sentences on a daily basis, commanded that short-changing bartenders should be executed by drowning, and is still so highly-respected as a paragon of moral badassitude that his face is carved into government buildings across the world – including the U.S. Capitol and the Supreme Court.
It's good to be the King.
The ultimate Lawful Neutral Ancient World Asskicker, Hammurabi became the sixth King of Babylon after his dad beefed it in like 1792 BC or some shit. When Hammurabi took over, Babylon was still some random-ass town in the Fertile Crescent, and his city-state covered 50 square miles, which is like roughly the size of Sioux City, IA, which of course is the fourth-largest city in Iowa. By the time he was done, he'd have a multi-civilization empire covering a massive swath of land that could stretch from Sioux City to Washington, DC.
A natural genius with a talent for all things badassitude-related, Hammurabi's expansion wasn't just because of his hardcore ability to trample the scrotums of all who opposed him with a fleet of war chariots and flaming arrows, but also because this guy was a master at awesome 4X-style diplomacy. First, he went south into Sumeria and zigguratted that ass, conquering the once-powerful city-states of Borsippa, Kish, and Sippar. Then, when the three other big powers in Mesopotamia got a little nervous and tried to fuck him up, Hammurabi played all three of them against each other so that he never had more than one enemy at a time. He befriended one empire, teamed up with it to kick the ass of another, then double-cross his allies, and by the time the third empire got its act together it was already too late. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am, now here are a bunch of temples and public works courtesy of your new King Hammurabi, the man who now rules all land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.
As if conquering a decent portion of the known world wasn't a big enough deal, the main reason Hammurabi is a household name among history nerds is because of the afore-mentioned phallic-looking law code that he imposed upon all those lucky enough to find themselves in the grasp of his iron rule. Yeah, sure, there may have been some Sumerian fuck who had a codified law before Hammurabi, but this is the oldest one we've ever found so screw it that's what we're going with.
In true badass fashion, King Hammurabi had his omnipotent 282-item legal code carved out on giant-ass 8' tall black stone tablets strategically positioned every couple hundred feet around his Kingdom just in case anybody ever forgot the fact that he made a bunch of laws happen. Carved from single slabs of diorite, the Code begins and ends with a prayer to the gods, but it's not a nice Mr. T / Hulk Hogan kind of "drink your milk and eat your vitamins" prayer – it's a creepy-as-hell prayer requesting the Gods of Babylon to eternally damn and curse anyone who doesn't abide by Hammurabi's Four Tons of Law to a life of misery and eternal damnation.
Then just to be awesome he had a guy carve a pic of him high-fiving the King of the Babylonian Gods Moses-style so everyone knew how serious he was.
Hey, check out my stele baby.
Hammurabi's Law was a pretty brutal code, in which the following unpardonable offences were punishable by death: Theft, perjury, kidnapping, harboring slaves or fugitives, banditry, breaking and entering, insubordination by military and police officers, selling wine to outlaws, murder, building an unsafe house, and going into someone's house to put out a fire and then robbing him (Hammurabi was very specific about this). People who were guilty of incest, indecent exposure, or short-changing their customers were thrown into a river, and medical malpractice resulted in the physician getting his fingers chopped off. Basically this guy wasn't messing around.
While the most famous aspect of Hammurabi's Code involves the much-quoted "Eye for an Eye, Tooth for a Tooth" bit (awesomely known by as the Lex Talionis, the "Law of Retaliation"), here are a couple of other excellent statutes, brought to you courtesy of your favorite Babylonian.
- If a man charge a man with sorcery, and cannot prove it, he who is charged with sorcery shall go to the river. Into the river he shall throw himself, and if the river overtake him his accuser shall take the estate of the accused. If the river shows the man to be innocent, and he comes forth unharmed, he who charged him with sorcery shall be put to death. He who threw himself in the river shall take the estate of his accuser.
- If the wife of a man be taken in lying with another man, they shall bind them and throw them in the water. If the husband of the woman would save her life, he may.
- If a man take a wife and she give a maid-servant to her husband, and that maid-servant bear children and afterwards would take rank with her mistress, because she has borne children, her mistress may not sell her for money, but she may reduce her to bondage and count her among the maid-servants. If she have not borne children, the mistress may sell her for money.
- If a savage bull, in his charge, gore a man and bring about his death, this case has no penalty. If a man's bull have been wont to gore, and they have made known to him his habit of goring and he have not protected his horns or have not tied him up, and the bull gore the son of a man and bring about his death, he shall pay one-half mana of silver.
- If a tavern-keeper does not accept corn according to gross weight in payment of a drink, but takes money, and the price of the drink is less than that of the corn, she shall be convicted and thrown into the water.
Obviously, nowadays he's remembered as a wise, intelligent, fair ruler, because this shit is awesome.
That's basically just a taste of what Hammurabi had to offer the peeps of Babylonia. Basically, his code amounts to Badass Revenge – if some shitty contractor builds a house for a guy and it falls down and kills him, the contractor is put to death. If the homeowner's son dies in the accident, so does the contractor's son. If you fuck up irrigating your fields and end up flooding your neighbor's crops, you owe him restitution. If you can't pay, you and your entire family are sold into slavery and the money is given to the guy to pay him back for his losses. Fuck yeah accountability or some shit.
There were also quite a few social laws in there, mostly aimed at keeping families together. If you pimp-slapped your mom, you got your hand chopped off. If you told your father he wasn't your "real dad", Hammurabi would cut out your tongue and feed it to dogs.
Women had a pretty decent go of it, considering that this was like 1700 BC – you could keep your kids and remarry if your husband divorced you, and if he died all the rights of homeownering were transferred to you, because, as Hammurabi put it, a big part of the Code was "to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak and to see that justice is done to widows and orphans." Of course, if you were deemed a "bad wife", whatever that means, then your husband could downgrade you from wife to servant and force you to work as his slave, too, so it wasn't exactly the sort of place Susan B. Anthony would've hung out at either.
Most of Hammurabi's punishments involved execution by drowning. Basically he'd tie you to a board and throw you in the Euphrates River. If you somehow got out and survived, good for you – I guess the Gods want you to live, and maybe you were innocent all along. If you drowned, good riddance. I'm also a huge fan of this because basically rather than sentencing you to death for your crimes, Hammurabi is sentencing people to be strapped to a board and thrown in a river, and any time the Legal System advocates putting a man or woman in a life-or-death struggle for their own survival t's pretty badass.
Hammurabi's Code held together all of his conquered people under one unified system of laws, and that, combined with Hammurabi's forty-plus year iron-fisted reign over Mesopotamia, led to a period of unprecedented peace in the Fertile Crescent. Roads and irrigation systems were built. Temples went up. Defensive fortifications were built around large cities. Everyone tipped their bartenders.
I'm not sure about this new Civ game.
Hammurabi died in 1750 BC. His throne was passed to his sons, but, as is pretty typical with spoiled rich asshole sons of emperors, they all fought each other, couldn't agree on anything, and pissed everyone off, and all the civs Hammurabi had conquered rebelled and the Empire broke apart (they'd be back a few hundred years later under Nebuchadnezzar).
The Code of Hammurabi was sacked by Persians a few hundred years after Hammurabi's death, but its legacy lived on in written, codified laws passed down by kings throughout Mesopotamia for the next few millennia. The original Stele was dug up in Persia in 1901. Nowadays its in the Louvre.
Hammurabi chokes out a fucking lion
while dishing out laws and shit.