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Document Analysis of Codex Hammurabi

The Code of King Hammurabi sheds light on the understandings of justice in ancient empires. The document contains over two hundred laws dealing with common crimes. King Hammurabi probably regarded the creation of the code as a way to solidify his political influence, and the proposed system did not actually promote justice for all people.

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The reason why the document was actually written is that it could help King Hammurabi to glorify himself. King Hammurabi’s willingness to “advertise” himself is evident from the selection of epithets. In an immodest way, King Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC) highlights his indispensability and claims to be the protecting king that has not withdrawn himself from common people. To a large extent, the Code of Hammurabi can be considered as a political move, and, surprisingly, the epilogue shares multiple similarities with modern politicians’ persuasive propaganda speeches. For instance, King Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC) resorts to emotional manipulations and claims that his wise laws will help to “protect widows and orphans” (para. 4). Thus, the ruler pictures himself as the protector of the most vulnerable people.

Thanks to the code, King Hammurabi probably wanted to appeal to others’ fear of gods to remain powerful even after his death. The ruler demonstrates his status in every possible way, thus saying that his will is basically the will of gods. Thanks to his said connection with gods, King Hammurabi promises that every future ruler that dares corrupt his words or destroy his law will be punished. He claims that any ruler that treats the code and its author without deep respect will lose the “glory of royalty” and be cursed by gods (King Hammurabi, 1792-1750 BC, para. 8). It is likely that King Hammurabi saw the code’s creation as the chance to prevent future leaders from erasing his name from history.

Based on the readings, ancient Babylon’s judicial system was supposed to offer certain protections to freed common people without promoting equal access to justice. Thus, the code promoted the co-called an eye for an eye principle and the compensation of damages to freed citizens. However, the property belonging to courts and authorities was considered more important based on the size of punishment for stealing it. Despite King Hammurabi’s (1792-1750 BC) lofty speeches about protection and justice, his laws single out specific categories of citizens, such as slaves and prostitutes, that deserve to be punished even for harmless actions. However, in terms of missing information, the provided ancient documents do not shed light on the potential conflict of laws and the system of priorities. Thus, to better understand the system, it would be essential to know whether King Hammurabi planned to introduce the principle of preemption.

In summary, the Code of Hammurabi was probably seen as another way to gain more political power. King Hammurabi could regard its creation as the chance to cement his unique place in history. The documents reveal the absence of equality in the judicial system, but rules to resolve conflicts between separate provisions remain unclear.


King Hammurabi. (1792-1750 BC). The code of Hammurabi: Prologue and epilogue. (L. W. King, Trans.). Web.

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