"A kiss may ruin a human life"Oscar Wilde


Who is Hammurabi?

Who is Hammurabi?

The archaeologists found in their excavations thousands of clay tablets from the time of ancient Mesopotamia, which gave testimony to the era of the first dynasty of Babylon. The period from the 19th to the 16th century BC The historians call Old Babylonian, according to the language spoken at that time. It was a form of Akkadian.

Among the tablets were found innumerable letters which gave the historian an immediate insight into the life of the time. Since few people could write at that time, respected writers did the work. To what extent they had "edited" the dictated texts is not known. Other sources for the historians are legal documents and economic texts. In addition, one also found so-called omina, which contained prophecies.

The documents also make it easier for historians to date events. The so-called annual formulas on the documents referred to significant events in the history of the country, be they wars, the construction of buildings and canals or religious festivals. Epochs were also named after outstanding events. The following were then always counted as the year 1,2 ... after the event.

The most famous ruler of that time was Hammurabi. It is interesting, however, that the knowledge about him was lost with the downfall of his era. The Bible and Herodotus know nothing about him. Only the excavations of the German expedition of 1899-1917 brought the ruler back to the public eye. 1901 also a stele was found, which was provided with his law collection.

The Reign of Hammurabi

Babylon was around 2000 BC. A little important city. The Amurrites called the city Babila, Bab-ilim, from which the Greeks then developed the term Babylon. The first king of the first dynasty was Sumuabum, who lived from 1894-1881 BC. Reigned. Under his successors, the power of the city expanded further.

As 1792 BC Hammurabi became ruler of Babylon, the power range was limited to about 80 km in the area. To what extent Babylon was independent at this time is uncertain. Documents found indicate that the city was under the sovereignty of Assyria during the first ten years of the reign.

Hammurabi did not make any major campaigns in the next 20 years. In the fight against neighbors, he found in the city of Mari one of his allies, which often helped him out with troops.

In the 30th year there was a confrontation with Elam, Assyria, the Gutains and other countries. The Babylonians succeeded in defeating their greatest opponent Larsa in southern Mesopotamia. Two years later, victories followed in northern Mesopotamia.

The alliance with Mari broke in Hammurabi's 34th year in office. The Babylonian king now ruled the territory of the middle Euphrates. Whether he had occupied larger parts of Assyria is uncertain.

After 43 years he had almost completely subjugated Mesopotamia. But his empire was not given a long life. Even during the reign of his son Samsuiluna (1749-1712 BC), there was unrest in southern Mesopotamia, and at the borders appeared a new people - the Kassites. From the west, the Hittites advanced almost simultaneously, but retreated after initial successes. The Kassites finally replaced the Hammurabi dynasty. The Old Babylonian era in Mesopotamia ended at this time.


The rulers of old Babylon saw the threatening problem of rising indebtedness of farmers and artisans. In order to maintain the functioning of the state, laws were passed to combat these abuses. Thus, when a new ruler took office, debt relief was often granted to favor the population.

First Law Collections

One of the first collections of law was that of the great Ur-Nammu of the Ur-III period. The first Babylonian laws came from the time of the ruler Lipit-Ishtar (1934-1924 BC). The laws consisted of a prologue praising the ruler and his policy for the benefit of the country. Part of this collection of laws has been preserved.

Are known provisions on ship rental, lease and family law. The "paragraphs" also regulated details of everyday life. Thus, a provision has been handed down which stipulated that the person who felled a tree in a strange garden had to pay a substantial fine.

Another Babylonian law collection was written shortly before the reign of Hammurabi in the city of Eschnunna. Here, maximum prices have been set for certain daily necessities. This should slow down the rising prices. These laws also regulated rents and wages, as well as family law matters.

The limitation of interest for barley and silver was introduced here, which then also took Hammurabi in his law collection. In addition, the jurisdiction was regulated. Processes of life and death were negotiated before the king. All other trials were heard by the judges in Eschnunna.

Laws of Hammurabi

Historians at the end of the 19th century found a large clay tablet library in the ruins of Nineveh, the former capital of the Assyrians. Among the texts were also copies of the laws of Hammurabi, which were archived over 1000 years ago or copied again and again. Another reference to this law collection was found in Susa 1901-1902. Excavations revealed a stela over two meters high, on which the laws were engraved.

The text consists of 282 paragraphs, which should not be understood as numerical enumeration as we know it today. The first editor who published the texts after finding them had simply counted out the sections that started with "If ...". Other documents with laws of Hammurabi were also found, so that the actual number of "paragraphs" is controversial. It is also uncertain which year Hammurabi's government was enacted, and there are signs that it was in his final years of reign.

As with older law collections, this text also consisted of Prologue, Laws, and Epilogue. The prologue praised the achievements and benefits of the ruler. In the epilogue, the king's righteousness was pointed out and he recommended that his followers follow these laws in the spirit of Hammurabi. Should a ruler ignore this clue, he should be cursed.

Whether the work Hammurabis was applied in the daily legal practice after his death, is controversial. Some historians suggested that the individual paragraphs actually came from daily legal practice, others considered the Codex Hammurabi as a rather theoretical work, which had no entry into practice.

Literature: Horst Klengel - King Hammurapi and everyday life of Babylon, Artemis 1991