Why Was Hammurabi's Code Unjust: Argumentative Essay

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Law code of Hammurabi has 282 law codes regarding revenge, faith in the gods, a sense of justice, and inequality all recorded on an 8ft tall stone tablet around 1700 BCE. The document I am analyzing was written by Leonard William King in 1915 and is titled Law Code of Hammurabi. Leonard William King was an English archaeologist who translated many historical documents including Babylonian religion and mythology, the seven tablets of Creation, and many more historic articles related to Babylonian society. His purpose in writing this was to narrow down all the law codes of Hammurabi and translate them for everyone to understand. This document is translated from Cuneiform to English and shows the importance of Hammurabi as a leader and all his 282 law codes. The document shows how the law code of Hammurabi is extremely strict, and almost cruel regarding wrongs against family, labor, personal property, real estate, trade, and business but on the other hand it gave the Babylonian society a sense of right and wrong. The laws were unfair to the different social classes as they treated the upper class and lower class differently.

The code of Hammurabi gives us insight into Babylonian society and how the law codes were regulating the order of the society. Hammurabi was a great leader and was sent by God to rule over men to give protection to the right and bring well-being to the oppressed. His law codes were harsh with some even sentencing him to death. The law codes can be described as unfair towards the slaves and females. The slaves were the lowest class in Babylonian society and were mostly prisoners of war or free men turned into slaves to pay depth. The code of Hammurabi punished the upper class and lower class differently as code 205 tells that,” if a slave of anyone has smitten the privates of a free-born man, his ear shall be cut off” However the law code is different for the upper class. It says that “if a man has smitten the privates of a patrician of his own rank, he shall pay one mina of silver”. A mina is estimated to be valued at three-month wages and according to today’s earnings, a mina could be worth approximately 4200 USD. Babylonian slaves had the least amount of power but the slave owners on the other hand had a sense of superiority because the law codes were in constant favor of them. If you break someone’s bone that is a slave, you must pay the owner money. If you are a slave owner, your identical bone to the other slave owner is broken. This shows how if a slave’s bone is broken then the punishment is money but if something similar happened to the upper class the similar bone is broken of the accused because the slaves weren’t considered human, they were considered as a medium of exchange and counted them among lands, cattle, vessels. Similarly, another law code says If a man killed a pregnant maidservant he was punished with a monetary fine, but if he killed a free-born pregnant woman, his own daughter would be killed as retribution. This shows how the feelings of slaves were just put down using money but if something similar happened to a man in the upper-class justice is served. The slaves were usually prisoners of war or free people who were in debt. Law code 117 says if a man is in debt and sells his wife, son, or daughter, or binds them over to service, for three years they shall work in the house of their purchaser or master; in the fourth year, they shall be given their freedom. Slaves have almost no rights, but for the few rights they do have, they also have responsibilities. The responsibility of being a slave is to cater to their master’s every need. Law number 282 says, 'If a slave says to his master: 'You are not my master,' if they convict him his master shall cut off his ear.' Similarly, code 282 states that, if a slave were to say to his master, I don’t need you then his ear would be cut off. The law codes were clearly hard on the lower class compared to the upper class.

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Women were not treated quite as badly, but they are also treated unfairly, just like the slaves. The role of Babylonian women in their society, as in most cultures throughout time, was primarily that of wife, mother, and housekeeper. Women did not attend the schools run by priests or scribes unless they were royalty. Most of the Women usually stayed home and learned the household tasks they would perform when they grew up and got married. There were several laws that favored men over women. Shortly after a young girl reached puberty, her father arranged a marriage for her. Marriages were legal contracts between two families and women didn’t have a say in who they wanted to marry. After the marriage, if a woman wanted to get a divorce she had to go through a legal process as the law code 141-143 said if the woman wanted out of the marriage or if the husband wished to avoid returning the dowry the courts had to be involved. Women could only take their dowry and children and return to their father’s house if they could demonstrate their innocence and his neglect. But if she had neglected her house and husband, then he sent her away without dowry or children and if he wished, he could decide to keep her as a servant. These law codes highlight how women had to fight in courts to get a divorce whereas, on the other hand, men can even send the woman home without dowry and children or keep her as a slave if she can’t prove her innocence. The wife was considered property just as slaves were considered property and a wife’s sexual relations belonged exclusively to her husband and if any other man interfered with this, he was to be punished with the wife. The law code says, “If a man’s wife be surprised with another man, both shall be tied and thrown into the water, but the husband may pardon his wife and the king his slaves.” Even if a woman wasn’t intimate with another man, but she said no to having intercourse with her husband according to the law codes she isn’t considered his wife. Infertility was another issue that put women lower than men. The importance of having children, especially boys was so high that men were even permitted to engage in sexual relations with other women, such as the maid, just for the sake of having a child. If the child wasn’t a boy and the husband didn’t like the child, he had the option to disown the child. Another set of law codes emphasizes how if a woman loses her child due to the man being physical, the man must pay money. This gives us insight into how men were allowed to hit women as the law code 209 says, “If a man strikes a free-born woman so that she loses her unborn child, he shall pay ten shekels for her loss” but according to law code 213, “If he strike the maid-servant of a man, and she loses her child, he shall pay two shekels in the money”. This also shows how the law codes were unjust towards women but also slaves because life in a Babylonian society was worth few shekels and if a man killed the maidservant, he only must pay one-third of a mina. Law codes of Hammurabi did give women some rights with land on dowry but at the same time were completely unfair if we were to compare the rights and allowance given to men.

These are regulations that Hammurabi established so that the world, specifically Babylonian society could have a stable and fair government, but some law codes were still unfair towards the slaves and women. His law codes followed the system of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth but when the punishments were for the upper class and men, they would mostly be fines. The law codes did not allow explanations and had harsh punishments for people of different ranks therefore they were unjust and did not give society a sense of justice.

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Why Was Hammurabi’s Code Unjust: Argumentative Essay. (2023, August 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 21, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/why-was-hammurabis-code-unjust-argumentative-essay/
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Why Was Hammurabi’s Code Unjust: Argumentative Essay. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/why-was-hammurabis-code-unjust-argumentative-essay/> [Accessed 21 May 2024].
Why Was Hammurabi’s Code Unjust: Argumentative Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Aug 29 [cited 2024 May 21]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/why-was-hammurabis-code-unjust-argumentative-essay/
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