The Ancient Mesopotamian Law Code of Hammurabi

Code-of-Hammurabi

Dating from 1770 B.C., the most complete of ancient Mesopotamian legal texts is the Code of Hammurabi, a compendium of 282 laws which dictated the rules of commercial interactions and set fines and punishments for those found in violation of these laws. Inscribed upon a phallic piece of black obsidian, Hammurabi’s Code is depicted as receiving these laws from Shamash, the god of the sun, justice, and order, with the primary role of protecting the weak from the strong. It is written and recognized within the Hammurabi Code the first appearance of the biblical punishment of an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. Considered by many scientists to be one of the foundational stones of world civilization, the Hammurabi Code is a mixed blessing for women, both protecting women and lowering their social rank as second class citizens. Upon the positive end, the Hammurabi Code recognized women’s basic right to own property, fundamental in its importance as it provided women legal protection in regard to the control of their dowries and inheritance. The Hammurabi Code also forbade arbitrary poor treatment and/or neglect, which meant wives who were ill or barren couldn’t be simply discarded. In divorce, women were permitted to keep their dowries, and in widowhood, women were permitted the opportunity to utilize their husbands estates as their own for the duration of their lives. The Hammurabi Code essentially recognizes Mesopotamian women as distinct persons in a legal sense, rather than property which is how most of the ancient world recognized women. Upon the negative side however, women’s economic and sexual freedoms became severely restricted, forbidden from performing any commercial activity outside of their home and supporting and legalizing the concept of the patriarchy by providing men immense autonomy over the bodies of women, meaning husbands and fathers now owned the sexual reproduction of their wives and daughters which lead to women being executed for adultery, virginity becoming a condition of marriage, and rape not viewed as a violent sexual offense against the female victim, but rather an economic offense against her father as it would cause the father to suffer a severe loss in respect to a daughters bride price as the daughter would be considered a damaged commodity. It’s unclear how these legal mandates and statutes worked at the local level as they are ideals of Mesopotamian culture, but the driving force of these laws and how they are setup and constituted is abundantly clear, allowing male authority and patriarchal notions of male honor, to become sacrosanct

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