What Form of Government Did the Mesopotamians Have?

Xuan Che/CC-BY 2.0

The laws and government of King Hammurabi are arguably the most well documented and important concerning ancient Mesopotamia, and consisted of a ruling king whose role was to protect the citizens while appeasing the gods. Day-to-day affairs were handled by civil servants and scribes and the entire system could be described in today’s terms as a centralized state. Mesopotamia is in fact credited with inventing government, law and bureaucracy.

While early Sumerian civilizations are thought to have had a generous welfare system in place to care for the less fortunate, the laws of Hammurabi were often harsh despite holding the tenant of protecting the weak very highly.

The saying “an eye for an eye” was enforced in Mesopotamia through the right of law, which meant justice was often brutal. Law and government were intricately linked, much like many societies today. Initially, older Babylonian legal procedures required participants to plead their cases directly to government officials without legal representation.

The Code of Hammurabi is the oldest set of laws in existence. The laws were carved on an 8-foot high monument, which contained the legality, legal proceedings and punishments for 282 laws. While Hammurabi is credited with most of these laws, many in fact originated from previous eras, such as that of Sumer and Babylon.