How Did Babylonians Learn the Hammurabi Code of Laws?


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Ancient Babylonians learned of the laws that formed Hammurabi’s Code by reading them from a stele, or large pillar on which they were carved. Hammurabi had his code inscribed in a four-ton piece of black diorite pillar that stood 7 ½ feet tall. The stele containing the code was located in the Babylonian city of Sippar. The Code contained 282 laws that prescribed a standard of behavior and justice that governed all aspects of Babylonian life.

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An epilogue appearing at the end of the code encouraged citizens involved in disputes to read the code to determine how the law applied to that case. The code continued to influence Babylonian life after the end of Hammurabi’s reign in 1782 B.C. and was in force when the city was sacked by the Hittites in 1595 B.C. Portions of the code have been found on tablets dating 1,000 years after Hammurabi’s death. The code disappeared for many centuries but was unearthed in Susa, Iran in 1901. Archaeologists believe that the King Shutruk-Nahhunte of the Elamite Empire had the code transported to Susa as a form of plunder after sacking Sippar in the 12th century. As of 2015, the stele containing the code is on permanent display at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.

Hammurabi’s Code is known for its brutal punishments and its focus on vengeance. However, the code introduced judicial concepts that are in use today, such as the presumption of innocence. For example, if someone accused another of committing a crime but failed to prove it, the accuser faced death and his property was awarded to the accused.

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