Hammurabi was born at some time between 1820 and 1810 BC. He was the son of King Sinmuballit of Babylon. We don’t know very much about Hammurabi’s early years. He did receive some training in the basics of administration although Babylon was just a city-state similar to many others in Mesopotamia at that time.
Early years in power
- Hammurabi inherited the throne from his father in 1792 BC. In his early years in power, Hammurabi began by dealing with practical issues, such as building and restoring temples. He also ordered the building of a series of new canals for the city and made the city walls stronger and higher than they had ever been.
- Hammurabi wanted Babylon to be more than just another city-state in Mesopotamia. He started to build the military power of the city and soon he began to wage war against rival city-states in Mesopotamia.
- King Hammurabi was also a very strong diplomat and so, instead of always declaring war, he knew that it made sense to sometimes build friendships with other city-states. He used this approach in 1764 BC when he made deals with other city-states to prevent them launching an attack on Babylon.
- This allowed Hammurabi to defeat a tribe called the Larsans and move east. He brought Sumer under his control before moving north to conquer the Mari. This meant that the Babylonian Empire now had better access to trade routes in Mesopotamia.
- The king set up an efficient system of taxation to pay for his building projects, he encouraged trade in the region, and science and culture flourished. Artists started to create pictures that reflected daily life. Pictures showed men fighting, lions playing and birds flying.
Hammurabi’s law codes
- Hammurabi is probably best known for his law codes that his people respected and which ensured order throughout his city. Many historians see the codes more as a way of making Hammurabi look like a great leader, but they are still an important attempt to establish decent standards of behaviour in society.
- The code consists of 282 articles and was inscribed in clay tablets.
- The punishments were often very harsh though. For instance, a son who hit his father could expect to have his hands cut off. The chopping off of hands was a common punishment as were beatings. Some more minor punishments included fines.
- Hammurabi’s Code is well known for its association with the term “an eye for an eye”. This means that if a person is injured or harmed, the person responsible should receive a similar injury or punishment. For instance, if a man were to break another man’s leg then the same injury would have to be inflicted on the man who committed the crime.
- In reality though, the punishments depended on social status or even whether or not you were a man or a woman. Those from the top of society generally only had to endure light punishments, such as fines.
- A woman who cheated on her husband could expect to face a death sentence. Slaves also tended to receive much harsher punishments.
- There were even laws on family life. The laws allowed men and women to divorce each other although in practice the law tended to favour the men.
- Most of the laws in the code covered marriage and the family. Parents would set up arranged marriages for their sons and daughters, and the bride and groom would sign a contract.
End of Hummurabi’s empire
- After King Hammurabi died in 1750 BC, his son Samsu-Iluna was left to hold together the empire his father had created under the threat of invading forces.
- He failed and the Babylonian Empire collapsed very soon after Hammurabi’s death. It was then destroyed by a tribe called the Hittites in 1595 BC. A people called the Kassites then took over the city and they were followed by the unpopular Assyrians. Babylon would rise again, but not for some time.
- Hammurabi is now remembered as one of the greatest kings of Mesopotamia due to his ability to balance force and reason at different times during his reign. Under his rule, Mesopotamia experienced one of its most peaceful and prosperous periods.