Hammurabi's Code: Wisdom And Cruelty

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Thesis statement. Because the Hammurabi Code relied on chance to determine innocent verse guilty, it is wrong. Therefore, the whole Code should never be used in a court of law, but a code should employ evidence to decide one’s judgment in all cases.

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Hammurabi was a king in Babylon who thought his divine wisdom had been given to him by the gods to rule just and righteously over the people under him. He ruled from 1792 to 1750 B.C. At the time of his ruling, he was regarded as a god among the people, and the people respected him as well. Part of his success came from the code in which he wrote. Other factors were peace in the land and victories in war. But, the code that he wrote was by far Hammurabi’s most famous accomplishment. The deity in which he claims to have given him the code is Shamash or Utu, this is the god of the sun, justice, morality, and truth.

Hammurabi did not only want to keep his wisdom to himself but share with the people under his rule. The people would get told that the gods they worship have direct contact with Hammurabi, which would increase the people’s support for their ruler. The people also enjoyed buildings funded by the king, the Wiki says he did projects like “heightening the city walls for defensive purposes, and expanding the temples.” When Hammurabi wrote to the people, the population had high respect for the code.

Though Hammurabi thought he was given divine knowledge, we know people are imperfect and may fall under illusions and largely bad ideas. Although we today, may think the Hammurabi code was cruel, unjust, or even ruthless, these are laws that written by people in their culture and what was accepted at the time. Killing as punishment was a commonly accepted punishment in the days of Hammurabi. If the ancient Babylonians could see modern laws they would be shocked too. However, cultures may accept various different punishments but judging based on luck or strategy to manipulate broken laws can be condemned as wrong anywhere. The way king Hammurabi judged based on luck comes about in-laws.

If any one bring an accusation against a man, and the accused go to the river and leap into the river, if he sink in the river his accuser shall take possession of his house. But if the river prove that the accused is not guilty, and he escape unhurt, then he who had brought the accusation shall be put to death, while he who leaped into the river shall take possession of the house that had belonged to his accuser.

This law makes a person jump into a river and if they sink (drown), they were guilty and their possessions are transferred over to the accuser. If the accused floated and survived then they took possession of their accuser, with the accuser being put to death. One way king Hammurabi probably thought this method of deciding was right is he worshiped many gods that he thought would influence whether a person sank or floated. Unfortunately, a couple of laws were written in a way where the river would decide if someone lived or died. While Hammurabi’s laws are considered wrong in today’s standard, you can look at them through the lens of the Babylonian culture and see the benefits that these imperfect laws brought to the land.

How do we know the Code of Hammurabi? The Code of Hammurabi has been written on multiple tablets and stones and that has preserved its contents. This Code also comes with a preface, and an epilogue which gives background, authorship, and reasons behind the writing of the code.

In conclusion, the Hammurabi code we see today is reliably the text the ancient Babylonians saw as many tablets have been inscribed with them. The king saw that he had received divine wisdom and wrote these laws to the people to enact justice in the land. Although modern day people may think this code is awful, it has influenced many other law systems to come and for Hammurabi’s time, this was a step in the right direction.


  1. ‘The Code of Hammurabi.’ The Avalon Project: Code of Hammurabi. Accessed May 07, 2019. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/ancient/hamframe.asp.
  2. Wikipedia contributors, ‘Hammurabi,’ Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hammurabi&oldid=895195591 (accessed May 6, 2019).
  3. Wikipedia contributors, ‘Utu,’ Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Utu&oldid=880190268 (accessed May 6, 2019).
  4. Wikipedia contributors, ‘Code of Hammurabi,’ Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Code_of_Hammurabi&oldid=894867051 (accessed May 7, 2019).
29 April 2022

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