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1901 an egyptologist by the name of Gustav Jequier added another item to the list of found ancient artefacts. It was the scale on which Hammurabi, a king who ruled over Babylon from 1792 to 1750 BC, had written his code of laws, already the object of fascination and critic attention. Hammurabi is known to have been a wise king and a great ruler who extended his empire. Meanwhile, the king focused on protecting his dominion and sought to bring prosperity within it. He is also known to have been a fierce warrior, following his military campaigns to conquer territories and build an empire.
A member of the first Amorites dynasty established in Babylon in the nineteenth century B.C., Hammurabi first led a small Mesopotamian state near the former. The inhabitants of Mesopotamia in the patriarchal were the representations of three different classes: the Western Semitic nobility or the Amorites which also represented the royalty, free citizens of Semitic or Sumeryan descend who had lived in the area since before the Amorites conquer, and finally the slaves, most of them foreigners. Strictly speaking from a political and financial point-of-view, the first class was second in number, but the strongest nevertheless.
The Amorites' origins are doubtful, as information is inconclusive in regards to where they initiated their invasion from. The misunderstandings of either northwest or the west are probably due to the Amorites being mostly a nomadic people. By 2100 -- 2000 BC, the Amorites had transformed their lifestyle, becoming sedentary and establishing an ethnic group whose language can be related to modern Hebrew. They had started from as early as 3200 BC to occupy small cities and by 2000 BC they managed to develop powerful states, fortified and prosperous. Their art reflects the relationships they sought to maintain with Mesopotamian cities in matters of trade mostly and diplomatic issues, but there are also evidences of influence from Canaan and Egypt. By 1900 BC, the Amorites had moved far southwards, inhabiting many cities in Mesopotamia while also controlling them. Babylon was one. The one who founded the dynasty that would follow Hammurabi's ruling is Sumu-abum. It is speculated that he was one of the leaders of the Amarites ethnic groups who influenced the development of the people and of the dominions. Sumu-abum acted towards strengthening Babylon's fortifications. He built temples and sought to expand his control over nearby towns, activities further enacted by his successors. This was the overall setting under which Hammurabi started to rule. It is recognized that at the time when Hammurabi started his reign, there were many temples already built and maintained by his predecessors. It is evident that the new king had not inherited a faulty dominion, because no such dominion could have afforded to build such temples, let along maintain them and providing everything that was necessary for their functioning.
Hammurabi followed the path of his predecessors and started to build temples, one of which was dedicated to Sin, the moon-god. A few years after, Hammurabi started his campaign to free Babylon of its foreigners and in his thirtieth year he obtained its independence. In 1787, the king had conquered Uruk and Isin and only two years later found himself clashing with Larsa. Hammurabi had asked for Rim-Sin's help when at war with Elam, but the latter chose not to interfere. However, once Hammurabi defeated Elam, he started to make his way to the south and, by 1763, the region was conquered. Larsa had established itself through the intermediary of the king as a strong political dominion, benefiting from some independence. Naturally, Hammurabi sought this would expand his kingdom on several levels and he eventually annexed Larsa, looking to build it new. In 1762, king Hammurabi was able to enjoy his defeat of Eshnuna, a city-state that had threatened the position of some of his own cities and which prevented him from conquering other territories.
Most of the information regarding the king's conquers come to us from interpretations of plates which have been discovered by archeologists throughout time. These have represented the major source of information regarding the reigns of kings and their accomplishments. Scribes would often write the name of the kings and attach it to a certain event representative for a certain ruler. One such chronicle "tells us that Hammurabi attacked Rim-Sin, and, after capturing the cities of Ur and Larsa, carried their spoil to Babylon." (King 69) Kings further notes that "this success of Hammurabi is refered to in date-formulae upon tablets of his reign that have been recovered, and from the date-lists we know that his victories over Rim-Sin and the Elamites took place in the thirtieth and thirty-first years of his reign." (69) The reason we have presented this case of evidence is because, if Hammurabi's Code can be perceived as subjective, we are once again demonstrated that historical evidence, however much interpreted, does lead to conclusive facts upon which we can restore data and follow a line in the history of civilizations and its kings.
Hammurabi's conquers were more than simple initiatives driven by greed or a megalomaniac attempt to gain supreme power and that is demonstrated by his involvement in the life of the cities over which he ruled. With each conquer, he sought to disperse himself of the old ways to enact a model of ruling that would represent his entire kingdom. In doing so, he managed to keep the unity and a sense of belonging within it. He also paid careful attention to every detail that was to secure the functioning of his dominion, starting with agriculture which was the main economic force and moving on to law and order. Hammurabi had looked over the well-being of his estate and he was the one who granted new life to Uruk, who brought plenteous water to its inhabitants…who reunited the scattered inhabitants of Isin…who increased the power of Cuthah…who heaped up the harvests for Urash…who provided food and drink for Lagash and Girsu…who recognizes the right, who rules by law; (Hammurabi 2008)
Hammurabi's code reflects the authority he sought a king should have over his people and, as such, he encouraged them to recognize this authority as chosen by the gods themselves. Hammurabi further wrote that
Anu and Bell called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil -- doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black -- headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well -- being of mankind. (Hammurabi, 2008)
Hammurabi thus believed he had been chosen by the gods themselves to rule over the people of Babylon. Moreover, it seems his claims were that he had received the rules under divine inspiration from the gods themselves. Evidences point to the fact that Hammurabi set the code during his last years of life as to "project a sense of achievement," according to Marc Van De Mieroop who states that "the king had completed a string of conquests and in celebration he set up this special record." (101). We can agree the introduction points to Hammurabi's achievements and perhaps that is why Mieroop concluded that the code sought to celebrate the king. However, considering that Hammurabi was reaching a respectable age, we must also consider the possibility that he thought the codes would reflect everything he strived for and would serve as a model for his successors. Moreover, battles between city-states were raging and often people of conquered states found themselves oppressed by new kings. It seems more likely that Hammurabi sought to protect people, as "the shepherd of the oppressed and the slaves" that he was. Indeed, Jack M. Sasson believes "the Code was to be a measure by which feature kings could gauge their own commitment to equity. Once the Code was read to them, naturally they would want to equal the political success Hammurabi had." (908) There is one observation we feel it's needed just to clarify any misunderstandings. We have adopted the theory that claims Hammurabi's Code was written towards the end of his ruling, however there are sources that claim the opposite, that it was, in fact, at the beginning of his reign that the king introduced it. In whichever case, his sources of inspiration, when not divine, might have come from the multiple archives in the temples where many kings wrote down sets of rules and regulations. It is not uncommon that Hammurabi would have assimilated these sources and further worked to develop them. However, it does appear evident that his knowledge of the people and of the overall responsibilities of a king were more strongly established towards the end of his life, when already he had gained enough experience to understand how an empire is to be built and sustained.
Hammurabi constructed the code so that it might have been applied to different classes…[continue]
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