Hammurabi, Code of

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Hammurabi, Code of


the compilation of Babylonian laws codified near the end of Hammurabi’s reign (c. 1760 B.C.); an important record of the ancient Eastern slaveholding society. The original text of the code, inscribed in cuneiform on a diorite stela, was found in 1901–02 during excavations at the site of Susa, the capital of ancient Elam; the stela had evidently been brought there by the Elamites as a military trophy. It is now kept in the Louvre. In addition, many fragments of later copies of these laws were found during excavations of Susa, Nineveh, and other cities of Mesopotamia.

The text of the Code of Hammurabi consists of a prologue, 282 articles, and an epilogue. It reflects a relatively high level of class and social differentiation. Although the cuneiform code was not divided into civil and criminal law, the articles are grouped the-matically into such categories as judicial proceedings, property rights, royal offices, legal liabilities, and marriage and family law; each of these is treated from the standpoint of both criminal and civil law.

Two categories of persons are recognized as having rights under the law—namely, the awelum (or man), who is a free member of the community, and the mushkenum (“one who prostrates himself”), who is in the service of the king and lacks the freeman’s full rights. Free women also enjoyed certain rights, such as the right to divorce and return of their dowry. Slaves and minors were regarded merely as objects under the law. The Code of Hammurabi was particularly concerned with securing the slaveholders’ power over their slaves as well as with private property in general and the protection of the interests of those who were in the king’s service. The code indicates that Babylonia had a rather highly developed system of commodity-money relations.

The Code of Hammurabi has been variously interpreted in the literature as a collection of laws that were in effect at the time (this being the most probable interpretation), as a judicial treatise representing a view of “social justice,” or as King Hammurabi’s account of his own activities before the gods. The code may have been influenced by the more ancient laws of Ur, Eshnunna, and Isin, dating back to the 19th and 20th centuries B.C. In its turn, the code influenced later legislation in Southwest Asia.

For Russian translations of the Code of Hammurabi, see Vestnik drevnei istorii, 1952, no. 3, and Khrestomatiia po istorii Drevnego Vostoka, 1963, pp. 196–219.


Gadd, C. J. Hammurabi and the End of His Dynasty. Cambridge, 1965.
Gordon, C. H. Hammurabi’s Code. New York, 1957.
Code de Hammurapi. Limoges, 1973.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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