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The rest of the seven-foot-five-inch monument is covered with columns of chiseled cuneiform script. The edicts are all written in if-then form. For example, if a man steals an ox, then he must pay back 30 times its value. The edicts range from family law to professional contracts and administrative law, often outlining different standards of justice for the three classes of Babylonian society—the propertied class, freedmen and slaves.

Penalties for malpractice followed the same scheme: There they uncovered the stele of Hammurabi—broken into three pieces—that had been brought to Susa as spoils of war, likely by the Elamite king Shutruk-Nahhunte in the midth century B. The stele was packed up and shipped to the Louvre in Paris, and within a year it had been translated and widely publicized as the earliest example of a written legal code—one that predated but bore striking parallels to the laws outlined in the Hebrew Old Testament.

Supreme Court building features Hammurabi on the marble carvings of historic lawgivers that lines the south wall of the courtroom. We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, contact us! Subscribe for fascinating stories connecting the past to the present. Black codes were restrictive laws designed to limit the freedom of African Americans and ensure their availability as a cheap labor force after slavery was abolished during the Civil War.

Though the Union victory had given some 4 million slaves their freedom, the question of Developed in the s and s by Samuel Morse and other inventors, the telegraph revolutionized long-distance communication. It worked by transmitting electrical signals over a wire laid between stations. In addition to helping invent the telegraph, Samuel Morse The Union army issues General Orders No.

The code was borrowed by many European nations, and its influence can be seen on the Geneva Convention. In around B. Hammurabi, King of Justice? Why We Read About Hammurabi Part of the answer is that the accidents of archaeology have made it possible to study Hammurabi. His law code is one of the most important documents about ancient Babylonian culture that archaeologists have found.

Unfortunately, we cannot find out as much about Hammurabi as we would like to. That means that when archaeologists try to excavate to the level of — b. They cannot get to his palace or to his archives. Still, we do know more about Hammurabi than what he says about himself on his law monument, and scholars have been able to interpret more fully what is written there.

Part of what we know is that he was telling the truth when he spoke of the vast regions that he ruled. He inherited a small, not very important city in Babylon, in southern Mesopotamia about 70 miles south of modern Baghdad and the realm surrounding it. It had perhaps a radius of 50 miles and included a few other cities.

This was a tremendous achievement. Few other kings had been able to rule over more than a relatively small number of cities in Mesopotamia, and his contemporaries as well as the kings who came after him recognized him as a great and powerful ruler. Of course, Hammurabi did not gain control of most of Mesopotamia only by being a man of peace and justice. As his law code says, he pacified the region.

He made war until he ruled all the lands around him and then he had a peaceful land that he could rule justly. He was also a wise and sometimes crafty diplomat. We have letters, reports, and treaties that show him persuading neighboring kings to lend him troops, negotiating deals with other kings in the region and sometimes playing off 17 18 hammurabi one against the other , and managing the demands made upon him by other leaders, by a variety of officials who worked for him, and by the people he ruled.

The Babylonian Empire did not remain unified for very long after Hammurabi died. He was remembered as a king of unusual power and authority. The city of Babylon kept its prestige and remained the greatest city in the region. Hittite invaders sacked Babylon in , but as with earlier invaders, the invaders adopted many of the customs and gods of the land they conquered. Not until b.

Babylonia became part of Persia and never again became an independent region. Yet even after that, Alexander the Great would dream of making Babylon the capital of the whole world. But by that time, he and the culture he inherited and passed on would influence much of the world. We do not know when he was born or what his childhood was like. We do not know when or who he married, although one wife at a time was customary for that period and place. We know the names of only a few of his children, and those only by chance.

We know that there was a daughter who married a neighboring king for diplomatic purposes, to make an alliance between the two cities. It did not work. We know the name of the son who became king after him and the name of another son who might have died young because he was the eldest son and should have ruled after Hammurabi but did not. But we do not have letters between Hammurabi and his family, as we do for the king of Mari, for instance, of the same period.

So we know nothing of Hammurabi as a son, a husband, a father. We do not know what he thought or felt about anything. We have only a puzzle with missing and broken pieces. From those pieces we construct the story of a leader: A man who came to power in the eighteenth century b. The Babylonian Empire, which began with his reign, lasted 1, years. It was an achievement for which the ancients honored him, and we still do. He lived in what is now Iraq, in a city on the Euphrates River in southern Babylon.

And he lived nearly 4, years ago. We have to think backward in time to grasp how long ago that was, because it is earlier than almost anything we can think of. The Great Pyramids had been built. The domesticated horse had been introduced in the Near East though donkeys were still considered more dignified. The camel would not be tamed until b. The chair had been invented about b. We are, in fact, very close to the beginning of history. Not to the beginning of time, obviously, or to the beginning of human beings, but to the part of human existence for which there is writing.

Before there were written records, archaeologists would name a group of people for the place where they found examples of their pottery or tools, evidence of their early settlements. That is called prehistory. More than the discovery of the wheel or any other human invention, farming changed the world. It led to the very beginning of people living in ways that are at all close to anything we would recognize today. Writing is the other revolutionary invention that changed human society. But first, 10, b. But an understanding of this period is necessary to understand the world Hammurabi inherited and the kind of leader he had to be.

So, farming made it possible for people to remain in one place and build permanent houses. Domesticated crops produce more food than wild ones. It became possible for some people to raise enough food to feed all the people, freeing others to specialize in other activities that did not involve food production. It is not until people can specialize that they become experts in building or in crafts that require people to study for many years. Specialists have more time to innovate.

Culture would change much faster once people lived in towns and specialized.


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Enough to feed those people who were making pottery or, later, learning to write. Enough to save and to trade. The Mesopotamians, for instance, had to trade for wood and stone, because they did not have either. Many of the towns had to trade for metal too. They had enough to feed more people, so that the size of settlements grew. But these settlements were fragile.

There was no way to move a lot of food from one place to another and even with food storage, communities were always one drought or one bad harvest away from mass starvation. Social organization became more complex. How was food to be raised, stored, distributed, and defended? Towns built walls very early as protection.

Hammurabi & the First Babylonian Empire

The role of the leader and the difficulties of keeping people fed would become more complex as communities consisted of many more people, most of them not related to one another. The Fertile Crescent Until this point it has been possible to talk, generally, about the beginning of agriculture and the way it changed human life. But one of the things we know about settled communities—and the cities some of them became—is that they became more and more different.

For instance, Mesopotamia and Egypt produced quite different cultures. A curved area of plains that begins up in modern Turkey and reaches south through modern Iraq and Iran and down to Syria and Egypt. It is not, by and large, an area that we now think of as having great fertility. But the Tigris and Euphrates rivers had deposited large amounts of fertile soil near where they emptied into the Arabian Gulf. That was about miles inland from what is now the shore: The ancient city of Ur was a seafront city when it was built.

But the rivers they were working with had very different habits and were, at least, in part responsible for the different cultures that developed in the two regions. The ancient Sumerian city of Ur, for example, was established years ago by the sea but is now surrounded by sand above. The Nile River flooded once a year, after the harvest, just in time to lay down a rich bed of fertile soil in which to plant the new crops.

It was a reliable river more or less , and the Egyptians considered it a friend and also a god. Neither Egypt nor southern Mesopotamia had enough rainfall to grow crops without irrigation. In Egypt, towns grew up all along the Nile. The river made possible a narrow band of farming along its whole length.

The towns did not become cities and they did not become separate from one another or usually do battle among one another. Egypt was a united kingdom by b. The Euphrates was slower moving, and the earliest farming communities grew up along it, rather than along the speedier Tigris, but neither was easy to tame.

Both these rivers flooded every year at a time when the crops were not yet harvested and would destroy them. People living along these rivers which changed course periodically, making it necessary for the towns to move had to contain the river and protect their fields from floods. They banked their fields and the river and built canals to contain the surplus water, and then they irrigated from these canals. They would also use the river and canals for transportation. This is harder than what the Egyptians had to do.

One family or even a small group of families could not do the work necessary to harness the Tigris or Euphrates. People had to work together in larger groups. Land that could be cultivated was valuable and hard to care for, so shepherds grazed animals in marginal areas where crops could not be grown. These were probably first organized around a temple or shrine, which could store grains.

At the same time, the need for people to work together and the need to import resources like wood and stone seem to have encouraged some extremely interesting developments in human culture. Trade was one of these. The first writing on earth was another. Writing was developed by a Mesopotamian people who remained entirely unknown to scholars until the nineteenth century: The Sumerian people are one of the great mysteries of human history. No one knows who they were or where they came from.

It is not clear if they migrated to southern Mesopotamia or if their culture developed out of the prehistoric peoples already living in that region. The Sumerian language is related to no other language on earth, living or dead. Although it would come to coexist with the Babylonian that Hammurabi spoke, which was a version of the Akkadian language spoken in northern Mesopotamia, the languages are in no way related. They are not just as different as, say, English and French are different, but as the French and Chinese languages are different.

Akkadian it is named for the ancient city of Akkad, which was somewhere in the north of Mesopotamia is a Semitic language, which means it is related to modern Arabic and Hebrew. And Sumerian is related to nothing. Nevertheless, the peoples of Mesopotamia would keep it as their written language for many centuries, as they would keep much of Sumerian civilization: The Discovery of Sumer Until the middle s, no one knew the Sumerians ever existed.

No one could read their cuneiform script and there are no references to the Sumerians in the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans or in the Bible, which were the sources of 27 28 hammurabi knowledge in the ancient world. People knew the Greeks and Romans. Hieroglyphics were completely deciphered by because the Rosetta Stone was discovered. On it is inscribed the same text in three languages, including hieroglyphics and Greek, which people already knew how to read.

The Near East was exciting to people because it is the land of the Bible, but unlike in Egypt there was not much to see. The Mesopotamians, building with brick, not stone, created more fragile buildings. As these crumbled, they would be knocked down and new ones built on top of them. So the sites of older abandoned cities formed hills, called tells, but these were not as exciting as pyramids. They just looked like piles of broken bricks. Still, a map from the early s shows the Garden of Eden to be in Mesopotamia because the Bible says it was located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

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Cuneiform would be more complicated to interpret than hieroglyphics had been. But when George Smith interpreted an ancient Mesopotamian account of the flood in and then identified an equally ancient Genesis in , the discoveries rocked the world. This was not just a matter of scholarly interest. The London Daily Telegraph newspaper published the news. This does not seem to have become a regular feature of burials in that region. Hammurabi would not have been buried like that. In the Hebrew Bible, Abraham comes from the city of Ur. This also remains debatable.

Woolley believed there was one huge flood. But needless to say, this all made the Sumerians and all of Near Eastern archaeology very exciting indeed. How Writing Began Why did so much begin with the Sumerians? One partial answer is that the high degree of social cooperation required to farm there led to a need for record keeping, and that record keeping seems to have led to the first writing. The Sumerians did not begin by writing down their myths or literature: They or perhaps the people who came before them began by keeping track of collections and deliveries of products like oil, wheat, and sheep.

As early as b. This showed what was inside. But once this had been done, there was no real use for the tokens themselves anymore: All the information necessary had been recorded on the envelope. This was not writing yet, because it was so limited. But the idea that something can be pressed into soft clay and leave a message is the beginning of writing. Also, cylinder seals were used in the Near East as a kind of signature, before the invention of writing. A person would have an individual seal with a picture on it, often of animals, agricultural products, or people.

Our signature means more than just our name. With the clay tokens, the ancient peoples of the Near East were able to keep and send detailed records of transactions involving livestock, grain, and other objects. They also recorded land ownership and transfers. As symbols began to stand for sounds and could thus reproduce speech, they would become the first real writing.

They would also begin to compile lists: They made lists of all the words they knew, which may have been used in the schools where scribes were taught. The cylinders were carved with special designs and pressed on wet, soft clay to create a personal marker. Cylinders usually depicted agriculture or animals, or sometimes even battles between men and mythical creatures above.

Cuneiform would spread to Akkad in the north and be used to write their very different language. It would also be used for over a thousand years to write other languages as well. Egyptian hieroglyphics were probably inspired by cuneiform. The Sumerians are the first people who left us their words, and so we can know what they thought about their world and what they said to one another. We can read their mail. We have their records of how they taught one another to plant a field or heal a wound. We can read about how they thought the world began and what they called their gods.

They are the first people we can see struggling with the questions that continue to plague human beings: Where did we come from? Why do people have to die? That attitude has had major consequences in world history: Europeans believed it was right to displace tribal peoples in North and South America. These attitudes existed in ancient Mesopotamia. Yet these tribal peoples also moved into the cities over the years and adopted city ways. Many had a place where they lived much of the year.

They moved their animals and animals belonging to the city people to winter and summer pastures. They lived organized lives, bound by laws and responsibilities. Still, the peoples who settled in cities were making a choice about how to live and other people made other choices. Tribal peoples have produced complex and beautiful artworks, as well as caring for people who could not collect food for themselves.

The People and the Gods The history we need to know to understand Hammurabi and his world begins very early. It begins with the need to organize people so that the land can be farmed efficiently. That means the land must not be flooded or dried out. It must not be overused. Irrigation made the earth salty, because the water used was slightly salty. Farmers had to rest fields every four years and sometimes plant barley rather than wheat, because barley can grow in saltier soil.

The canals that brought water to the fields needed to be kept cleared. More had to be built as populations grew and more fields to farm were needed. Food was collected and distributed. Some of the writings found are very modern and scientific sounding: There is a letter in which a king tells his wife that a woman in the palace who has a contagious disease must be kept in quarantine, and that others must not drink from her glass so that her disease will not be spread.

We also have thousands of documents about the distribution, sale, and renting of land, about taxes and tribute and soldiers.


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  4. All of this sounds reasonably modern. We can easily understand irrigation and taxes and land rental, and we can imagine how complex life was for people who were first figuring out how to handle these matters. They were good at it too. Yet it is equally impossible to understand Hammurabi and his world without understanding that for the peoples of the Near East, their observable world was inseparable from the world of the gods.

    The ancient Mesopotamians would have agreed. But they would also have said that the world was fragile and delicately balanced because you really never knew what the gods were going to do next. So here is the part of the Mesopotamian culture that does not sound modern: The Mesopotamian peoples understood themselves to be living on a flat disk of land floating on the fresh waters of the deep. Those waters broke through the surface in the form of rivers or groundwater what one reaches when digging a well or as marshes. Above the world was a solid sky shaped like an inverted bowl, possibly made of tin.

    Below was the netherworld, where people went when they died. What do we make of the part of this culture that attributed the downfall of cities to disrespecting the gods, who believed that a king or general should have the diviners read the liver of a sheep for him to know when he should invade a city? What do we need to understand about their myths? That use of the word is very old: The Greek philosopher Plato, writing in the early fourth century b.

    As he saw it, a myth is a kind of antiscientific thinking that uses stories to explain things that would better be explained by science and history. But the persistence of religion and, perhaps, of literature, suggests another explanation: There seem to be things in human experience that we continue to explain through stories and symbolism. We struggle still to understand mortality, loss, and the Mesopotamia: Mundane events like hitching donkeys to a plow were recorded on tablets above in cuneiform. These artifacts allow archaeologists and researchers to understand the habits and customs of ancient life.

    Why do people have to work so hard? Why do bad things happen to good people? What are we doing here? Hammurabi and the people who came before him asked these questions and tried to answer them. For instance, they said that after An, the god of the sky, created the world, some less powerful gods had the job of planting food and digging canals and all the other back-breaking work that people in Mesopotamia had to do. Ea, the god of fresh water, created humans beings to do the work instead, and they inherited the responsibility to feed and care for the gods.

    Thus the Mesopotamian temple was like an elegant house for a very important guest. In fact, the word for temple was the same as the word for house.


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    The king had the main responsibility to see that these duties were carried out. There were thousands of gods and they fought with one another like people fight and as the Greek and Roman gods would fight and fell in love and generally behaved like immortal humans, and people often landed in the fallout of their arguments. The patron god was meant to keep an eye out for them. In exchange for their loyalty and devotion this patron god would they hoped look out for the city, make its harvests plentiful, and help keep it safe. Much of human experience is shared everywhere: People are born and die and they wonder what happens to people after death; they note the rising of the sun in the morning and the stars overhead at night.

    Most mythologies address these matters, but do not come to the same conclusion. The Egyptians believed in an afterlife to which people can bring their treasures and live again, Mesopotamia: The Mesopotamian peoples believed in a dark and gloomy afterlife, where people ate dust in dark and silence.

    Hammurabi - Wikipedia

    Theirs was a difficult and sad afterlife and, in many ways, an insecure, nervous, and gloomy mythology. It is possible to understand this as a reflection of their lives: It was a culture whose natural resources were mud and ingenuity, and not much else. They were born to labor, they believed, and at the mercy of forces they could not control.

    The Mesopotamians saw the will or whim of gods in nearly everything. This knowledge did not replace other ways of making decisions, but it supplemented it. The king knew to isolate a woman with a contagious disease, farmers knew that there was a right way and a wrong way to prepare a field for sowing, and kings and generals made decisions based on their experience and what their spies told them, not only on what the oracles said.

    They observed the world carefully and made scientific, mathematical, medical, and astronomical observations. If a king was a successful diplomat, it was because he was good at persuading people to help him and clever at underrstanding what his enemies were likely to do. But the gods were everywhere, and only they gave a king the right to rule.

    Along with the Elamites, from what is now Iran they conquered many of the Sumerian cities in about b. And yet, as had happened before in Mesopotamia, the invaders then settled in and adopted Sumerian culture almost entirely, including the concept of kingship that had developed. The spoken language would change, but scribes would continue to learn and write in Sumerian. Even before the Amorite and Elamite invasion, Sumer in the south of Mesopotamia and Akkad in the north had not been united or peaceful.

    Hammurabi inherited a world in which power struggles and changes of administration had occurred often. The Sumerians believed it began several hundred thousand years earlier. There are records called the Sumerian King List, written early in the second millennium b. The list begins in mythic, prehistoric times, with rulers who each reigned for tens of thousands of years.

    In Eridu, Alulim became king; he ruled for 28, years. Then Ea, who had created humans, kept awake by all the noise people were making, sent the flood. Only Ziusudra was warned to build a big ship and save some people and animals to repopulate the earth. After all, the myth says, the gods did not want to go back to having to farm and dig canals.

    The kings who reigned after the flood were supposed to have lived for hundreds of years each. So they will say that a dynasty and city were defeated and then the kingship went to a different city, while in fact, many kings ruled at the same time, in different cities. Between about and b. Priests and more representative governments grew less powerful. Kingship grew up in the larger, more important, more complex cities. In times of war, power 39 40 hammurabi would be centralized in one man, but it gradually became a more permanent role passed from father to son or sometimes brother.

    Inscriptions explain that this is his duty. They were not, as in Egypt, gods themselves. Sargon the Great The first break in Sumerian rule came with the conquest and unification of Sumer by a northern Semitic king named Sargon in about b. Sargon founded the city of Akkad and he ruled for 40 years. Though its location is unknown, its name would be used to refer to northern Mesopotamia long after the city was gone.

    And yet this was not the end of Sumerian civilization but only a phase in its history. Sargon did not end Sumerian culture but instead added to it. Sargon was a real king and also a character about whom legends would be told. Other stories said that he was the son of a temple priestess who was forbidden to bear a child and so sealed the baby in a basket and set him in the river to be rescued, as would later be said of the biblical Moses. Much later, Hammurabi would be another.

    He tore down city walls and replaced local rulers who would not swear allegiance to him. He collected tribute taxes in the form of goods , but there still was no idea of or mechanism for creating a nation in Mesopotamia. People still described themselves as belonging to a particular city. In earlier and later pictures or sculpture, that horned helmet always meant that the figure wearing it was a god. Then and now the fall of the empire can be seen as a lesson for all of what could go wrong for a Mesopotamian ruler. The curse took the form of a famine.

    Then, people from the Gutian tribe were able to invade the weakened city. It shows us, vividly, what it meant for a city to be cursed, and it also shows us the opposite. It tells us what the people of that time thought a thriving, healthy city should be like. Without canals and roads, trade and communications are impossible. Nothing edible grows in the fields. A city in which these things have happened would indeed feel it had been cursed: Nothing is what it should be.

    People begin to starve. It is that system of canals, roads, fruitful fields, and keeping the wild and dangerous things away that make life possible. The Sumerian King List becomes almost plaintive at this point. Who was not the king? Although certainly some cities had rulers remember that the King List considers there to be only one real king at a time while in reality there were many , it would have been a time of great insecurity. After a period of instability, King Gudea, another Sumerian ruler, came to the throne of the city of Lagash.

    There is a statue of King Gudea holding the plans for a temple that a god revealed to him in a dream. He began the building of a huge ziggurat at Ur. A ziggurat looks rather like an Egyptian pyramid with steps, but is quite different. A pyramid contained a burial. A ziggurat was solid, would have been brightly painted, and had a temple on its top. In Shulgi we can see an ideal of kingship that is both related to what came before and also to the one that Hammurabi would inherit. Shulgi created a law code to establish justice in the land. There is a royal hymn about Shulgi that explains all the ways he was a wonderful king.

    They were sung about him. The highest gods appointed Shulgi, says the hymn. He is a perfect soldier and commander, so strong and brave and clever at handling weapons that he terrifies his enemies. He takes care of the temples and so makes the land prosper. He dispenses justice and protects the weak.

    The king is also wise and learned, says the hymn. He can read and write perhaps, but it took scribes from childhood to adulthood to master the difficulties of cuneiform , could add and subtract, could speak five languages, and could read omens again a rare and highly skilled craft. Only the king is allowed to kill a lion. So Shulgi faces the danger of the lion rather than hide in a pit and capture it in a net, which is an easier, if less glorious, way to kill one. He is also a champion runner of great distances he does not even get tired.

    In among the claims are the real virtues of a king and the real Shulgi seems to have been a good one, completing the ziggurat his father started, founding and supporting two scribal schools, and standardizing the weights and 45 46 hammurabi measures of the land. As had often happened and would again , the descendent of a great ruler would be able to maintain power only in his own city, this time the ancient city of Ur. Then, around b. There was in Mesopotamia a kind of hymn about the destruction of a city. Cities were destroyed so often that the hymns have a name: In them we can hear the voices of an ancient people brought to their knees with pain, suffering, and regret for their lost home.

    The city laments are long, but these are short portions of two of them. Hunger filled the city like water, it would not cease. Its people are as if surrounded by water, they gasp for breath.

    Code of Hammurabi

    Its king breathed heavily in his palace, all alone. In all the streets and roadways bodies lay. In open fields that used to fill with dancers, they lay in heaps. Sumerian Poetry in Translation. The Land of Sumer and Akkad These are horrible images: Instead, the lament said Sumer had exhausted itself, it had just worn out over all those years. They would have said hundreds of thousands of years. We would say, from about to b. Although Ur fell and the Sumerians were defeated, the civilization that they had created would live on in their conquerors.

    No one would have questioned his right to be king. Even if he had an older brother who died, he might still have been prepared to rule: Mesopotamian kings did sometimes pass the kingship from brother to brother. In any event, he would have been raised to know what it meant to be a king, and he would have understood the specific political situation that existed at that time. Since the fall of Ur there was as there had often been 48 Hammurabi: Sixth in a Dynasty of Invaders an uneasy balance of power among the regional kings and other rulers.

    It is useful to remember, though, that although we speak of the end of the Sumerians, their language was still used for writing, as Latin was in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. This explains how he ruled for the first 30 years he was king: He had, when Hammurabi took the throne, only recently conquered the city of Isin, which had become the most important central Mesopotamian city after the fall of Ur. Its capital, Susa, had been founded in the fourth millennium b. Elam was important to Hammurabi and the other kings of the time because it lay on a major trade route to what are now eastern Iran and Afghanistan.

    They 49 50 hammurabi needed to import copper and tin to create bronze in order to make tools and weapons. Bronze was the only metal they had that was hard enough to take an edge, iron not yet being in use. They also traded for the blue semiprecious stone called lapis lazuli, which they used to make jewelry and to decorate beautiful items for the temples. Elam was also a key source of wood and stone, neither of which existed in southern Mesopotamia. The Sukkalmah of Elam did not interfere with them. Still, the Sukkalmah of Elam was accepted as a sort of higher authority.

    To the northeast was another powerful region, the state of Eshnunna. The city was on the Tigris River and was also important because of trade routes. Then, in b. Because the royal archives at Mari are especially well preserved, we have records of many of the political dealings among the rulers of the time. We also have some of the very detailed Hammurabi: A trade route that ran through the area added to the power of the kingdom, whose lands provided wood, metals, and stone to Mesopotamia. Additionally, we have some letters that bring these ancient kings and their world to life, and these are valuable because these people otherwise seem so distant.

    They can seem like names and dates and not people at all. It also reminds us what it meant to write 51 52 hammurabi a letter then. The kings could not read or write. Very few people could. So, the person sending the letter spoke to a scribe who inscribed it on a clay tablet, and then, when the letter was received, another scribe read it out.

    I listened to the tablet Daddy sent me, which ran as follows: You are a child, you are not a man, you have no beard on your chin! How much longer are you going to fail in running your household properly? So you command your palace and household properly! Now how can I be a child and incapable of directing affairs when Daddy promoted me? So I am coming to Daddy right now, to have it out with Daddy about my unhappiness. All he could do was hold on to his territory, strengthen it, and be a good king.

    It defined what he believed about his role and what he did. Hammurabi and his people would have believed that the chief gods, Enlil and An, and the patron god of Babylon, named Marduk, had granted him the power to rule. The king holds his hand in front of his mouth in a position of worship and respect, as a servant would stand in front of his master. Anyone would have known what this gesture meant, as a modern person would recognize a military salute if he or she saw it in a picture.

    The meaning of this image is clear: The king rules with the permission of the gods. It is the gods who give him power, but he is not himself a god. Statues of a king often show him carrying a basket on his head or carrying tools for building, symbolizing the work he must do for the gods. Gods were treated as important human guests might be. They were fed, through animal sacrifices and the cooking of ritual meals, housed, and given rich, elaborate furniture and gifts. And they were consulted, through the oracles, before important decisions were made.

    Most importantly, the king was supposed to take care of his people, not as a god or as an owner, but as a loving shepherd. A shepherd guards his flock. He protects it, keeps order, and makes sure it is fed. He does not own it, but he is responsible 53 54 hammurabi for it. The hymn also says: The food that comes from an udder is the milk given to a baby. Milk made into butter or cheese was also a source of protein for the Mesopotamian people.

    Hammurabi: The king who made the four quarters of the earth obedient

    There simply were a lot of things that were not in human control. The Mesopotamians understood that there were ways in which they were not masters of their fate. They trusted their king to intervene and help ensure that the gods would be kind to them. The Shepherd King Still, there was a great deal that the king could do to provide directly for his people by paying close attention to the things that were in human control.

    Maintaining the canals was essential to flood control and irrigation. The water from working canals meant life. If an ancient Babylonian was really angry with someone he might curse at them: Sixth in a Dynasty of Invaders clogged with sand! In fact, it is still unclear whether a craftsperson like a potter sold his work directly or whether he too was dependent on what the king gave him. The king collected, stored, and distributed food. He alone had the power to organize and pay for the people and materials needed to build, maintain, and enlarge the city walls.

    He raised troops as necessary from his own people, lending and borrowing troops to and from allied kings when necessary. The king also had to protect his people through diplomacy. The king maintained good relations with neighboring kingdoms when not attacking them and tried to assure mutual pacts so that they would, in fact, lend troops and share information about what other kings were up to. The kings exchanged presents and sent letters by messengers. Most of their diplomacy was carried out at a distance, through documents carried by messengers and representatives.

    The kings met one another only rarely. We have seen that earlier kings also had law codes and displayed inscription about not letting the weak be oppressed by the powerful. For modern people, the existence of slavery makes us doubt this, but the question of slavery in ancient times must be discussed later. That did not mean that the king decided all disputes. He did render judgments on some cases those involving murder for instance , and other cases could be appealed to him, but he was also responsible to see that local judges decided cases fairly.

    Witnesses would be called to testify and they would swear an oath before the gods to tell the truth. Relevant documents and other evidence would be examined. In other cultures and at other times, a leader is a warrior. His job is to prove his honor by smashing enemy heads.

    But Hammurabi does not emphasize that part of his job, and by his time, the kings of the region did not seem to ride into battle. The alternative is chaos, but the words suggest that people are entitled to protection and fairness from their king. The gods were not always fair, of course, but very few peoples believe that their god or gods are fair, according to human standards. The king rules through law, not through violence. The word justice meant something else too. As Shamash sits on his throne, the king maintains a respectful pose, with his hand over his mouth, as the god passes him a scepter and a ring symbolizing the law.

    A new king would cancel personal loans though not those between business partners, entered into in order to make a profit and release people who had been sold into slavery to cover loans. Because many of the loans were created by the need to pay taxes, the king himself would be losing, but as author Marc Van De Mieroop says, he would demonstrate his power and mercy, and gain in goodwill and loyalty what he lost in revenue.

    Hammurabi as King We have limited evidence of how Hammurabi carried out his duties in his first years as king. In his first year, he canceled personal debts. We have a letter in which he scolds an official that people have complained about. He wrote very specific instructions telling the men of one town to dredge their irrigation canal and finish it within a month.

    Author Marc Van De Mieroop writes about Hammurabi reviewing a letter from a disgruntled farmer, written to an official. That sesame will die, and I have warned you. He wanted people who were entitled to land to get it. He also wanted the share of sesame, wool, animals, and other products owed to the king to be delivered. The king owned much of the land and he would own even more later in his rule when he had conquered much of the region.

    Some royal lands were rented out. Families farmed the land and sent part of their crops to the palace. Hammurabi had a lot of mouths to feed. These were not just his family and the palace servants and officials. He fed the gods this food was also feeding some human beings, probably people of his family and the people who worked in the temple. Hammurabi fed and sometimes clothed and gave gifts to soldiers who had been recruited. Soldiers on campaigns received rations. Cotton was not yet grown in the region and linen was not as common there as it was in Egypt.

    In exchange for doing their share of military duty or, in times of peace, doing their share of work repairing city walls or canals , they would be given the right to farm certain fields rather than being given rations. This sounds as if they were going backward to a time when people had to provide their own food, as opposed to their being able to specialize in nonfarming occupations. In fact, some of the people to whom land was given would then rent out that land so that someone else farmed it and provided them with food. It made people less dependent on what the king gave them, and it gave them land that could be passed down to their children.

    This explains in part the tremendous amount of record keeping 59 60 hammurabi that went on in Babylon. All of these agreements about the land were written down on clay tablets, and the king and his officials always knew who owned the land, what rent or taxes was due to them, and if it had been paid. He also noted his contribution of major statues or other items to the temples, as in b. Year seven, b. There is no evidence that Hammurabi rules these cities after that year.

    The simplest evidence is the year names that a city used. Cities that Hammurabi ruled used his year names. Uruk and Isin did not. Later in his reign, Hammurabi was in a position to fight and win, and he did. This was possible because the balance of power in the region shifted and he was able to take advantage of it.

    Yet again, the death of a powerful ruler and empire builder resulted in the collapse of his empire. In any event, he immediately ceased to be the king of the city he had ruled for his father, the ancient city of Mari, right around the border between north and south Mesopotamia. Archaeologists have discovered the palace of Mari to have had about rooms and walls as thick as 60 feet. It even had bathtubs! Both Elam and Mari had geographical and historical reasons to break with Eshnunna, and within a year or two, the king of Eshnunna was gone and his lands were ruled from Susa, in Elam.

    He told Hammurabi by letter: Hammurabi agreed, but his agreement was a ploy. By doing this, he proved himself responsible for them and they incurred a debt to him. By eating his food, they owed him their loyalty. Troops from other regions also arrived. Military Tactics In a war like this, involving much of the region, many military tactics would have been used at the same time. Different troops would have used different weapons. The unit of spearmen of course carried spears, but men who hunted for a living would probably have fought with nets and slingshots, the weapons they knew best.

    It would have shot an arrow farther and with greater accuracy than a bow made only of wood. The technology that was missing was the sword. Although men might carry knives to stab with, swords were not practical yet. It was iron that would later make swords possible.