Hammurabi’s laws are generally believed to be the oldest written laws, though that is not the case. The (mostly)preserved laws of Ur-Nammu predate these by about three centuries, and there is mention of older codices that have not yet been found (oh, the possibilities!)
Hammurabi’s code, though remains the better-known and better-preserved legal codex, dating to the 18th century BCE. Compared to the earlier Sumerian versions, Hammurabi’s laws are more blood-thirsty: while the Sumerian laws provided for monetary compensation for most offences (imprisonment as a punitive concept for general law arose much later), the Babylonian code elucidates the “eye for an eye” concept of retributory law principle. This is the basic principle that evolved into the biblical law of a later millennium. Common with most laws (right up the renaissance), punishments were more severe if the victim was of a higher social status: for example, a doctor could have his hands cut off if a rich patient of his died, but could get away with a fine if the same happened to a slave.
I waited for a long time, but couldn’t get a clear shot, with people constantly milling around. Zoom in quite a bit and the cuneiform text covering the entire stela becomes visible.
The top of the stela shows Hammurabi receiving the laws from Shamash, the god of justice. Isn’t it a little odd to have a god of justice before you have laws etc.? I mean what was Shamash doing all those years before Hammurabi came along? 😀
Shamash is the seated figure (sitting on a symbolic temple) and holding a rod and ring. Considered to represent a measuring rod and a measuring rope (though many disagree), these are nonetheless symbols of regal authority and equivalent to the sceptre modern kings and queens hold.