The World of Art at the UN in Vienna
Replica of the Code of Hammurabi
The Code of Law Stele of Hammurabi is a well-preserved Babylonian law code, dating to ca. 1700 B.C. The original stele today is on display in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. The replica, a gypsum cast, was donated to the IAEA by Iraq in 1983 on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the Agency.
The sixth Babylonian king, Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.), enacted the code, and partial copies exist on a human-sized stone stele and on various clay tablets. The Code consists of 282 laws, with punishments like "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth", also known as lex talionis. The Code is inscribed in the Akkadian language, using cuneiform script carved into the stele.
This Law was written before the Mosaic Code and was one of the first written laws in the world. The Code of Hammurabi was written on a stele, a large stone monument, and placed in a public place so that all could see it. The stele was later plundered by the Elamites in the 12th century B.C. and removed to their capital, Susa, Elam (now Khuzestan, Iran); it was rediscovered there in 1901 by the Egyptologist Gustave Jéquier. The code of Hammurabi contained 282 laws, written by scribes on 12 tablets. Unlike earlier laws, it was written the daily language of Babylon, and could therefore be read by any literate person in the city. The Code"s provisions do not cover important areas of law and commerce. Its copying in subsequent generations indicates that it was used as a model of legal and judicial reasoning.
Some examples of laws:
- If a man puts out the eye of an equal, his eye shall be put out. (Known as "An eye for an eye".)
- If a man knocks the teeth out of another man, his own teeth will be knocked out. (Known as "A tooth for a tooth".)
- If a son strikes his father, his hands shall be hewn off.
- If a man takes a woman to wife, but has no intercourse with her, this woman is no
wife to him.
- If anyone steals the minor son of another, he shall be put to death.
- If anyone commits a robbery, and is caught, he shall be put to death.
- If anyone opens his ditches to water his crop, but is careless, and the water floods
his neighbour"s field, he shall pay his neighbour corn for his loss.
Also accusations of witchcraft were serious. The accused were forced to a "judgement of God" ("ordeal"), that is, he was thrown into water. If he drowned, this was a sign of his guilt. If he survived, the person who accused him lost his property. Such "judgements of God" were not only known in Babylonia.