Hammurabi Reading Sheet

Madnick/Global History 9
Code of Hammurabi Reading Sheet
The Code of Hammurabi is one of the oldest written law codes in human history. While many
civilizations created laws before Hammurabi, he is famous for being one of the first leaders to have laws
written down rather than spread by word of mouth. The laws were written in about 1750 BCE. The
language is Sumerian and the writing is called cuneiform. Cuneiform is a complicated set of over 300
symbols that are combined to form words and ideas. Only highly trained scribes could write cuneiform,
which they did by pushing pointed writing tools into soft clay tablets. When the clay dried, permanent
records, written in cuneiform, were produced.
Hammurabi’s Code was actually carved on large stones called stelae. Each stele was made of a solid
piece of stone called diorite, which is dark in color with silvery flecks. Each stele was shaped like a huge
cylinder and was approximately eight feet tall. The laws were carved into the stele from top to bottom
and all the way around so people would have to walk around to read. Many stelae were placed
throughout Hammurabi’s kingdom, at temples and marketplaces, for people to read. Many stelae had
images of Hammurabi and Shamash, the Mesopotamian god of justice. In these images, Shamash gives
Hammurabi a divine ring which symbolized the ancient idea that laws came from the gods.
The most famous law in Hammurabi’s Code is: “If a man should put out the eye of another man, then his
eye shall be put out.” This is known as “an eye for an eye,” and shows the strict system of justice in
Hammurabi’s kingdom. It shows that criminals were harshly punished, sometime with the same
violence they committed. There are also laws concerning marriage, adoption, taxes, building codes, and
property ownership. While many of the punishments seem severe to us today, the purpose of the code
was to keep order and stability in the society of ancient Babylon.
Hammurabi was the ruler of Babylon, an empire in ancient Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia was an area of
land located between the Tigris and Euphrates in modern-day Iraq. Mesopotamia was part of a larger
region called the Fertile Crescent which stretched from the Persian Gulf, north through the Tigris and
Euphrates valley, and west to the Mediterranean Sea. In the Greek language, Mesopotamia means “the
land between two rivers.” It was a region of rich soil and excellent farming. Many empires grew there,
including the Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and Persians. There were also busy trade routes with
India and China. Ships went back and forth carrying trade items such as lumber, spices, copper, ceramic
pottery, silks, and precious stones.
Madnick/Global History 9
Code of Hammurabi Questions
1. What is Hammurabi famous for?
2. Describe the work performed by scribes.
3. List 3 facts about stelae.
4. Why do you think the image of Shamash was put on each stele?
5. Explain the meaning of “an eye for an eye” in your own words.
6. Do you think “an eye for an eye” would be a good law for the United States today? Explain why or
why not.
7. What was the purpose of the Code of Hammurabi?
8. What was the name of Hammurabi’s empire?
9. List 3 facts about Mesopotamia.
10. Why do you think Hammurabi wanted written laws rather than laws spread by word of mouth?