1792-1595 BCE – Babylonian Art

Stele with the laws of Hammurabi, from Susa, Iran, ca. 1780 BCE.  Basalt, 7′ 4″ high.  Musée du Louvre, Paris.

After the Sumerians fell, the traditional Mesopotamian political pattern of several independent city-states emerged until the powerful Babylonian kin Hammurabi reestablished a centralized government in southern Mesopotamia.  Hammurabi was famous for his conquests but he is best known today for his laws which were inscribed for all to see on this stele.  Two earlier sets of Sumerian laws survive in part but, thanks to the Elamites who carried off this basalt stele as booty to Susa in 1157, this is the first complete set of laws historians can accurately study.  The top of the stele carries a representation in high relief of Hammurabi raising his hand in respect to the seated Shamash, the flame-shouldered sun god.  Shamash presents Hammurabi with the rod and ring that symbolize authority and the ruler’s capacity to build the social order and render judgments and enforce the laws spelled out on the stele.  There are 3,500 lines of cuneiform characters that governed all aspects of Babylonian life, from commerce and property to murder and theft to marital infidelity, inheritances, and the treatment of slaves.

-If a man puts out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out.

-If he kills a man’s slave, he shall pay one-third of a mina.

-If someone steals property from a temple, he will be put to death, as will the person who receives the stolen goods.

-If a married woman dies before bearing any sons, her dowry shall be repaid to her father but if she gave birth to sons, the dowery shall belong to them.

-If a man strikes a freeborn woman so that she loses her unborn child, he shall pay ten shekels for her loss.  If the woman dies, his daughter shall be put to death.

-If a man is guilty of incest with his daughter, he shall be exiled.

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