Last Updated 27 Dec 2022

A Look at the Code of Hammurabi

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Code of Hammurabi (1750 BC) is the earliest records that show evidence of capital punishment.

To inform people of when punishment began or when the people first became aware that there was punishment.

The Code of Hammurabi is a collection of laws and edicts of the Babylonian king Hammuarbi. Hammurabis Code was engraved on a block of black basalt; it stood 7 ft. 5 inches. Between the years of 1901 and 1902, a team of French archaeologists found Hammuarabi's Code in Susa, Iraq. It was broken into 3 pieces and was restored and placed in Louvre in Paris.

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Where did Hammurabi get his idea of punishment? Hammurabi claims to have received the code from the sun god, Shamash. Quality associated was god is justice. The code begins with prologue that speaks of the extensive restoration of the temples and religious cults of Babylonia and Assyria. The code appears to be a series of amendments of the common law of Babylonia, not of strict legal code. It talks of direction for legal procedure and the statement of penalties for unjust accusations, false testimony, and injustice done by the judges; the laws about property rights, loans, deposits, debts, domestic property, and family rights. A section speaking of personal injury states that penalties were imposed for injuries received during an unsuccessful operation by a doctor and damages caused by neglect in other trades. Rates were fixed in the code for a variety of services in trade and

commerce.

Hammurabis Code had no laws dealt with religion. The basis of criminal law is for equal retaliation that is comparable to an eye for an eye. It offers protection to all classes in Babylonian society; it looks to protect the weak and poor, which includes women, children and slaves against injustice from the rich and powerful.

The code is humane for its time. The code ends glorifying the works of peace by Hammurabil and says the gods to cause justice to prevail in the land, and destroy the wicked and the evil called him. Hammurabi says that he inscribed his words on a pillar in order that the strong may not oppress the weak, that justice may be dealt the orphan and the widow.

During the reign of King Canute and William the Conqueror, the death penalty was not used, although results from interrogation and torture could be fatal. At the end of the 15th century, English law recognized seven major crimes treason (grand & petty), murder, larceny, burglary, rape and arson. By the 1800s, there were more than 200 capital crimes recognized and as a result from this 1000 or more people had been sentenced to death every year. Most of the sentences were commuted by royal pardon. Before the revolution in American colonies, the death penalty was used for a variety of crimes. Blacks were threatened with death for same crimes committed by a white man (punished less harshly), it did not matter if the black man was free or a slave.

Early societies punishment for a crime was left up to the family of the person wronged. The punishment that was given was cruel and by our standards today way out there for the offense committed. Torture and capital punishment evolved from old beliefs in vengeance. With society growing and centralization of governments, the right to punish the accused was given to the state.

At the end of the 18th century, a call for improved criminal procedure arose. Punishment was thought to be express vindication, but a means of protecting the laws from abuse by individuals in society. Deterrence and separation from society was the main purpose of punishment, not revenge. The length of the penalty depended on the crime committed. Having reforms lessened the amount of capital crimes, restricted corporal punishment, and abolished mutilation. Emphasis was placed on rehabilitation for the good of society and the criminal, not on punishment for its own sake.

 

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