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Code of Hammurabi - a tall black pillar with writing on it and a man standing before a god carved at the top

Code of Hammurabi (1700s BC)

About 1700 BC, a new king in Babylon pulled all the scattered cities of Mesopotamia back together into one empire. That’s the Babylonian Empire. The king’s name was Hammurabi. It’s an Amorite name, so Hammurabi probably had Amorite ancestors.

This is another episode in a regular West Asian cycle. Empires form under a strong ruler. They gradually weaken and finally collapse into a bunch of independent city-states. Soon new empires form again under a new ruler.

Hammurabi (ham-oor-AH-bee) tried hard to do things that would bring everyone in his empire together. He wanted his subjects to all feel like they were part of this new project. One thing he did was to issue a law code that would be the same for all the people in the Babylonian Empire. We call this the Code of Hammurabi, and we still have copies of it. There is a picture of the Code of Hammurabi here. You can see Hammurabi at the top (he’s standing) and getting the laws from the god (he’s sitting down). Underneath Hammurabi and the god, in tiny cuneiform writing, are all the laws.

Hammurabi was a great ruler. So under Hammurabi, the Babylonian Empire was very strong. But under his children and grandchildren the empire got weaker. And eventually the Babylonian Empire collapsed like other West Asian empires.

Learn by Doing – the Code of Hammurabi
More about the Hittites

Bibliography and further reading about Hammurabi and the Babylonian Empire:

Find Out About Mesopotamia: What Life Was Like in Ancient Sumer, Babylon and Assyria, by Lorna Oakes (2004).

Ancient Mesopotamians, by Elena Gambino (2000). Retellings of Mesopotamian stories and lots of context.

Ancient Egyptians and Their Neighbors: An Activity Guide, by Marian Broida (1999). Not just Egypt! Includes activities about the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Hittites, and the Nubians.

Babylonians, by Henry Saggs (2000). Also includes information about the Sumerians and Akkadians.

Ancient Near Eastern History and Culture, by William H. Stiebing (2002). Expensive, and hard to read, but it’s a good up to date account.

Or check out this article on Hammurabi in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

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