For example, when two parties had a dispute, legal protocol allowed them to bring their case before a judge and provide evidence and witnesses to back up their claims.
Hammurabi’s Code offers a valuable glimpse into what daily life in ancient Babylonia might have been like, but just how the laws functioned in society is still up for debate.
The Code also listed different punishments for men and women with regard to marital infidelity.
Men were allowed to have extramarital relationships with maid-servants and slaves, but philandering women were to be bound and tossed into the Euphrates along with their lovers.
Some historians have even argued the Code was not a working legal document at all, but rather a piece of royal propaganda created to enshrine Hammurabi as a great and just ruler.
Hammurabi’s Code took a brutal approach to justice, but the severity of criminal penalties often depended on the identity of both the lawbreaker and the victim.
While one law commanded, “If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out,” committing the same crime against a member of a lower class was punished with only a fine.
While it’s notorious for its catalogue of barbaric punishments, Hammurabi’s Code also set several valuable legal precedents that have survived to this day.
The compendium is among the earliest legal documents to put forth a doctrine of “innocent until proven guilty.” In fact, the Code places the burden of proof on the accuser in extreme fashion when it says, “If any one bring an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if it be a capital offense charged, be put to death.” The Code also includes a modern take on judicial procedures.
The Code of Hammurabi is often cited as the oldest written laws on record, but they were predated by at least two other ancient codes of conduct from the Middle East.