Note: Sorry I couldn’t get this up on Friday; my computer’s on its last legs and on Friday it got a glitch or something.
Hammurabi: Conqueror, Administrator, Protector, and Lawmaker
Today, Hammurabi is most remembered for creating his code of laws known as the Code of Hammurabi. However Hammurabi did more, lots more, than just create a code of laws that is mistakenly remembered as the first written laws. One could say that Hammurabi was the best administrator, conqueror, and diplomat in the days before the Persian, or Achaemenid, Empire. How? Well, the story of his reign can explain.
Unlike most kings, Hammurabi didn’t ascend to the throne because his father died. His father, Sin-Muballit, actually abdicated the throne in favor of his son ruling Babylon. The reason behind this was that he failed to destroy or compete with the hegemon of the south, Rim Sin I of Larsa. Larsa was a very powerful city-state which had practical political and economic control over most of the city-states in southern Mesopotamia. Sin-Muballit created public works projects, but that was about all he accomplished during his reign. As a result, Sin-Muballit thought his son, Hammurabi would do better (or at least he hoped so). During the first five years of his reign, Hammurabi focused on the internal state of Babylon, continuing his father’s public works projects, enlarging and heightening the city walls, improving city and canal infrastructure, and centralizing his administration. This gave Rim Sin I no cause for concern, since these were all projects that a non-aggressive ruler would do. However, Hammurabi had more militaristic intentions, and was secretly building up his military for an invasion of southern Mesopotamia.
An unexpected invasion by the Elamites in the sixth year of Hammurabi’s reign probably made this a lot easier. Hammurabi made an alliance with Rim Sin I to drive the Elamites from Mesopotamia. This worked, however, right after the Elamites were pushed away, Hammurabi broke the alliance and conquered all of southern Mesopotamia, including Larsa, along with a small portion of what is now western Iran within 5 years. His main tactic used to conquer these city-states was quite simple; cut off the water supply and wait for the enemy to surrender. This method was highly effective and Hammurabi continued to use it later conquests. After these conquests, Hammurabi set his sights on northern Mesopotamia. He attacked his former ally Zimri Lim, destroying his grand city of Mari. Both why he attacked and why he destroyed Mari is unknown, but the most likely reason was that Mari was a rival, being a wealthy city, and it would challenge Babylon’s position as the greatest city in the Empire. Zimri Lim was also thought to be killed in the battle as well, since he vanished from historical records after the year 1761 B.C., the same year in which Mari was invaded and destroyed. In 1760 B.C., the Assyrian Empire fell, and by 1755, the last non-Babylonian territory in the region, Eshunna, fell. After the conquest of a certain area, Hammurabi would try to improve the living standards of the people living in his empire, hence forth the public works projects. In addition, Hammurabi sent governors, judges, tax collectors, and military commanders to conquered lands to prevent revolt. However, Hammurabi’s most famous measure to instill peace and justice in the Babylonian Empire was the now-famous Code of Hammurabi.
The Code of Hammurabi was one of the oldest (but not the oldest) written codes of law, created in 1772 B.C. This code had 282 laws dealing with all aspects of life, including farming, marriage, taxes, and criminal law. Many of these laws, particularly the criminal laws, operated on the “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” concept, while others just had very harsh punishments. However punishments greatly varied by social class, the rich generally got a less gruesome punishment than the poor. Some crimes with severe punishments included theft and adultery, both of which had capital punishment (except in the case where a husband forgives a wife who has committed adultery). In stark contrast to Ancient Hebrew law, which came later, children did not receive capital punishment, and, in severe cases (assault which results in bad injury), had their hands amputated. Other laws demanded that the vital irrigation canals be maintained, which encouraged good work ethic among Babylonian farmers. The underlying purpose of the Code of Hammurabi, however, was not to make a set of laws, but rather, to show that the king was enforcing peace and justice across the land.
However, by the end of Hammurabi’s conquests, he was a sick, old man. Most of the administration was done by his son, Samsu-Iluna, during the last five years of his reign. After Hammurabi’s death in 1750 B.C., none of his successors could maintain the empire. Within a year, many conquered regions in the north, such as Assyria, broke away and declared independence. Less than two centuries later, the Hittites attacked Babylon, followed by the Kassites and later the Elamites. The First Babylonian Empire had fallen.
In short though, Hammurabi was a skilled leader who could administrate with a degree only few in ancient times have ever possessed. In addition, he was also able to conquer all of Mesopotamia with his unique blend of intellect and patience. He was effectively, a conqueror, administrator, protector, and lawmaker, and one who shall not be forgotten in history.
Allejandro Gallego. “The First Lawmakers.” National Geographic History. Aug. 2015: 32-41. Print.
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Mark, Joshua J. “Babylon.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. n.p. 28 April 2011. Web. 18 September 2015.
Mark, Joshua J. “Hammurabi”. Ancient History Encyclopedia. n.p. 12 November 2011. Web. 18 September 2015.
Mazour, Anatole G., John M. Peoples, and Theodore K. Rabb. People and Nations: A World History. 1968. Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc, 1983, Print.