HUMANITIES I: GST 201-B
Mesopotamia: "The Code of Hammurabi", Sumeric and Akkadian Art
The Code of Hammurabi
Of the several law codes surviving from the ancient Middle East, the most famous after the Hebrew Torah is the Code of Hammurabi, sixth king of the Amorite Dynasty of Old Babylon. It is best known from a beautifully engraved diorite stela now in the Louvre Museum which also depicts the king receiving the law from Shamash, the god of justice. This copy was made long after Hammurabi's time, and it is clear that his was a long-lasting contribution to Mesopotamian civil ization. It encodes many laws which had probably evolved over a long period of time, but is interesting to the general reader because of what it tells us about the attitudes and daily lives of the ancient Babylonians. In the following selection, most of the long prologue praising Hammurabi's power and wisdom is omitted.
What do these laws tell us about attitudes toward slavery? What indication is there that some Babylonian women engaged in business? Clearly men had more rights than women in this society; but what laws can you identify that seem aimed at protecting certain rights of women? Which laws deviate from the egalitarian standard of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?" What qualities does this text say a ruler should have to enable him to write new laws?
The Code of Hammurabi Translated by L. W. King
Printable Version in PDF - 48 pages
Law Buzz: The Code of Hammurabi
About the Code
Brief Look at the Code of Hammurabi
Introduction to The Code of Hammurabi by Charles F. Horne
Babylonian Law--The Code of Hammurabi by Rev. Claude Hermann Walter Johns
Legal Content of The Code of Hammurabi
There was a hierarchical social system which become very important when considering the laws of Hammurabi.
All records of commercial transactions were recorded on tablets and kept as legal documents in case of discrepancies
In Sumer monogamy was the law and practice of the land. However concubines were tolerated, but nowhere held in the same esteem as the wife which is evident from the legal protection given to the wife.
Perhaps the most outstanding aspect of the code of Hammurabi is the lex talionis, 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' principle. The class distinctions mentioned above do govern the execution of this law.
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Compared to Old Testament Law
Although there are many apparent similarities between the two codes, upon close examination these are not strong parallels. Death is ascribed to those who have committed adultery (sect 129, Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22). The principle of lex talionis is observed (an eye for an eye) in both law codes (Exodus 21:23ff; Deuteronomy 19:21). However, the code of the Hammurabi observes the class distinctions in the outworking of this law, Mosaic Law did not. Hammurabi's law was three centuries earlier than Moses and they shared different origins, and code of ethics.
The code seems to have some things in common with laws and customs that appear in the Old Testament. Experts who have tried to put both the Babylonian Empire and the Old Testament on time lines reckon that Hammurabi and Abraham might have been contemporaries. There are details in the Bible that show at least one principle or law (dealing with the ownership of lost livestock) that Hammurabi and Abraham seem to have had in common. The experts say this is unlikely to be a coincidence, but whether one set of rules derived from the other, or whether both came from a single source, is not an issue that has ever been completely settled.
Perhaps the most remarkable and influential creation of its time, Hammurabi’s code is the oldest set of laws known to exist. Hammurabi, king and chief priest of Babylonia from 1792-1750 B.C., expanded his empire greatly before focusing his energies toward wealth and justice for his people. He created a code protecting all classes of Babylonian society, including women and slaves. He sought protection of the weak from the powerful and the poor from the rich. The carving on the stone on which the code is written depicts Hammurabi receiving the divine laws from the sun god, the god most often associated with justice. This stone was unearthed by French archaeologists at S_sa, Iraq (ancient Elam), in 1901-02. The black diorite rock is 2.4 m high and had been broken into three pieces.
Hammurabi’s Code is 44 columns of text, 28 paragraphs of which contain the actual code. There are 282 laws (possibly more have been rubbed off) that probably amend common Babylonian law rather than define it. It describes regulations for legal procedure, fixes rates on services performed in most branches of commerce and describes property rights, personal injury, and penalties for false testimony and accusations. It has no laws regarding religion.
The Code of Hammurabi is significant because its creation allowed men, women, slaves, and all others to read and understand the laws that governed their lives in Babylon. It is unique in that laws of other civilizations were not written down, and thus could be manipulated to suite the rulers that dictated them. The Code is particularly just for its time. Although it follows the practice of "an eye for an eye", it does not allow for vigilante justice, but rather demands a trial by judges. It also glorifies acts of peace and justice done during Hammurabi’s rule. It symbolizes not only the emergence of justice in the minds of men, but also man’s rise above ignorance and barbarism toward the peaceful and just societies still pursued today. In the words of Hammurabi as carved on the stone, "Let any oppressed man who has a cause come into the presence of my statue as king of justice, and have the inscription on my stele read out, and hear my precious words, that my stele may make the case clear to him; may he understand his cause, and may his heart be set at ease!"
History of Akkadia
During the 3rd Millennium BC, the Sumerians and the Akkadians lived peacefully together and created conditions for a common high civilization.
A few centuries later the first Akkadian king, Sargon of Akkad, ruled over an empire that included a large part of Mesopotamia. The ancient name Akkadian is derived from the city-state of Akkad. It appears that Semitic speaking people had lived for centuries amidst the Sumerians and gradually became an integral part of the Sumerian culture. We don't hear much about them in the first part of the 3rd millennium, because the scholarly language used in writing at that time was Sumerian.
Akkadia was founded by Sargon I when he conquered Sumeria. Sargon reigned from 2334 to 2279 BCE, and during those fifty-five years Akkadia became the world's first empire. During his reign, the Akkadian language became the lingua franca of the region. Along with the language came the Semitic culture it represented. The Biblical Shinar, the home of the tribe of Terach, father of Abraham, about 2400 BCE, was ancient Akkadia. It later became Babylonia, and it is now (roughly) Iraq. The art of glassmaking was born in Akkadia. It was a Semitic, and then a Jewish, art for the next three millennia. Glassmaking was unique among the arts, for it was invented only once in all of human history. Its spread through the world was parallel to, and coincident with, the dispersal of the Jews.
Akkadian is one of the great cultural languages of world history. Akkadian (or Babylonian-Assyrian) is the collective name for the spoken languages of the culture in Mesopotamia, the area between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris. Deciphered in the 1850s, Akkadian is the medium of innumerable documents from daily life as well as a vast literature, including the famous Epic of Gilgamesh, the quest of a man for eternal life.
Akkadian, the oldest known member of the family of Semitic languages, succeeded Sumerian as the vernacular tongue of Mesopotamia and was spoken by the Babylonians and Assyrians over a period of nearly two thousand years. It was written in the cuneiform script invented by the Sumerians, and the surviving documentation covers the period from 2350 BC to the first century AD. The oldest known writing system employed by Semitic-speaking peoples is cuneiform. It was adopted by the Akkadians ca.2500 BC from the Sumerians, whose language was not a Semitic tongue.
The city of Babel is thought to have been Babylon and the word babel comes originally from the Akkadian Bab-ilu meaning "gate of God".
The earliest surviving inscriptions in the language go back to about 2,500 BC and are the oldest known written records in a Semitic tongue. The Semitic languages are named after Shem or Sem, the oldest son of Noah, from whom most of the languages' speakers were said to be descended.
By the first century AD Akkadian had become an extinct language replaced as a spoken language by Aramaic.
Sargon The Great
Looting of Art and Antiquities
The country and people of Iraq have experienced many calamities in recent decades: the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War (a.k.a. 1st Gulf War), the 1991 Gulf War (a.k.a. 2nd Gulf War) and now the Iraq War (a.k.a. 2nd or 3rd Gulf War depending on when you start counting). War in this Cradle of Civilization, beyond the horrendous, almost invisible casualties—always somebody's husband, always somebody's son—and downplayed "collateral damage"—always somebody's wife, always somebody's child—, inevitably takes its toll on the archaeological heritage as well. After all, this fertile flood plain and surrounding mountains gave birth to agriculture, to writing, to cities, to laws, to the 24 hours in a day, and many more things we take for granted. Innumerable material remains of these steps on the path of humankind, from prehistory to the present, still lie buried in the soil. Some emerge just a little, like beacons, reminders of what once was. But, most still lie hidden beneath. Archaeologists, hand in hand with cuneiform specialists, have however been able to painstakingly piece together a picture of what Mesopotamia looked like: the make-up of the inhabitants, their economy and trade, their social and political organization, the ebb and flow of states and empires, the awe and tedium of religious practices, etc.
The objects found are not, cannot be the goal, only the means by which to understand what made the ancient Mesopotamians tick. However, without the objects, no building blocks, no house of knowledge. Also, the most exquisite of these objects take on a role of their own. They speak to us directly through the centuries. Their beauty, their design, their true-to-life-ness, their slice-of-life-quality can be more eloquent than a hundred excavation reports. Rational, quantitative data and eminent objets d'art together with cuneiform tablets, together they provide the least incomplete picture. The National Museum in Baghdad was the supreme depository of all three. Thousands and thousands of tablets, still unstudied, lay side by side with tons of excavation data, the minutiae of excavations, quantitative and qualitative observations and facts. On top of it all, the most visually-eloquent pieces appealed to the lay visitor and specialist alike. None may have been safe for the storm of ignorance, greed, revenge, zeal and mayhem that swept through the Museum.
Ancient AkkadAkkad was the northwestern division of ancient Babylonian civilization. The region was located roughly in the area where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are closest to each other and its northern limit extended beyond the line of the modern cities of Al Fallujah and Baghdad .....
Sargon of Akkad's (reigned c. 2334-c. 2279 BC) unification of the Sumerian city-states and creation of a first Mesopotamian empire profoundly affected the art of his people, as well as their language and political thought. The increasingly large proportion of Semitic elements in the population were in the ascendancy, and their personal loyalty to Sargon and his successors replaced the regional patriotism of the old cities. The new conception of kingship thus engendered is reflected in artworks of secular grandeur, unprecedented in the god-fearing world of the Sumerians.
One would indeed expect a similar change to be apparent in the character of contemporary architecture, and the fact that this is not so may be due to the paucity of excavated examples. It is known that the Sargonid dynasty had a hand in the reconstruction and extension of many Sumerian temples (for example, at Nippur) and that they built palaces with practical amenities (Tall al-Asmar) and powerful fortresses on their lines of imperial communication (Tell Brak, or Tall Birak at-Tahtani, Syria). The ruins of their buildings, however, are insufficient to suggest either changes in architectural style or structural innovations.
Two notable heads of Akkadian statues have survived: one in bronze and the other of stone. The bronze head of a king, wearing the wig-helmet of the old Sumerian rulers, is probably Sargon himself (Iraqi Museum). Though lacking its inlaid eyes and slightly damaged elsewhere, this head is rightly considered one of the great masterpieces of ancient art. The Akkadian head (Iraqi Museum) in stone, from Bismayah, Iraq (ancient Adab), suggests that portraiture in materials other than bronze had also progressed.
Where relief sculpture is concerned, an even greater accomplishment is evident in the famous Naram-Sin (Sargon's grandson) stela (Louvre), on which a pattern of figures is ingeniously designed to express the abstract idea of conquest. Other stelae and the rock reliefs (which by their geographic situation bear witness to the extent of Akkadian conquest) show the carving of the period to be in the hands of less competent artists. Yet two striking fragments in the Iraqi Museum, which were found in the region of An-Nasiriyah, Iraq, once more provide evidence of the improvement in design and craftsmanship that had taken place since the days of the Sumerian dynasties. One of the fragments shows a procession of naked war prisoners, in which the anatomic details are well observed but skillfully subordinated to the rhythmical pattern required by the subject.
Some compensation for the paucity of surviving Akkadian sculptures is to be found in the varied and plentiful repertoire of contemporary cylinder seals. The Akkadian seal cutter's craft reached a standard of perfection virtually unrivaled in later times. Where the aim of his Sumerian predecessor had been to produce an uninterrupted, closely woven design, the Akkadian seal cutter's own preference was for clarity in the arrangement of a number of carefully spaced figures.
The Akkadian dynasty ended in disaster when the river valley was overrun by the mountain tribes of northern Iran. Of all the Mesopotamian cities, only Lagash appears somehow to have remained aloof from the conflict and, under its famous governor Gudea, to have successfully maintained the continuity of the Mesopotamian cultural tradition. In particular, the sculpture dating from this short interregnum (c. 2100 BC) seems to represent some sort of posthumous flowering of Sumerian genius. The well-known group of statues of the governor and other notables, discovered at the end of the 19th century, long remained the only criterion by which Sumerian art could be judged, and examples in the Louvre and British Museum are still greatly admired. The hard stone, usually diorite, is carved with obvious mastery and brought to a fine finish. Details are cleverly stylized, but the musculature is carefully studied, and the high quality of the carving makes the use of inlay unnecessary. The powerful impression of serene authority that these statues convey justifies their inclusion among the finest products of ancient Middle Eastern art.
Some images of Akkad Art
The Art of the Akkad and Post-Akkad Periods in Western Iran
This cylinder seal was dedicated to a little-known goddess, Ninishkun, who is shown interceding on the owner's behalf with the great goddess Ishtar. Ishtar places her right foot upon a roaring lion, which she restrains with a leash. The scimitar in her left hand and the weapons sprouting from her winged shoulders indicate her war-like nature.
The art of the Sumerian civilization, as revealed by excavations at Ur, Babylon, Uruk (Erech), Mari, Kish, and Lagash, among other cities, was one of enormous power and originality that influenced all of the major cultures of ancient western Asia. Their techniques and motifs were made widely available by means of cuneiform writing, which they invented before 3000 B.C. Poor in the raw materials of art, the Sumerians traded crops from their fertile soil for the metal, stone, and wood that they required. Clay was their most abundant native material, and its qualities determined their style of baked-mud building and the nature of their fine-textured pottery.
Sumerian craftsmanship was of marked excellence from very early times. A vase in alabaster from Erech (c.3500 B.C.; Iraq Mus., Baghdad) shows a detailed ceremonial procession of men and animals to the fertility goddess Inanna, carved in four bands on an elegant vase shape. A major peak of artistic achievement is represented by a female head, called Lady of Warka (Erech) from about 3200 B.C. (Iraq Mus.). It is carved in white marble with simplicity and subtlety.
The vast royal cemetery at Ur has yielded many masterpieces of Sumerian work. Outstanding among these are a wooden harp detailed with gold and mosaic inlay picturing mythological scenes on the soundbox, surmounted by a black-bearded golden head of a bull (c.2650 B.C.; Univ. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia); a gaming board of wood inlaid with bone, lapis lazuli, shell, and stone, mounted in bitumen (c.2700 B.C.; British Mus.); a ritual offering stand in the shape of a ram, made of silver, lapis lazuli, and mussel shells, rearing on his hind legs to eat from a tree of gold; and a splendid gold helmet fashioned from a single sheet of metal and beaten into the form of a head of wavy hair with a chignon at the back (c.2500 B.C.; Baghdad).
At Lagash a strongly modeled head of stone (c.2500 B.C.) portrays a Sumerian man, clearly representing the structural type of these ancient people. Its large and widely spaced features set on a heavy round skull are revealed in bas-relief and inlay work of the period. Examples of the famous votive stone sculptures of Sumer discovered at Tell Asmar represent tall, long-haired, bearded figures with huge, staring eyes and long, pleated skirts, standing rigidly with hands folded above the waist. Some are portrayed kneeling.
The ziggurat temple form was the most striking architectural achievement of the Sumerians. One ziggurat at Erech extended over an area of half a million square feet (46,500 sq m). It was set upon a mound, and the platform built to support its crowning shrine was 40 feet (12 m) high.
Among other Sumerian arts, one of the most sophisticated was the cylinder seal, a small carved cylinder of stone or metal that, when rolled over seals of moist clay, would leave the reverse image of its carving in relief as an identifying mark or signature. Used to mark documents and property, the cylinders were worn on a wristband or necklace during their owners' lifetime and were buried with them. A great many examples survive, bearing primarily scenes of religious ritual, often portraying the legendary hero Gilgamesh.
With the ascent to power of Sargon of Akkad, Sumerian art reached new heights of expression, particularly in sculpture. The greatest known examples reflecting that splendor include a bronze head thought to be a portrait of Sargon himself (from Nineveh, c.2300 B.C.; Iraq Mus., Baghdad), from which the gemstone eyes have been stolen, and the stele of Naram-sin, a triumphal relief showing the deified grandson of Sargon in battle (2261–24 B.C.; Louvre). The Akkadians spread cuneiform writing throughout the Middle East, and even after the destruction of Sargon's empire by invasions from the east in the latter part of the 3d millennium B.C., Sumerian artistic techniques and styles exerted profound influence on contemporary and later cultures. The city of Lagash survived the invasions and was beautified by its governor Gudea with numerous works of art. These were carved of dark, hard diorite; many represented the dignified and serene seated figure of Gudea himself. Although most are small in stature, they convey a sense of grandeur and monumentality. After the invasions the glory of Sumer was revived from 2200 to 2100 B.C. During this period the great ziggurat of the moon god at Ur was built.
Invasions of Semitic peoples from what are now Iran and Syria ended the last Sumerian golden age. The site of Mari has yielded the most complete archaeological evidence of Sumerian civilization during that transitional time. The great Mari royal palace with its labyrinthine corridors, frescoed walls, royal residential rooms, courts and temple buildings, and scribal school containing more than 25,000 cuneiform tablets, reveal the brilliance of a vanished world.
Links on Sumerian Art