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The Code of Hammurabi

The definition of art according to Oxford Languages is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” The Code of Hammurabi, currently located in the Louvre, does not exactly fit this definition. However, although it is not as beautiful as The Starry Night or The Sistine Chapel, it is definitely an important work of art and and can pop up as an FRQ question on your AP Exam.

The Code of Hammurabi serves as a testament to how advanced the civilizations in ancient Mesopotamia were.

The Code of Hammurabi. Babylon (modern Iraq). Babylonian. 1792-1750 BCE. Basalt. Who are the figures?

First, let's talk about the carved scene at the top of the stone. The man on the left is the Babylonian king Hammurabi who reigned from 1792-1750 BCE. He was an important ruler, and he conquered land up and down the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Ruling over a vast territory, Hammurabi needed a way to establish order, so he came up with the Code of Hammurabi. The man sitting on the right is the Babylonian God of justice, Shamash. To distinguish him as a God, Shamash is a little bigger than Hammurabi and wears a horned crown. To further emphasize his significance, light is emulating from his shoulders. Shamash sits in composite view which was popular in ancient Egyptian art. Hammurabi included this scene because he wanted to show that his laws came from the divine and therefore needed to be followed.

The Rules

Below the scene at the top, 282 codes are inscribed into the stone. The rules set protocols and establish punishments for breaking them. They are orientated in an if… then… format. For example, if someone drives over the speed limit, then they will receive a ticket. I totally just made that up, but you get the point. These laws tell us about Babylonian culture and what Babylonians valued. For instance, many of the laws address agriculture so we know that farming was particularly important to Babylonians.

Fun fact: some of the laws have harsh punishments, including the removal of the offender's tongue

In addition, the laws follow the idea of innocent until proven guilty.


The main point here is that The Code of Hammurabi is one of the earliest examples of laws and legal codes. As I said earlier, it serves as a reminder of how advanced the civilizations in ancient Mesopotamia were. Also, the scene at the top communicates ideas about the relationship between humans and the divine.


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