Law is at the heart of modern civilization, and is often based on principles listed here from nearly 4,000 years ago.
Hammurabi of the city-state of Babylon conquered much of northern and western Mesopotamia and, by 1776 B.C.E., he was the most far-reaching leader of Mesopotamian history, describing himself as “the king who made the four quarters of the earth obedient.” Documents show Hammurabi was a classic micro-manager, concerned with all aspects of his rule, and this is seen in his famous legal code, which survives in partial copies on this stele in the Louvre and on clay tablets. We can also view this as a monument presenting Hammurabi as an exemplary king of justice.
What is interesting about the representation of Hammurabi on the legal code stele is that he is seen as receiving the laws from the god Shamash, who is seated, complete with thunderbolts coming from his shoulders. The emphasis here is Hammurabi’s role as pious theocrat, and that the laws themselves come from the god.
Learn more about record keeping with clay tablets.
Read a chapter in our textbook, Reframing Art History, about rethinking how we approach the art of the Ancient Near East.
Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:
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