1750 BCE — King Hammurabi of Babylon dies

Hammurabi was born in 1792 BCE and became the sixth king of Babylon that same year when his father abdicated. He ruled for his entire life (presumably with a regency at first), and despite the war town nature of Mesopotamia in that era, he is best known for the relative peace of his reign, his public works programs and, of course, his legal code, which is the earliest known one.

When he died, at the ripe old age of 42, he had also expanded the borders of his kingdom enormously, leaving his own son a realm that was more than six times the size of the city state he had inherited, one that stretched from the shores of the Persian Gulf to Mari, hundreds of miles up the Euphrates.

Referenced in:

The Mesopotamians — They Might Be Giants

1772 BCE — The Code of Hammurabi is created

The oldest surviving written code of laws in the world, the Code of Hammurabi was a landmark in the development of the ideas of laws, justice and human rights. Although it massively favoured the rich – who generally suffered lighter punishments than the poor – it still actually gave the poor some rights for restitution for crimes committed against them.

The Code was brutal and bloodthirsty by modern standards – it was the first codification of the “an eye for an eye” principle – but it was a massive advance on the idea that judges made decisions and assigned punishments however they wanted. The Code of Hammurabi created the idea of consistency of outcome in legal cases. It is the foundation stone of all Western jurisprudence, and was a direct and strong influence on the law-makers who wrote the book of Leviticus and the later Roman legal codes.

Referenced in:

Mesopotamia — The B-52’s

1792 BCE — Hammurabi becomes King of Babylon

Hammurabi is perhaps the best-remembered king of Babylon’s first dynasty. Although he was the sixth of that house, he was the first one to actually be called a king, largely as a result of his military victories, Aside from the simple fact of his kingship, his greatest claim to fame is the Code of Hammurabi.

One of the oldest known written codes of law in the world, it predates Mosaic law (i.e. the Bible) by centuries, and was a direct influence on that code. The code consists of 282 individual laws, and states the punishments for each infraction. The law was revolutionary in three aspects:

  • It was written in the common tongue (Akkadian, in this case) so that any literate citizen could read it.
  • It standardised punishments, ensuring that the law was consistent (albeit rather harsh by modern standards – it is also one of the earliest known examples of the “eye for an eye” principle, which appears to have been intended to limit vengeance to an equitable level.).
  • It is one of the earliest known examples of the presumption of innocence, a cornerstone of our modern legal system today, and required that both sides provide evidence to substantiate their claims.

As a result of Hammurabi’s pivotal role in the history of the law, his likeness is often found in courts and parliaments, as a famed law-giver. In many such depictions, he is the earliest historical figure shown.

Referenced in:

The Mesopotamians — They Might Be Giants