Discovered around 1901 in Mesopotamia, the Hammurabi code stele is one of the pride of the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the Louvre today. This block of black diorite more than two meters high represents on its upper part, Shamash, the sun god, presenting to Hammurabi a ring symbolizing the legislative power. Underneath is engraved a long collection of royal sentences deemed exemplary, the “Hammurabi code”, the oldest legal corpus known in its entirety.
A wise monarch
Hammurabi (or Hammurabi) was a Babylonian ruler who ruled in the 18th century BCE. After unifying his conquests under a central government in Babylon, Hammurabi devotes his forces to protecting his borders and fostering the inner prosperity of his empire. During his long reign, he oversaw navigation, irrigation, agriculture, tax collection and the construction of numerous temples and various buildings.
A successful military leader and administrator, Hammurabi is also the instigator of a collection of laws governing life in Babylon. This text, known as the Code of Hammurabi, exerted considerable influence on the ancient East.
At the initiative of the king of Babylon Hammurabi, a monument was made in black basalt around 1750 BC. Placed in the temple of Sippar, a city located north of Babylon, it was then moved to Iran in the years 1200 BC. and Jacques de Morgan discovered it in Susa in December 1901, broken into three pieces. This stele, two meters and twenty-five high, was reconstructed without leaving any significant traces of damage.
It represents in its upper part a bas-relief representing the king and the sun god Shamash, seated on his throne. Able to see everything, Shamash is associated with justice and dictates the laws to rulers. He is depicted here giving the king a ring symbolizing legislative power. On the lower part is engraved a long text written in cuneiform characters and in Akkadian language.
The Code of Hammurabi
Of Mesopotamian origin, the stele was engraved with two hundred and eighty-two articles, in the form of a code, in order to homogenize the kingdom. These cuneiform scripts in the Akkadian language are grouped into three parts:
- a history of the life and role of the king with his precept "to ensure that the strong do not oppress the weak",
- then a series of laws written in simple language so that all its people understand, concerning justice, wisdom, the rules of everyday life for families - status of women, rules of marriage, divorce, adultery, incest, children, inheritance - economic functioning such as the cost of medical services or management in the agricultural field because the king attached great importance to the maintenance of the canals used for the transport of goods, the salaries of the different categories of people, the professional responsibilities, the rules of religious life. For the penalties incurred for theft, misdemeanors and various crimes (the law of the Talion), the texts are written in a dissuasive manner "if an individual has done such and such an action, such and such a thing will happen to him"!
- finally an epilogue summarizing the king’s work in terms of justice, as well as the results of his prestigious reign. The king was also called "king of the four regions", an imperial title meaning king of the universe, and one of the most prestigious in ancient Mesopotamia.
This code is not just a list of laws and rules to follow, it is intended to be an ideal model of wisdom and fairness for future generations. Indeed, the schools of scribes used it for more than a thousand years.
- The Code of Hammurabi, by Béatrice André-Salvini. Somogy Editions, 2016.
- History of Mesopotamia, by Véronique Grandpierre. History Folio, 2010.