The Code of Hammurabi
The Code of Hammurabi is the oldest legal text, and one of the oldest deciphered written texts, in human history. Dated to 1754 BC, the Code of Hammurabi was created by the Babylonian king and written on giant stone tablets, known as stele, many of which are as big as a man.
The Code of Hammurabi's Laws
The Code of Hammurabi consists of 282 different laws, some of which deal with punishments, contracts, wages, even sexual behavior. The most famous passage from the Code of Hammurabi states that punishments would be “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Hammurabi was king of Babylon for about 45 years. Sometime during his reign, his laws were carved onto the steel and erected at the city of Sippar. This original stele was discovered in 1901, but other, smaller versions have been discovered by archaeologists, indicating that the laws were widely published throughout Hammurabi’s empire.
The original stele now rests in the Louvre in Paris. It stands 7.4 feet (2.25 meters) tall and is in the shape of a human index figure. The laws are carved into the stone in Akkadian cuneiform. Egyptologist Gustave Jequier discovered the stele in the Iranian city of Khuzestan, where it is believed to have been taken as plunder during the 12th century BCE. One interesting aspect of the Code of Hammurabi is that accused criminals are presumed innocent, and has been used as a model for legal codes ever since.