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Aug 02, 2017 at 09:08

There are many sources which today portray Babylonian king, Hammurabi as a harsh and cruel ruler. But our young writer Lalantika had a different perspective on it: for someone to think about justice so much, to the brink of obsession, they must have some humanity in them. She gives us here not a harsh ruler, but one that was kind hearted with a kindred spirit. After all history does tend to forget the good, at times.

(Part 2 of 2)

The first few decades of Hammurabi’s reign were quite peaceful. Hammurabi used his power to undertake a series of public works, including heightening the city walls for defensive purposes, and expanding the temples. However, he still did not have the resources to build vast temples, like his father had told him.

Elam’s military camp, outskirts of Babylon, c.1710:

“Sir, despite there being a wall around the city, we can easily enter the city by the port.” The Lieutenant reported to the King of Elam. Elam was a powerful kingdom, which straddled important trade routes across the Zagros Mountains. The King was feeling particularly eccentric as he had just invaded the Mesopotamian plain.

“Hmm. Hammurabi has enough military power to combat our forces at present,” the King said, “how about, we tell the King of Larsa to attack on Hammurabi’s kingdom, and assure him that if his forces make the initial attack, we will soon back them up? Hammurabi’s forces would be invested in fighting Larsa’s forces, and we will easily be able to vanquish both kingdoms! And that way, I can get control over the Tigris Rivers’ Delta that is controlled by Larsa!” Elam’s King laughed maniacally at what he thought was a brilliant plan.

Little did he know that Hammurabi and the King of Larsa already had a peace treaty.

Upon learning about King of Elam’s duplicity, Hammurabi and the King of Larsa decided to forge an alliance. Hammurabi’s forces attacked Elam’s forces and won. However, Larsa failed to provide sufficient military might.

“How dare they?!” Hammurabi raged in his chambers. “I had an agreement with them. Larsa was supposed to back me, and now I’ve lost more men than I can account for! The spoils of war won’t be enough for recovery!”

“It’s not their fault, they are a peaceful nation who just happen to be strategically placed.” Hammurabi’s wife Nyassa consoled him. Yes, this was the same grey eyed girl Hammurabi ran into when he went on his very first outing.

Soon after Hammurabi was crowned king, he resolved the poverty issue by first providing them with enough food to regain their strength, and then giving them employment as constructors for the temple.  The second thing that he did was go down that alley again and knock on every door until the girl with the grey eyes opened the door.
And finally, he tried to promote education. Yes, his citizens were unequal, but he still believed that it would be best to try and promote education. Educated masses would be cultured masses. And history has no room for the un-cultured.

“I promised my citizens great victory. This was no great victory!” Hammurabi protested.

“Your military might, even at this stage is greater than that of Larsa’s. If it bothers you so much, you can still conquer them.” Nyassa said coolly as she went back to nursing their child, Samsu-iluna.

And so, fuelled by rage this time, Hammurabi turned on the southern power of Larsa and subsequently, gained control over the lower Mesopotamian plain.


At a Royal Dinner one day, some of Hammurabi’s special guests from the Indus Valley told him that they did not own the required dinner attire.
This royal dinner had delegates from all over Mesopotamia and neighbouring kingdoms. Hence, Hammurabi provided the ‘Indians’ as he liked to call them, with the required attire.

Upon hearing this, the ambassadors of Mari sent in their apologies for not attending, as they too did not own the ‘required attire’. They ‘requested’ Hammurabi that he provide them with the dress, so they can attend.

Outraged, Hammurabi marched down to their quarters, where they had been staying.
“Do you imagine you can control my palace in the matter of formal wear?” He asked the delegates from Mari.

It’s safe to assume that the Mari delegation did not attend any further dinners hosted by Hammurabi.


King’s Private Chambers, Mesopotamia, c.1750 BCE

“Nyassa, I was wondering,” Hammurabi told his wife. She too had aged with him, yet she looked as elegant as the day he met her. “If I finally write down the laws that I govern my Kingdom with. After all, my citizens have now been divided into the propertied men, freedmen, and slaves. Each is treated differently, and for order to suffice, it must be written how they are treated.”

“Go ahead! Shall I call the scribe tomorrow??” Nyassa asked.

“That would be good.”

The next morning Hammurabi was brimming with ideas.

“Say, dear scribe, I need a few things to be conveyed properly.
1) Anyone is innocent, until proven guilty,
2) An eye for an eye is the only solution. For example, if a man steals an ox, he must pay back 30 times its value,
3) Equality must prevail. A man must only pay as much as he can.  For example, a doctor’s fee for curing a severe wound would be 10 silver shekels for a gentleman, 5 shekels for a freedman and two shekels for a slave. And finally,
4) A judge who reaches an incorrect decision is to be fined and removed from the bench permanently. There will never be true justice, until those serving justice are viable for their actions too.”

“And the punishments must be severe. There should be no room for injustice. In the forty odd years of my reign, I have worked to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak and to see that justice is done. I will not have it all go to waste,” he continued.

“But sire, some of your punishments like cutting of hands or even death are a bit severe don’t you think?” the scribe asked nervously.

“Yes, it does include harsh punishments. But one must never forget that justice delayed or reprimanded, is justice denied,” Hammurabi said as he patted the scribe who got to work. “I do quite like the number 282. I say, let’s make 282 of these laws shall we?” Hammurabi laughed.


Louvre Research Wing, Paris, 1902:

“Congratulations uncle!! Your findings are finally going to be put on display!” Frank hugged his uncle Jacques de Morgan and his friend Jean-Vincent, who had translated it.

Merci mon chéri.” His uncle hugged Frank back.

Frank looked around the room, previously messy, now neat and tidy. He remarked on the many nights he had spent in these messy corridors, helping his uncle and Jean. It was incredible really, how they had managed to decode the laws of an entire civilization in just a year. Frank couldn’t help but compare many of the laws in this code to the Hebrew laws and the Islamic laws his friends used to talk of.

“Monsieur Jacques et Monsieur Jean, they are ready for you.” A pretty lady in a grey uniform came in to escort them.

And thus, they headed for the grand unveiling of one of the first ever written law codes in history- Hammurabi’s Code.

Lalantika Arvind