The Laws of Hammurabi, Cast
Original: Diorite
Cast: Plaster, paint
Original: Old Babylonian Period, Reign of Hammurabi
Original: Paris, Musée du Louvre
Cast: OIM C478

 

The Laws of Hammurabi are the longest and best organized of the law collections that survive from ancient Mesopotamia. King Hammurabi, who ruled from 1792-1750 B.C., had the laws inscribed on stone stelae which he placed in various temples throughout his realm. The stela from which this cast was made stands almost seven-and-a-half feet tall. At the top of the stela, King Hammurabi stands before the sun god Shamash, the Mesopotamian god of justice, who is seated on his throne. Shamash gives Hammurabi the rod and ring, symbols of kingship and divine justice, thus reinforcing the ancient Mesopotamian belief that laws came from the gods.

Below this scene is the law collection itself, mainly comprised of a compilation of legal verdicts describing specific offenses and the penalties to be enforced in particular situations. Preceding the law collection is a lengthy prologue, stressing the gods' appointment of Hammurabi as the ruler of his people. Hammurabi's role was to act as guardian and protector of the weak and powerless, and to pay care and attention to the specific needs of the patron deities of the many cities incorporated into his realm. Following the laws is an epilogue describing the king as the military leader who brings peace to his subjects. It explicitly states that these laws were inscribed on a stela and publicly displayed in order to testify to Hammurabi's righteous and just rule, to bring consolation to anyone seeking justice, and to serve as an example for future rulers.