(thought to have lived around 1800 B.C.)
The land between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers has been inhabited since very ancient times. One of the periods which stands out in its history is the reign of King Hammurabi.
The son of Sin–mubalit, he ascended to the throne of Babylon when it was an insignificant city at the centre of a small state only a hundred miles from end to end.
It seems that from the first his intention was to govern wisely, and to be a protector to the people who had been entrusted to him. He personally undertook the administration of the government and caused walls, dams, temples and canals to be constructed; his influence began to be felt by the surrounding cities, and their inhabitants heard with wonder of the peace that had been established in Babylon.
As time passed, Hammurabi brought many of these neighbouring cities under his sway; the once glorious states of Uruk and Kish were re-founded, and the same benefits were granted to their inmates as those enjoyed by the people of Babylon.
Eventually the regions of both Akkad and Sumer (now part of Iraq) became subject to Hammurabi. In his own words, which have miraculously survived to the present day, he “subdued the earth, brought prosperity to the land ” and “guaranteed security to the inhabitants in their homes.”
Speaking of himself, he says: “on my breast I cherish the inhabitants of Sumer and Akkad; in my shelter I have let them repose in peace; in my deep wisdom have I enclosed them.”
Towards the end of his sixty year reign, he caused a great stone pillar to be erected in one of the chief temples of the city of Babylon. On it were inscribed 282 laws, dealing with property, trade, family and livestock. Speaking of this monument, he says: “That the strong may not injure the weak, in order to protect the widow and orphans, I have in Babylon, in order to settle all disputes, and heal all injuries, set up these, my precious words, written upon my memorial stone.”
When this monument was discovered, just over a century ago, people marvelled at the complexity of its code of laws, which probably influenced succeeding Jewish and Middle Eastern civilisations. More recently it has also been criticised for its harsh treatment of wrongdoers, but Hammurabi himself seems to have been both just and compassionate.
So long as he reigned his people lived in peace, and after his death, his legacy lived on in Babylon which was, for many centuries, one of the greatest cities of the Middle East.
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