4.2 Laws and government: Hammurabi's Code
Students will examine examples of laws from the Code of Hammurabi and determine what we can learn about Babylonian society based on those laws. Students will conclude by brainstorming careers that require knowledge of the laws of a city, state, etc.
Time required for lesson
One class period (approximately 55 minutes) with a small amount of follow-up time the following day
- Hammurabi’s Code handout
- Overhead or multimedia projector
- Introduce the lesson by having students write down, in one minute, as many school rules as they can remember. When the minute is over, have the students share their answers. Ask the class what those rules tell about the school. For example, if walking in a single file is a rule, it might say that safety and order are important to the school. (5 minutes)
- Tell students that they will study laws created in approximately 1792 B.C. and will determine what those laws can tell us about that early civilization. Share with students the following background information. (5 minutes)
Hammurabi was a king of Babylonia in southern Mesopotamia (the site of present-day Iraq). He probably ruled for about 40 years beginning in 1792 B.C. Babylon was one of several city-states in this area near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Hammurabi was a skilled military leader and under his leadership, Babylon conquered the other city-states of the area and united much of Mesopotamia under his authority.
Hammurabi was also a skilled administrator. He is most famous for his code of laws. Many of these laws came from the city-state of Sumer, but they added a new concept — that of revenge instead of just punishment. For example, under Sumerian law, the punishment for crimes was often a fine; under Hammurabi’s law, the guideline was “an eye for an eye.” Punishment also depended on who was wronged. If a person put out the eye of a slave, he would not lose his eye but would pay a fine. If that person put out the eye of a noble man, he would lose his eye as punishment.
Hammurabi had his laws posted throughout Babylonia. They were written on stone slabs and placed in prominent places for the people to see. There were 282 laws as far as we know. Interestingly, there was no law number 13 — it was an unlucky number even then.
- Guided practice: Hand out the worksheet with the laws from the Code of Hammurabi, and instruct students to use those laws to make inferences about Babylonian society. Students may work alone or with a partner to complete this part of the activity. (20 minutes)
- Large group: Have students share their inferences about Babylonian society regarding religion, jobs, marriage and the family, slavery, etc. (10-15 minutes)
- Assign the following questions for homework; plan to review answers at the beginning of the next class. (5 minutes)
- From the laws that you studied today, which one do you think is best? Worst? Explain your answers.
- Ask your parents to tell you which of our present laws they think are best and worst. Ask them why they chose those laws. Record their answers.
- With your parents, brainstorm careers that would need to have a strong knowledge of our law code. (Think outside the box on this one; who besides law enforcement people need to be familiar with the laws of our city/county/state?)
North Carolina curriculum alignment
Social Studies (2003)
- Goal 9: The learner will analyze the different forms of government developed in Africa, Asia, and Australia.
- Objective 9.01: Trace the historical development of governments, including traditional, colonial, and national in selected societies, and assess their effects on the respective contemporary political systems.
- Goal 10: The learner will compare the rights and civic responsibilities of individuals in political structures in Africa, Asia, and Australia.
- Objective 10.01: Trace the development of relationships between individuals and their governments in selected cultures of Africa, Asia, and Australia, and evaluate the changes that have evolved over time.
- Objective 10.02: Identify various sources of citizens' rights and responsibilities, such as constitutions, traditions, and religious law, and analyze how they are incorporated into different government structures.
- North Carolina Essential Standards
- Social Studies (2010)
- 6.C&G.1 Understand the development of government in various civilizations, societies and regions. 6.C&G.1.1 Explain the origins and structures of various governmental systems (e.g. democracy, absolute monarchy and constitutional monarchy). 6.C&G.1.2...
- 6.H.1 Use historical thinking to understand the emergence, expansion and decline of civilizations, societies and regions over time. 6.H.1.1 Construct charts, graphs, and historical narratives to explain particular events or issues over time. 6.H.1.2 Summarize...
- Social Studies (2010)