Ancient Mesopotamia 7 and oil for items lacking in Mesopotamia: wood, gold, silver, and copper. Archae- ologists have found evidence of these transactions, carefully recorded in cunei- form—one of the earliest writing systems—on small clay tablets, as well as artifacts made from materials foreign to Mesopotamia. Code of Hammurabi King Hammurabi also created a code of law, which he had engraved on stele and placed in each city in the Babylonian Empire. The Code of Hammurabi cov- ered everything from divorce and murder to adoption and brewing beer—a craft Mesopotamians had been practicing for 2,000 years or so, since the time of the Babylonians. The code is the earliest example of lex talionis that archaeologists have found. Lex talionis means “Law of Retribution,” also defined as “an eye for an eye.” The code reads: If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out. If he break another man’s bone, his bone shall be broken. (Hammurabi 2008) But only, according to Hammurabi, if the two men were of the same social class. If a man from a higher class committed a crime against a man of a lower class, he might only have to pay a fine. If a man from a lower class committed a crime against one of a higher class, his punishment might be harsher. The code also introduced the concept of innocent until proven guilty. Hammurabi’s code of laws spread throughout the ancient world and served as a model for the development of law in other cultures. Copies of his laws, dating from the 5th century BCE—more than 1,000 years after Hammurabi’s death— have been found by archaeologists. It is thought that the code also influenced the legal code found in Hebrew law (Farkas 2011). Some of the similarities are strik- ing, such as this passage from the Book of Exodus in the Torah and the Bible, thought to have been written about 300 years after Hammurabi’s lifetime: If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (Bible, New International Version, Exod. 21:22–25) In fact, prior to the discovery of the stele with Hammurabi’s code in 1901–1902 by archaeologists, historians believed the Law of Retribution originated with the Hebrews. In addition to law, this first Babylonian Empire was also a period of great advancement in science, mathematics, and literature. The Epic of Gilgamesh is a long poem about a legendary king and a wild man, Enkidu, and their adventures. It is considered the first great literary work. Many of the legends recorded during this time period, like the Epic of Gilgamesh, share similarities with stories that eventually appeared in the Bible—such as the flood narrative and the fall of man. Like many aspects of Mesopotamian culture and technology, these stories dif- fused into other cultures by way of travel, trade, and battle.
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