The laws in Hammurabi's Code also addressed criminal law. This branch of law deals with offenses against others, such as robbery, assault, or murder. The penalties varied according to the status of the victim or the offender. By today's standards, the punishments in Hammurabi's Code often seem cruel, following the principle of “an eye for an eye and a life for a life.” For example, if a house collapsed because of poor construction and the owner died as a result, the builder of the house could be put to death. Still, Hammurabi's Code brought more order than older traditions, which allowed individuals or families to pursue unrestricted personal vengeance.
Although most famous for his code of laws, Hammurabi took other steps to bring order and prosperity to his empire. He improved irrigation systems, organized a well-trained army, and ordered the repair of many temples. To encourage religious unity, he promoted Marduk, the patron god of Babylon, over older Sumerian gods. In time, Marduk became the chief god of Babylonian worship.
The Babylonian empire is known for the flourishing of art, science, music, mathematics, astronomy, and literature. This Babylonian roller seal was used on official documents.
What was the most important and lasting legacy of Hammurabi's Code?
Later empires shaped the Middle East in different ways. Some conquerors, such as the Hittites, brought new skills to the region. Others uprooted the peoples they defeated. By forcing people to move elsewhere, these upheavals led to the spread of ideas. Even as warfare disrupted lives, trade continued, further helping the exchange of products and ideas.
The Hittites pushed out of Asia Minor into Mesopotamia in about 1400 B.C. They had learned to extract iron from ore—an important new technology. Tools and weapons made with iron were harder and had sharper edges than those made out of bronze or copper. Because iron was plentiful, the Hittites were able to arm more people at less expense.
The Hittites tried to keep this valuable technology secret. But as their empire collapsed around 1200 B.C., Hittite ironsmiths migrated to serve customers elsewhere.
Migration, trade, and conquest slowly spread ironworking technology across Mesopotamia. In time, the use of iron weapons and tools was carried even farther across Asia, Africa, and Europe, ushering in the Iron Age.
The Hittites, known for their ironwork, adapted and improved the horse-drawn chariot. Hittite charioteers used lances, bows and arrows, and axes like the ones shown in the photo.