By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on
Ascending the throne in 1792 BC, Hammurabi heralded the Old Babylonian Period, the beginning of Babylonia's political dominance over southern Mesopotamia for the next 1500 years.
His Amorite predecessors had unified previously independent cities in the north of southern Mesopotamia (Sippar, Kish, Dilbat, and Marad); the state was hemmed in by Eshnunna, Larsa and Assyria. Hammurabi's early year names mention campaigns against all his prominent neighbors, though the results of these are ambiguous. At this point in his reign, Hammurabi's focus was within his own state, mainly digging canals and fortifying cities.
|Hammurabi Ascends||1792||Hammurabi assumed the throne of Babylon.|
|Expansion||1766 -1761||Hammurabi takes Elam, Larsa, Eshnunna and Mari. He incorporates Larsa and the Middle Euphrates into his state, unifying southern Mesopotamia and reigning as the strongest king in the Near East.|
In 1766, when Assyrian king Shamshi-Adad I was dead, Larsa King Rim-Sin was an old man and Hammurabi was strong enough, he began to expand his state.
Diplomatic correspondence from Mari shows that he first used diplomacy, then brief yet devastating military action, to reach his goals. At first using troops from states such as Mari, he then turned against the states which had helped him. By 1761 he had defeated Elam, Larsa, Eshnunna and Mari in quick succession. He left Eshnunna leaderless, blocked Elam's hegemony over Mespotamia and incorporated Larsa and the Middle Euphrates up to Mari into the Babylonian state.
From 1766 to 1761, Hammurabi had established his full dominance over southern Mesopotamia.
Hammurabi was Mesopotamia's strongest king, surrounded by the weak remnants of Elam, Eshnunna and Assur; only western Syrian states such as Yamkhad were unaffected. However, Hammurabi did not fully control northern Mesopotamia despite subsequent campaigns there.
His inscriptions make clear that his core state was Babylonia, and he micromanaged as was the ideal of kingship. The king was viewed as a shepherd and farmer. He provided fields and irrigated these fields to render them fertile.
I am the salvation-bearing shepherd, whose staff is straight, the good shadow that is spread over my city; on my breast I cherish the inhabitants of the land of Sumer and Akkad; in my shelter I have let them repose in peace; in my deep wisdom have I enclosed them. Hammurabi's Code
Hammurabi's Code is best known from an inscribed diorite stele. It contains 282 statements in an if ... , then ... structure, as well as a prologue and epilogue. For example, "If a man strike a free-born woman so that she lose her unborn child, he shall pay ten shekels for her loss". Hammurabi's Code deals with many areas of life, but it does not cover all possible crimes and even details acceptable market prices. Moreover, the many legal documents and case records of this period never reference Hammurabi's Code.
Hammurabi's Code must have not listed legal precepts but rather expressed the justice Hammurabi provided for his land. Nonetheless, the Code illuminates Babylonian society at the time, and the free-borns and slaves within it. The privatization of Mesopotamia begun at the start of the 2nd millennium (described here) had fundamentally altered the 3rd millennium social structure. Palaces had few full-time dependents, instead hiring contract labor for most services.
Let the oppressed, who have a case at law, come and stand before this my image as king of righteousness; let him read the inscription, and understand my precious words: the inscription will explain his case to him; he will find out what is just, and his heart will be glad, so that he will say: "Hammurabi is a ruler, who is as a father to his subjects, ... who has bestowed benefits for ever and ever on his subjects, and has established order in the land." Hammurabi's Code
Aftermath of Hammurabi
Like Shamshi-Adad's Assyria, Hammurabi's Babylon was ephemeral. Upon his death in 1750 BC, his son Samsuiluna took the throne. In about 1740 BC, a rebellion led by Rim-Sin (a namesake of Larsa's last ruler) erupted in the south of Babylonia. Samsuiluna quashed the rebellion, but by his thirteenth year the south of Babylon (including Ur) and the middle (including Nippur) had been lost due to further rebellion and perhaps climatic reasons or even failed policies.
Northern Babylonia continued to flourish and its political supremacy made Babylon a cultural epicenter. Babylon's city-god Marduk was integrated into the Sumerian pantheon of Nippur by making him the son of Ea, himself the god of Eridu in the extreme south. Many of the cultural elements of the late 2nd millennium emanated from Babylon. In prior centuries the focus of southern Mesopotamia had been in its extreme south, but from Hammurabi onward it would be north of Babylonia.