This article is brought to you by the 18th Century B.C.E.!

You're familiar with some of the laws of the land:

     Don't break any windows.  
     Drive slower than 65 m.p.h.  
     Don't steal that cookie.  

But are you familiar with the laws of the past?  What if you were to trip and fall into a time machine and suddenly find yourself 4,000 years in the past?  Would you know how to behave?  We'd better learn what sorts of laws early humans came up with just in case.  That way, if you do ever find yourself in the past, you can know which laws are still the same . . . and if you can take that cookie or not.  

What does the code say if I take "just one" and leave the other?


So where do we search for laws that old?  Wait, don't cheat.  No Internet.  Some things online were written by people who don't know what they're talking about.  In order to know that something is true, we will need real pieces of history.  Someone on the internet could tell you the wrong thing and get you thrown in jail in the past.  Let's see . . . anything left over from the 18th century B.C.E. will not be written on paper.  We need to look for stone.  Babylon was an ancient empire that ran along the Euphrates river and into Mesopotamia (where Iraq is now) and it's where some of the earliest laws that we know of were written.  Let's go check out some of the stones around there.  Are the laws here?  No.  Dang!  Looks like the people who found the stone of laws in 1901 moved them to Paris.  Off we go.  

Kind of hard to read from back here. If I could only get a little closer.


There they are!  Some of the earliest laws.  Look, there's a picture of a man carved into the top of the stone.  He's reaching up and taking the laws from a picture of a god.  That must be the man who came up with these laws.  Hammurabi was king of Babylon from 1792 B.C.E. to 1750 B.C.E. and came up with some of the earliest laws that we have found.  There were two hundred eighty-two laws in Hammurabi's code.  No, he wasn't a mean man who loved rules.  The laws were made to help many separate cities get along with each other so they could make one big empire.  The U.S. works this way.  We all follow about the same laws.  (That's why you won't see lots of people running around, stealing cookies.)  The laws Hammurabi came up with are carved below his picture and will give us an idea of what life was like back in Babylon.  So let's read them!  Hmm.  Easier said than done.

Not really that much easier to read up close.


Um . . . what does that say?  The letters are beautiful, and kind of look like someone dropped golf tees in little heaps, but I can't tell what it says!  Hammurabi's laws are written in cuneiform, an ancient way of writing by carving lines into clay tablets and stones.  Good thing we have someone who reads golf tees . . . I mean cuneiform.  What does that say in English?  "Eye for an Eye . . .  Tooth for a tooth?"  That sounds . . . a little scary.

My parents are old, maybe they can give me some help reading this.


Again, you know what laws of today are.  They are things you follow so you don't go to jail.  These new laws were good for Babylon because it brought together many cities . . .  but that was not enough for Hammurabi.  Remember the picture of his receiving these laws from a god?  He believed that people should try to be the best people they could be.  A code is a set of rules or laws followed by a people who are trying to better themselves.  This was meant to be more than just laws that tell you what not to do.  Most of these laws were trying to keep the weak safe.  While Hammurabi took over other cities and then had them follow his laws, it seemed he really was looking out for the people who needed the most help.

If you happen to find yourself 18th century B.C. Babylon, you now know where to look for the rules.  The people followed 282 laws written by their king, Hammurabi.  They were carved into stone in cuneiform so they aren't easy for us to read now, but there are people in the world who are way into that kind of stuff.  Once we understand them, we can decide if Hammurabi's code is still the kind of thing we'd like to follow today to become better people.  Some of them look out for the weak.  And now for the most important question: Could you steal cookies in Babylon?  That depends.  Do you want your cookies stolen right back?


References:

History.com.  "8 Things You May Not Know About Hammurabi's Code"  History.com, 2012.
<
http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/8-things-you-may-not-know-about-hammurabis-code>  

History for Kids.  "Hammurabi of Babylon"  History for Kids, 2013.  

US History.  "Hammurabi's Code: An Eye for an Eye"  ushistory.org, 2010.  
<
http://www.ushistory.org/civ/4c.asp>