"196. If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out. [ An eye for an eye ]
197. If he break another man's bone, his bone shall be broken.
198. If he put out the eye of a freed man, or break the bone of a freed man, he shall pay one gold mina.
199. If he put out the eye of a man's slave, or break the bone of a man's slave, he shall pay one-half of its value.
200. If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out. [ A tooth for a tooth ]"
from the Code of Hammurabi
Yes, if you are guilty of knocking out someone else's teeth out, you will get yours knocked out too - the idea of retributive justice. This type of justice is what makes the Code of Hammurabi stand out from the rest of the codes in the ancient world. It is the one that highly influenced later laws and cultures, such as those inscribed in Hebrew scriptures (i.e., the Book of Exodus).
Other than all the nitty gritty technical details like what other laws were put in place and how many there were (a whopping 282 laws, which was quite a number, considering it was created in the year 1772 BCE), the king who instituted them all, King Hammurabi, also known as Khammurabi and Ammurapi, had a very good reason for putting in place such blatant and explicit laws. But first, let's go back to the basics of why this code came to be.
Before the code
Hammurabi was born in the city of Babylon in ancient Mesopotamia that is now lying in modern day Iraq.
He started his reign of being the 6th King of the Amorite - the first dynasty of Babylon - between the years 1792 - 1750 BCE, and was able to expand his conquest to the whole of Mesopotamia. One of the most interesting ways in which he took control over certain regions in Mesopotamia was by making alliances with the city-states he planned on conquering. For instance, the Amorites allied with Larsa (a capital city in ancient Babylonia) in order to defeat the Elamites. Then, once that was settled, Hammurabi broke his alliance with Larsa and started conquering their lands.
That sounds pretty backstabber-ish of Hammurabi, doesn't it?
As he conquered land after land, it was observed that there was a peculiar feel to the social environment of his kingdom. The Babylonian empire became a huge melting pot of diverse ethnic groups and people of various roots. A historian named Kriwaczek stated that "urban citizens commonly rubbed shoulders with nomads" leading different lifestyles and that people speaking different languages were put together in one collective region. These differences were what led to the high frequency of conflicts and fights that broke out in Babylon. Hence, there was a dire need for unity in the land.
Traditionally, those living under a city-state were considered to have familial relations and that any conflict "could be settled by recourse to a collectively accepted value system", as said by Kriwaczek. Now that the people under Hammurabi's reign did not recognize themselves to be related by blood, how can they settle their disputes?
birth of the code
This led to the formation of the Code of Hammurabi; various laws that clearly stated both crime and deserved punishment were put down to prevent bloodshed between the different ethnic groups. This was further managed by the lay people of Babylon, which was a huge leap from the belief that the gods were generally in charge of the fate of the people who committed crimes or sinned. The reason behind why the administration of law was held by the people was because Hammurabi wanted to maintain fairness in law, as the people held different belief systems of the gods. Good on you, King Hammurabi.
Hammurabi may have seemed too extravagant with some of his laws (you literally will have your eye put out), but he was sincerely a king that had wanted what was best for his people.
King Hammurabi usually went by the title 'Bani Matim', meaning 'builder of the land'. He often held numerous building projects to improve on and upgrade his kingdom and land. There were improvements on irrigation, canals, city infrastructure and many more, including food distribution. Evidenced with documents, when Hammurabi was not busy expanding his land, he had his time invested in the needs of his people.
King Hammurabi of Babylon is one of the most honored rulers at the time for his huge contributions to both his people and especially the legal world. The Code of Hammurabi was the first to embody the essence of retribution and it reflected his effort in ensuring equality (without the involvement of any deity/deities) when dealing with legal matters.
Cheers to all the firsts in the world!