For as long as there have been societies, there have been laws. In Ancient Mesopotamia, written codes of law existed by at least the 24th century BCE. In China, formal laws are believed to date back to the Three Sovereigns period before 2070 BCE. And in North America, Indigenous societies developed their own systems of laws long before Europeans arrived.
However, for many archeologists one system of law is considered “the most important and the most celebrated of all ancient [law] codes”1: The Code of Hammurabi. When the nearly 4000-year-old stone that contained these laws was unearthed by French archaeologists in 1901, it became the oldest nearly-complete ancient code of laws that the modern world has seen. This status has made Hammurabi’s Code key for understanding the history and development of western systems of justice.
This issue of The PLEA explores Hammurabi’s Code, what it tells us about ancient laws, and how we can use this knowledge to better expand our concept of justice today. Ideal for most any reader, this issue is specifically designed to fulfill several Rule of Law Indicators in the Social Studies 9 curriculum and several objectives of Law 30’s Foundations of the Canadian Legal System.
1. Keeton, G.W. (1971) Codification and Social Change. Hong Kong Law Journal 1: 245-261, p. 248.