2022 Winner: Power, Law, and Symbolism: Hammurabi’s Code over 3700 years

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Power, Law, and Symbolism: Hammurabi’s Code over 3700 years
History 194S Special Topics in Ancient Egyptian History: Who Owns the Past?
This paper surveys the history of Hammurabi’s Code over the 3,700 years of its existence, covering its ancient use and meaning, as well as later rediscovery and modern reinterpretation. Throughout its existence, the meaning, use, and symbolic power of Hammurabi’s Code has shifted many times. After its creation in Ancient Babylonia, it changed hands repeatedly, and each subsequent owner viewed the object very differently. For Hammurabi, it acted as a symbol of his power and justice as King of Babylonia. Later empires in the region appropriated the Code, carrying it off to Iran where it served as a war trophy and a symbol of Persian connection to earlier Mesopotamian Kings. After its rediscovery in 1902, it has been reinterpreted in many different ways. It has been claimed as a biblical artifact, a secular legal document, an Iraqi national symbol, and more. Hammurabi’s Code exemplifies the dynamic nature of ancient objects, and how different cultures can interpret the same object in very different ways.
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  • Ryan Gordon Merrill Hart (Merrill)