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How Did the Code of Hammurabi Influence Modern Law?

The Code of Hammurabi, created by the Babylonian king Hammurabi around 1754 BCE, is one of the oldest known legal codes in history. While it may seem distant and ancient, its influence on modern law is significant. This article will explore the ways in which the Code of Hammurabi has shaped and influenced the development of legal systems throughout the ages.

Historical Background

Before delving into the specific ways in which the Code of Hammurabi has influenced modern law, it is important to provide a brief historical background. Hammurabi, the sixth king of the Babylonian dynasty, sought to establish a set of laws that would govern his kingdom and ensure justice and order. The resulting code consisted of 282 laws covering a wide range of topics, including commerce, marriage, property, and criminal justice.

Codification and Uniformity

The Code of Hammurabi was a significant step towards the codification and uniformity of laws. Prior to its creation, laws were often unwritten and varied from one region to another. Hammurabi’s code brought together various laws into a single, comprehensive document, resulting in greater consistency and clarity. This approach, of having laws written down and accessible to all, laid the foundation for future legal systems.

Presumption of Innocence

One of the most important principles of modern law is the presumption of innocence, which states that a person is considered innocent until proven guilty. This concept can be traced back to the Code of Hammurabi, which emphasized the importance of evidence and witnesses in determining guilt or innocence. By requiring evidence to be presented in court and allowing for the examination of witnesses, the code established a fairer and more objective legal system.

Proportional Justice

The principle of proportional justice, often referred to as “an eye for an eye,” is another aspect of modern law that can be traced back to the Code of Hammurabi. The code established a system of punishment that sought to ensure that the punishment fit the crime. For example, if a person caused the death of another, their own life would be taken as punishment. This principle of proportional justice can be seen in modern legal systems, where punishments are often designed to match the severity of the crime committed.

Legal Precedent

The Code of Hammurabi also introduced the concept of legal precedent, which is the practice of using previous court decisions as a guide for future cases. Hammurabi’s code included a section known as the epilogue, which contained examples of actual court cases and their outcomes. This allowed judges to refer to previous decisions when making their own rulings, creating a sense of consistency and predictability in the legal system.

Influence on Later Legal Codes

The Code of Hammurabi had a profound influence on later legal codes throughout history. For example, the Roman legal system drew heavily from Hammurabi’s code, incorporating many of its principles and concepts. Similarly, the Napoleonic Code, which served as the basis for legal systems in many European countries, was directly influenced by the Code of Hammurabi.


In conclusion, the Code of Hammurabi has had a lasting impact on the development of modern law. Its emphasis on codification, uniformity, presumption of innocence, proportional justice, and legal precedent laid the foundation for many legal systems that followed. While the code may be ancient, its principles and concepts continue to shape and guide legal systems around the world today.