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The Code of Hammurabi and The Roman Twelve Tables

The U.S was influenced more by the roman twelve tables more than the code of Hammurabi. For example, when a person is summoned under the law, we may wonder why or why a person has certain rights as dictated/stated by law. The reason goes back a couple of hundred years to very ancient codes that helped shape the very foundation of civilization today in the modern world. Two codes that have influenced the U.S are “The code of Hammurabi” and “The Roman Twelve Tables.” The code of Hammurabi and the Roman twelve table are both ancient laws that helped shape today’s modern laws and society. Both, having originated from powerful individuals in the past, have affected many different cultures.

“Hammurabi, king of Babylon, brought much of Mesopotamia under his control. He took steps to unite the Babylonian empire by publishing a remarkable set of laws known as the Code of Hammurabi. Hammurabi was not the author of the code. Most of the laws had been around since Sumerian times. Hammurabi, however, wanted people to know the legal principles his government would follow. So he had artisans carve 300 laws on a stone pillar for all to see. On it, he proclaimed his goals “To cause justice to prevail inland, to destroy the wicked and evil, that the strong may not oppress the weak.”

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(Elizabeth Ellis Gaynor; Anthony Esler; Burton F. Beers et al. N.J: Prentice-Hall, 2001. Print.) “From the code, it is evident that the Babylonians did not believe all people were equal. The code treated slaves, commoners, and nobles differently. Women had many rights, including the ability to buy and sell property and obtain a divorce. The Babylonians understood the need for honesty by all parties in a trial and for court officers to be free of corruption so that the justice system could function effectively. Hammurabi’s Code serves as a window into the prevailing values of ancient Babylon.”

These laws are not too different from our own and even form some parts of our law. Such as ladies having the ability to divorce a man and sell property, but whilst being similar to our laws today, the Babylonians treated slaves, commoners, and nobles differently. Our law treats everyone the same, and a person is given equal rights as dictated by the constitution. (Hammurabi’s Code: An Eye for an Eye, Ancient Civilizations Online Textbook,, Sunday, April 15, 2012) Now the code of Hammurabi was a code of morality and civil obedience. It came before Roman society and laid a foundation for future generations.

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Being among the first laws to develop alongside a successful river valley and thrive at the beginning of an evolution. Now, after these Babylonians, another civilization arose and laid the way to today’s ways: the Romans. In ancient Rome, there were two very distinct social classes, the plebeians and the Patricians. The plebeians were very unfairly treated, having ridiculous rules such as not marrying a patrician and having little say in government. The patricians were indeed infringing on the civil liberties of the plebeians, and thus they had such civil disabilities placed on them. Since they felt unfairly treated, a group of well-to-do plebeians wrote “The Twelve Tables,” where they would be given certain civil liberties and treated fairly instead of how the Patricians had treated them.

“The Twelve Tables allegedly were written by 10 commissioners at the insistence of the plebeians, who felt their legal rights were hampered by the fact that court judgments were rendered according to unwritten custom preserved only within a small group of learned patricians. Beginning work in 451, the first set of commissioners produced 10 tables, later supplemented by 2 additional tables. Finally, in 450, the code was formally posted, likely on bronze tablets, in the Roman Forum. The written recording of the law in the Twelve Tables enabled the plebeians both to become acquainted with the law and to protect themselves against patricians’ abuses of power.” < “Law of the Twelve Tables.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 23 Apr. 2012.”>.

“Roman law was based on the concept of JUSTICE and the RIGHTS OF THE INDIVIDUAL. From the Romans, we inherited the belief that a man should not be accused anonymously, that he should not be penalized for what he thinks that he should be considered innocent until he is proven guilty. Justice, as defined by the Romans, was the steady and abiding purpose of giving every man that which is his own. Remarkably, Rome’s legal system developed in a pagan society in which slave labor was commonly turned out to be adaptable to the Christian society of the Middle Ages, the capitalists of the 17c, and to us today.

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An important step in the political development of any people in the organization and publication of their laws in a way that makes it possible for all persons to know what the law is. About the middle of the 5c B.C.E., the Romans codified their laws and inscribed them on twelve bronze tablets set up in the Roman Forum. These Twelve Tables were the basis of all later Roman law, and through it, of the legal system of much of the world today.”

The oxford dictionary defines civil law as “the body of laws of a state or nation regulating ordinary private matters, as distinct from laws regulating criminal, political, or military matters. Also, the oxford dictionary defines criminal law as “the body of law dealing with the constitution of offences and the punishment of the offenders.” The main difference between “The code of Hammurabi” and “The roman 12 tables” is that the 12 tables are more based on civil law while having few criminal law punishments. The Hammurabi code was more based on criminal law while having very few aspects based on civil law. The laws from this ancient age seem cruel by today’s standards as we do not often euthanize thieves, and only such things rarely happen in the present.

Today laws are different, having numerous sections and different subsections. Unlike in the past civil law and criminal law are separated. Civil law cases are usually fought between two people legally, whereas criminal law is a source of law for individuals who have committed crimes. With that being said, our law derives from both of these ancient codes. Having greatly influenced the very foundation of our world today, these ancient codes allow us, civilians, to be law-abiding and upstanding citizens. The code is based on how you should treat an individual, certain rights a person should have, and places morals on an individual and society and this is exactly what our culture thrives on.

The rules set into motion thousands of years ago have changed us greatly. But “the roman 12 tables” seems to have been more of an influence on modern society today. As the “code of Hammurabi” does have aspects of decency to it, our law system isn’t solely based on punishing people. The code of Hammurabi was nothing more than a book of punishments for people who’ve wronged others. While dealing with criminal and civil law aspects, some of the laws were unjust; not every law was the same for their society. The roman twelve tables dealt with both criminal and civil laws, whilst being harsh with some laws but ultimately effectively treating everyone in society the same as is our law today, very fair and treats everyone the same.

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Unlike “The code of Hammurabi,” the roman 12 tables were to prevent two distinct social classes from causing harm, whereas “the code of Hammurabi” was more biased than any other form of law before it. They had only focused on laws to punish the weak social classes, and there was very little order in Mesopotamian society. When the day and age, a person marries someone of a different class, makes choices for themselves, studies what they want, works where they want, we should thank the Romans. They built the very foundation of the world we live in today and the society we thrive under. They have given us our civil liberties, our laws, our ways of life our morals. In all entireties, we owe the Romans for our lives today.

They have given us the keys to the very foundations of our society today. They are the reason we can live together in a moderately peaceful world and coexist as equals. Although there are numerous other codes, the Romans have seemed to be the basis of our laws today. That is why I believe that the Romans have influenced the U.S a whole lot more than “The code of Hammurabi.” Faiz Shakir ~first, you must have laws placed in society to lay the way to a foundation and to protect and thrive, so there is no chaos,” and that is why the Romans influenced the U.S.

Works Cited

  • (Elizabeth Ellis Gaynor; Anthony Esler; Burton F. Beers et al. N.J: Prentice-Hall, 2001. Print.)
  • (Hammurabi’s Code: An Eye for an Eye, Ancient Civilizations Online Textbook,
  • < “Law of the Twelve Tables.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 23 Apr. 2012.”
  •, Sunday, April 15, 2012)

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