Law Code of Hammurabi is a set of 282 rules proclaimed by the king of Babylon, Hammurabi. It was originally carved into a solid piece of diorite that weighed four tons. The need for establishing official rules came from the expansion of the city-state, which was Babylon. It regulated commercial cooperation along with punishments for breaking the laws. The rules regarding the rights of men and women did not represent equality between the two sexes and were heavily in favor of men.
Rights of Men and Women
There is a striking difference between how men and women could control and manage their lives according to the Law Code of Hammurabi. In today’s world, it is considered to be expected, or at least, society strives to make it so that women have as many rights as men. The Law Code of Hammurabi paints a drastically different picture of a society where women were viewed as below men, and childbearing was considered their only value.
Women did not have the right to handle their own wealth; the only reference to women and money in the code is when a woman brought a dowry when getting married (138). The said dowry would be paid back to her if her husband decided to divorce her or she wanted to leave him and had “no vice” (142). It is especially unjust that if a woman chose to end the marriage, her life had to be scrutinized, while a man could settle such an issue by simply paying her the dowry that she brought (138). Infidelity was another issue that was treated unequally: if a woman was caught cheating, she would be punished (129); however, it was reasonable for a man to cheat and have children with his mistress (170). If a woman was considered to “act the fool” and “persisted in going out,” her husband had the right to prosecute her (141). In comparison, the text does not mention a man’s impropriety being punished by his wife.
The difference in punishment for males and females went beyond family ordeals. It is evident that punishments designed for women were more severe than those designed for men. For example, it prescribes the death penalty for female wine sellers who did not arrest “bad characters” in their establishment (109). Women of faith, specifically priestesses, were not allowed to enter shops to drink alcohol (110). Such distribution of justice points to women as subjects to higher scrutiny and more acute surveillance.
As evident from the code, women were allowed to be shop sellers, but their personal value was measured by their ability to bear children. In the code, there are several references to children and pregnancy. For example, there is a specification that a man can allow a woman to divorce unless she has given birth to his children (138). Another example is when a pregnant woman falls victim to violence from a man, and it causes a miscarriage, the man must pay money as retribution (209). If the assaulted woman dies in this situation, the man’s daughter is to be executed, but not the man himself (210). Therefore, the role of women, according to the Law Code of Hammurabi, was diminished to the continuation of a lineage and managing business on a small scale.
In conclusion, the Law Code of Hammurabi represents ancient views on gender roles that minimize the role of women and favor men. Women were denied the right to manage their wealth, and their marital matters depended strictly on their husbands’ and the public’s decisions. The treatment of women also differed in punishments assigned to them. In addition, the code greatly emphasizes the female value being seen through their childbearing abilities.
Code of Hammurabi. (n.d). Wright State University.