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“When Marduk sent me to rule over men, to give the protection of right to the land, I did right and righteousness in . . . , and brought about the well-being of the oppressed.”

Hammurabi was the first king of the Babylonian Empire, extending Babylon’s control over Mesopotamia by winning a series of wars against neighboring kingdoms. Hammurabi is most remembered for his law code, including 282 laws regulating people’s relationships in Mesopotamia.

Marriage and Family Under the Hammurabi Law Code

Marriages were arranged by the parents for their children. All parties involved signed a contract because without it the couple was not considered legally married. The husbands provided payment to the parents of the bride, in return receiving a dowry from the bride’s family.

Women had very little rights in the marriage and failure to uphold their responsibilities were grounds for divorce. If the wife was not able to bear children or left home to engage in business, her husband could divorce her and did not have to return the dowry.

In the case of divorce, if the man divorced the wife for no good reason, the wife could get the dowry back with just cause. Consequently, if the husband died the wife inherited his lands and would decide which son would receive the inheritance.

Sexual Relations Under the Law Code of Hammurabi

Husbands were permitted to partake in sexual relations outside of marriage, but not wives. A wife that committed adultery, with her lover, was thrown into the river. If one party was pardoned, the other half had to be as well. Incestuous relations between a daughter and her father would result in banishment. Incest between a mother and her son resulted in both being burned.

Similar to many ancient societies, the father ruled the family and his wife with strict authority. No offense was off limits or unpunishable, as the father would embrace the “eye for an eye” aspect of the fundamental system of the Hammurabi Law Code.

Source: Lauren Axelrod at
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