Code of Hammurabi and the Magna Carta

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 22nd, 2011

History 101

The Code of Hammurabi was a Precursor to a Modern Criminal Justice System

The first civilization was Sumer.  Along the fertile river valleys of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.  In modern day Iraq.  Prime real estate in the early civilized world.  Good for growing food.  With established city-states throughout.  This land was attractive.  So attractive that many have conquered it.

Here are some who possessed this land.  The Akkadians.  Guitans.  Elamites.  Amorites.  And, of course, the Sumerians.  Who took it back a time or two.  It wasn’t a neat linear transition.  There were many bumps along the way.  And by bumps I mean power changes.  I.e., wars.  But eventually the Amorite Empire founded the city-state of Babylon.  Which brings us to the sixth king of Babylon.  Hammurabi.  And when he expanded his kingdom by conquering other city-states he became the first king of the Babylonian Empire.  And he did something spectacular in 1780 BC.  He gave us the Code of Hammurabi.  One of the first written codes of law in history.   Providing a giant leap forward for the civilized world.

Everyone has heard of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”  That goes back to the Code of Hammurabi.  A precursor to a modern criminal justice system.  Including trials and the presumption of innocence.  It delved into civil law.  And contract law.  Clearly setting the rules of the game for marriage, divorce, inheritance and economic exchange.  It also included rules for the government.  Sort of like a constitution.  And this was all happening in the second millennium BC.

The Magna Carta exploded the Rule of Law, Personal Liberty and Economic Development

Establishing rules for government is rarely easy.  For few welcome restraints on their power.  But there is a problem all despots have who enjoy wielding absolute power.  They are only one person.  They need others.  For food.  And for money.  Because despots like to fight wars.  Which takes a lot of soldiers.  A lot of food.  And a lot of taxes.  All of which the despot has to depend on others to provide.

King John in 13th century England was one such despot.  He fought a lot of costly wars.  Requiring a lot of taxes.  And the people supplying the soldiers and taxes for these wars were the nobility.  His Barons.    And they were getting tired of the King’s behavior as it was proving very costly.  Not to mention that he was pissing off the French who were planning to invade England.  And there were a whole host of oppressive acts against his subjects.   As well as a feud with the Pope.  Suffice it to say something had to be done.  Without having a suitable candidate ready to replace the king, the Barons instead tried to limit the king’s arbitrary power.  In writing.  What history calls the Magna Carta.

The Magna Carta did not make sweeping change at the time.  But it had a profound impact in the English speaking world.  And the development of constitutional law.  It exploded the Rule of Law.  Personal liberty.  And economic development.  It is what allowed the British Empire.  And the Industrial Revolution.  It influenced the United States Constitution.  Under which America became the leader of the free world.  Because the law ruled supreme.  Allowing no man above the law.  Even a king.  Like on the fields of Runnymede.  When King John affixed his Great Seal to the Magna Carta.

The Rule of Law gave us Property Rights and Contract Law which provided Incentive and Security

The British Empire dominated the world in the 18th century.  Her greatness was only surpassed by the United States.  Thanks to the Rule of Law.  Which unleashed human capital.  Allowing people to create great things.  Because there were property rights.  And contract law.  Giving them both incentive.  And security.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,