HAMMURABI OF BABYLON

(reigned 1792–1750 B.C.)
   King of Babylon, the sixth ruler of the Amorite or First Dynasty of Babylon. Initially, Hammurabi controlled only a rather small territory around the city of Babylon, including Kish, Sippar, and Borsippa. He gradually extended his control, gaining possession of some important southern cities such as Uruk and Isin and forming alliances with other powerful rulers in the region. At the same time, he built a centralized administration, invested in irrigation projects to extant land for cultivation, and strengthened city walls. After 30 years, he was ready to deal a decisive blow to his greatest rival, RimSinof Larsa, who had ruled over most of Babylonia. Ayear later he also gained control over Eshnunna and thereby the eastern trade routes leading to Iran and beyond. In 1761 B.C., he conquered Assyria. Mari, hitherto an ally of Babylon, was taken in 1760. By 1755, Hammurabi was the undisputed ruler over all of Mesopotamia. Numerous letters and administrative documents from his reign are known. It appears that he built on bureaucratic structures and practices set up by his predecessors, especially Rim-Sin of Larsa (see ADMINISTRATION). The redistribution of new crown land that resulted from conquest was strictly controlled under the so-called ilku system.
   Hammurabi is widely known for his “law code,” inscribed on a large stone stele (seeLAW). At the top it bears a scene of the sun god Shamash investing the king with the insignia of royal power. The lengthy prologue and epilogue describe the king as the protector and shepherd of his people, upholder of justice and peace. Although it is not proven that the laws were ever implemented, they were much admired in antiquity and often copied on clay tablets. Hammurabi’s letters and royal inscriptions also became standard works, and subsequent generations of scribes copied them assiduously. Hammurabi remains one of the great kings of Mesopotamia, an outstanding diplomat and negotiator who was patient enough to wait for the right time and then ruthless enough to achieve his aims without stretching his resources too far. After his death, the power of the Babylonian state began to decline.

Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. . 2012.

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