World History Episode 3 Mesopotamia (Time Stamp 6:29)
Stele of Hammurabi, Babylon, 18th Century BCE
Context in CC: So the actual stele isn’t pictured in Crash Course, but I felt like it was important enough to include and talk about it here. “The most famous of these early monarchs is Hammurabi, or as I remember him from my high school history class, ‘The Hammer of Abi!’ Hammurabi ruled the new kingdom of Babylon from 1792 BCE to 1792 BCE. Hammurabi’s main claim to fame is his famous law code.” So Hammurabi had to have a way to tell the people about his law code, right? So he put it on a piece of rock and took it to all the cities.
Greater Historical/Art Historical Relevance: So the Stele of Hammurabi…Stele? What’s a stele? A stele is basically a thin piece of rock, taller than it is wide, which is used to commemorate or display…something. If you ever study ancient art history, it’s one of those key vocab words that gets thrown around a lot until you’ve gleaned what it actually means. So now that we’ve covered that, we can move on.
So Hammurabi had his really awesome law code, which, while incredibly harsh at times, was just the first to establish any sort of socio-political organization. Or the first for which we have evidence. This Stele, made of black basalt, was probably one of many spread through out the kingdom, but it’s the only one that has made it this long still intact. The lower part contains 3500 lines of text, most outlining punishments and penalties.
In the upper part, a relief sculpture, demonstrates that the king’s laws were inspired and approved by the god of justice, Shamash. Hammurabi is the standing figure, while the god sits, showing that he is farther up on the hierarchical scale. The image shows the god giving advice or perhaps even the laws themselves to Hammurabi. The relief allows the people to show the same faith in Hammurabi as they would in the decisions of the divine.
Giovanni Curatola ed., Art and Architecture of Mesopotamia (New York: Abbeville Press Publishers, 2006), 69 - 72.