Babylon Is Everywhere: The City as Man's Fate

By Wolf Schneider; Ingeborg Sammet et al. | Go to book overview
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Chapter 1

MILESTONES ON the road of the city's development were the giant cities. None was more glittering in its arrogance and its depravity than the very first: Babylon, "the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth".

Probably no other metropolis in history has been the object of such hatred and scorn. As one reads the outpouring of fury against Babylon of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and Moses, and in the Psalms and the Revelation, one may readily ask how such a degree of hatred could arise.

Bab-ilu means "Gate of God". At about the end of the third millennium, Babylon grew on the narrow strip of land in northern Babylonia between the Euphrates and the Tigris. It was a late-comer among the cities of the two-river country.

King Hammurabi, who reigned from 1728 to 1686 B.C., raised Babylon to the status of capital of Mesopotamia, whose approximately three million inhabitants he united under his sceptre. Only from then on, therefore, should the name Babylonia really be used. Hammurabi led his empire to new economic and cultural heights, and he graced his capital with many temples and a large royal palace.

Although we know hardly anything about the appearance of the city at this particular period, we know a good deal about its ruler.

Hammurabi became famous not only as a city builder and statesman, but even more so as the creator of the first important code of law. Incised on an eight-foot column of stone, the Code of Hammurabi was found in Susa in 1902. Using the local laws of the kings of Ur, Akkad, and Nippur as models, the Babylonian king formulated criminal and civil laws which 2,200 years later still had an influence on the corpus juris of the Byzantine emperor Justinian, and thus also on our own concept of law.

Hammurabi introduced four important principles. He established a uniform law for a large empire. He replaced personal revenge with punishment by the state. He proclaimed the responsibility of the state to protect the weak from the strong. He permitted the punishment of an individual only if his guilt was clearly proved.

The people were divided into three classes: the priests and


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