Essay: Ancient legal codes

In ancient history, the most influential law codes were introduced. These codes were the Code of Hammurabi in 1780BCE, Mosaic Laws around 950BCE, the Twelve Tables in 449BCE, and the Justinian Code of Law written in 529 (McKay, 2015). Each of these laws recorded a set of laws that were unique to their time period. This paper will compare and contrast these laws that have influenced today’s government and judicial system.

The Roman Twelve Tables were inscribed on bronze tablets (Ward, p.116), the ten commandments were also written on stone tablets. Justinian Law, was a compilation of Roman rules that the Emperor Justinian requested to be organized by his jurists (McKay, p. 210), which is similar to Hammurabi’s Law Code that was created “to establish law and justice in the language of the land, thereby promoting the welfare of the people” (McKay, p. 42).

Hammurabi and the Mosaic Laws are similar in that they both claimed to have received their laws from a God. Hammurabi received his laws from Shamash, the Babylonian god of justice (McKay, p.40), and Moses was given the Mosaic Law from the God on Mt. Sinai (Ward, p. 36). They also had similar rules that included forbiddance of stealing, adultery, killing, and lying. Hammurabi’s law and the Twelve Tablets were similar in that they both were trying to better the lives of the people in their communities. Their communities were divided into different social classes, and the laws were structured around family and legal problems.

Another similarity between Hammurabi and the Twelve Tablets were that women were considered property under both laws and therefore they had no rights or voice within the communities. Justinian code of law was organized by jurists (McKay, p. 210), much like the Twelve Tablets being created by the patricians and priests.


While there were many similarities between these laws and codes, there were also vast differences. Hammurabi’s laws on punishment were considered barbaric, and focused on “an eye for and eye, tooth for a tooth” mentality (Ward, p. 23), which was a major difference in regard to the Mosaic Law where if someone sinned they were forgiven. (Ward, p 24). Hammurabi’s law had eight codes, and the Twelve Tables had only one. Hammurabi’s law was written in cuneiform and put in every city for everyone to see, whereas Mosaic laws were written in Hebrew (McKay, 2015). The Twelve Tables were created by the patricians and the Mosaic laws and commandments were created by God.

Another difference is that Mosaic law is as an ethical code of conduct and morals that God asked his followers to obey, whereas the Twelve Tablets were set by man to keep the peace. Out of all the codes and laws Justinian seemed to be the least strict and Hammurabi the harshest. Mosaic Law had many regulations regarding the worship of God, while the religious aspect was not evident in either Justinian’s and Hammurabi’s code.


In summary, the laws and codes of Hammurabi, Mosaic, Justinian and the Twelve Tables there were many similarities between them even though they were written in different time periods. However, the differences were quite significant, especially when considering the religious Mosaic law and the harshness of Hammurabi’s laws.

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