Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
A Message of Ancient Days

Understanding Primary Sources:
Hammurabi's Code of Laws

Objective: Students closely examine several of Hammurabi's laws and compare them to laws and/or values we use today.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
2-3 hours over 2 days

Building Background:
Ask students to consider what it would be like to live in a world without laws. Briefly discuss the problems and inequities that would arise, and point out that people have organized laws or codes of conduct for thousands of years. Briefly review with students the historical background of the Code of Hammurabi: who Hammurabi was, where he lived, and when he created his famous Code of Laws. Tell them they will study some of these laws closely and compare them to laws and codes of conduct we use today.

What To Do:

1. Distribute a copy of A Selection from the Code of Hammurabi worksheet to each student. Have them read it silently, then discuss any questions they might have.

2. Distribute a copy of Examining a Law worksheet to each student. Have them work on their own to answer the questions. When they have finished, discuss what they found. Who was the law or code aimed at? What was the possible offense, and what was the promised punishment? What do students think of the laws — are they clear? Fair? Harsh or easy? If they could choose, would they live under these laws?

3. Combine students into groups or teams. Distribute a copy of Comparing Hammurabi to Today worksheet to each group, and have them work together to complete it.

4. Leaving students in their groups, ask them to discuss how Hammurabi's laws are similar to today's laws. How are they different? Students may want to look at the types of offenses described in the Code and their punishments and compare them to today.

Wrap-Up
Point out to students that Hammurabi wrote these laws and distributed them to the people. How does that compare with the way we make laws in the United States today?

Extension:


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