Law and Order: Mesopotamia Unit

Historians are like detectives. They investigate the past, putting pieces of historical information together like a giant puzzle that tells a story, building a historical context. In order for historians to piece together that story, they need to look at historical documents and events through several different perspectives.

4 Perspectives: geographic, political, social, economic

When we examine a historical event or document, we should always ask:

1) What’s the geographic perspective? Where did this take place? Where was this written?

2) What’s the political perspective? What was the political structure at the time? Who had power? Who didn’t have power?

3) What’s the social perspective? What was the social structure like? What was the predominant religion? What was the art like? What was the social culture like?

4) What’s the economic perspective? What kind of economy was there? What was the food supply like? Who had most of the wealth?

With these 4 perspectives in mind, let’s explore Hammurabi’s Code and what it tells us about life in ancient Babylon.

Let’s start with what we already know:

What have we learned about ancient Mesopotamia and its kingdoms that might help us understand the historical context of Hammurabi’s Code? Use the 4 Perspectives and Big C part of your graphic organizer to guide your thinking.

Find the graphic organizer here: BigC_little_c_context_organizer

Next, this video will give us a preview of the Code of Hammurabi and some of its laws.

To investigate further, let’s examine 3 documents. Each document is a translated section of the Code.

Work with a partner to answer these questions for each document:

Document A: Religion
1. According to this document, where did Hammurabi get his power as king?

2. Monotheistic or Polytheistic?
a. According to this document, was Babylonia a monotheistic society (belief in one god) or a polytheistic society (belief in many gods)?
b. How do you know this from Hammurabi’s Code?

3. According to this document, what is the goal of Hammurabi’s Code?

Document B: Economy

1. Working the fields: Summarize laws 42-43 in your own words.

2. The dams: Summarize laws 53-54 in your own words.

3. Type of Economy
a. According to this document, do you think most people in Babylonia made money in cities or in the country?
b. How do you know this from Hammurabi’s Code?

Document C: Society
1. Laws 196-199 discuss putting out the eye of “another man,” a “free man” and a “slave.”
a. According to this document, whose eye was worth the most?
b. According to this document, whose eye was worth the least?
c. How do you know?

2. Equality
a. According to this document, was everyone equal in Babylonia?
b. How do you know this from Hammurabi’s Code?
i. Evidence 1:
ii. Evidence 2:

3. Women
a. According to law 138, what happens to a dowry if a man leaves his wife?
b. What does this suggest about the position of women in Babylonian

So what does all this tell us about life in ancient Babylon?

Discuss the 4 Perspectives with your partner, and add to your Big C/ little c graphic organizer. Remember, little c ideas are those that we get directly from our documents, while Big C ideas can come from things we already know. Are the little c ideas consistent with the Big C ideas?  Do any Big C ideas need to be revised?

With your partner, create a short document depicting life in ancient Babylon. This could take the form of a travel brochure or review, a short essay, or slide show. Be sure to include the 4 Perspectives in your document!

Exit slip: Life in ancient Babylon – I used to think…..  Now I think…..

One Reply to “Law and Order: Mesopotamia Unit”

  1. Great lesson on contextualizing. I especially like the clarity with which you present the content and tasks to the students. Excellent scaffolding prompts.

    Doc A is a bit long and I wonder if some editing might make it less daunting to students. In contrast, Docs B and C are very accessible the just right for the task.

    The final products work well. Since so much of the content is civil and criminal law, it might be fun for students to create a “Law & Order : Mesopotamia Unit” parody.

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