How Hammurabi Transformed Babylon Into a Powerful City-StateHistorians in the News
tags: Mesopotamia, Babylon, ancient history, Hammurabi
More than 3,800 years after he took power, the ancient Babylonian king Hammurabi is best remembered for the Code of Hammurabi which was inscribed on human-sized stone pillars that he placed in the towns of his realm.
But the system of 282 laws was just one of the achievements of a leader who turned Babylon, a city-state located 60 miles south of modern-day Baghdad, into the dominant power of ancient Mesopotamia.
During his reign, which lasted from 1792 to his death in 1750 B.C., Hammurabi in many ways also served as a model for how to combine military power, diplomatic finesse and political skill to build and control an empire that stretched from the Persian Gulf inland for 250 miles along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
Besides carving his laws in stone, “there are many other aspects to this king’s achievements,” Columbia University history professor Marc Van De Mieroop writes in his 2005 book King Hammurabi of Babylon: A Biography. “He was a ruler, warrior, diplomat and administrator.”
Hammurabi became the region’s strongest ruler because he was “a shrewd statesman,” according to Kelly-Anne Diamond, a visiting assistant history professor at Villanova University, whose expertise includes ancient Near Eastern history and archaeology. She explains how the ancient king deftly maneuvered his way to dominance.
“Hammurabi had no issue with forming alliances and then breaking them as he saw fit,” says Diamond. “He had a complex network of diplomats and spies working for him in order to be the most informed ruler in the area.”