Comparing and contrasting how Hammurabi and Augustus’ governing lead to a cohesive and unified society
Hammurabi who was King of Babylon in the early 7th Century BC was an enlightened despot who came up with several law codes and is intrinsically credited as one of the most important lawmakers ever to have lived. His laws created an atmosphere for just government when several nations were still in throes of war and non civilization and the Egyptian Empire was breaking up, Hammurabi came up several ideas which are actually still in use to this day albeit in different hues and shapes.
On the other hand, Caesar Augustus was the first real Emperor of the Roman Empire living between 14BC and 27AD. He was credited with bringing together the various factions in the Roman Empire under his leadership and although he was also a despot, he did bring several new ideas into the Roman Civil Code which rather resembled those by Hammurabi. His enlightened despotism also saw through a relatively peaceful period for the Roman Empire which saw considerable expansion and relative contentment and prosperity for the masses of the people.
Hammurabi came to power by relatively violent means but the first years of his rule were quite important for the expansion of Babylon. He began a large programme of public works which apart from keeping his workforce occupied, also created new jobs and a certain sense of harmony in the country. This was replicated when he began introducing the new Hamurabi style laws which were quite radical and avant garde for their time. The first real set of laws were written on a stone and placed in the centre of the City of Babylon containing 282 laws written by 12 scribes. Amongst the laws written down, one finds various ones dealing with family issues, property situations and other general concerns. Interestingly enough, each law contains a punishment if someone is found guilty and there is also the presumption of innocence which was a concept totally unheard of at the time. The fact that the laws were written in Akkadian is also instructive as this meant that people from all walks of life could read the laws and attempt to understand them thus bringing about greater public consciousness in an age. There is also the provision for evidence which must have been something hugely innovative in those days.
Hammurabi’s style of government
The enforcement of Hammurabi’s code of laws brought about a peaceful episode to the country which was never replicated in the future for various reasons. His paternalistic style was also very well documented and as argued by Overfield this brought about a fully ordered society which was also cohesive and unified. The code of laws ensured that everyone knew their place up to a point and this created a sense of belonging and well being in the country.
The contrast with Augustus
Augustus who became Emperor of Rome after a long and protracted battle with several rivals had a markedly different style of government which was much more advanced and which also reached a high level of social cohesion. First and foremost, he was authoritarian but his strict propagation of Roman laws and constant tradings and bargains with the Senate also brought about a certain finite tendency to the laws in Rome. Expansion into other areas was also something in which Augustus engaged constantly and his emphasis on the military also brought about a certain stability in the empire.
Naturally enough there were always elements who were against Augustus’ rule but these were ruthlessly suppressed. His benign despotism was applicable also to other areas of the Empire especially in Judea where although resistance went on, the life there was relatively peaceful and easygoing. Augustus was also magnanimous in his programmes of building of public works and large monuments which continued imposing the grandeur of Rome. This obviously created a sense of serenity and pride in the Roman Empire which spilled over to the populace who were also made to feel part of the whole Augustus project.
Contrasts between Augustus and Hammurabi
Although both were enlightened despots, one can say that Hammurabi was the most innovative of the leaders as he came up with the list of laws which was eventually implemented. On the other hand, Augustus was also pro active in the sense that he financed several projects out of his own funds and always saw to it that the Roman people were well fed and had everything they needed. Hammurabi’s style of government was perhaps that bit more authorative although one has to understand that this came about hundreds of years before Augustus and was obviously rather primitively rooted. Intrinsically, both styles of government are similar and benign in certain areas although at the end of the day, Hamurrabi’s book of laws continues to provide a sound and lasting testimony on what actually went on in Babylon at the time.
Conclusion: Both enlightened despots yet substantially different.
Overfeld analyses Hammurabi’s law codes extensively in his book and comes up with several interesting anecdotes and comparisons. The sections on the family and property are quite radical although at the same time conservative whilst there are interesting and rather draconian penalties if a son strikes a father. Obviously one has to take everything in the context of the day but these strict laws undoubtedly created a situation where the rule of law was imposed with some severity and thus everyone knew his/her place in society.
Overfeld also speaks extensively about the peace which Augustus managed to achieve after the Roman Civil War which was obviously not an easy one and came with several strings attached. However as Overfeld argues the peace brought about an intrinsic stability in the Roman Empire and the wisdom and munificence of Augustus’ rule certainly created the right climate for harmony and prosperity. Society advanced no end during this period and there was scope for further expansion of Roman ideas.
Thus one can conclude that Hammurabi and Augustus were rather similar yet strikingly different in their manner of rule. Taking into account the considerable period of time between both rulers and the political differences, one has to say that both brought about significant changes to their societies which permeate to this day. Hammurabi and Augustus are definitely towering figures who will remain spoken of in the history of mankind as those who brought the rule of law to a new level and implemented it accordingly.
Overfield Andrea; The Human Record Vol 1 to 1500; London, Wadsworth, 2011, Print