Hammurabi

The Amorite “invasion” was one of the main reasons of weakening of the Ur III and its eventual capitulation to the Elamites. I have put invasion in quotes because there was no systematic attack by the Amorite. The Amorites were mountain dwellers, most likely nomadic tribes from the region of modern Syria and Levant. Due to the severe drought that had already claimed the Akkadian empire and which will eventually claim Ur III, these nomads started moving towards the more fertile regions of the Tigris and Euphrates river. Naturally they were in conflict with the original Akkadian-Sumerian inhabitants of the region. Shu-Sin, the penultimate king of the Ur III dynasty even ordered a 270 km wall to be built between Tigris and Euphrates with the intent of stopping the Amorite revolt. This wall was perhaps the first wall in History to mark a national boundary rather than the usual wall around private property or a city. The Akkadians and the Sumerians viewed the Amorites with disdain little knowing that the Amorites will soon become their masters.

Many Amorite dynasties arose in the different city states of the Mesopotamia. Bab-ilani, gate of the Gods or Babylon, as we know popularly, was one such small city state established by Sumu-abum. The dynasty started by Sumu-abum is known as the First Babylonian Dynasty. Under the first 5 kings of this dynasty, Babylon was little more than the city and its surrounding areas, though by the time Sin-Muballit abdicated, it had conquered the neighboring smaller city states of Kish and Sippar.

Hammurabi was the sixth king of this dynasty and later the First king of the Babylonian Empire. The Mesopotamia of Hammurabi was a geopolitical mess with various kingdoms vying for power. Shamshi-Adad I of Upper Mesopotamia was on an expansionist drive. Elam of the Elamites (Remember them from the sacking of Ur?) in the east, Eashnunna in the north along the Tigris, along with the other smaller cities completed the picture. Shamshi-Adad conquered the cities of Assur and Mari making him the ruler of the upper Mesopotamia. Yakhdun-Lim, the king of Mari, was assassinated by his own servants before he could proceed to put a curb to Shamshi-Adad’s expansionist policies. After Yakhdun-Lim’s death, his kingdom soon fell to Shamshi-Adad. Shamshi-Adad’s kingdom disintegrated after his death. The incompetence of his sons, which he too had realized while he was still alive, lead to the end of Shamshi-Adad’s kingdom.

Hammurabi’s reign lasted from 1792 BCE to 1750 BCE (Middle chronology). Hammurabi may have been a reluctant emperor. Elamites had invaded the Mesopotamian plain and conquered Eshnunna in the north. They tried unsuccessfully to create tension between Babylon and the kingdom of Larsa to the south. This only resulted in their forming an alliance to take the battle to the Elamites. Though the alliance was successful, Hammurabi felt that the Larsans did not fulfill their treaty obligations. Hammurabi attacked and conquered Larsa in turn. The journey to the south resulted in the territories in the north rising up in revolt. This led to war in the north with the eventual result of conquest of Eashunna and Mari. Within a span of few years, Hammurabi was the emperor of the entire Mesopotamia.

Hammurabi is most widely known for his Code of Law. The complete translation of the code is available here.

The code dates back to around 1772 BCE, perhaps before Hammurabi set out on his conquest.

Diorite stele in the shape of an index finger. The top portion depicts Hammurabi receiving the code from a God.
Diorite stele in the shape of an index finger. The top portion depicts Hammurabi receiving the code from a God.

The code consists of 282 laws with an prologue and an epilogue. The prologue provides an example of divine mandate. It says that Anu and Bel, the two primary deity of the Sumerian people, gave Hammurabi the mandate to bring righteousness to the land of Babylon and punish the wicked and protect the weak. Babylon is predicted to be an everlasting kingdom. The prediction is soon found wanting as evidenced by the sack of Babylon just two centuries (approximately) later. Hammurabi is named the king of the four quarters of the earth (Similar to Chakravarti Samrat). The next paragraph of the code explains the greatness of Hammurabi in much detail. He even personally penetrated the secret caves of the bandits, or so is claimed.

It seems that one of the drawback of the code of Ur-Nammu that we saw in the last post, namely, the relative low cost of accusing someone falsely and paying a small fine if proven false was corrected gloriously by the great Hammurabi. Now if the accused escapes the Ordeal of Water, the accuser forfeits his life as well as his house.

“Judge not, and ye shall not be judged” is enforced for incompetent judges in the code. A judge who gives an incorrect verdict has to pay fine that is twelve times the value he had set as fine and is permanently removed from the job.

Putting to death is the most common punishment. The temple thief and the guy who disposes of the stolen goods are both put to death. If I lose a pen and then sees it with someone else and exclaims, “hey that’s mine” but later is unable to bring witnesses to prove my statement, then I will be put to death. If I can bring witnesses, but the person who has the pen could not bring witnesses to prove that he bought the pen legitimately, then he is put to death. If both of us do bring witnesses, then the merchant who sold the pen to the accused is put to death. If you hide a runaway slave in your house then you will be put to death. The code is funny in some instances. It mentions different kind of robbery, stealing from palace, from temple, breaking into house, stealing slaves, stealing minor son and the punishment in every case is death. I don’t know why they didn’t simply say, “You steal, you die” and be done with it.

One rule that should be enforced in the today’s world of complex CDOs, CMOs, CBOs and ABSs is the one that deals with brokers. It states that if a merchant entrusts some money to an agent and the agent suffers loss in the investment, the agent should make good the capital of the merchant. It appears that Hammurabi had lost some serious money in the crash of 1780s BCE.

The laws seemed very liberal when it comes to women’s rights. Rape, which is euphemized as “being surprised” results in, you guessed it, death and the lady is deemed blameless. In case a husband does not return from a war and there isn’t enough income for the wife, she is free to go with some other person. Separation of husband and wife is also properly codified. Having a second wife if the first one has borne children is not permitted. If the second wife is a maid-servant (slave) and she bears children then she gets the status of wife and cannot be sold as slave. Infidelity and resultant murder seems to be common. If a man and a woman kills their respective spouses, they are to be impaled. Incest is punished by death.

After a long list of laws dealing with different cases of marriage, dowry and personal property, we come to law number 196, the most famous of Hammurabi’s laws. Lex Talionis. An eye for an eye. As if tit for tat was not clear enough, the later laws specifies more specific body parts. Bones for bones. Teeth for teeth. Though if you do this to a slave, the punishment is monetary rather than physical. If a man strikes a blow to a free born woman, his daughter is put to death.

Laws goes into details of what to pay the physicians if they cure the disease and how he will lose his hands if he loses the eye of the patient. If you hire an ox and then puts out its eyes, you pay half its value to the owner. I don’t know why the fetish with the eyes. If a builder builds a good house he gets two shekel per “sar” and if the house falls and kills the owner then the builder is a dead man. The next several laws gives down the payments to be made for various services and what is the fine in case the service is not rendered properly or if it is misused. The absolute value of the fee must be difficult to manage in the age of inflation.

The epilogue consists of warning to his successor rulers to not change his words and lists down the various curses to those kings who dare to not follow his rules. He warns them to not remove his name from the law or change his monuments. He curses them with drought, rebellion, defeat in war, rusting of weapons, imprisonment, forgetfulness, idiocy, a life filled with sighing and tears, a life like death, untreatable diseases and loss of limbs among other things. There is little wonder that the Code of Hammurabi is still found in tablets that are almost 3700 BCE old. No mortal fucker can dare to change his code.

Origin of Life

Stanley Miller and Harold Urey of the University of Chicago, conducted an experiment in 1952 called the Miller-Urey experiment. The experiment consisted of series of tubes and flasks containing a mixture of water (H20), Methane (CH4), Ammonia (NH3) and Hydrogen (H2). The flask containing the liquid was continuously heated and the evaporated vapor was passed through a chamber which had electrodes to simulate lightning. The vapor was then cooled and fed back into the flask. The experiment tried to simulate the conditions that existed on earth some 4.2 Ga to 3.7 Ga (Ga stands for Gigaannum, 10^9 years i.e. a billion years). After a week of this, it was found that 10-15% of the carbon in the initial mixture was now in the form of organic compounds including 20 common Amino Acids, with Glycine, the smallest amino acid being the most abundant. Amino Acids are the building blocks of proteins.


During the Hadean era (Hell like), the earth atmosphere was devoid of oxygen and consisted with CO2 or Methane as the source of Carbon, water in oceans or as water vapor as source of Hydrogen and atmospheric Nitrogen with phosphates and sulphides added to the mix. The Miller-Urey experiment suggests that the lightning in the atmosphere or the Sol’s ultraviolet radiation could have acted as a catalyst in this mixture and given rise to basic organic compounds needed for life. These compounds then later formed more complex organic compounds like proteins and eventually DNA and life. This theory basically postulates that

a. There was an atmosphere filled with the right chemicals and not filled with the wrong ones (Absence of Oxygen)
b. Right stimulation resulted in simple organic compounds
c. More complex compounds formed
d. Life came into existence.

Though there are evidences that a existed and b happened, how c came about is still not completely answered. Deep sea vent hypothesis says that these reactions happened in underwater volcanic vents. Another hypothesis says that the Iron compounds (in one theory, Zn compounds) may have provided the energy and catalyst required for complex polymer formation. Yet another theory suggests that concentration of Uranium deposits in some places may have helped it (Radioactive Beach hypothesis).

RNA World hypothesis suggests that RNA based life was a precursor to the current DNA based life. It is also suggested that other nucleic acids like Peptide Nucleic Acid (PNA), Threose Nucleic Acid (TNA) or Glycol Nucleic Acid (GNA) may have been formed to be replaced by RNA and later by DNA.

From these pre-pre-pre-historic goo, formed the first “cells”. A million years or may be a couple passed and we saw some of these cells joining to better survive. Life kept going and now we have a man writing about things that happened a mind boggling 4 billion years ago.

* I am neither a microbiologist nor a biochemist.

The immortals of Harappa – Part I

Time : 3300 BCE to 1300 BCE – Almost 1500 to 2000 year period. Mature Harappan period lasted from 2600BCE to 1900 BCE. Compared to IVC, American civilization is just 235 year old. Ancient Egyptian civilization is supposed to have begun with the union of Lower and Upper Egypt by Menes around 3100 BCE and lasted till 31 BC when Mark Anthony and Cleopatra were defeated by Augustus Octavian. Sumerian empire lasted from 26 century BCE to 23rd Century BCE when it was followed by Akkadian empire. Thus the three great civilizations of the ancient times were contemporaries at one time or the other.

Place : The IVC was mainly located in North Western Indian subcontinent from modern northern Maharashtra to the eastern edges of Iran and to Northern Pakistan. The Mohenjo Daro and Harappa were the two main cities with the later giving its name to the culture. The ancient name of the Civilization or of a prominent city of the civilization could be Meluhha or Melukka from Sumerian sources.

 

Location of Indus Valley Civilization
Location of Indus Valley Civilization

Economy : The cities were located with an eye towards trade. They were located close to rivers (Mohenjo Daro, Harappa, Kot Diji ) or closer to the sea (Lothal, Surkotada) to facilitate transport and trade. Some sites like Mehrgarh and Novsharo were located close to the land passes or the source of raw material. Harappan seals and weights were found in Mesopotamia and sites in Persian Gulf indicating extensive trade. Sumerian sources mention that the trade with the land of Meluhha consisted of ivory, Lapis Lazuli, wood and gold. The sea ports of Lothal and Surkotada must have facilitated trade with the southern parts of India as well. This could be an explanation of presence of Harappan art forms in the Edakkal caves. Overland trade with the Persians via the Bolan Valley was also maintained. Copper was mined in Rajasthan, Lapis in the mountains of Chagai Hills, wood from Gujarat. Carefully standardized weights and length rods were found in the remains of the cities. The chert weights were in the ratio of 5:2:1 with a unit being of 28 grams. The presence of these weights indicate an understanding of mathematics and also the presence of a strong central authority across the cities that standardized them. Another reason could be trade imperatives as the need for a standard weight might have been felt by the merchants in all the trading cities even in the absence of a central authority imposing it. Harappan were adept in metallurgy with copper, tin, bronze and tin being used. A “dockyard” has been found in Lothal and there is considerable controversy regarding its use. A warehouse near the dockyard could be the place of exchange of materials and a marketplace. Cotton was used for the first time in the Indus Valley. It was also an important export item from India even in the ancient times.

 

Mohenjo Daro Weights
Mohenjo Daro Weights

Cities :

Cities exhibit extensive planning. In Mohenjo Daro. The plan of the cities remained constant for hundreds of years. When the old buildings collapsed, new ones were constructed with exactly the same plan with minor variations. For at least a thousand years the street plan remained the same. Read that sentence again. For a thousand years the street plan remained the same! Look around you, how many buildings or streets have the same plan for even a hundred years? What about having an entire city with the same plan for a hundred years? Even with a liberal estimate of generation span of 30 years (For ancient times it should be 20 years), more than 30 generations saw the same city. The city must have entered into the thoughts and life of the people. It was a symbol of stability with its crenelated surrounding walls and 30ft wide streets. People from far off villages would rarely come to the city and when they did come they would have been in awe of the majesty of it. Perhaps there were laws preventing people from changing the layouts. The civilization was in contact with the advancing civilizations of Mesopotamia but still they did not adopt their advancements even simple ones like shaft hole axe. Why were the rulers against change? There were no evidence of large scale military presence in the cities thus it is unlikely that the rulers maintained order by force. The religious structure, that we will come to see later, also was not very pervasive. It is a wonder why and how they maintained their extreme conservatism. Was it a ghost city? Or a holy city? People just maintained the city but no one lived there? This is highly unlikely due to the cost involved and the evidences point to people living there.

An awesome shaft hole axe found in Bactria
An awesome shaft hole axe found in Bactria depicting a double eagle headed man fighting a tiger

The city contained a artificial platform or mounds to its west about 30ft above ground. The “citadel” contained the administrative and religious buildings. The effort required to build the citadel must have been tremendous and would have required considerable motivation. Perhaps the cities were threatened with frequent raids and had enemies in the nearby areas. The cities may have been the center of wealth (unlikely as little evidence is found of wealth but it could also have been looted through the centuries) or center of authority over the surrounding areas. These could have necessitated protection.

Mohenjo Daro Citadel showing the Great Bath
Mohenjo Daro Citadel showing the Great Bath

The city was laid out in a grid pattern with intersecting roads. The houses had a central courtyard with rooms around it facing inwards. There were no windows facing the roads. The houses were made of mud bricks and contained their own baths and wells. The cities had extensive drainage network not seen anywhere else till the Roman empire. The drains were built with kiln fired bricks. The city had huge baths. The presence of public bath as well as baths in houses indicate an observance of ritual purity very similar to what is seen in modern Hinduism. The architecture of the city shows knowledge of surveying and geometry indicating the knowledge of these sciences.  Maintaining the city for hundreds of years must have required a very efficient bureaucracy. How did they maintain their record is a mystery. The Indus script that has been found seems to be too complex for usual record keeping and must have been mostly ceremonial in nature. How did they keep their records? Did the ravages of time destroy these records or did they memorize everything? The later Vedic period’s stress of memorization of religious texts and the techniques developed to aid in memorization may have its origins in the IVC cities bureaucratic practices.

Sewers in Mohenjo Daro
Sewers in Mohenjo Daro

The cities do not show any evidence of a royal palace. What was the ruling structure of the cities like? Did they have an imperial system? An oligarchy? A theocracy? A statue of a “priest king” has been found with its eyes semi closed with a band on his head. The semi closed could represent meditation or could be because the statue is of a person of mongoloid origin. It is unlikely that we will ever know who he was. Was he a philosopher? Great King? Warrior? Or just a vanity bust of a rich merchant? The cloth which covered only one shoulder is very finely depicted. There is a band on his upper arm. Is it a sign of his authority like we have sleeve insignia or shoulder patches in the modern armies depicting ranks or was it just a religious amulet? Depicting it in a statue must have indicated its importance. The design of the cloth may have also indicated the social status. The ancient Roman/Greek senators had distinctive costume. Is the statue wearing such a “uniform”?

The "Priest King" of Mohenjo Daro
The "Priest King" of Mohenjo Daro
Roman Senators
Roman Senators

It is possible that the cities were independent city states like the Greek city states with extensive trading. The cities may have been in competition with each other with their own spheres of influence but perhaps not engaging in large scale warfare. The competition must have been mostly economic and trade related. But the uniformity of structure of the cities do not support this. It is possible that apart from the rival ry in trade, the cities exhibited a common underlying cultural and religious nature. Thus even when they were rivals in trade, they had the same social and architectural structure because  of religion.

Some image courtesy a very good article on http://www.andaman.org/BOOK/F1-IndusCivilization/indus.htm.

Who is the protector of Indian Democracy?

Democracy is perhaps the most resilient form of government. When you look at monarchies/communist states/dictatorship, they have come and gone. But democracy, once it gets its root planted in a society, keeps coming back. Even a failed state like Pakistan keeps coming back to Democracy after the Generals have had enough of “saving” the country.

In ancient Greece, Spartan military might crushed the nascent Athenian democracy and replaced it with the Thirty Tyrants. But eventually with the courage of people like Socrates, democracy returned. Those turbulent times when the democracy was under constant threat in Athens, it produced greats like Plato and Aristotle.

Origins of modern democracy can be traced to the founding fathers of the American Nation. People like Thomas Jefferson were very aware of the fragility of democracy and thus provided safeguards to protect it. They envisioned a nation that is a federation of states so that the central government does not have enough powers to throttle the aspirations of individual states. In fact, constitutions of some states in US still have the provision wherein the state legislature has the power to declare itself free from the Union. The American Civil War was as much about the abolition of slavery as it was about the power of states against the Union. The founding fathers also realised that power should ultimately rest with the people and they meant real power. Thus the second amendment to the US Bill of Rights gives the citizenry right to bear arms (More on this in a later question). The US constitution also enshrines the right to the People of overthrowing a tyrant regime. With all its current mess of a political system, US constitution is a shining beacon of what real democracy means. Most other democracies, including ours, are watered down versions of this original democracy.

Any modern democracy has a few pillars on which it stands; The People, The Legislature, The Executive, The Judiciary, The Armed Forces. The writers of our constitution knew that Armed Forces are just arms of the nation and trusting it with safeguarding the democracy would be stupidity. And when I am talking about safeguarding I mean from changing the form of the government and not external threat (For Manya). Thus our constitution does not give any responsibility to the armed forces. In fact the only mention of the armed forces in the constitution is when it is mentioned that the president is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.

The executive is just an arm of the government and hence cannot be entrusted with something so precious as safeguarding the democracy. Thus we can rule it out as well.

Our constitution gives the responsibility of protecting the fundamental rights of its citizenry to the Supreme Court. Thus when our constitution is under dire threat, people look to the SC to provide relief. Armed with weapons like Habeas Corpus and Mandamus, SC is created to protect us. Habeas Corpus allows a illegally detained individual or a person representing him to approach the judiciary to provide relief to him. Thus it is a check on the states right to illegally imprison its citizens. Mandamus (Literally We command) allows judiciary to instruct the executive to carry out its orders.

Thus at the surface it appears that our judiciary is very powerful. Unfortunately when their power was most required during the darkest hour of our democracy (Emergency) they failed to come true to their mandate. The only candle during that time was Justice Hans Raj Khanna, who went against the majority judgement of a SC bench of 5 that declared that during Emergency even the right to life is abrogated. In his fearless dissent, Khanna proclaimed that fundamental rights are not subjected to whims of the executive.

Thus experience tells us that Judiciary is not of any help when push comes to shove. There are however examples like Justice Choudhary (Pakistan Supreme Court Chief Justice), that gives us hope that all is not bad with the judiciary.

The least trusted pillar of the democracy is the legislature, which cannot be trusted in any case to protect the rights of the people. Thus we are left with The People. The preamble of the Indian Constitution starts with the immortal words, “We, the people of India …. , Do here by adopt, enact and give to ourselves this constitution.” (The effect of US constitution is very obvious here – “We, the people of the United States …. , do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.”)
Thus we have given this constitution and this marvellous democracy to ourselves and it is our right and our duty to protect its sanctity!Many a martyrs have shed their blood for it and I hope that at least in our lifetime we do not let it perish.