Hammurabi’s Code took a brutal approach to justice, but the severity of criminal penalties often depended on the identity of both the lawbreaker and the victim.While one law commanded, “If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out,” committing the same crime against a member of a lower class was punished with only a fine.Hammurabi’s Code was surprisingly ahead of its time when it came to laws addressing subjects like divorce, property rights and the prohibition of incest, but perhaps most progressive of all was a stipulation mandating an ancient form of minimum wage.
Field laborers and herdsmen were guaranteed a wage of “eight gur of corn per year,” and ox drivers and sailors received six gur.
Doctors, meanwhile, were entitled to 5 shekels for healing a freeborn man of a broken bone or other injury, but only three shekels for a freed slave and two shekels for a slave.
Other rank-based penalties were even more significant.
If a man killed a pregnant “maid-servant,” he was punished with a monetary fine, but if he killed a “free-born” pregnant woman, his own daughter would be killed as retribution.
The statutes could have been a list of amendments to an even earlier and more expansive set of general laws, but they might also have acted as a set of judicial precedents compiled from real world cases.