The Code of Hammurabi is one of the few existing examples of an ancient legal code. Although it is not the oldest example of a set of laws, it is one of the better known documents from the Ancient World, and many of the principles spelled out in the document appear in modern legal codes. At one time, many copies existed, but only one has survived to the modern day. For people who would like to see the Code of Hammurabi in person, it is on display at the Louvre in Paris.
This document was created by King Hammurabi, a Babylonian king who has inevitably become famous because of his legal code. It was copied by his order around in the 17th century BCE onto a series of stelae, large slabs of rock into which the code was carved. The surviving copy also includes a decorative statue, and presumably this ornament was also included on other copies of the code, which would have been distributed to Babylonian temples to make them accessible to the populace.
The text of the Code of Hammurabi includes an introduction and an epilogue that bracket 282 laws. Some of the writing has been obscured with time, but many of the laws remain readable. Many modern readers would probably be shocked by the severity of some of the laws, such as the one which prescribes death for robbers, but the code also set a precedent for presuming innocence and for the presentation of evidence in legal trials.
It is highly likely that the Code of Hammurabi influenced other legal codes in the region, and since many of these codes in turn developed into legal systems that influenced European law, the widely-used common law system owes some credit to the code. The existing example was discovered, incidentally, in 1901, at an archaeological site that included an assortment of plundered items.
Hammurabi undoubtedly set his code in stone with the expectation that it would endure for centuries, and that it would be viewed as immutable. His descendants were unable to control the kingdom, legal code or not, and the region slipped into chaos, with numerous competing kingdoms vying for supremacy. The code lived on, however, and it was adopted by the people who conquered the region. Hammurabi himself is depicted in numerous courtrooms all over the world, thanks to his fame as a maker of laws.