Then Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak.
The Babylonian civilization, which endured from the 18th until the 6th century BC, was, like the Sumerian that preceded it, urban in character, although based on agriculture rather than industry. The country consisted of a dozen or so cities, surrounded by villages and hamlets. At the head of the political structure was the king, a more or less absolute monarch who exercised legislative and judicial as well as executive powers. Under him was a group of appointed governors and administrators. Mayors and councils of city elders were in charge of local administration.
The Babylonians modified and transformed their Sumerian heritage in accordance with their own culture and ethos. The resulting way of life proved to be so effective that it underwent relatively little change for some 1200 years. It exerted influence on all the neighboring countries, especially the kingdom of Assyria, which adopted Babylonian culture almost in its entirety. Fortunately, many written documents from this period have been excavated and made available to scholars. One of the most important is the remarkable collection of laws often designated as the Code of Hammurabi, which, together with other documents and letters belonging to different periods, provides a comprehensive picture of Babylonian social structure and economic organization.
Law and justice were key concepts in the Babylonian way of life. Justice was administered by the courts, each of which consisted of from one to four judges. Often the elders of a town constituted a tribunal. The judges could not reverse their decisions for any reason, but appeals from their verdicts could be made to the king. Evidence consisted either of statements from witnesses or of written documents. Oaths, which played a considerable role also in the administration of justice, could be either promissory, declaratory, or exculpatory. The courts inflicted penalties ranging from capital punishment and mutilation to flogging, reduction to slavery, and banishment. Awards for damages were from 3 to 30 times the value of the object to be restored.
To ensure that their legal, administrative, and economic institutions functioned effectively, the Babylonians used the cuneiform system of writing developed by their Sumerian predecessors. To train their scribes, secretaries, archivists, and other administrative personnel, they adopted the Sumerian system of formal education, under which secular schools served as the cultural centers of the land. The curriculum consisted primarily of copying and memorizing both textbooks and Sumero-Babylonian dictionaries containing long lists of words and phrases, including the names of trees, animals, birds, insects, countries, cities, villages, and minerals, as well as a large and diverse assortment of mathematical tables and problems. In the study of literature, the pupils copied and imitated various types of myths, epics, hymns, lamentations, proverbs, and essays in both the Sumerian and the Babylonian languages.IWHP, "Babylonia, A history of ancient Babylon"