The History of Law

Exploring Several Era's of History and their Legal Systems

The Code of Hammurabi (1795-1750BCE)

King Hammurabi was the ruler of the world's first metropolis, known as Babylon. Babylon was located in modern day Iraq 3800 years ago. Hammurabi established a code of law and recorded those 300 laws into stone. He split his laws into different sectors regarding 5 main things; family, criminal, labour and property. He also had devised a system of judged to decide if the accused was actually at fault or if they were wrongfully accused. The code began and ended with addresses to the gods, as even law systems were tied together with religion. Hammurabi was known by his people as the messenger of the gods and his law system was thought to be a way of regulation to how the gods wanted society to be. Almost all offenses were charged with a sentence of death, even simple things. However the law was heavily swayed depending on social statuses, the rich rarely suffered the same consequences as the poor did. The consequences including stoning, cutting off limbs, etc. Hammurabi's code was very harsh but did keep order, enough so that he could unite all of Mesopotamia under the rule of Babylon.

Mosaic/Hebrew Law (1240BCE)

A few hundred years after Hammurabi came Mosaic Law, which comes from the Torah, a religious book regarding the first five chapters of The Old Testament. This law according to the old testament was derived from the ten commandments and was heavily based on the Hebrew religion. These laws outlined the steps and rules, supposedly sent by Moses, were what an individual must follow to make his way to heaven/the gods. The law was meant to really protect family and religion for the ancient Hebrews. It had harsh consequences for breaking the law, including things like execution by stoning. They also believed in restitution, the idea of having equal punishment for the crime you have committed. The person who committed the crime must return equal of what he stole to the victim or get physically punished the way they had to the victim.

Similarities (Mosaic Law and Hammurabi's Code)

These two era's of law were run by different civilizations but had several similarities. The empires that ran both of these legal systems were geographically very close, which contributed to them having so many similarities. One of the biggest similarities is the involvement of the religion in the legal system. Though Mosaic law was more heavily swayed by religion (Ten commandments), The Code of Hammurabi was also influenced by religion. The whole code of Hammurabi was considered a way of prayer and it was thought that Hammurabi was the messenger of the gods. The Mosaic law also laid out a set of rules for people to follow in order to be true to their religion. Another major similarity was both system's enforcement of the law. Although Mosaic law didn't go as far in all cases, they both believed in severe punishment for committing crimes (eg., stoning). Mosaic law was even believed to be a legal system built upon many of Hammurabi's key principles. Though The Code of Hammurabi and Mosaic law were spread apart by several hundreds of years, they did share many big similarities.

Napoleonic Code (1804CE)

The Napoleonic Code was a set of civil laws set by Napoleon Bonaparte after he had overthrown the current government of France. It was a codification of many french laws and a mix of new laws put into place by Napoleon. This became a model law system for most of Europe at the time. The Napoleonic code is also referred to as the French Civil Code as it was a essentially a set of civil laws. The code was originally designed to protect and help the French society, but was found to have many flaws related to discrimination. It was made in such a way that it put equality before the law and gave religious freedoms. This set of civil laws had a strict and harsh enforcement, with serious consequences to offenders. The code allowed freedom of religion and said that government jobs should go to the most capable. The code replaced the previous feudal laws made and upheld by previous leaders of France. Before laws could be applied they had to have already been formally proclaimed, which made it so the judges had to actually interpret the law and not sway it upon their own beliefs.

The Patriation of the British North America Act/the Constitutional Act

The Constitutional Act is part of the modern Canadian Constitution but was originally implemented in 1982 when in the process of patriation. The process of patriating led to the amending parts of the BNA act and renaming the latter to the Constitutional Act. It created new laws to outline power of Federal/Provincial government. It introduced the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is the first 35 sections of the constitution and the the amending formula for the constitution (2/3 provinces, 50% of population and approval from House of Commons). The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was intended to keep Canadian society and the members of it safe by implementing a set of things every Canadian citizen has the right or freedom to do. The patriation of the BNA act made Canada almost completely independent from Britain, giving it control of all of it's own laws as a nation.
Queen signs constitution

Similarities (Napoleonic Code and Patriation of the BNA Act/The Constitutional Act)

These to era's of law are very spread apart and may not seem like they would be very similar, as the Napoleonic code is generally frowned upon and the Constitutional Act is known as a great historical moment for Canada. Both have similar intentions in common and have some models that are also similar. The creation of both was a separation from a higher power, in Napoleon's case it was from the previous French-Feudal government and for Canada it was gaining independence from Britain. Though one was a hostile overthrow and the other was an agreement from the both parties, they both had the similar intention and result. The Canadian Constitutional Act brought forth the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which was put into the constitution in order to keep society and individuals within society safe. Napoleon had a similar intent to protect its society and individuals freedoms, as it put equality before law. The Napoleonic Code was flawed and had a lot of discrimination which was found out later, but the original intent was the same as that of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in many ways.


In conclusion, what I've taken away from this project is that the history of previous legal systems has a big impact on our legal systems today. The idea of building upon previous codes/systems to make a legal system that creates a society that is as civilized and cooperative as possible, by looking at earlier examples. Although many era's may seem different, a lot of them are intertwined with similar ideas and can be compared to each other and to common law.