The History of Law

The paved way to our legal system today

Hammurabi Law:

The philosophy that hammurabi lived by thats famously recognized to this day is, " An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth". The 282 codified laws provided a more clear insight of how the Babylonians at this time functioned in their society, and how it coordinated their everyday lives. The code differentiates the punishments for the wealthy or nobles, the freemen or commoners, and slaves. The laws ranged from class structure to a few basic human rights, to stated instructions on certain contracts. In the earliest days of the philosophy, the government was said to have complete rule over its people, who in return were expected to be faithful and efficient in serving their king and kingdom. Hammurabi thought that in order to have a more funtional and unified kingdom, he must go to extreme and rather very harsh measures to obtain his wish. It appeared to have worked, and did in fact manage to create a more peaceful kingdom.One law that refects very well on his philosophy was, " If a man knocked out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out". The more harsher punishements included drowning, the cutting of certain limbs, and other means of violence. This wasn't as harsh in the eyes of the Babylonians as it would be to people living in this society today, but it was rather a way of life.
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Hammurabi's Babylonia from The Babylonians.

Roman Law:

In the earlier stages of the Roman legal system, private law consisted of the Roman civial law, which was secured by religion, and only applied to Roman citizens. Many believe that the Roman laws were driven by the Etruscan religion. The legal system was a formalism that lasted more than 1,000 years. The early Roman law was balanced by customs and statues, but as the empire grew, the emperors asserted their power as the infinite source of the law. The emperors judgements, instructions, and comments along side the legal scholars comments were all gathered and presented as laws. As the law and remarks of the scholars grew, the need to regularize and codify the laws expanded as well. The basis of the law was the exact form and not its intention, which was quickly noticed by the Roman citizens. The law was very adjustable and allowed new ideas to be implaemented without having to replace the older laws. The Romans developed procedures that allowed them greater fairness. An example of that is a law the states, " A Roman is entitled by law to make a will as he wishes, but, if he doesn't leave at least 25 percent of his property to his children, a civial officer/ judge would grant the children an action to have the will declained invalid as an " irresponsible testament ". In the late 6th century AD, Emperor Justinian I, began to codify the laws that would later be known as the Justinian Code.
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Illustration of the Roman Court.

King John Lackland:

King John was someone who took great interest in law and government, but he never trusted anyone, and was neither trusted. He was infamous, at the time, for heavy taxation, disputes with the church, and for plenty of failed attempts in retrieving his French possessions. Due to his unpopularity, it caused his Barons to rebell against him, forcing him to sign a peace treaty also known as the Magna Carta, which was signed in June of 1215. The treaty limited him or any other royal power, it specified feudal between him and his Barons, and presented a guarntee for a considerable amount of rights to his people (mainly his Barons). An example of a new law presented in the Magna Carta was, " Heirs shall not be married without disparagement, yet so that before marriage takes place, the nearsest in blood to that heir shall have notice". The most important clauses settled the basis of habeas corpus, which indicates, ' that no one shall be imprisoned except by due process of law, and that no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay right or justice" . It also stated that his Barons had a right to wage a war aginst him if he declained the agreement. The Magna Carta was the first formal document stating that royals, for the first time, were as much under the law as their subjects and their rights were advocated against them.
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King John signing the Magna Carta illustrated in 1902 from Cassell's History of England.

The Napoleonic Code:

The Napoleonic Code was the first codified set of french laws, and first french civial code, which was established by Napoleon in 1804. Before the code, after the revolution, the french didn't have a single set of rules to follow. Instead the french had customs that went in accordance to the different sets of people in different regions of France. Napolean along side other representatives, drafted a new french legal system in accordance to the french revolution, and categories within the code were derived from the Justinian Code. It was the first legal code to be maintained. It had heavily influenced the laws of many european countries, and the countries formed during and after the Napoleonic Wars. The code disallowed any privileges based on a person's birth, allowed freedom of religion, and stated that government jobs go to the most adequate.
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Napoleon Crossing the Alps, painted by Jacque-Louis David, featured in the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Their Impact:

The different time periods differed in their idea of what made a more cohesive society. Each time gradually improved on their legal system, by elaborating on the older laws. Some of the time periods (The Napoleonic Era) ,looked back on other time periods (The Justinian Era) to draw ideas from each other, which brought them a step closer to a more cohesive society. In the Canadian legal system we share certain ideas and structures with each of these periods. For the Hammurabi law we used the same categorization method, and ideology being, the strong must not oppress the weak. We codified our laws, just as the anicent Romans. In the treaty of Magna Carta, we preserved the idea of no one is more powerful in the eyes of the law ,but everyone is equal (including the ones who enforce and establish the law). We also use the most important clause, habeas corpus, in our Charter of Rights and values. As for the Napoleonic Era we used the main basis of the code being, no one is more privileged then the other at birth, and freedom of belief (mainly religion). Although these law differed from each other, they were still improvements of each other which brought us to legal system we present today.

Works Cited:

"Hammurabi's Code: An Eye for an Eye." Ushistory.org. Independence Hall Association, n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2014.


"Hammurabi's Code: An Eye for an Eye." Hammurabi's Code. N.p., n.d.Web. 22 Sept. 2014.



"Ancient Roman Laws." Ancient Roman Laws. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2014.


The Offical Website of The British Monarchy. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2014.


"The Magna Carta (The Great Charter)." The Magna Carta 1215. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2014.


"Napoleonic Code." Princeton University. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2014.