Sunday, February 13, 2011

Comparing Gilgamesh and Hammurabi

King Hammurabi of Babylon: A Biography is the second large piece of literature that we are reading, and after reading the Epic of Gilgamesh, it is difficult not to compare the rule of King Gilgamesh and King Hammurabi. These two kings were obviously very influential in their respective kingdoms, with King Hammurabi being the King of Babylon and King Gilgamesh being the King of Uruk. Gilgamesh is apparently an earlier ruler than Hammurabi, but they both had done magnificent accomplishments for their respective kingdoms while they were in power. It is interesting, though, that the biography of Hammurabi portrays Hammurabi as one of the greatest rulers of the ancient times with very positive reviews from its people. However, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, many of Uruk’s residents wanted Gilgamesh to leave them alone, that he wasn’t being a very good king, and that the city-state would be better off without his oppressive and tyrannical rule. And so, we can see that Gilgamesh was portrayed in a very negative light even though it appears as if Gilgamesh and Hammurabi have accomplished a lot.

Gilgamesh had many accomplishments throughout the years, especially in the beginning period of his rule. Gilgamesh was the one who helped build the massive walls around Uruk as well as the city itself. He was able to build magnificent temples to the various gods (Hammurabi did as well). He helped landscape and develop the land of Uruk and helped to cultivate the land so that it was fertile and ready for growing crops.

On the other hand, we also analyze Hammurabi’s accomplishments as King of Babylon. One of his first acts as king was to “establish justice in the land”, and basically, he cancelled any outstanding debts from individuals, and the palace took most of the burden of debt. Debt was a widespread problem in Babylon, and there were outrageous interest fees, etc. tacked onto the money borrowed, and basically, the peasants who were already on the edge of bankruptcy. So, they essentially could never pay it back, and they began offering their life and liberty to these creditors. Hammurabi did this to gain the support of his people and help them get a clean slate again on their lives. In addition, Hammurabi took care of the gods by constructing temples, statues, etc., and the people of Babylon were also treated justly with certain written codes and regulations that made sure that the laws were fair and equal to all. Hammurabi also had many community construction projects, like the construction of irrigation canals, and he was able to keep the kingdom relatively safe and the people felt protected and in peace.

Now, if we go back to the Epic of Gilgamesh, even though Gilgamesh also respected the gods and constructed the city (which included many of the community projects made by Hammurabi), the people of Uruk did not feel safe at all. Gilgamesh was a tyrant, and he ruled oppressively, giving him the ultimate power to do whatever he wanted to, including making the young men work endlessly with no clear purpose as well as forcing the newly-wedded wives to have sex with him on the first night of their marriage. He did not protect the welfare of his people, and he let his own greed take over with this amount of power.

I think in comparing Hammurabi and Gilgamesh, Hammurabi was definitely looking to gain the support of the peasants and the general population as well as making the laws of the land as fair as possible. It gave out definite rules and regulations, and even though he helped to conquer Elam and Larsa, he became favorable to the people by also getting rid of their debt and using the same laws to govern. In addition, Hammurabi was also very accomplished by uniting the city-states into one coherent, united kingdom. Although, we cannot forget to realize that Gilgamesh and Hammurabi ruled eight-hundred years apart from each other, and thus, Hammurabi (the later ruler) was the actual pioneer who helped to start these ideals (they were not the norm).

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