Looking Back: In depth Study of Hammurabi and his Legal System

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Whilst we covered Assyria and Babylonia in some depth, it was Hammurabi who caught our imagination.  I went with the flow and I’m so glad I did!  During one of our fun weeks, about a year ago, we planned a revisit to Mesopotamia and the children really wanted to learn more about Hammurabi’s Code of Laws.  I planned what I thought would be quite a heavy weeks worth of work.  The children, as always, surprised me with their enthusiasm as they threw themselves into all the activities.  Here is my planning sheet with the letter I left for the children on the Monday.  I wanted this week to be, as much as was possible, independent study, hence the rather involved notes to help them:

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They each had a folder of all the paper work they needed, plus note pages and a box full of supplies to make their own stele of laws!  Hammurabi is really worth a study.  He wrote the first known set of laws down with which he ruled his kingdom.  So many of our laws have their roots in his code; some of his laws, however, seem unnecessarily harsh.  The children looked here and here for biographical information.  We also looked through the following book:

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They wrote out biographical note pages for him:

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Next up was the play:

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We read this every day.  It was SO useful in helping the children fully understand the difference between primary and secondary evidence and therefore the importance of each.  It brought forth many great discussions.  So worth it!

We photocopied the whole stele worth of laws, including the prologue and the epilogue.  The children read through them as time allowed, keeping an eye out for the one they wanted to concentrate their piece of writing on.  We got them from this site.

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Then they had enormous fun making up their own rules and stele by painting a couple of shoe boxes with black paint and writing their own rules with the punishments with Tipex:

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SUCH FUN!!!!

Our next activity was obtained from this site.  It was a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant (have I said that enough?) activity.  The children so enjoyed it and I really loved listening to them (I was out of the room, and just let them get on with it, but overheard it from the room next door).  Just brilliant!  (There, I said it again!!)

I also found a rather nice add-on activity at the last-minute which we went through together from this website:

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As one of their final activities I had them write a letter to the Babylonian Times.  Although the children do read a daily paper, it was doubtful they were reading the editorials(!).  So I bought a collection of local papers so we could specifically see how letters to the editor are written.  They then needed to choose a law they felt strongly about – either agreeing or disagreeing- and write a letter to the editor of the aforementioned ‘paper’ (or would that be tablet?).  Here are their letters:

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Lastly, they were to design their own Babylonian dress up out of black bags and black tape.  Yup, that’s all!!

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I think they did a great job

Much was achieved, loads was learnt and discussed and most importantly a lot of fun was had!

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15 comments

  1. We found the laws to be fun to read too when we look at them earlier this year. We also went to the British museum to see them in cunniform writing. We enjoyed studying this period.:)

  2. I remember us studying the Hammurabi Code two years ago, in much lesser detail that you have done. Wish I had seen your blog post all those years ago. I LOVE all the resources that you use. I think I’ll have to save them for our next cycle of history. 🙂

    1. I thought the children would find the study quite intense. It’s funny though, if it captures their attention anything can seem fun! (Unlike the Domesday book, which we’re studying at the moment- I’m really struggling to find anything fun in that!-any ideas??)

      1. We didn’t do very much for The Domesday Book, except to understand that it was the first official census in England. We also kept our eye out for towns around us that were recorded in the Domesday Book. That’s about it.

        For our next round of Medieval history (many years from now), I’ll probably have us do the following:
        1) visit the National Archives in Kew where the book is kept
        2) look at the Domesday Book Online website (http://www.domesdaybook.co.uk/)
        3) compare the records in the Domesday Book of places that we know (then vs. now) to see how things have changed
        4) have a nose around the PASE site (http://www.pase.ac.uk/index.html)

        I can’t find anything is ‘fun’ though….

      2. Nope, me neither! Visiting the archives would be great. We have an unpredictable toddler so field trips need to be planned with military precision, covering all possible eventualities! It’s a miracle we ever get past the front door!! Thanks for the ideas though- I’ve never heard of PACE so I’m going for a little look around now!

  3. There are many things that I am trying to incorporate into our school that I have learned from you. One is the end of the study presentations. The other is what you call leadership studies. We have always called the heroes studies but I haven’t done a lot of comparison/contrasting of the heroes we have studied like you have done and I would like to begin doing more of that, following your example.

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