|Here is a suggested sample document analysis. Some general questions to ask as you read
and examine any historical document in this course.
Thus, the NINE questions of analyzing a historical document are:
- Who wrote the document? Until
you know this, you
really know very little about the document. Sometimes you can figure
out the author from
the document itself. Was the author a political or private individual?
Was he educated or not? Was it a joint author? Was there no
single author, but is the document something that evolved over time?
- Who was the intended audience? This
will tell you about
the author's use of any specific language or concepts and the knowledge
that he assumed on the part
of the audience. It is no revelation that a document intended for
a five-year-old child will be different than something intended for a
- What is the story line? What is going on in the
document? What is the information in the document?
- Why was the document written? Everything is written for
a reason. Is the document just a random note, or a scholarly thesis?
- What type of document is this, or
what is its purpose? A
phone book is different
than a diary, and both are different than an inscription on a grave.
Thus, one can expect to extract different kinds of information
from different kinds of documents.
- What are the basic assumptions made
by the author? For example, did the author assume
that the reader could understand certain foreign or engineering terms in the language?
- Can you believe this document? Is it reliable? Is the information likely or reliable?
- What can you learn about the society
that produced this document? This
is what you will be
concentrating on in this class. All documents reveal information about
the people who produced them. It is embedded in the language and
of the text. Your task in this course will be to learn how to "read,"
analyze, a document to extract information about a society. You might
to analyze each document in terms of various aspects of a society
political, religion, social structure, culture, etc.). This is
not something that comes easily, but with practice you will be able to
uncover what is really in a document.
- Finally, What does this document
mean to you? You might also consider this as the "so what does it mean to me" question,
but it still requires an answer even if the answer is going to be a resounding, "who cares.".
Please proceed to the sample document analysis
of Hammurabi's code of laws (next).
Suggested steps to analyze the Hammurabi document
- Who wrote the document?
- Who was the intended audience?
- What was the story line?
- Why was the document written?
- What type of document was it, or what
was its purpose?
- What were the basic assumptions made by
- Can I believe this document?
- What can I learn about the society that
produced this document?
- What does this document mean to me?
My sample analysis of the Hammurabi sample document
First, I'll answer some of the specific questions.
Read the background information on Hammurabi.
Scan the entire Hammurabi document.
- Review any specific
questions to consider on Hammurabi noted by your instructor.
Review the document
analysis questions from above and focus on the question: What can I learn
about the society that produced this document?
Second, I'll tackle the more difficult question, "What can you learn about
the society that produced this document?" (Looking only at the first six
articles of the code, for example.)
1. If a man weaves a spell and puts
a ban upon another man and has not justified himself, he that wove the
spell upon him shall be put to death.
- Who was Hammurabi? This is a factual answer.
Hammurabi (d. 1750 BCE) was a ruler of Old Babylon from 1792 to 1750 BCE.
His principal achievement was the unification of Mesopotamia through control
of the Euphrates River.
- Why did he create a law code? This is an interpretive
answer. The code was a compendium of earlier laws, and he probably created
it because he was the ruler, and a uniform code that applied to everyone helped him rule. He probably
also created it because of confusion over the use of earlier laws, i.e.,
which one was the valid law. One could also say that he created a law code
because he needed one. (Now it might seem simple to say that, but one does
not create a law against falling into the sun unless that is happening
with some frequency and unless you consider it to be a problem.) One
should therefore assume that these particular laws became laws to deal
with crimes/situations that occurred with some frequency in Babylonian
society and that were regarded by someone (at the very least, the king)
as dangerous to that society.
- Is this particular law code "fair?" This is an evaluative answer.
Implied is a comparison of Hammurabi's code with your awareness of current
law codes. Yes, it is fair. There are numerous provisions in the code to
attest to the honesty of judges and witnesses.
- Why is the code so detailed? This is an interpretive
answer. Because justice is not simple. There are always exceptions to a
law or extenuating circumstances. If one is going to have a criminal code,
then it must cover everything. Look at current criminal codes and how complicated they are.
- Does the code provide any insight
about the administration of justice? This is an analytical answer,
requiring you to analyze parts of the code to reach a decision. Very little.
Notice that almost all the
laws use "man" not "woman" as the active subject. This indicates something
about the nature of gender relations in Mesopotamia. The fact that any
man could "weave a spell" also tells something about the nature of religion,
that there was a level at which all could participate, but also that there
were defined rules to follow. This law indicates that "weaving a spell"
could be a very serious offense that could lead to death if the spell was
applied improperly. This particular law does not say how you prove this,
but that is contained in the next article! This is very impressive and shows how
various eventualities had to be completely pre-thought for this law code, a very complex
2. If a man has put a spell upon another
man and has not justified himself, he upon whom the spell is laid shall
go to the holy river. He shall plunge into the holy river, and if the holy
river overcomes him, he who wove the spell upon him shall take to himself
his house. If the holy river makes that man to be innocent, and has saved
him, he who laid the spell upon him shall be put to death. He who plunged
into the holy river shall take to himself the house of him who wove the
spell upon him.
This reminds one of the
trial by ordeal (usually fire or water) procedures used by the church during
the Middle Ages.
3. If a man, in a case pending judgment,
has uttered threats against the witnesses, or has not justified the word
that he has spoken, if that case be a capital suit, that man shall be put
Indicates that there was
a system in place to protect witness. This is only a very recent innovation
in modern law codes.
4. If he has offered corn or money to
the witnesses, he shall himself bear the sentence of that case.
No bribery allowed.
5. If a judge has judged a judgment,
decided a decision, granted a sealed sentence, and afterwards has altered
his judgment, that judge, for the alteration of the judgment that he judged,
shall be put him to account, and he shall pay twelve fold the penalty which
was in the said judgment, and in the assembly one shall expel him from
his judgment seat, and he shall not return, and with the judges at a judgment
he shall not take his seat.
Judges have to follow the
rules and can not take arbitrary action. Obviously
this happened quite frequently.
6. If a man has stolen the goods of
a temple or palace, that man shall be killed, and he who has received the
stolen thing from his hand shall be put to death.
It was a very serious matter
to "mess with" the priests who enjoyed a protected, and lucrative, status
in Mesopotamian society. Obviously the priests had wealth, and they wanted to
make sure that it was protected by the king. (It was never a good idea
for a king not to protect his religious leaders, because they could always
call down the wrath of a god or gods upon the king, making the people lose faith in the