Western Legal Tradition



The evolution of Criminal law, which is an important arm of the legal profession, is one of the areas of western Legal Tradition that can be traced back to the Code of Laws of Hammurabi, the sixth king of the Babylonian dynasty who ruled approximately between 2130 and 2088 B.C. It is believed that he received the code from the sun-god, Shamash. There are also other historical periods, kingdoms, and circumstances that played a key role in the evolution of the Criminal Law such as The Laws of Twelve Tables among the Romans and the formulated in form of petitions in the story of the Eloquent Peasant. The main aim of this paper is to discuss the evolution of Criminal Law about Western Legal Traditions based on Hammurabi’s Code of Laws, The story of the Eloquent Peasant, and The Laws of the Twelve Tables.

Hammurabi’s Code of Laws

The Hammurabi Code of Laws is found in an inscription on a black diorite block found by an expedition sent under M. de Morgan by the French government on the acropolis of Susa. Although about five columns in the Code Laws are missing, the remaining forty-four columns have two hundred and forty-eight provisions that relate to criminal law. The code is a representation of a law and custom system which has been rooted and grown in this country. This Code of Laws is the oldest among those currently existing since it finds its origin a far far-off in the past. The translated code mentions the establishment of security for people’s property in Babylon and ensured justice prevailed for all. It states that the king ruled the people promoting their welfare and promoted law and justice.

For instance, the  eighth law in Hammurabi’s Code of Laws states that “if a man steals an ox or a sheep, ass or pig, or a boat-it it is from a god ( temple) or a palace, he shall restore thirtyfold; or if he receives (the same) in trust, that man shall e put to death as a thief.”  The criminal laws established in the Code of Laws were meant to restrain the people so that the strong would not be unfair to the weak such as ensuring justice to widows and orphans. The person bringing the charge needed first to understand what the law stated concerning the charges for some laws would turn out against the one bringing the charges and have him punished. Both the criminal and the complainant need to believe in the ability of the king who was then the judge to be just in deciding criminal cases.

The laws were also closely associated with temple worship since the temple is believed to pronounce judgments and playing an important role in correcting the wrongs that took place in the society. Hammurabi‘s ability to rule wisely and to defend the Code of Laws was based on a determination to please his god Marduk and therefore he believed to make all judgments concerning crime on behalf of the gods. He believed that the gods always favored the innocent to an extent of saving the life of a man falsely accused of sorcery from drowning or make him drown if he was guilty.

The Code of Laws was to be passed down to all the subsequent kings and therefore, they were to inherit the king’s monument containing the Code of Laws and preserve it. This is the same manner current leaders have to swear to preserve and implement what is declared in the constitution. The Code of Laws was not to be altered whatsoever. Just as the name states, criminal laws are meant to prevent wicked and evil acts behavior in society.  Generally, criminal law ensures that people have to uphold what is right in the eyes of the law. This finds basis in the Hammurabi’s Code of Laws which he believed were based on righteous judgments or righteousness, formulations, and statutes. It is because of fear of the consequences of going against that the laws were preserved and handed down to future leaders thus forming the basis for the contemporary laws such as Criminal Law in the Western Legal Tradition (Harper, 1999).

Earn 15% from every order!

Earn money today! Refer our service to your friends!

The Laws of the Twelve Tables

The laws of the Twelve Tables also formed a basis for Criminal Law. The laws form the earliest attempt to create a code of law by the Romans. The laws have a great similarity with those in the Hammurabi’s Code of Laws. Similarly, with regards to the evolution of Criminal Law, the laws in “The Laws of Twelve Tables” are quite similar to the laws forming the Western Legal Tradition. Some of the laws that can be regarded as having formed the basis for the development of Criminal Laws include those concerning judgments and thefts, lent property, rights of a father and those of a marriage, estates and guardianship, ownership and possession, crimes, real property, public law, religious law. All the laws under these sub-sections are all Criminal Laws in one way or another since failure to adhere to them would amount to a crime.

For instance, in Table II Law IV the law states that “Where anyone is committing a theft by night, and having been caught in the act is killed, he is legally killed”. This law justified an action taken against a criminal without necessarily following a court procedure, which is in line with some Criminal Laws in the Western Legal Tradition. The similarity in the description of the ancient Criminal Laws in both Hammurabi’s Code of Laws and The Laws of the Twelve Tables provide evidence that they were the basis for the evolution of the (Criminal Laws The Laws Of The Twelve Tables, n.d.).

The Story of Eloquent Peasant

The story of the Eloquent Peasant in ancient Egypt also supports the evolution of Criminal Laws. The desire of Dhutnakht, the son of the house of a high steward, Rensi, to steal the asses of the Eloquent Peasant becomes the first crime in the story. The Peasant wonders Dhutnakht would want to rob him of his donkey yet the young man’s father has the duty of restraining robbers in the entire land.  Dhutnakht takes a rod and beats him prompting the Peasant to make nine petitions concerning that case. Dhutnakht had committed several crimes as mentioned in the nine petitions which now required justice to be done to the Eloquent Peasant for both.

In the first petition, he reports stolen goods, the second, he asks the steward to do justice to him and return his stolen goods, the third, he petitions the steward to only punish the guilty and set the innocent. He warns the steward of doing otherwise. The fourth petition, he petitions that, a means of passing through the waters be created. Therefore, the Eloquent Peasant plays a great role in the writing of the first petitions which became the first Criminal Laws in Egypt during that remote past. It is seen that the petitions were recorded in a papyrus roll, sent to the Majesty of the King Nebkaure who declared that all the possessions of Dhutnakht be given to the Eloquent Peasant. Although the term petition may have a different meaning, it is, nevertheless, related in meaning to the term Criminal Law since it is about actions taken against committed offenses (GARDINER & LITT, n.d.).


The Evolution of the Criminal Laws evolved from in the remote past in different historical eras, ancient kingdoms, ways, time durations, and circumstances. The three backgrounds that are believed to have played a key role in the evolution of these laws include the Hammurabi’s Code of Laws in the Babylonian kingdom, The Laws of the Twelve Tables in the Romans, and in the story of the Eloquent Peasant who made a journey from France to Egypt. Hammurabi’s Code of Laws comprised of two hundred and eighty-two randomly listed laws inscribed in a piece of block which the king is said to have received from a god. The laws are to be handed down to all subsequent kings so that they later became the basis for Criminal Laws within the Western Legal Tradition. Those of the Romans are classified according to function they perform while the petitions are the first few laws invented and are written down on a papyrus roll. 

Related essays