Images of the Ancient World Essay

                                      The Code of Hamurabi and the Narmer Palette

            People come into a closer understanding about history and the ancient world through literature, images, paintings and sculpture. These arts illustrates culture, set of belief patterns and religions. In knowing and experiencing the ancient arts, primitive individuals communicate  with contemporary world as they introduce themselves through art. Egypt and Babylon are known for their rich culture and history. The Code of Hamurabi in Babylon for example which was “found in the early 20th century” is known in modern times as the ancient law giver (Horne n.y., p.7). Hamurabi’s Code is “set of laws written on a stone tablet enacted by a Babylonian king during 1760 B.C.” (Horne n.y., p.7) One example of the code survives today. Many artists like painters and architects incorporate the idea of Hamurabi’s code in their masterpieces.  The Narmer Palette on the other hand is an important Egyptian “archeological find containing one of the earliest hieroglyphic inscriptions ever find” in history (Hoffman 1980, p.129). It is assumed that this masterpiece illustrates the “unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the King Narmer” (Hoffman 1980, p.129). Apparently, expression through art in ancient world provided some certainty of the perpetuations in life– as it reinforced the memory of royal deeds, tyranny, way of leadership, domination and etc.

            Hamurabi in the ancient Babylon systematically unified the entire region to create an empire. Apparently the Hamurabi’s code is a tangible record of laws in “Akkadian language and cuneifrom writing– using all kinds of ancient symbols derived from Sumerian language” (Horne n.y., p.7). It is the earliest known example of a ruler proclaiming publictly an entire body of rules so that all men in his domain will read it and know what was required of them. The Hamurabi’s code is primarily “carved in a black stone monument” generally taller that it is wide (Horne n.y., p.7). It is “almost eight feet high”, clearly intended for public view (Horne n.y., p.7).  These set of laws naturally have set of punishments when people choose to disobey. There is a harsh system of punishment that is proportion to the concept of “an eye for an eye” and “a tooth for a tooth” in the Old Testament. The Hamurabi’s text is considered just like the predecessor of Islam and Judaism legal systems. Meanwhile, the Hamurabi’s Code contains two parts; the Code’s Preamble and the Articles of the Code. In the Code’s Preamble, the Hamurabi establishes his power and authority and states the purpose of the code. Initially, the Hamurabi affirms the power of the gods, establishes firm justice and promotes general welfare. Later on, the Hamurabi in the preamble catalogs his great achievements as king therefore justifying his worthiness to be the gods’ prophet in creating the set of laws. The Articles of the Code on the other hand contains the enumerated laws and the respective punishments if disobeyed. Apparently, the code contains the legal thinking, moral standards and values of the hamurabi’s government.

            The Narmer Palette “is a flat plate of schist of about 64 centimeters in height” (Hoffman 1980, p.129).  It is a “shield-shaped slab of gray schist about 25 inches long in the shape of a cosmetic palette, a type of object usually made by the Egyptians” (Hoffman 1980, p.129). It is not an ordinary palette for everyday use but instead this is a unique palette that contains narration about a ceremony.  Moreover what makes this palette extraordinary is that it contains elaborate carves on both sides with words and images depicting a story and this is larger than most palettes.

            Many Egyptologists interpret the scene as the conquest of Lower Egypt by Narmer. On one       side the king is depicted with the White crown of Upper (southern) Egypt and the other side      depicts the king wearing the Red Crown of Lower (northern) Egypt (Hoffman 1980,p.129).

The king on both sides is no other than Narmer itself thus giving the clear message that he would then be the first king to reign over both lands. It therefore depicts the ever growing power of the king which makes him a distant figure. The unification of Egypt however in this masterpiece is not only the work of one single person– it is a process of time, gods’s intervention, evolution and alliances. The king on the palette preserves unity and destroys enemies.

            Both masterpieces illustrates a way of life, recording historical and important events. They had established a written form of communication from cuneiform and hieroglyphics, combination of figures and ideograms and the incorporation of phonetic signs and symbols. Clearly, even ancient people seek ways to express their artistry and their way of life no matter hard it is. During their time, it is harder to create because of their limited knowledge and resources. But they still did. In both masterpieces, it illustrates the king and royalty as people committed to their duty and people who believes in rules and patterns. They also believe that they are merely annointed one, meaning holding onto the idea that there are gods’ greater than them.


Horne, C. “The Code of Hamurabi”. Chicago, USA. Forgotten Books

Hoffman, M. A. (1980) “Egypt before the pharaohs: the prehistoric foundations of Egyptian

 civilization” Great Britain. Taylor & Francis