Gilgamesh & Hammurabi’s Code

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PART I: World History Themes Before Columbus, Weeks 2


Principle Sources of State Power, Influence and Legitimacy in the Ancient World


Please answer thoroughly in bullet-point form. Make sure to refer to relevant quotes from the texts (with their page numbers in brackets) that support your arguments.



  1. Epic of Gilgamesh & Hammurabi’s Code


  1. What is Gilgamesh’s authority based on?

How does Enkidu become civilized? What does this tell us about how Mesopotamia defined “civilization”?


  1. What areas of life do Hammurabi’s laws regulate? Why are these laws necessary?

How does Hammurabi justify his laws and his rule?



  1. Socrates/Plato



  1. What, according to Plato, what is the role of the philosopher in society?


  1. What kind of state is the ideal state?


  1. Thucydides


  1. How do the Athenians justify their conquest of Melos? How do they reconcile their imperial expansion to their practice of democracy at home?






  1. How is the ancient world similar to our own?
  2. How is it different?
  3. Do the forms of state power and legitimacy articulated in these readings remind you of any contemporary political events/discourses/systems?




Engagement Exercise:


Go over the course syllabus. Write 1-3 sentences about which parts of the course you are most interested to confront and why. How exactly do you feel these readings will contribute to your own scholarship/ professional / personal interests? The more thoughtful and specific you are here, the better, as this helps me determine when it would be great to have you lead class discussions. It also can serve as a benchmark for you look back on at the end of the semester to see if you followed through on your stated goals.




  • Gilgamesh’s authority is largely referent authority by virtue of his wisdom, physical disposition, and the mystical appearance he possessed. These coupled with the fact that he actively participated in the activities that benefitted the society gifted him the following of the people of Uruk.
  • Enkidu becomes civilized from the encounter he has with a prostitute, Shamhat. This ‘civilization’ is achieved by taming Enkidu through Shamhat’s sexual advances (Pg. 67). He is then able to be more embracive of other humans and appreciative of the value of life. Therefore, Mesopotamians considered civilization an integral component of sociability and peaceful co-existence.
  • Hammurabi’s law regulated issues related to: property, irrigation, loans and interests, trade, debt slavery, the family and marriage, adoption, wages, building, personal injury to mention but a few. These laws were necessary to ensure a peaceful co-existence amongst the people by laying down explicit rules and resultant punishment of their non-compliance. Hammurabi justified these laws by crediting them to his gods, therefore instilling fear on the need to abide by them as they were not merely his own thoughts.



  • According to Plato, philosophers are educated people who are tasked with enlightening other men in the society. It is only through such enlightenment by philosophers will states be ruled by the most intelligent and able leaders who will guide the nation in the best forward (Pg. 205).


  • Plato describes the ideal state as that which exalts justice above every other thing. Because justice is a component of knowledge and philosophers are the bearers of this knowledge, it is imperative that countries are governed by philosophers who will ensure justice (Pg. 206).
  • The justification of the Athenians’ conquest of the Melos was based on their power and military strength. They asserted that the standard of justice was measured by the power of one group relative to another and the ability of the powerful group to compel the weaker one to bend to its desires. By virtue of being more powerful, the Athenians felt justified to conquer the Melos who they believed had no bargaining power or mileage over them (Pg. 402). They reconciled this imperial expansion by increasing participation, making alliances and assemblies that would try make it an integrated force.

Overview Questions

The similarity existent between the ancient world and the current governm