Here, on display at the Louvre in Paris, is the Code of Hammurabi — a compilation of legal rulings dating back to about 1754 BC:
Other copies of parts of the code have been found in various places, but this diorite stele (in the shape of a human index finger) hosts the most-complete version of it. In 44 columns and 28 paragraphs, the Code lists 282 laws and their respective punishments, scaled as a function of the offender’s social standing and state of being (free or slave).
At the top of the stele (on the “fingernail”), the sun god Shumash (god of justice) is shown giving tokens of authority to Hammurabi, the sixth king of Babylonia. The code seems to have recorded some of Hammurabi’s more significant legal rulings, and so may have been originally intended as a monument glorifying his wisdom. But through generations of copying, it became a model of judicial reasoning — establishing the presumption of innocence, the ability for both sides in a dispute to present evidence, and other fundamental judicial principles.
The Code of Hammurabi is one of the oldest deciphered writings found to date, and was written in the Akkadian language in cuneiform script.