Ashoka’s Laws of Human Understanding, Thought, and Life

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Updated: Mar 31, 2023
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The advancement of human civilization around Mesopotamia and the Indus River Valley was impressive. Both civilizations in their time had risen to a particularly notable zenith of power. This being said, there are multiple important social and political comparisons to be made between Babylon and the Mauryan Empire, respectively, as both had reached very similar levels of civilization. In most cases, it is seen that the Babylonians led a much harsher, stricter system of law than their arguably more respectful Mauryan counterparts to the east in principles of leadership, punishment, gender equality, and the domestication of wildlife.

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Concerning leadership, both Hammurabi and King Ashoka were believed to have either been chosen by divine rule or to have been able to make contact with their respective gods. Hammurabi was said to have received the legal code used in Babylon from the god Shamash himself, and King Ashoka was referred to as “Beloved of the Gods.” They wrote the laws and made sure they were enforced. Both sets of these laws had unique ways of keeping people in check. While the laws of the Code of Hammurabi set up a system of harsh punishment with, sometimes, very little reasoning, the Ashoka laws show a society where an individual’s understanding, thoughts, and life are valued.

Punishment in The Mauryan Empire was rare. King Ashoka did not want to injure anyone and desired to remain impartial at most times. He would practice restraint “even where wrong has been done” but had the power to punish people who broke the law if necessary. Unlike Maurya, Punishment in Babylon was not a rarity. Small things like insults were punished without hesitation, and punishment was often determined by the social classes of the two parties involved. For example, if both parties were of the same class, what was done to one man would be done to another (which is where the famous “eye for an eye” saying comes from). But if a man of a higher class injured a man of a lower class, he would simply have to pay a fee.

Gender equality was nigh nonexistent in both cultures. Men generally held an extreme majority of the power in each society and were largely held to much lower standards (with fewer restrictions) than women. In Babylon, this inequality is demonstrated by the fact that women were proprietary, while in Maurya, they were simply viewed as a lesser class of human. Babylonian men would pay a “purchase price” to the house of their father-in-law in order to marry. Single women and wives were unable to own land and were often punished much more harshly than their male counterparts. But for the Mauryans, while women were still subordinate to men, they were to be treated with a set degree of respect. Women could own land and were to be treated the same as their husbands by their children. However, it is stated in the Edicts of King Ashoka that “women, in particular, perform many vulgar and worthless ceremonies” when compared to men.

When it came to keeping and domesticating wildlife, the Mauryan Empire viewed fauna as living beings who were just as deserving of life as humans. Under King Ashoka, animals were protected and valued to some degree. They were provided medical treatment and were not slaughtered or offered as a sacrifice, thus demonstrating a level of respect for non-human life very different from that of the Babylonians. In Babylon, however, animals were seen simply as tools and sources of nutrition. Often, they were used as payment or as sacrificial offerings with little to no remorse.

Although Animals did receive medical care in Babylon, it was only if the owner was willing to take a risk, had the money to do so, and valued that animal’s life enough to provide the necessary medical attention. If a veterinarian could help an animal, the owner would have to pay one-sixth of a shekel, but if the doctor killed the animal, the farmer would only get one-fourth of its value back.
Both the Babylonians and the Mauryans had progressed significantly in their time and had both similarities and differences in social and political standings. The principles of punishment, leadership, gender norms, and the keeping of animals in both societies showed the abundance of this contrast.

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Ashoka's Laws of Human Understanding, Thought, and Life. (2023, Mar 28). Retrieved from