Law in Ancient Egypt

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Rarely is there enough information about ancient cultures to satisfy contemporary interest. This is especially true of ancient Egypt and particularly of ancient Egyptian law. The civilization that left so many grand edifices dedicated to its gods and kings left little evidence of the laws those gods and king laid down. This dearth of evidence paired with the absence of a written code of law makes some scholars skeptical of speaking of Egyptian law as law in a proper sense (Théodoridès 291). But if one reviews what we do know about this aspect of ancient Egyptian society, the missing code fades away as a problem even if it does not evaporate completely. Most of what we do know comes from fragmentary legal documents and stories from tomb inscriptions. We have contracts for the exchange of goods and property as well as partial records of court hearings. We also have stories, some perhaps apocryphal, about the treatment of ordinary subjects of the king and the actions of the king himself. What we lack, unfortunately, is a written legal code for the ancient Egyptians of the Pharaonic Period. The Ptolemaic Dynasty, an Hellenic dynasty that ruled over Egypt in the last few centuries of the first millennium B.C., did have a written law of sorts, but Eyre describes this as more of handbook for judges (92). Before them, it is reported that the Persians under Darius commissioned the laws of Egypt to be written down (Théodoridès 319). Diodorus, a Greek historian writing in the first century B.C., says that there was a codex written before the Persian occupation of Egypt. Yet we have not found a single copy of the codex he alleges existed. Supposing that this codex did exist at some point in Pharaonic Egypt, there is som... ... middle of paper ... ... periods of history. The king often acted as a protector of his subjects, enacting reforms when abuses came to light. For all the skepticism of scholars regarding treatment of ancient Egyptian as law proper, a layperson of the twenty-first century A.D. would find the Egyptian justice system during its best period very familiar. Works Cited Erman, Adolf. Life in Ancient Egypt. Trans. H.M. Tirard. New York: Dover, 1971. Eyre, C.J. "Crime and Adultery in Ancient Egypt." Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. Vol. 70. (1984): 92-105. Shupak, Nili. "A New Source for the Study of the Judiciary and Law of Ancient Egypt: "The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant"." Journal of Near Eastern Studies. Vol. 51.No. 1 (1992): 1-18. Théodoridès, Aristide. "The Concept of Law in Ancient Egypt." The Legacy of Ancient Egypt. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University, 1971. 291-322.
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