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Note: Roman law has a separate guide, please click on link below.
Welcome to the Bodleian Law Library's guide to ancient law resources.
The guide covers the laws of ancient civilistaions situated in the geographical area around the eastern Mediterranean- the ancient Near Eastern, Egyptian, Greek, Jewish & Islamic societies which flourished during the first four millenniums BCE and were responsible for many of the very earliest recorded laws and legal systems. See separate guides for Roman law and Anglo-American legal history.
The development of writing from the 3rd millennium BCE and the development of law and administration go hand in hand. Writing systems allowed ancient laws to be officially collated, recorded and enforced in a way that just wasn't possible with fluctuating oral traditions. Surviving written records, including the often monumental inscriptions yielded by archaeological sites, provide primary evidence for the nature of ancient law. Of course only records which have survived the few thousand years since their creation are available to us, and so primary sources can be restricted or misguiding in what they tell us.
Commentaries and investigations tackle ancient law from a range of perspectives: from the characteristics and functioning of particular legal systems, to sociological/anthropological studies of ancient law in the context of the evolution of law and complex civilisations. Useful sources often come from within disciplines such as archaeology, anthropology and ancient history, as well as law itself.