Skip to Main Content

Middle East, North Africa & Turkey : legal resources: Ancient Egyptian law

Subjects: Law: Foreign Law

The mysteries of ancient Egyptian law

The laws of Ancient Egyptian societies are much less well-documented than those of ancient civilisations in other regions.  No recognised law code has survived to the present day (although one may have existed). 

Sources for Egyptian law are mainly other kinds of administrative documents, e.g. contracts or records of economic transactions.  Law operated as a component of the main ancient Egyptian administrative system; there was no specific judicial infrastructure and the king held ultimate judicial power.

Fragments of wills have been found dating back to about 1797 BC.

Bodleian Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library

The Law Bod's collection Ancient Egypt has a small and not particularly recent selection of volumes.  While in the Law Bod it would be worthwhile browsing the section with shelf mark beginging Ancient General in case comparative works are more recent

The following texts which deal exclusively with Ancient Egyptian law are available in the Bodleian Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library.

Aristide Theodorides

Theodorides stands out as a scholar who has given ancient Egyptian law a particular focus.  See his chapter on law in J.D. Harris's The Legacy of Egypt which constitutes his main English work (available from the Bodleian Bookstack and other libraries including the Bodleian Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library).

A summary of Theodorides's key ideas and the evidence he uses is available on the UCL Egypt website.

Interested in this civilisation?