The Ancient Historian

Ancient history, mountaineering, cycling and other outside adventures

Archive for the category “Ancient Law”

Land and power in the ancient world

The 3d meeting of the Austrian Academy of Sciences sponsored project at the University of Vienna, “Imperium et Officium” will take place in a couple of weeks. I’ve been lucky enough to be an external partner of this project and have attended the launching meeting a few years ago as well as the meeting last year on Bureaucracy and law. My Austrian colleagues are superb hosts and this promises to be an outstanding academic meeting. This year the theme is “Land and Power,” a topic close to my heart, and it gives me an opportunity to revisit an important topic and to see many old friends. It’s a great program of papers:

Programme (provisional)

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

9–9.30 a.m. Welcome address by Jursa, Michael and Palme, Bernhard (Vienna)

Section 1: Elite Formation

Chair: Jursa, Michael

9.30–10 a.m. Garfinkle, Steven J. (Washington): Landownership and Office-Holding: Pathways to Privilege and Authority under the Third Dynasty of Ur

10–10.30 a.m. Kaiser, Anna (Vienna): Flavius Athanasius, dux et Augustalis Thebaidis

10.30–11 a.m. coffee break

11–11.30 a.m. Scheuble-Reiter, Sandra (Chemnitz): Military Service and the Allotment of Land in Ptolemaic Egypt

11.30–12 a.m. Paulus, Susanne (Münster): The System of Landownership in the Middle Babylonian Time (1500–1000 BC)

12 a.m.–2 p.m. lunch break

Section 2: Feudalisms

Chair: Baker, Heather

2–2.30 p.m. Sarris, Peter (Cambridge): Land and Power in Byzantium c. 700–1000

2.30–3 p.m. Moreno García, Juan Carlos (Paris): Land, Elites and Officialdom in Pharaonic Egypt: Land Tenure Strategies in Elite Building and State Reproduction

3–3.30 p.m. Mazza, Roberta (Manchester): Land and Power in Late Antiquity: The Egyptian Point of View

3.30–4 p.m. coffee break

4–4.30 p.m. Reculeau, Hervé (Paris): Patrimonial and Official Land-Tenure in 2nd Millennium Upper Mesopotamia

4.30–5 p.m. Tost, Sven (Vienna): The riparii domorum gloriosarum: Police Power and Large-Scale Landholding in Late Antique Egypt

5–5.30 p.m. Selz, Gebhard (Vienna): Land, Property and Rights of Disposal: A Glimpse at Mesopotamian Sources of the 3rd Millennium

Keynote address:

6.30–8 p.m. Morony, Michael (Los Angeles): Issues and Opportunities in the Study of Land and Power

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Section 3: Centre and Periphery I

Chair: Tost, Sven

9.30–10 a.m. Waerzeggers, Caroline (Leiden): The Persian State in Babylonia: Integration and Control of Office-Holding Élites

10–10.30 a.m. Malczycki, W. Matt (Auburn): Caliphal Policy and the Baladiyyūn of Ifriqiya 757–800 CE

10.30–11 a.m. coffee break

11–11.30 a.m. Pirngruber, Reinhard (Vienna): Land and Power in Late Achaemenid Babylonia

11.30–12 a.m. Palme, Bernhard (Vienna): From City Council to Senate: Landlords from Late Antique Egypt Becoming Imperial Aristocrats

12 a.m.–2 p.m. lunch break

Section 4: Control and Taxation of the Country and its People

Chair: Procházka, Stephan

2–2.30 p.m. Varisco, Daniel Martin (Hempstead): Why the Sultan is Rich: A Case Study of Bureaucracy in Rasulid Yemen (13th–14th centuries)

2.30–3 p.m. Kehoe, Dennis (New Orleans): Urbanization, Land, and Political Control in the Roman Empire

3–3.30 p.m. Frantz-Murphy, Gladys (Denver): Environment and History in the Early Islamic Middle East

3.30–4 p.m. coffee break

4–4.30 p.m. Manning, Joseph (New Haven): Patrimonial Power, State Power, and Land in Greco-Roman Egypt

4.30–5 p.m. Heidemann, Stefan (Hamburg): The Seljuq Form of Government in Northern Syria and Northern Mesopotamia

Friday, 22 February 2013

Section 5: Centre and Periphery II

Chair: Palme, Bernhard

9.30–10 a.m. Mathisen, Ralph (Urbana): The Settlement of Barbarians in the Late Roman World: Barbarians Who Got Something

10–10.30 a.m. Baker, Heather (Vienna): Land and Power in the Neo-Assyrian Empire

10.30–11 a.m. coffee break

11–11.30 a.m. Bsees, Ursula (Vienna): The Partition of Land and Power at the Periphery: Some Notes on the Agreements between St Catherine’s Monastery and Surrounding Bedouin


11.30 a.m.–13.00 p.m. Résumé by Keenan, James (Chicago) and general discussion


Exciting new multi-year international project on political power and bureaucracy

Scholars in Vienna are creating a multi-year international, cooperative project on political power and ancient bureaucracy focused on Papyrology and later periods of ancient Egyptian history (i..e post-Ptolemaic). It’s called the Comparative Studies in Ancient Bureaucracy and Officialdom project and is part of the Austrian National Research Network (NRN).

Sub-projects and their directors are:

Coordination Project (M. Jursa)
01…Royal Institutional Households in 1st Millennium BC Mesopotamia (H. Baker)
02…Official Epistolography in Babylonia in the 1st Millennium BC (M. Jursa)
03…The Framework of Imperial Power in Late Antique Egypt (284-641 AD) (B. Palme)
04…Official Epistolography in Islamic Egypt (642-969 AD) (S. Proházka)
05…The Interaction of Roman Rule with Traditional Hellenistic Institutions in Asia Minor (H. Taeuber)
06…Police Authorities in Late Antique Egypt (S. Tost)

You can read more about it on their website, which is just being filled up now. Looks like  a really interesting project.  The home of the project, Vienna, is not too far from some mountains. Mmmmmm. More about the project as it develops.

Legal History conference planned at UCIrvine

The following graduate student conference is recently announced. Looks interesting, and I think is another indication that legal history will (or is about to) blossom in the US.

The Group for the Study of Early Cultures at the University of California, Irvine announces its Second Annual Graduate Student Conference:

Friday & Saturday, November 13-14, 2009, at UC Irvine
With a key-note address by Laurie Shannon, Associate Professor of English and the Wender Lewis Teaching and Research Professor, Northwestern University

“…fictions are to law what fraud is to trade.” –Jeremy Bentham

This conference will explore the intersection between the practice of law and other forms of extra-legal thought (including literary, theological, artistic or other cultural forces) and the figural extension of both to cultural expression. In the broadest sense, “legal fiction” refers to any work of literature or art that takes law or the practice of law as its central thematic focus.  We also invite papers dealing with “legal fictions” in any pre-modern period in the technical sense – that is, any fictional assumption invoked in law to solve procedural difficulties (e.g. corporate personhood).

We invite all interested graduate students from any university in any discipline to submit a one-page abstract on any topic dealing with pre-modern legal fictions. Abstracts should be 300 words or less and should be submitted by August 15, 2209.

Suggested themes or topics:

•    Trial scenes or literary representations of legal concepts and/or procedures in pre-modern poetry, drama, or prose.
•     Instances in early cultures of the “legal fiction” which, as 19th century historian Henry Maine writes, “conceals or affects to conceal, the fact that a rule of law has undergone alteration, its letter remaining unchanged” (Ancient Law, Ch, II).
•    The figure of the lawyer or advocate in pre-modern literature and/or other media.
•    The use and/or development of legal fictions in pre-modern societies.
•    Development of capital as a legal fiction (i.e. early examples or origins of commodity fetishism, etc.).
•    Modern or contemporary reception of pre-modern legal fictions.
•    The origin and development of “the state of nature” as a fiction or fantasy that structures the political and legal imagination before and through the Enlightenment.
•    The effect of religious law on images in literature and iconography.

Please e-mail submissions or questions for further details to one of the following conference organizers:

Robin Stewart, English –
C.J. Gordon, Comparative Literature –
Alexander Perkins, Classics –

Accepted participants will be notified by September 15, 2009. Accommodations with UCI graduate students can be arranged to save participants the cost of hotels, but each participant must pay the cost of travel to and from the conference.

The Group for the Study of Early Cultures focuses mainly on fields that investigate pre-modern societies, including but not limited to: Classics, Late Antiquity, Medieval Studies, Renaissance Studies, 18th Century Studies, East Asian Studies, Latin American Studies, and Islamic Studies.  We are also interested in a wide range of disciplinary approaches to Early Cultures, including literary studies, history, art history, drama, visual studies, sociology, culture studies, anthropology, political science, philosophy, and religious studies. For more information about our organization, please visit our website:

A demotic marriage contract, 97 BC, (Gebelein) Upper Egypt

The following is a legal document written at the beginning of the first century BC, from a military community established in the southern Egyptian Nile valley in the Ptolemaic period. It is the kind of primary documentary material that I am looking at with some of my students this term. We are examining such material from several Mediterranean cultures formthe point of view of how such texts functioned within society as well as some of the technical points of ancient legal documents.   Notice the upper and lower margins here, to protect the preservation of the writing, the scribe would leave wide margins on all four sides typically, so when the text was rolled up and sealed, wear and tear would not effect the contents. Can you spot the beginning of the text? The text is now part of the Schoyen collection (the Adler papyri).ms161

The study of ancient law and ancient legal texts

I thought I would start off my blog over Yale’s Spring break (at some point I really will take a  “break”) by posting a little bit about a new course I am teaching here, and hope to develop over the next few years. It is an undergraduate course on ancient law, taken mainly, but not exclusively, by Junior History majors. It’s designed to be small and intimate, and intended to introduce History students to a body of academic literature in a particualr field. It is not an easy course to teach (or to take I dare say) but the students are doing really well with the material, and in fact the final project, the creation of a wiki on ancient law, and supported by a blog where they from time to time post what they are doing, how they are gathering material and so on, is a really fun approach to learning. I am also learning as we go.

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