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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

CHAPTER 8
LAW
COMPARED with other ancient civilizations the Egyptian era
prior to the time of Alexander the Great has yielded very little
evidence of its legal institutions. In particular, to this day,
hardly any statutes have been traced. We know that there were
statutes in very early times, but we do not know what they con-
tained. We must therefore try to deduce the nature of the
law from the documents of that era. But only a few legal docu-
ments from the Old Kingdom have been preserved in their original
form on papyrus. The oldest known at present is a judgement
from the period of the Sixth Dynasty (2420-2294).1 This means
that the evidence for the law of Egypt begins several centuries
later than that of the land of Sumer. That is, however, a mere
accident. Any new excavations may change the picture in
favour of Egypt, for we know that as early as the time of the
Third Dynasty (2815-2690) certain formal documents were
required for important legal transactions. From that time
onwards mention of legal transactions is made in inscriptions
in tombs and on stelae. Thus, together with Sumerian law,
Egyptian law is the oldest legal system about which we have
any information.
Further, from the moment that we can trace the system at
all we find it already in an advanced and civilized state, never
in a primitive one. It would be a great mistake if, in a survey
of the legal history of the world, one were to treat Egyptian law
as being on a low level of development, merely because it is very
old. In its early stages, as far as we can know them, it can claim
full equality with ancient Greek law or with much early medieval
law. The development from a primitive to a civilized state of
1 Papyrus Berlin 9010.