This seminar will introduce students to the very beginnings of Western legal history. Through a comparative examination of the legal systems and practices of ancient Mesopotamia (including Hammurabi's Babylon, c. 1700 B.C.), ancient Egypt, ancient Israel, ancient Anatolia (the Hittite Empire, c. 1500 B.C.), ancient Greece and ancient Rome, we will investigate the historical origins of "law" as an idea. We will see how each of these societies created law in the image of its own beliefs and needs. We will look at what differentiated the resulting legal systems, and what united them. We will examine not merely the ancient "law in the books" (the formal written codes that have received so much historical and philological attention over the years) but also the ancient "law in action" (the performances, rituals and ceremonies that created legal rights and duties in all these proto-literate societies). We will look at some of the earliest surviving trial records. Throughout the seminar, emphasis will be placed on developing a broad interdisciplinary perspective on the ancient legal cultures examined; readings will be drawn not only from the fields of law and history, but also from religion, anthropology, archaeology, literature and communication studies.
Evaluation will be based on a paper and a class presentation. Enrollment limited to 12 students.