Old Assyrian Legal Practices: Law and Dispute in the Ancient Near East.

Author:De Ridder, J.J.
Position::Book review
 
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Old Assyrian Legal Practices: Law and Dispute in the Ancient Near East. By THOMAS KLITGAARD HERTEL. PIHANS, vol. 123. Leiden: NEDERLANDS INSTITUUT VOOR HET NABIJE OOSTEN, 2013. Pp. xlii + 479. [euro]84.80 (paper).

The Old Assyrian text corpus is characterized by two genres that each comprise roughly 40% of the material--letters and legal documents. Earlier studies have focused mostly on letters, because these often vividly inform us about social and economic relations prevailing in the Assyrian trade networks stretching from the city of Assur to Anatolia. This does not mean that the legal texts have previously been totally neglected. Until now, the most important study has remained that of Eisser and Lewy, "Die altassyrischen Rechtsurkunden vom Kultepe," MVAeG 33/35 (1930/5) (abbreviated EL). This has changed with the publication of the book under review, a revised version of the author's dissertation, which discusses law and legal processes during the Old Assyrian period. In relation to this primary theme, the author also discusses the government of Assyrian society, which had previously been covered in M. T. Larsen's The Old Assyrian Trade and Its Colonies (Copenhagen, 1976).

The Old Assyrian legal framework was established by the government and its ruler, a fact conceived by Erisum I as divine order imposed as a duty on the monarch (see RIMA 1 A.0.33.1). Within this legal framework, law and order appear to have been somewhat open to interpretation by those involved. A recurring theme in Hertel's study is the use of negotiation in order to solve disputes, rather than going to court. This opinion had already been expressed in Hertel's review of A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, ed. R. Westbrook (Leiden: Brill, 2003), BiOr 62 (2005): 523-24. Hertel concludes this study by comparing his results with Westbrook's views on law in the ancient Near East. Hertel argues in favor of a system in which people were expected to solve differences among themselves. He extends this idea to the Assyrian colonies of Anatolia, where the Assyrians were allowed to settle differences among themselves rather than be subject to the local legal system. Therefore, this study does not discuss the local Anatolian legal system. The little information that we have about this subject is often transmitted through discussion of conflicts between Anatolian and Assyrian parties; cf. M. T. Larsen's, "Going to the River," in FS Biggs, ed. M. T Roth et al. (Chicago...

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