8 surprising facts about ancient Egyptian law

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8 surprising facts about ancient Egyptian law

Law is one of the most important concepts in human life. Of course, this concept has been a very important part of human life for thousands of years. However, ancient historical societies did not view the law in the same way as modern humans, so many practices related to the law were carried out in a very different way than they are now. The rules of law were codified in civilizations such as Babylon and Sumer. Therefore, it can be applied more uniformly and systemically. Putting these rules in writing also allows today’s historians to gain a comprehensive knowledge of understanding the law in the relevant civilizations. However, there were also ancient civilizations in which the rules of law and broader understanding of law were not recorded, as in the case of ancient Egyptian law, but were applied according to religious beliefs and traditions.

First of all, the ancient Egyptian law was based on the principles of Maat. In other words, the principles of Maat, the ancient Egyptian goddess of truth and justice, such as truth, balance, order and justice, were the core of ancient Egyptian law. When it comes to law, the only thing that prevailed in ancient Egypt was the principles of Maat. So much so that the priests of Ma’at were also judges. Even the absolute rulers of Egypt, the pharaohs, were rulers who had to enforce, maintain and protect the laws of Maat. Here are 8 surprising facts about ancient Egyptian law…

1. Under ancient Egyptian law, everyone was guilty until proven innocent

Depiction of the goddess Maat

The principles of Maat, which formed the basis of ancient Egyptian law, were intended to protect and maintain social order, and considered social order more important than anything else. Crimes aimed at disturbing order were severely punished. Because of this understanding of law, which aims to maintain order no matter what, in ancient Egypt, when a person was accused of any crime, he was considered guilty until proven innocent.

2. Witnesses were among the most important elements of the ancient Egyptian court

Most of the cases were decided on the basis of witness testimonies. Witnesses therefore had a very important role in the legal system of ancient Egypt. Accordingly, perjury or perjury is considered a capital offense, and witnesses who are found to be lying are punished severely.

3. Ancient Egypt had a hierarchical judicial structure

Cases were adjudicated within this hierarchical judicial system. For example, relatively minor cases were heard and decided by a board called “Siro” that operated in rural areas.

Cases involving larger criminal elements, such as property disputes, were settled by elders, called kinbits, who gathered in the capital of each district. Cases that could not be resolved in the Council of Ciro were also sent to the Council of Kinnebet. Finally, the imperial court, called Djadjat, was charged with adjudicating cases involving the most serious crimes and criminals. It is also the highest court in which cases that could not be adjudicated in the previous two courts can be adjudicated.

4. The pharaohs could make laws and appoint officials to implement and protect the principles of Maat

Ancient Egyptian law

The absolute rulers of ancient Egypt had unlimited power to uphold the principles of Maat. They can make new laws and appoint new officials whenever they want. However, just as it is not possible for a law to be unconstitutional today, so the legal actions of the pharaohs could not contradict the principles of Maat.

5. Scribes were key to the courts of ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian law

Because informing the people about the functioning of the courts was considered primarily the duties of clerks. In addition, the preparation of wills and various contracts was among the duties of the scribes. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it was also the responsibility of the scribes to record the cases of ancient Egypt.

6. Men and women are equal before the ancient Egyptian law

Ancient Egyptian law

Furthermore, this situation was not strange given the law and justice system of ancient times. However, ancient Egyptian law treated men and women equally. Women, like men, have the right to own and dispose of property, bequeath and even divorce in court.

The structure of ancient Egyptian law, which treated men and women equally, changed after the Battle of Actium, which took place in 31 BC, made Egypt a province of the Roman Empire.

7. Priests were at the heart of the legal system

Ancient Egyptian law
Maat statuette

Because in ancient Egypt, it was believed that the gods lived in the temples. The priests who were in the service of the gods and also lived in the temples were believed to be able to communicate with the gods. Moreover, the basis for understanding the law was already religious beliefs.

Because of all this, priests were at the center of ancient Egyptian law and courts. Priests served as judges in the courts and followed the decisions or directions of the statues of God in cases.

8. Tomb robbing was not considered a crime in ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian law

Therefore, it was very popular. Accordingly, many pyramids were designed and built with anti-robbery plans to take their own precautions against grave robbers.

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