The Presumptive State: Developing “Legal Voice” in Babylonia

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 11:30 AM
Miami Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Seth Richardson, The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago
“Mesopotamian law” normally evokes a first image of regulatory law codes such
as the one promulgated by Hammurabi.  One of the most enduring problems in
treating these texts is the seeming disconnect between procedural and common
law, vital and productive arenas of society and economy which developed in
independent trajectories.  Not only were law codes slow in developing relative to
other powers in the toolkits of kings, the past generation has seen a radical
revision of how we see these texts as constitutive rather than documentary of
royal power within a legal sphere.  This paper will address the implications of
that shift by employing a method of strict construction: what do Mesopotamian
codes tell us about a developing concept of sovereignty through a view of state
powers as they touch on market law, civil/family law, criminal process, and
territorial integrity?  This question cannot be answered, I will argue, without
reference to regional military-political competition.
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