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Penal Clauses in Contracts from Late Bronze Age Syria

Pages 25 - 30



1 *I would like to thank Dr Birgit Christiansen for her kind invitation to the Munich conference.

2 Following abbreviations are used in the paper: JEN = E. Chiera, E. Lacheman (eds.), Joint Expedition at Nuzi. 5 Vols., Paris 1927ff; ASJ 12 = A. Tsukimoto, Akkadian Tablets in the Hirayama Collection (I), Acta Sumerologica 12, 1990, (177–227); RE = G. Beckman, Texts from the Vicinity of Emar in the Collection of Jonathan Rosen, Padova 1996; TBR = D. Arnaud, Textes syriens de l'âge du Bronze récent, Aula Orientalis Supplementa 1, Barcelona 1991.

3 See G. Cornu, Vocabulaire juridique, Paris 2003, 694 and 712. This distinction originates from Roman law, where it was expressed in the famous maxim by Ulpianus: “Publicum ius est quod ad statum Rei Romanae spectat, privatum quod ad singulorum utilitatem” – “Public law is concerned with the Roman state, while private law is concerned with the interests of individuals”. See Ulpianus, D. 1, 1, 1, 2.

4 In this paper, terms “civil” and “penal” are used in the way they function in continental legal systems. In common law, the main divide is between civil and criminal law, i.e. between the “law of civil or private rights as opposed to criminal law (…)”, that is to say the body of law encompassing substantive criminal law (defining offenses against community), criminal procedure and special problems in the administration and enforcement of criminal justice. See entries “civil law” and “criminal law” in: Black's Law Dictionary, 9th edition, St. Paul 2009, 280 and 431.

5 See entry “civil law” in: Black's Law Dictionary, 280.

6 As it was the case in Babylonia in the Old Babylonian times. See C. Simonetti, La compravendita di beni immobili in età antico-babilonese, Napoli 2006, 152–161.

7 As pointed out by Charpin, Eshnunna, traditionally (and erroneously) enumerated together with peripheral cities, is in fact located in the core of the land of Akkad. See D. Charpin, Amendes et châtiments prévus dans les contrats paléo-babyloniens, in: J.-M. Durand / Th. Römer / J.-P. Mahé (eds.), La faute et sa punition dans les sociétés orientales, Leuven / Paris / Walpole 2012, (1–22), 18.

8 As for instance in Mari and Terqa: “The claimant who claims” (baqir ibbaqaru). For an analysis of those clauses in the Old Babylonian period, see Charpin, Amendes et châtiments, passim. For Terqa, see also A. Podany, The Land of Hana, Bethesda 2002, esp. 155–171.

9 As in Kanesh. See B. Kienast, Das altassyrische Kaufvertragsrecht, Stuttgart 1984, 57.

10 As in Anatolian contracts from Kanesh. See Kienast, Kaufvertragsrecht, texts nos 7, 16, 31.

11 As in the Old Babylonian transactions. For instance in Old Babylonian Alalakh, the fine varied from 100 to 10 000 shekel, whereas an average worker's salary was one shekel per month); see Kienast, Die altbabylonischen Kaufurkunden aus Alalah, Welt des Orients 11, 1980, 35–63.

12 So-called ironic penalties, such as having a stake thrust in one's mouth or the tongue cut off as penalty for unjustified claims. See Charpin, Amendes, 14.

13 As a result of what would be called today “action for restitution”, when it turned out that the seller was not the owner of the object sold.

14 See B. Kienast, Kaufvertragsrecht, 70.

15 Situated in the south-western part of the modern province of Kirkuk in Irak.

16 In slave sales from Kassite Babylonia, corporal punishments are often foreseen for the parties and family members contesting the transaction; in the so far unique real estate sale, such punishment was to be imposed on the parties, their families and anybody else raising claims. See S. Paulus, Ein Beitrag zum mittelbabylonischen Immobiliarkauf, Altorientalische Forschungen 35, 2008, (318–322), 319–320; eadem, Blutige Vertragsstrafen in mittelbabylonischen Kaufurkunden, Zeitschrift für Altorientalische und Biblische Rechtsgeschichte 15, 2009, (15–30).

17 Podany, The Land of Hana, 166.

18 As in the text NCBT 1933, published in E. Lacheman, D. I. Owen, Texts from Arrapha and from Nuzi in the Yale Babylonian Collection, in: M. A. Morrison, D. I. Owen (eds.), Studies in the Civilization and Culture of Nuzi and the Hurrians in Honour of E. R. Lacheman, Bethesda 1987, (377–406), 394–396, nr 15. See also P. Koschaker, Neue keilschriftliche Rechtsurkunden aus der El-Amarna Zeit, Leipzig 1928, 31 and fn. 2.

19 See W. F. Leemans, Le droit d'Emar, une ville sur le moyen-Euphrate, au XIIIe siècle av. J.-Chr., Oosters Genootschap in Nederland 19, Leiden 1992, 12.

20 See A. Skaist, A Unique Closing Formula in the Contracts from Ugarit, in: Society and Economy in the Eastern Mediterranean (c. 1500–100 B. C.), M. Helzer, E. Lipiński (eds.), Leuven 1988 (151–159), 155; B. Kienast, Kauf. E. In Alalakh und Ugarit, in: D. O. Edzard (ed.), Reallexikon der Assyriologie 5, 1980 (530–541), 536.

21 This clause is characteristic only of the so-called Syrian texts from Emar. On the two scribal styles see e.g. C. Wilcke, AH, die Brüder von Emar. Untersuchungen zur Schreibtradition am Euphratknie, Aula Orientalis 10, 1992, 115–150; S. Démare-Lafont, Éléments pour une diplomatique juridiques des textes d'Emar, in: A. Lemaire, S. Démare-Lafont (eds.), Trois millénaires de formules juridiques dans le monde ouest-sémitique, Genève 2010, 43–85. For a detailed analysis of the Emarite sale contracts, and a list of attestations of the penal clause, see L. FijaŁkowska, Le droit de la vente à Emar, Philippika 64, Wiesbaden 2014, esp. 126–141 and 237–243.

22 In several transactions between private persons, the payment is due to the “brothers” a rather mysterious entity, whose institutional character is problematic; they could be simply the richest and most influential real estate owners in the city. See S. Démare-Lafont, Les Frères en Syrie à l'époque du Bronze récent, in: G. Wilhelm (ed.), Organization, Representation, and Symbols of Power in the Ancient Near East, Proceedings of the 54th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Winona Lake 2012, 129–142.

23 See e.g. Leemans, Le droit d'Emar, 12–13; idem, Aperçu sur les textes juridiques d'Emar, JESHO 31, 1988 (207–242), 218–219. In both articles the amount of the fine is called “illusoire”; C. Zaccagnini, TÉš.BI=mithāru/mithāriš at Emar and Elsewhere, Orientalia 65, 1996 (89–110), 89 ((…) the extremely high and standardized penalty simply functions as a strong deterrent against any third party's claims”); F. di Filippo, Gli atti di compravendita di Emar, in: M. Liverani, C. Mora (eds), I diritti del mondo cuneiforme (Mesopotamia e regioni adiacenti, ca. 2500–500 a.C.), Pavia 2008 (419–456), 440 (“il carattere deterrente delle “clausole conclusive” è deducibile perfino dall'asserto della communità e delle sue instituzioni. Per quanto il ricorso a queste formule è una constante, l'evidenza testuale non ha lasciato alcuna traccia di un loro applicazione (…). Inoltre ad Emar non sembrano esistere instituzioni civiche capaci di esigere l'esecuzione della norma”).

24 ša.

25 See Leemans, Aperçu, 212.

26 E.g. ASJ 12 1, RE 86.

27 Tablet B § 6 of Middle Assyrian Laws. A similar procedure is supposed by H. Petschow for Neo-Babylonian law. See H. Petschow, Die neubabylonischen Kaufformulare, Leipzig 1939, 12–14.

28 See R. Pruzsinsky, Die Personenamen der Texte aus Emar, Studies on the Civilisation and Culture of Nuzi and the Hurrians 13, Bethesda 2003, 10.

29 JEN 60 is the “old document”, with a penal clause foreseeing a punishment of 1 mina of silver and 1 mina of gold in case of breach, and JEN 383 is the trial protocol. For a commentary, see G. Pfeifer, Fortschritt auf Umwegen – Umgehung und Fiktion in Rechtsurkunden des Altertums, München 2013, 32–37.

30 Thus Leemans, Le droit, 12.

31 See P. Steinkeller, Sale documents of the Ur III Period, Stuttgart 1989, 34–42; M. Malul, The bukannum-Clause – Relinquishment of Rights by Previous Right Holder, Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 75, 1985, 66–77; R. Westbrook, Old Babylonian Period, in: idem (ed.), A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, Vol. I, Leiden / Boston 2003, (361–430), 400.

32 RE 86, ASJ 12 7.

33 As pointed out by Westbrook, The Character of Ancient Near Eastern Law, in: idem (ed.), History, Vol. 1, (1–90), 68–69.


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