Importing the law? Possible elements of the Mesopotamian legal tradition in New Kingdom Egypt (1549-1064BCE)

  • Alexandre Loktionov Cambridge University



Features of New Kingdom (1549-1064BCE[1]) justice not attested earlier

  • Oracle courts, as attested at Deir el-Medina[2] and elsewhere[3]
  • Increase in severe corporal punishment: for example, mutilation of nose and ears becomes a standard element in oath formulae[4]
  • Detailed protasis-apodosis legal decrees, such as the Karnak Decree of Horemheb[5] (1328-1298BCE) or the Nauri Decree of Seti I[6] (1296-1279).  

Why might this be connected to Mesopotamia/Semitic law?

  • “Hyksos” period (1650-1549BCE) immediately prior to New Kingdom
  • Amarna letters/greater exposure to Akkadian in Egypt during New Kingdom
  • Legal associations: Akkadian and Egyptian copies of Ramesses II – Hattusili III treaty[7] (1258BCE), where corporal punishment is a prominent topic
  • Mesopotamian law, and broader scholarship, often associated with protasis-apodosis[8]
  • Mesopotamian law often associated with severe corporal punishment: for instance, see Code of Hammurabi (1792-1750BCE)[9], Middle Assyrian Laws[10] (c.1400-1100BCE) etc.

Why might this NOT be connected to Mesopotamia/Semitic law?

  • Were earlier periods truly different, or is this down to chance preservation of sources?
  • Protasis-apodosis has precedents in the Middle Kingdom (2066-1650BCE): for instance, see 2nd Semna stela of Senusret III (1865BCE)[11] or Illahun Medical papyri (c.1800BCE)[12].


[1] All Egyptian dates are calculated according to the chronology set forth in Dodson & Hilton 2004: 287-294, while Mesopotamian dates follow the chronology in van de Mieroop 2007: 302-317.

[2] McDowell 1990: 143-186.

[3] Kákosy 1975: 600-606; Černy 1962: 35-48.

[4] Lorton 1977: 33-38, 50-51; Tyldesley 2000: 81.

[5] Kruchten 1981.

[6] Kitchen 1975-1990: 53-55 (text 24); Davies 1997: 277-308.

[7] Langdon & Gardiner 1920.

[8] Bottéro 1992: 125-137, 156-184; Roth 1997.

[9] Roth 1997: 71-142; Richardson 2000.

[10] Driver & Miles 1935; Roth 1997: 153-194.

[11] Sethe 1924: 83-84.

[12] Quirke 2002; Collier & Quirke 2004: 53-64.


Bottéro, J. 1992. Mesopotamia: writing, reasoning, and the gods, 2nd edn. (trans. Z. Bahrani & M. van de Mieroop). Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press.

Černy, J. 1962. Egyptian Oracles. In Parker, R. A. (ed.) A Saite Oracle Papyrus from Thebes in the Brooklyn Museum [Papyrus Brooklyn 47.218.3]: 35-48. Providence: Brown University Press.

Collier, M. A. & S. Quirke 2004. The UCL Lahun Papyri: Religious, Literary, Legal, Mathematical, and Medical. Oxford: Archaeopress (BAR International Series 1209).

Davies, B. G. 1997. Egyptian Historical Inscriptions of the Nineteenth Dynasty. Jonsered: Paul Åströms förlag.

Dodson, A. & D. Hilton 2004. The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson.

Driver, G. D. & J. C. Miles 1935. The Assyrian Laws: edited with Translation and Commentary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Gaballa, G. A. 1977. The Memphite Tomb Chapel of Mose. Warminster: Aris & Phillips.

Kákosy, L. 1975. Orakel. In Helck, W., E. Otto & W. Westendorf (eds.) Lexicon der Ägyptologie (vol. 4): 600-606. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Kitchen, K. A. 1975-1990. Ramesside Inscriptions: Historical and Biographical: Vol. I. Oxford: Blackwell.

Kruchten, J-M. 1981. Le Décret d’Horemheb: Traduction, commentaire épigraphique, philologique et institutionel. Brussels: Université de Bruxelles.

Langdon, S. & A. H. Gardiner 1920. The Treaty of Alliance between Ḫattusͮili, King of the Hittites, and the Pharaoh Ramesses II of Egypt. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 6(3): 179-205.

Lorton, D. 1977. The Treatment of Criminals in Ancient Egypt: Through the New Kingdom. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 20(1): 2-64.

McDowell, A. G. 1990. Jurisdiction in the Workmen’s Community of Deir el-Medîna. Leiden: Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten.

Peden, A. J. 1994 Egyptian Historical Inscriptions of the Twentieth Dynasty. Jonsered: Paul Åströms förlag.

Quirke, S. 2002. Manuscript for the Health of Mother and Child. London: University College London: (accessed 3rd Dec. 2016).

Richardson, M. E. J. 2000. Hammurabi’s Laws: Text, Translation and Glossary. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.

Roth, M. T. 1997. Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, 2nd edn. Atlanta: Scholars Press.

Sethe, K. H. 1924. Ägyptische Lesestücke zum Gebrauch im akademischen Unterricht. Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs’sche Buchhandlung.

van de Mieroop, M. 2007. A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000-323BC, 2nd edn. Oxford: Blackwell.

Westbrook, R. 2003. The Character of Ancient Near Eastern Law. In Westbrook, R. (ed.) A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law. Leiden: Brill: 1-90.
How to Cite
Loktionov, A. (2017). Importing the law? Possible elements of the Mesopotamian legal tradition in New Kingdom Egypt (1549-1064BCE). BAF-Online: Proceedings of the Berner Altorientalisches Forum, 1.
Panel 4: Identifying ancient paradigms