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The Roman jurists and the ancient rabbis shared in common the idea of a universal law. As we saw in Chapter 35, jurists of the Roman Empire such as Gaius and Ulpian believed that there was a law of nature that governed all people and from which criticism of the Roman civil law could be made.
In the long history of legal thought, from the Mesopotamians to today, one common theme is the tension between law as rule-following, sometimes called “strict justice,” and law as providing a fair resolution of disputes, often discussed under the label of “equity.
Nearly every ancient society had slavery in some form or other. In ancient China, the society was stratified in rigid classes, with slaves constituting not the lowest class and in any event not numbering more than one percent of the population.
In early Roman and Indian law, certain wrongful acts were treated as distinctly contrary to the public interest and subject to judicial procedures different from other wrongs that were treated as disputes between two private parties.
One of the most metaphysically fraught concepts in legal thought is causation. Yet, despite being published in ancient Athens, the Tetralogies (attributed to Antiphon) provide a fascinating account of causation that even legal theorists today can appreciate.
In this chapter I will argue that the use of oaths and ordeals in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt can be understood as aimed at solving the enduring problem of ascertaining whether or not a witness or a party at a trial spoke truthfully.