Although the ancient Egyptian justice and law in ancient Egypt are one of the most important fields in this civilization, the sources of legislation are not enough and do not illustrate more about justice in ancient Egypt.
The legal life in ancient Egypt was well organized, but our information about the judiciary and law are not complete.
This was due to two possible reasons; the first is the laws and legislation were written on the papyrus and leathers and the other reason is the ancient Egyptian did not have a complete legal group and the rules of justice which were organized by the god-king was the substitute.
Maybe the second reason was consistent with the sophisticated concepts of the ancient Egyptian, who considered the ancient Egyptian justice represented in Maat the matter that make the balance for the entire world and helped all people to live in peace and love.
The organizing of legislation is very complicated work and you cannot find any lawmaker has the ability to innovate these laws and legislation to impose it on the society, but the laws in ancient Egypt was a consequence of the development of society besides other factors like political, economic, religious, or philosophic factor.
Therefore, we can say that the legal regulation of any society is subject to political and historical consequences in addition to the circumstances of each nation and civilization.
The law in ancient Egyptian language was “Kout”, which was derived in “Qanon” in Greek.
The ancient Egyptians have established the power of their government based on a number of rules and principles that must be followed.
These rules determined the function, rights, and obligations of each person in society and his relations with the others, so the ancient Egyptian justice and legal system were one of the best systems in the ancient world.
Maat, the symbol of justice
The word Maat was an ancient Egyptian word means right, justice, the legal system, and sometimes integrity.
This word had a great influence and impact to each Egyptian at that time; as it means the powerful legal system which was made by the cosmic force to organize the entire world.
The ancient Egyptian justice had its moral aspect represented in the thoughts about the afterlife, but it had also the earthly aspect represented in the judges, who were called by the priests of goddess Maat. They were represented in a sitting or standing woman and above her head an ostrich feather.
The head of judges put a small statue of goddess Maat around his neck to refer to his job and position. Goddess Maat represented the law in ancient Egypt and composed the ancient Egyptian justice, respect, and morals which all Egyptians have to live.
No one was above the law in ancient Egypt and the ancient Egyptians were law abiders; as they feared the punishment in the life and the afterlife.
The concept of justice was relevant to the law; as the law aimed to organize the relations between the people, so the ancient Egyptians were very eager to justice.
At the beginning, the concept of justice appeared in the form of provisions from the god-inspired to the king regarding a conflict resolution.
The religion and law at that early stage were very close, so all the verdicts were inspired by the religion.
The development of legal awareness in ancient Egypt
The law in ancient Egypt was adapting to the circumstances of each era. At the archaic periods, there were no documents or records about the legal system and judiciary.
At the Old Kingdom, the legal systems were established and the people at that time were equal before the law.
About the legal sources of this era, we have found a sale contract dates back to the 4th dynasty, the reign of King Khufu.
Also, there are scenes and inscriptions in the temples reveal the taxes system and the salaries of workers; as we could determine the principles of private law at that time.
The pharaoh collected the judicial authority, legislature, and executive power in his hands, but the system was changing due to the political and economic circumstances.
At the end of Old Kingdom and the beginning of the 1st intermediate period, the governors of nomes became independent from the central authority and the verdicts and legal matters were attributed to the gods instead of the king.
At the Middle Kingdom, the central authority became more powerful and it enabled from reuniting the kingdom under the king; that led to the rule of law. New laws were issued; these laws were close to the concepts of socialism.
The governing rules of the Middle Kingdom continued until the period of Hyksos and the New Kingdom.
The sources of legal knowledge in ancient Egypt
The legal documents and contracts unearthed and founded in the tombs and temples are considered as the real sources of ancient Egyptian justice and law in ancient Egypt.
The sources of the legal system in ancient Egypt are divided into direct and indirect sources.
- The direct sources
These sources include the legislative texts, but we did not reach to a complete legal legislations resemble the legal groups made by the Mesopotamia civilization.
Ancient Egypt has introduced a lot of legislation and they made Thoth law, who was considered as the god of wisdom and mathematics and he was the guardian of Osiris laws.
This law organized the relationship between the people from one side and their relation to the state from another side.
These legislations were studied at Heliopolis University. Many Greeks have studied in this university and then they came back to their country and transferred the legal studies they have learned and also the Romans. The laws of Thoth became the first and most important source of legislation in their states.
The king Bocchoris (Bakenranef) one of the greatest legislator in ancient Egyptian civilization and he contributed in the ancient Egyptian justice and law although he ruled only for 6 years in the 24th dynasty.
Diodorus Siculus has said also that Bakenranef was among greatest six legislators in ancient Egypt; as he issued many legislations and he made judicial reforms which were recorded in the Demotic documents.
King Ahmose II, one of the kings of the 26th dynasty has issued a great law ordered all the Egyptian to submit a report illustrates the sources of his income to the governor of his district to identify whether if he earned his money and properties legally or illegally. If any citizen did not submit such report or he could not identify the sources of his income, he was sentenced to death.
There is also the legislation of the Persian king Darius I in Egypt besides some papyri have legal texts in the form of laws or royal decrees date back to the reign of some pharaohs like the decree of King Neferirkare Kakai and the decree of king Pepi I.
Also, king Horemheb was considered as one of the greatest legislators in ancient Egypt; as he issued a large number of laws concerning the penalties, taxes, education, and others.
In addition to the decree of Nuri issued by the king Seti I., this decree contains all the incomes and wealth of his funeral temple to protect it from the robbery.
The papyri that talked about ancient Egyptian justice and law
We have discovered many documents show you the legal transactions between people in ancient Egypt like contracts, wills, marriage and sale contracts.
Indirect sources of law in ancient Egypt
The indirect sources mean the mentions, writing, and talks of historians about the ancient Egyptian justice besides the literature of people who submitted complains to the high officials and kings.
The complaint of Khun Inbu is one of the most famous complains; as it contains many principles about justice and protects the vulnerable.
Although this literature writing highlights the political and social life in ancient Egyptian society, it mentioned, indirectly, the legal systems in that era.
The writing of ancient historians
The writing of ancient historians provided us with a lot of information about the legal system in the pharaonic period, besides the referring to the role of ancient Egypt in establishing the legal concept and justice in ancient Egypt and other civilizations if not the main source of some legal system at the other states.
Some Greek historians have illustrated that there was an ancient Egyptian law written in 8 books, but it was still unknown until the end of the Pharaonic era.
The Greek and Roman historians who visited Egypt several times after the born of Christ have asserted that the Egyptian society did not have revenge or jungle law, even the pharaoh himself did not enjoy the absolute power; as he knew that god Re supervised him.