Foundation and mission

On several occasions in the 1990's, I had the opportunity to conduct research at the Leopold Wenger Institut für Papyrusforschung und Antike Rechtsgeschichte in Munich. In those days, the Leopold Wenger Institut was staffed by three ordinary professorships, for Roman law, Greek law, and the laws of the ancient near east, and it also hosted other researchers, whose studies covered the entire spectrum of ancient law. The study of legal history at Leopold Wenger Institut was organized to a large extent around the study of documentary material, with an emphasis on the historical context in which it was composed.  The activity of the institute culminated in two weekly seminars in which students presented documents, and their presentations were followed by lively, supportive and productive discussions of the material.

Yet in bringing together scholars whose work focuses on different legal traditions, Leopold Wenger Institut is a rare phenomenon. In other academic establishments, students of different ancient legal systems, even when they frequently study closely-related institutions, rarely cooperate. The group Legal Documents in Ancient Societies, whose creation in 2008 was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New-York University, aims at redressing this shortcoming by bringing together, once a year, students of legal and administrative documentation originating from different ancient civilizations, enabling them to present, discuss and compare the results of their individual research. The selected topics are meant to give expression to different methodologies employed in the study of ancient documentary material: textual criticism, comparative legal analysis, economics, archaeology, demography and others.  Over the years, the chronological horizons of the group have been considerably expanded. Accordingly, papers to be delivered in our next meeting, due to take place in Budapest on October, 6-7 2012 will study the the act of sale as recorded in documentary material from the Ancient Near East, Ancient Egypt, the Greco-Roman World and, for the first time, the Islamic World.

At the end of each year, the steering committee of Legal Documents in Ancient Societies advertizes the topic of its next meeting in call-for-papers sent to a select group of receipients. Among our recepients we count some renoun scholars in advanced stages of their career, but we also aim at giving stage to younger scholars at the dawn of their acadmic life, and have been successfully persuing this goal since the foundation of our society. Post graduate scholars who study ancient legal documentary texts and wish to be registered in our group of recepients are kindly requested to contact members of the steering committee in advance of the annoucement each year's topic. 

Dr. Uri Yiftach-Firanko, Department of Classics, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem