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‘Oral law’ and the Emergence of Written Legislation in Archaic and Classical Greece

Linscott, Henry Peter; (2021) ‘Oral law’ and the Emergence of Written Legislation in Archaic and Classical Greece. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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This thesis aims to understand the social structures and normative language that underpinned the concept of law in the Greek poleis of the 7th and 8th centuries BCE, and the ways their legal cultures evolved as they began to produce written legislation. It will begin by identifying the social structures recognised in the poetry of Homer and Hesiod, and the areas of dispute that appear to have triggered formal resolution processes, and use these to examine the mechanisms for regulating issues of violence, sexual access, property and inheritance before written law, and consider the concerns that may have driven poleis to seek new solutions to social problems. Since law is as much a phenomenon of language as of behaviour, it will then proceed to analyse the syntactical structures and diction for articulating norms in the oaths and gnōmai of Homeric and Hesiodic verse and will show that the capacity to produce complex, prescriptive, structured rules which expressed the consequences of actions was already in use in Hesiodic collections of normative principles and Homeric promissory oaths. It will also seek to compare these features with societies in the Near East which suggest that the Greeks’ normative culture did not develop in isolation but was also likely to have engaged with the customs and legal systems of their neighbours. This will then inform a comparison of the syntax and beliefs evident in written laws with the use of similar structures in our earliest poetic sources. It will argue that laws drew on key sources of cultural authority through their sense of both divine and community justice, while the language of written laws made use of existing diction for expressing consequences of actions and constructing formalised procedures. Finally it will examine how written laws became embedded in the polis’ wider normative culture, the changes they brought about and the ways they used or left space for existing legal behaviours. It will argue that the links between legal text and ‘oral law’ were a fundamental part of this evolution, using similar language and methods of dispute resolution to the areas of conflict identified earlier, and even using oral means of communication to be more widely propagated and understood. However, it will also consider the ways that written law changed the relationship between the citizens of Greek poleis and their laws, through their monumental presence and distinctive organisation. It will argue that, while the language for articulating law was rooted in earlier normative diction, the act of writing such rules down could have functioned as a means to channel the process of adjudication and maintain its consistency. It will also examine the cultural impact of written law as it changed the Greeks’ understanding of how rules could be created, with traditions of stories growing up around written law, and examples of laws being used alongside other norms both as sources of evidence, but also as a kind of moral education in philosophical and forensic discourse.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: ‘Oral law’ and the Emergence of Written Legislation in Archaic and Classical Greece
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2021. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10126075
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