The History of Law For Beginners

The History of Law For Beginners

First of all, it is important to point out that the history of law (known also as legal history) deals with the evolution of law and how and why it changed over the course of time. It is also connected with social history since the law itself closely follows the development of any civilization. In more recent history, legal institutions are seen as systems of rules and symbols that function in accordance with civil society.

The First Laws

We can trace some of the first forms of law in Ancient Egypt, dating back in 3000 BC. This “law” was based on impartiality and tradition. In the 22nd century BC, casuistic statements were used in Sumeria. We also have a famous example that is Babylonian law that was inscribed in stone by King Hammurabi. The King ordered several of these stones to be placed all over the kingdom so they would be known to the general public.

Even though there is no word for law in Ancient Greece, they were governed by three different motives – divine law, human decree, and custom. 

Southern Asia

When talking about the history of the law it is impossible to deny the importance that Ancient India and China had in forming the first law practices. The Arthashastra from 400 BC and Manusmriti from 100 BC are just some of the examples of the legal practices. Due to these scripts, tolerance was promoted throughout entire South East Asia. Later, during the Muslim conquest, came a different period, that was defined by sharia. Afterward came the British colonialism and with it the common law.

Eastern Asia

The main characteristic of the first laws in eastern Asia is the original mixture of religious and secular laws.

The first one to introduce modern structures into its legal system was Japan. They decided to use some parts of the German and French Civil Code.

Canon Law

Even though Canon law, or the legal history of the Catholic Church, was created after the Roman law, it dates further back than any other civil law in Europe. This is also the oldest legal system within the Western civilization that is still functioning. It is important to mention that Latin canon law and Easter canon law were developed separately. 

Islamic Law

In the 8th century, the Islamic Jurists created one of the most important pieces of their legal system, which is also one of the most influential ones in the Middle Ages, called Hawala. This was a form of the informal value transfer system, that was used as a model for Aval in France.

European Laws

The first one that needs to be mentioned is Roman law, that had been influenced by Greek traditions.

There were no legal officials, meaning that a layperson was used to settle an important matter. In the 6th century AD, the law that existed in Rome were codified. 

After the fall of the Western Empire, the general public relied on the Theodisian Code.

The main features of modern law now present in Europe are codified legal systems and tradition.

United States

The legal system in the United States was greatly influenced by English common law. Furthermore, some concepts of Spanish law were also influential in the US legal system as well. 

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