Lawgiving and the Administration of Justice in Some African and Other Early States

by Henri J. M. Claessen


In this paper I present some aspects of lawgiving and the administration of justice in some early states. To do so I will apply some of the concepts developed by anthropologists. The use of these terms makes it necessary to ask to what extent it is useful to employ West European judicial concepts to the ways in which the rules and measures of early states were formulated and enforced. Would it not be better to employ the “participants” concepts so as to describe and analyze the systems of rules and regulations of early states in their own terms (1)? This would certainly be advisable if this paper aimed at the analysis of only one such system, but because its aim is to compare a number of early state judicial systems, a broader, intercultural frame of thought is needed. This requires that we formulate our categories and concepts in such a way that different systems of lawgiving can be brought under their headings.

In this paper I try to find if and how in early states rules and regulations–laws–were established; in what ways such rules and regulations were brought to the attention of those concerned; in what ways such rules and regulations were sanctioned; and how people were made to do what was ordered. Finally, I look for similarities and differences in the systems discussed.

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Henri J. M. Claessen is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology Emeritus, at Leiden University, in the Netherlands. Currently, he serves as Vice President of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences.

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