law is much more than a system of rules governing the conduct of members of society Its rich complexity stems from its history, how it was created and administered, its function, the way it operates, and its effects.
Around 10,000 years ago, as people began to gather in ever larger settlements, they had to find new ways to live and work together peacefully.
Clear laws were needed to settle disputes. The earliest known law code—dating from around 2100 bce and set down by order of Ur-Nammu, king of Ur, a city in Mesopotamia (now Iraq)—listed commensurate punishments for crimes.
Murder, for instance, was punishable by death—an early bid, echoed in many later law codes, to ensure that justice fit the offense. From the earliest times, rulers invoked their gods to give laws authority.
The Jewish Torah enshrined laws by tradition given to Moses by God. Around 1046 bce, King Wu of the Chinese Zhou dynasty similarly claimed a divine mandate for his rule.
In the 4th century ce, Christianity’s Catholic canon law developed into a legal system that has influenced modern civil law and common law, while Islamic Sharia law is based on the word of Allah in the Koran.
New civilizations established legal frameworks for laws with procedures and officials to ensure compliance. Their philosophers debated the nature of justice and shaped political ideas.
In Athens, the ancient Greek city which practiced the earliest democracy, reason and a concept of justice as a virtue guided Plato’s and Aristotle’s theories of law.
The early Roman Republic’s Twelve Tables explained laws and spelled out citizens’ rights. In China, between 476 bce and 221 bce, scholars proposed radically different systems—Daoism, Confucianism, and Legalism—ranging in nature from laissez-faire to authoritarian.
Each had a lasting impact.
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