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Matthieu Abgrall (Stanford), "Legal Innovation in Archaic Greece: the case of monumental written..."

May 13, 2019 - 1:00pm to 2:00pm

This event is free and open to the public.

Much recent work on archaic Greek law has converged on the narrative of a uniform move towards written law across Greek poleis, once the Greeks had become familiar with alphabetical writing. Furthermore, the emergence of monumental written laws, drafted collectively by communities of citizens and placed at the heart of nascent organized civic spaces, has been viewed as a unique and perhaps defining feature of the ancient Greek political culture. Nevertheless, the evidence of surviving monumental written laws does not support such a unified narrative. Rather it points to the existence of diverse approaches to legal innovation in the archaic period. Having catalogued all the remaining material evidence for ancient Greek law between the 7th and 5th centuries BCE, I find that the regional and temporal distribution of the evidence is likely to be a reasonable approximation of the original distribution of archaic Greek laws inscribed on stone. By combining statistical analyses and historical case studies, I strengthen the claim that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence. I also show that monumental written laws, often seen as a necessary consequence of increasing social complexity, was in many cases either unavailable or, more importantly, regarded as unattractive. As a result, the practice was not much used or widely emulated apart from specific historical contexts. Lastly, I contribute to Cretan studies by showing how and why the legal innovation of monumental written laws was particularly attractive and perhaps over-adopted in Central Crete.

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Department of Classics
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