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Herodotus on Egyptian Laws
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Herodotus on Egyptian Laws

Money lending

    After Mykerinos the priests said Asychis became king of Egypt, and he made for Hephaistos [2] the temple gateway which is towards the sunrising, by far the most beautiful and the largest of the gateways; for while they all have figures carved upon them and innumerable ornaments of building besides, this has them very much more than the rest. In this king's reign they told me that, as the circulation of money [1] was very slow, a law was made for the Egyptians that a man might have that money lent to him which he needed, by offering as security the dead body of his father; and there was added moreover to this law another, namely that he who lent the money should have a claim also to the whole of the sepulchral chamber belonging to him who received it, and that the man who offered that security should be subject to this penalty, if he refused to pay back the debt, namely that neither the man himself should be allowed to have burial, when he died, either in that family burial-place or in any other, nor should he be allowed to bury any of his kinsmen whom he lost by death.

Income tax declaration

    It was Amasis [3] too who established the law that every year each one of the Egyptians should declare to the ruler of his district, from what source he got his livelihood, and if any man did not do this or did not make declaration of an honest way of living, he should be punished with death. Now Solon [4] the Athenian received from Egypt this law and had it enacted for the Athenians, and they have continued to observe it, since it is a law with which none can find fault.

Asylum for slaves

    Now there was upon the shore, as still there is now, a temple of Heracles [5], in which if any man's slave take refuge and have the sacred marks set upon him, giving himself over to the god, it is not lawful to lay hands upon him; but this custom has continued still unchanged from the beginning down to my own time.

The protection of sacred animals

    Egypt, though it borders upon Libya, does not very much abound in wild animals, but such as they have are one and all accounted by them sacred, some of them living with men and others not.
... if any one kill any of these animals, the penalty, if he do it with his own will, is death, and if against his will, such penalty as the priests may appoint: but whosoever shall kill an ibis or a hawk, whether it be with his will or against his will, must die.

Herodotus Histories Vol II
Source: Project Gutenberg


[1]  Unless Asychis reigned late in the Late Period there would have been no coined money at all. Metal of a fixed weight was used as a sort of proto-currency
[2]  Hephaistos: Ptah, whose centre of worship was at Memphis
[3]  Amasis: Ahmose II, 569-526 BCE
[4]  Solon: c.640 - 561 BCE, reformer of the Athenian legal system.
[5]  Heracles: Identified with the Egyptian god Shu.

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-Diodor's von Sicilien Historische Bibliothek, digitalisiert von: Benedikt Klein


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November 2002


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