Justice and Law Throughout the Ages

As strange as it sounds in these days of cable news channels following law makers and a society where nearly anybody with the means can file even the most frivolous lawsuit and strange quirks in the law that allow ordinary people to get themselves licensed as dragons or unicorn, there was a time without laws. Back in the primordial days of humanity, survival was the only law. However, true to human nature, early humans realized that by working together and following certain rules, cooperation was easier in an untamed world where cooperation often meant the difference between life and death. From these early agreed upon rules to modern labyrinthine legal systems, there were a lot of developments that took place across the world.

Western legal systems, the basis of most legal systems as a result of widespread colonialism and imperialism that only recently ended, arguably began not in Europe or the Americas, but in the Middle East. The Code of Hammurabi, a black stone pillar covered in cuneiform script, is the oldest surviving written codex of laws that has survived to the modern age. The idea that the rules of a community should be written down and seen as being application to all was a revolutionary one. The idea spread quickly, and parallel ideas spread up across the world; from China to Mexico, the idea that laws should be more than the whims of the rulers proved to be an important one. Court systems and judges emerged soon afterwards, and while the world’s governments still mostly focused on the whims of the rulers, be they ordinary warlords or semi-divine god kings, the idea of laws proved popular and useful to humans as an alternative to barbarism. When it comes to western legal systems, the basis of that form of law begins largely in classic Greece, with the development of Hellenistic thoughts of philosophy, ethics and government. These revolutionary ideas eventually traveled across the Mediterranean to the city state of Rome. The Roman Republic, though it eventually declined into imperial tyranny for centuries before collapsing, proved that the Greek ideals of what justice and law should be could actually work. While the Roman Republic was still ruled largely by an elite class, ideas traveled and changed slowly in those days and needed time to truly expand. When Rome fell, so did Western civilization. Still, progress in the development of justice and law did happen. The major event in this field was England’s Magna Carta. This document overturned the divine right of kings that had existed in Europe for some centuries, albeit through force and only on behalf of land owning nobles, but for its time it was revolutionary. With the Renaissance bringing Europe out of the Middle Ages, another English innovation in law and justice was the Star Chamber, a court of law in Westminster established to do what it could to enforce laws against socially and politically prominent people who would be unlikely to face justice in other courts. The idea that all people were ultimately equal under the law was a powerful one that spread quickly across the western world, eventually becoming the basis for many constitutions across the world.

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