Family squabbles, fights over real estate, disputes over money transactions and assault cases were no less complex to resolve in Antiquity than they are in the modern world. The unique evidence from Egypt (more than 59,000 papyri and 44,000 ostraca, mostly from petitions, official correspondence and reports of court proceedings) shows a wide variety of mechanisms that could be used to settle interpersonal disputes and to maintain social order within the country. According to sociologists, however, the legal system represents only one side of the coin: attempts could also be made to settle disputes privately, with no involvement of officials, for instance by coercion, negotiation and mediation. Documents such as petitions, private letters, oracle questions and curse tablets nevertheless offer a rich data set for studying – at least partially – disputing processes that took place ‘in the shadow of the law’ and the institutions that underpinned and strengthened these processes (such as social norms, religion, family values, …).
An international conference at KU Leuven (29th June- 1st July) aims to bring together scholars working on dispute resolution from different angles and different fields in order to study the phenomenon of ‘social control’ in Egypt, with a particular focus on the transformation of the disputing process between the age of the Ptolemies and the Theodosians. For further information see here.