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Sunday, February 26, 2012

REVIEW: B. Kelly, Petitions, Litigation, and Social Control in Roman Egypt.

Benjamin Kelly, Petitions, Litigation, and Social Control in Roman Egypt. Oxford Studies in Ancient Documents.   Oxford; New York:  Oxford University Press, 2011.  Pp. xix, 427.  ISBN 9780199599615.  $150.00.   

Reviewed by Georgy Kantor, New College, University of Oxford (georgy.kantor@new.ox.ac.uk)

Interest in the social history of provincial Roman law and in the reasons for which the provincials decided to resolve their disputes through Roman courts has been steadily growing in the last decade. Kelly’s monograph on the social history of litigation and dispute resolution in early imperial Egypt brings the debate back to its origins in juristic papyrology and is a major contribution to the subject. His main achievement, hard to overestimate, has been to produce, for the first time, a study based not on a small and relatively random sample of legal petitions and court minutes, but on the whole body of the published material: 568 petitions, catalogued in Appendix I, and 227 reports of proceedings, catalogued in Appendix III (Appendix II provides a checklist of petitions which did not involve dispute resolution). For all his prudent admission (p. 332) that the ‘aim of the social historian of ancient law should be typological, not cliometric’ Kelly comes incomparably closer to producing genuine (if rough) statistics than any of his predecessors. Kelly’s approach is informed by wide reading in social theory and anthropology, but he is never in thrall of theoretical approaches from outside the discipline and engages with models based on other pre-modern societies independently and fruitfully.

Table of Contents

Notes for Readers
1. Introduction
2. Petitions and Social History
3. Legal Control in Roman Egypt
4. Who used the justice system?
5. Political Ideologies in the Legal Realm
6. Hierarchy and Group Solidarity
7. Private Dispute Resolution and the Shadow of the Law
8. Vexatious and Vexing Litigation
9. Conclusion
Appendix I: Petitions Involving Disputes
Appendix II: Petitions without Disputes
Appendix III: Reports of Proceedings