Private legal documents

From about 30 sites across the Assyrian empire, more than 2,000 private legal documents are presently known. The earliest texts date to the late 9th century but the vast majority stem from the 7th century BC. All of them had to be sealed, dated and witnessed in order to be legally valid. But sometime in the 7th century BC, copies of a selection of documents were prepared at Nineveh, and in contrast to the originals, these tablets are not sealed.

A contract documenting the purchase of a threshing floor, dated to the year 747 BC and sealed by the five sellers' fingernail impressions. British Museum, K. 326 []. Photo © The Trustees of the British Museum. View large image on the British Museum's website [].

Two main types of Assyrian legal documents can be distinguished, with strictly standardised formulation and format. The first group of legal texts are those of the so-called conveyance type which document all possible kinds of transfers of ownership of real estate and persons, such as sales or exchanges, land leases, adoptions, marriages, dedications to temples or divisions of inheritance. Only the transfer of ownership of people and real estate (fields, houses, building plots, gardens, vineyards, occasionally whole villages) was documented. The second group are the legal texts of the so-called contract type which record an obligation between two parties, e.g. loans of money, grain or animals and debts of all kind as well as delivery and working contracts. The appearance of a third group of texts was much less regulated: receipts, various mutual agreements and texts recording court proceedings are phrased and formatted according to ad hoc necessities.

» Learn more about Assyrian legal documents. []

The legal documents found at Nineveh have been edited several times before they were published in the State Archives of Assyria series. They cover the period from the reign of Tiglath-pileser III to the end of the Assyrian empire. We present them here, as many of the people featured in these documents as legal parties, witnesses or year eponyms were "Empire Builders", including numerous state, provincial and city administrators, courtiers and military men of various ranks.

»Browse or search the legal documents from Nineveh: SAA 6 [] and SAA 14 [].

Abbreviation Original publication
SAA 6 T. Kwasman and S. Parpola, Legal Transactions of the Royal Court of Nineveh, Part I: Tiglath-Pileser III through Esarhaddon (State Archives of Assyria 6), Helsinki 1991
SAA 14 R. Mattila, Legal Transactions of the Royal Court of Nineveh, Part II: Assurbanipal Through Sin-šarru-iškun (State Archives of Assyria 14), Helsinki 2002

Melanie Groß and Mikko Luukko have compiled documents detailing Addenda et Corrigenda to these editions. They can be downloaded here: SAA 6 [~/downloads/corrections_to_saa_6.pdf] and SAA 14 [~/downloads/corrections_to_saa_14.pdf] (requires free Adobe Acrobat reader).

The original publications were reviewed in a number of specialist journals:

Kwasman and Parpola, Legal Transactions of the Royal Court of Nineveh, Part I (SAA 6), 1991

Reviewed by:

Mattila, Legal Transactions of the Royal Court of Nineveh, Part II (SAA 14), 2002

Reviewed by:

In general, we have not taken those reviews into account in the online edition but strongly recommend that they be consulted when using this site as a resource for specialist Assyriological research.

Content last modified: 3 Dec 2014.

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