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Ancient Egyptian Law


Please note that the following description of the course is only provisional and therefore subject to change.

Admission requirements

Not applicable.


No actual law codes from ancient Egypt appear to have come down to us, although several legal manuals have survived, which some authors suggest are the actual law codes. In this course we will examine some of the basic aspects of the Egyptian legal system. To achieve this, we will examine these manuals as well as hieroglyphic, hieratic and demotic sources such as sales, loans, donations, marriage and divorce, inheritance, lease, etc., including a famous lawsuit from Assyut (170 BC). The translations of these sources – mostly written on papyrus – will be provided prior to each class.

Course objectives

Objectives of the course
To acquaint students with the basic principles of the legal system of ancient Egypt and demotic papyrology using translations of legal documents from the Old Kingdom to the Roman Period.

Achievement levels
The following achievement levels apply with regard to the course:

  • Basic principles of the legal system of ancient Egypt and demotic papyrology using translations of legal documents from the Old Kingdom to the Roman Period.


The timetable of this course can be found in uSis.

Mode of instruction


  • Number of (2 hour) lectures: 10

  • Names of lecturers: Dr. K. Donker van Heel

  • Following an introduction by the lecturer, students will each give a 20-30 minute peer-reviewed presentation on a specific subject.

  • Required preparation by students: Students are expected to study the translated texts that will be issued prior to each class as well as the additional literature.

Assessment method

Examination form(s)
Attendance, preparation and participation in class discussion (30%). Final written exam (70%).

Areas to be tested within the exam
The examination syllabus consists of the required reading (literature) for the course, the course information guide and the subjects taught in the lectures, the seminars and all other instructions which are part of the course.

Reading list

Obligatory course materials


  • J.G. Manning, ‘Egypt. Demotic Law’, in: (R. Westbrook (ed.), A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, Vol. 2 (Handbuch der Orientalistik / Handbook of Oriental Studies. Ägyptologie I, 72/2) 2003, pp. 819-862

  • K. Donker van Heel, Djekhy & Son. Doing Business in Ancient Egypt (2012)

Course information guide:

  • Digital copies will be provided prior to each class.


Students have to register for courses and exams through uSis.
Exchange students have priority and will be registered for the course first. Any remaining seats will be available for students from Leiden University and other Dutch Universities.

Contact details

  • Coordinator: K. Donker van Heel

  • Work address: Papyrological Institute

  • Contact information: inside University Library, Witte Singel 27, Leiden

  • Telephone number: 071-527 1909

  • Email:


  • Institute: Papyrological Institute

  • Department: Papyrology

  • Room number secretary: Not applicable

  • Opening hours: Monday-Friday 09.00-17.00

  • Telephone number secretary: Not applicable

  • Email: Not applicable