Call for Papers – Sale and Community

S a l e   a n d   C o m m u n i t y

Budapest, October 5-8. 2012

The next meeting of „Legal Documents in Ancient Societies“ (LDAS) will focus on the subject “Sale and Community”. In every society, the exchange of goods is strongly connected with an institutional environment: there are conventional forms of sale that are especially relevant for encouraging state control. State control would involve establishing the rights and obligations of the parties to a contract, as well as defining how certain commodities might be traded. Legal institutions affect transaction costs, including those involving search and enforcement, bargaining and decision, and enforcing property rights. Douglass North (1990) defines these institutions as “the rules of the game in a society or, more formally … the humanly devised constraints that shape human interaction.”
The principal question with regard to “sale and community” concerns whether the institutional arrangements surrounding sale encouraged the efficient exchange of goods (e.g. through a lowering of transaction costs). What was the nature of the institutions and organizations that affected how sales were conducted? Were such institutions mainly the product of the state and its dependencies, or were they mediated through the market? Did the parties to a sale rely on the state or private means to enforce their contracts?
To give one example, the early Roman state intervened on behalf of Roman traders in international treaties. Polybius records the terms of the first treaty between Rome and Carthage (probably 508/7 BC) fixing the institutions for Roman traders selling goods on Carthagian territory (Polyb. 3,22,8): only sales through a keryx or grammateus were guaranteed by the state. Such regulations, or community controls, prescribe the place, the method and the main terms of sale contracts.
In the following I try to draft the main features of a possible treatment of the topic:
1. A short description of the period, language or culture to be discussed. We expect contributions to the main periods Ancient Near East cultures, Demotic papyri, Greek world, Egypt in Hellenistic period, Roman Egypt, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire and Arabic Egypt. Of course every speaker can choose a more specific focus and restrict his or her research to a shorter time these main cultural periods.
2. If several papers are devoted to the main periods, we will be able to have a deeper discussion with a cross-cultural comparison. The aim of a cross-cultural overview is to show the range of institutions that different ancient societies used to regulate sales.
3. The formal aspects of sale documents. What do we learn about the nature of sale from documents recording them? In this connection, it is important to consider what types of sales were typically contracted for in written documents, and which ones were not. Did the typical terms in such documents (contracting parties, object, price, payment, warranty for defects, witnesses, guarants) vary depending on the commodity being sold? What about the scribe? Did the parties prefer drafting by a scribe or did they set up the document by themselves?
4. To consider the institutional environment of sale, one common method of exercising community control over selling goods was sale by auction. What are the typical objects of auction sales (e.g. slaves, land, mining etc.)? How was an auction organized and financed (for example, was the price paid in advance by a banker)? To what extent was the state involved in auctions?
5. Finally, it is important to consider how sale contracts were enforced. Did the use of a written contract lead to enforcement through state courts or private means? How did parties to a sale adapt the form of their contract, for example, whether the contract was written or oral before witnesses, to the means of enforcement that they might call upon?
Abstracts for each period are welcome until 31. January 2012. A first selection will be carried out by the steering committee (S. Démare-Lafont, M. Depauw, M. Faraguna, E. Jakab, D. Kehoe, U. Yiftach-Firanko) in a few days after the deadline.
Proposals are asked to send to the following e-mail address: