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NOTE C.: EARLY FORMS OF LAW: “WRITTEN” AND “UNWRITTEN” LAW: EARLY CODES. - Sir Henry Sumner Maine, Ancient Law, its connection with the early history of society and its relation to modern ideas 
Ancient Law, its connection with the early history of society and its relation to modern ideas, with an introduction and notes by Sir Frederick Pollock. 4th American from the 10th London edition (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1906).
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EARLY FORMS OF LAW: “WRITTEN” AND “UNWRITTEN” LAW: EARLY CODES.
It should be noted that the growth of institutions is much too complicated, even if we confine our attention to one society, to be represented as a simple series in order of time. We constantly speak of one rule or custom as belonging to a more advanced stage of ideas than another; but this does not mean that in every society where it is found it must have been preceded in fact by a less advanced institution belonging to the next lower grade of culture. Imitation of neighbours or conquerors, or peculiar local conditions, may materially shorten a given stage in the normal development, or even cut it out altogether. What we do mean is that the order is not found reversed. Chalk is not everywhere in England, nor red sandstone; but where red sandstone is, we know that chalk is not below it. Iron was known in Africa so early that Africa may be said not to have had a bronze age; but this does not make it more credible that any tribe should ever have abandoned iron for bronze. In like manner there may have been tribes that had lawgivers almost or quite as soon as they had judges. But no one has heard of a nation which, having acquired a body of legislation, reverted from it to pure customary law (cp. Kohler, “Zur Urgeschichte der Ehe,” pp. 7-10).
A king’s or chieftain’s judicial dooms are very different from express laws promulgated for general observance; but it is noticeable that early traditions ascribe a divine origin to both. In the former case the judge enjoys, in some undefined way, the confidence of the gods; in the latter the human lawgiver is merely the scribe or reporter of a “Deity dictating an entire code or body of law,” which, as Maine points out (above, p. 5), is a more artificial conception and belongs to a later stage. It appears, however, as early as anything that can be called legislation; and the tendency to refer the commandments of the law to a divine or semi-divine origin is quite regular. There is no reason, it may be added, why a lawgiver or recorder of divine law should not also be a speaker of dooms. A ruling ascribed to Moses, whom Sir Edward Coke claimed as the first law reporter, is at this day a practical decision, for it governs the civil law of succession in some Jewish communities (such as the Jews of Aden: Sir Courtenay Ilbert, “The Government of India,” p. 397). Even if the Mosaic law has to admit the superior antiquity of King Hammurabi’s code, we may safely say that the case of Zelophehad’s daughters is the earliest recorded case which is still of authority.
When the king or chief ceases to bear all offices in his own person, and the political division of labour begins, those functions which had a sacred character naturally become attached to a priesthood or sacred tribe or family, and among them the custody and interpretation of the law. The distinction between religious and secular law is, one need hardly say, much later. Thus we find in both Germanic and Roman antiquity more than traces of priests, or nobles who claimed the priest’s office as a birthright, being the first judges (Grimm, “D.R.A.” 272, i. 378 in 4th ed.). In Iceland the rather vague but not ineffectual authority which was ascribed to the Speaker of the Law seems to have had a religious character. At any rate we read in the Njáls Saga that to him, and him alone, was left the momentous decision of the question, which had all but led to civil war, whether Christianity should be adopted (Dasent, “Burut Njal,” ch. ci.). There seems to be no reason against accepting this incident as mainly historical. It is worth observing that Thorgeir would not make his award until both the Christian and the heathen party had given pledges to abide by it: a striking illustration of the voluntary and arbitral character of early jurisdiction. Edward I. of England, more than two centuries later, used similar precaution when he adjudicated on the claims to the crown of Scotland.
Whether a monopoly of legal knowledge is established in the hands of a privileged caste or order, or a tradition of learning is handed down in something like a school, or, without any profession of secrecy, certain persons enjoy for the time being the reputation of superior knowledge, appears to depend on the particular circumstances of each community. Besides the Speaker of the Law, we find in the Iceland of the Sagas a few specially wise men, Njál himself, and after his death one or two others, whose advice is eagerly sought by their neighbours, and whose deliberate opinion is almost conclusive; yet there is no possible distinction of race or rank in that singularly homogeneous republic. A like position is ascribed to Nestor. This kind of reputation is obviously not less but more important in a society where jurisdiction and judicial power have not yet become compulsory; for the chances that any judgment or award will be observed will, in such a society, depend largely on the respect in which the acting judge or daysman is held.
Maine adds that law preserved as a kind of trade secret by a privileged class is the only real unwritten law. This may be literally true. But our current professional use of the term is really a matter of literary convention. We find it useful to confine the term “written law” to an enactment or declaration which is authoritative not only in matter but in form, so that its very words not only contain but constitute the law. An exposition whose very words are not binding is “unwritten law,” however great its authority may be in substance. Consider the case of a judge in England, or any other jurisdiction under the system of the Common Law, making a careful statement of some point of law in a book written and published by him. This is only a private learned opinion, and has, properly speaking, no authority at all. But the same or another judge may adopt the statement in a reported judgment. It then acquires authority as a judicial exposition of the law, but still its actual terms are not binding, and it counts as “unwritten law.” Finally, the proposition may be embodied in a statute. It then becomes “written law,” and the Courts will have for the future to treat not only the substance but every word of it as authentic. The distinction is quite real, and no better way of expressing it has been found. French usage, moreover, presents a close analogy. Under the old monarchy the provinces of written law (pays de droit écrit) were those where the texts of Roman law were received as having binding authority, while in the pays de droit coutumier they were cited only for example and illustration, on the merits of the reason embodied in them, as they may be and sometimes are in England. Thus the same text might be “written” law in one province and “unwritten” (though there is no corresponding French term) in another. A learned modern writer says of the antithesis between ius scriptum and iusnon scriptum, after careful examination of the various meanings with which they occur in the writings of the classical Roman lawyers: “Its general practical use with them is as a distinction between customary law, on the one hand, and law drawn up and issued in any regular manner by any legislative authority, on the other. . . . The above is also the practical use of the distinction . . . by our English jurists, so far as they use it at all. . . . With modern Continental writers written and unwritten in general designate respectively enacted and customary law” (E. C. Clark, “Practical Jurisprudence,” p. 272).
Maine’s brief remarks on early codes (pp. 12-18) include a few sentences on Hindu law; these were written at a time when the existence of the books called by the names of Manu and Narada was hardly known outside Anglo-Indian official circles except to a few students of Sanskrit. In later years, after having been a member of the Government of India, he returned to the subject. The chapters in “Early Law and Custom” on “The Sacred Laws of the Hindus,” “Religion in Law,” and “Classifications of Legal Rules,” should be read accordingly as a supplement; and the second and third lectures in “Village Communities” should also be consulted as to the general nature of archaic customary law, and the effect produced on it by contact with a modern system.
Timely codification of customs, as Maine observes (pp. 14, 15), may prevent degradation; I must confess that the ascription of such an effect to the Twelve Tables, though ingenious and pleasing as a conjecture, appears to me to go beyond what is warranted by our knowledge of the state and tendencies of Roman society under the earlier Republic. It is certain that conversely the fixing of law in a codified form at a later stage may arrest a normal and scientific development. Such was the result of the Ordinance which stereotyped the French law of negotiable instruments in 1673 (Chalmers, “Bills of Exchange,” Introduction, p. lvi). It would seem, indeed, that the Twelve Tables themselves went near to stereotype an archaic and formalist procedure, and that the Romans of later generations escaped from great inconvenience only by the devices of legal fictions and equity which Maine considers in the following chapter.
Chapter II. Page 20.